The Dignity of Diminished Animals: Species Norms and Engineering to Improve Welfare

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 20 (4):843-856 (2017)
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The meteoric rise of CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology has ignited discussions of engineering agricultural animals to improve their welfare. While some have proposed enhancing animals, for instance by engineering for disease resistance, others have suggested we might diminish animals to improve their welfare. By reducing or eliminating species-typical capacities, the expression of which is frustrated under current conditions, animal diminishment could reduce or eliminate the suffering that currently accompanies industrial animal agriculture. Although diminishment could reduce animal suffering, there is a widespread intuition that it would be wrong. One attempt to justify this intuition has been to claim that inhibiting the development of species-typical functions is wrong, even if it improves welfare. This has often been couched in terms of violating an animal’s dignity. I argue that the dignity objection to diminishment fails. In the first place, it fails to apply to some of the most troubling cases of diminishment, the creation of so-called animal microencepahlic lumps. In the second place, dignity views misplace the normative relevance of species norms; I argue that considerations from evolutionary biology should lead us to treat species norms - such as the possession of typical capacities - as merely a heuristic for rendering judgments about welfare. But diminishment cases are precisely the cases where the heuristic breaks down, and becomes a bias. I close my discussion with a sketch of my Historical Injustices Approach to animal ethics, and how it may help us vindicate our intuition that diminishment is wrong without appeal to species norms.



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Marcus Schultz-Bergin
Cleveland State University

Citations of this work

Inclusive Dignity.Pablo Gilabert - forthcoming - Politics, Philosophy and Economics.
Is CRISPR an Ethical Game Changer?Marcus Schultz-Bergin - 2018 - Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 31 (2):219-238.
An irreducible understanding of animal dignity.Simon Coghlan - forthcoming - Journal of Social Philosophy.
From Welfare to Rights without Changing the Subject.John Hadley - 2017 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 20 (5):993-1004.

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