Philosophy 220. The Moral Status of the Non-Human World: Matheny. Animals and Moral Standing.
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As we saw in our discussion of abortion, the question of the possible Direct Moral Standing of the fetus has a number of implications for the attempt to specify the moral status/standing of non-human animals.
Issue tends to resolve into two questions:
Do any non-human animals have DMS?
If so, what does this mean for the wide-spread use of animals (or other natural kinds) in a way dominated by human interests?
Consequentialism: according to traditional utilitarianism, the value to be maximized is pleasure (the absence of pain). Inasmuch as many or our uses of non-human animals or other natural kinds come at the cost of significant pain or degradation, this approach would find those uses to be immoral.
Rights: the issue here is whether non-human animals or other natural kinds have rights morally equivalent to those of humans. It is not a question of political rights, but moral rights.
Virtue Ethics: as always, the question concerns whether our use of animals or the natural world as a whole accords with human flourishing and the virtues necessary for it. One common focus is the virtue of humility.
By far the most significant way in which we ignore the interests of non-human animals to further our own is through animal agri- and aqua-culture.
Intensive animal farming/harvesting causes significant amounts of pain and suffering.
We have no nutritional need for animal products. Our interest in them is for our pleasure.
We can’t discount our interests, but if we apply the equal consideration principle, and put ourselves in the place of the farmed animals, “We would probably conclude that our substantial interest in not being raised in a factory farm and slaughtered is stronger than our trivial interest in eating a chicken instead of chickpeas” (338c2).
On the assumption that Utilitarianism is a reasonable theoretical basis for considering the question of the moral status of non-human animals, the most important conclusion is that such animals have DMS, and thus should count in our moral calculations.
If right, a strong presumption exists for the moral superiority of veganism, for the significant if not total reduction of the use of animals in experimentation, and for a very different approach to our interaction with the environing world.