Back Cover Blurb
- Most people agree that animals count morally. But how, exactly, should we take animals into account?
- According to a prominent position in contemporary philosophical discussions, animals and people have the very same moral status, so in our moral deliberations the otherwise similar interests of people and animals should be given the same weight and consideration. In How to Count Animals, more or less, Shelly Kagan rejects this view. In its place, Kagan sets out and defends a hierarchical approach, one in which people count more than animals do and some animals count more than others.
- Unfortunately, most moral theories have not been developed in such a way as to take into account these differences in moral status. By arguing for a hierarchical account of morality – and exploring what appropriate, status sensitive principles might look like – Kagan reveals just how much work needs to be done to arrive at an adequate view of our duties toward animals, and of morality more generally.
Amazon Book Review
- In this excellent book, Shelly Kagan defends a sophisticated answer to the question whether or not moral status comes in degrees. His answer is: yes and no, but mostly yes. In particular, he argues for a view that he calls 'limited hierarchy', according to which
At first glance, this view seems as though it has no chance of working. But Kagan is a brilliant philosopher, and through a series of clever moves . . . he makes a surprisingly strong case for his view. . . an essential contribution to the literature.
- People have higher moral status than animals (and some animals have higher moral status than others), but
- All people have equal moral status.
→ Jeff Sebo, Mind
- Shelly Kagan is the Clark Professor of Philosophy at Yale, where he has taught since 1995. He was an undergraduate at Wesleyan University and received his PhD in philosophy from Princeton University in 1982. Before coming to Yale, Professor Kagan taught at the University of Pittsburgh and at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author of The Limits of Morality, Normative Ethics, and The Geometry of Desert. The videos of his undergraduate class on death ("Kagan (Shelly) - Death") have been popular around the world, and the book based on the course, was a national bestseller in South Korea.
- This book is based on a series of lectures I gave at Oxford in November 2016. I am grateful to the Uehiro Foundation on Ethics and Education for their generous support of the lecture series, and to the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics for the warm welcome and the stimulating discussions, both at the lectures themselves and elsewhere at Oxford. Since I am quite certain I would never have written the book were it not for the invitation to give those lectures, I am especially grateful to Julian Savulescu, for extending the invitation, and to Jeff McMahan, for persuading me to accept it.
- Why did I need persuading? Because the Uehiro Lectures in Practical Ethics are indeed supposed to be on practical ethics. I take this to mean that there should be at least some actual discussion of real choices that people may face, a genuine attempt at applying the otherwise rather unremittingly abstract ideas that moral philosophers frequently debate. As someone whose own work in moral philosophy lies very firmly on the abstract, theoretical side of the spectrum, I certainly admire the work of those who do applied or practical ethics; but I have never thought of myself as among them.
- As it turns out, I was probably right about that. What follows is indeed a discussion of animal ethics, and by current conventions I suppose this does indeed count as a topic within practical ethics, but I fear that the discussion itself is about as abstract a treatment of the topic as one could offer. Those who hope for guidance on pressing questions like (for example) when, if ever, it is morally permissible to experiment on animals, whether it is permissible to keep animals as pets, or companions, or whether we are morally permitted to cull wild deer to prevent starvation in the larger herd, will find no explicit answers here; they won’t even find any direct discussion of such questions. I do think that the ideas I put forward should be relevant for addressing genuinely practical concerns like these more directly, and I very much hope that this comes sufficiently close to being a contribution to practical ethics to fulfil the terms of the promise I made to the Uehiro Centre. But I am rather less confident of the latter than I am of the former.
- A different sort of acknowledgment is in order as well. While developing my views about animal ethics my thinking was constantly stimulated by the writings of other moral philosophers, several of whom have already made major contributions to the subject. There are too many authors for me to try to list them all here, but I particularly enjoyed reading and thinking about works by Peter Singer, Tom Regan, David DeGrazia, and especially Jeff McMahan.
- Nonetheless, in what follows I almost never directly engage with the ideas of these or other philosophers. My goal here is not to offer a careful critical assessment of the specific theses or arguments that other theorists have put forward, but rather to try to sketch an alternative approach to animal ethics, a view which, if not altogether original, nonetheless does seem to me to differ in significant ways from the views commonly put forward by others. To be sure, at times I find it helpful to mark out my own position by way of contrast with some alternative, and sometimes I go so far as to quote from someone else’s writings. But even when I do this, I am not trying to reconstruct or to respond to any particular person’s position. So when I quote it is only because the words or passage quoted strike me as suggestive or helpful for my own purposes. Accordingly, I deliberately avoid mentioning the names of the people I am quoting — or may otherwise have in mind — in the body of the text itself, for I am making no claims to exegesis. I have been inspired by the views of others, but I am not here trying to discuss the views of any particular person.
