Justifying Moral Standing for Animals

10 02 2011

The record of human history is dominated by the view that nonhuman life exists to serve human needs.   Even today, there are many “uses” of animals that are ethically questionable.  But, is this the way it is ought to be?  Your comments for this topic should help us in our progression from “what is” to “what ought to be” with as much objectivity as your reading of DesJardins’ Chapter 5 can offer.

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7 responses

10 02 2011
Rebekah Jones

Question #7
I think there are many sound arguments for vegetarianism coming from both moral and practical reasons. The book provides a partial basis for these arguments, although it never actively argues for it. The practical reasons are a bit more straigtforward then the strictly moral ones, although some morality enters the picture. The pratical ones deal with how much corn and other agricultural foods we feed to the animals we eat, I have heard estimates of 70%. With this food it seems that we could feed a lot more people on grain products alone and have less starving people and also use up less land for agricultural purposes (or use the same amount of land more sustainably, possibly by rotating crops). Of course this involves more of a reduction in meat at least rather than all out vegetarianism.

The moral arguments are more complex and seem to revolve around our duty to animals and how much suffering we should allow in the world. The first depends on what exactly our duties to nonhumans are. If we have duties to them based on their capacity for pain/pleasure we should not kill them, if our duty is based on their intellect then we shouldnt kill only certain ones, if we have a duty not to become hard hearted (and such killing would lead to that) then we shouldn’t kill them. The second is slightly more utulitarian in nature and involves trying to minimize the suffering in the world. Since animals suffer when we raise and kill them for food it would be a better world if this suffering was minimized or eliminated.

An interesting inconsistancy that came across my mind was that there are laws and penalties dealing with cruelty to animals (ie a story about a woman who tried to send her dog through the mailing system and I think she was fined) but a lot of these things considered cruel don’t compare much to how some animals are treated before and during slaughter.

Personally I am somewhat convinced by some of these arguments, at least enough to try it out and reduce a lot of my meat consumption.

10 02 2011
Jon Becker

Answer to Question #8:

This question discusses the decision made by the state of Minnesota to feed deer herds over a particularly severe winter. Given this scenario, there are several questions that will be raised: Do humans have such responsibilities to animals, particularly animals like deer that are in no danger of extinction? Also, is it a problem that this action was mostly supported by hunters?
To answer the first question, I believe that humans do have a responsibility to care for wild animals. My personal motivation for this belief is backed by a Biblical concept of stewardship and the belief that God values every animal individually. To provide additional nutrition for deer populations through a tough winter is the morally right thing to do. Obviously the feeding would have to be carefully targeted and regulated in order to preserve the herd, but not to make them totally dependent on this nutrition. Although the deer populations might not become extinct without the feeding, the local herds could be severely reduced to a point where it would take many years to recover the population.
I also do not see a problem with this project being supported by hunters. Hunting is an activity that involves thousands of people statewide and generates millions of dollars. Many hunters, myself included, do not see the deer populations as something to take from and abuse, but rather a natural resource to carefully maintain and harvest from. It is also important to view the inherent value of the deer populations, giving value to them for their existence, not just their utility.

