Question 11: There is no correct or incorrect in morals; you have yours and I have mine, right?

This position, known as moral relativism, is quite ancient but became
fashionable at the turn of the century, as reports on the customs of
societies alien to those found in Europe became available. It fell out of
fashion, after the Second World War, although it is occasionally revived.
Ethical propositions, we are asked to believe, are no more than statements
of personal opinion and, therefore, cannot carry absolute weight.
The main problem with this position is that ethical relativists are
unable to denounce execrable ethical practices, such as racism. On what
grounds can they condemn (if at all) Hitler's ideas on racial purity?
Are we to believe that he was uttering an ethical truth when advocating
the Final Solution?

In addition to the inability to denounce practices of other societies,
the relativists are unable to counter the arguments of even those whose
society they share. They cannot berate someone who proposes to raise
and kill infants for industrial pet food consumption, for example,
if that person sees it as morally sound. Indeed, they cannot articulate
the concept of societal moral progress, since they lack a basis for
judging progress. There is no point in turning to the relativists for
advice on ethical issues such as euthanasia, infanticide, or the use of
fetuses in research.

Faced with such arguments, ethical relativists sometimes argue that
ethical truth is based on the beliefs of a society; ethical truth is
seen as nothing more than a reflection of societal customs and habits.
Butchering animals is acceptable in the West, they would say, because
the majority of people think it so.

They are on no firmer ground here. Are we to accept that chattel
slavery was right before the US Civil War and wrong thereafter? Can all
ethical decisions be decided by conducting opinion polls?
It is true that different societies have different practices that
might be seen as ethical by one and unethical by the other. However,
these differences result from differing circumstances. For example, in
a society where mere survival is key, the diversion of limited food to
an infant could detract significantly from the well-being of the
existing family members that contribute to food gathering. Given that,
infanticide may be the ethically correct course.

The conclusion is that there is such a thing as ethical truth
(otherwise, ethics becomes vacuous and devoid of proscriptive force).
The continuity of thought, then, between those who reject the evils of
slavery, racial discrimination, and gender bias, and those who denounce
the evils of speciesism becomes striking.

Many AR advocates (including myself) believe that morality is relative.
We believe that AR is much more cogently argued when it is argued from the
standpoint of your opponent's morality, not some mythical, hard-to-define
universal morality. In arguing against moral absolutism, there is a very
simple objection: Where does this absolute morality come from? Moral
absolutism is an argument from authority, a tautology. If there were such
a thing as "ethical truth", then there must be a way of determining it, and
obviously there isn't. In the absence of a known proof of "ethical truth",
I don't know how AECW can conclude it exists.

An example of the method of leveraging a person's morality is to ask the
person why he has compassion for human beings. Almost always he will agree
that his compassion does not stem from the fact that: 1) humans use language,
2) humans compose symphonies, 3) humans can plan in the far future, 4) humans have a written, technological culture, etc. Instead, he will agree that it
stems from the fact that humans can suffer, feel pain, be harmed, etc. It is
then quite easy to show that nonhuman animals can also suffer, feel pain, be
harmed, etc. The person's arbitrary inconsistency in not according moral
status to nonhumans then stands out starkly.

There is a middle ground between the positions of AECW and JEH. One can
assert that just as mathematics is necessarily built upon a set of
unprovable axioms, so is a system of ethics. At the foundation of a system
of ethics are moral axioms, such as "unnecessary pain is wrong". Given
the set of axioms, methods of reasoning (such as deduction and induction),
and empirical facts, it is possible to derive ethical hypotheses. It is
in this sense that an ethical statement can be said to be true. Of course,
one can disagree about the axioms, and certainly such disagreement renders
ethics "relative", but the concept of ethical truth is not meaningless.
Fortunately, the most fundamental ethical axioms seem to be nearly
universally accepted, usually because they are necessary for societies to
function. Where differences exist, they can be elucidated and discussed,
in a style similar to the "leveraging" described by JEH.

