Tom Reagan – The Case for Animal Rights

Moral Agents vs. Moral Patients

Moral Agents:

“Moral agents are individuals who have a variety of sophisticated abilities, including in particular the ability to bring impartial moral principles to bear on the determination of what, all considered, morally ought to be done and, having made this determination, to freely choose or fail to choose to act as morality, as they conceive it, requires. Because moral agents have these abilities, it is fair to hold them morally accountable for what they do, assuming that the circumstances of their acting as they do in a particular case do not dictate otherwise.”

Moral Patients:

“In contrast to moral agents, moral patients lack the prerequisites that would enable them to control their own behavior in ways that would make them morally accountable for what they do. A moral patient lacks the ability to formulate, let alone bring to bear, moral principles in deliberating about which one among a number of possible acts it would be right or proper to perform. Moral patients, in a word, cannot do what is right, nor can they do what is wrong. Granted what they do may be detrimental to the welfare of others – they may, for example, bring about acute suffering or even death; and granted, it may be necessary, in any given case, for moral agents to use force or violence to preven such harm being done, either in self-defense or in defense of others. But even when a moral patient causes significant harm to another, the moral patient has not done what is wrong. Only moral agents can do what is wrong. Human infants, young children, and the mentally deranged or enfeebled of all ages are paradigm cases of human moral patients. More controversial is whether human fetuses and future generations of human beings qualify as moral patients. It is enough for our purposes, however, that some humans are reasonably viewed in this way.”

Two types of moral patients:

(a): “those individuals who are conscious and sentient (i.e., can experience pleasure and pain) but who lack other mental abilities

(b): “those individuals who are conscious, sentient, and posses other cognitive and volitional abilities discussed in previous chapters (e.g., belief and memory). Some animals, for reasons already advance, belong in category (b); other animals quite probably belong in category (a).

When Reagan uses ‘moral patient’ he is referring to type b moral patient

Inherent value

Inherent value of individuals vs intrinsic value of the experiences they have

inherent value is not reducible to intrinsic value (pleasure)

“To say that inherent value is not reducible to the intrinsic values of an individual’s experiences means that we cannot determine the inherent value of individual moral agents by totaling the intrinsic values of the their experiences. Those who have a more pleasant or happier life do not therefore have greater inherent value than those whose lives are less pleasant or happy. Nor do those who have more “cultivated” preferences (say, for arts and letters) therefore have greater inherent value. To say that the inherent value of individual moral agents is incommensurate with the intrinsic value of their (or anyone else’s) experiences means tha the two kinds of value are not comparable and cannot be exchanged one for the other. Like proverbial apples and oranges, the two kinds of value do not fall within the same scale of comparison. One cannot ask, How much intrinsic value is the inherent value of this individual worth – how much is it equal to? The inherent value of any given moral agent isn’t equal to any sum of intrinsic value of the experiences of all other moral agents. To view moral agents as having inherent value is thus to view them as something different from, and something more than, mere receptacles of what has intrinsic value. They have value in their own right, a value that is distinct from, not reducible to, and incommensurate with the values of those experiences which, as receptacles, they have or undergo”

Receptacle view: what is in the cup (pleasure, desire satisfaction) has value

My view: the cup itself has value

“Given the postulate of inherent value, no harm done to any moral agent can possibly be justified merely on the grounds of its producing the best consequences for all affected by the outcome. Thus are we able to avoid the counterintuitive implications of act utilitarianism if we deny the receptacle view of moral agents and postulate their inherent equal value.”

What beings have inherent value? Those that meet the subject-of-a-life criterion.

“To be the subject-of-a-life, int eh sense in which this expression will be used, involves more than merely being alive and more than merely being conscious. To be the subject-of-a-life is to be an individual whose life is characterized by those features explored in the opening chapters of the present work: that is, individual are subjects-of-a-life if they have beliefs and desires; perception, memory, and a sense of the future, including their own future, an emotional life together with feelings of pleasure and pain; preference and welfare-interests; the ability to intitiate action in pursuit of their desires and goals; a psychophysical identity over time; and an individual welfare in the sense that their experiential life fares well or ill for them, logically independently of their utility for others and logically independently of their being the object of anyone else’s interests. Those who satisfy the subject-of-a-life criterion themselves have a distinctive kind of value – inherent value – and are not to be viewed or treated as mere receptacles.”

