Utilitarianism and Animal Rights

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Animal Rights

Throughout history morality has been a topic of intense debate. Innumerable thinkers have devoted immense amounts of time and energy to the formulation of various ethical theories intended to assist humans in their daily lives. These theories set out guidelines which help to determine the rightness or wrongness of any given action and can therefore illuminate which choice would be morally beneficial. And while many of these theories differ substantially, most have at least one common underlying principle, namely that humans deserve to be treated with a certain level of respect. This idea comes from the belief that all humans have interests which are significant enough to be considered, hence no one should impede another from fulfilling their own individual interests. Yet recently a new controversy has emerged at the forefront of ethical debate, the status of animals within our distinctly human-oriented world. For thousands of years man has used animals as nothing more than a mere means, raising and slaughtering them for food, hunting them for food as well as sport, and more recently using them as test subjects to ensure an assortment of products are safe for use by humans. However, as time has passed and the overall level of enlightenment within our societies has increased, many have begun to question these aforementioned practices, maintaining that animals, like humans have interests and therefore should have the ability to seek the satisfaction inherent in attaining those interests. The answer reached in regards to this question varies immensely depending on the specific ethical theory utilized. Some theories dictate that only humans should receive moral consideration, while other wish to extend this consideration towards not only animals but inanimate objects as well. For the purpose of this essay I will examine the issue of animal rights from both a utilitarian and a Kantian perspective. I intend to show that ultimately a utilitarian outlook is superior to Kant's Categorical Imperative, and ultimately will also prove that animals do deserve our consideration and consequently many of our practices regarding animals should be ceased or severely altered.

Before delving into the issue at hand it is first necessary to deliver a brief exposition which will elucidate the general principles of the two theories which will be incorporated hereafter. I have already written extensively on utilitarianism so to quickly reiterate, this theory basically judges actions as right or wrong depending on the consequences. Utilitarians must take into account the overall pleasure and pain which would result and then choose the action which brings amount the greatest possible amount of happiness coupled with the least amount of suffering. The Categorical Imperative, on the other hand, places moral value on the act itself, not the consequence. This ethical framework rests on two primary ideas. First, one must "act according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will it should become a universal law."# As James Rachels explains, When you are contemplating doing a particular action, you are to ask what rule you would be following if you were to do that action. ( This will be the ‘maxim' of the act) Then you are to ask whether you would be willing for the rule to be followed by everyone all the time. (That would make it a "universal law" in the relevant sense) If so, the rule may be followed, and the act is permissible. However, if you would not be willing for everyone to follow the rule, then you may not follow it, and the act is morally impermissible.#

Yet the other concept on which this theory in founded is more relevant to my current focus. Kant placed a great amount of importance on the idea of human dignity. He felt that all humans have an "intrinsic worth"# and should be treated accordingly. Kant believed that one should "act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always...
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