To a man whose mind is free there is something even more intolerable
in the sufferings of animals than in the sufferings of man. For with the
latter it is at least admitted that suffering is evil and that the man
who causes it is a criminal. But thousands of animals are uselessly
butchered every day without a shadow of remorse. If any man were to
refer to it, he would be thought ridiculous. And that is the unpardonable
Romain Rolland (author, Nobel 1915)
see also
question 5

Question 12: The animals are raised to be eaten; so what is wrong with that?

This question has always seemed to me to be a fancy version of "But
we want to do these things, so what is wrong with that?" The idea that
an act, by virtue of an intention of ours, can be exonerated morally is
totally illogical.

But worse than that, however, is the fact that such a belief is a
dangerous position to take because it can enable one to justify some
practices that are universally condemned. To see how this is so,
consider the following restatement of the basis of the question:
"Suffering can be excused so long as we breed them for the purpose."
Now, cannot an analogous argument be used to defend a group of
slave holders who breed and enslave humans and justify it by saying "but
they're bred to be our workers"? Could not the Nazis defend their
murder of the Jews by saying "but we rounded them up to be killed"?

Shame on such a morality that is worthy of pariahs, and that fails to
recognize the eternal essence that exists in every living thing, and
shines forth with inscrutable significance from all eyes that see
the sun!
Arthur Schopenhauer (philosopher)
see also
questions 13, 61

Question 13: But isn't it true that the animals wouldn't exist if we didn't raise them for slaughter?

There are two ways to interpret this question. First, the questioner
may be referring to "the animals" as a species, in which case the argument
might be more accurately phrased as follows:
"The ecological niche of cows is to be farmed; they get continued
survival in this niche in return for our using them."

Second, the questioner may be referring to "the animals" as individuals,
in which case the phrasing might be:
"The individual cows that we raise to eat would not have had a
life had we not done so."

We deal first with the species interpretation and then with the
individuals interpretation. The questioner's argument applies
presumably to all species of animals; to make things more concrete,
we will take cows as an example in the following text.
It is incorrect to assert that cows could continue to exist only if
we farm them for human consumption. First, today in many parts of India
and elsewhere, humans and cows are engaged in a reciprocal and reverential
relationship. It is only in recent human history that this relationship
has been corrupted into the one-sided exploitation that we see today.
There IS a niche for cows between slaughter/consumption and extinction.
(The interested reader may find the book Beyond Beef by Jeremy Rifkin
quite enlightening on this subject.)

Second, several organizations have programs for saving animals
from extinction. There is no reason to suppose that cows would not

The species argument is also flawed because, in fact, our intensive
farming of cattle results in habitat destruction and the loss of other
species. For example, clearing of rain forests for pasture has led to
the extinction of countless species. Cattle farming is destroying
habitats on six continents. Why is the questioner so concerned about
the cow species while being unconcerned about these other species?
Could it have anything to do with the fact that he wants to continue
to eat the cows?

Finally, a strong case can be made against the species argument from
ethical theory. Arguments similar to the questioner's could be
developed that would ask us to accept practices that are universally
condemned. For example, consider a society that breeds a special race
of humans for use as slaves. They argue that the race would not exist
if they did not breed them for use as slaves. Does the reader accept
this justification?

Now we move on to the individuals interpretation of the question. One
attempt to refute the argument is to answer as follows:
"It is better not to be born than to be born into a life of
misery and early death."

To many, this is sufficient. However, one could argue that the fact that the
life is miserable before death is not necessary. Suppose that the cows are
treated well before being killed painlessly and eaten. Is it not true that
the individual cows would not have enjoyed their short life had we not
raised them for consumption? Furthermore, what if we compensate the taking
of the life by bringing a new life into being?
Peter Singer originally believed that this argument was absurd because
there are no cow souls waiting around to be born. Many people accept this
view and consider it sufficient, but Singer now rejects it because he accepts
that to bring a being to a pleasant life does confer a benefit on that being.
(There is extensive discussion of this issue in the second edition of Animal
Liberation.) How then are we to proceed?

