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The moral status and rights of animals


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Horsthemke, Kai:
The moral status and rights of animals.
Pinegowrie, Johannesburg/ Südafrika : Porcupine Press, 2010. - 366 S.
ISBN 978-0-620-46313-3


The basis of morality is a direct concern not only for oneself, but also for others. Morality is a public, social enterprise that transcends etiquette and frequently precedes and anticipates law. It is a system governing or regulating relations between individuals interacting within the larger biosphere. A central question of ethics, or moral philosophy, concerns the form and extent of these regulations. To have moral status is to matter morally, to have a claim that is to be taken into account by moral agents, as opposed to moral recipients – that is, those at the receiving end of moral interaction. Moral subject status is enjoyed by all those who are individual subjects of a life, be they agents or recipients. Moral object status is possessed by those moral recipients of whom one cannot meaningfully predicate individuality, subjectivity, or indeed consciousness, but who are nonetheless living organisms.
‘Ethical individualism’ is a theory about who matters morally, why and how. Central to this view are the idea of the fundamental equality of all individuals and the notion of subject-centred justice. Ultimately, ethical individualism emphasizes the priority of individual rights over the common good. This does not mean, however, that it seeks to limit the sphere of morality – quite the contrary. Ethical individualism gains its inspiration from the theory of evolution that undermines belief in the special status of human beings.
Differences between humans and non-humans are differences in degree, not in kind. Other animals, too, are conscious individuals, many possessing even conative and cognitive abilities. Like humans, they have biological as well as conative interests and a life that can be better or worse for them, and they deserve to be treated and given consideration in accordance with their particular characteristics.
Conflicts of interests commonly occur in situations where animals are utilized for human ends and benefits. The moral presumption against the use of animals for entertainment purposes, in zoos, circuses, for food, and clothing, and in scientific research experiments is a strong one, and arguments in support of these practices, in the absence of a substantial moral theory, fail to withstand critical scrutiny.
Relevant theories in this regard are so-called ‘indirect duty’ views and contractarianism, with its idea of ‘justice-as-reciprocity’. These views, which grant animals at best moral object status, are loosely subsumable under the label of (moral or ethical) anthropocentrism, or ‘human-centred ethics’. They prove to be vulnerable either to the argument from non-paradigmatic cases or to the argument from speciesism, or both. The former states that any account designed to exclude animals from the realm of (directly) morally considerable beings will also exclude certain human beings. The latter holds that so excluding animals simply on the basis of their not being human, is an irrational prejudice not unlike that involved in sexism and racism. Animals, at least mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and even certain invertebrates, qualify as ‘moral subjects’ and as deserving of respect and consideration equal, albeit not necessarily identical, to that of human moral subjects.
A review of nonanthropocentric accounts that – in principle – accommodate animals in the requisite fashion indicates why appeals to kindness, theriophilia, reverence for life, sympathy, and the principle of utility fail either as compelling moral theories or as efficient action-guides, or both. A discussion of moral obligation and of the rationality of prohibitions and restrictions indicates that the principled motivation for such constraints follows not from agents’ special concern with their own agency, but from the status of significantly unthreatened and unthreatening, innocent individuals. This paves the way for a right-based ethic, as opposed to goal- or duty-based theories, or ‘hybrid’ views that accept only moral permissions or emphasize an ‘agent-centred prerogative’.
Rights can be taken to exist not only in law, but are correctly seen also as binding moral precepts that do not depend on legal institution for their validity. An interest model of rights (as opposed to a choice conception) advocates protection of all those who have interests and a welfare, and guarantees the pursuit of unthreatening interests, by means of (equal) rights. At the level of basic moral rights, all right-holders (human and non-human) have the same rights, for example subsistence-rights, liberty-rights, and welfare-rights. Nonbasic moral rights are not necessarily shared by moral agents and moral recipients – indeed, not even by all agents. Although rights confer prohibitions and restrictions, with regard to agency, they are not absolute. It is permissible to override them in situations where right-holders are either already significantly threatened or cannot reasonably be called ‘unthreatening’ or ‘innocent’. On the other hand, the obligation to provide assistance and duties of beneficence obtain only if such assistance and beneficence do not themselves involve violation of rights.
Although plants and simpler animal organisms cannot reasonably be said to possess moral subject status or individual moral rights, and although ecosystems and the atmosphere are only indirectly morally considerable, ethical individualism and deep ecology, or radical environmentalism, are closer than may at first be apparent. Both firmly reject moral anthropocentrism. Notwithstanding the significance of moral rights, our identity, individually and as a species, is to a large extent a matter of our place in the greater biosphere.
The recognition of animals’ rights and ‘animal emancipation’ – as it is envisaged by ethical individualism – can be seen to imply ‘human liberation’, the act of humans freeing themselves from the role of subjugators, from the dominant relationship they have with the rest of animate nature, and from dependence on animals at the expense of the latter’s lives, freedom, and well-being.

Weitere Angaben

Schlagwörter:Animal emancipation; animal rights; equality; ethical individualism; speciesism
Institutionen der Universität:Philosophisch-Pädagogische Fakultät > Pädagogik > Lehrstuhl für Bildungsphilosophie und Systematische Pädagogik
Open Access: Freie Zugänglichkeit des Volltexts?:Nein
Titel an der KU entstanden:Nein
Eingestellt am: 29. Aug 2017 08:39
Letzte Änderung: 29. Aug 2017 08:39
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