For Hierarchy in Animal Ethics
Journal of Practical Ethics 6(1): 1-18
In my forthcoming book, How to Count Animals, More or Less (based on my 2016 Uehiro Lectures in Practical Ethics), I argue for a hierarchical approach to animal ethics according to which animals have moral standing but nonetheless have a lower moral status than people have. This essay is an overview of that book, drawing primarily from selections from its beginning and end, aiming both to give a feel for the overall project and to indicate the general shape of the hierarchical position that I defend there. In this essay, I contrast the hierarchical approach with its most important rival (which holds that people and animals have the very same moral status), sketch the main idea behind one central argument for hierarchy, and briefly review three potentially troubling implications of the hierarchical view. I close with a discussion of a promising possible solution to the most worrisome of the three objections.
The Claims of Animals and the Needs of Strangers: Two Cases of Imperfect Right
Journal of Practical Ethics 6(1): 19-51
This paper argues for a conception of the natural rights of non-human animals grounded in Kant’s explanation of the foundation of human rights. The rights in question are rights that are in the first instance held against humanity collectively speaking—against our species conceived as an organized body capable of collective action. The argument proceeds by first developing a similar case for the right of every human individual who is in need of aid to get it, and then showing why the situation of animals is similar. I first review some of the reasons why people are resistant to the idea that animals might have rights. I then explain Kant’s conception of natural rights. I challenge the idea that duties of aid and duties of kindness to animals fit the traditional category of “imperfect duties” and argue that they are instead cases of “imperfect right.” I explain how you can hold a right against a group, and why it is legitimate to conceive of humanity as such a group. I then argue that Kant’s account of the foundation of property rights is grounded in a conception of the common possession of the Earth that grounds a right to aid and the rights of animals to be treated in ways that are consistent with their good. Finally, I return to the objections to the idea that animals have rights and offer some responses to them.
The Fundamental Problem of Philosophy: Its Point
Journal of Practical Ethics 6(1): 52-68
The fundamental problem of philosophy is whether doing it has any point, since if it does not have any point, there is no reason to do it. It is suggested that the intrinsic point of doing philosophy is to establish a rational consensus about what the answers to its main questions are. But it seems that this cannot be accomplished because philosophical arguments are bound to be inconclusive. Still, philosophical research generates an increasing number of finer grained distinctions in terms of which we try to conceptualize reality, and this is a sort of progress. But if, as is likely, our arguments do not suffice to decide between these alternatives, our personalities might slip in to do so. Our philosophy will then express our personality. This could provide philosophy with a point for us. If some of our conclusions have practical import, philosophy could have the further point of giving us something by which we can live.