The key is that the AR movement asserts that humans and nonhumans have a
right to not be killed by humans. The ethical problem can be seen clearly
by applying the argument to humans. Consider the case of a couple that gives
birth to an infant and eats it at the age of nine months, just when their
next infant is born. A 9-month old baby has no more rational knowledge of
its situation or future plans than does a cow, so there is no reason to
distinguish the two cases. Yet, certainly, we would condemn the couple. We
condemn them because the infant is an individual to whom we confer the right
not to be killed. Why is this right not accorded to the cow? I think the
answer is that the questioner wants to eat it.

It were much better that a sentient being should never have existed,
than that it should have existed only to endure unmitigated misery.
Percy Bysshe Shelley (poet)
see also
question 12

Question 14: Don't the animals we use have a happier life since they are fed and protected?

The questioner makes two assumptions here. First, that happiness or
contentment accrues from being fed and protected, and second, that
the animals are, in fact, fed and protected. Both of these premises can
be questioned.

Certainly the animals are fed; after all, they must be fattened for
consumption. It is very difficult to see any way that, say,
factory-farmed chickens are "protected". They are not protected from
mutilation, because they are painfully debeaked. They are not protected
from psychological distress, because they are crowded together in
unnatural conditions. And finally, they are not protected from predation,
because they are slaughtered and eaten by humans.

We can also question the notion that happiness accrues from feeding
and protection alone. The Roman galley slaves were fed and protected
from the elements; nevertheless, they would presumably trade their
condition for one of greater uncertainty to obtain happiness. The same
can be said of the slaves of earlier America.

Finally, an ethical argument is relevant here. Consider again the
couple of question 13. They will feed and protect their infant up to
the point at which they consume it. We would not accept this as a
justification. Why should we accept it for the chicken?
see also
questions 13

Question 15: Is the use of service animals and beasts of burden considered exploitative?

A simple approach to this question might be to suggest that we all must
work for a living and it should be no different for animals. The problem is
that we want to look at the animals as like children, i.e., worthy of the
same protections and rights, and, like them, incapable of being morally
responsible. But we don't force children into labor! One can make a
distinction, however, that goes something like this: The animals are
permanently in their diminished state (i.e., incapable of voluntarily
assenting to work); children are not. We do not impose a choice of work for
children because they need the time to develop into their full adult and
moral selves. With the animals, we choose for them a role that allows them
to contribute; in return, we do not abuse them by eating them, etc. If this
is done with true concern that their work conditions are appropriate and not
of a sweat-shop nature, that they get enough rest and leisure time, etc.,
this would constitute a form of stewardship that is acceptable and beneficial
to both sides, and one that is not at odds with AR philosophy.

Question 16: Doesn't the Bible give Humanity dominion over the animals?

It is true that the Bible contains a passage that confers on humanity
dominion over the animals. The import of this fact derives from the
assumption that the Bible is the word of God, and that God is the ultimate
moral authority. Leaving aside for the moment consideration of the meaning
of dominion, we can take issue with the idea of seeking moral authority from
the Bible. First, there are serious problems with the interpretation of
Biblical passages, with many verses contradicting one another, and with
many scholars differing dramatically over the meaning of given verses.
Second, there are many claims to God-hood among the diverse cultures of
this world; some of these Gods implore us to respect all life and to not
kill unnecessarily. Whose God are we to take as the ultimate moral

Finally, as Tom Regan observes, many people do not believe in a God and
so appeals to His moral authority are empty for such people. For such
people, the validity of judgments of the supposed God must be cross-checked
with other methods of determining reasonableness. What are the cross-checks
for the Biblical assertions?

These remarks apply equally to other assertions of Biblical approval of
human practices (such as the consumption of animals).
Even if we accept that the God of the Bible is a moral authority, we
can point out that "dominion" is a vague term, meaning "stewardship" or
"control over". It is quite easy to argue that appropriate stewardship
or control consists of respecting the life of animals and their right
to live according to their own nature. The jump from dominion to approval
of our brutal exploitation of animals is not contained in the cited
Biblical passage, either explicitly or implicitly.

Question 17: Morals are a purely human construction (animals don't understand morals); doesn't that mean it is not rational to apply our morality to animals?

