The Animal Question: Why Nonhuman Animals Deserve Human Rights / Edition 1

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How much should animals count, morally? Can we defend the continued use of nonhuman animals for food, labor, entertainment, and research? In this landmark contribution to a debate that has raged since the 1970s, ethicist Paola Cavalieri argues not only that many animals should be granted full moral status but also that we are compelled to do so by the most powerful, widely held moral doctrine in existence.

Cavalieri proposes that we extend basic human rights to most of the nonhuman animals that we currently treat as mere things. She contends that the logic of universal human rights doctrine -- a set of beliefs about what human beings are owed morally that nearly all of us accept -- points in the direction of including many nonhuman animals.

In framing her deeply controversial argument, she traces the roots of the animal rights debate in the fields of contemporary ethics and science and examines precedents for it in mainstream Western philosophy. Next she considers the current leading proposals for reforming the way we think about the moral status of animals. Emphasizing that these proposals all derive their core premises from a specific, rather than broadly shared, ethical perspective, she then develops her own radical view that in spite of the phrase that defines them, human rights are not the prerogative of the species Homo sapiens.

The history of what we call moral progress, argues Cavalieri, can for the most part be seen as the history of replacing hierarchical visions with presumptions in favor of equality. The animal question, then, is a profoundly important one -- and our pursuit of answers is part of a vital, ongoing cultural evolution.

Greeted with acclaim on its release in Italy in 1999, The Animal Question is sure to stimulate vigorous debate in the English-speaking world. It makes essential reading for animal rights advocates and will engage all those concerned with the nature, scope, and language of contemporary ethics and the legal system.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A brilliant, concise statement of the argument for attributing basic rights to animals, and a significant new contribution to the current debate. Ms. Cavalieri shows that contemporary discussions in ethics and bioethics risk arbitrariness or incoherence because they have failed to tackle the issue of the status of animals. From now on, opponents of animal rights must try to answer Ms. Cavalieri's argument, and anyone writing in bioethics will have to meet her challenge."--Peter Singer, Princeton University

"This short, elegent, and well-focused book does exactly what it says on the jacket, both front and back, and puts the case for attributing basic human rights to animals. Unlike many who take this side, Cavalieri's argument, set firmly and openly within the analytic tradition, is austere and rigorous throughout, and has none of the hyperbole, the tugging at heart-strings, the harsh detailing that characterizes much that is written in defense of animals."--Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195173659
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 1/15/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Paola Cavalieri is editor of the international philosophy journal Etica & Animali, and has published widely in the area of applied ethics. She co-edited, with Peter Singer, the award-winning 1993 book The Great Ape Project: Equality Beyond Humanity.

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Table of Contents

1 The Cultural Premises 3
A Problem for Political Philosophy: How to Establish Human Equality 4
Bioethical Dilemmas: Who Is Human? 7
After Behaviorism, or How Animal Minds Started to Exist Again 12
2 The Problem of Moral Status 23
Moral Agents and Moral Patients 28
In Search of the Criteria 31
Inclusion in the Moral Community 32
3 The Traditional Accounts 41
Absolute Dismissal, or Descartes and God's Clocks 41
The Superiority of Rational Nature: How Kant Created Humanism 47
Ethics Makes a Turn: Utilitarianism 59
After the Inclusion 67
4 Speciesism 69
Traditional Speciesism: Attributing Weight to Biological Characteristics 71
The Correspondents Approach: Species as a Mark of the Morally Relevant Characteristics 73
An Attempt to Grant Paradigmatic Status to Nonparadigmatic Humans 76
Retreat: Comparable Status, Different Treatment 79
5 Welfare and the Value of Life 87
Welfare 88
When Killing Is Wrong 101
The Value of Life: Qualitative Theories 105
The Value of Life: Quantitative Theories 109
Internal Perspectives on Prudential Value 113
An Open Problem 116
The Notion of Person as an Alternative Solution? 117
6 A Minimal Normative Proposal 125
Human Rights: Sphere of Reference 125
Human Rights: Essential Characteristics 128
Human Rights: Justification 131
For an Expanded Theory of Human Rights 137
Notes 145
Bibliography 165
Index 175
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