Extended Examples: Nonhuman Animals

In general, the environmental ethics is an attempt to provide rational and morally well supported answers to issues related to the moral status of non-human beings. Here are some examples of questions pursued in the domain of environmental ethics: 
  • Why should we care about the planet and the non human residents of our planet?
  • Do we have any obligations to future generations?
  • Can we use animals and nature in any way that suits us?
  • Do they have moral rights?
  • On what foundations should we rest our concern for rain‑forest, marine ecology, or natural landscapes?
Morally‑Indirect Environmental Strategies (or "the indirect duty" view)
We ought to protect the natural environment because, in the long run, it is good for us (humans).
  • Ex1: It is wrong to destroy rain forest because deforestation negatively affects current and future humans
  • Ex2: It is wrong to use up non-renuable resources because, in a long run, it is bad for humans. In particular, future generations of humans will be negatively effected by our actions.
  • Ex3: It is wrong to be cruel to animals, because it may lead to cruelty to humans.
Morally‑Direct Environmental Strategies ("the direct duty" view):
We ought to protect the natural environment because it is good for natural environment. That is, something in the natural environment has intrinsic (or inherent) value that (morally) has to be taken into consideration.
  • Ex1: It is wrong to be cruel to animals because it causes them pain.
  • Ex2: It is wrong to destroy rain forrest because it is beautiful and beauty has intrinsic vale.
A) Only humans (both current and future) have moral standing (morally matter).
B) The natural environment must be protected only in so far as it is good for humans.
C) Animals are excluded from the sphere of morality; we only have indirect duties to them. (That is, all limitations about what we can do to or with animals and nature are explained by the means of indirect environmental strategies.)
Some examples
* Aquinas (and the traditional Natural Law Theory, see quotations in Rachels)
* Kant (and his interpretation of categorical Imperatives)
* Rational egoists and egoistical contractarians such as Thomas Hobbes. 
Hobbes maintained that morality is a result of agreement between rational et egoistical beings who make a contract to adopt and follow certain rules (irrational and non-rational being cannot enter into any such contract). Notice, contractarians immediately run into a problem of explaining why we have duties to future generations, children, and other beings who cannot ener ainto a contract with us. 
The same basic ethical principles govern our attitude to both humans and animals. That is, we have direct obligations to both humans and animals.
Ex 1: Classical and Contemporary Utilitarians (the following passage comes from Peter Singer's book "Animal Liberation"; see  aslo his "All animals Are Equal"): 
Jeremy Bentham incorporated the essential basis of moral equality into his utilitarian system of ethics in the formula: “Each to count for one and none for more than one.” In other words, the interests of every being affected by an action are to be taken into account and given the same weight as the like interests of any other being. A later utilitarian, Henry Sidgwick, put the point in this way: "The good of any one individual is of no more importance, from the point of view (if I may say so) of the Universe, than the good of any other.'' [The Methods of Ethics  (7th Ed.), p. 382.] More recently, the leading figures in contemporary moral philosophy have shown a great deal of agreement in specifying as a fundamental presupposition of their moral theories some similar requirement which operates so as to give everyone's interests equal consideration — although they cannot agree on how this requirement is best formulated.
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—in so far as rough comparisons can be made—of any other being. If a being is not capable of suffering, or of experiencing enjoyment or happiness, there is nothing to be taken into account. This is why the limit of sentience (using the term as a convenient, if not strictly accurate, shorthand for the capacity to suffer or experience enjoyment or happiness) is the only defensible boundary of concern for the interests of others. To mark this boundary by some characteristic like intelligence or rationality would be to mark it in an arbitrary way. Why not choose some other characteristic, like skin color?
The full quote from Bentham is in Rachels (7th ed., p. 106)
Ex 2: Contemporary Kantians (e.g., Tom Regan)
Regan argumes that Kant's like insights, specifically his idea that some being must never be used merely as a means, can be extended to animals.
Regan's first point is factual. Namely, he claims that all beings with a mental development of about 1 year old mammal are "subjects of a life."  Such being have a subjective point of view and likings and preferences. Consequently, their lives may be better or worse for them from their subjective point of view. (By contrast, cars can run better or worse but they do not care about it because they have no subjective point of view.)
Regan's second point is normative; namely he claims that
All subjects of a life have an inherent value.
