Transcript Philosophy 220
The Moral Status of the NonHuman World: Matheny
Disagreements over the moral status of
controversial entities are often grounded in
disagreement about the moral standing of such
Moral Standing: a measure of something’s moral
worth, of how it should count in our moral evaluation.
Direct Moral Standing: possession of properties in virtue of
which something counts morally.
Indirect Moral Standing: counts morally only relative to
something with DMS.
Animals and Moral Standing
Discussion of our moral responsibilities to nonhuman animals revolve around the issue of the
moral status of such animals.
Issue tends to resolve into two questions:
1. Do any non-human animals have DMS?
2. If so, what does this mean for the wide-spread use
of animals (or other natural kinds) in a way
dominated by human interests?
The Traditional Answer
The traditional answer, rooted in among other
places the revealed texts of the traditional
monotheisms, is dominion.
In other words, non-human animals do not have
One response to this line of reasoning is to
employ a label like those familiar to us.
Speciesism: "the systematic discrimination against
the members of some species by members of
another species" (331).
What do the MTs Say?
Consequentialism: according to traditional utilitarianism, the value to
be maximized is pleasure (the absence of pain). Inasmuch as many
or our uses of non-human animals or other natural kinds come at the
cost of significant pain or degradation, this approach would find those
uses to be immoral.
Rights: the issue here is whether non-human animals or other natural
kinds have rights morally equivalent to those of humans. It is not a
question of political rights, but moral rights.
Virtue Ethics: as always, the question concerns whether our use of
animals or the natural world as a whole accords with human
flourishing and the virtues necessary for it. One common focus is the
virtue of humility.
Matheny, “Utilitarianism and
Matheny begins by characterizing the use we make of non-human
animals to satisfy our nutritional needs/desires.
He cites data from 2001, but here’s some data for the U.S. in 2010
Overall, around 29 billion animals were slaughtered for food in the
US in 2010. This number includes:
7.3 billion fish
12 billion shellfish
Matheny’s working assumption is one that he finds common
to both secular and religious ethics.
It is essentially the impartialism that we’ve talked about in
the past: equality of consideration.
Matheny formulates this impartialism as the “Principle of
Equal Consideration of Interests” (334c1).
It is essentially a constraint that requires us to balance our
interests against the interests of other relevant parties and
make decisions based on their relative strengths.
Justified by reference to more basic principles of fairness,
justice and benevolence.
Matheny on Utilitarianism
Matheny is a utilitarian, and (in a good example of the sort of thing
I you to do in the reflection papers) he provides us with a brief
summary of the theory before he puts it to work.
He defines U in the context of his equal consideration principle as
the rule, “act in such a way as to maximize the expected
satisfaction of interests in the world, equally considered” (334c2).
A quick rule of thumb: what would it be like if I had to live the lives
of all individuals affected by my action?
His version of U embodies the following (familiar) principles:
Universalist: takes into account all affected parties.
Welfarist: Theory of value focuses on welfare.
Consequentialist: value sought in consequences of actions
Aggregative: maximizing theory
Advantages of U
Matheny then goes on to specify a number of
advantages that Utilitarianism has over other
It’s consequentialist focus requires us to understand as
much about the world around us as possible.
It allows for both specific evaluations as well as rulebased reasoning that makes our moral lives more
It’s aggregative nature give us traction on a number of
issues where a (roughly) cost-benefit analysis seems
The Argument (Pt. 1)
1. Being sentient (having the capacity to feel pleasure
and pain) is sufficient (enough) for having interests,
including being free from pain and suffering.
2. Many nonhuman animals are sentient.
Thus (from 1 & 2),
3. Many nonhuman animals have interests, including
being free from pain and suffering.
The Argument (Pt. 2)
3. Many nonhuman animals have interests, including
being from pain and suffering.
4. An action is morally right (permissible) only if the like
interests of all who will be affected by one’s action are
given equal weight by one’s action.
Thus (from 3 & 4 ),
5. An action is morally right only if the like interests
(pleasure and pain) of all who will be affected by one’s
action, including nonhuman animals, are given equal
weight by one’s action.
Matheny’s argument concludes that the property that grants Direct
Moral Standing is sentience.
As we’ve seen, there are a number of accounts of DMS that would
disagree (including, DMS=soul; DMS=biological humanity;
Ultimately, Matheny rejects all of these competing claims, mostly
for reasons that we’ve observed in previous discussions.
Interests in pleasure and the absence of pain seem to be the only
non-question begging and sufficiently inclusive grounds to serve
as the basis for assigning DMS.
In this Matheny finds himself in good company: Bentham (337-8).
Cashing it out: Eating
By far the most significant way in which we ignore the
interests of non-human animals to further our own is through
animal agri- and aqua-culture.
Intensive animal farming/harvesting causes significant amounts
of pain and suffering.
We have no nutritional need for animal products. Our interest in
them is for our pleasure.
We can’t discount our interests, but if we apply the equal
consideration principle, and put ourselves in the place of the
farmed animals, “We would probably conclude that our
substantial interest in not being raised in a factory farm and
slaughtered is stronger than our trivial interest in eating a
chicken instead of chickpeas” (338c2).
Cashing it Out: Laboratories
Here too, an analysis of competing interests would
lead to the conclusion that most use of animals as
experimental subjects fails to satisfy the principle.
Matheny identifies two tests that we can use to
determine if this is the case.
Balance of pain test: “In every case, we should ask if the
pain prevented by an experiment is greater than the pain
caused by that experiment” (339c2). If not, experimentation
Infant substitution test: “Would researchers contemplating an
animal experiment be willing...to place an orphaned infant in
the animal's place?” (Ibid.).
Cashing it out: Wildlife
Many of our activities have a profound negative effects
on the welfare of the wild animals that share our
As the previous observations have suggested, Matheny
believes that we should consider carefully how to
balance our interests against the morally relevant
interests of wild animals.
Relevant concerns include: resource extraction,
pollution, population, land use.
On the assumption that Utilitarianism is a reasonable
theoretical basis for considering the question of the
moral status of non-human animals, the most important
conclusion is that such animals have DMS, and thus
should count in our moral calculations.
If right, a strong presumption exists for the moral
superiority of veganism, for the significant if not total
reduction of the use of animals in experimentation, and
for a very different approach to our interaction with the