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Animal Welfare pp 143-149 | Cite as

A General Theory of Our Moral Obligations to Nonhuman Animals

Abstract

The Sumner/Haynes framework in discussing animal welfare has the followings features: When we appraise the welfare of others, we are concerned with finding out how satisfied they are with the way that their life is going. But we also want to know whether their ambitions are properly enlightened and have been formed with a relatively high degree of autonomy. Otherwise, we might think of someone who is willing to settle for what we would usually consider to be a poor lot that they have been oppressively socialized to believe that they only deserve what they have or that what they have is fitting for the kind of person they believe themselves to be. Similarly, when we appraise our own life in terms of how well it is going, we look to see how well we are achieving our prudential aims, but also we may wonder whether we ought to modify some of them in order to be more or less ambitious in what we hope to secure out of living, and in doing this, may also wonder to what extent our ambitions or lack thereof have been influenced in ways that we ought to reject in our own interest. We also wonder whether something would truly benefit (or harm) us if we acquired it, and whether engaging in various sorts of activities would serve or be contrary to our interests. One limitation in applying Sumner’s view of human welfare to nonhuman animals is the likelihood that nonhuman animals may lack the ability to stand back from their lives and try to assess how successful they are, or think about the extent to which their goals are realistically ambitious enough. However, there is no reason why we cannot perform both of these functions for animals in our care or for animals whose liberation from oppressive exploitation we are seeking. It should be part of the goals of an enlightened animal welfare science to perform these tasks in behalf of animals used by humans to serve human purposes in the sense that the science should seek to discover what really is in the interests of the animals that we are using, at least at the generic level, and what is contrary to their interests. They can do this by starting with a list of things that are standardly of prudential value to sentient beings (comfort, health, lack of stress, pleasures, absence of pain and fear, etc.) and then try to find out what produces the desirable and undesirable experiences for various types of animals. To do this, as I have suggested earlier, does not require a theory of animal welfare. It is not clear to me, however, that the second task, assessing the authenticity, in Sumner’s words, of these goals, has been appropriately acknowledged as one that is incumbent on animal custodians (or liberators). So the Sumner/Haynes framework invites us to look at the moral responsibilities of both assessors and custodians to identify authentically appropriate goals for animals being used by humans and to aid animals in our care to achieve these goals.

Keywords

Animal Welfare Moral Responsibility Moral Obligation Nonhuman Animal Fair Exchange 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2008

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