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Moral obligations to non-humans

My PhD thesis provides an account of the moral obligations we have to non-humans. The project is divided into two sections: the theoretical and the applied. In the first section I examine the foundations of our moral obligations, answering two key questions: what types of thing have moral status, and how can we delineate our obligations to them. I maintain that those entities with the capacity for 'well-being' have moral status. I refute the claim made by some that all living organisms have well-being, and argue that only beings with 'phenomenal consciousness' (sentience) have lives that can go well or badly for themselves. At this point then, the thesis turns its focus towards sentient animals. Next I consider just how we should structure our moral obligations. I argue that a utilitarian or aggregative framework fails to individuate entities with moral status, treating them as mere 'receptacles' of value. I thus propose that an interest-based rights theory provides the appropriate means for delineating our obligations to non-human animals. The second part of the thesis involves teasing out the implications of this interest-based rights theory for the ways in which we treat animals. To this end, I evaluate four different contexts in which we use non-human animals: in experiments, in agriculture, in entertainment, and by cultural groups. During these considerations, I argue that animals' interests in avoiding pain and continued life ground prima facie animal rights not to be made to suffer and not to be killed. This renders many of the ways we currently use animals impermissible, particularly with regards to factory farming and experimentation. However, unlike other proponents of animal rights, I do not see the use of animals as impermissible in itself. This is because I claim that animals have no intrinsic interest in liberty, whether liberty is construed as the absence of interference or as the ability to govern one's own life. Since animals have no interest in liberty for its own sake, this means that they ordinarily have no right not to be used or interfered with by humans. Thus, the ultimate conclusion of my thesis is that the moral obligations we have to animals do not involve liberating them from zoos, farms and our homes. Rather, they necessitate putting an end to the suffering and death that animals endure at our hands.
Date January 2007
CreatorsCochrane, Alasdair David Charles
PublisherLondon School of Economics and Political Science (University of London)
Source SetsEthos UK
Detected LanguageEnglish
TypeElectronic Thesis or Dissertation

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