Philosophy homework help. Animal Research
We just considered the use of humans in scientific research. Let’s now consider the use of animals in scientific research. The sorts of questions we ask will be somewhat different. While consent is an important issue when it comes to using human in scientific research, the same is not plainly true of the use of animals in human research. Animals are not the sorts of beings that can consent or fail to consent to things, as animals lack the rationality/autonomy that makes consent a morally relevant concept. On the other hand, we did not spend much time talking about the moral value of humans when we discussed human research. Instead, we seemed to just assume that humans are standardly really morally valuable. The same may not as obviously true when it comes to animals. So, part of our consideration of the morality of animal research involves a consideration of the moral worth of animals more generally. Let’s begin with that consideration and see how a couple of different views might be used to argue against the use of animals in scientific research.
Two Approaches against Animal Research
One theory that will attach significant moral value to non-human animals is Utilitarianism. Remember that for Utilitarians pleasure and pain are two morally basic concepts – pleasure is understood as good in itself while pain is understood as bad in itself. One of our formulations of the basic Utilitarian principle was “do whatever maximizes pleasure and minimizes pain on a global scale.” One implication of this view that we did not spend much time (if any discussing) is what it says about the scope of the moral community – that is, what is says about those who matter morally. If pleasure and pain are what matter morally, then it follows that any being that can feel pleasure and pain. And, of course, a great many non-human animals can experience pleasure and/or pain. So, it seems like when we run our Utilitarian calculations, we need to include the interests of those animals.
Consider an example of this – the consumption of animals. Is it morally permissible to eat animals? Well, a Utilitarian may ask us to weight the pleasure produced by our consumption of a given animal and ask us to weigh that against the pain caused to the animal. Of course, that pain is fairly extreme – the ultimate pain of death. So, it seems like the animal’s interests will win out, meaning that in the vast majority of cases one could argue that Utilitarianism implies than eating meat is morally wrong.
One could apply the same sort of argument to the use of animals in scientific research. Consider the testing of cosmetics on certain animals. Given the risk of harm to those animals and how minor the benefit humans receive from this testing, a Utilitarian could straightforwardly make the case that such testing is morally wrong. Now, a Utilitarian (at least an Act Utilitarian) could not offer this assertion as a universal claim. In other words, a Utilitarian should not say that the use of animals in research is always wrong. Instead, they should say that we need to weigh the consequences in each new case, but with the understanding that animals, as experiencers of pleasure and pain, matter much more than is commonly believed.
We could object to this argumentation by offering any of the objections we offered against Utilitarianism. In this context it might be worth noting that a Utilitarian who argues for animal research could almost just as easily argue for human research (even without consent) in any situation where the consequences would be promoted by doing so. This could easily lead us to all sorts of counter-intuitive places).
One of our authors, Tom Regan, offers another objection against Utilitarianism. He argues that one of the biggest problems with Utilitarianism is that it treats us as worthless in ourselves. It is as if we are cups that could be filled with pleasure or with pain. But the cups do not matter morally. Instead, it is what is contained in the cups that matters morally. In other words, we do not matter morally on Utilitarianism, according to Regan. Instead, we are just valueless vessels that can be filled with things that matter morally.
Regan’s Deontological Approach
Ultimately, Regan argues for a strong understanding of animal rights. This is quite different than what we saw above from the Utilitarian. The Utilitarian is better understood as arguing for animal welfare, because the Utilitarian rejects the existence of moral rights. Regan, however, argues that animals have full-blown moral rights – a right to life, a right to liberty, etc. He bases this belief in a deontological approach to ethics. We saw a deontological theory with Kant who argued that given the rational/autonomous nature of persons we have a duty to never violate their autonomy. Regan’s deontology is quite different. He does not appeal to rationality/autonomy as the feature of beings that grant them rights. Instead, he argues that “[i]nherent value…equally to those who are the experiencing subjects of a life.” In other words, for Regan all beings with subjectivity (those who exist as experience subjects of a life) have moral rights, including the right to life. Animals meet this condition. So, it is impermissible to kill them and to mistreat them in other ways.