Does SOAL criterion meet the following demands:

1)   shared by all moral agents and patients who are deemed to have inherent value

2)   It is a categorical value that does not admit of degrees

3)   Separates those that have inherent value from those that are merely alive

The Respect Principle – We are to treat those individuals who have inherent value in ways that respect their inherent value. . . .It enjoins us to treat all those individuals having inherent value in ways that respect their value, and thus it requires respectful treatment of all who satisfy the subject of a life criterion. Whether they are moral agents or patients, we must treat them in ways that respect their equal inherent value.”

“It is not an act of kindness to treat animals respectfully. It is an act of justice. It is not “the sentimental interests” of moral agents that grounds our duties to justice to children, the retarded, the senile, or other moral patients, including animals. It is respect for their inherent value. The myth of the privileged moral status of moral agents has no clothes.”

The miniride principle (minimize overriding)

“By making use of the notion of comparable harm, the rights view can formulate tow principle that can be appealed to in order to make decisions in prevention (emphasis added) cases.”

Df – Special considerations aside, when we must choose between overriding the rights of many who are innocent or the rights of a few who are innocent, and when each affected individual will be harmed in a prima facie comparable way, then we ought to choose to override the rights of the few in preference of the rights of the many.

Reagan is suggesting kind of utilitarianism of rights, but only when we must chose between overriding some rights

The worse-off principle

Df – Special considerations aside, when we must decide to override the rights of the many or the rights of the few who are innocent, and when the harm faced by the few would make them worse-ff than any of the many would be in any other option were chosen, then we ought to override the rights of the many.

The lifeboat case:

All have inherent value (4 humans and a dog) but the human suffer a greater loss of future opportunities in dying therefore our intuitions that it is the dog that must be sacrificed are justified. “Our belief that it is the dog who should be killed is justified by appeal to the worse-off principle”

“Thus the case for animals rights has been offered. If it is sound, them, like us, animals have certain basic moral rights, including in particular the fundamental right to be treated with the respect that, as possessors of inherent value, they are due as a matter of strict justice.”


Alastair Norcross: Puppies, Pigs and People: Eating Meat and Marginal Cases

The case of Fred:

  • Fred is involved in a car accident that damages his godiva gland which can no longer produce the hormone cocoamone
  • Fred discovers that puppies produce cocoamone when tortured
  • Fred tortures puppies to obtain cocoamone, a substance that Fred needs to consume in order to enjoy the taste of chocolate.
  • Fred does not enjoy the puppies’ suffering, but it is necessary for him to obtain the cocoamone
  • Fred is discovered by the police and is charged with animal cruelty
  • At his trial fred uses the defense that he is innocent because he is doing exactly the same thing we do in society all the time and that if factory farming is acceptable then so must his behavior be

Norcross’s thesis:

There is no morally relevant difference between Fred’s behavior and the behavior of the millions of people who purchase and consume factory-farmed meat.

Potential objections:

Objection 1: Fred tortures the puppies himself whereas most Americans do not torture the animals they eat themselves.

Response: What is Fred paid someone else to do it for him?

Objection 2: Meat-eaters are ignorant of the suffering they cause.

Response: maybe that is true of some but not most and in any case you as the readers can no longer use that excuse.

Objection 3: Individual consumers lack the power to put an end to factory farming.

Response 1: Even cocoamone became a large industry it would still be immoral. He tells a story about this to show that our normal and unbiased intuitions don’t except this kind of justification.

  • Response 2a: “The second response to the claim of causal impotence is to deny it”
  • Response 2b: “Even if it is true that your giving up factory-raised chickens has only a tiny chance of preventing suffering . . . your continued consumption is not thereby excused.” (Norcorss, 313)
    • Seat belts on airplanes have only a tiny chance of preventing suffering but it would be morally wrong to not provide them in airplanes
    • Response 2c: Since vegetarianism is becoming popular your conversion to vegetarianism reduces the time to the threshold where the factory farming industry will have to produce less and therefore you save much suffering by reducing the time till the next reduction in production.
    • “It appears, then, that the claim of causal impotence is mere wishful thinking, on the part of those meat lovers who are morally sensitive enough to realize that that human gustatory pleasure does not justify inflicting extreme suffering on animals . . .” (Norcross, 313)

Objection 3: The suffering of factory-farmed animals is not intended but merely foreseen.

