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Social Theory and Practice, forthcoming
Humanely raised farm animals have lives worth living, and their existence is contingent upon human actions. Do these facts render the act of humanely slaughtering such animals permissible? I identify two ethical principles that may seem to connect these facts to the permissibility of humane animal slaughter. The first principle, inspired by the non-identity problem, exonerates some actions that maximize an individual’s well-being, but it is often inapplicable to animal slaughter. The second principle, which exonerates actions that are part of a practice that makes the animal better off, does apply to animal slaughter; but this principle is false.
The Journal of Value Inquiry (2022), https://doi.org/10.1007/s10790-021-09867-1
In this paper, I criticize the view that non-conscious entities—such as plants and bacteria—have well-being. Plausible sources of well-being include pleasure, the satisfaction of strongly and consciously held desires, and achievement. Since non-conscious entities cannot obtain well-being from these sources, the most plausible source of well-being for them is the exercise of natural capacities. Plants and bacteria, for example, certainly do exercise natural capacities. But I argue that exercising natural capacities does not in fact contribute (in a non-instrumental way) to well-being. I do so by presenting cases in which human beings exercise natural capacities that they do not enjoy exercising and do not desire (non-instrumentally) to exercise. I also argue that plausible views about fortune—how one’s well-being ranks on an appropriate scale—do not support the claim that exercising natural capacities contributes to well-being.
Public Affairs Quarterly 35, no. 4 (2021): 315–37. https://doi.org/10.5406/21520542.35.4.04
Humanely raised farm animals have lives worth living, and they would not exist if consumers did not purchase humane animal products. In this article, I acknowledge that these facts may imply that such purchases do not wrong the animals who are thereby caused to exist. But I argue that these purchases are nevertheless wrong because they wrong farmers. Unlike a consumer’s purchase of humane animal products, a farmer’s act of slaughter is not exonerated by the animals’ worthwhile and contingent lives. I argue further that committing moral wrongs, such as animal slaughter, makes one worse off. The consumer’s purchase causes the farmer to be worse off in this way. Thus, purchasing humane animal products wrongs the farmer and is wrong for that reason.
Journal of Animal Ethics 9, no. 2 (2019): 143–57. https://doi.org/10.5406/janimalethics.9.2.0143
In this article, I will identify an argument for the conclusion that all human moral agents have stronger moral reasons regarding other human beings than they do regarding nonhuman animals, and I will explain why I think this argument is unsound. The argument employs an empirical claim, that all human beings are more closely genealogically related to all other humans than they are to any nonhuman animals, and a moral claim, that one’s genealogical relationship to an individual is a morally relevant consideration. The moral claim is supported by a comparison between genealogically related individuals and a family.
There is consensus in the animal ethics literature that it is pro tanto wrong to cause the suffering of typical farm animals or the non-human subjects of scientific experiments; but there is less agreement regarding painlessly killing such animals. This is because, according to some theories of the badness of death, death harms an individual only if they have desires about the future. It is alleged that typical farm animals and many non-human experimental subjects do not meet this condition. In my view, the badness of death is heavily mediated by psychological continuity: it is much worse for an individual to die if they would have been closely psychologically continuous with their well-off future selves than if that continuity would have been tenuous or non-existent. Since the satisfaction of desires about the future is one type of psychological continuity, a lack of such desires among certain species of animals would be relevant to their level of psychological continuity. But memories of past actions and experiences also ground psychological continuity. I will argue against a theory of the badness of death that requires the existence of future-directed desires rather than psychological continuity more generally, and I will explore the possibility—incorporating ethological research—that typical farm animals and non-human experimental subjects lose a great deal in dying because of the psychological continuity that memory can provide.
The use of factory-farmed meat to feed household pets has received little attention from animal ethicists. And yet a straightforward argument condemns this very common practice: (i) it would be impermissible to inflict the suffering that is caused by factory farming on multiple animals, even to provide life-saving nutrition for a beloved pet (much as it would be impermissible to kill multiple innocent strangers to provide life-saving organs for a family member in need); (ii) to purchase factory-farmed meat over the lifetime of one’s pet is to inflict the suffering caused by factory farming on multiple animals; thus (iii) it is impermissible to purchase factory-farmed meat for one’s pet. Assuming that one’s pet is an obligate carnivore, then, one must obtain food from other sources, such as roadkill or from humanely raised animals (although the latter option may also amount to supporting harm to some animals in order to benefit one’s pet). If there really are no food sources available besides factory-farmed animal products, it is unclear whether pet owners can avoid the repugnant conclusion that painlessly killing their pets—to avoid a worse death from starvation—is morally required. I will argue that the cogency of the argument just sketched depends on the causal efficacy of individual purchases, itself a controversial question in animal ethics. If individual purchases are causally efficacious, then the argument (or a variant of it) is sound. If they are not, then the reasons not to purchase factory-farmed pet food are reasons of symbolic disvalue. I will argue that such reasons are insufficient to ground the impermissibility of purchasing factory-farmed pet food when no nutritionally adequate substitutes are available.
