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Practical Ethics

Third Edition

For thirty years, Peter Singer’s Practical Ethics has been the classicintroduction to applied ethics. For this third edition, the authorhas revised and updated all the chapters and added a new chapteraddressing climate change, one of the most important ethical chal-lenges of our generation.

Some of the questions discussed in this book concern our dailylives. Is it ethical to buy luxuries when others do not have enough toeat? Should we buy meat produced from intensively reared animals?Am I doing something wrong if my carbon footprint is above theglobal average? Other questions confront us as concerned citizens:equality and discrimination on the grounds of race or sex; abortion,the use of embryos for research, and euthanasia; political violenceand terrorism; and the preservation of our planet’s environment.

This book’s lucid style and provocative arguments make it an idealtext for university courses and for anyone willing to think about howshe or he ought to live.

Peter Singer is currently Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics atthe University Center for Human Values at Princeton University andLaureate Professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and PublicEthics at the University of Melbourne. He is the author or editor ofmore than forty books, including Animal Liberation (1975), RethinkingLife and Death (1996) and, most recently, The Life You Can Save (2009).In 2005, he was named one of the 100 most influential people in theworld by Time magazine.

Practical Ethics

Third Edition

PETER SINGERPrinceton University and the University of Melbourne

cambridge university press

Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore,São Paulo, Delhi, Dubai, Tokyo, Mexico City

Cambridge University Press32 Avenue of the Americas, New York, ny 10013-2473, usa

www.cambridge.orgInformation on this title:

C© Peter Singer 1980, 1993, 2011

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exceptionand to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,no reproduction of any part may take place without the writtenpermission of Cambridge University Press.

First edition published 1980Second edition published 1993Third edition published 2011

Printed in the United States of America

A catalog record for this publication is available from the British Library.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication data

Singer, Peter, 1946–Practical ethics / Peter Singer. – 3rd ed.

p. cm.Includes bibliographical references and index.isbn 978-0-521-88141-8 (hardback) – isbn 978-0-521-70768-8 (paperback)1. Ethics. 2. Social ethics. I. Title.bj1012.s49 2011170–dc22 2010043690

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Preface page vii

1 About Ethics 1

2 Equality and Its Implications 16

3 Equality for Animals? 48

4 What’s Wrong with Killing? 71

5 Taking Life: Animals 94

6 Taking Life: The Embryo and Fetus 123

7 Taking Life: Humans 155

8 Rich and Poor 191

9 Climate Change 216

10 The Environment 238

11 Civil Disobedience, Violence and Terrorism 256

12 Why Act Morally? 276

Notes, References and Further Reading 297

Index 323



Practical ethics covers a wide area. We can find ethical ramifications inmost of our choices, if we look hard enough. This book does not attemptto cover the whole area. The problems it deals with have been selected ontwo grounds: relevance and the extent to which philosophical reasoningcan contribute to discussion of them.

The most relevant ethical issues are those that confront us daily: isit right to spend money on entertaining ourselves when we could useit to help people living in extreme poverty? Are we justified in treatinganimals as nothing more than machines producing flesh for us to eat?Should we drive a car – thus emitting greenhouse gases that warm theplanet – if we could walk, cycle or use public transport? Other problems,like abortion and euthanasia, fortunately are not everyday decisions formost of us; but they are still relevant because they can arise at sometime in our lives. They are also issues of current concern about whichany active participant in a democratic society should have informed andconsidered opinions.

The extent to which an issue can be usefully discussed philosophicallydepends on the kind of issue it is. Some issues are controversial largelybecause there are facts in dispute. Should we build nuclear power stationsto replace the coal-fired ones that are a major cause of global warming?The answer to that question seems to hang largely on whether it is pos-sible to make the nuclear fuel cycle safe, both against accidental releaseof radioactive materials and against terrorist attacks. Philosophers areunlikely to have the expertise to answer this question. (That does notmean that they can have nothing to say about it – for instance, they maystill be able to say something useful about whether it is acceptable to run


viii Preface

a given risk.) In other cases, however, the facts are clear and acceptedby both sides, and it is conflicting ethical views that give rise to disagree-ment over what to do. The important facts about abortion are not reallyin dispute – as we shall see in Chapter 6, when does a human life begin? isreally a question of values rather than of facts – but the ethics of abortionis hotly disputed. With questions of this kind, the methods of reasoningand analysis in which philosophers engage really can make a difference.The issues discussed in this book are ones in which ethical, rather thanfactual, disagreement plays a major role. Thinking about them philo-sophically should enable us to reach better-justified conclusions.

