Against animal replaceability: a restriction on consequences

In Michael Schefczyk & Christoph Schmidt-Petri (eds.), Utility, Progress, and Technology: Proceedings of the 15th Conference of the International Society for Utilitarian Studies. Karlsruhe: KIT Scientific Publishing. pp. 183-192 (2021)
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Animal replaceability is supposed to be a feature of some consequentialist theories, like Utilitarianism. Roughly, an animal is replaceable if it is permissible to kill it because the disvalue thereby caused will be compensated by the value of a new animal’s life. This is specially troubling since the conditions for such compensation seem easily attainable by improved forms of raising and killing animals. Thus, grounding a strong moral status of animals in such theories is somewhat compromised. As is, consequently, their position as an alternative to rights-based theories in animal ethics. Recognising this, some utilitarians tried to disassociate utilitarianism and replaceability. I will here add my voice to this project. However, instead of seeing the culprit in the usual suspects (hedonism, maximisation or the total view), I advance a new proposal. After identifying that the compensating value for a disvaluable action has to be its consequence, I present a restriction on consequences: consequences of sequences of actions cannot be consequences of the isolated actions in the sequences. Given this, the main argument is simple: killing an animal is permissible only if the the value of the new animal’s life is a consequence of the killing; but this value is a consequence of a sequence of actions which involves the killing plus some additional actions; therefore, since, via the restriction, such value is not a consequence of the killing, it is irrelevant to its normative status. I then present two further motivations for the restriction: firstly, it prevents the value of conditional actions from trivially influencing the value of the actions on which they are conditional; secondly, it is useful – even if not a complete solution – to reply other objections to consequentialism: the accordion effect of action and the cluelessness problem. I finally consider a couple of objections.



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Ricardo Miguel
Universidade de Lisboa

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References found in this work

Practical Ethics.Peter Singer - 1979 - Cambridge University Press.
The Case for Animal Rights.Tom Regan - 1985 - Univ of California Press.
The case for animal rights.Tom Regan - 2009 - In Steven M. Cahn (ed.), Noûs. Oxford University Press. pp. 425-434.
Practical Ethics.Peter Singer - 1979 - Philosophy 56 (216):267-268.
Consequentialism and Cluelessness.James Lenman - 2000 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 29 (4):342-370.

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