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Case Study: Animal Rights

Case Study: Animal Rights

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Identify which theory of ethics is consistent with a given statement about the morality of an issue relating to animal rights.

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Hello. I'm Glen. And this ethics tutorial is on a case study of animal rights. No key terms or things to keep in mind, so let's go directly to the content and the tutorial.

In this tutorial, we're going to look at a few basic statements about animal rights so we have a baseline to work off of and then a range of ethical considerations that surround conversations about animal rights. As with before, these will be related to some of the theories we've considered, but also some of them will be new, but are all relevant to animal rights.

First, a basic understanding of animal rights. There are, of course, many, many issues surrounding the general topic of animal rights. But the major focus of ethical discussions of animals does center around what, in fact, is the moral status of non-human animals. This is the major question. How are animals, non-human animals, to be considered ethically? So that is the foundation for the discussion in the tutorial.

We're going to look at five considerations for animal rights, in terms of ethical discussions. The first one has to do with degrees of moral consideration that might be appropriate for incorporating non-human animals into ethics. Another is the consideration of pain. Further, the relationship of consideration of pain to consequentialism. Number four is how deontology and character ethics tend to focus on human-oriented concerns that relate to animals. And then finally, how we sometimes can bring animals into moral considerations in terms of responsibilities.

So first, one way of considering the moral status of animals is to view them on a scale or degrees of moral consideration. This is in the sense that non-human animals don't have to have fully equal rights as humans in order to be considered in an ethical context or to be of moral consideration. We don't have to all be on the complete same level.

And as a matter of fact, this method of thinking already applies to humans. Because a fully mature adult who, say is the age of 30, is not on the same level as a six-month-old infant when it comes to rights and privileges and moral standing. Right? A six-month-old can't be rational. And there are other considerations that are in effect. So applying this methodology to considering animals is sometimes quite appropriate and useful.

Animals don't have to have full equal status in order for us to have obligations to them. And they can at least have some rights, if not all of them, well maybe not all of them. But they can have some rights. A 16-year-old human can drive a car, but they can't vote, and they can't serve in the military, and they can't get legally married. So we can kind of parallel that with animals.

Moving on, something else to consider is pain. And this is a consideration for how we treat others, but primarily how we treat animals. Pain is a consideration. Some animals clearly feel pain, physical pain. Some other animals may feel physical and also emotional and psychological pain. And it is within us, usually the belief is present, that it is wrong to cause pain unnecessarily. And if we grant this, then we will be distinguishing between animals based upon their capacity for feeling pain. This can be useful, and this can also be problematic because it's difficult to measure.

Let me give you a quick example of this. As a chef, I have killed, personally, hundreds of lobsters. I have done this in the kitchen over and over again. Sometimes you toss them into a pot, sometimes you cut them in half while they're still alive. And years ago it was kind of easy for me to do this because I was taught that lobsters don't have the capacity to feel pain because crustaceans don't have brains. And in order to feel pain you need a brain.

Lobsters have brain stems, but that's it. So even though you pick one up and it goes like this, right, that's what lobsters do. It's not feeling pain, so you can toss it into a pot. Well, it turns out later on science has shown pretty conclusively, lobsters feel pain. OK. Now I don't feel too great about this.

So does that mean that they move from being non-moral considerations to moral considerations? Maybe. Certainly my own personal discomfort went from being here to being here, sort of level up my hand there. So pain is very much a relevant consideration in ethics. OK. Related to this is consequentialism, of course. Utilitarianism focuses on the increase of pleasure and the decrease of pain and unhappiness, and this is something that can be very much in play for discussions on animal rights.

Regarding deontology and character ethics, these focus more so on human concerns. And so if we want to bring animals into the moral discussion from a deontological and character-based point of view, we need to do it in terms of human needs and concerns. This won't exclude animals, but that's how we need to bring them in. So for example, Kantian deontology says we need to treat other people with kindness because they are humans. This reinforces the foundation of humanity.

Well, we need to be kind to animals because we have an indirect duty to them, because it displays our general sense of kindness and is indicative of how we'll treat other people. And like this, a character ethicist will say I want to be seen as being kind, and I want to cultivate the virtue of kindness, so I'm going to be kind everyone, animals included.

And finally, regarding responsibility, there are ethical positions that state we are responsible to care for non-human animals in the role of being their stewards. Right? This is what you are, if you are a pet owner. Right? I've been a pet owner. Some people call their pets companions, but as long as you call them a pet, you're their steward. You're there to take care of them, and so there are responsibilities that come along with this, and those responsibilities, most certainly, are ethical. And this particular line of thinking also is applicable to environmental ethics and the preservation of endangered species.

In this tutorial, we have looked at a couple of basic statements regarding animal rights and then a range of ethical considerations which are relevant to discussions regarding animals and whether or not we can include them in the sphere of morality.