The Moral Status of Nonhuman Animals

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Virginia Tech

Although moral individualism is sufficient for making fair moral decisions, it is itself supported by our implicit moral commitments; Rawls (and consequently Rowlands) uses the original position as a method for making moral decisions that are both fair and consistent without proposing a normative moral code, and DeGrazia adds content to this method by spelling out what interests are and which individuals are capable of having interests - and thus being morally considerable. Rawls does not go far enough in the process of bracketing off undeserved, unearned properties; he fails to see that properties such as rationality and species are undeserved.

Using Rowlands' interpretation of Rawls, I argue that the revised intuitive equality argument provides the justification for the social contract argument - that is, for bracketing off the properties that are arbitrary.

I use DeGrazia to make the case for sentience as being essential for moral consideration. Sentience is necessary and sufficient for having interests, and having interests is sufficient for being worthy of moral consideration. From this, I conclude that because there are many sentient nonhuman animals, there are many nonhuman animals that are worthy of moral consideration. Being morally considerable is not equivalent to having substantial moral status.

Rachels' moral individualism allows us to make moral decisions based upon the properties or characteristics of the individual, and this is particularly useful for pinpointing our treatment of humans and our justification for doing so and then simply extending this line of thought to nonhumans. This method allows us to isolate what is indeed relevant to the situation at hand and to consider if both individuals under consideration share it. In the case of moral status, sentience will play an important role because it is a property shared by humans and at least some nonhuman animals. Using Rawls, Rowlands, DeGrazia and Rachels as support, I conclude that at least some animals have significant moral status.

ethics, Rowlands, animals, moral philosophy, Rawls