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Animal Ethics: an Importance for Animals to Be Free from Harm by Humans

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Animal ethics is concerned with the moral issues concerning animals, whereas environmental ethics concerns itself with the moral issues of the environment. The existence of animal ethics depends on the existence of environmental ethics. Philosophers such as Singer, Regan and Goodpaster have an individualistic approach on the subject of animal rights and moral ethics. They are limited to animal concerns without considering the environment as a whole. They also deal with individual rights as opposed to collective rights. Individualists are concerned with the rights of the individual as opposed to the rights of a majority. Each philosopher has his own individualistic approach to the question of whether or not animals have rights.

Singers objective is to show that other species of animals other than the human species are worth the basic principle of equality. He concedes that there are important differences between humans and other animals. This is where he demonstrates an aspect of his individualistic approach. He continues, and these differences must give rise to some differences in the rights that each have(Singer 27). He then uses the Womens Liberation movement and their pursuit of equality between the sexes as an example. The example is this:

Many feminists hold that woman have the right to an abortion on request. It does not follow that since these same people are campaigning for equality between men and women they must support the right of men to have abortions too. Since a man cannot have an abortion, it is meaningless to talk of his right to have one. Since a pig cant vote, it is meaningless to talk of its right to vote. There is no reason why either Womens Liberation or Animal Liberation should get involved in such nonsense. The extension of the basic principle of equality from one group to another does not imply that we must treat both groups in exactly the same way, or grant exactly the same rights to both groups (Singer 27-28).

This is Singers argument for why all animals, including non-humans, should have the consideration for basic rights. He says that we would be on dubious ground if we wanted equal rights for blacks, women, and other groups of oppressed humans while denying equal consideration to non-humans (Singer 28).

Peter Singer makes another good argument why animals should have rights like any other group of animals including humans. He uses several arguments from which human rights have been molded from, including racism and sexism. Most of his ideas are built upon the utilitarian school of philosophy. A utilitarian is, to put it in lay terms, one who believes the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people, which does seems to contradict his individual approach. Singer states that the suffering of animals should be taken into consideration. He states, If a being suffers, there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration. No matter what the nature of the being, the principle of equality requires that its suffering be counted equally with the like suffering…(Singer 37). Singer is asserting that the suffering of animals cannot be justified. He states that equality does not depend on intellect, moral capacity, physical strength, or similar characteristics (Singer 29). He uses the comparison of the mentally challenged human to an intelligent dog. The mentally handicapped person has the basic human right not to be used for scientific experimentation, but yet the intelligent dog does not, thus showing how intelligence is not logical criteria for which to judge animals inferior and depriving them of rights.

Singers philosophy towards animals rights is limited and individualistic in nature because he is not concerned with the environment in which the animals live. Being utilitarian, other philosophers criticizes the Utilitarian point of view exhibited by Singer. Regan protests Utilitarian has no room for the equal moral rights of different individuals because it has no room for their equal inherent value or worth. What has value for the utilitarian is the satisfaction of an individuals interests, not the individual whose interests they are (Regan 43).

Tom Regan, another philosopher of animal ethics also displays an individualistic approach. Regan has modified Kants philosophy to declare that everyone is subject to life. He believes that animals and humans all have intrinsic value; therefore they have a right to not suffer, and the right to life. He calls for three changes. The first change is, The total abolition of the use of animals in science. The second one is, The total dissolution of commercial animal agriculture. The third, The Total elimination of commercial and sport hunting(Regan 3). He believes that animals should not be treated just as resources for humans. Also, he believes that since everyone is subject to a life, that people should not believe in contractarianism. Contractarianism states that in order to gain morality you must be able to sign and understand a contract and if they cannot sign a contract (i.e. infant) you do not have the right to morality.

In, Animal Rights, Human Wrongs, Regan examines three views involving constraints in which animals may possibly be treated. He found all three accounts, Kantian, cruelty and utilitarian, lacking valid components. He states, We then consider an account ascribing rights to animals, a position which meets the objections which were fatal to the views examined earlier (Regan 52). The Kantian account does not consider, the rights account insists upon the moral status of animals in their own right (Regan 52). Kants philosophy said in short that if a human mistreated animals that they might eventually start mistreating humans. Secondly, Regan states, unlike the cruelty account, the rights account does not confuse the morality of acts with the mental states of agents (Regan 52). Lastly he states, and unlike utilitarianism, this account closes the door to the justification of the prejudices which merely happen to bring about the best consequences (Regan 52). Regan is putting emphasis on the individuals as opposed to the collective whole. He concludes that animals should have basic inherit rights, as do humans. Individual human beings have a moral obligation to change the way non-humans are treated.

Kenneth Goodpaster wrote his, On Being Morally Considerable, from an individualistic perspective as well, even if he does believe moral consideration is more complex than just the individual paradigm. Goodpaster states, These developments emphasize the importance of clarity about the framework of moral consideration as much as about the application of that framework (Goodpaster 57). In other words, Goodpaster is telling us that we need to better understand and explore the entities that form moral consideration. He calls for the need to move away from our modern moral philosophy based on humanism, which exclusively focuses on humans. Essentially, Kenneth Goodpaster claims that nothing short of the condition of being alive seems to me to be a plausible and non-arbitrary criterion for moral consideration (Goodpaster 58).

All three writers had both similar and unique individualistic approaches to the predicaments of the animal rights question. Singer, Regan and Goodpaster all had arguments against specieism, humanism and anthropocentric ideology. They all analyzed what should be criteria for a being, such as a cat, to have basic rights not to suffer, and/or be killed for use by humans. The authors analyzed the framework for the bases of human rights and found that several criterions could also be applied to animals other than humans.

In summary, two very significant ideas of thought dealing with animal rights and seeking to extend moral consideration to include animals are utilitarianism and deontology. Peter Singer, Tom Regan and Kenneth Goodpaster, all seek to extend moral considerably on the grounds that there is no clear-cut criteria to differentiate between humans and non-human animals that is morally relevant. Though they fail to form a comprehensive ethic for the security of rights for animals, it does help increase the empathy that humans feel for the suffering of others as an important reminder of morality. These newly formed philosophies on animal rights help individuals form their own moral values, which include their relationship with non-human animals. It is ultimately up to the individual how they may treat animals.

These authors, along with many other animal rights advocates believe that animals have rights to be free from harm by humans. In particular, they believe that animals should not be harmed in food production, clothing production, or medical research. Like Singers argument that rights are derived from the capacity to experience pain, and since animals experience pain they have the right to be free from harm like humans. However, reason is the logical prerequisite from which rights are given. Which would suggest humans have rights and animal do not. Food and shelter are essential to both animals and humans for their survival. They seek these essential items by different means. Animals pursue these things through instincts automatically. For example, a cat sees a bird and pounces it for food. Humans, on the other hand, use their ability to reason to produce food. For example, humans learn how to grow plants, choose a crop and grow their own food. The individual human has the freedom to form their own moral values that best meet their needs, as long as they do not harm other humans as a result.

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Animal Ethics: An Importance For Animals To Be Free From Harm By Humans. (2019, April 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 18, 2022, from
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