素食主肉者認為吃肉不道德﹐主要分從兩個不同方向的推論入手。第一個推論是Peter Singer的功用主義﹐認為任何導致痛苦的行為也是不道德。殺生吃肉或作動物實驗會令到動物痛苦﹐所以吃肉是不道德的行為。第二個推論是Tom Regan的動物生存權﹐他認為任何有生命的東西也有生存權﹐殺生吃肉等同侵犯動物的生存權利﹐所以吃肉是不道德的行為。
兩個推論乍看好像言之成理﹐但本身有內在問題。Singer的功用主義是一個只問結果﹐不問過程的道德理論。道德就是要令到最多人得到最多快樂﹐功用主義容許為大部份人的利益﹐而犧牲小部份人的權利。我們可以假定每個人能感到的快樂和痛苦大致相同﹐但我們不能說動物能夠感受和人類同樣程度的快樂或痛苦。動物沒有思考的能力﹐不能明白高層次快樂和受苦的抽像慨念﹐只能感受到神經系統中生物學上的痛。當計算功用成本時﹐人類吃肉帶來的快樂﹐用動物做實驗造福社會的快樂﹐遠遠超出動物受到的痛苦﹐所以人類可以犧牲動物的權利不顧。事實上在傳統功用主義者如John Stuart Mills﹐或古典哲學如亞里士多德﹐快樂的定義是指人類思想心靈上的快樂﹐輕視動物般的肉體享受或痛苦。因些在計算功用時﹐只需要考慮人類的高等感受﹐可以不用理會動物的低等感受。
Do we have a moral duty to become vegetarians?
The supporters of animal rights often argue that it is wrong for us to eat meat. They claim that we have a moral duty to become vegetarians. There are two major arguments commonly used by advocates of vegetarianism to support their claims. The first approach based on the utilitarian principle proposed by Peter Singer in his paper “All Animals Are Equal”. He claims that it is wrong for us to cause animal suffering. The second is a right-based approach proposed by Tom Regan in his paper “The Case for Animal Rights”. Out of the two arguments, Regan made a much stronger claim than Singer. He says that it is fundamentally wrong for us to view animals as our resources (p.388). It is wrong for us to kill animals for food; therefore it is wrong to eat meat. In this paper, I will examine Regan’s claim and show his argument fails to establish animals have the rights not to be killed by human.
Regan begins his argument with an obvious moral claim: human has rights; individual human has rights regardless of their usefulness to others. It is wrong to kill human for food. Then he queries into the justification of human rights. He rejected the explanation to justify the origin of human rights from contractarianism and utilitarianism theory. He says contractarianism denies the moral tolerability of racial, sexual and social discrimination and utilitarianism in principle violate individual’s rights by allowing evil means that lead to good result (p.393). He claims that it is only rational to explain the foundation of human rights from the inherent value of human. Using the examples of marginal human, such as infants and mental retarded people, Regan established that human possess inherent value not because of our rational capacity. Human have inherent value because we are subjects of lives. In other word, all subjects of live have inherent value. Animals are subjects of lives. All who have inherent value have it equally, whether they are human or animals (p.394). We have to recognize the equal inherent value of animals and their equal right to be treated with respect. It is wrong to kill human for food, so it is wrong to kill animal for food. Therefore we are morally required to be vegetarians. Here I summarize Regan’s argument in standard form:
- Human have rights not to be killed for food.
- Human rights are justified by the inherent value of human.
- All subjects of lives have inherent value and have it equally.
- Animals are subjectsof lives.
- Animals haveinherent value which justify animal rights
- Therefore, animals have rights not be killed for food.
In Regan’s argument, the center of his claim is premise 3 that all subjects of lives, including animals, have equal inherent value. I am going to reject this premise by scrutinizing Regan’s objections against other moral theories that justify only rational being, which includes human but exclude animals, possess inherent value. Premise 3 is false if a moral theory can successfully explain why only rational being have inherent value. If premise 3 is false, then Regan’s argument on animal rights is unsound and we have be no moral reason to become vegetarians.
