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The Moral Status of Animals, Essay Example

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Exclusive and Inclusive Views on the Moral Status of Animals

Exclusive views on the moral status of animals deny that animals deserve moral consideration in their own right. Two broad views include: (i) human-centrism – the main proponents being Rene Descartes and Immanuel Kant; and (ii) contractarianism, a leading proponent being Jan Narveson (Fudge, 2006, p. 2). In contrast to exclusive views, inclusive views on the moral status of animals ascribe moral status to animals in their own right based on the animals’ possession of certain moral status-making characteristics. Two broad views include utilitarianism, a key proponent of which is Peter Singer (2011), and the rights-based approach, a key proponent being Tom Regan (1983).

Proponents of human-centrism are committed to the view that human beings have dominion over the shape of animals’ lives and, in particular, only those being that have consciousness, reason and/or language should be afforded moral status and legal practitioners (cited in Fudge, 2006, p. 1). However, utilitarians consider the rightness or wrongness of an act to be determined solely by the consequence that will impact the well-being of the affected individuals (Nordgren, 2001, p. 201). Singer contends that we should include the interests of sentient animals in our utilitarian calculations (Nordgren, 2001, p. 201). To discriminate against them simply on the basis of species members is tantamount of specieism.

Contractarianism has an affinity to egoism (Muray, et al, 2007, p. 28). According to Narveson, animals do not possess moral status or rights because they, unlike human beings, cannot be parties to a social contract that upholds certain reciprocal obligations (p. 28). Once again, differences between animals and human beings are highlighted as the basis of keeping animals out of the moral arena. Taking a rights-based approach on the issue of inclusion, however, Tom Regan (1983, p. 245) contends that certain actions ought not to be done to morally considerable subjects or rights-holders, regardless of the goodness of their consequences.

References

Fudge, Erica. (2006). Brutal Reasoning: Animals, Rationality, and Humanity in Early Modern England. Cornell University Press.

Murray, Robert Malcolm, & Murray, Malcolm, & Narveson, Jan. (2007). Liberty, Games and Contracts: Jan Narveson and the Defence of Libertariainism. Ashgate Publishing.

Nordgren, Anders. (2001). Responsible Genetics: The Moral Responsibility of Geneticists for the Consequences of Human Genetics Research. Springer.

Regan, Tom. (1983). The Case For Animal Rights. Berkley: University of California Press.

Singer, Peter. (2011). Practical Ethics. Cambridge University Press.

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