The moral hand, a complete and coherent ethic, applied to animal rights

The moral hand is a metaphor of five basic ethical principles, one for each finger, summarizing coherent ethic. It is the result of a ten year study of ethics and it captures my complete ethical system. Each principle generates a principle of equality. To start a discussion on e.g. animal rights and veganism, I will apply the five principles to our consumption of animal products. 

-The thumb: the principle of universalism. You must (may) do what everyone who is capable must (may) do in all morally similar situations towards all morally equal individuals. Prejudicial discrimination is immoral. We should give the good example, even if others don’t. Just like we have to place the thumb against the other fingers in order to grasp an object, we have to apply the principle of universalism to the other four basic principles.

-The forefinger: justice and the value of lifetime well-being. Increase the well-being (over a complete life) of all sentient beings alive in the present and the future, whereby improvements of the worst-off positions (the worst sufferers, the beings who have the worst lives) have a strong priority. Lifetime well-being is the value you would ascribe when you would live the complete life of a sentient being, and is a function of all positive (and negative) feelings that are the result of (dis)satisfaction of preferences: of of everything (not) wanted by the being.

-The middle finger: the mere means principle and the basic right to bodily autonomy. Never use the body of a sentient being as merely a means to someone else’s ends, because that violates the right to bodily autonomy. The two words “mere means” refer to two conditions, respectively: 1) if in order to reach and end (e.g. saving someone) you push a sentient being to do or undergo something that the being does not want, and 2) if the body of that sentient being is necessary as a means for that end, then you are not allowed to treat that being in that way. A sentient being is a being who has developed the capacity to want something by having positive and negative feelings, and who has not yet permanently lost this capacity. The middle finger is a bit longer than the forefinger, and so the basic right is a bit stronger than the lifetime well-being (e.g. the right to live). The basic right can only be violated when the forefinger principle of well-being is seriously threatened.

-The ring finger: naturalness and the value of biodiversity. If a behavior violates the forefinger or middle finger principles, the behavior is still allowed (but not obligatory) only if that behavior is both natural (a direct consequence of spontaneous evolution), normal (frequent) and necessary (important for the survival of sentient beings). As a consequence predators are allowed to hunt. Just as lifetime well-being is the value of a sentient being, biodiversity is the value of an ecosystem and is a function of the variation of life forms and processes that are a direct consequence of natural evolution. The valuable biodiversity would drastically decrease if a behavior that is natural, normal and necessary would be universally prohibited (universally, because you have to put the thumb against the ring finger).

-The little finger: tolerated partiality and the value of personal relationships. Just as the little finger can deviate a little bit from the other fingers, a small level of partiality is allowed. When helping others, you are allowed to be a bit partial in favor of your loved ones, as long as you are prepared to tolerate similar levels of partiality of everyone else (everyone, because you have to put the thumb against the little finger).

-The palm: universal love and solidarity. Do not hate or despise anyone. Love all living beings with respect and compassion. The palm holds the moral fingers together.

The forefinger, middle finger, ring finger and little finger correspond with resp. a welfare ethic, a rights ethic, an environmental ethic and an ethic of care.

These five fingers produce five principles of equality.

-The thumb: the formal principle of impartiality and antidiscrimination. We should treat all equals equally in all equal situations. We should not look at arbitrary characteristics linked to individuals. This is a formal principle, because it does not say how we should treat someone. The other four principles are material principles of equality. They have specific content and are generated when the thumb is applied to the four fingers.

-The forefinger: the principle of priority for the worst-off. As a result of this priority, we have an egalitarian principle of well-being: if total lifetime well-being is constant between different situations, then the situation which has the most equal distribution of well-being is the best.

-The middle finger: basic right equality. All sentient beings with equal levels of morally relevant mental capacities get an equal claim to the basic right not to be used as merely a means to someone else’s ends.

-The ring finger: behavioral fairness. All natural beings have an equal right to a behavior that is both natural, normal and necessary (i.e. a behavior that contributes to biodiversity). E.g. if a prey is allowed to eat in order to survive, a predator is allowed to do so as well (even if it means eating the prey).

-The little finger: tolerated choice equality. Everyone is allowed to be partial to an equal degree that we can tolerate. If you choose to help individual X instead of individual Y, and if you tolerate that someone else would choose to help Y instead of X, then X and Y have a tolerated choice equality (even if X is emotionally more important for you than Y).

