The treatment of non-human animals and other biological organisms is discussed by many researchers and philosophers. They try to single out the principles that should guide people’s decisions when they need to take actions that can harm living entities. This paper will examine the ethical models that show how non-human entities should be treated. This discussion can be used to develop the best moral theory. Moreover, it is necessary to discuss various cases that require the use of ethical models. For instance, one can mention such issues as hunting or maintaining zoos.
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At first, one should discuss anthropocentrism because this model has long been viewed as the main ethical theory used for treating non-human animals. It has been supported by Immanuel Kant; this philosopher believes that the ethical duties of a person are related only to other people who are able to think rationally. Overall, this philosopher focuses on rationality as the main cut-off point. According to Immanuel Kant, no rational being can be treated as an object or an instrument, “not be used merely as means” (Kant, “Rational Beings Alone Have Moral Worth,” 55). Furthermore, one can say that some rational beings are more or less important. Certainly, Kant does not justify cruelty because this behavior is not compatible with rationality and deontological ethics.
This behavior contradicts the duties of a person to other human beings. This philosopher relies on the deontological or duty-based ethics according to which people should not be viewed as the means of achieving a certain goal (Kant, “Rational Beings Alone Have Moral Worth,” 55). There are several limitations that should be considered. This thinker lays stress on the rationality as the main criterion that distinguishes human and non-human animals. However, the research indicates that some animals have a relatively high IQ. Furthermore, people owe a moral duty to infants who are not able to think rationality.
Additionally, one should focus on the ideas expressed by Jan Narveson, who argues that people cannot gain any benefits by protecting animals from harm (Narveson, “A Defense of Meat-Eating,” 193). In his opinion, being human is the main cut-off point that enables a person to determine when ethical principles should be applied. This thinker does not mention whether people vary in their moral values. On the whole, this thinker focuses on utilitarian ethics in order to back up his arguments. For example, Jan Narveson believes that a person is not morally obliged to refrain from eating meat if this action does not benefit him/her. Yet, there are several internal problems that should be considered. In particular, this theorist does not clearly outline the interests of human beings. Moreover, he does not mention that people’s interests can come into conflict with one another.
In turn, William Baxter also argues that the ethical duties of a person can be extended only to other human beings. So, humanity is the main cut-off point that this author focuses on. Yet, this thinker does not specify whether humans have different moral values. This thinker relies on utilitarian ethics in order to justify his position. For instance, the author argues that the attempts to curb pollution are beneficial if they bring benefits to people because “low levels of pollution contribute to human satisfaction” (Baxter, “People or Penguins,” 5). In this way, policy-makers can reduce the risks to human health. I can only partially accept these arguments because utilitarian ethics can be used to justify various atrocities provided that they serve a certain higher purpose.
Apart from that, one can refer to the arguments put forward by Richard Guthrie, who believes that ethics should govern only the relationship between human beings. Being human is the main cut-off point that this philosopher discusses. However, this author does not specify if the moral value of human beings can differ. Overall, the author shows that the attempts to consider the interests of animals will eventually become fruitless. One should keep in mind that the activities of policy-makers are oriented towards people’s wellbeing. Nevertheless, there are some shortcomings that should be considered. In particular, the survival of human beings can depend on the ecosystem and the survival of wildlife. Thus, the ethical duties of a person can be extended to non-human animals as well.
In turn, Rodney Peffer acknowledges that, in some cases, the principles of anthropocentrism can be accepted, especially if the interests of human beings and animals come in conflict with one another. Nevertheless, this author also mentions that by completely disregarding the interest of non-human animals, people can produce disastrous results. Overall, this position is much more balanced.
It is also possible to speak about the theory called animal liberation. This model is supported by several philosophers. For instance, one can mention Peter Singer, who argues that it is necessary to accept the ethical responsibilities of a person to non-human animals. In particular, this thinker focuses on the ability to experience suffering as “the main reason” why people should minimize possible harm done to animals (Singer, “Animal Liberation,” 136). Thus, sensitivity to pain is the main cut-off point considered by this author. Additionally, Peter Single accepts that living organisms may differ in their ability to experience pain.