Practical Ethics, first published in 1980, has been widely read, used inmany courses at universities and colleges and translated into fifteenlanguages. I always expected that many readers would disagree with theconclusions I defend. What I did not expect was that some would tryto prevent the book’s arguments being discussed. Yet in the late 1980sand early 1990s, in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, opposition to theviews on euthanasia contained in this book reached such a peak that con-ferences or lectures at which I was invited to speak were cancelled, andcourses taught by professors at German universities in which the bookwas to be used were subjected to such repeated disruption that they hadto be abandoned. In Zurich in 1991, when I was attempting to lecture,a protester leapt onto the stage, tore my glasses from my face, threwthem down on the floor and stamped on them. Less violent proteststook place at Princeton University in 1999, when I was appointed to achair of bioethics. People objecting to my views barred the entrance tothe central administrative building of the university, demanding that myappointment be rescinded. Steve Forbes, a trustee of the university andat the time a candidate for the Republican nomination for the Presidentof the United States, announced that as long as I was at the university,he would withhold further donations to it. Both the university presidentand I received death threats. To its great credit, the university stood firmin its defence of academic freedom.

The protests led me to reflect on whether the views defended in thisbook really are so erroneous or so dangerous that they would be better leftunsaid. Although many of the protesters were simply misinformed aboutwhat I am saying, there is an underlying truth to the claim that the bookbreaks a taboo – or perhaps more than one taboo. In Germany since theNazi era, for many years it was impossible to discuss openly the questionof euthanasia or whether a human life may be so full of misery as not to

Preface ix

be worth living. More fundamental still, and not limited to Germany, isthe taboo on comparing the value of human and nonhuman lives. In thecommotion that followed the cancellation of a conference in Germany atwhich I had been invited to speak, the German sponsoring organization,to disassociate itself from my views, passed a series of motions, one ofwhich read: ‘The uniqueness of human life forbids any comparison –or more specifically, equation – of human existence with other livingbeings, with their forms of life or interests.’ Comparing, and in somecases equating, the lives of humans and animals is exactly what somechapters of this book are about; in fact, it could be said that if there is anysingle aspect of this book that distinguishes it from other approaches tosuch issues as human equality, abortion, euthanasia and the environment,it is the fact that these topics are approached with a conscious disavowal ofany assumption that all members of our own species have, merely becausethey are members of our species, any distinctive worth or inherent valuethat puts them above members of other species. The belief in humansuperiority is a very fundamental one, and it underlies our thinkingin many sensitive areas. To challenge it is no trivial matter, and thatsuch a challenge should provoke a strong reaction ought not to surpriseus. Nevertheless, once we have understood that the breaching of thistaboo on comparing humans and animals is partially responsible forthe protests, it becomes clear that there is no going back. For reasonsthat are developed in subsequent chapters, to prohibit any cross-speciescomparisons would be philosophically indefensible. It would also makeit impossible to overcome the wrongs we are now doing to nonhumananimals and would reinforce attitudes that have done irreparable damageto the environment of our planet.

So I have not backed away from the views that have caused so muchcontroversy. If these views have their dangers, the danger of attempting tocontinue to silence criticism of widely accepted ideas is greater still. Sincethe days of Plato, philosophy has advanced dialectically as philosophershave offered reasons for disagreeing with the views of other philosophers.Learning from disagreement leads us to a more defensible position andis one reason why, even if the views I hold are mistaken, they should bediscussed.

Though I have not changed my views on those topics – euthanasiaand abortion – against which most of the protests were directed, thisthird edition is significantly different from the first and second editions.Every chapter has been reworked, factual material has been updated,and where my position has been misunderstood by my critics, I have tried

x Preface

to make it clearer. On some issues, new questions and new argumentsrelevant to old questions have emerged. In the discussion of the moralstatus of early human life, for instance, scientific advances have led toa new debate about the destruction of human embryos to obtain stemcells. The developing scientific understanding of early human life hasnot only given rise to hopes of major gains in treating disease; it has alsodemonstrated that many cells – not only the fertilized egg – contain thepotential to start a new human life. We need to ask whether this changesthe arguments about the moral status of human embryos and, if so, inwhat way.

The sections of the book that have left me in the greatest philosophicaluncertainty are those parts of Chapters 4 and 5 that discuss whether thereis some sense in which bringing into existence a new being – whether ahuman being or a nonhuman animal – can compensate for the death ofa similar being who has been killed. That issue in turn leads to questionsabout the optimum population size and whether the existence of moresentient beings enjoying their lives would, other things being equal, bea good thing. These questions may seem arcane and far removed fromthe ‘practical ethics’ promised by the title of this book, but they haveimportant ethical implications. As we shall see, they can serve as anexample of how our judgments of what is right and wrong need to beinformed by investigations into deep and difficult philosophical issues.In revising these sections for this edition, I have found myself unable tomaintain with any confidence that the position I took in the previousedition – based solely on preference utilitarianism – offers a satisfactoryanswer to these quandaries.

