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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.
I've argued previously that consumers of humane animal products harm the farmers who produce these products. However, farmers clearly desire that consumers purchase these products. Is it objectionably paternalistic to refrain from buying these products for the sake of farmers? I argue that obligations not to act paternalistically are not sui generis; rather, they are a particular subset of our standing obligations not to harm and to aid others. Since consumers have no standing obligations to aid farmers by purchasing their products, they have no anti-paternalistic obligations to purchase farmers' products. So, it is not objectionably paternalistic to refrain from purchasing animal products for the sake of farmers.
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 nogenealogical 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.
My research investigates the moral obligations that human beings have to non-human animals and explores related issues in theoretical and applied ethics. In my dissertation, I criticize the practice of humane animal agriculture, incorporating discussion of the basis of moral rights, theories of well-being, population ethics, and analogical arguments involving human beings who are the cognitive peers of non-human animals. I expect that my future research will continue to explore issues raised in my dissertation, especially (1) whether a painless death is in fact bad for agricultural animals, (2) whether it is objectionably paternalistic to refrain from buying humane animal products for the sake of farmers, and (3) whether purchasing humane animal products is justified by the future happy animals who are caused to exist by such purchases.
(1) In chapter 3 of my dissertation, I argue that “logic of the larder” considerations—i.e., the fact that humanely raised farm animals have lives worth living and would not exist if farmers did not facilitate their creation—do not exonerate farmers in slaughtering their animals. However, my dissertation does not defend the view that a painless death is bad for typical farm animals; even if logic of the larder considerations do not provide a defense of humane animal slaughter, it may be that painless death is not bad for farm animals. If so, then painlessly killing them may require no defense.
While there is consensus in the animal ethics literature that it is pro tanto wrong to cause the suffering of typical farm animals or the animal subjects of scientific experiments, there is less consensus 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 non-immediate future, they desire continued life itself, or they view their life as a narrative. These are conditions that typical farm animals and experimental animal subjects allegedly fail to meet.
I plan to investigate how theories of personal identity and rational prudential concern bear on this issue. Bodily continuity theories and theories based on sameness of organism are promising grounds—more so than psychological-continuity theories—for a defense of the badness of animal death, since the animal who dies today clearly has the same body, and would have been the same organism, as the future animal who would have enjoyed many pleasures, had death not occurred. So, to the extent that body- or organism-theories are plausible, it is plausible that many animals (even if they lack desires regarding their future selves) are substantially harmed by a painless death, because death deprives them of many future goods.
(2) As described above, chapter 3 of my dissertation challenges the view that farmers are exonerated for killing their animals by the fact that the animals have lives worth living and the fact that their existence depends on the actions of farmers. In chapter 4 I argue, further, that doing what is morally wrong reduces one’s well-being in a non-instrumental way; thus, when farmers slaughter their animals, farmers are thereby made worse off. Consumers, in turn, causally contribute to this reduction in the well-being of farmers and thus act wrongly by purchasing humane animal products.
However, since farmers clearly desire that consumers purchase their products, my claim that consumers should not do so—for the farmer’s own good—faces the charge of paternalism. If all instances of frustrating someone’s desires, with the intention of benefiting them, are inappropriately paternalistic, then this objection is a good reason to reject my view. I plan to offer a different account of obligations not to act paternalistically. On this account, anti-paternalistic obligations are simply a subset of other moral obligations.
To see the outline of this account, consider that I have general moral obligations not to interfere with other people in certain ways, such as depriving them of their property. If, however, their use of their property threatens to cause serious harm, I may interfere in those ways; the threat of serious harm limits my general obligations not to interfere. Suppose, though, that I deprive someone of his property when it is only he who will be harmed if I do not interfere. It is certainly defensible—if we stipulate further conditions such as his full knowledge of the resulting harms—that I should not interfere, and it is plausible that my obligation not to interfere is anti-paternalistic in nature. But what kind of obligation is this, exactly? My answer is that it is simply one obligation from among my standing obligations not to interfere with him; it is an obligation that is not included within the harm-based exception (rather, it is an exception to the harm-based exception). On my view, then, anti-paternalistic reasons are simply those of our general obligations to others that are excluded from the harm-based exception—excluded because it is only the agent in question who will be harmed. Thus, anti-paternalistic reasons are a subset of our general moral obligations to others. If this view of anti-paternalistic reasons is correct, then the indictment of purchasing humane animal products developed in my dissertation is not threatened by the charge of paternalism. This is because, while consumers do have standing obligations not to interfere with farmers, consumers have no standing obligations to purchase humane animal products. If they have no standing obligations to purchase such products, then (on my view) they have no anti-paternalistic obligations to purchase them. Thus, there are no anti-paternalistic obligations to make such purchases.
(3) A further challenge to my view that consumers act wrongly by purchasing humane animal products cites the future happy animals whose existence depends on present consumer purchasing behavior. Does the good of causing animals with worthwhile lives to come into existence justify the harm done to farmers when they do what is morally wrong? Farmers have rights not to be harmed. But rights have thresholds that determine when they may be permissibly infringed. It is permissible to infringe a right if such infringement is necessary for doing an amount of good that reaches the right’s threshold. If the good of bringing animals with worthwhile lives into existence reaches the threshold of the farmer’s right not to be harmed, then purchasing humane animal products may be permissible, despite the harm done to farmers. A conclusive answer on this point requires answering difficult questions in population ethics, especially whether the fact that an action will bring an individual who will have a worthwhile life into existence is a reason to perform that action, and how such reasons weigh against and interact with reasons not to harm existing individuals. I hope to develop a well-supported theory that answers these questions regarding people and animals.