For this assignment, please read the text uploaded to the resources folder titled “Humans and Other Animals (D. Jamieson),” and watch the video linked here. Then, answer the following questions over the moral issues that are discussed in these two resources.Reading Questions over “Humans and Other Animals”:1. What is the main problem, pointed out by Jamieson, in thinking that only humans have moral value (in other words, what are the issues with being speciesist)? 2. Explain how the utilitarian and the deontologist view animals in terms of: what they have that is valuable, and what this means for the way we treat those animals (hint: the utilitarian will say that suffering is what matters, so sentient things have value…etc.).3. What do the utilitarian and deontologist say about killing animals that can feel pain (i.e. dogs, sheep, primates and cows)? 4. Do you think that the overview of the moral value of animals provided in the reading provides a good reason to abstain from eating meat? If so, explain which reasons you think are good ones from the reading. If not, explain one of the reasons for being vegetarian or vegan and why you do not think it is a good reason to abstain from killing animals.Questions over Years of Living Dangerously, “Collapse of the Oceans”:1. Identify three of the morally relevant impacts of climate change that are discussed in the episode, and be sure to explain why these are morally relevant (example not from episode: increased rainfall will lead to flooding in agricultural communities which will decrease food security and lead to human suffering and even death).2. What communities will be harmed by the impacts of climate change on the ocean, and do you think there is an issue of injustice related to these harms (consider the communities impacted by climate change and the people responsible for climate change)?3. What do you think the utilitarian and deontologist would say about one of the morally relevant impacts of climate change that you iden4. Given what you have learned in the film about the impacts of climate change, do you think you have a moral obligation to decrease your carbon footprint and change your daily practice that make climate change worse (driving, eating meat, using energy, buying from certain companies, single use products, etc.)?
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Humans and other animals
What makes humans different from other animals? This question has been
at the center of philosophical discussion since at least the time of Socrates
and classical Greek civilization.1 Indeed, anxiety about our relations to
other animals ﬁgures in the Bible, as well as in the stories and myths of
other ancient cultures. In some societies, animals were viewed as agents
with whom one made agreements and in some cases even entered into conjugal relationships. They were worshiped and respected, but also hunted.
They were a source of inspiration, but also of protein. Clearly, complex stories are required in order to make such a multiplicity of uses morally and
This question of what makes humans different from other animals is
more than merely ‘‘academic.” We would never do to humans much of what
we do to animals. Not only do we eat them, but we cause them unspeakable suffering before slaughtering them. They are no longer sacriﬁced for
religious purposes in most societies, but they are still routinely killed and
made to suffer in scientiﬁc and medical research, as well as in the cause of
producing new cosmetics and household products. As for wild animals, we
like having them in our parks and sometimes even in our neighborhoods,
but our patience quickly wears thin when there are ‘‘too many” of them or
they do not behave ‘‘properly.”2
Despite the fact that the 2004 German constitution speciﬁcally protects the rights of
animals, in 2006 German ofﬁcials killed Bruno, the only wild bear seen in Germany
since 1835. An ofﬁcial in Bavaria’s environment ministry explained: ‘‘It’s not that
we don’t welcome bears in Bavaria. It’s just that this one wasn’t behaving properly”
Humans and other animals
One way of explaining why we treat humans and animals in such different ways is to say that humans are members of the moral community while
other animals are not. In the language of philosophers, members of the
moral community have ‘‘moral standing”; they are ‘‘morally considerable,”
while non-human animals are not.3 They have intrinsic value in the second
sense which we distinguished in 3.5.
However, as we saw in our discussion of Kant (in 4.4), it would be a mistake
to suppose that it follows from the view that we owe duties only to humans
that we have no duties regarding animals. For example, you may have a
duty in regard to my dog (e.g. not to harm her) that is owed to me (e.g. she’s
my property). In such cases Kant speaks of the duty as owed directly to a
human and indirectly to an animal.4 Because some animals are within the
scope of our indirect duties, they are treated to some extent as if they were
members of the moral community. It is important to remember, however,
that on this view, they are not.
The President’s annual ritual of ‘‘pardoning” a Thanksgiving turkey illustrates how contingent the fate is of one who is not a member of the moral
community.5 Out of the billions of turkeys slaughtered each year as part
of the holiday celebration, the President spares one who would otherwise
have ended up on his plate. He eats a different turkey instead, and the lucky
survivor goes to a refuge to live out her life in peace. If someone were to
kill the turkey whom the President has spared, they would be doing something wrong. But it is the President (or whoever now is the turkey’s legal
owner) who would be directly wronged; the turkey would be wronged only
indirectly (if at all).