The five moral fingers can be applied to the production and consumption of animal products (meat, fish, eggs, dairy, leather, fur,…):

-The forefinger: compared to humans, livestock animals are in the worst-off position due to suffering and early death. The loss of lifetime well-being of the livestock animals is worse than the loss of well-being that humans would experience when they are no longer allowed to consume animal products. Livestock and fisheries violate the forefinger principle of well-being.

-The middle finger: the consumption of animal products almost always involves the use of animals as merely means, hence violating the mere means principle of the middle finger.

-The ring finger: animal products are not necessary for humans, because a well-planned vegan diet is not unhealthy (according to the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics). Biodiversity will not decrease when we would stop consuming animal products (on the contrary, according to UN FAO the livestock sector is likely the most important cause of biodiversity loss). Hence, the value of biodiversity cannot be invoked to justify the consumption of animal products.

-The little finger: we would never tolerate the degree of partiality that is required to justify livestock farming and fishing. Hence, tolerated partiality cannot be invoked to justify the consumption of animal products.

It follows that veganism is ethically consistent, and the production and consumption of animal products are ethically inconsistent.

-The thumb: give the good example, even when other people continue consuming animal products. From this principle, it follows that veganism is a moral duty.

Tags: animal, ethical, justice, principles, rights, veganism

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Nope!

Foot was my first thought when I read the OP this morning, but one foot has no opposable toe. Also, I can't maneuver my feet to the same places as my hand(s), but ymmv?

Oh, now you need ten principles, my friend ;-) The ten commmm...

Veganism bears a lot of resemblance to a religion, especially the moral high horse bit.

And the naivete of it as well. These people who want to eliminate all suffering and death are struggling against reality itself. If by some miraculous magic we actually managed to eliminate suffering, these people would just go on to declare war on death itself. It's infantile to rile up against something that is inherent in nature. We kill, and get killed. We die, and make die. Such is the cycle of life and death. People need to get over it and have a burger already.

I don't know what you try to say. Even if we could eliminate suffering without causing more harm (defined in terms of the five ethical principles), we should not do it? If we could extend life without causing harm, and if we do not do that, that means we do not do something that people might prefer (living longer) and that is harmless. That means you do not take the needs of those people seriously. You could as well stop all medicin, by claiming that dying of a disease is part of the cycle of life and death. Should we respect this cycle more than respect well-being, bodily autonomy and biodiversity? That is not my intuition.

People need to get over it and have a burger already.

I think I saw a burger scene like that in Natural Born Killers.

I wonder how high this statement was :-)

Korsan beat me to it. I was going to say pretty much the same thing.

Why is more biodiversity better rather than just not as much as yesterday or more than 100 million years ago?

Why should I be concerned with increasing the well-being of all sentient creatures in the present and future? Why should we first help the worst off?

Why shouldn't we use other people as a means to an end? What's the basis for that reasoning?

You know what isn't necessary for the survival of a sentient being? Sex. It might be natural and normal, but I'm perfectly capable of doing without. Does that mean that we shouldn't have sex? Considering that humans are the largest cause of the loss of biodiversity, if we all just stopped procreating biodiversity would increase. We'd all be a lot happier because we'd have much more free time to spend on our enjoyment. There are some interesting studies done with cognitive dissonance and the "joys" of parenthood. People still claim that their lives are better for having kids even though they rank their day to day lives as being worse than those who don't have children. Plus, I don't know about you, but after having sex for a long time, eventually I end up screwing just to get off. It's using some one as a means to an end, which is a clear violation.

There are quite a few reasons to not engage in sex just from the application of your rules. I think you have a problem.

To continue: Why is favoring those you care for better than treating everyone equally? Is the answer "because we are inclined to" good enough?

And I definitely disagree with your "palm" principle. I will certainly hate and despise those who have proven themselves worthy of my scorn. I will treat beings with respect up to the point where they have shown that they don't deserve it. I will treat those with compassion who are willing to treat we the same. To do otherwise sets me up to be taken advantage of time and time again. So give me a reason. Why should I love, respect, and show compassion for all those who are willing to kill me, or rape me, or treat me like human cattle possibly for no reason at all?

I understand that you may not have included reasons for the sake of brevity, but without those reasons this simply comes of as the equivalent of religious dogma. It reads like you are saying "do this because it's good" and there is no reason why it is good.

giving moral value to biodiversity is coherent with moral intuitions (in at least three situations: predation, procreation and motion). And it is al least not far fetched to give a value to something that has a tendency to increase. Like well-being.

