Palmer, Ch 2

Capacity Oriented Accounts of Animal Ethics


1.      Main idea

         a.      Capacity oriented approaches to animal ethics (utilitarianism, rights approaches, and the capabilities approach) are problematic or incomplete especially when thinking about assisting animals

         b.      Need context sensitive moral responsibilities, in particular, ones that depend on the relation of the particular animal to humans (and the related idea of whether they are wild or domesticated animals) and not just a focus on capacities



3.      Distinction of wild and domestic is of no moral relevance (like species)

         a.      Since domesticated house cat and wild bobcat both can suffer and have preferences

         b.      They call on our moral attention in similar ways

         c.      Their preference and interests might be different, so I will treat them differently

         d.      But get same amount of moral concern, both in terms of harm and assistance

         e.      Their capacities and interests alone are morally important

4.      Utilitarianism not backward looking

         a.      As it is consequentialist, only (future) consequences matter

         b.      Source/cause of the pain or whose preferences are being fulfilled is not directly relevant

                   i.       Only relevant in as much as they impact the future utility

         c.      Origin of the suffering not relevant

         d.      Wild pain and domestic pain equally bad

         e.      Only question is “how best to relieve suffering”

         f.       No types of suffering more or less important

         g.      “In judging an act there is no need to know who is doing what to whom so long as the impact of these actions, direct and indirect, on the impersonal sum of utilities is known”

5.      Utilitarianism can’t account for reparations

         a.      Owing people or animals something for past wrongs as a matter of justice

         b.      Palmer thinks there are reasons for assisting particular animals based on our treatment of them in the past

                   i.       A special relationship to a particular animal in a specific context

                   ii.      E.g., we took over their habitat and so now they are starving–we owe something to them (and not because it will produce good results–utilitarianism)


6.      Implications of utilitarian animal ethic: Replacement of wild with less pain filled environment

         a.      Utilitarianism should be

                   i.       Against wilderness preservation

                   ii.      Animals do better with benevolent human care and management

                   iii.     Predators/carnivores could be eradicated, prey kept in check by sterilization

                   iv.     New species of small tranquil herbivorous animals bred in large numbers, replacing he current predator-prey system

                   v.      Feed animals in the winter

                   vi.     Treat wild animal disease

                   vii.    Are the last two less problematic?

7.      Singer’s claim we have no right to interfere and play Big Brother doesn’t seem supported by utilitarianism

         a.      Given how horrible he thinks animal suffering is, not at all clear why we should not put considerable resources to prevent animal suffering

8.      Practical problems relieving suffering in wild

         a.      Avoid the issue of whether we should if we could

                   i.       Is it ethically undesirable in principle?

         b.      Ignore that in some cases it is clear we could relieve suffering (Wildebeest example)

         c.      Our increased technological skill in managing nature (vaccination, radio tracking, wildlife contraception and sterilization) make it increasingly likely we can manage wild animal welfare with reasonably predictable results

9.      Utilitarian views here conflict with Palmer’s LFI

         a.      Humans should relieve suffering of individual domesticated animals

         b.      No such responsibilities to wild animals; they should be left alone

         c.      Not the view that ethical obligations to assist wild animals are outweighed by other priorities

         d.      Such responsibilities are just not there at all

         e.      What goes on in wild is not our moral business

10.    Two legitimate values that conflict alternative to Palmer’s position

         a.      (1) LFI, based on the value of autonomy for animals, value of wild nature un-interfered with by humans

         b.      (2) Concern for (and responsibilities to) animals who suffer in the wild

         c.      Palmer seems to reject 2 as legitimate concern



12.    Regan on harm of death a deprivation

         a.      Animals have both preference (desires) and welfare interests (good of own)

         b.      Can be harmed by infliction or deprivation

         c.      Need not be aware of a deprivation to have been deprived

         d.      Death harms by deprivation

         e.      Even if animal not aware what it is missing and not been pained, they may still be harmed

13.    Regan’s animal rights theory

         a.      Animals that are subjects of a life have inherent value that is non-experiential

         b.      Basis of their claim to non-acquired rights

         c.      Rights do not arise by voluntary acts or one’s place in an institutional arrangement

         d.      Moral agents have duties not to harm those with inherent value/rights but also to come to the defense of those who have inherent value when they are threatened by other moral agents


14.    Regan on positive/negative rights and duties to assist

15.    Definitions of positive/negative rights

         a.      A has negative right to p means that B must not intentionally make if the case that not p

         b.      A has a positive right that p means B must help, to some relevant degree, to bring it about that p

16.    Three relevant duties (using right to liberty/life as an example)

         a.      Positive rights (positive duties)

                   i.       Duty to bring it about that someone gains or maintains liberty (release from ropes)

                            (1)    Duty to aid in what is needed for life

         b.      Negative rights (negative duties and positive duties)

                   i.       Duty to avoid (intentionally) taking away (infringing) on someone’s liberty (tying someone up)

                            (1)    Duty to not take away someone’s life (or prevent them from access to means of living)

                   ii.      Duty to protect others negative rights

                            (1)    Positive duty to prevent others from tying someone up

                                      (a)     Duty to protect others against those who would deprive hem of life or means to life

                   iii.     Possible position: only duties we have are negative to avoid infringing someone’s rights

17.    If animals have positive rights, goes against LFI and involve great interference in the wild

         a.      Protect animals from being killed by harsh weather, provide them with food if not enough available