The fallaciousness of this argument can be easily demonstrated by making
a simple substitution: Infants and young children don't understand morals,
doesn't that mean it is not rational to apply our morality to them? Of course
not. We refrain from harming infants and children for the same reasons that
we do so for adults. That they are incapable of conceptualizing a system of
morals and its benefits is irrelevant.

The relevant distinction is formalized in the concept of "moral agents"
versus "moral patients". A moral agent is an individual possessing the
sophisticated conceptual ability to bring moral principles to bear in
deciding what to do, and having made such a decision, having the free will
to choose to act that way. By virtue of these abilities, it is fair to hold
moral agents accountable for their acts. The paradigmatic moral agent is the
normal adult human being.

Moral patients, in contrast, lack the capacities of moral agents and thus
cannot fairly be held accountable for their acts. They do, however, possess
the capacity to suffer harm and therefore are proper objects of consideration
for moral agents. Human infants, young children, the mentally deficient or
deranged, and nonhuman animals are instances of moral patienthood.
Given that nonhuman animals are moral patients, they fall within the
purview of moral consideration, and therefore it is quite rational to accord
them the same moral consideration that we accord to ourselves.
see also
questions 19, 23, 36

Question 18: If AR people are so worried about killing, why don't they become fruitarians?

Killing, per se, is not the central concern of AR philosophy, which is
concerned with the avoidance of unnecessary pain and suffering. Thus, because plants neither feel pain nor suffer, AR philosophy does not mandate
fruitarianism (a diet in which only fruits are eaten because they can be
harvested without killing the plant from which they issue).
see also
questions 42-46

Question 19: Animals don't care about us; why should we care about them?

The questioner's position--that, in essence, we should give rights only
to those able to respect ours--is known as the reciprocity argument. It is
unconvincing both as an account of the way our society works and as a
prescription for the way it should work.

Its descriptive power is undermined by the simple observation that we
give rights to a large number of individuals who cannot respect ours.
These include some elderly people, some people suffering from degenerative
diseases, some people suffering from irreversible brain damage, the
severely retarded, infants, and young children. An institution that, for
example, routinely sacrificed such individuals to test a new fertilizer
would certainly be considered to be grievously violating their rights.
The original statement fares no better as an ethical prescription.
Future generations are unable to reciprocate our concern, for example, so
there would be no ethical harm done, under such a view, in dismissing
concerns for environmental damage that adversely impacts future

The key failing of the questioner's position lies in the failure to
properly distinguish between the following capacities:
The capacity to understand and respect others' rights (moral agency).
The capacity to benefit from rights (moral patienthood).

An individual can be a beneficiary of rights without being a moral
agent. Under this view, one justifies a difference of treatments of two
individuals (human or nonhuman) with an objective difference that is
RELEVANT to the difference of treatment. For example, if we wished to
exclude a person from an academic course of study, we could not cite the
fact that they have freckles. We could cite the fact that they lack
certain academic prerequisites. The former is irrelevant; the latter is
relevant. Similarly, when considering the right to be free of pain and
suffering, moral agency is irrelevant; moral patienthood IS relevant.

The assumption that animals don't care about us can also be
questioned. Companion animals have been known to summon aid when
their owners are in trouble. They have been known to offer comfort
when their owners are distressed. They show grief when their human
companions die.
see also
questions 17, 23, 36

Question 20: A house is on fire and a dog and a baby are inside. Which do you save first?

The one I choose to save first tells us nothing about the ethical
decisions we face. I might decide to save my child before I saved yours,
but this certainly does not mean that I should be able to experiment on
your child, or exploit your child in some other way. We are not in an
emergency situation like a fire anyway. In everyday life, we can choose to
act in ways that protect the rights of both dogs and babies.

Like anyone else in this situation, I would probably save the one to
which I am emotionally more attached. Most likely it would be the child.
Someone might prefer to save his own beloved dog before saving the baby
of a stranger. However, as LK states above, this tells us nothing about
any ethical principles.

Question 21: What if I made use of an animal that was already dead?