If you are concerned about impartiality, you can do the thought experiment of the veil of ignorance, resulting in the importance of well-being of everyone who has (and will have) a well-being. Most people are risk and uncertainty averse, and that results in a priority for the worst off. Perhaps you are also risk averse? Second, if you are concerned about the virtue compassion, you can use compassion (develop this virtue, by extending it in a meaningful way towards all and only all sentient beings). Compassion is the strongets towards the worst off. So we have two reasons (impartiality with a high but not maximum risk aversion, compassion with a low but not minimal need for efficiency to increase overall well-being), making it rather coherent.

We sould not use someone as merely means, because that fits with intuitions about slavery, rape, terror bombing, throwing people in front of trolleys (cfr trolley dilemma), sacrificing people (against their will) for organ transplantation or medical experimentation (even if it saves much more lives), and many other moral dilemmas. It can also be shown to correspond with intuitions about doing versus allowing, asymmetry of procreational duties, imperfect duties,...That is remarkably coherent. Read my book if you want to learn morehttp://stijnbruers.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/the-ethical-consistency-of-animal-equality2.pdf

No, it doesn't mean we shouldn't have sex. Why should it? Good sex even does not violate well-being and rights. The rule does not say that something that violates the three N criteria (naturalness,...) is impermissible. It only becomes impermissible if it violates another principle (eg well-being). And sex, by the way, is necessary for populations: without it, biodiversity will get lost. If we stopped procreating, biodiversity will decrease, because a species (ours) goes extinct. We should only lower human procreation to a sustainable level, not stop it.

About the joy of parenthood, you refer to the Kahneman? There  is no real cognitive dissonance, there are two selves, an experiencing and remembering self.

About favoring those I care: I try to meet universally shared moral intuitions. One of them is that some kinds partiality is still allowed. Trick is to state which ones, that is what I did. The mere means principle in fact generate a kind of duty to tolerate some kinds of partiality.

I can't give you ar reason for universal love. But it does not result in being taken advantage of. You can even kill someone with love. There is a (tragic) story about a son doing most terrible things. Mother kills him (there was no other way to stop him), even when she still loves him very much.

-The ring finger: behavioral fairness. All natural beings have an equal right to a behavior that is both natural, normal and necessary (i.e. a behavior that contributes to biodiversity). E.g. if a prey is allowed to eat in order to survive, a predator is allowed to do so as well (even if it means eating the prey).

Please edit the first sentence to get rid of "both" when you have a list of three things.

Should we prevent other omnivorous animals from eating other animals?  I mean, if it is deemed unnecessary for humans to eat meat since we can survive if we supplement a vegan diet with artificial nutrients, what should we do if we could help other animals make the same transition?

Look, you make the assumption that it is not necessary for humans to eat meat.  I understand that humans can survive without meat, but can we thrive?  Does it help us to be at our healthiest if we don't?  The fact that it requires us to supplement the diet with B12 from bacteria is a good indicator that the vegan diet is not natural and would not work if we didn't have the technology.  I want to see you show us that eating meat is not necessary for humans.

And if we're talking about eating exclusively vegan products, soy and other field crops being among them, how do you deal with the fact that animals are killed due to the production of these crops?  Animals are run over by the machinery used to harvest.  Animals are poisoned by the chemicals used to increase the yields.  Natural landscapes have been destroyed to create monocultures and have thus reduced biodiversity.  How can your hand thingy account for this death and destruction that are results of human consumption of plants?  Because if you suggest that there should be a new way to raise crops, you should also consider that there should be a new way to raise cattle and other livestock rather than just condemn meat consumption outright.  Neither of these options is guilt free from animal death.  One (meat consumption) owns up to it, the other doesn't even think about it.

What about all the cute little field animals that would have to be killed to feed the expanded grain and vegetable farming? What about the reduction of habitat available for our wild friend? 

In the end, it's a balloon problem only solved by reducing the population of humans? I suppose that is a more do-able solution than making people dislike meat.

overpopulation is a problem for biodiversity and future well-being, yes. But even with less people, on a per capita basis, crop fields can kill as many mice as with the current population. But vegan agriculture has a less environmental impact; it is the livestock industry that drives grain and soy expansion, using gmo's and pesticides, killing more small animals than vegan agriculture. Even dairy cows consume more grains and soy per liter of milk, then is required for the production of 1 liter soy milk. 

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