Personal Ethical Evaluation

The rehabilitated land of a former coal mine

The rehabilitated land of a former coal mine

My position as an environmental stakeholder is one of a student in the process of learning, a lover of nature, and someone who hopes to cultivate positive attitudes towards nature and biodiversity into the future. I hold the environmental ethic that is closest to that of a Land Ethicist. Aldo Leopold, one of the most influential founders of environmental ethics, has a philosophy that rings true to me, as someone who grew up in an urban environment but wants it to change and change people’s opinions about their power to make positive change in wild places across the globe. This entire year has been eye-opening to me and has reshaped my feelings on the environment. I now know what I want for future generations: my children and my children’s children. I want a world for them to explore and get lost in, a wild, natural world that still has a strong hope for the future of humankind as well.

Bringing children to nature at a young age will possibly help them cultivate positive feelings towards nature

Bringing children to nature at a young age will possibly help them cultivate positive feelings towards nature

I reason that, as Leopold does, the land is more than just lifeless soil, inanimate trees and animals that do not have a spirit like humanity does. Nature is more than what anthropocentric, ethicists see. It is more than just rating the different organisms on their intellectual levels. We are more than our intelligence, as philosophers such as Tom Regan maintain. We have a basic creativity that perhaps even began the universe as well, according to Thomas Berry. I think that recognizing the inherent value of the multivariate natural world and treating it less as a disposable means and more as an end we can reach a higher life fulfillment as well. Basically my reasoning involves forgetting what humans have typically valued: power in the form of wealth, intellect and control and instead the basic value of treating others better.

As someone who is also an atheist I maintain that it is also not necessary to force a belief of God on the value of nature in order to value creation. In my opinion, the idea that there is no God is much a more wondrous idea. The randomness of the universe is the most beautiful concept I can conceive of, and makes nature and the random happenstance that humans even exist as sentient beings even less likely. In order to fulfill this reasoning it is important to respect all beings in a non-anthropocentric way, not necessarily valuing one species over another. I still have work to do myself with my own sentiments and consumer habits, but one day I hope to reflect my own feelings towards the environment in everything I do.

In an extension of my own atheist ethics, it is shown that you can be morally good without believing in a higher power

In an extension of my own atheist ethics, it is shown that you can be morally good without believing in a higher power

The Hierarchy of Animal Rights

This tree of animal kingdoms helps further classify animals, but can also determine which get rights and which do not according to Van de Veer

This tree of animal kingdoms helps further classify animals, but can also determine which get rights and which do not according to Van de Veer

Animal rights issues, as previously discussed, tend to ignite arguments about the types of animals that should or should not receive rights. Donald VanDeVeer takes offense with the opinions of animal rights advocates Paul Singer and Tom Regan. He feels that Singer and Regan are incorrect about their reasoning for animal rights and that they go too far in acknowledging the moral standing of nonhuman animals. For him, it is not practical to decide ethical conflicts and choose between human and nonhuman interests. Van de Veer does concede that speciesism exists but breaks it down into several varying levels of beliefs and applications.

Van de Veer takes offense to the ideas that Singer espouses such as the mere willingness to discuss serious moral questionings of the differences between animals and humans. The argument that he makes is that Singer’s strong admonitions of animal cruelty such as being a vegetarian as opposed to eating meat or avoiding other practices that would kill animals is not practical. Van de Veer argues that there are still questions to be answered despite these conclusions such as the conflicts in interest that one would have with killing an animals in order to feed humans or vice versa. Basically, where does one draw the line? He feels that devising an adequate theoretical basis for the legitimate treatment of animals is no easy task and cannot be done simply by extending existing principles.

Would babies and dogs have the same rights in Singer's mind? Van de Veer finds that possibility irreconcilable

Would babies and dogs have the same rights in Singer’s mind? Van de Veer finds that possibility irreconcilable

In the case of animal suffering, Van de Veer relates the idea that animals do clearly have an interest in not suffering and do feel pain, but it is simply too difficult to determine if it is in the best interest or not that an animal suffers, for example, to have a painful infection cauterized, or other procedures done. He feels that we must advance the current reconsideration of our treatment of animals by identifying and assessing principles that provide a basis to weigh interests. In addition, he recognizes Singer’s definition of speciesism but also acknowledges that the definition is much more complex than simply weighing human interests over that of animals.

To Van de Veer there are three forms of speciesism and two non-speciesist views that make up the belief systems. One speciesist view is Radical Speciesism, or the view that it is morally permissible to treat animals in any fashion one chooses. Gruesomely, he describes an example of a radical speciesist as someone who takes no offense at baking live puppies in an oven for the perverse pleasure of it. Those who adhere to Radical Speciesism also adhere to the fact that animals cannot suffer, for if they did than radical speciesism would be mistaken. Van de Veer outright rejects this view and so do various Animal Cruelty laws across the world.  Additional fines are brought on a person if the animal was an endangered species.

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Extreme Speciesism, or the view that when there is a conflict of interests between an animal and a human being it is morally permissible to subordinate the animal for the sake of promoting even a peripheral interest of a human being. Someone who adhered to this thought process would deny people the right to bake puppies unless it gave some benefit to human interest. The idea that animals suffer is acknowledged in this case but Van de Veer also rejects this view because the moral permissibility of recreational acts such as animal-trained circus acts is questionable at best.

