There are many different views on how different, morally, humans and other 1animals are. The difference morally between humans and other animals is based on how we perceive them. In regards to morality importance of animals, if we believe animals have no moral status, it should be portrayed we can treat them however we want, i. e. eat them. Yet, if we identify them as sentient, the power to think and feel, it is clear there should be some constraints on how we should treat them. I will now examine this.
There are differing thoughts on what should be included in determining how much moral rights either humans or animals have. One argument is animals have no moral status whatsoever, shared by Descartes. He argues animals are ‘unconscious automata’1, where they are unconscious, with no mental life. However, Descartes declared this in the 17th Century, thus we now know animals feel pain. Even if one was to argue Descartes view, it is widely believed although we have no direct duty towards animals, we should not treat them with unneeded cruelty, declared by Kant.
He thinks animals do not have ‘rational and automanus’2 feelings, thus cannot be an ‘end to themselves,’ 3 and cannot be moral agents, and only humans have full moral status as they are ‘rational and self-conscious beings’4. An objection to this is argued by Singer; if animals are not autonomous creatures, surely some humans are not either, like young infants and the retarded, whom have no rational thoughts. 5 Regan and Singer would argue, based on Descartes and Kant’s views, we could morally eat retarded and young infants as they are not ‘self-conscious’, as they have no desire or feelings.
An objection is young children will eventually become rational adults. Utilitarianism philosophers, like Peter Signer and Raymond Fry disagree with Kant, feeling even humans have not got complete moral status; where it is necessary to harm one person to save another, it is morally right to do so. Frey declares all humans should not be treated in the same way, so he can lump together defective human adults and animals together away from human adults. 6 Nevertheless, it will surely go against our moral beliefs to harm a human because they are retarded.
Although Frey counters this by declaring they do have interests, for example in good health, on the grounds; ‘one desire typical of humans. ‘ 7 Kant continues his thesis by declaring we still have an indirect duty towards animals, where if we harm animals with unneeded cruelty, it will make humans ‘hardened in his dealing with other humans’8. However, I believe it cannot be right for those eating the meat from animals to purely neglect the way they are killed and also those who kill animals are only working.
So, it cannot be justified as people are simply working to keep a living, so should not be prosecuted as a potential risk to other humans. However, we could counter this by declaring there have been discussions serial killers as children harmed animals such as birds, thus Kant’s argument is justified. But, his argument, I believe cannot be used for those simply doing their job. Indeed, Thomas Regan argues against Kant’s view, stating we should have direct duties towards animals as they are moral agents, but this direct duty is not enough, as they are still harmed, such as in vivisection.
Regan argues animals have a basic moral right to respectful treatment as they have desires and are “subject to life”, with an “inherent value” 10. He argues we should not eat animals as they have as high moral status as us, and they have equal rights as humans. But I do not agree, animals are not as developed rationally as us, thus they have not got as full rights as us thus should not be treated exactly the same as us, but still without unneeded cruelty.
Another argument accepts animals have not necessarily got the moral status of humans, disagreeing slightly with Regan, but believes equal consideration is key to morality, and equal harms should be counted equally, not downgraded for animals, which Singer believes. Singer declares equality is ‘a moral idea, not an assertion of fact,’ that intelligence and other matter of facts have no basis on equality, backing up with use of racism; if equality was based on fact, we could declare coloured people are less equal than white.
Indeed, the early philosopher Jeremy Bentham set the basis for Singer’s argument by declaring: “Each to count for one and none for more than one”. 12 Thus, we should not take into account their abilities and everyone should be treated equal. With both these views, Singer goes on to state sexism and racism is not accepted in society due to inequality, so speciesim should not either. Bentham declares equality should be based not on ‘Can they reason? Nor can they talk? But can they suffer? ‘ 13. Singer agrees with Bentham; animals can suffer so should be treated equally.
He states suffering must be present before interests can be apparent, so animals must have interests as they can suffer. 14 I believe this is true, although Frey objects, arguing although animals are sentient; it is not an adequate ground for possessing interests, as they do not have desires or beliefs. He starts this by distinguishing between something being in someone’s interest and someone being interested in something. 14 For the first, he agrees animals have interests, such as a cat eating to stay alive. However he believes this is not a strong argument as it applies to inanimate objects such as water; needed by a car radiator to work. 5 For the second interest, he believes only humans are interested in something, as desire is needed.