I agree with Regan that utilitarianism has a hard time explaining why human have rights. Utilitarianism is a situational moral theory, so in principle it allows violations of individual’s rights in the name of common good. However I think Regan’s objection to contractarianism is very weak. In contractarianism, the nature of morality is based on contracts agreed by people for their own benefits. People agree to form moral community that defines the rights and the duties of its members. This basic form contractarianism indeed fails to explain why racial or sexual discrimination is immoral. It permits the majorities to form a moral community that violate the human rights of the minorities. To fix this obvious problem, John Rawls sets forth a version of contractarianism that begins with the original position. He maintains the basic feature of contractarianism that individuals are rational and self-interested, who want to choose a moral principle that benefits them most. He puts the contractors behind a veil of ignorance in the original position so that they do not know the arbitrary factors of being a human, such as whether one is black or white, male or female, genius or dumb. By ignoring those factors, we can ensure the moral principles agree upon are not based on bias or prejudice, thus condemn any form of discrimination. Regan uses the examples from marginal human to reject the crudest form of contractarianism. However he failed to consider the more refined and subtle form of contractarianism proposed by Rawls, since morality determine behind the veil of ignorance protects the human rights of marginal human.
Regan replies that Rawls ‘contractarianism theory remains deficient: it systematically denies that we have direct duties to those human beings who do not have a sense of justice – young children, for instance, and many mentally retarded humans (p.391). I think Regan is being unfair in his reply by misrepresenting Rawls. It is hard to believe Rawls would allow his moral theory to justify the torturing of young children or retarded humans. Rawls is one of the most influential political philosophers in the 20th century. His theory of justice helped to shape the policies of many liberal governments. It would be absurd to say his theory systematically denies human rights of some human in the society. According to Rawls, the contractors behind the veil of ignorance not only care the interest for themselves, but also care the interest of their loved ones – be they infants or mentally retarded. In order to have good a life, the contractors would choose a moral principle that protects the human rights for the margin humans, since they would not know whether their loved one fall into that unfortunate category. The inherent value of marginal human can be perfectly explained by Rawls contractarianism; therefore Regan cannot claim inherent value is a feature of all subject of lives.
Regan may object to Rawls’ theory on the basis that the veil of ignorance cannot explain our moral intuition on why torturing animals for fun is wrong. I think Regan’s objection from moral intuition is also very weak. Intuitionism is rejected by Rawls as being both theoretically and practically unhelpful. There are many conflicting moral intuitions.It is wrong to torture animals for fun is one moral principle.Human has the rights to kill animals for food or scientific experiment is another moral principle. Intuitionism provides no system for ranking these competing principles. We have to use our considered judgment and determine which principle is more important in the situation. Rawls’ theory of justice provides a concrete guidance to decide which moral principles are most important. Under contractarianism, rational beings agree on the rights and duties of each member in the moral communities out of self interest. The rational beings gain no interest for granting any rights to the animals. Therefore, out of self interest, it is only rational to treat animals as merely resources.
Under contractarianism, animals do enjoy some indirect protection serving as resources to human, which provide explanations to the moral intuitions regarding animals. It is wrong to torture animals own by other people, because it violates the property rights of others. It is wrong to over exploit wild animals and drive them into extinction, because it destroys the ecosystem and brings harm to every human. Back to the question on why it is wrong to torture animal for fun. Contractarianism can explain this moral intuition with a general moral principle; it is wrong to destroy useful resource without bringing any benefit. Since resources are limited, out of self interest, rational beings would agree it is wrong to waste any valuable resources. Take an example; it is wrong to blow up your car for fun, because cars are valuable resources. If you no longer wish to own your car, you can sell it or give it away so that someone can put it into better use. Animals are valuable resources to human; torturing those for fun does not fully utilizes the value of the animals, so it is wrong to torture animals for fun.On the other hand, harvesting animals for food or use those in experiments serve the interests of human, therefore it is morally right according to contractarianism.
In conclusion, Regan fails to reject contractarianism as an explanation for human rights. Rawls’ theory of justice solves the problem of marginal human having inherent value. We have no reasonable ground to accept Regan’s claim that all subjects of lives have inherent value. Since animals have no inherent value, they have no rights. In fact, according to contractarianism, rational beings are morally required to do whatever benefits us most and ignore the conflicting interests of those outside the moral community. It is morally right to killing animals for food if eating meat serves the interest of mankind. Therefore it is morally acceptable to kill animals for food and we have no moral obligation to become vegetarians.