Notice that Regans' concept of inherent value is an analog of what Immanuel Kant called the special worth and special dignity. (Read again Rachels, chapters 1, 9-10 and this set of notes about deontology, Kant, and the Ethics of respect for persons.) There are are, of course, some differences between Kant and Regan. Kant links the concept of the "special worth" and "special dignity" to rationality and autonomy. Regan links it to having a subjective point of view and being "the subject of a life". 
Finally, Regan targues that all beings who have inherent must not be used merely as means to promote utility. Such beings have moral rights. In particular, they have a right not to be harmed. 
Some non‑sentient beings and systems have moral standing. They may include individual plants, species, ecosystems, even the nature as a whole.
Ex 1: Aldo Leopold: 
"All ethics... rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts... The land ethics simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land" (Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (New York: Ballantine, 1966), p. 239).
Ex 2: Baird Callicott: 
"[land ethics] is in sharp contrast to traditional Western humanism... [it] provides moral standing for both environmental individuals and for the environment as a whole". Leopold: "a land ethics changes the role of Homo Sapiens from conqueror of the land community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for fellow members and also respect for the community as such" (J. Baird Callicott, "The Search for an Environmental Ethics" in William Shaw, Social and Professional Ethics, 2nd ed., p. 199).
There is a consensues that, if an action or practive negatively affects humans (current and future), we have a reason not to do it. But do these indirect arguments go far enough? Are they sufficient to deal with all forms of animal and environmental abuse?  Are there some other good and more direct arguments that support changing our attitudes to animals?
A) An intuitive approach.
In general, suffering is intrinsically bad, period. So, animal suffering is also bad.  Therefore, animal suffering always matters from a moral point of view?
B) The last man on a desert island argument(s).
Suppose that some action causes excrutiating suffering to an animal yet has no adverse bad results for humans. For example, someone tortures animals on a desert island and then dies. The indirect approach cannot explain why such actions are wrong.
C) Arguments from marginal cases
Suppose we deal with a child who will never develop into a rational being. Intuitively, we should not cause such a child unnecessary suffering. So, morality does not seem to depend on someones's being rational but rather on someone's being sentient (i.e., havin ability to suffer and feel pleasure). But animals have this ability. So, they are in the sphere of moral concer. 
D) Other Possible Itrinsic Value in Nature
It is harder to argue that we have to extend the sphere of moral concern to non-sentient beings/systems. Some philosophers argue that, e.g., the ground for this tep may be provided by the fact that these objects are beautiful and beauty has intrinsic value.
Some general points
An Argument from Marginal Cases (again): Both Singer adn Regan notice that it would be morally wrong to use severely handicapped humans (e.g., severely infeebled children) in ways we currently use animals. The consistenct requiers to treat similar cases similarly. Thus, they argue, most experiments on animals are morally wrong and we ought to abandon industrial methods of producing meat, dairy, and aggs (so called, the factory farms). 
Some differences in their approaches: Singer would allow for using an animal when it maximizes utility. Regan's approach is deontologist; he argues that what we do to animals involves treating them merely as a means, vilatestheir moral rights, and thus is wrong. We should stop doing it even if it maximizes utility. 
Harms to animals
Typical ways of raising them cause them excruciating suffering. Depending on the estimations, about 65-99% of animals whom we eat go through the process of factory husbandry). Here are some videos demosnstrating what it means for animals:
Life and Health Factors
There are no basic interests of humans that are fulfilled by eating animals. On the contrary, these ways of using animals are frequently harmful to humans (or, at least, they are less good than means we copuld use instead). Here are some details:
"Nutritional Updat for Physicians: Plan-based Diets". Abstract: "The objective of this article is to present to physicians an update on plant-based diets. Concerns about the rising cost of health care are being voiced nationwide, even as unhealthy lifestyles are contributing to the spread of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. For these reasons, physicians looking for cost-effective interventions to improve health outcomes are becoming more involved in helping their patients adopt healthier lifestyles. Healthy eating may be best achieved with a plant-based diet, which we define as a regimen that encourages whole, plant-based foods and discourages meats, dairy products, and eggs as well as all refined and processed foods. We present a case study as an example of the potential health benefits of such a diet. Research shows that plant-based diets are cost-effective, low-risk interventions that may lower body mass index, blood pressure, HbA1C, and cholesterol levels. They may also reduce the number of medications needed to treat chronic diseases and lower ischemic heart disease mortality rates. Physicians should consider recommending a plant-based diet to all their patients, especially those with high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or obesity."
