Abstract: Mental-threshold egalitarianism, well-known examples of which include Jeff McMahan’s two-tiered account of the wrongness of killing and Tom Regan’s theory of animal rights, divides morally considerable beings into equals and unequals on the basis of their individual mental capacities. In this paper, I argue that the line that separates equals from unequals is unavoidably arbitrary and implausibly associates an insignificant difference in empirical reality with a momentous difference in moral status. In response to these objections, McMahan has proposed the introduction of an intermediate moral status. I argue that this move ultimately fails to address the problem. I conclude that, if we are not prepared to give up moral equality, our full and equal moral status must be grounded in a binary property that is not a threshold property. I tentatively suggest that the capacity for phenomenal consciousness is such a property, and a plausible candidate.
Rainer Ebert, “Mental-Threshold Egalitarianism: How Not to Ground Full Moral Status,” Social Theory and Practice 44 (2018), pp. 75-93.
Horrified by the tragic loss of innocent human life in the then-ongoing Vietnam War, a young philosopher by the name of Tom Regan went to the university library and buried himself in books on war, violence, and human rights, determined to prove that the American involvement in the war was morally wrong. One day, he picked up Mohandas K. Gandhi’s autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Reading it with great care and interest, he must have come across the following lines:
“To my mind the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. I should be unwilling to take the life of a lamb for the sake of the human body. I hold that, the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man.” Continue reading →
The way we think about and treat non-human animals is deeply confused, and scholars are in a unique position to provide some clarity. The Bangladesh Journal of Bioethics hence decided to dedicate two special issues to the relationship between human beings and other animals, and asked me to be the guest editor.
Less than two weeks after the first issue was published, the second special issues has now been published as well, and is available here. My editorial, which includes brief summaries of the articles, is available here, and this is the table of contents:
- Bob Fischer (Texas State University, U.S.A.):
Wild Fish and Expected Utility
- Akande Michael Aina (Lagos State University, Nigeria) & Ofuasia Emmanuel (Olabisi Onabanjo University, Nigeria):
The Chicken Fallacy and the Ethics of Cruelty to Non-Human Animals
- Iván Ortega Rodríguez (Universidad Pontificia Comillas, Spain):
Animal Citizenship, Phenomenology, and Ontology: Some reflections on Donaldson’s & Kymlicka’s Zoopolis
- Rhyddhi Chakraborty (American University of Sovereign Nations, U.S.A.):
Animal Ethics and India: Understanding the Connection through the Capabilities Approach
- Robin Attfield (Cardiff University, U.K.) & Rebekah Humphreys (Trinity St. David’s University, U.K.):
Justice and Non-Human Animals – Part 2
Continue reading →
Last August, I accepted an invitation to edit a special issue of the Bangladesh Journal of Bioethics, devoted to animal ethics. The interest was so great that one issue became two, the first of which has just been published.
The first special issue is available here, my editorial, which includes brief summaries of the articles, is available here, and this is the table of contents:
- Robin Attfield (Cardiff University, U.K.) & Rebekah Humphreys (Trinity St. David’s University, U.K.):
Justice and Non-Human Animals – Part 1
- Eric X. Qi (Rice University, U.S.A.):
Special Relations, Special Obligations, and Speciesism
- Yamikani Ndasauka & Grivas M. Kayange (University of Malawi, Malawi):
Existence and Needs: A case for the equal moral considerability of non-human animals
- Sreetama Chakraborty (Belda College, India):
Animal Ethics: Beyond Neutrality, Universality, and Consistency
- Gabriel Vidal Quiñones (Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Chile):
Singerian Vegetarianism and the Limits of Utilitarianism: A path towards a Meaning Ethics
Continue reading →
This presentation by Professor Tom Regan (North Carolina State University, USA) was recorded at the University of Heidelberg in Germany on May 24, 2006. It is a great resource for the classroom and anybody with an interest in animal ethics.
Abstract. Philosopher Tom Regan begins by contrasting the fact that many people make a firm distinction between the animals they live with (cats and dogs, for example) and other animals. He explains how it is that Animal Rights Advocates (ARAs) extend the same sense of compassion and respect that they feel for companion animals, on the one hand, to the other animals who routinely are turned into food, clothing, and the like, on the other. Not all ARAs, he explains, arrive at this destination in the same way. In particular, some need to be convinced; some need a logical argument. Professor Regan accepts this challenge and invites others to consider the main factual and moral questions whose answers inform the conviction that animals have rights.
In May 2016, I graduated with a PhD in Philosophy from Rice University. I wrote my dissertation on the wrongness of killing, under the direction of Professor George Sher (pictured above), and this is the abstract:
There are few moral convictions that enjoy the same intuitive plausibility and level of acceptance both within and across nations, cultures, and traditions as the conviction that, normally, it is morally wrong to kill people.
