The Moral Status of Animals

Dissertation, University of California, Santa Barbara (2002)

Our moral common sense is divided on the animals issue. On the one hand, we believe that animals have a substantially different moral status than humans have; on the other hand, we believe that we are prohibited from causing any being unnecessary pain, regardless of the species of the being. This division threatens our moral common sense and must be resolved if we wish to remain consistent in our moral thinking. In the first part of the dissertation I consider whether animals have direct moral status. I argue that we should answer this question in the affirmative. In arguing for that conclusion I pay close attention to objections arising from contractualist theories of morality. In the second part I consider whether the interests of animals should be given the same kind of consideration that the interests of humans receive. Claiming that the interests of animals should receive this kind of consideration poses a large threat to traditional morality. I survey attempts to deny that we are required to give this kind of consideration to animals, but argue that all such attempts ultimately fail. The case for equal consideration is, by contrast, strong, and I therefore conclude that extending equal consideration is the best way to resolve the division in our moral common sense
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