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As an argument against bestiality, it is often said that animals are not able to consent to sex. If this is the case, though, wouldn't that mean that every instance of two animals mating is an instance of rape, since presumably neither of them are able to consent?

Well, if someone is struck by lightning is it murder? A necessary condition for the commission of a crime is that the candidate criminal be an agent. Arguably, non-human animals are not. So, just as they can't consent to sex, they are incapable of rape or murder. Concepts of moral or criminal propriety just don't apply to non-human sex. One reason one is tempted to think otherwise is that non-human animals have moral standing. That is, they are the proper objects of moral consideration, and one can act morally or immorally towards them. But not everything with moral standing is a moral agent. Now, having said that, I do think there are other reasons for your justly wondering about this question. The sexual congress of plants and microbes doesn't raise this question. You aren't likely to wonder whether bees rape flowers. But the sexual activity of animals more closely related to humans seems strikingly similar to our own conduct, as do many non-human ways of eating. Moreover, non-humans close to us can...

Given that that most people would agree with 1 and 2 that: 1. Causing great suffering is wickedness if done in the absence of qualifying conditions. For example bombing a city is generally wrong since it causes suffering but if bombing that city ends a war then that is a qualifying condition which may absolve the wrongness of that act. and 2. Eating animals causes great suffering. How can meat eaters see themselves as anything other than wicked people? Certainly eating meat causes great suffering so the only thing that would keep it from being wicked would be the presence of a qualifying condition. What is the qualifying condition in the case of meat eating? That is tastes SO YUMMY?

I agree that all other things being equal, carnivorous diets are morally inferior to vegetarian diets. Those who defend carnivorous diets, however, would cite qualifying conditions of the sort you're asking about such as the following: (a) the limited cognitive capacities of those eaten and/or their limited capacities to engage in the sort of "projects" that indicate moral standing; (b) the absence of suitable alternatives to meat; © conditions that render your second premise (that eating animals causes great suffering) false or at least weak. To elaborate: while animals like cattle and birds may have highly developed capacities to experience pain, the case is less clear with, say, oysters and squid, perhaps other fish; even plants exhibit "distress" when harvested. In short, the line is difficult to draw with regard to the experience of pain, let alone pain itself. Here empirical science is likely to improve our understanding of pain and the experience of pain. Nevertheless, the ability to suffer is...

Peter Singer has popularized the term "speiciesism." It's the idea that we are biased or prejudiced towards our own species. Therefore, the argument says, we should have equal consideration for animals. However, this won't apply to animals. The lion will still eat the gazelle, the sharks will eat the dolphins, and any carnivore will eat any animal. I can imagine Singer replying that animals don't have the rational capacity to do ethics. The ideas that Singer presents only applies to us humans. But if this is the case, isn't that a form of speciesism?

You've landed upon what I think of as the reciprocity issue in morals. Do moral agents like us have obligations towards beings that do not or cannot reciprocate? One thing to keep in mind is that even among human beings we don't require reciprocity. We recognize moral obligations to treat criminals in morally acceptable ways even when those same criminals won't reciprocate. We recognize moral obligations to treat children, the mentally ill, the comatose, and even the dead in morally proper ways even though they can't reciprocate. So, why should it be problematic that humans recognize moral obligations towards non-human animals that can suffer even when those animals are incapable of reciprocating? One has to, I think, distinguish between beings that I would call "moral agents" from beings that have "moral standing." Beings that are moral agents are beings that are capable of understanding and acting on "moral considerations." Beings that have moral standing are beings to which...

Hi- I got this question from Harvard Econ. Prof. Greg Mankiw's blog. He got it from Richard Rorty. Here it is: "Aliens from another planet, with vastly superior intelligence to humans, land on earth in order to consume humans as food. What argument could you make to convince the aliens not to eat us that would not also apply to our consumption of beef?" What's the answer!?!?! Thanks!

It's a fine question, isn't it. Short, sweet, and deeply provocative. In the interests of full disclosure, however, I should, at the outset, let you know that I don't think we should eat beef--in part because of the sort of reasons this question elicits. That being said, I don't think that the claim the question seems to advance is by itself decisive--namely that it's human's superior intelligence that provides grounds for eating beef. After all, if minimal intelligence itself justified eating an organism, then humans with minimal intelligence (including the aged, those with brain injuries, infants and fetuses, the mentallly retarded, public officials, etc.) would be candidates for consumption, and various computers would have moral standing. But establishing moral standing isn't simply a matter of determining intelligence. Rather, I'd say that what principally (not exclusively) marks an entity as one not to be consumed is its sharing or its capacity to share (or have shared) in certain projects and...

How can speciesism, be immoral for people, but moral for the animals that clearly prefer their own species? If animals are morally culpable for speciesism, can animals be held morally responsible for other things like murder?

I agree with John Moore's response. I'd add these two additional considerations. First, it might be a bit strained to say that non-human animals are guilty of "speciesism" insofar as it may not really make sense to say that those animals possess the concept of "species," much less act upon it. To be a speciesist, I'd say, requires something like this: that "one use the concept of species to justify excluding certain beings from moral consideration" (one might add, I suppose, "in an indefensible way"). Other animals might in practice discriminate among prey and non-prey in ways that we can articulate through the ideology of species; but I don't think they themselves use that ideology to make their discriminations. Secondly, I think it an interesting question as to the extent to which non-human animals might be initiated in meaningful ways into the moral world we humans inhabit. Vicki Hearne, I think, has some interesting thoughts along these lines. In my own work, I've used Hume's theoretical...

If Cheese is made of bacteria culture, and bacteria is alive, is it wrong to eat cheese and yogurt? Or plants and anything else that is alive? If so, why do we have laws to protect people, animals, and other multi-organism beings, but not bacteria, which plays just as inportant, or even a more important role, than say a cat?

What role? Not the role of my companion. What makes a role "important"? Note that much of the "role" bacteria plays is that of food for other organisms. Like that of Titus Andronicus, some important roles end in suffering and death. So, I don't think the concept of "important role" will explain laws prohibiting the killing and tormenting of various organisms. For my own part, I look to three features of some organisms that distinguish them from others and justify protections and cultivation: (1) the capacity for conscious suffering; (2) the capacity to engage in projects and practices of value (like writing philosophy, making art, building just societies, sustaining families, advanciing learning and wisdom); and (3) the capacity to contribute to the diminishment of conscious suffering and or the support of projects and practices of value. This set of criteria provides a hierarchy of organisms, but not a terribly clean one (I like that about it). Some bacteria are worthy of protction or cultivation...