Animals and Ethics Class Notes: Taylor, Cohen, Frey, Streiffer



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Animals and Ethics Class Notes: Taylor, Cohen, Frey, Streiffer

  • Rights theory (deontology)

  • Utilitarianism (equal consideration of interests)

  • Contractarianism (the moral community and rational, self-interested moral agents) (76-79)

  • Feminism (rationality, empathy, and the ethic of care)

  • Virtue ethics (telos and the doctrine of the mean)


Key Ideas: Ch. 1

  • Descartes, Kant, Darwin

  • Philosophers as the ‘midwives’ of the ‘animal rights movement’ (pros/cons?)

  • Marjorie Spiegel, “The Dreaded Comparison” (again: pros/cons?)

  • What’s in a name?: ‘animal rights’, ‘animal liberation’, ‘animal advocacy’, ‘animal protection’

  • Is painless death a moral wrong?

  • The property paradigm in animal law

  • The argument from marginal cases (under which some claim that we must either include some animals in the moral community or else exclude some humans)

  • The role of language…“no one was injured but about 2,600 pigs were killed”


Ch. 2: From Aristotle to Darwin

  • Views of animals throughout history, and throughout the world

    • Ahimsa (doctrine of non-injury to all living things) in India

    • Aboriginal cultures

    • Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and the great chain of being

  • Hobbes through Kant…

  • J.S. Mill: some pleasures are qualitatively superior to others (i.e., “like pearls before swine”)


Ch. 3: Do Animals Have Moral Rights?

  • What is a right? (Is the following a good enough definition? “An entitlement to have, use, or do something…a claim to something and against someone, the recognition of which is called for by legal rules or, in the case of moral rights, by the principles of an enlightened conscience” (58))

  • Do all rights require correlative duties, or vice versa? (not necessarily, many claim…)

  • Against animals having rights

    • “animals lack self-consciousness and moral agency, they cannot be ends in themselves.” (Michael Leahy)

    • “Because animals have no capacity to make moral choices, they can have no rights” (Carl Cohen)

  • Animals, says Henry Salt, “have moral rights if humans do” (63)

  • Different kinds of rights: “What distinguishes a natural right, like the right to life, from a non-natural right, like the right to collective bargaining, is that violation of the right to life would make it impossible for a person to flourish as a human being.” (65) [also called ‘basic rights’]

  • Tom Regan and The Case for Animal Rights

    • Inherent as against instrumental value

    • Regan “rejects the utilitarian idea that the interests of the individual must be subsumed under the aggregate of everyone’s interest…the aggregative nature of its moral calculus can lead to treating individuals in ways that deny their inherent value.” (examples?)

  • “According to Kant, human beings merit respect because they are autonomous. To be autonomous is, for Kant, to be rational and hence able to govern one’s life on the basis of an understanding of right and wrong…Regan allows a notion of autonomy that is considerably broader than Kant’s” (68)

    • ‘preference autonomy’ and the subject-of-a-life

      • The miniride principle and the worse-off principle (71)

  • The economic fact, for R. G. Frey, is that “some human lives are more valuable than others. If human lives are not equal in value, we cannot claim, with Regan, that animal lives have the same value as normal human lives.” (What do you think?)

Contractarian responses

  • Narveson and Carruthers (“moral decadence”)

  • A further response, by Louis Pojman: “once we accept the radical egalitarianism of Regan or Singer we are on the road to moral nihilism, to saying that because there are no relevant moral distinctions among beings we have no moral duties at all.” (78)

  • Mark Rowlands, a Rawlsian case for animal rights (the veil of ignorance and the original position)

Feminist responses

  • Midgley: is “right” even the right word? Should we instead be thinking in terms of relations?

  • Nel Noddings: (81) on the limits of extending the ethic of care to other animals (reciprocality)

  • Difference feminism, and Martha Nussbaum’s Aristotelian “capabilities approach” and the right to a ‘dignified existence’ (86)


Carl Cohen, “Reply to Tom Regan” (26-29)

  • Cohen critiques Regan for mixing up two senses of the phrase ‘inherent value’; is his critique solid?

  • Cohen claims that “we all agree that humans do have rights”, but is this actually true? And what does he mean by rights, as distinct from interests?

  • Why is the more direct claim made by Bernie Rollin—that interests themselves establish rights claims—“a transparent failure”?

  • Cohen on Regan: “what has subjective experience must have inherent value, and what has inherent value must have rights.” (27)

  • Two kinds of inherent value: ‘having interests’, and being moral agents in the Kantian sense

  • Is Cohen’s logic subject to a critique from marginal cases?


R.G. Frey, “Rights, Interests, Desires, and Beliefs” (55-58)

  • Two distinct notions of interest: “john has an interest in good health” (a desire) and “good health is in John’s interest” (closer to a statement of fact)…Frey argues that animals only have interests in the second sense, and therefore cannot be rights-holders

  • Do you agree with Frey that “having interest in the second sense, in the sense of having wants which can be satisfied or left unsatisfied” is a prerequisite to establishing rights claims?

  • “I may as well say at once that I do not think animals can have desires. My reasons for thinking this turn largely upon my doubts that animals can have beliefs, and my doubts in this regard turn partially…upon the view that having beliefs is not compatible with the absence of language and linguistic ability.” (56)


Robert Streiffer, “In Defense of the Moral Relevance of Species Boundaries” (387-389)


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