David DeGrazia, “The Harms of Suffering, Confinement, and Death”


§        HARM OF SUFFERING (causing pain, distress, fear, anxiety, & suffering)

o       Animals better off with high level of exp well being

o       To cause aversive mental states in animals harms them. 

§        Either directly (suffering is intrinsically disvalued)

§        Or indirectly (suffering is instrumentally bad as it gets in the way of achieving goals/aims)

·        Although humans typically have far more elaborate life goals, still even significantly less sophisticated animals such as fish have some desires (to get food) and suffering can interfere with such a pursuit.

o       So thwarting an animal’s attempt to achieve an aim is to harm it (even if it does not experience frustration)?

§        Causing suffering is one main way we harm animals

§        DeGrazia rejects as naïve the idea that causing suffering is the only way we can harm animals, so that, for example, painless death is not a harm



§        Sentient animals have desires (to move around and do things)

o       This gives them pleasure/satisfaction

o       When those desires thwarted, result is frustration (or other disagreeable feelings

§        Liberty–absence of external constraint on movement–is generally a benefit for sentient animals, as permits them to pursue what they want and need

§        Confinement–external constraints on movement that significantly interfere with one’s ability to live well–is harmful by definition

o       Forcing a monkey to live alone in a small barren cage, when monkeys like to roam around, explore things, play and spend time with other monkeys causes suffering


§        Can deprivation of liberty be harmful for animals (or bad in general) even if it does not cause causing suffering?

§        Depends on if animal liberty is itself of value (apart from its effects on experiential well being of the animal)

o       The answer to this would help us decide when and if animals might be better off in zoos

§        Consider the zoo kangaroo, who is more comfortable in the zoo with higher experiential well being than it would have in the wild

o       If returned to wild, would have greater liberty, but more hardship (weather, disease, shorter life)

o       Does captivity harms this kangaroo? 

o       Would Kangaroo be better off in wild anyway?

§        Does being wild and free count for something apart from effects on experiential well-being?

§        That is, even if animal’s life has lower experienced quality might it be correct to judge

o       One:  The animal is better off in the wild?

o       Or two:  It is better that the animal be in the wild even if the animal is not better off (even if animal is worse off)?



§        Example:  Should we humanely trap or kill a mouse?  Depends on if a mouse is harmed by death

o       If not, then prefer the mouse trap (that kills) to the “humane” cage trap, as this latter would involve suffering, experiential harm (being stuck in the gage for hours, fear at what may come, sadness at being separated from social group members?)

o       Need also to judge if the harm of death for the mouse (if it is a harm) is worse than the suffering in the humane trap

§        Dog cast example:  Why put a cast on a dog (causing it discomfort and frustration for a month) rather than euthanize it, unless we assume dog loses something by death?  Thus it appears we do think death is a harm for animals.


§        Is death a harm? Always?  Why?

o       Difference between death and dying (latter often involves suffering, former can’t)

o       Perhaps death not for those who lived very full 95 year life

o       Nor is death a harm for those suffering unbearable pain and no prospect for improved life quality




§        One:  Death is a harm when it thwarts a central desire to stay alive

o       Individuals want to stay alive (for instrumental or intrinsic reasons)

§        Individuals cherish life at least instrumentally–life is a necessary means to pursue more particular aims

§        Many also value their lives intrinsically

o       On this view, death only harms those who desire to live, to stay alive

o       Probably very few animals possess even concept of staying alive, much less desire to do so

§        Efforts of a dog to escape fire in a house serve to evade death, as she is terribly frightened, sensing she may soon be badly hurt, but it is not likely she has concepts of life/death and desire to live

o       Given he thinks animals have self-awareness, and thus concept of self, he must be assuming concept of staying alive (as opposed to being dead) is more sophisticated


§        Two:  Death harms when it thwarts future oriented desire

o       Even if lack desire to stay alive, death can harm if it thwarts central desires do have

o       E.g., Wolf wants to become dominant member of a pack; Death harms him as thwarts this desire, even if has no concept of death

o       Can be harmed by death even if do not have concept of life and desire to stay alive

o       Significantly broadens the range of animals harmed by death

o       DeGrazia does say that most vertebrates have temporal self-awareness and so you would think future oriented desires

o       Does this account trivialize the harm of animal death?

§        Consider a cow’s desire to finish chewing her cud?  Or to go over and see  her calf

§        Killing her is only as bad as  thwarting this desire?


§        Counterexample to above two desire-based approaches: 

o       Week-old baby has no concept of life or future oriented desires.  But clearly death harms her and so need different account.


§        Three:  Foreclosed Opportunity Account  (Death thwarts possibility of experiencing satisfaction of interests)

§        Death is an instrumental harm in so far as it forecloses the valuable opportunities that continued life would afford

o       So death is not an intrinsic harm?

§        DeGrazia’s preferred alternative (and Regan and Sapontzis)

§        Sentient beings can have valuable experiences, pleasure, contentment, and exercising one’s natural capacities (depending on view of well being)

o       Death robs cat and newborn human of the sort of life otherwise available to that individual, even if no awareness of opportunities in question

§        Sentience alone entails one can have valuable experiences and since death cuts off such experiences, death will be a harm to any sentient being

o       In contrast to view which says death harms only animals with desire to stay alive or with future oriented projects/desires

§        Debatable whether mere potential for sentience suffices to make death a harm (relevant to abortion debate)

§        On this view, death not harm for an individual with no desire to live, no future oriented desires, and his future holds experiences that are predominantly negative (full of suffering)

o       Would this mean that death is not a harm for the deer shot by the hunter at the beginning of  the winter who would have suffered all winter then died?

o       Or for wild animals whose life has greater suffering than pleasure?

§        Harm of death is function of opportunities it forecloses



§        Are magnitude of harms of (death, confinement, suffering of human and animal) roughly equal or significantly different

§        Suffering comparable:  Strong case that certain amount of suffering counts as a comparable harm no matter what creature suffers that amount

§        Confinement not comparable:  Harm of confinement (in addition to causing suffering) impedes activities of greater value or cuts off greater potential enjoyment/satisfaction in case of humans than at least some animals and thus harms humans more

§        Death is not a comparable harm for humans and animals

o       Many (including champions of animal rights) argue human and animal deaths are not comparable harms

o       Death robs any sentient being of opportunities

o       But the opportunities available to humans are more valuable than those available to significantly less complex creatures, including most or all animals

§        Allegedly humans have superior capacities for enjoyment and satisfaction and more valuable characteristic activities and types of functioning than animals

§        Similarly, opportunity available to a monkey richer than cats, which is greater than seagulls

§        Differences in cognitive, emotional and social complexity grounds such comparisons

§        Value of staying alive to the individual living the life varies across species, so magnitude of harmed of death varies accordingly

§        Ordinarily death harms humans more than harms members of sentient beings including at least animals below mammals


§        Why less wrong to take animal life (p. 33)

§        Human’s interest in remaining alive is absolutely central to her welfare

o       Human’s have life plans projects and deep personal relations all destroyed by death

§        Dog has interest in remaining alive, but it’s continued life is less central to a dog’s welfare than to a humans welfare

o       Dogs have at most truncated plans and their relationships lack the depth and range one finds in typical humans

o       Death ordinarily less harmful to a dog than human