Using this reasoning, Regan argues that basically all use of animals in scientific research is morally wrong. He says, “Because these animals are treated routinely, systematically as if their value were reducible to their usefulness to others, they are routinely, systematically treated with a lack of respect, and thus are their rights routinely, systematically violated. This is just as true when they are used in trivial, duplicative, unnecessary or unwise research as it is when they are used in studies that hold out real promise of human benefits.”
It is also worth noting that Regan attempts to motivate his version of deontology over those that say that rationality/autonomy is the foundational characteristic that grants rights. Regan argues that if you wish to exclude animals from having rights because they lack rationality/autonomy, then you have to do the same thing for humans who lack to cognitive capacity to be rational/autonomous (that is, those who have significant enough mental impairments). Regan argues that if we want to include such persons as having rights, then we need to broaden our understanding of what makes it such that a being has rights. So, he offers subjectivity as a replacement for rationality/autonomy.
One may to object to Regan is to simply deny that persons with severe mental impairments have moral rights. This reply need not imply that such persons have little or no moral value. It could be the case that even beings that lack rights could still have some significant moral value. Still, most tend to want to avoid claiming that some humans lack rights.
Another way to object comes from Carl Cohen. Cohen argues that “Persons who are unable, because of some disability, to perform the full moral functions natural to human beings are certainly not for that reason ejected from the moral community.” Instead, they maintain moral rights, because they are still the kind of being – human beings – that possess rationality and autonomy.
We might also object to Regan by claiming that his argument produces counter-intuitive results involving weighing the life of a human against the life of non-humans. For example, imagine you were forced to kill either one human being or three rabbits. It seems as if Regan’s argument would tell us to save the rabbits. But this seems counter-intuitive to many.
But let’s turn to Cohen’s positive argument in favor of the use of animals in scientific research.
Two Approaches in Favor of Animal Research
Cohen’s Argument against Animal Rights
Cohen argues that non-human animals lack rights. We can formalize his argument to this conclusion in the following way (let’s call it Cohen’s Argument against Animal Rights):
P1. Only beings of a kind capable of exercising or responding to moral claims can have moral rights.
P2. Non-human animals are not of a kind capable of exercising or responding to moral claims.
- Non-human animals cannot have moral rights.
Cohen asserts that a right is a claim you have against another – a claim to be treated in a certain sort of way. So, the right to life implies that you have a claim toward all others that they must not intentionally kill you (among other things they cannot do to you because of this right). But animals are not the kinds of being that can make moral claims of this sort. An animal cannot let another know that they have no right to kill the animal. Nor can the animal recognize that they have a duty not to kill another. So, since animals are incapable of making such claims, animals lack moral rights.
Now, Cohen is quick to assure us that this conclusion does not imply that we can do whatever we want to animals. We may still have duties to others that are not ultimately rooted in the rights of that person. Still, Cohen argues that those who object to animal research on the basis of animal rights do so incorrectly.
And the same goes for those who argue against animal research on the basis of Utilitarianism. Cohen argues that a correct weighing of the consequences will show that animal research produces such great consequences that it is quite often morally permissible.
One might object to Cohen by claiming that animals have rights even though they are incapable of claiming them. That is, even though animals are not the kinds of beings that can assert their rights, they may still possess those rights. In other words, this is a challenge to P1 above. Imagine, for example, that we met a race of aliens who were like us in every way except for some strange physiological reason, they could not comprehend the possibility of moral rights. It would seem as if such beings would still have moral rights even though they could not possibly exercise or respond to rights. So, perhaps Cohen’s assertion in P1 is false.
We might also challenge Cohen’s Utilitarian weighing of the consequences. For any given experiment, it is unlikely that that experiment will be what produces the great consequences for all. Yet we know in many of these cases that many animals will suffer significantly. Perhaps in the vast majority of these experiments, one could make the case that the welfare of the animals involved outweighs the reasonably foreseeable benefits of the experiment.
Another way to defend the use of animals in scientific research is to assert a dominionist position regarding human beings and animals. In short, the dominionist argues that humans are permitted to do whatever they want with animals. On this view, humans are the ones who matter morally, while animals have virtually no moral value. On this view, of course, animal research would be permissible to further human aims/goods.
This theory, however, leads to all sorts of counter-intuitive results. It seems to grant us license to use animals in any way that we see fit. Of course, it is not too hard to imagine situations where we thin it is clearly wrong to use animals in certain ways. Try to think of some of your own.