There are two ways to interpret this question. First, the questioner
might really be making the excuse "but I didn't kill the animal", or
second, he could be asking about the morality of using an animal that
has died naturally (or due to a cause unassociated with the demand for
animal products, such as a road kill). For the first interpretation, we
must reject the excuse. The killing of animals for meat, for example,
is done at the request (through market demand), and with the financial
support (through payment), of the end consumers. Their complicity is
inescapable. Society does not excuse the receiver of stolen goods because
he "didn't do the burglary".

For the second interpretation, the use of naturally killed animals,
there seems to be no moral difficulty involved. Many would, for esthetic
reasons, still not use animal products thus obtained. (Would you use the
bodies of departed humans?) Certainly, natural kills cannot satisfy the
great demand for animal products that exists today; non-animal and
synthetic sources are required.

Other people may avoid use of naturally killed animal products because
they feel that it might encourage a demand in others for animal products,
a demand that might not be so innocently satisfied.

This can be viewed as a question of respect for the dead. We feel
innate revulsion at the idea of grave desecration for this reason.
Naturally killed animals should, at the very least, be left alone rather
than recycled as part of an industrial process. This was commonly
practiced in the past, e.g., Egyptians used to mummify their cats.

You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is
concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (author)

Question 22: Where should one draw the line: animals, insects, bacteria?

AR philosophy asserts that rights are to be accorded to creatures that
have the capacity to experience pain, to suffer, and to be a "subject of
a life". Such a capacity is definitely not found in bacteria. It is
definitely found in mammals. There is debate about such animals as molluscs
and arthropods (including insects). One should decide, based upon available
evidence and one's own conscience, where the line should be drawn to adhere
to the principle of AR described in the first sentence.
Questions 39 and 43 discuss some of the evidence relevant to drawing
the line.
see also
questions 39, 43

Question 23: If the killing is wrong, shouldn't you stop predators from killing other animals?

This is one of the more interesting arguments against animal rights. We
prevent human moral patients from harming others, e.g., we prevent children
from hitting each other, so why shouldn't we do the same for nonhuman moral
patients (refer to question 17 for a definition of moral patienthood)? If
anything, the duty to do so might be considered more serious because
predation results in a serious harm--death.

A first answer entails pointing out that predators must kill to survive; to stop them from killing is, in effect, to kill them. Of course, we could argue that intervening on a massive scale to prevent predation is totally impractical or impossible, but that is not morally persuasive.

Suppose we accept that we should stop a cat from killing a bird. Then we
realize that the bird is the killer of many snakes. Should we now reason
that, in fact, we shouldn't stop the cat? The point is that humans lack the
broad vision to make all these calculations and determinations.
The real answer is that intervening to stop predation would destroy the
ecosystems upon which the biosphere depends, harming all of life on earth.
Over millions of years, the biosphere has evolved complex ecosystems that
depend upon predation for their continued functioning and stability. Massive
intervention by humans to stop predation would inflict serious and
incalculable harm on these ecosystems, with devastating results for all life.
Even if we accept that we should prevent predation (and we don't accept
that), it does not follow that, because we do not, we are therefore justified
in exploiting moral patients ourselves. When we fail to stop widespread
slaughter of human beings in foreign countries, it does not follow that we,
ourselves, believe it appropriate to participate in such slaughter. Similarly,
our failure to prevent predation cannot be taken as justification of our
exploitation of animals.
see also
questions 17, 19, 36, 64

Question 24: Is the AR movement against abortion? If not, isn't that hypocritical?

Attempts are frequently made to tie Animal Rights exponents to one side
or the other of the abortion debate. Such attempts are misguided. Claims
that adherence to the ethics of AR determine one's position on embryo
rights are plainly counter-intuitive, unless one is also prepared to argue
that being a defender of human rights compels one to a particular position
on abortion. Is it the case that one cannot consistently despise torture,
serfdom, and other barbaric practices without coming to a particular
conclusion on abortion?