Acknowledgments – ix
Introduction – 1
- Standing – 6
- 1.1 Standing and Status – 6
- 1.2 Sentience – 10
- 1.3 Agency – 16
- 1.4 Agency without Sentience – 23
- 1.5 Welfare and Standing – 30
- Unitarianism – 37
- 2.1 Unitarianism – 37
- 2.2 The Greater Harm – 42
- 2.3 Comparing Lives – 45
- 2.4 Hierarchy – 52
- The Argument from Distribution – 58
- 3.1 Distributive Principles – 58
- 3.2 The Argument from Distribution – 62
- 3.3 Replies – 69
- Hierarchy and the Value of Outcomes – 79
- 4.1 Hierarchy in Distribution – 79
- 4.2 Problems for Priority – 87
- 4.3 Well-Being – 96
- 4.4 Dismissing the View – 101
- 4.5 The Status Adjusted Value of Well-Being – 108
- Status – 112
- 5.1 Grounds of Status – 112
- 5.2 Individualism – 117
- 5.3 Which Capacities? – 121
- 5.4 Potential – 130
- 5.5 Modal Status – 137
- Worries about Hierarchy – 146
- 6.1 Elitism – 146
- 6.2 Superior Beings – 149
- 6.3 Marginal Cases – 156
- 6.4 Normal Variation – 164
- Deontology – 170
- 7.1 Consequentialism and Deontology – 170
- 7.2 Absolutist Deontology – 174
- 7.3 Moderate Deontology – 179
- 7.4 Some Calculations – 184
- Restricted Deontology – 191
- 8.1 Excluding Animals from Deontology – 191
- 8.2 Autonomy – 194
- 8.3 Resisting the Argument – 201
- 8.4 Dichotomous Properties – 207
- Hierarchical Deontology – 215
- 9.1 Weaker Rights – 215
- 9.2 Thresholds – 219
- 9.3 Meeting the Threshold – 231
- 9.4 Other Principles – 238
- Defense – 248
- 10.1 The Right to Self-Defense – 248
- 10.2 Defending Animals – 252
- 10.3 Defending Against Animals – 258
- 10.4 Defending Animals Against Animals – 267
- 10.5 More on Proportionality – 274
- Limited Hierarchy – 279
References – 305
- 11.1 A Suitable Step Function – 279
- 11.2 Practical Realism – 284
- 11.3 The View that Emerges – 292
- 11.4 Pretense – 299
- 11.5 How to Count Animals – 302
Index – 307
OUP Oxford (14 Jan. 2022); Uehiro Series in Practical Ethics; Paperback (14th January 2022)
"Kagan (Shelly) - How to Count Animals, more or less"
Source: Kagan (Shelly) - How to Count Animals, more or less
- Kagan thinks that there’s (almost) a consensus or (almost2) a dominant view – amongst philosophers if not the general public – that animals have the same – or similar – moral claims on us as do ‘people3’. Pain is pain, and all that. He calls this view ‘Unitarianism4’ as ‘egalitarianism’ has already been used as a term specific to human moral concerns.
- He thinks this approach is mistaken, and that we should adopt a ‘hierarchical’ approach whereby non-human animals deserve moral consideration, but not equal consideration to human animals (or at least human persons).
- This – he thinks – accords with common sense. I agree.
- The disadvantage is in the moral calculus, whether we are utilitarians or deontologists. For unitarians, and calculus carries over unchanged from human ethical theory; it just expands the franchise. A hierarchical view has to work out what this means in practice5. Kagan doesn’t think he’ll get far with this.
- Kagan does agree that our current practical treatment of animals is abominable and claims that a hierarchical approach doesn’t weaken our duty to ameliorate the conditions of animals.
- 1.1 Standing and Status:
- Kagan clarifies an important point. In adopting a hierarchical approach, he will claim that ‘people’ always take moral priority over non-people. But, he’s not adopting an arbitrary speciesist stance. Instead, he uses ‘people’ – as does Olson6 – as the plural of Person7. He’s willing to allow for the existence of non-human persons, including non-biological ones, but doesn’t discuss the possibility further here.
- By Person8 he means a being with ‘certain characteristic psychological capacities and thoughts, a creature that is rational and self-conscious, aware of itself as existing across time’. He refers us to "Singer (Peter) - Practical Ethics" pp. 73-59.