Elephants trained by circuses are often abused, but an Extreme Speciesist would allow such treatment since it brings entertainment to humans.

Elephants trained by circuses are often abused, but an Extreme Speciesist would allow such treatment since it brings entertainment to humans.

Interest Speciesism is the view that when there is a conflict of interests between an animal and a human being it is morally permissible that an animal interest is subordinated in order to promote a like interest of a human being but one may not subordinate a basic interest of an animal for the sake of promoting a peripheral human interest. In the case of discussing what is or is not right for humans to do, puppy baking is simply out of the question and causing animals to suffer in general is rarely justified. The big question that arises out of this speciesism is, do we explicitly differentiate between the varying levels of species such as the differences between oysters and chimpanzees? There is something to be said for basing rights on something other than if an animal has an observed interest.

Animals used for medical testing are still used as means to an end, but this is permissible in Interest Speciesism

Animals used for medical testing are still used as means to an end, but this is permissible in Interest Speciesism

Then there is Two-Factor Egalitarianism which holds that when there is an interspecies conflict of interests between two beings, A and B, it is morally permissible to 1. sacrifice the interest of A to promote a like interest of B, 2. to sacrifice a basic interest of A to promote a serious interest of B is A substantially lacks significant psychological capacities and 3. to sacrifice the peripheral interest to promote the more basic interest if the beings are similar with respect to psychological capacity. One example of the moral weight of this is to look at two different scenarios of killing either seals in an arctic wasteland or killing veal calves in an affluent region-in this case the veal calves should not be killed because the overall utility is far less since there are other food options. On the same token scientific research is justified as done to animals. On the whole this way of thinking reveals that generalizations are unreasonable when considering the morality of causing pain to animals.

An aboriginal person hunting for survival would be allowed to continue hunting for food in Two-Factor Egalitarianism

An aboriginal person hunting for survival would be allowed to continue hunting for food in Two-Factor Egalitarianism

There is also Species Egalitarianism which, in contrast to the other views is explicitly anti-speciesist. Those who hold this belief think that when there is a conflict of interests between an animal and a human being it is morally permissible to subordinate the more peripheral to the more basic interest and not otherwise. In this view human interests are denied the outweighing of animal interests simply because they are held by humans-it is not where you are evolutionarily but fundamentally where your interest is.

Equal rights for animals are pursued by those who believe in Egalitarianism

Equal rights for animals are pursued by those who believe in Egalitarianism

Van de Veer also disagrees with Tom Regan’s point of view although it tends to be more egalitarian, and maintains that the trait of sentience that is possessed by all humans but not all animals should be a trait that will give humans more moral relevancy over animals. The view of Two Factor Egalitarianism is one such view that Van de Veer prefers, which assumes that the level of importance to each being and the psychological capacities of the parties involved are relevant. He argues that the loss of life of a human, to a human, is much more costly due to the intricate psychological complexities of the being as opposed to animals. He argues that Singer’s view on speciesism is wrong because it is based on the ideas of species membership is inherently incorrect. The capacity to live a satisfying life is, for beings such as humans, much more culpable than animals have.

Overall, I see that Van de Veer is trying to correct the basic problems with Singer and Regan’s views, but I see less of his own view in Two Factor Egalitarianism and more of a rejection of their views. Van de Veer admittedly has a more rounded and practical version of animal rights but he still remains somewhat contradictory in his reasoning. For one, he claims that all humans are sentient when that simply is not true as proven by cases such as mentally retarded persons or comatose patients. This lack of mental acuity is never addressed by Van de Veer. I would say that, in comparison to Regan’s view, Van de Veer’s view is much more tame and less problematic in its implementation but it certainly leaves something to be desired.

A vision of a future city that integrates Van de Veer's ethics would have green architecture and an environment that respects the needs of animals

A vision of a future city that integrates Van de Veer’s ethics would have green architecture and an environment that respects the needs of animals

Animal Rights and Contractarianism

Koko the gorilla, among other primates, have higher brain functioning than we ever previously expected. Could other organisms have the same capacity to learn and we do not know so yet?

Koko the gorilla, among other primates, have higher brain functioning than we ever previously expected. Could other organisms have the same capacity to learn and we do not know so yet?

Another biocentric thinker who is interested in the preservation of animal rights is Tom Regan, a philosopher who specializes in animal rights theory. He criticizes thinkers that believe in what he calls contractarianism, in which a social contract is signed by individuals that everyone agrees upon. He sees it as a problem that animals cannot sign this contract and are thus left out, alongside the mentally retarded, infants and others. For Regan, the movement of animal rights consists of three goals: the total abolition of the use of animals in science, the total dissolution of commercial animal agriculture and the total elimination of commercial and sport hunting and trapping.

