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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Ok, so you didn't previously speak of meat eating academics and just saw the necessity to fabricate that part of your 'research' afterward.  I can't believe you are so transparent about your lack of ethics on citing data while using your real name and talking about places you've published.

Your numerous contacts with anti-animal-rights groups suddenly shrinks to one group (mostly) and another that really doesn't have any credibility.  Good luck with that PhD.

what do you mean with "fabricate that part of your research afterwards"? I just had interesting discussions with them. Some of them had more challenging arguments, some of them gave nothing but easy fallacies. But at least I learned a lot about moral psychology :-)

Lack of ethics on citing data?

If you know other anti-animal rights organisations... Most of the discussions I had were from individuals who had anti-vegan websites. My idea was that real anti AR organisations are supposed to be the ones with the best arguments against animal rights. And yes, I learned a lot from discussions, especially with BROK. Some elemens of my five finger ethics were the result of those discussions.

Well you start out saying you spoke with all sorts of vegans - and when I point out the potential for confirmation bias in such a poll group you just tack on, rather artificially, some other 'sources'.

Part of this post-hoc data-bolstering included talks with "anti-animal rights organizations" which, now, as you desperately search for such organizations to try to back up that claim, is turning into a few blogs that seem to offend you.  Ooops.  That's running pretty loose with the data, and it's quite transparent.  If I were you, I would delete me account to avoid having future colleagues running across examples of that sort of behavior.

it was not a poll or sociological study with data ;-) Sorry that I've given that impression. It was rather a quest for ethical consistency. I couldn't find errors in my system, so perhaps the opposition could help me with it. That is my natural inclination: when I have an idea, I test it against the opinions of others. And a claim that eating meat is bad (is like rape and murder, as some might interpret it, so REALLY bad), is a claim that needs thorough investigation, because you are not allowed to make such claims easily. I coundn't do it on my own, because I know I may be biased. Unfortunately, people opposed to that claim were not able to give coherent answers, or I discovered that some of them had basic moral intuitions that I could never share. So I want a coherent system that best fits my strongest moral intuitions. I do believe that most people that I spoke with also share those basic intuitions, but I did not do a study on that. It happens that their moral intuitions cannot be made consistent, and that at least some of their intuitions should be discarded. And I do believe that we share an opinion on what the weakest intuitions are, and they should then be discarded. 

Right, of course - you view those who do not share your 'intuitions' as 'incoherent'.  I'm certain that you really do find them incoherent as you are unable to view any ethical standpoint outside of the dogmatic view of your theology.

oh, this is frustratingly difficult... I do not view those with other intuitions as incoherent. I view incoherent intuitions as incoherent. There are coherent systems different than mine, yes. And after discussions, I find out that the person that has another coherent system, has a basic strong intuition that I really do not share. But his ethical system can be coherent with that intuition. Luckily, I only met a few of those people. To give a trivial example, a rational egoist would be someone with a coherent system (just one rule: do only what is best for you as smart as possible), but it violates some of my strongest moral intuitions.

Then why is it so difficult for you to accept that there are people who do not share your single moral imperative that 'eating meat is bad'?

You offer no qualifications for sentience, disregard any difference in conscious experience between humans and any other species, entertain no alternative options for improving the living conditions of livestock - you simply default back to 'eating meat is bad' and contort your fingers in an effort to make that arbitrary core tenet sound inherent.

Those who do not share your core doctrine of 'eating meat is bad' are not going to view anything other than contrived consistency in your rationalizing fingers analogy.

I don't accept inconsistencies. (and I don't like people having judgments that violate my strongest moral intuitions, but not many people have a consistent theory with such judgments)

I thought I offered enough qualification for sentience: a definition, and some currently accepted scientific knowledge as rule of thumb. That sould be sufficient for now, if you care at least a bit about compassion and suffering. I don't disregard differences, but differences between species don't exist, because species are abstract sets that don't expeience anything. Species, orders, families,... all don't have experiences. Only differences between individuals exist. Stop focussing at species, because that is arbitrary. Antidiscrimination says we should count equal intersts equally. And neither species, nor orders, genera,... count as morally relevant differences for giving different weights to equal pain experiences. Pain for a woman counts equally as similar pain for a cow. (if this comparison between women and cows is offensive to you, then ask the question: do you believe that women don't want to be sentient beings?) And if you still don't know what this equality means, then look at the opening post to get a nuanced picture about five different notions of equality. So even there I clarified what equality is.

Improving living conditions for livestock is similar to improving living conditions for slaves: it remains a violation of the mere means principle, a right for bodily autonomy.The slave abolitionists won: it is disrespectful if you use someone as merely a means, even if you imprive his conditions.

And I derived veganism from the ethics of the five fingers. So the line of reasoning goes in the other direction. Why is it so difficult for you to see what the starting point is, what the direction of reasoning is? I don't start with "we should be vegan" and then come up with intuitions that I translate in a system that leads to veganism. I start with the intuitions, not with veganism. We have to respect the right logic in order to be consistent. Veganism is not the 'core doctrine', it simply happened to be one of the many  conclusions that can be derived from the ethical system that best fits my strongest moral intuitions, and none of those starting point intuitions had anything to do with veganism. I tried to change the ethical system such that veganism would not follow, but I failed. Even after all those discussions with all those people, I still fail to derive another system that better fits my intuitions, and that doesn't result in veganism.

Right, you don't disregard differences, except between species, unless of course the species are plants or you are talking about a wolf's lack of ability to ponder his predatory instincts, but all other differences stand, unless they don't.

You continue to ask that I view an arbitrary set of organisms as having human experience, insight, and emotions.  I could write some children's books like that - but I wouldn't base my world view on such childish nonsense.  Again, I don't share your singular moral position that 'eating meat is bad' so your resulting rationalizations just sound like malarkey.  Perhaps you should try preaching to a religious crowd where people like having arbitrary doctrines.

I was not talking about species of wolves, but about the ORDER of predators. And not about species of plants, but about CLASSES of plants. (I write in capital, so I hops you see it) Stop refering to species. That is arbitrary.

No, actually, we should always talk about INDIVIDUALS.

"You continue to ask that I view an arbitrary set of organisms as having human experience, insight, and emotions."

perhaps I give up... You still don't understand it, it seems. Talking about HUMAN experience is arbitary, There is no such thing as HUMAN experience. There is no thing as BLACK experience, WOMAN experience, PRIMATE experience, MAMMAL experience,... These are all kinds of essentialist thinking, and that is against biological science. Stop being arbitary, by always refering to the human speciess instead of individuals. And stop essentializing things. It is individuals that count, not arbitrary sets. 

"Intuition" is one of those words I don't really trust. If it really means something, why is it almost entirely used by philosophers and religious people? I understand why terms like epistemology and ontology don't come up in daily conversation and are thus understandably jargon, but as I understand "intuition," it would seem to be something everybody does, and yet how often does someone hear a friend say, "I intuited something today" or "I thought I had lost my cell phone, but then I intuited where I had left it"? 

Intuition. Is that like this?:

the latter interprations are not the ones I use for intuition. I use the psychological interpretations (e.g. in moral psychology). Quick automatic, unreflective judgments. For example, when faced with a moral dilemma, a quick response that something is not allowed. After the intuition comes the reflection. My approach of coherentism is similar to the reflective equilibrium of John Rawls.

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