Modes of Reasoning – Lecture 15
I – Introduction: Moral Issues
• In the next part of the course, we’ll be focusing on ethical issues.
• We’ll be applying critical thinking principles to some interesting
ethical issues: animal rights, environmental ethics, prostitution, and
II – Animal Rights
• The first issue we will discuss is animal rights, or more specifically:
the moral status of non-human animals.
• The most important moral question about non-human animals
concerns rights: what sorts of rights do non-human animals have?
-Do they have equivalent rights to human beings?
-Do they have some of our rights but not others?
-Do they have any rights at all?
-We need to decide how we should be treating animals, and how we
should be legislating the treatment of animals, but before we can do
this, ideally, we should be morally examining what kinds of rights
animals have (if any) and what obligations we have to animals. 3
• In addressing the fundamental question of animal rights, a variety
issues become pertinent.
-Are animals sentient? (That is, do they have consciousness?)
-Are they sapient? (That is, do they have intelligence?)
-Do animals have souls?
-Do animals feel pain?
-Do animals have interests?
• Philosophers have examined these questions and many others in
ongoing the animal rights debate.
• We will begin with two philosophers’ positions on the animal rights
debate today: Joel Feinberg and Peter Singer.
• As we will see, they arrive at positions that agree at certain points but
differ at others. 4
III – Feinberg on Animal Rights
• Joel Feinberg is an ethicist who has written on a variety of topics in
theoretical and applied ethics.
• He has a particular interest in the issue of animal rights.
• Feinberg thinks that the issue of animal rights ties in with the issue of
the rights of a variety of other entities: i.e., plants, young infants,
human vegetables, future generations, and dead persons.
• He thus considers the rights of these other entities as well.
• While Feinberg does not take a firm stance on the issue, he thinks a
prima facie or preliminary case can be made that animals have rights,
at least some of the rights that humans have.
• He thinks that as philosophers and members of the moral community
it is important to acknowledge that animals likely do have rights and
thus should be given the benefit of the doubt.
• This implies that, at the very least, they should be treated with basic
respect and consideration (whatever this involves). 5
• Feinberg considers the rights of plants, young infants, human
vegetables, future generations, and dead persons.
• He argues that many of these things can be deemed to have many of
the rights humans have.
• Moreover, animals would, at a minimum, seem to have equivalent
rights to these beings.
• Thus animals likely have at least some of the same rights that humans
have, such as the right to be treated with respect and kindness,
although he does not specify what exactly this right involves. 6
• How does Feinberg’s argument go?
-First, it is argued that animals can have rights (they can be bearers of
-They might not be able to claim rights (like young infants and the
mentally challenged), but they can have rights.
-Being able to legally prosecute rights is not necessary to having
rights (again, think of young infants and the mentally challenged).
-Animal can have rights because they have interests, at least some of
the interests of sentient beings: i.e., basic appetites and purposes.
-Any being that has interests can have rights.
-Note, this is different from claiming that animals do in fact have
• Secondly, and more importantly, Feinberg argues that animals likely
do have rights?
• This is something we can test phenomenologically: we look to our
pre-reflective intuitions and sentiments.
-At a pre-reflective level, it seems that anything with a core set of
interests, like any animal, has a right to be treated in certain ways, i.e.,
with kindness and respect.
-It is not just that we should treat animals well for our sake, but for
their own sake (this is a deontological thesis).
-This is difficult to deny at an intuitive level (try to think of counter-