  • Here Norcross is invoking what is know as the Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE)
  • The doctrine of double effect claims that there is a moral difference between intended consequences and consequences that are merely forseen
  • The DDE is classically invoked to defend war, in war although we forsee that civilians will be killed we are not intending to kill civilians, so their killing is not immoral


  • The Doctrine of Double Effect is the last refuge of the scoundrel
    • “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” Samuel Johnson
    • The DDE requires some significant good to outweigh the bad, you have to intend to produce some significant good to justify the merely forseen bad consequences.
    • And there is no significant good involved in the consumption of factory farmed animal products

Objection 4: Puppies have a higher moral status than farm animals.

Response: This is not true, especially with pigs.

The ethical status of human and animals

  • There is an assumption that humans have some quality that gives the a certain moral standing that animals don’t have
  • This is traditionally, going back to Aristotle, assumed to be rationality
  • Marginal cases pose a significant challenge to this view
  • “Whatever kind of rationality is selected as justifying the attribution of superior moral status to humans will either be lacking in some humans or present in some animals” (Norcross, 316)

The argument from marginal cases:

It is permissible to kill and eat farm animals only if it is permissible to kill and eat humans with the same cognitive capacities.

It is not permissible to kill and eat humans who have the same cognitive capacities as farm animals.

Therefore, it is not permissible to kill and eat farm animals.

Two Lines of Response to the Argument from Marginal Cases:

Response 1: Kind matters (one of the authors specifically invokes speciesm)

Norcross’ Response: We don’t accept discrimination in other spheres of judgment

Response 2: Sentiment

Warren: “There are powerful practical and emotional reasons for protecting non-rational human beings, reasons which are absent in the cases of most non-human animals” (Norcoss 319)

Norcross’ response:

  • this doesn’t satisfy people who think that marginal humans really do deserve equal moral consideration
  • “What outrages human sensibilities is a very sensitive thing” (Norcross 319)


Peter Singer: Singer Solution to World Poverty


  • Character from the movie Central Station
  • Unknowingly sells an orphan to organ thieves, uses the money to buy a TV


  • Bob has to sacrifice his car/savings to save a life
  • “We same  to lack a sound basis for drawing a clear moral line between Bob’s situation and that of any reader of this article with $200 dollars to spare who does not donate it to an overseas aid agency.” (Singer 223)

How much does it take to save a child’s life?

  • $200



  • Objection 1: People just aren’t going to do that, that is a morality for saints
  • Response:
    • “Now, evolutionary psychologists tell us that human nature just isn’t sufficiently altruistic to make it plausible that many people will sacrifice so much for strangers. ON the fact of human nature, they might be right, but they would be wrong to draw a moral conclusion from those facts. If it is the case that we ought o do things that predictably, most of us won’t do, then let’s face the fact head-on. Then, if we value the life of a child more than going to fancy restaurants, the next time we dine out we will know that we could have done something better with our money. If that makes living a morally decent life extremely arduous, well, then that is the way things are. If we don’t do it, then we should at least know that we are failing because knowing where we should be going is the first step toward heading in that direction.”
    • Objection 2: Why should I give more than my fair share?
    • Response: It is true that if everyone gave their fair share then you wouldn’t have to give more BUT that doesn’t mean that in the actual world where everyone is not giving their fair share you are somehow exempted.
      • “the question of how much we ought to give is a matter to be decided in the real world – and that sadly, is a world in which we know that most people do not, and in the immediate future will not give substantial amounts to overseas aid agencies” (Singer 234)
      • This is a very utilitarian response, a Kantian response might be more sympathetic to this objection
      • Objection 3: It is not my responsibility; it is the governments responsibility.
      • Response: See above.
        • “While the idea that no one need do more than his or her fair share is a powerful one, should it prevail if we know that others are not doing their fair share and that children will die preventable deaths unless we do more than our fair share?” (Singer 235)


  • “In the world as it is now, I can see no escape from the conclusion that each one of us with wealth surplus to his or her essential needs should be giving most of it to help people suffering form poverty so dire as to be life-threatening. That’s right: I’m saying that you shouldn’t buy that new car, take that cruise, redecorate the house or get that pricey new suit.
  • American households should donate any money in excess of $30,000 per year that they earn.
  • “When Bob first grasped the dilemma that faced him as he stood by that railway switch, he must have thought how extraordinarily unlucky he was to be placed in a situation in which he must choose between the life of an innocent child and the sacrifice of most of his savings. But he was not unlucky at all. We are all in that situation.” (Singer 236)

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