100 Scientific Reason to NOT Eat Meat: A summary of various reasons for abstaining from eating meat with links to scientific research supporting these reasons.
T. Collin Campbell and Thomas M. Cambell, The China Study (2006), a comprehensive study of various diets and life styles and their effects on our longevity and health. Free download (PDF)Wikipedia summary.
Environmental factors 
Billions of cows, bulls, and sheeps maintain on factory farms are responsible for environmental damage by, e.g., producing methan and thus being one of the main contributors to global warming. In addition, animals use significant emounts of plant resources and water. The transportation of meat causes additional environmental damage.
The Enivironmental Impact of Meat Production Systems (An overview of main environmental factors)
How Does Meat in the Diet Take an Environmental Toll?  (A popular essay from the Scietific American, December 2011)
Psychological and mental-health factors; damage to families and communities 
"The worst thing, worse than the physical danger, is the emotional toll. If you work in that stick pit for any pe-riod of time [killing pigs], you develop an attitude that lets you kill things but doesn’t let you care. You may look a hog in the eye that’s walking around down in the blood pit with you and think, God, that really isn’t a bad-looking animal. You may want to pet it. Pigs down on the kill floor have come up and nuzzled me like a puppy. Two minutes later I had to kill them—beat them to death with a pipe. I can’t care. [...] Every sticker [slaughterhouse killer] I know carries a gun, and every one of them would shoot you. Most  stickers I know have been arrested for assault. A lot of  them have problems with alcohol. They have to drink, they have no other way of dealing with killing life, kicking animals all day long. If you stop to think about it, you’re killing several thousand beings a day (Eisnitz, Gail A. Slaughterhouse: The shocking story of greed, neglect, and inhumane treatment inside the U. S. 1997, 87). 
“with nearly thirty-six injuries or  illnesses for every one hundred workers, meat packing is the most dangerous industry in the United States” (271)
Movies and video-clips: 
  • "Food, Inc" -- A documentary making a case against "factory farms" and in support of local self-sustainable farms and also organic food. The movie argues that going away from factory farms would be best for the planet, economy, and human health. It would also greatly reduce (if not totally elliminate) animal suffering. Comes with the book. (PBS trailer, 24 minutes long;  or google you tube)
  • "Forks Over Knives" (available on Netflix or google you-tube). A powerful documentary about the benefits, both individual and societal, of going vegan. It covers the same material as the book, China Study (by Campbell and co), mentionned above and below. (After watching this movie, my friend, a Ph.D. in philosophy and a meat eater observed what follows: "I'm not ready to fully go down that path, but I find the arguments compelling and the issues important.")
  • A CNN video of workers abusing cows; it raises serious food safety issues. Very graphic and not for faint-hearted.
  • Supermarket Secrets - Dispatches part 1 and Part 2 A journalist Jane Moore investigates how supermarkets have affected the food on our plates and reveals the tell-tale signs that the food we buy may not have been grown in the way we think.
  • "The Earthlings" (a complete movie); another link to "The Earthlings". (EARTHLINGS is a feature length documentary about humanity’s absolute dependence on animals (for pets, food, clothing, entertainment, and scientific research) but also illustrates our complete disrespect for these so-called “non-human providers.” The film is narrated by Academy Award nominee Joaquin Phoenix (GLADIATOR) and features music by the critically acclaimed platinum artist Moby. With an in-depth study into pet stores, puppy mills and animals shelters, as well as factory farms, the leather and fur trades, sports and entertainment industries, and finally the medical and scientific profession, EARTHLINGS uses hidden cameras and never before seen footage to chronicle the day-to-day practices of some of the largest industries in the world, all of which rely entirely on animals for profit.)
  • Fragments from "The Eartlings" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8B547L5VkQ
  • "Meet Your Meat" (11 minutes, a documentary produced by PETA)
  • "Meet Your Meat" (11 minutes long documentary produced by PETA)
  • Animals Should Be Off the Menu (10 minutes): Philip Wollen addresses the St James Ethics and the Wheeler Centre debate making a case that animals ought to be off the menu because it is good for them, for us, and for our planet. One of the most powerful speeches on this topic I have ever seen.
  • Animals Should Be Off the Menu: The full debate (113 minutes): A very good debate on both sides. The topic is, strictly speaking, "Should Animals Be Off the Menu". Singer and Wollen gave extremely powerful arguments against factory farms. The other side argues, mostly, for self-sustainable farms (which has nothibg to do with the abomination of the factory farms). 

