A man and a dog in a lifeboat: Self-sacrifice, animals, and the limits of ethical theory

Ethics and the Environment 14 (1):pp. 129-148 (2009)
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In discussions of animal ethics, hypothetical scenarios are often used to try to force the clarification of intuitions about the relative value of human and animal life. Tom Regan requests, for example, that we imagine a man and a dog adrift in a lifeboat while Peter Singer explains why the life of one's child ought to be preferred to that of the family dog in the event of a house fire. I argue that such scenarios are not the usefully abstract analytic tools they purport to be, but indirectly reinforce assumptions that are not only anthropocentric, but also tied to racist, sexist and ethnocentric stereotypes. An analysis of some of the cultural and ethical associations of the notion of self-sacrifice proves especially useful in revealing some of the limitations of certain popular Western approaches to animal ethics.



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