Is there an important moral difference between human beings and animals

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Donna Westhead        Is there an important moral difference between human beings and (other) animals?

There are many different views on how different, morally, humans and other animals are.  The difference morally between humans and other animals is based on how we perceive them.   In regards to morality importance of animals, if we believe animals have no moral status, it should be portrayed we can treat them however we want, i.e. eat them.  Yet, if we identify them as sentient, the power to think and feel, it is clear there should be some constraints on how we should treat them.  I will now examine this.

        There are differing thoughts on what should be included in determining how much moral rights either humans or animals have.  One argument is animals have no moral status whatsoever, shared by Descartes.  He argues animals are ‘unconscious automata’1, where they are unconscious, with no mental life.  However, Descartes declared this in the 17th Century, thus we now know animals feel pain.  Even if one was to argue Descartes view, it is widely believed although we have no direct duty towards animals, we should not treat them with unneeded cruelty, declared by Kant.  He thinks animals do not have ‘rational and automanus’2 feelings, thus cannot be an ‘end to themselves,’ 3 and cannot be moral agents, and only humans have full moral status as they are ‘rational and self-conscious beings’4.  An objection to this is argued by Singer; if animals are not autonomous creatures, surely some humans are not either, like young infants and the retarded, whom have no rational thoughts. 5 Regan and Singer would argue, based on Descartes and Kant’s views, we could morally eat retarded and young infants as they are not ‘self-conscious’, as they have no desire or feelings.  An objection is young children will eventually become rational adults.  Utilitarianism philosophers, like Peter Signer and Raymond Fry disagree with Kant, feeling even humans have not got complete moral status; where it is necessary to harm one person to save another, it is morally right to do so. Frey declares all humans should not be treated in the same way, so he can lump together defective human adults and animals together away from human adults. 6 Nevertheless, it will surely go against our moral beliefs to harm a human because they are retarded.  Although Frey counters this by declaring they do have interests, for example in good health, on the grounds; ‘one desire typical of humans.’ 7

Kant continues his thesis by declaring we still have an indirect duty towards animals, where if we harm animals with unneeded cruelty, it will make humans ‘hardened in his dealing with other humans’8.  However, I believe it cannot be right for those eating the meat from animals to purely neglect the way they are killed and also those who kill animals are only working.  So, it cannot be justified as people are simply working to keep a living, so should not be prosecuted as a potential risk to other humans.  However, we could counter this by declaring there have been discussions serial killers as children harmed animals such as birds, thus Kant’s argument is justified.  But, his argument, I believe cannot be used for those simply doing their job.  Indeed, Thomas Regan argues against Kant’s view, stating we should have direct duties towards animals as they are moral agents, but this direct duty is not enough, as they are still harmed, such as in vivisection. 9  Regan argues animals have a basic moral right to respectful treatment as they have desires and are “subject to life”, with an “inherent value” 10.  He argues we should not eat animals as they have as high moral status as us, and they have equal rights as humans.  But I do not agree, animals are not as developed rationally as us, thus they have not got as full rights as us thus should not be treated exactly the same as us, but still without unneeded cruelty.

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Another argument accepts animals have not necessarily got the moral status of humans, disagreeing slightly with Regan, but believes equal consideration is key to morality, and equal harms should be counted equally, not downgraded for animals, which Singer believes.  Singer declares equality is ‘a moral idea, not an assertion of fact,’  that intelligence and other matter of facts have no basis on equality, backing up with use of racism; if equality was based on fact, we could declare coloured people are less equal than white. 11 Indeed, the early philosopher Jeremy Bentham set the basis for Singer’s argument by declaring: “Each to ...

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