For instance, one can speak about mammals and invertebrates. Nevertheless, the author does not fully reject the validity of utilitarian ethics, which can justify doing harm to animals if such an action can benefit society. These are the main arguments expressed by this author. The author’s position can be partially accepted. In particular, people should indeed minimize the suffering of animals. Nevertheless, researchers argue that the ability to live organisms to experience pain has not been properly studied. For instance, one can speak about fish. There is very little evidence that can show that these entities can experience pain. Moreover, the author does not show how a person can evaluate the ability of an animal to experience pain.
In turn, this theory is also elaborated by Gary Varner, who argues that Singer should not be viewed as the supporter of animal rights because this philosopher also accepts the premise that some animals can be used “as objects” (Varner, “The Prospects for Consensus,” 164). Overall, the author also accepts the idea that human beings should avoid doing unnecessary harm to animals. This thinker attempts to reconcile both utilitarian and deontological ethics. This thinker also acknowledges that sensitivity to pain should be the main cut-off point, which should be used to evaluate the moral value of a living organism. However, his argument has the same weaknesses. In particular, he does not specify the methods that can be used to determine whether a living organism can experience pain.
Overall, Rodney Peffer critiques the scientific validity of this ethical model because, in many cases, researchers cannot properly establish the nature of animals’ responses to the actions of humans. In particular, he notes that animal’s subjective perception of pain cannot be properly measured or even illustrated with the help of scientific methods. Nevertheless, this scholar also does not dismiss the idea that living organisms can experience suffering.
Strong animal rights theory
Additionally, one should focus on the model, which is known as a strong animal rights theory. It is elaborated by such an author as Tom Regan, who believes that people owe a moral duty to other living beings. Overall, this thinker regards animals as subjects of life. This phrase has several meanings. For instance, one can say that animals can experience emotions such as pleasure or fear. Additionally, they can have certain interests, such as the need for safety.
Apart from that, they try to avoid suffering when it is possible. Thus, being a “subject of a life” is the main cut-off point that this thinker identifies (Regan, “The Case for Animal Rights,” 144). Tom Regan does not provide clear guidelines that can show how moral worth can be determined. The arguments expressed by Reagan can be accepted because non-human animals do attempt to avoid harm. Nevertheless, the author does not explain the perceptions of animals can be studied. This is one of the drawbacks that can be identified. Currently, researchers have not gained thorough insights into this issue.
This theory is also discussed by Gary Varner, who notes that it is difficult to show that animals have conscious desires (Varner, “The Prospects for Consensus,” 164). In his opinion, it is not evident how people can assess the inner world of animals and other living organisms. Thus, this scholar focuses on the methodological limitations of this model.
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In turn, Rodney Peffer also evaluates the advantages and disadvantages of this theory. In particular, this scholar examines the scientific basis of this ethical theory. He suggests that it is difficult to evaluate the moral worth of a living organism by applying the criteria introduced by Tom Reagan. Nevertheless, one can still say that Tom Regan raises the standards of environmental ethics. This approach can be helpful for protecting animals from cruel treatment.
Weaker animal rights theory
It is also possible to examine the weaker animal rights theory. It is advocated by various theorists. For instance, one can mention Bernard Rollin. This thinker recognizes the existence of animal rights because these biological organisms can certain needs that are important for their survival. Therefore, being alive is the main cut-off point that this author focuses on. Nevertheless, this scholar emphasizes the idea that the interests of people should be the “main priority” for any decision-maker (Rollin, “Animal Production and the New Social Ethic for Animals,” 81). Thus, Bernard Rollin attaches different moral values to living entities. Overall, Bernard Rollin’s position can be quite acceptable because this framework can reconcile the interests of people and non-human animals.