Yet, I believe Frey cannot use this argument as he actually agrees animals are sentient, so he cannot argue this as you must have some beliefs when you are suffering, thus he contradicts himself. Stephen Clark states a good point against Frey; to an extent, animals have interests and morality by taking into account their2’roots of conscious’ their virtues towards their master, like a dog staying faithful to its master. 6 On the other hand though, it can be said these virtues are not a moral agents; the animal does not become a better person out of it. Thomas Regan argues against Frey’s thesis, stating we desire something, without actually realizing we do so. He believes it is not necessary for any individual, human or non-human; to be aware it desires in order to be capable of desiring, thus qualify for morality and interests. 17 But, I believe this is just a sleight of hand, where he confuses mental states with mental events. To justify these arguments above, we must look at whether animals are sentient.
Singer declares animals do suffer, as they feel pain, thus are sentient, declaring ‘pain is a state of consciousness’ so can never be observed. 18 Thus, how can we tell another being are suffering as we have only our experiences for it. This is backed by Darwin in his ‘descent of man’, declaring; ‘there is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental facilities’. 19 However, I disagree as we can see when someone is suffering, as Regan points out, with beings expressions for example; ‘bulging eyes’. 20 However Descartes and indeed Frey declare language is important in figuring out if things can feel pain.
Thus, as I agree, only humans can communicate and only their language is true. Singer declares an objection that suffering is ‘primitive’, nothing to do with language. He adds young children cannot use language, so can they not suffer? 21, which I agree is a strong point, although an objection to it is these infants will grow up to be rational adults. Thomas Regan declares language is not important, taking the example of a Portuguese man fearful of a boy with a rubber snake, declaring: ‘it is very unclear what sense it can make to persist in claiming what is believed is a sentence is true.
Another controversy is on which animals are actually sentient. Singer believes mammals are definitely sentient, but as we decrease down the animal chain, he is wary of discussing this, i. e. if worms can feel pain. Yet Rollin declares in the journal ‘Nature’, worms contain two chemicals which are found to have painkilling effects in humans. 23 However I feel it is not a valid argument to use chemicals as a basis for whether one can feel pain or not, as if this was the case, we could argue plants can feel pain.
But Stephen Clark argues, although with reservations: “Some plants may be individuals, as trees probably are; some plants may have points of view. Some plants may feel. ” 24 Another argument which arises from this is difference between pain and suffering. Singer declares because of their ‘superior mental powers’ humans can suffer more than animals: ‘A human dying from cancer is likely to suffer more than a mouse’ 25, as a mouse does not know what it has, whereas a human does.
Conversely Mary Midgley argues against this, stating; ‘social birds and mammals are upset by solitude, or by the removal of their young. ‘ 26 Indeed, Midgley argues kinship is key to our feelings towards animals, where there is an ethical pull that coincides with kinship and some animals are as high kinship than strangers. I disagree with kinship as it is only a relationship which varies from person to person and thus cannot be a set rule for humans. There is the argument against whether animals are as important morally as humans.
But, if we decide they can feel pain and are sentient, as most do, we must treat them with some rights, agreed by Frey who declares they ‘cannot be wronged because they can be hurt. ‘ 27 So, if we look at Frey’s thought; animals are not autonomous but are sentient; humans have a right to use animals to help them survive, shared by Aubrey Townsend. Singers’ overall view animals have as much equal consideration as humans is rather contradicted by his utilitarianism view, as utilitarianism is based on the view the greatest happiness for the greatest number is key.
With this, although with hesitation, he allows painless killing of ‘non-self-conscious’ chicken or seafood and ‘for overriding utilitarian reasons’ perhaps self-conscious creatures as well. 28 Regan disagrees with the utilitarianism view, believing ‘respect for the equality principle is no guarantee animals will be treated equitably. ’29. Clark disagrees with Singer, judging utilitarianism could lead to; ‘death not the greatest of single hurts’, using the example of ‘putting down a cat for not matching the new decorations? 30 Although Singer is a utilitarian, it does not mean all utilitarian shares the same view as him.
Seen as Frey is a utilitarian, yet believes animals have no interests and thus are not autonomous. This shows utilitarianism is not the only view opposing cruelty to animals, but their ending product in certain situations where it would benefit the greater number of people would. 3 Overall, I believe animals do have moral worth, as they can feel and suffer. So, for this reason, I agree that they should be given some rights.
However, I do not feel that all animals are sentient, for example a work or an ant, so we cannot determine if they suffer. I believe, like Fry, we should not treat animals with unneeded cruelty, but that compared to humans they are of a lower moral status and thus we should be able to use them for our own means to survive, like the view of Kant. Yet, Regan would argue that there is no difference between an animal and a retarded human, they cannot communicate towards each other. Yet, I believe it is base don society it is not morally correct to harm a fellow human being because it is part of our species.