That reconsideration of my earlier position is the most significantphilosophical change to this edition. The addition with the greatest prac-tical importance, however, is a new chapter that deals with the great moralchallenge of our time – climate change. Too often, we fail to see climatechange as an ethical issue. I hope this chapter will show clearly that it is.The number of chapters in this edition remains the same as it was forthe second edition because a chapter that I added to that edition, on ourobligation to accept refugees, does not appear in this edition. This is notbecause the issue of admitting refugees has become any less importantthan it was in 1993. On the contrary, it is probably more significant nowand will become more significant still, in coming decades, as we begin tosee increasing numbers of ‘climate refugees’ – people who can no longerlive where their parents and grandparents lived, because rainfall patternshave changed or sea levels have risen. But I had become dissatisfied with

Preface xi

the chapter as it stood. This is partly because the issue is one to whichthe facts – for example, about the possibility of a country taking in largenumbers of refugees without this leading to a racist backlash that wouldharm minority groups within the country – are highly relevant. I had alsobecome more aware of differences between countries that are relevantto this issue, and so I reluctantly concluded that any attempt to deal withthe issue in a single chapter of a volume such as this, aimed at an interna-tional audience, is bound to be superficial. If the issue cannot be treatedadequately and in a properly nuanced way, I decided, it would be betternot to include it in this book, especially as it is one of those issues onwhich governments must set policy rather than one on which individualsactions can make a significant difference.

In writing and revising this book, I have made extensive use of myown previously published articles and books. Chapter 3 is based on mybook, Animal Liberation (2nd edition, New York Review/Random House,1990), although it also takes account of objections made since the bookfirst appeared in 1975. The sections of Chapter 6 on such topics as invitro fertilization, the argument from potential, embryo experimenta-tion and the use of fetal tissue, all draw on work I wrote jointly withKaren Dawson, which was published as “IVF and the Argument fromPotential”, in Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 17 (1988) and in PeterSinger, Helga Kuhse and others, Embryo Experimentation (Cambridge Uni-versity Press, 1990). In the third edition, this chapter includes materialresponding to the arguments of Patrick Lee and Robert George that firstappeared in Agata Sagan and Peter Singer, “The Moral Status of StemCells”, Metaphilosophy, 38 (2007). Chapter 7 contains material from themuch fuller treatment of the issue of euthanasia for severely disabledinfants that Helga Kuhse and I provided in Should the Baby Live? (OxfordUniversity Press, 1985). Chapter 8 restates arguments from “Famine,Affluence and Morality”, Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 1 (1972), andfor this edition, I drew on my much more recent and comprehensiveaccount of the issue in The Life You Can Save (Random House, 2009).The new Chapter 9 draws on material first published in One World (YaleUniversity Press, 2002) and from “Climate Change as an Ethical Issue”, inJeremy Moss (ed.), Climate Change and Social Justice (Melbourne UniversityPress, 2009). Chapter 10 is based on “Environmental Values”, a chapterI contributed to Ian Marsh (ed.), The Environmental Challenge (LongmanCheshire, Melbourne, 1991). Portions of Chapter 11 draw on my firstbook, Democracy and Disobedience (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1973). Therevisions for the third edition also include passages from my responses

xii Preface

to critics in Peter Singer Under Fire, edited by Jeff Schaler (Open Court,Chicago, 2009).

H. J. McCloskey, Derek Parfit and Robert Young provided useful com-ments on a draft version of the first edition of this book. Robert Young’sideas also entered into my thinking at an earlier stage, when we jointlytaught a course on these topics at La Trobe University. The chapter oneuthanasia, in particular, owes much to his ideas, though he may notagree with everything in it. Going back further still, my interest in eth-ics was stimulated by H. J. McCloskey, whom I was fortunate to have asa teacher during my undergraduate years; and the mark left by R. M.Hare, who taught me at Oxford, is apparent in the ethical foundationsunderlying the positions taken in this book. Jeremy Mynott of CambridgeUniversity Press encouraged me to write the book and helped to shapeand improve it as it went along. The second edition of the book benefitedfrom work I did with Karen Dawson, Paola Cavalieri, Renata Singer andespecially Helga Kuhse. For this third edition, I must give what are, sadly,posthumous thanks to Brent Howard, a gifted thinker who several yearsago sent me extensive notes for a possible revision of the second edi-tion. I am also most grateful to Agata Sagan for suggestions and researchassistance throughout the revision of the book. Her contribution is mostevident in the discussion of the moral status of embryos and stem cells,but her ideas and suggestions have improved the book in several otherareas as well.

