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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Why would it be a useless analogy if it points at a central part in a deontological morality: the mere means principle? At least, most people have strong moral intuitions in a lot of situations, that are coherent with this mere means principle. It would be a discrimination to apply this mere means principle to humans (e.g. raping women), but not to animals (e.g. eating meat)

And indeed, the point that you were making, as I understood it, is not morally relevant, because we are not allowed to rape a woman who does not want to have sex with anyone. Similarly, we should not eat someone who does not want to be eaten by anyone.

The analogy doesn't work because there's no clear reason why the badness of rape transfers onto eating meat.  They are objectionable for different reasons, although the two sets of reasons share a single one in common: the violation of bodily rights.  If they shared most or all of their important reasons for being objectionable in common, then the analogy would be a good one. 

The analogy itself is objectionable.  It's disrespectful to bandy it around for the sake of a debate, and it implies that people who eat meat are as bad as rapists. 

"... because we are not allowed to rape a woman who does not want to have sex with anyone. Similarly, we should not eat someone who does not want to be eaten by anyone."  

But women often do want to have sex with people, whereas nothing on Earth wants to get eaten at any time. 

Simon, your respons seems odd: "But women often do want to have sex with people, whereas nothing on Earth wants to get eaten at any time." This looks like you are not targetting the essential part of the argument, which says - using your line of reasoning - that if a woman does not want to have sex with anyone, it is allowed to rape her. You now target the validity of the antecedent, which seems strange to me. I would target the hypothetical proposition itself and not even bother about the antecedent. 

And of course there are animals who want to be eaten in some situations (sexual cannibalism), but that's not important here.

"The analogy doesn't work because there's no clear reason why the badness of rape transfers onto eating meat.  They are objectionable for different reasons, although the two sets of reasons share a single one in common: the violation of bodily rights.  If they shared most or all of their important reasons for being objectionable in common, then the analogy would be a good one."

Why would the analogy not be sufficiently good if they share this crucial point: a violation of an important right to bodily autonomy?

"The analogy itself is objectionable.  It's disrespectful to bandy it around for the sake of a debate, and it implies that people who eat meat are as bad as rapists."

I don't know how your logic works, but if A and B are both bad and if there is something in commen that makes it bad, than either A can be worse than B, B worse than A or they can be equally bad.  I don't know how you can already exclude the first two options by what I've said.

Can you name me all the ways in which rape and eating meat are the same? 

I would like you to find a less offensive analogy. 

@Simon:

whereas nothing on Earth wants to get eaten at any time.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armin_Meiwes

@Strega:

Rape is no more equivalent to sex, than my ramming a bloodied steak down your throat against your will, is fine dining.

Stealing that one. Love ya.

It takes all sorts.  I'm definitely not going round to his house for dinner. 

"Can you name me all the ways in which rape and eating meat are the same?

I would like you to find a less offensive analogy."

Offensive for who? The animals? Meat eating rape victims? Anyway, offensiveness doesn't correlate with moral consistency. It's like saying that god exists because that thought increases happiness and consolation. That doesn't make it true.

There was only one sufficiently relevant equality between rape and meat: both or violations of someone's bodily integrity; in particular: someone's body is used against his/her will. All actions that are violations of bodily ingtegrity, are bad for this reason. Of course there can be other things that make an action (less) bad. I believe that there are no reasons that overrule this violation of integrity in case of meat, but not in case of rape. That is my zero hypothesis, it is up to you to prove otherwise.

I think your reasoning is emotional and confused.  It's philosophically valid to say that in your opinion, because eating meat involves the bodily violation of the animal, it's bad.  It's not philosophically valid to say that for the same reason, eating meat is like rape, and because it's like rape, it's bad. 

To claim that killing an animal for food is the same as raping a fellow human being - is nasty, is an unfounded assumption, and is an inappropriate, hidden attempt to appeal to emotion in order to support your argument.  Argument from analogy is a weak form of argument, primitive and folklorish.  Instead of trying to describe the qualities of eating meat in terms of the qualities of rape, you need to justify your argument on direct grounds or not at all. 

So animals are allowed to eat meat, but we aren't.

Speciesist.

That being said, you still only propose commandments. A behavior is only allowed if it's natural, normal and necessary, (unlike homosexuality, a theist might say). Sounds the same way a theist would argue against homosexuality. Homosexuality isn't "necessary" for the survival of the species, but is that a valid argument against that, or anything else that isn't necessary?

You might like the following two links, an article on vegetarian menus. And PETA's response to it.

It's not speciesist, becaise 1) I pointed at a morally relevant difference (necessity is morally relevant, I think we can agree?) and 2) I never referred to a species when I said "we".

I am NOT saying that a behavior is only allowed when it is natural, normal and necessary. I am saying that if a behavior violates rights, then it is allowed only if it is natural normal and necessary. Homosexuality does not violate rights, so it doesn't matter if it is natural, normal and necessary or not..

On the vegetarian menus... It is clear that the basic moral values of the author might not be in line with my values, or he might be very very inconsistent and misled.

So, we know that people buy food; that food is transported by trucks. Once in a while, there is an accident with a truck, and a child or someone else is killed. So according to his view, everyone is a murderer (killing humans). Of course it's a pity that those food buyers don't eat the dead victims. But now what to conclude? That they should stop buying food? Or that we are now allowed to kill and eat humans just for taste? These are the two options, according to that author. Both conclusions are repugnant, in the sense that they violate basic moral intuitions. But there is a third option, pointed out briefly by Peta. That third option can still make our ethical system coherent.

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