- Most Human Beings10 are Persons11 for most of their lives. Neonates and adults with ‘cognitive impairment’ fall short. It sounds like Kagan shares some of Peter Singer’s controversial views, but they aren’t pursued here.
- The distinction between Standing and Status is important and enlightening12.
- A being has moral Standing if it ‘counts’ – morally-speaking – in its own right. This sounds like a binary quality that individuals either have or lack. It – rather than its owner – is harmed if it is damaged in some way. Plants13 don’t have moral standing as it is their owners rather than they themselves that are harmed if they are damaged. This is not the case with mice, for instance. It matters to the mouse, and not just to us, if it is harmed. Kagan notes that even these two claims are not completely uncontroversial, but he doesn’t pursue the matter here as in this context it’s only the distinction that’s important.
- The moral Status of a being is on a sliding scale, and Kagan’s point is that all Persons14 have a higher moral status than non-persons15. Also, that some non-persons have a higher moral status than other non-persons. A being’s status tells us what its rights are – or how and when its interests should be accommodated – and what our duties are towards it, how we can use and otherwise interact with it. Each creature has a ‘normative profile’ and its moral status defines the contents of this profile.
- 1.2 Sentience
- 1.3 Agency
- 1.4 Agency without Sentience
- 1.5 Welfare and Standing
- 2.1 Unitarianism
- 2.2 The Greater Harm
- 2.3 Comparing Lives
- 2.4 Hierarchy
- The Argument from Distribution
- 3.1 Distributive Principles
- 3.2 The Argument from Distribution
- 3.3 Replies
- Hierarchy and the Value of Outcomes
- 4.1 Hierarchy in Distribution
- 4.2 Problems for Priority
- 4.3 Well-Being
- 4.4 Dismissing the View
- 4.5 The Status Adjusted Value of Well-Being
- 5.1 Grounds of Status
- 5.2 Individualism
- 5.3 Which Capacities?
- 5.4 Potential
- 5.5 Modal Status
- Worries about Hierarchy
- 6.1 Elitism
- 6.2 Superior Beings
- 6.3 Marginal Cases
- 6.4 Normal Variation
- 7.1 Consequentialism and Deontology
- 7.2 Absolutist Deontology
- 7.3 Moderate Deontology
- 7.4 Some Calculations
- Restricted Deontology
- 8.1 Excluding Animals from Deontology
- 8.2 Autonomy
- 8.3 Resisting the Argument
- 8.4 Dichotomous Properties
- Hierarchical Deontology
- 9.1 Weaker Rights
- 9.2 Thresholds
- 9.3 Meeting the Threshold
- 9.4 Other Principles
- 10.1 The Right to Self-Defense
- 10.2 Defending Animals
- 10.3 Defending Against Animals
- 10.4 Defending Animals Against Animals
- 10.5 More on Proportionality
- Limited Hierarchy
- 11.1 A Suitable Step Function
- 11.2 Practical Realism
- 11.3 The View that Emerges
- 11.4 Pretense
- 11.5 How to Count Animals
In-Page Footnotes ("Kagan (Shelly) - How to Count Animals, more or less")
- I don’t think I’ll have the time to provide a complete analysis and critique of this interesting book, but intend simply to jot down a few notes and reminders as I go along.
- I’ve retained the Chapter Structure to hang my remarks off.
- Kagan thinks that either ‘consensus’ or ‘dominant’ is too strong a term, but there has been a turning of the tables over the last 50 years from scarcely considering the moral claims of animals to treating them as deserving equal moral consideration.
Footnote 4: Footnote 5:
- In the Introduction Kagan uses this term passim undefined. I’d assumed he just meant ‘human beings’ and was not taking a stance on Persons as such. But it seems from Chapter 1 that he’s talking about that subset of human beings who are persons.
- He doesn’t at this point say what he means by ‘animals’, though there’s what looks like a hierarchy on the book’s cover that goes fly → snake → fish → cow → rat → dog → octopus. While we might argue about the sequence, if shows a wide scope.
- I think the same applies to the unitarian view, as ‘treating all animals as moral equals’ is absurd without considerable theoretical elaboration.
Footnote 12: Footnote 15:
- The page reference is to the Third Edition. I have the Second Edition, and I’m not sure it’s the same, though the discussion of the ‘Differences between Humans and Animals’ is relevant. Singer treats of the term Person in Locke’s sense in the following Chapter ‘What’s Wrong with Killing’.
- Kagan doesn’t – at this point at any rate – mention the FPP, so – naturally – nor does he reify it as does Baker, nor does he claim that possession of it makes an ontological difference.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2023
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)