Furthermore, it is important to focus o the ideas expressed by Mary Midgley, who argues that it is necessary to impose restrictions on the use of animals for research purposes. This author believes that being alive is the reason the moral rights of these livings should not be overlooked. This is the main cut-off point that this scholar emphasizes. Overall, Mary Midgley accepts the principles of utilitarian ethics. In particular, she accepts the need to use animals for medical research. Nevertheless, the author mentions in some cases, the activities of scientists are driven by curiosity, rather than the desire to help other people. Mary Midgley offers tentative guidelines that researchers and policy-makers can use while treating animals. Moreover, this approach does not address any logical inconsistencies.
Furthermore, it is possible to focus on the claims made by Mary Warren, who also argues that animal rights are weaker than the rights of human beings. This author speaks about the ability to alter one’s behavior “on the basis of reasoned argument” (Warren, “A Critique of Regan’s Animal Rights Theory,” 331). This author relies on rationality as the main cut-off point, which enables a person to determine whether a certain living entity can be entitled to moral rights.
Nevertheless, the author notes that humans have a greater moral worth than animals. Additionally, the author relies on utilitarian ethics in order to justify her claims. For instance, she notes that people usually care about pets because they are valuable to them. Nevertheless, they are not necessarily concerned about animal rights. Overall, her arguments have a certain limitation. In particular, she concentrates on the ability to respond to reasoning. Nevertheless, some people can act irrationally, but they are still entitled to their human rights.
Overall, Rodney Peffer accepts weaker animal rights theory as one of the methods that can researchers and policy-makers can apply while treating animals. Moreover, this scholar believes that this framework can reconcile people’s interests with the need to protect the animal’s well-being. The only limitation is that this framework does not show how the moral worth of various non-human animals can be evaluated.
Overall, it is possible to discuss the ideas expressed by Van deVeer. This scholar accepts the idea that some interests of animals can sometimes be justified. This author focuses on self-consciousness as the main cut-off point. Nevertheless, he also mentions that the moral worth of a living depending on the degree of its psychological development. However, he specifies the conditions when this behavior is possible. At first, the scholar distinguishes the basic and peripheral interests of human beings.
Additionally, Van deVeer believes that it is possible to regard animals as instruments in those cases when it is necessary to serve the key needs of people, such as survival. For instance, one can mention the need to conducts the tests of drugs. The author applies utilitarian ethics in order to justify his arguments. Overall, this approach is quite plausible because it enables people to assess the morality of their actions. Nevertheless, there are certain internal problems. In particular, sometimes, it is rather difficult to distinguish basic and peripheral interests of people.
Rodney Peffer provides a thorough analysis of Van deVeer’s ethical framework. In particular, this scholar analyzes a possible conflict of interests between human beings and animals. However, this author does not give a clear distinction of peripheral and primary interests. For instance, one can mention the use of animals for testing new cosmetic products.
Four-Factor Ecological Ethics
One should also examine the so-called four-factor model of ecological ethics introduced by Rodney Peffer. According to this model, it is necessary to consider the interests of various stakeholders while determining how animals should be treated. In particular, one should evaluate the goals that people set. Much attention should be paid to the needs that a certain decision can serve. Additionally, this scholar mentions that environment has certain inherent process. In many cases, they cannot be changed because such interventions can produce disastrous consequences. Overall, the model advanced by this scholar captures the complexity of decisions that a person can take when he/she has to interact with animals and other living organisms.
Furthermore, much attention should be paid to biocentric egalitarianism which implies that every living entity has certain inherent value. This ideology rejects the view according to which the life of non-human animals should be subjected to the interests of people. Thus, “reverence for life is the supreme motive” (Schweitzer, “Reverence for Life”, 117). This view is supported by such authors as Albert Schweitzer. His main cut-off point is the will to live.
In other words, one should respect every organism that tries to ensure its survival. This philosopher relies on deontological model of ethics according to which people should not treat each other as a means for achieving a certain goal. Nevertheless, Albert Schweitzer extends deontological ethics to every living entity. Certainly, this model raises very high ethical standards, but it is not very practical. For instance, medical researchers cannot apply this model while trying to find a cure for such diseases cancer or AIDS.