Other (mostly on line) resources




1) Both Peter Singer and Tom Regan argue that

A) in general, it is morally permissible to experiment on animals and to raise them for food, we just have to do it humanely;

B) in general, it is wrong to experiment on animals and to raise them for food (and if we do it, it would be an exception to a rule);

C) it is never permissible to experiment on an animal.

D) none of the above

2) According to Singer, the most fundamental principle of equality can be stated as follows:

A) only factually identical beings ought to be treated equally;

B) Only beings with comparable mental abilities ought to be treated equally;

C) The interests of every being that has interests are to be taken into account and treated equally with the interests of any other being;

D) All of us have certain basic equal rights, e.g., the right to life; E) All of the above.

3) According to Tom Regan, the most fundamental moral principle can be stated as follows:

A) Only factually identical beings ought to be treated equally;

B) The interests of every being that has interests are to be taken into account and treated equally with the interests of any other being;

C) No being who is a subject of a life and thus has inherent value (and thus moral right) can be treated with disregard for this being’s rights (especially the right not to be harmed), and this includes animals.

D) All of the above;  

E) None of the above

4) According to protracted humanism (homocentrism) the natural environment and animals ought to protected and respected because

A) such protection is good for current and future humans;

B) such protection is good for animals;

C) humanistic attitudes include natural landscapes;

D) all of the above; E) none of the above.

5) The following philosophers would accept the main tenets of protracted humanism (homocentrism)

A) St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas

B) Kant and Hobbes;               C) Singer and Regan

D) A) and B);                           E) all of the above

6)  According to Individualistic Extensionism the following beings have moral standing (are directly protected by the rules of morality):

A) only current and future humans;

B) both humans and other sentient beings (animals);

C) humans, animals, natural landscapes and other non-sentient parts of environment;

D) none of the above.

7) The following philosophers would accept the main tenets of individualistic extensionism

A) St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas

B) Kant and Hobbes C) Singer and Regan

D) A) and B);

E) all of the above

8)  According to eco-centrism (global extensionism) the following beings have moral standing (are directly protected by the rules of morality):

A) only current and future humans;

B) both humans and sentient animals;

C) humans, andimals, natural landscapes and other non-sentient parts of environment;  D) none of the above.

9) Peter Singer position is

A) a version of consequentialism based on the view that the satisfaction of interests is good while frustration of interests is bad (pleasure is good and pain is bad);

B) a version of deontology based on the idea of respect for rights;

C) both A) and B);

D) none of the above

10) Tom Regan position is

A) a version of consequentialism

B) a version of deontology based on the idea of respect for

11) Augustine, Aquinas and Kant argue that

A) we do not have any direct obligations to animals or nature and we can do with them whatever we feel like doing, no limitations

B) we do not have any direct obligations to animals or nature but we must not be cruel to animals for if we are cruel to animals we may become cruel to humans

C) both a) and b);

D) none of the above

12) Imagine that the last person on a desert Island decides to take care of her pet because she thinks it is her obligation to this animal. This example seems to show that 

A)  indirect environmental strategies are morally correct (that is we do not have any direct duties to animals or nature);

B) indirect environmental strategies are morally incorrect (that is, we may have some direct obligations to animals)

C) living on a desert island is not that bad if one has enough water and food;

D) none of the above

14) According to the argument from the “marginal cases” we ought to take care of seriously mentally handicapped people when they suffer. This argument attempts to show that

A) animals are not at all like humans; thus, we do not have any duties to them (they do not have a moral standing);

B) humans who are only marginally like us have a moral standing (we have some obligations to them); thus, similarly, animals may have a moral standing (moral constraints are not directly linked with someone’s intelligence);

C) neither A) nor B)

D) all of the above

15) If we have obligations to Neanderthal men, future humans who may have different genetic material, and even Extra Terrestrial beings, then

A) moral standing does not depend on someone’s being a human being, a member of our species (Homo Sapiens);

B) moral standing depends on someone’s being a human being, a member of our species;

C) neither A) nor B.

16)  Stef argued in class that one reason to care about natural environment is that some natural objects are beautiful, and beauty has intrinsic value, and we have a reason to protect something which has an intrinsic value.

A) true B) false.