Let us think of the more moral members of society as a moral elite, much as the generality of scientists form a scientific elite. I hope I do not need to stress that such a moral elite must not be confused with a social or intellectual elite. Many people of no great education and of no prestigious social position certainly belong to my envisaged moral elite. If we judge this moral elite by its adherence to something like the Golden Rule of the New Testament, there is not all that much room for its improvement, except, as I suggested earlier, for the extension of our moral sympathies to nonhuman animals. This last implies of course an improvement in ethics, as opposed to morality, as I have defined it, unless we already understand 'Do as you would be done by' as applicable to whales, cattle, chickens, and so on, as it is to human beings. Of course fully to understand what this injunction comes to we need to take into account theories about the degree of consciousness that various creatures possess. I would suppose that the consciousness of whales is comparable to ours, that of chickens very different, and that of lizards very conjectural. When our philosophical and scientific knowledge of minds is greater we may be able to improve on our estimates. Of course even though they may not have the capacity for happiness and suffering that whales have, nevertheless I would suppose that chickens can suffer quite a lot, even though their consciousness should be very much a sort of daze, and this should be taken into account in our dealings with them. Perhaps in order to qualify for a moral elite one should become a heroic vegetarian like Peter Singer. I am myself not so heroic. I eat eggs though they may come from battery hens. Moreover at present I see no moral objection to eating the flesh of free range cattle, which seem to me to have a happy life which they would not have at all if they were not destined to be eaten. But this is a digression and I must return to my main theme.
(J. J. C. Smart, "Ethics and Science," Philosophy 56 [October 1981]: 449-65, at 453 [italics in original])
18 December 2010
01 December 2010
As regards animals, the position is clear. If an animal has the relevant moral capacities, actually or potentially, then it can be a possessor of rights. The evidence available to date about the rational capacities of animals is far from complete, but to date it appears to be decidedly unfavourable to the view that any animals possess the relevant moral capacities. Thus, whilst research on chimpanzees, monkeys, and many other animals, reveals a significant degree of rationality which provides an important ground for justified moral demands that they be better treated than they now are, the degree and kind of rationality fall far short of that necessary for moral judgment and moral self-determination. Although there is limited evidence in respect of certain animals of a capacity for seeming 'self-sacrificing', 'disinterested', 'benevolent' actions in limited, somewhat arbitrary areas, there is no real evidence of a capacity to make moral judgments, morally to discriminate when self-sacrifice, gratitude, loyalty, benevolence is morally appropriate, and more relevantly, to assess their moral rights and to exercise them within their moral limits. However, further research on animals such as whales and dolphins, although seemingly not in respect to monkeys, apes, chimpanzees, may yet reveal that man is not the only animal capable of being a bearer of rights. It may for this reason be morally appropriate for us meanwhile to act towards the former animals as if they are possessors of rights.
(H. J. McCloskey, "Moral Rights and Animals," Inquiry 22 [summer 1979]: 23-54, at 42-3 [italics in original])
Posted by Keith Burgess-Jackson at 9:53 PM