AR defenders demand that the rights currently held by humans be extended
to all creatures similar in morally relevant ways. For example, since
society does not accept that mature, sentient human moral patients (refer
to question #17 for a brief description of the distinction between patients
and agents) may be routinely annihilated in the name of science, it
logically follows that comparable nonhuman animals should be given the same
protection. On the other hand, abortion is still a moot point. It is
plainly illogical to expect the AR movement to reflect anything other than
the full spectrum of opinion found in society at large on the abortion issue.
Fundamentally, AR philosophers are content with submitting sufficient
conditions for the attribution of rights to individuals, conditions that
explain the noncontroversial protections afforded today to humans. They
neither encourage nor discourage attempts to widen the circle of protection
to fetuses.

There is a range of views among AR supporters on the issue of abortion
versus animal rights. Many people believe, as does AECW, that the issues
of abortion and AR are unrelated, and that the question is irrelevant to the
validity of AR. Others, such as myself, feel that abortion certainly is
relevant to AR. After all, the granting of rights to animals (and humans)
is based on their capacity to suffer and to be a subject-of-a-life. It
seems clear that late-term fetuses can suffer from the abortion procedure.
Certain physiological responses, such as elevated heart rates, and the
existence of a functioning nervous system support this view.
It also can be argued that the fetus is on a course to become a
subject-of-a-life, and that by aborting the fetus we therefore harm it.
Some counter this latter argument by claiming that the "potential" to
become subject-of-a-life is an invalid grounds for assigning rights, but
this is a fine philosophical point that is itself subject to attack. For
example, suppose a person is in a coma that, given enough time, will
dissipate--the person has the potential to be sentient again. Does the
person lose his rights while in the coma?

While the arguments adduced may show that abortion is not irrelevant
to AR, they do not show that abortion is necessarily wrong. The reason
is that it is possible to argue that the rights of the fetus are in
conflict with the rights of the woman, and that the rights of the woman
dominate. All may not agree with this trade-off, but it is a consistent,
non-hypocritical stance that is not in conflict with AR philosophy.
See question #4 for an analysis of hypocrisy arguments in general.
see also
questions 4

Question 25: Doesn't the ethical theory of contractarianism show that animals have no rights?

Contractarianism is an ethical theory that attempts to account for our
morality by appealing to implicit mutually beneficial agreements, or
contracts. For example, it would explain our refusal to strike each other
by asserting that we have an implied contract: "You don't hit me and I
won't hit you." The relevance of contractarianism to AR stems from the
supposition that nonhuman animals are incapable of entering into such
contracts, coupled with the assertion that rights can be attributed only
to those individuals that can enter into such contracts. Roughly, animals
can't have rights because they lack the rational capacity to assent to a
contract requiring them to respect our rights.

Contractarianism is perhaps the most impressive attempt to refute the AR
position; therefore, it is important to consider it in some detail. It is
easily possible to write a large volume on the subject. We must limit
ourselves to considering the basic arguments and problems with them. Those
readers finding this incomplete or nonrigorous are advised to consult the
primary literature.

We begin by observing that contractarianism fails to offer a compelling
account of our moral behavior and motives. If the average person is asked why they think it wrong to steal from their neighbor, they do not answer that by refraining from it they ensure that their neighbor will not steal from them.
Nor do they answer that they have an implicit mutual contract with their
neighbor. Instead of invoking contracts, people typically assert some variant
of the harm principle; e.g., they don't steal because it would harm the
neighbor. Similarly, we do not teach children that the reason why they should
not steal is because then people will not steal from them.

Another way to point up the mismatch between the theory of contractarianism
and our actual moral behavior is to ask if, upon risking your own life to
save my child from drowning, you have done this as a result of a contractual
obligation. Certainly, one performs such acts as a response to the distress
of another being, not as a result of contractual obligations.

Contractarianism can thus be seen as a theory that fails to account for our
moral behavior. At best, it is a theory that its proponents would recommend
to us as preferable. (Is it seen as preferable because it denies rights to
animals, and because it seems to justify continued exploitation of animals?)
Arguably the most serious objection to contractarianism is that it can be
used to sanction arrangements that would be almost universally condemned.
Consider a group of very rich people that assemble and create a contract
among themselves the effect of which is to ensure that wealth remains in
their control. They agree by contract that even repressive tactics can be
used to ensure that the masses remain in poverty. They argue that, by virtue
of the existence of their contract, that they do no wrong. Similar contracts
could be drawn up to exclude other races, sexes, etc.

