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Animal Ethics

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Animal Ethics

When we think about animal ethics and the guidelines on which our treatment towards non-humans is based, there are five theories of obligation we can point to: The No Status Theory, Indirect Obligation Theory, Equal Status View, Equal Consideration Theory and Split Level Theory. A brief consideration of each theory has led me to conclude that the Equal Consideration Theory is the most logical. It states that as sentient beings animals are as morally considerable as humans. Developed by Jeremy Bentham as an off-shoot of utilitarianism (greatest good for the greatest number), it is a more practical theory than the ideological Equal Status View. It aims to avoid hypocrisy, in the form of specisim, by making sentience the sole criterion for moral consideration, as opposed to rational self-consciousness. Theories where rational self-consciousness and the ability to plan and take part in ones future are the criteria for moral consideration come into criticism when you look at the favouring of humans who don't meet this criteria (severely mentally handicapped) as opposed to animals. This arbitrary favouring has been labelled as speciesism by Peter Singer who has added to Bentham's previous work on the theory.

If we were to apply this theory to our society, the implications of change appear drastic and impractical but are not entirely unrealistic. If we were to treat animals according to ECT it would mean an end to animal testing for cosmetics, arbitrary experiments with no real benefit, animal skins collected for fashion and factory farming.

The four main principles of the ECT are the principle of equality, the rejection of specieism, the principle of utility, and the relevance of self-consciousness.

The principle of equality states that every sentient being deserves equal moral consideration.

Animals should have the right to equal consideration of their interests, primarily the interest to be free from unnecessary pain, in accordance with the way any feeling human is given the same right. For instance, a dog most certainly has an interest in not being kicked for the entertainment of its owner. The owner is then therefore obliged to take that interest into consideration and to respect the dog's right not to have pain unnecessarily inflicted upon him or her. To deny this right to animals and grant it to humans, based not on their mental capabilities but sentience, would be labeled speciesism and as morally reprehensible as racism, sexism or ageism.

Speciesism is illogical. It is based on the concept that two life forms with physical differences but both being capable of pleasure and pain should be given the same consideration. Most people would agree this is a correct stance when it comes to a healthy human being vs. a handicapped one, but when it is a human of any ability, age or intelligence vs. an animal, the human will be favoured.

However, the distinction must be made that animals obviously can't have the same rights as humans because their interests are not always the same as ours, and some rights would be irrelevant to animals. For instance, a dog doesn't have an interest in voting and, therefore, doesn't have the right to vote because that right would be as meaningless to a dog as it is to a child. But it is undeniable that it is in an animal's interest to be free of suffering, have the freedom to move and interact with others of its species.

The principle of utility in the ECT is useful in making distinctions of how things such as animal testing can sometimes be considered moral. When utilitarianism is applied to the debate of animal ethics, the idea is that the animal's interest in not suffering should be weighed against the needs of the humans they would be benefiting. For example, a humans desire, rather than need, to eat meat, would be secondary to the animals right to live and need to be free from pain. Rather than the classic utilitarian principle of the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number being the most desirable outcome, singer has shifted to an Ð''interests based' form of utilitarianism where the focus is on what most furthers the interests of those affected.

In essence, the utilitarian principle of the ECT recognizes the need for equal consideration and treatment, but is willing to override this if the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

The way our society currently treats animals is far from the ideals of the ECT. If we were to reform current views and practices to suit the principles theory, we would live in a very different world.

The practice of animal experimentation would have to be drastically reformed. Currently we use animals to test a myriad of things, from cosmetics and cleaning products to new medications and medical procedures. Because the theory is rooted in utilitarianism, and sometimes the sacrifice of several animals will provide vital information that would benefit the entire human population, not all experimentation would be abolished.

Singer acknowledges that he "would never deny that we are justified in using animals for human goals, because as a consequentialist, [he] must also

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