Attempts to provide a philosophical explanation of why that is so broadly fall into three groups: Consequentialists argue that killing is morally wrong, when it is wrong, because of the harm it inflicts on society in general, or the victim in particular, whereas personhood and human dignity accounts see the wrongness of killing people in its typically involving a failure to show due respect for the victim and his or her intrinsic moral worth.
I argue that none of these attempts to explain the wrongness of killing is successful. Consequentialism generates too many moral reasons to kill, cannot account for deeply felt and widely shared intuitions about the comparative wrongness of killing, and gives the wrong kind of explanation of the wrongness of killing. Personhood and human dignity accounts each draw a line that is arbitrary and entirely unremarkable in terms of empirical reality, and hence ill-suited to carry the moral weight of the difference in moral status between the individuals below and above it. Paying close attention to the different ways in which existing accounts fail to convince, I identify a number of conditions that any plausible account of the wrongness of killing must meet. I then go on to propose an account that does.
I suggest that the reason that typically makes killing normal human adults wrong equally applies to atypical human beings and a wide range of non-human animals, and hence challenge the idea that killing a non-human animal is normally easier to justify than killing a human being. This idea has persisted in Western philosophy from Aristotle to the present, and even progressive moral thinkers and animal advocates such as Peter Singer and Tom Regan are committed to it. I conclude by discussing some important practical implications of my account.
You can find a PDF copy of my dissertation here.
Each one of us encounters animals every day, if only as a piece of meat on a plate, and yet most of us hardly spare a thought for them. Shafayat Nazam Rasul must hence be commended for his Tuesday op-ed, in which he drew our attention to the complicated relationship between humans and other animals, and started a conversation that I think is very important. In the course of doing so, he mentioned a number of common objections to the idea that non-human animals are our moral equals and have rights. It is unfortunate, however, that these objections remained unanswered, as readers might have gotten the impression that animal rights advocates “spew an extreme,” as the author rather uncharitably stated, and do not have good arguments. By responding to some of the objections, I want to show that the philosophy of animal rights is in fact a well-thought-out moral theory worthy of our serious attention. Continue reading →
I strongly condemn today’s slaughter of thousands of dogs for the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in the southern Chinese province of Guangxi. Some dogs are being boiled alive, some are being beaten to death, and some are being skinned alive. All dogs suffer, more than anybody ever should, and all are eaten. Continue reading →
আপনি কয়জন বাঙালীকে চেনেন যে শর্ষে ইলিশ ভালবাসে না? কাচ্চি বিরিয়ানি অথবা গরুর রেজালা ছাড়া কোন বাংলাদেশী বিয়ে কল্পনা করতে পারেন? অনুমান করতে পারি আপনার উত্তর হবে খুব বেশি না অথবা একেবারেই না। যদিও বাংলাদেশ সম্পর্কে আমার জ্ঞান সীমিত, আমি এটুকু জানি, বাঙালী মাংস ভালবাসে, মুসলমানেরা হিন্দুদের থেকে বেশি, আর সব বাঙালী মাছ ভালবাসে। সেজন্য মনে হতে পারে বাংলাদেশে প্রাণীদের অধিকার নিয়ে কথা বলা বাতুলতা। কিন্তু আমার অভিজ্ঞতা সম্পূর্ণ বিপরীত। Continue reading →
How many Bengalis do you know who do not like shorshe ilish? Can you imagine a Bengali wedding without kacchi biryani, or beef rezala? If I had to guess, I would say that your answers are “not many,” and “hardly.” Even though my knowledge of Bengal is rather limited, I think this I know: Bengalis love meat, Muslims probably a bit more so than Hindus, and virtually every Bengali loves fish. One might think that makes lecturing about animal rights in Bangladesh a quixotic exercise. I found that the opposite is the case. Continue reading →
I am one of more than a hundred and fifty academics, intellectuals, and writers who have backed a new report calling for the de-normalisation of animal experimentation. Titled “Normalising the Unthinkable,” the report is the result of a working party of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.
The report finds that “[t]he deliberate and routine abuse of innocent, sentient animals involving harm, pain, suffering, stressful confinement, manipulation, trade, and death should be unthinkable. Yet animal experimentation is just that: the ‘normalisation of the unthinkable.'” Continue reading →
Rainer Ebert, “Review of Alasdair Cochrane’s Animal Rights Without Liberation,” The Journal of Animal Ethics 5 (Spring 2015), pp. 114-116 (PDF).
This report was published in The Daily Observer on January 8, 2015.
