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4.2: General Theories and Particular Cases

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  • Like the last Chapter, 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 will likely be harder than the last Chapter because many objections to pro-animal theories come from particular cases, e.g. arguments like these:

    1. Animal experimentation is morally permissible, if not obligatory.
    2. But if Regan’s theory is true, then animal experimentation is wrong.
    3. Therefore, Regan’s theory of animal rights is not true.


    1. There’s nothing wrong with raising animals to eat them.
    2. But if there’s nothing wrong with raising animals to eat them, then animals’ interests don’t deserve equal consideration.
    3. If animals’ interests don’t deserve equal consideration, then Singer’s theory is false.
    4. Therefore, Singer’s theory is false.

    Of course, we want to know for what reasons we should accept these first premises, especially if we are familiar with ethics! But perhaps a way to avoid some of these particular cases about animals at this time is to focus on what the theories of the critics of pro-animal thinking imply for human beings, especially the young, old, weak and powerless. Various kinds of contractarianisms support poor treatment of animals, but they seem to support poor treatment of humans as well, and so contractarians often feel a need to defend themselves from these objections. Maybe these theories can sometimes be better evaluated from the more neutral concern of human-to-human ethics.

    In evaluating moral theories and thinking about ethics in general, you want to try to have your principles or theories have the right implications for particular cases and have those implications for the right reasons. Unfortunately, there is no exact formula for doing this! Ethics can be hard.

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