Tom Regan, a philosopher who believes in animal rights

Tom Regan, a philosopher who believes in animal rights, is opposed to contractarianism

Tom Regan maintains, like Singer, that human animals and nonhuman animals (especially mammals) are sentient in that they are self-aware, matter to themselves and have a certain subjectivity. In this worldview he maintains that animals are not mere things but have dignity. The principles that he forms in this worldview then follow and include respecting the dignity of nonhuman animals by treating animals as ends, not means to an end. In reply to people who believe that we have no duties to animals, Regan retorts that we can do wrong acts to them and so we have duties regarding them that include not committing those acts.

Animal cruelty, as was done to this dog, is wrong to Singer despite what is commonly thought of as accepted by society

Animal cruelty, as was done to this dog, is wrong to Singer despite what is commonly thought of as acceptable by society

Regan also refutes Contractarianism under the grounds that it is barely an adequate theoretical approach to the moral status of human beings, so it can hardly be considered to take animals’ status into account. There is nothing in contractarianism that requires that everyone will have a chance to participate equitably in framing the rules of morality and so blatant forms of discrimination could be employed.

Under contractarianism the mentally handicapped, such as these children, would not be treated equally due to their reduced intellect

Under contractarianism the mentally handicapped, such as these children, would not be treated equally due to their reduced intellect

Kantian ethics are often referenced by Regan in his Animal Rights theory, but he outright rejects the idea that rights are only given to rational beings. Like Singer, he believes that all are equal despite their capacity for logic, but unlike Singer he maintains that we have direct duties to beings who do not have a sense of justice. In this he refutes the more subtle version of contractarianism of John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice which does tend to revise previous racist and sexist shortcomings but does not ameliorate speciesist leanings.

Although Regan seems to be contrary to many beliefs he does maintain that there are adequate theories which fit in with his deontological, or duty-based ethics. The first view is the cruelty-kindness view which states that we have a direct duty to animals and a direct duty not to be cruel to them but he maintains that there is no guarantee that the act that you commit is a right act, just that it is a kind one. Another theory that he criticizes, but also acknowledges is a decent beginning is utilitarianism. Utilitarianism seeks to maximize happiness for the greatest number of beings and everyone’s interests have similar importance. However he concludes that although it does look to maximize the best balance of satisfaction for everyone affected it is decidedly immoral because it has no room for the equal moral rights of different individuals simply their equal inherent value.

Although Blue whales may not be perceived as having inherent value to humans, should they be still given the right to live freely?

Although Blue whales may not be perceived as having inherent value to humans, should they be still given the right to live freely?

His final conclusion is that the rights view is the most satisfactory moral theory. Rights theory explains that the foundation of all of our duties lies with the domain of human morality. Animals lack many of the abilities that humans possess but so do some humans and thus animals have that in common with non-ambulatory or persons retarded in growth. All dimensions of human lives make a difference just as the animals that we treat as objects.

Mentally disabled children may be intellectually at the same level as horses, yet mentally disabled children have full rights of their own agency while horses do not

Mentally disabled children may be intellectually at the same level as horses, yet mentally disabled children have full rights of their own agency while horses do not

Following from his moral conclusion Regan, like Singer, maintains his abolitionist leanings and holds that the institutions that enslave animals must be destroyed in order that animals are given treatment equal to human beings such as not being experimented on (for any reason), not forced into agricultural activities, not being consumed by humans, not being enslaved to circuses and other entertainment arenas for animals, and more. In his eyes there is no reconciling the greatest good with any of these activities because there are still individual animals’ lives being infringed upon to pursue the goals of formulating vaccinations.

When Regan discusses Animal Rights he does so from the heart, not from the head as he likes to put it, and so critics’ claims of his philosophy being “too cerebral,” seem to fall right off of him. There is something to be said for noting the depth of emotional grief that humans feel for the factory farmed cow or the caged rats riddled with tumors. This speaks to our conscience and thus imbues us with a duty to care for the creatures that are quite obviously so much more than just resources to be controlled. The views that Singer and Regan hold are certainly not pragmatic. The abolition of all animal experimentation and farming (not quite circuses and rodeos) would be economically devastating as well as likely to cause famine and social unrest in certain parts of the globe as meat would be no longer slaughtered. These laws are uncompromising, and may not happen overnight but Regan argues that they are morally necessary.

Factory Farms provide 99 percent of meat consumed by Americans, so can they be replaced by more humane substitutes?

Factory Farms provide 99 percent of meat consumed by Americans, so can they be replaced by more humane substitutes?

I do agree with Regan’s logic that there is no way that being a rational being is qualifications for being a being with rights to live life. In addition, it makes sense that there is equal footing for animals and people in the sense that both are beings with preferences not to die and want life, not just passive resources. I do not think, however, that it is reasonable or practical to abolish any form of agriculture and I don’t think that the scientific world is ready yet for a systemic overhaul of experimentation without animals because of the limited resources put into alternatives. There is hope for the future, however, because with a push for scientific inquiry as well as an active stance on reaching out to the populace about the viable alternative of vegetarianism, perhaps one day people may choose to create a more humane society. For now, people like Regan must stand up and let the world know that this systemic oppression of beings is wrong and we must revise our way of thinking. Maybe not in my lifetime, but one day we may see the revolution to defend animals from human oppression.