গত ২২শে সেপ্টেম্বর ভারতের ভুপালে পশুপাখীর অধিকার সংরক্ষণ কর্মীরা তাজ-উল-মসজিদের সামনে, ঈদ-আল-আধাতে মুসলমানদের পশু কোরবানি না দেবার অনুরোধ সম্বলিত বাণীর প্ল্যাকার্ড নিয়ে শান্তিপূর্ণভাবে দাঁড়িয়ে ছিলেন। তাঁদের বক্তব্য ছিল নিরামিষ আহার স্বাস্থ্যের পক্ষে ভালো তো বটেই, উপরন্তু পরিবেশ, প্রকৃতি ও পশুপাখীদের জন্যেও ভালো। বেনাজির সুরাইয়া ছিলেন এই কর্মীদের একজন। তাঁর পরিধানে ছিল সবুজ রঙের হিজাব এবং লেটুস পাতা দিয়ে মোড়া পরিচ্ছ্দ। তাঁর হাতের প্ল্যাকার্ডে লেখা ছিল Make Eid happy for all- Try Vegan, অর্থাৎ ঈদ যেন সবার জন্য আনন্দময় হোক, নিরামিষ খাবার খেয়ে দেখার চেষ্টা করতে পারেন। Continue reading →
A few days ago, on September 22, a group of Indian animal rights activist went to the Taj-ul-Masjid in Bhopal, one of the largest mosques on the subcontinent, and tried to persuade Muslims to celebrate a vegan Eid al-Adha this year, by pointing out the many benefits of a plant-based diet for human health, the environment, and the welfare of nonhuman animals. One of the activists, a Muslim woman named Benazir Suraiya, wore a green hijab and an Islamic dress covered in lettuce leaves, and held a sign that said, “Make Eid Happy For All: Try Vegan.” The program was organized by PETA India, a Mumbai-based animal rights organization that operates under the principle that animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment, and that has organized similar programs on other religious occasions in the past, including Christmas, Easter, Diwali, and Janmashtami. This time, however, things turned violent. A mob formed and started to attack the group of female activists. The women were punched, and hit with shoes, and stones were thrown at them, prompting them to flee the scene while police tried to contain the mob. Disturbingly, some people, including members of the media, seem to believe that the women deserved to be assaulted, and the police in fact booked Ms. Suraiya and two others on charges of hurting religious sentiments. All in all, a woefully common story that would be a good starting point for a discussion of the delicate feelings and sense of entitlement of some religious folk, and the rampant disregard for the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful protest. But I do not want to talk about that here. Instead, in the spirit of the free exchange of ideas, let us have the conversation that was successfully stifled in India. Continue reading →
সমাজের সম্মুখ দুয়ারের আড়ালে কত রকম দাসত্বই না লুকিয়ে রয়েছে। তৈরি পোশাক আর চামড়া কারখানা থেকে শুরু করে, এমনকি আমাদের ঘরের দরজার আড়ালেও দাসত্ব বিদ্যমান। আমরা সবাই জানি, প্রতিনিয়ত কী ঘটে চলেছে এইসব দরজার পেছনে। Continue reading →
Animals are the weakest members of our society. They cannot vote, they cannot call hartals, and they cannot hold rallies. They have no legal rights, and – even if they had – they could not go to court and demand that their rights be enforced. They have no voice and cannot speak for themselves. Animals are subject to our whim, easy to exploit and even easier to abuse. If we do not abuse them and instead treat them with the respect they deserve, it is not because of their economic or political clout, but because of our good will, and our compassion. The true test of our humanity hence is not how we behave when dealing with the powerful and privileged, but how we behave when dealing with animals. Mahatma Gandhi must have been thinking along these lines when he famously said, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Continue reading →
This article was published in The Star (South Africa) on January 7, 2014.
Many know Leonardo da Vinci as the Italian Renaissance genius who painted the Mona Lisa. Few are familiar with Leonardo’s moral views. Not only was he a generous humanitarian, but he also cared deeply about animals. One of his earliest biographers, Giorgio Vasari, assures us that Leonardo was “fond of all animals, ever treating them with infinite kindness and consideration.” As proof, Vasari recounts stories of encounters Leonardo had with bird traders in the market. On such occasions, Leonardo would often buy birds, and then release them into the sky. He could not bear to see an animal of the air confined to a small cage. Leonardo’s compassion was not restricted to birds though. It is said that he abhorred violence toward any animal. The Italian explorer Andrea Corsali, in a letter to his patron, reported that the members of a people he came across on a trip to pre-colonial South Asia “are so gentle that they do not feed on anything which has blood, nor will they allow anyone to hurt any living thing, like our Leonardo da Vinci.” Leonardo himself wrote that, rather than being the king of all animals, man is the king of all beasts, as he has made his gullet “a tomb for all animals.” From this, and other historical evidence, we may conclude that Leonardo was an ethical vegetarian. He refused to be a party to the unnecessary killing of animals, repulsed by the thought of other sentient beings having to surrender their precious and unique lives for his palate. This view was radical in Renaissance Italy, probably even more radical than it is in most societies today. Continue reading →