From Welfare to Rights without Changing the Subject

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 20 (5):993-1004 (2017)
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Abstract

In this paper I introduce the ‘changing the subject’ problem. When proponents of animal protection use terms such as dignity and respect they can be fairly accused of shifting debate from welfare to rights because the terms purportedly refer to properties and values that are logically distinct from the capacity to suffer and the moral significance of causing animals pain. To avoid this problem and ensure that debate proceeds in the familiar terms of the established welfare paradigm, I present an expressivist analysis of animal rights vocabulary. When terms such as dignity and respect are understood in line with the theory of moral language use known as expressivism, proponents of animal protection that use these terms can escape the charge of changing the subject. Drawing upon Helm’s theory of love, I show how the usage of rights vocabulary can be respectable way for people to register their concern for the welfare of animals, even at times when it is unlikely that the animals concerned are suffering. Tying rights vocabulary to welfare via expressivism aligns the aims of animal rights with welfare without the theoretical problems associated with attempts to ‘reduce’ dignity or respect to natural behaviour or inherent value.

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John Hadley
Western Sydney University

Citations of this work

An irreducible understanding of animal dignity.Simon Coghlan - 2024 - Journal of Social Philosophy 55 (1):124-142.

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References found in this work

Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
Nicomachean ethics. Aristotle - 1999 - New York: Clarendon Press. Edited by Michael Pakaluk. Translated by Michael Pakaluk.
Reasons and Persons.Joseph Margolis - 1986 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 47 (2):311-327.

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