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 →
Last year, a Pew Research Center survey found that Americans have a significantly less favorable view of atheists than of Jews, Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus. Only Muslims were rated more negatively than atheists. That is consistent with another survey conducted by the same institute in the same year, which found that about every second American would not be happy with a family member marrying an atheist. In a 2012 Gallup poll among Americans, 43 percent of respondents said that they would not vote for a presidential candidate who is an atheist. Simply put, Americans do not like atheists. As everybody knows who knows anything about Bangladesh, neither do Bangladeshis. Continue reading →
Detail from The School of Athens by Raphael, with Plato & Aristotle at the center
Founded around 387 BCE, Plato’s Academy continued throughout the Hellenistic period until the death of its last head, Philo of Larissa, in 84/83 BCE. The most famous student during that time was Aristotle, who after studying at the Academy for almost twenty years went on to tutor Alexander the Great in 343 BCE, and then started to teach at the Lyceum in 335/334 BCE. A group of Neoplatonist philosophers revived the Academy at the beginning of the fifth century CE, and it again flourished until 529 CE, when an edict of the Emperor Justinian I. brought about the closing of all institutes of higher learning in Athens. The Academy was one of the earliest such institutes in the Western world. Besides what we now call philosophy, the subjects taught likely included physics, mathematics, and astronomy. Today, the archaeological site of Plato’s Academy is in a sad state of neglect: trash, eroding walls, rusty fences or no protection at all, and only very few informational sign boards. Given the current financial crisis in Greece, this is unlikely to change anytime soon. 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 →
This article was published in The Independent (Bangladesh) on May 4, 2015.
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 →
This article was published in the Dhaka Tribune (Bangladesh) on March 24, 2015.
Rainer Ebert, “Review of Alasdair Cochrane’s Animal Rights Without Liberation,” The Journal of Animal Ethics 5 (Spring 2015), pp. 114-116 (PDF).
The Department of Philosophy at Hindu College in New Delhi just published the first issue of the first edition of its new magazine, Falsafa. Congratulations to the students who worked hard to put it together, and to their dedicated teachers, particularly my friend Dr. Krishna M. Pathak! I wish the magazine and its team of editors all success, and I hope it will continue to contribute to the free exchange of ideas at Hindu College for a very long time. Continue reading →
This report was published in The Daily Observer on January 8, 2015.
On April 24 last year, more than 1,100 people lost their lives in the rubble of Rana Plaza. The tragedy made headlines around the globe, and fundraising committees were formed both in Bangladesh and abroad immediately after the building had collapsed. Horrified by the pictures on social media, in the newspapers and on TV, people from all walks of life spontaneously decided to help. People with no personal relation to those affected by the tragedy, total strangers donated money, medical supplies, and blood, physically participated in the rescue efforts, and took to the streets to protest against a politico-economic system that continues to put the lives of workers in Bangladesh at risk. Continue reading →
Abstract: Among those who reject the Epicurean claim that death is not bad for the one who dies, it is popularly held that death is bad for the one who dies, when it is bad for the one who dies, because it deprives the one who dies of the good things that otherwise would have fallen into her life. This view is known as the deprivation account of the value of death, and Fred Feldman is one of its most prominent defenders. In this paper, I explain why I believe that Feldman’s argument for the occasional badness of death fails. While staying within an Epicurean framework, I offer an alternative that adequately accounts for a significant range of widely held intuitions about prudential value. My account implies that death is almost always good for the one who dies, yet often less good than not dying. Finally, I discuss some puzzles that remain for my account and hint at possible ways to address them. Continue reading →