John Rawls attempts to overcome this problem by supposing that the
contractors must begin from an "initial position" in which they are not yet
incarnated as beings and must form the contract in ignorance of their final
incarnation. Thus, it is argued, since a given individual in the starting
position does not know whether, for example, she will be incarnated as a rich
woman or a poor woman, that individual will not form contracts that are based
on such criteria. In response, one can begin to wonder at the lengths to
which some will go in creating ad hoc adjustments to a deficient theory. But
more to the point, one can turn around this ad hoc defense to support the AR
position. For surely, if individuals in the initial position are to be truly
ignorant of their destiny, they must assume that they may be incarnated as
animals. Given that, the contract that is reached is likely to include strong
protections for animals!

Another problem with Rawls' device is that probabilities can be such that,
even given ignorance, contracts can result that most people would see as
unjust. If the chance of being incarnated as a slave holder is 90 percent, a
contract allowing slavery could well result because most individuals would
feel they had a better chance of being incarnated as a slave holder. Thus,
Rawls' device fails even to achieve its purpose.

It is hard to see how contractarianism can permit movement from the status
quo. How did alleged contracts that denied liberty to slaves and excluded
women from voting come to be renegotiated?

Contractarianism also is unable to adequately account for the rights we
give to those unable to form contracts, i.e., infants, children, senile
people, mental deficients, and even animals to some extent. Various means
have been advanced to try to account for the attribution of rights to such
individuals. We have no space to deal with all of them. Instead, we briefly
address a few.

One attempt involves appealing to the interests of true rights holders.
For example, I don't eat your baby because you have an interest in it and I
wouldn't want you violating such an interest of mine. But what if no-one
cared about a given infant? Would that make it fair game for any use or
abuse? Certainly not. Another problem here is that many people express an
interest in the protection of all animals. That would seem to require others
to refrain from using or abusing animals. While this result is attractive to
the AR community, it certainly weakens the argument that contractarianism
justifies our use of animals.

Others want to let individuals "ride" until they are capable of respecting
the contract. But what of those that will never be capable of doing so, e.g.,
senile people? And why can we not let animals ride?
Some argue a "reduced-rights" case. Children get a reduced rights set
designed to protect them from themselves, etc. The problem here is that with
animals the rights reduction is way out of proportion. We accept that we
cannot experiment on infants or kill and eat them due to their reduced rights
set. Why then are such extreme uses acceptable for nonhumans?
Some argue that it is irrelevant whether a given individual can enter into
a contract; what is important is their theoretical capacity to do so. But,
future generations have the capacity but clearly cannot interact reciprocally
with us, so the basis of contractarianism is gutted (unless we assert that we
have no moral obligations to leave a habitable world for future generations).
Peter Singer asks "Why limit morality to those who have the capacity to enter
into agreements, if in fact there is no possibility of their ever doing so?"

There are practical problems with contractarianism as well. For example,
what can be our response if an individual renounces participation in any
implied moral contracts, and states that he is therefore justified in
engaging in what others would call immoral acts? Is there any way for us to
reproach him? And what are we to do about violations of the contract? If an
individual steals from us, he has broken the contract and we should therefore
be released from it. Are we then morally justified in stealing from him? Or

In summary, contractarianism fails because a) it fails to accurately account
for our actual, real-world moral acts and motives, b) it sanctions contractual
arrangements that most people would see as unjust, c) it fails to account for
the considerations we accord to individuals unable to enter into contracts,
and d) it has some impractical consequences. Finally, there is a better
foundation for ethics--the harm principle. It is simple, universalizable,
devoid of ad hoc devices, and matches our real moral thinking.
see also
questions 11, 17, 19, 96

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l i n k s

BLTC Research
Animal Liberation
The Vegan Society
Hunt Saboteurs Association
League against Cruel Sports
Vegetarians International Voice for Animals