10 02 2011
Heidi Edwards

Question #6: Do you see any morally relevant differences between domesticated animals and wild animals? Would Singer? Would Regan? Do you see any morally relevant differences between animals that are threatened with extinction and those that are not?
I do not believe that there is a moral difference between a domesticated animal and a wild animal. I believe that all animals have the same moral standing and that moral standing is not the same as that of humans. The difference is found in the fact that we as humans can think and reason about whether animals have moral standing or not, and animals cannot. Animals act out of instinct and learned actions from their parents. They cannot decipher right from wrong. Animals can think, but they have no morals and are therefore on a different plane than humans. Some animals may be able to “learn” more things than other animals, but that does not give them higher moral standing than an animal that cannot “learn” as much. Singer would agree that domestic and wild animals have equal moral standing, but for different reasons. He believes that animals are assigned moral standing on the basis of their ability to suffer, not on whether they can reason or talk. Since they can suffer they must also be able to enjoy and therefore have interest and are considered sentient. All sentient beings have equal moral standing. Regan assigns moral standing to those things that have “inherent value.” Moral agents (those who can act morally) and moral patients (those who may not be able to act morally, but can be acted upon morally) both have inherent value according to Regan. They are then considered to be “subjects-of-a-life.” If they are “subjects-of-a-life” then they have equal moral standing. So it would not matter whether the animal is domestic or wild its moral standing is determined on an individual basis as to whether or not it is the “subject-of-a-life.”
To determine whether endangered species have a higher moral relevance than those animals that are not endangered, it is necessary to understand how their moral standing is determined. Then based on their moral standing, we have to answer the question, “Do we as humans have a responsibility to do something about it?” In the animal kingdom it is the survival of the fittest. One species of animals is not going to try to save another species from extinction. So should we care? Again we come to the difference in animals and humans; we have to ability to reason as to whether or not we should try to save animals that are endangered. I believe because of our ability to reason and to care, we therefore have the responsibility to care for these animals.

10 02 2011
Preston Godbold

To some people hunting and fishing definitely raises some moral issues, but in mind mind it does not; unless the hunting or fishing is marked by an uncontrolled over-consumption not based on human need. What I mean by that is, when I think about hunting and fishing I think of a hunter shooting some deer for his family, or the sport of fishing. However, I am not so naive to think there are not abuses to these things. Large corporations have fished certain waters to near extinction and some animals have similarly been hunted to extinction. This is wrong, not because hunting animals or “hurting” animals is wrong, but because there is no respect for the animals, there is no stewardship of the resources being consumed. I think that if the animals being killed in hunting or fishing are consumed by the people hunting and fishing it makes a big difference. I would agree with DesJardins that there are certain cases where “culling the herd” might be a better alternative than letting over-population of a certain species damage an ecosystem and harm many other species. Animals, like humans, are part of a complex ecological community is constantly changing and we have a responsibility to maintain that balance of interdependence.

10 02 2011
Lindsay Jones

Question #2: Natural objects have an interest to flourish; to complete their purpose, to accomplish the good they were created for. The concept of giving rights to natural objects seems to protect these interests, but should humans only be interested the “negative and not positive duties” their actions toward natural objects (p. 102)? Giving natural objects “rights” is using more preventative language, regarding a decrease in human involvement with these natural objects. However, I propose that, while thinking about the negative aspects, we must also think of the positive actions, which do not necessarily fall under the category of rights. I think that natural objects can be managed by humans in order to benefit both that natural object and the human, for humans have the ability to cause natural objects to flourish. There was no reason for the Sacramento River to be polluted with 20,000 gallons of pesticide, an action that could have been prevented. Here rights come into play when regulations are established for the purpose of preventing these kinds of actions. A good manager of the Sacramento River may enhance the productivity of the river by fishing sustainably while making the river a more productive and healthy area for fishes to nest and acquire food. This would result in better health for the Sacramento River, as well as a healthy and renewable source of food for humans. Therefore, I would say yes, the same meaning we use for “good” toward humans is the same as “good” toward the natural world.

14 02 2011
Kate

I am not a vegetarian nor an avid fan of what they claimed as veganism. But I always have this in mind that human as a creature of superior intelligence has to keep in mind that how he treats animals reflect how he values life and we are covered by this sacred thing called LIFE. Anyway.. I just saved a rabbit from being slaughtered, now she is in my custody and I think there is a need for me to provide her a rabbit hutch. Feel free to reply if you have known someone selling such item.

3 06 2013
envirethics

A belated thank you, Kate, if you are still “out there.” I appreciate your position on sacredness of life. If you have read other posts on this blog, and if you have some understanding of what we call a “biblical environmental ethic” you might understand when I state that this ethic is the only one that truly and objectively gives us as humans a basis for valuing all of life as something to be cared for in our role, not as “owners” (Really?), or the “most highly evolved” (How could this be proven?), but as “stewards” entrusted with its care.

Let me hear back from you since some time has elapsed. Good day.

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