18.    Regan’s view animals have only negative rights including duties to assist them from having rights violated (by moral agent) and this avoids problem of massive intervention in wild

         a.      We should not harm animals (including wild ones) (negative duty)

         b.      We should assist them to prevent others from violating their rights

         c.      Since only moral agents can violate rights

                   i.       A human hunter violates deer’s rights

                   ii.      A wolf (as not a moral agent) is not violating any rights

         d.      This does not commit us to preventing wolf from killing the deer, to feeding the deer when nature takes away its food

         e.      “Require to assist a victim of injustice, but not those who are not victims of injustice”


19.    View does not seem plausible in case of humans (or domesticated animals)

20.    Hungry child example

         a.      If child hungry because hurricane destroyed home, right to respectful treatment does not entail assistance

         b.      If child hungry due to mean landlord that made it impossible for parents to earn enough money to buy food, right to respectful treatment would entail assistance

                   i.       Prevent landlord from infringing child’s rights

                   ii.      Or consider less controversial case where person is stealing food from child

         c.      Or what if one’s cat is about to be harmed by a wolf; not duty to prevent it?

21.    Jamieson’s boulder rolling example

         a.      Person sees falling boulder will kill a man below and can warn him at little cost

                   i.       Intentionally pushed by woman

                   ii.      Accidentally loosened by woman

                   iii.     Rock loosened by hunting wolf

                   iv.     Natural rock fall

         b.      Regan’s view entails only i. (and perhaps ii.???) involves duty to assist

                   i.       Not duty of justice to warn in case of wolf/natural fall as not moral agents and no rights infringed

         c.      Not plausible: No duty to set off a tsunami alarm to alert thousands of costal settlements about imminent innundation since it threatens no one’s rights

22.    How Regan’s view differs from LFI

         a.      Not duty to assist anyone (human/animal) where threat is from something other than moral agent

         b.      LFI differentiates situations where assistance is required and when not

                   i.       No duties to assist wild animals, may be duties to assist humans and domesticated animals even when threat is not from a moral agent

23.    Regan responds by positing acquired duties not based on justice to handle cases where threats not due to moral agents

         a.      Other duties (non-discretionary) besides the duty based on justice to defend against rights infringement

         b.      These are “acquired duties” based on voluntary acts and institutional arrangements

         c.      So we do have duties that require us to warn the threatened man even in cases where not involve rights violations

         d.      We have these with humans and domesticated animals, but not with wild animals. So no duty to warn wild animals.

24.    Palmer argues that these acquired duties to assist animals must be based on something other than individual capacities

         a.      If we owe assistance to domesticated cat but not wild bobcat, it must be based on something other than their (equal) capacities

         b.      Animals context and relation to us is what is morally relevant



26.    Nussbaum’s view

         a.      Core capabilities of humans and animals need to be realized/promoted up to a minimal threshold for dignity of that type of life

         b.      Animals can be harmed by being prevented from fulfilling core capabilities even if does not cause them suffering or unaware of deprivation

                   i.       Harm of painless killing

         c.      Animals should be permitted to flourish and assisted in flourishing

27.    Nussbaum’s language suggesting we should not assist wild animals in getting adequate food, shelter and health care

         a.      Species have task of ensuring own flourishing provided we refrain from harming them

         b.      Mess up lives of animals if we tried to be benevolent despots

         c.      Sovereignty of species (like sovereignty of nations) has moral weight

         d.      Part of what it is for a creature to flourish is to settle certain very important matters on its own w/o human intervention (even benevolent)

                   i.       Note that this is not an experiential account of flourishing, but an objective one

28.    Nussbaum’s language suggesting we do have obligations to take care of wild animals (even if we are not responsible for their predicament)

         a.      But because our pervasive involvement in nature, we have affected even wild animals and thus are morally responsible for the situations they find themselves in

                   i.       Prior human action generates special obligations that otherwise would not exist.

         b.      Additionally, implausible to think no duties of material aid where animals are dying of disease or natural disaster

         c.      Such aid should “preserve and enhance autonomy; bad if all animals ended up in zoos dependent on human arrangements”

         d.      For animals, paternalism is usually appropriate

         e.      What happens to the victim is the key issue, not who does bad thing; death of gazelle afer painful torture is just as bad for the gazelle whether inflicted by tiger or human

         f.       If painful predation can be prevented w/o causing worse harms it should be

         g.      If intervention can be carried out w/o worse consequences it should

         h.      Rather than reintroducing predators where prey population is a problem, Nussbaum suggest sterilization is to be preferred.

         i.       Sick wild animals should be aided

         j.       She’s not comfortable with wild animals habits of “humiliation of the weak”

         k.      Nature is no model to follow; it never is going to provide all species with “cooperative and mutual supportive relations”

         l.       So should be a gradual supplanting of natural by just

         m.     Unlike Regan’s view that what goes on between a lion and a gazelle is none of our moral business, however tortuous

29.    2nd interpretation of Nussbaum makes more sense

         a.      She does not think “sovereignty of nations” should prevent affluent in one country from assisting impoverished in another fulfill their capacities

         b.      Nor accept idea in human case that people should settle very important matters of their own–when this means they would fail to realize basic capabilities

         c.      Main idea of capabilities approach that the capabilities of all morally considerably beings should be fulfilled up to minimal threshold

                   i.       Applies whether human or animal

                   ii.      Among animals wether wild or domestic

         d.      Depends on what a being is like, rather than role of relations and context.