This argument is partially supported by Kenneth Goodpastor who also notes that every living being has a certain moral worth. He also accepts the will to live as the main cut-off point. Nevertheless, this philosopher accepts the idea that the value of living organisms can differ dramatically. So, to some degree, the author accepts the need to sacrifice some of animal’s interests. The main limitation of this approach is that the writer does not give clear evidence showing that different animals have a conscious will to live.
The principles of biocentrism are also supported by Paul Taylor. This philosopher lays stress on the idea that every living being has an inherent value. So, being alive is the main cut-off point which should be considered by people. This thinker does not try to differentiate the moral worth of various biological organisms. Moreover, he wants to reduce possible harm that can be done to an animal. This ethical model raises the standards that people should adhere while treating animals. Nevertheless, in many cases, these standards cannot be reached. In particular, researchers cannot consider the interests of non-human animals when they need to serve the basic needs of human beings. For instance, one can speak about the necessity to test drugs.
Naturalistic Ecocentric Views
It is possible to examine the views expressed by Aldo Leopold who believes that a human being is not “the master of the environment” (Leopold, “The Land Ethic”, 215). So, he/she should consider the interests of different living beings including animals and plants. This philosopher does not try to assess different forms of life in terms of their value. This philosopher uses the deontological ethics in order to justify his arguments. The main problem is that it is rather difficult to reconcile this moral theory with various needs of human beings, such as the necessity to achieve economic growth.
Furthermore, it is possible to consider the views which are expressed Baird Callicott. It should be noted that the views of this thinker have changed over time. At the beginning he supported the principles of land ethics outlined by Aldo Leopold. Nevertheless, later he began to advocate the idea that philosophers should find ways of resolving conflicts between human welfare and animal welfare. On the whole, this thinker adopts a more balanced position.
This theory is also examined by Holmes Rolston who believes that every living entity has a certain inherent value. The author acknowledges that there are higher animals that are more advanced in terms of psychological development. Nevertheless, intelligence does not only guarantee rights, because one should also focus on the responsibilities of a rational being. Admittedly, this approach can appeal to many people because it sets very high moral standards. Nevertheless, the principles of this theory cannot be easily implemented especially, if one has to address a certain practical problem such as the conflict between economic and environmental sustainability.
Finally, it is important to discuss the ideas expressed by Mark Sagoff who examines the nature of environmentalist ethics. He believes that it is important to distinguish environmentalism and animal rights movement. Sagoff’s view is that people should not focus only on the needs of higher animals such as vertebrates. In turn, more attention should be paid to the environment as a whole.
The most optimal theory
On the whole, it is possible to argue that weaker animal rights theory is the best approach to the questions of animal rights. This model is beneficial because it emphasizes the idea that different living organisms should be protected from harm. Therefore, this approach can be useful for protecting human animals from cruel treatment. Nevertheless, this approach also ensures that the interests of human beings are not sacrificed, especially in those cases, when the activities of medical scientists are concerned.
Application to different issues
It is possible to apply this theoretical discussion to a wide range of ethical issues. At first, one can speak about hunting. The morality of this activity depends on the purpose that a person tries to achieve. For instance, a person may need to hunt animals in order to provide food to his/her relatives. This behavior can be observed in less developed countries which have not passed through the stage of industrialization. Additionally, hunting can be necessary to protect the lives of human beings. It may be necessary to limit the population of wolves in a certain area. Nevertheless, hunting cannot be morally accepted if entertainment is the only purpose of this activity.
I do not object to eating flesh because meat can be necessary for the sufficient intake of nutrients. I think that a person should avoid unnecessary slaughter of wildlife. Many sharks are killed so that their fins could be used in various meals. Additionally, one should focus on the use of animals for research. In my opinion, it is critical to distinguish different cases. Animals can be required to test the efficiency of new drugs. In my opinion, such activities can be vital for protecting the lives of many people. It is not permissible to subject animals to unnecessary suffering. One can mention experiments showing how animals can act if they are subjected to stress caused by confinement.
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