Human Service Ethics
Compare and Contrast Essay
May 5, 2009
The issue of animals and ethics is a philosophical issue mainly due to the fact that common sense thinking is deeply divided on it. Animals exist on the borderline of our moral concepts. The result is that we sometimes find ourselves according them a moral status, while at others denying them any kind of moral status at all. For example, public outrage is strong when knowledge of such operations as puppy mills is made available; the thought here is that dogs deserve much more consideration than the operators of such places give them. However, when it is pointed out that the conditions in a factory farm are as bad as, if not much worse than, the conditions in a puppy mill, the usual response is that those affected are "just animals" after all, and do not merit our concern. This disparity of thought gives rise to a philosophical question: what place should animals have in an acceptable moral system?
Immanuel Kant' developed a highly influential moral theory according to which autonomy is a necessary property to be the kind of being whose interests are to count directly in the moral assessment of actions. According to Kant, morally permissible actions are those actions that could be willed by all rational individuals in the circumstances. The important part of his conception for the moral status of animals is his reliance on the notion of willing. While both animals and human beings have desires that can compel them to action, only human beings are capable of standing back from their desires and choosing which course of action to take. This ability is manifested by our wills. Since animals lack this ability, they lack a will, and therefore are not autonomous. According to Kant, the only thing with any intrinsic value is a good will. Since animals have no wills at all, they cannot have good wills; they therefore do not have any intrinsic value.
Kant's theory goes beyond other moral...