This view under consideration can be stated in a more formal way as
holding that all and only humans are members of the moral community.
For an overview see Kuﬂik 1998.
There is an unresolved ambiguity in Kant as to whether the terms ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’
modify the source of the duty or its object. If I owe an indirect duty to an animal, does
this mean that I owe the animal a duty in virtue of duties that I owe a human? Or
does it mean that my duties are only to the human but concern the animal? While the
latter seems more in the spirit of Kant’s ofﬁcial view, it would seem to imply that I have
indirect duties regarding all sorts of things over which you have rights, including all
of your property. It seems strange to suppose that I have indirect duties regarding your
accordion in exactly the same sense in which I have indirect duties regarding your dog.
For discussion of this bizarre ritual see Fiskesjo 2003. It is especially odd that the turkey
in question is ‘‘pardoned,” since she has committed no crime.
Ethics and the Environment
This raises the following question: In virtue of what are all humans and no
non-humans member of this community?
An important strand in the western philosophical tradition views linguistic competence or self-consciousness as the crucial criterion.6 While these
criteria are distinguishable, many philosophers have closely associated them
(e.g. the seventeenth-century French philosopher, René Descartes, and the
twentieth-century American philosopher, Donald Davidson).
These criteria, on reﬂection, would appear both too demanding and not
demanding enough to support the claim that all and only humans are
members of the moral community. They are too demanding because not all
humans are self-conscious: not newborns, the comatose, or those suffering
from advanced dementia. Nor are newborns linguistically competent. These
criteria are not demanding enough, since some non-human animals appear
to be self-conscious: for example, our fellow Great Apes and perhaps some
cetaceans (e.g. dolphins).7 Moreover, the idea that having language is an
‘‘all or nothing” capacity that sharply distinguishes humans from other animals is increasingly being called into question by experiments with other
animals and work in historical linguistics. The classical scholar, Richard
Sorabji (1993: 2), suggests a more sweeping criticism when he caricatures
the linguistic criterion as holding that ‘‘they [animals] don’t have syntax,
so we can eat them.” What Sorabji seems to be asking is why on earth we
would think that linguistic competence should have anything to do with
Other philosophers, rather than ﬁnding the criterion of moral considerability in linguistic competence or sophisticated cognitive or reﬂective states,
have instead looked to sentience: the capacity for pleasure and pain. Such a
criterion may succeed in catching all humans in its net: newborn babies and
many other humans who are not self-conscious or linguistically competent
can experience pain and pleasure, and therefore would count as members
of the moral community on this criterion. However, this criterion would be
For Kant (as we saw in section 4.4), self-consciousness is what separates humans from
other animals. For much of the Greek philosophical tradition, it was the ability to speak
that mattered (Heath 2005, Sorabji 1993).
It may sound odd to speak of ‘‘our fellow Great Apes,” but as a sober matter of biological
classiﬁcation, Homo sapiens is a member of the subfamily, Hominae, which also includes
chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans. For a good start on self-consciousness
in non-humans visit .
Humans and other animals
satisﬁed by many non-human animals as well. Indeed, most of the animals
that we commonly use for food and research are clearly sentient: cows, pigs,
chickens, dogs, ﬁsh, cats, rats, monkeys, and so on. The eighteenth-century
English philosopher Jeremy Bentham saw this point clearly, and drew some
startling implications, when he wrote:
The day may come when the rest of animal creation may acquire those
rights which never could have been witholden from them but by the hands
of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the
skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress
to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day come to be recognized that
the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the
os sacrum are reasons equally insufﬁcient for abandoning a sensitive being
to the same fate.8
One way of stating what is at issue between these two families of criteria is whether being a moral agent is a necessary condition for being a
moral ‘‘patient.” A moral agent is someone who has moral obligations; a
moral patient is someone to whom obligations are owed.9 We do not normally attend to this distinction because reciprocal duties are so much at
the heart of our everyday morality. For example, the wrongness of my lying
to you is related to the wrongness of your lying to me. This has led some to
suppose that there is a necessary connection between being a moral agent
and being a moral patient. On this view, only creatures who themselves
have moral obligations can be owed moral obligations. But this goes too far.
