Innocent Threats and the Moral Problem of Carnivorous Animals


Abstract: The existence of predatory animals is a problem in animal ethics that is often not taken as seriously as it should be. We show that it reveals a weakness in Tom Regan’s theory of animal rights that also becomes apparent in his treatment of innocent human threats. We show that there are cases in which Regan’s justice-prevails-approach to morality implies a duty not to assist the jeopardized, contrary to his own moral beliefs. While a modified account of animal rights that recognizes the moral patient as a kind of entity that can violate moral rights avoids this counter-intuitive conclusion, it makes non-human predation a rights issue that morally ought to be subjected to human regulation. Jennifer Everett, Lori Gruen and other animal advocates base their treatment of predation in part on Regan’s theory and run into similar problems, demonstrating the need to radically rethink the foundations of the animal rights movement. We suggest to those who, like us, find it less plausible to introduce morality to the wild than to reject the concept of rights that makes this move necessary to read our criticism either as a modus tollens argument and reject non-human animal rights altogether or as motivating a libertarian-ish theory of animal rights.

Rainer Ebert & Tibor R. Machan, “Innocent Threats and the Moral Problem of Carnivorous Animals,” Journal of Applied Philosophy 29 (2012), pp. 146-159.