Formal logical languages are often used to determine whether an argument in natural language is valid. This method should be more closely examined, because there are strong reasons for thinking that the material conditional does not capture the meaning of the indicative English conditional. Material conditionals are not equivalent to corresponding English conditionals because the material conditional can be true while the corresponding English conditional is false. This inequivalence should raise doubts about the use of formalized arguments as a guide to the validity or invalidity of arguments in natural language. Here I propose a way of justifying this practice, one that is not threatened by the inequivalence of material and English conditionals. My proposal confirms the legitimacy of much current practice, but raises doubts about a particular class of arguments.
My dissertation, defended in the spring of 2021, substantiates four theses that bear on the moral obligations that human beings have to non-human animals.
I argue first that non-conscious entities (e.g., plants and bacteria) cannot have well-being. Call this claim ‘the consciousness restriction.’ In its defense, I enumerate the plausible constituents of well-being, i.e., states of affairs that plausibly contribute, non-instrumentally, to an individual’s well-being. These states of affairs—e.g., having positive mental states, satisfying conscious desires—are necessarily unavailable to non-conscious entities. According to perfectionism, however, my list is incomplete, because exercising natural capacities is also a constituent of well-being. Since non-conscious organisms do exercise natural capacities, perfectionism implies that they do have well-being. By considering cases in which human beings exercise their natural capacities without enjoyment and without a desire to do so, I argue that exercising natural capacities does not in itself contribute to well-being. So, there is good reason for accepting the consciousness restriction. The consciousness restriction, in turn, rebuts an objection to an interest (or well-being) theory of rights, according to which the capacity for well-being is sufficient for possessing moral rights. The objection is that an interest theory implies the implausible claim that non-conscious organisms such as plants and bacteria have rights. The consciousness restriction undermines this objection: if non-conscious entities lack well-being, then an interest theory does not imply that plants or bacteria have rights. An interest theory of rights bears on obligations to animals because, if it is correct, then many animals have rights, simply in virtue of being sentient.
In chapter 2, I defend a prominent argument schema in animal ethics: (i) there are no morally relevant differences between non-human animals and those severely intellectually disabled human beings who are their cognitive peers, and (ii) it would be wrong to confine, kill, and experiment on such human beings; therefore, (iii) it is also wrong to treat animals in these ways. The cogency of these arguments depends on the absence of morally relevant differences between the animals and human beings in question. To support this claim of moral parity, I criticize the view that distant genealogical relationships—relationships of ancestry and descent of the kind that link all human beings more closely than they do any human-animal pair—are morally relevant. I do so by arguing that one’s obligations to quite distant relatives, with whom one has no personal relationship, are not stronger than those to a (hypothetical) individual with whom one has no genealogical relationship.
The final two chapters address an alleged justification for humane animal agriculture. According to “the logic of the larder,” the fact that humanely raised animals would not exist but for the actions of farmers and consumers, together with the fact that they have lives worth living, implies that to humanely raise and kill such animals, or to purchase their products, benefits these animals and thus is not wrong. I draw out the implicit ethical premise of this argument—that one cannot wrong an individual by doing the best thing one can do for them—and explain that, while defensible, this principle does not in fact apply to a farmer’s act of slaughter. Although the collective process of creating and then killing humanely raised animals is a net benefit for them, the individual act of slaughter is not. I then turn to consumers. The implicit premise of the logic of the larder likely does apply to consumers: by purchasing humane animal products they do (likely without intending to) the best thing they can do for those animals who will be created in the future. Thus, consumers likely do not wrong those animals with their purchases. However, consumers’ purchases also cause farmers to slaughter their animals, which is morally impermissible. I argue further that acting impermissibly is a negative constituent of well-being—to act impermissibly makes one worse off, independent of any consequences of one’s action. Thus consumers make farmers worse off by causing them to do what is morally wrong. And so to purchase humane animal products is also wrong.