Newborn infants and severely brain-damaged humans are moral patients
(we owe them obligations), but they are not moral agents (they do not owe
obligations to others because they are not capable of fulﬁlling them). If we
accept the idea that there are human patients who are not moral agents,
then why should we not accept the idea that there are non-human patients
who are not moral agents?
While much more can be (and has been) said about these matters, it
would appear that there is no morally signiﬁcant criterion for membership
in the moral community that is satisﬁed by all and only humans.10 If the
criterion is demanding enough (e.g. language), it is likely to exclude some
As quoted in Singer 1990: 7.
This distinction was introduced into the contemporary discussion by Warnock 1971.
For further discussion, see Singer 1990 and Dombrowsky 1997.
Ethics and the Environment
humans. If it is permissive enough to include all humans (e.g. sentience), it
is likely to include many non-humans.
In response, some philosophers would say that the correct criterion has
been under our noses all along. Think about the idea of universal human
rights. We believe in this idea, not because we think that there is some
further, morally relevant property shared by all and only humans, but rather
because we believe that simply in virtue of being human there are rights that
all humans have. As the late English philosopher, Bernard Williams, wrote,
‘‘we afford special consideration to human beings because they are human
beings.”11 When it comes to clashes between fundamental human and nonhuman interests, there is, according to Williams, ‘‘only one question left to
ask: Which side are you on?”12
Much of what Williams says is probably true by way of explaining our
attitudes. But explaining our attitudes is not the same as justifying them.
There is still a question about whether an appeal to our common humanity is sufﬁcient justiﬁcation for dividing the moral world along the lines
of species membership. What we want to know is not only whether the
following view is widely accepted, but whether it can be defended: that all
and only members of the species, Homo sapiens, are members of the moral
This view is not exactly new, and it has been subjected to grueling criticism. In 1970 the British psychologist, Richard Ryder, coined the term
‘speciesism’ to refer to the prejudice that allows us to treat animals in ways
in which we would never treat humans.14 In his 1975 book, Animal Liberation,
Peter Singer popularized this term, deﬁning it as ‘‘a prejudice or attitude of
bias in favor of the interests of members of one’s own species and against
those of members of other species.”15
Williams 2006: 150.
However, it is important to note that our question is not exactly that of Williams. For
he explicitly denies that being human is equivalent to being a member of the species
Homo sapiens (he says that a human embryo ‘‘belongs to the species,” but that it is
not a human being in the sense in which human beings have a right to life (Williams
2006: 143). This invites the question: In virtue of what (if not species membership) is
something a human being in the sense in which humans have a right to life? The search
Williams 2006: 152.
for an answer to this question seems to return us to the hunt for some ‘‘other set of
criteria” for membership in the moral community. On another point, it is not entirely
clear that Williams excludes all non-human animals from the moral community.
See Ryder 1975 for discussion.
Singer 1990: 6. The term ‘speciesism’ has now entered the Oxford English Dictionary. For
more on the concept, see Pluhar 1995.
Humans and other animals
The basic idea is that speciesism, like sexism and racism, is a prejudice
involving a preference for one’s own kind, based on a shared characteristic
that in itself has no moral relevance. Speciesism serves various interests and
beliefs, but, according to Singer, in large part it is the vestigial remains of
traditional theological dogma about the importance and dignity of human
beings. According to the middle-eastern religions most inﬂuential in shaping western culture, humans are the crown of creation. They have a special
role in God’s plan, and their value far exceeds that of the rest of the created world. These views are echoed in the philosophical tradition in such
writers as Descartes and Kant.16 But if we reject the religious dogma which
lurks in the background and instead embrace the naturalistic worldview of
modern science, it is difﬁcult to see how we can continue to defend this
prejudice in favor of our own kind. Indeed, what we learn from Darwin and
contemporary biology is that rather than being the crown of creation, we
are one branch (of a branch) of evolution’s tree, a small part of the story
of life on earth. From this perspective what is striking is how much we
share with other animals, not what distinguishes us from them. Our claim
of moral superiority is nothing more than a transparent case of special
In my opinion, a series of thought-experiments counts decisively against
the view that membership in a favored species is alone necessary and sufﬁcient for membership in the moral community.
