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3.2: General Theories and Particular Cases

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  • This Chapter will get an initial presentation of three of the most influential methods of moral thinking for human to human interactions that have been extended to apply to human to animal interactions, i.e., how humans ought to treat non-human animals. These perspectives are, first, a demand for equality or equal moral consideration of interests (developed by Peter Singer; however he sometimes describes his ethical theory as a form of utilitarianism, although his book Animal Liberation does not presuppose it); second, a demand for respect of the moral right to respectful treatment (developed by Tom Regan); and, third, a demand that moral decisions be made fairly and impartially and the use of a novel thought experiment designed to ensure this (developed by Mark Rowlands, following John Rawls, the most influential political philosopher of the twentieth century).

    We want to try to focus on these theories in themselves and their implications for animals “in general,” without so much focus on what they imply for particular uses of animals, e.g., for food, fashion experimentation, entertainment, and other purposes. This attempt to make things a bit more abstract and general might seem forced, and we will surely understand the theories more deeply more when we see them applied to particular cases. Nevertheless, we want to try to evaluate these theories as true or false, well- supported or not, on their own terms.

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