The Animals Issue: Moral Theory in Practice - Conclusion
Carruthers (Peter)
Source: Carruthers (Peter) - The Animals Issue: Moral Theory in Practice, Chapter 8
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  1. It is time to pull together the threads of my argument, and to briefly set out my conclusions. In doing this I shall by-pass the position defended in Chapter 8, that the mental states of animals are non-conscious ones. For this is, at the moment, too highly speculative to serve as a secure1 basis for moral practice. The contents of that chapter may best be regarded as suggestions for further research.
  2. My main argument against the moral standing of animals is that some version of contractualism provides us with the most acceptable framework for moral theory, and that from such a perspective animals must fail to be accorded direct rights, through failing to qualify as rational agents. While contractualism allows that we do have duties towards animals, these only arise indirectly -
    1. on the one hand, out of respect for the feelings of animal lovers, and
    2. on the other hand, through the good or bad qualities of character that animals may evoke in us.
    Most importantly, this position is not undermined by failure to accord direct rights to those human beings who are not rational agents, since such rights are in fact granted through a version of slippery slope argument, as well as through an argument from social stability.
  3. There only appear to be two real competitors to the contractualist line on animals rehearsed above. The first is the rights-based approach of Tom Regan. But there is no way in which this can achieve reflective equilibrium, largely because of its failure to provide an adequate governing conception of the sources of morality and moral motivation. We can set Regan a dilemma, indeed.
    1. The most natural reading of his work involves him in a commitment to moral intuitionism, maintaining that moral values form part of the fabric of the world independent of our minds. While this provides us with a kind of governing conception, it is an unacceptable one, as we saw in Chapter 1 ("Carruthers (Peter) - Moral Argument and Moral Theory"). It makes a complete mystery, both of the subject matter of morality, and of our supposed knowledge of moral truths.
    2. On the other hand, it might be possible to read Regan more neutrally, supposing that his intention is merely to pull together our common-sense moral beliefs into a coherent set of principles. Taken like this, his work provides us with no governing conception at all. But this is both unacceptable in itself, and serves also to undermine many of Regan’s own arguments, in so far as they depend upon claims about moral relevance, as many of them do. For as we saw in Chapter 3 ("Carruthers (Peter) - Utilitarianism and Animal Suffering"), relevance is always relevant to some point of view, and on this reading of Regan the moral point of view would remain uncharacterised.
  4. The other main competitor to my contractualist account is the utilitarian approach defended by Peter Singer. There are a number of reasons for preferring contractualism to utilitarianism as a framework for moral theory, as we saw in Chapter 2 ("Carruthers (Peter) - Utilitarianism and Contractualism"). But the main argument against Singer is that, when properly worked out, utilitarianism entails a position on the animals issue that is far too extreme2 to be taken seriously. For it is obliged to count animal suffering and animal lives as equal3 in standing to our own, as we saw in Chapters 3 ("Carruthers (Peter) - Utilitarianism and Animal Suffering") and 4 ("Carruthers (Peter) - Utilitarianism and the Harm of Killing"). Yet we find it intuitively abhorrent4 that the lives or sufferings of animals should be weighed against the lives or sufferings of human beings. Note that this argument against Singer is partially dependent upon the success of my attempt, in Chapters 5 ("Carruthers (Peter) - Contractualism and Animals") and 7 ("Carruthers (Peter) - Contractualism and Character"), to work out a plausible contractualist approach to the animals issue. For we can be more convincing in resisting the claim that theoretical considerations should be allowed to over-ride our common-sense beliefs, if we have some alternative approach to offer. The dependence is only partial, however. For the beliefs in question are so deeply embedded in our moral thinking that it might be more reasonable to do without any theory of morality at all, than to accept one that would accord animals equal5 moral standing with ourselves. (Compare the fact that it may, in the same way, be more reasonable for us to do without a theory of knowledge at all, than to accept one that would entail that we have no knowledge of the physical world.)
  5. The most important practical conclusion of this book is that there is no basis for extending moral protection to animals beyond that which is already provided. In particular, there are no good moral grounds for forbidding hunting, factory farming, or laboratory testing on animals. The argument for this conclusion may be summarised as follows.
    1. As claimed above, some version of contractualism provides us with the most acceptable framework for moral theory, and from such a perspective animals will be denied moral standing.
    2. There are then only two possible indirect reasons for outlawing the sorts of activities listed above.
    3. One pertains to the qualities of moral character revealed in their practitioners. But these may be insignificant, in the light of the ready psychological separability6 of attitudes to animal and to human suffering.
    4. The other turns on the likely offence caused to animal lovers. But this, too, fails, because of the moral costs that would accompany further extending and encouraging feelings of sympathy for animals. These feelings serve only to divert attention from the claims of those who do have moral standing, namely human beings. And no doubt in many instances they are, in any case, partly dependent upon a false belief in the equal moral standing of animals.
  6. This is not to say, of course, that there is anything wrong7 with admiring animals, or enjoying their company. Nor is it to deny that there are powerful moral reasons for wishing to preserve endangered species of animal, similar to, but considerably more powerful8 than, the reasons for preserving great works of art. But what it does mean, is that those who are committed to any9 aspect of the animal rights movement are thoroughly misguided.

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In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Footnote 2: Well, you should see the work by Gary Francione!.

Footnote 3: No – we aren’t obliged to think any such thing.

Footnote 4: Footnote 5: This is not what is claimed. Animals do not have “equal moral standing with ourselves”. They don’t – species by species – even have equal moral standing with one another.

Footnote 6: Footnote 7: That’s kind of him to allow this!

Footnote 8: Surely it depends on the species involved?

Footnote 9: If, by this, he means strictly those – like Francione – who imagine animals have rights, then he is correct. But if he includes the animal welfarist movement in this, he is seriously – and wickedly – in error.


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