Imagine that the space program gets going again, and we succeed in visiting the outer reaches of the galaxy. On one planet (call it ‘‘Trafalmadore”
in homage to the writer, Kurt Vonnegut), we encounter a highly sensitive
and intelligent form of life. By any normal standards, Trafalmadoreans are
superior to us in every way. They are more intelligent, knowledgeable, compassionate, sensitive, and so forth. However, they suffer from one ‘‘defect”:
evolution has followed its own course on Trafalmadore, and they are not
members of our species. Would we think that we were therefore justiﬁed in
gratuitously destroying their civilization (which is in every way superior to
ours) and causing them great suffering (more intense than we can imagine),
simply because they are not human?
Consider another example closer to home. As a matter of fact, anthropologists have recently claimed to have discovered a hominid species that
The denigration of non-human consciousness has historically been one important strategy in the defense of speciesism. For discussion, see Jamieson 2002.
Ethics and the Environment
lived as recently as 18,000 years ago on the Indonesian island of Flores.17
Like Homo sapiens of the same period, Homo floresiensis used tools and ﬁre
for cooking. Although they were quite small compared to Homo sapiens (they
stood a little over 3 feet [1 metre] tall and have been nicknamed ‘‘hobbits”),
the brain region which is associated with self-awareness is about the same
size in Homo floresiensis as in modern humans.18 Suppose that a remnant
population of Homo floresiensis were discovered today, living on this large,
rugged island. (There are anecdotal reports of Homo floresiensis surviving
into the nineteenth century.) What would be the appropriate attitude for
us to take towards them? Should we regard this as another rare hunting
opportunity for Texas oil millionaires and Arab sheiks, or should we regard
them as creatures to whom we owe moral respect?
Even closer to home, suppose that some remnant Neanderthals (Homo
neanderthalensis) survived in remote regions of the world, slowly assimilating
themselves to human culture and society. Despite the fact that they mingle
with humans, they remain a reproductively isolated, distinct species.19 They
can recognize each other (perhaps by a secret handshake), but we cannot
normally distinguish them from ourselves. Now suppose that somehow you
discover that your roommate or the person whom you are dating is a member of this species. Do their moral claims on you suddenly vanish? Instead
of taking your date to the movies, can you now take her to the local medical
school to be used for vivisection?
I take it that most of us will agree in our answers to these questions.
Trafalmadoreans, Homo floresiensis, and Neanderthals, as I have described
them, all matter morally. The fact that they are not human is not sufﬁcient
for excluding them from from moral protection.
However, if this is not enough to persuade you, consider the fact that
there are at least two distinct forms of speciesism. The version that we
have been discussing, call it ‘‘Homo sapiens-centric speciesism,” holds that
This discovery was ﬁrst reported by Brown et al. (2004) and Morwood et al. (2004). The
claim that this constitutes a new species was challenged by Martin et al. (2006). The controversy continues, but it is unimportant for the purposes of our thought-experiment.
Region 10 of the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, for those who like to keep track of such
Recent research suggests that Neanderthals may actually have hybridized with Homo
sapiens (Evans et al. 2006). Whether or not this is true, it is clear that the differences
between Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis have often been exaggerated.
Humans and other animals
all and only members of the species, Homo sapiens, are members of the
moral community. A second version, call it ‘‘indexical speciesism,” holds
that members of each species should hold that all and only members of
their species are members of the moral community. The former principle
would imply that Trafalmadoreans (for example) have a duty to sacriﬁce even
their most fundamental interests for the trivial interests of human beings,
while the latter principle would hold that Trafalmadoreans should hold
that all and only Trafalmadoreans are members of the moral community.
The former view seems preposterous. Why should Trafalmadoreans, who are
superior to us in every way, hold that only members of some inferior species
(Homo sapiens) matter morally? Surely the latter view, indexical speciesism,
is more plausible. But on this view if Trafalmadoreans, Homo floresiensis, or
Neanderthals were to cause utterly gratuitous, horriﬁc suffering to humans,
this would not be morally objectionable. We would be within our rights to
resist them, but there would be no place for moral denunciation.20
Some philosophers would respond that while these thought-experiments
may show that being human is not a necessary condition for membership
in the moral community, nevertheless it still has some moral relevance.21
They would distinguish ‘‘absolute speciesism,” the view that holds that in
virtue of being human, all and only humans are members of the moral
community, from ‘‘moderate speciesism,” which holds that in virtue of being
human, humans are morally more important than non-humans. Moderate
speciesism, it would be said, is consistent with our common responses to
the thought-ex …
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