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Humanities LibreTexts

3.4: Sufficient Conditions for Taking Someone’s Interests Seriously

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  • The cases for animals can be seen as an attempt to identify this ‘this’ here:

    If a being is like this ____, then we must take its interests seriously, it’s wrong to harm it (except for very good reasons), we must respect it, etc.

    Animal advocates typically argue that if we look at what we think about human beings, it appears that we think (or should think) that all human beings, especially those who are vulnerable – the very young and old – deserve such protections: e.g., none should be eaten, worn and experimented on. These philosophers argue that, for human beings, we seem to think the ‘this’ above is just consciousness or sentience or, as Regan puts it, being a “subject of a life,” and that this is a sufficient condition for it being the case that a being is wrong to harm. They argue that this principle applies to (some) animals as well, those animals that possess the relevant characteristics that humans have.

    Most critics of this reasoning attempt to find other characteristics that would account for the wrongness of harming human beings, but seek characteristics that only human beings have and no animals have. The challenge is, first, finding these characteristics and, second, explaining why they are morally relevant.

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