There are, of course, many others with whom I have discussed theissues that are the subject of this book. Back in 1984, Dale Jamiesonmade me aware of the significance of climate change as an ethical issue,and I continue to check my thoughts on that topic and on many otherswith him. I have learned a lot from Jeff McMahan, from personal contact,from a graduate seminar we co-taught on issues of life and death and fromhis many writings. At Princeton University, I have often benefited fromcomments on my work from my colleagues, from visiting Fellows at theUniversity Center for Human Values and from students, both graduateand undergraduate. Don Marquis and David Benatar each spent a yearat the Center, and those visits provided opportunities for many gooddiscussions. I also thank my colleagues and the graduate students at theCentre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University ofMelbourne for their comments at occasional lectures and seminars atwhich I have presented my work.

Harriet McBryde Johnson and I disagreed vehemently about euthan-asia for infants with severe disabilities, but there was never any acrimony

Preface xiii

between us, and she always presented my views with scrupulous fairness.Sadly, our exchanges ended with her death in 2008, and I miss her criticalpresence.

The astute reader who compares this edition with the previous one maynotice that I am now more ready to entertain – although not yet embrace –the idea that there are objective ethical truths that are independent ofwhat anyone desires. I owe that shift – which could not be adequatelyexplored in a book of this nature – to my reading of a draft of DerekParfit’s immensely impressive forthcoming book, On What Matters. I hopeto write more about this question on another occasion.

Peter SingerPrinceton and Melbourne, 2010

Note to the reader: To avoid cluttering the text, notes, references and sug-gested further reading are grouped together at the end of the book.


About Ethics

This book is about practical ethics, that is, about the application of ethicsor morality – I shall use the words interchangeably – to practical issues.Though the reader may be impatient to get to these issues without delay,if we are to have a useful discussion within ethics, it is necessary to say alittle about ethics so that we have a clear understanding of what we aredoing when we discuss ethical questions. This first chapter, therefore,sets the stage for the remainder of the book. To prevent it from growinginto an entire volume itself, it is brief and at times dogmatic. I cannottake the space properly to consider all the different conceptions of ethicsthat might be opposed to the one I shall defend, but this chapter will atleast serve to reveal the assumptions on which the remainder of the bookis based.

what ethics is not

Ethics is not Primarily About Sex

There was a time, around the 1950s, when if you saw a newspaper head-line reading RELIGIOUS LEADER ATTACKS DECLINING MORALSTANDARDS, you would expect to read yet again about promiscuity,homosexuality and pornography, and not about the puny amounts wegive as overseas aid to poorer nations or the damage we are causing toour planet’s environment. As a reaction to the dominance of this nar-row sense of morality, it became popular to regard morality as a systemof nasty puritanical prohibitions, mainly designed to stop people fromhaving fun.


2 Practical Ethics

Fortunately, this era has passed. We no longer think that morality,or ethics, is a set of prohibitions particularly concerned with sex. Evenreligious leaders talk more about global poverty and climate change andless about promiscuity and pornography. Decisions about sex may involveconsiderations of honesty, concern for others, prudence, avoidance ofharm to others and so on, but the same could be said of decisions aboutdriving a car. (In fact, the moral issues raised by driving a car, bothfrom an environmental and from a safety point of view, are much moreserious than those raised by safe sex.) Accordingly, this book contains nodiscussion of sexual morality. There are more important ethical issues tobe considered.

Ethics is not ‘Good in Theory but not in Practice’

The second thing that ethics is not is an ideal system that is all very noblein theory but no good in practice. The reverse of this is closer to thetruth: an ethical judgment that is no good in practice must suffer from atheoretical defect as well, for the whole point of ethical judgments is toguide practice.

People sometimes believe that ethics is inapplicable to the real worldbecause they assume that ethics is a system of short and simple ruleslike ‘Do not lie’, ‘Do not steal’ and ‘Do not kill’. It is not surprising thatthose who hold this model of ethics should also believe that ethics is notsuited to life’s complexities. In unusual situations, simple rules conflict;and even when they do not, following a rule can lead to disaster. It maynormally be wrong to lie, but if you were living in Nazi Germany and theGestapo came to your door looking for Jews, it would surely be right todeny the existence of the Jewish family hiding in your attic.

Like the failure of a morality focused on restricting our sexual beha-vior, the failure of an ethic of simple rules must not be taken as a failureof ethics as a whole. It is only a failure of one view of ethics, and noteven an irremediable failure of that view. Those who think that ethics is asystem of rules – the deontologists – can rescue their position by findingmore complicated and more specific rules that do not conflict with eachother, or by ranking the rules in some hierarchical structure to resolveconflicts between them. Moreover, there is a long-standing approach toethics that is quite untouched by the complexities that make simple rulesdifficult to apply. This is the consequentialist view. Consequentialists startnot with moral rules but with goals. They assess actions by the extent towhich they further these goals. The best-known, though not the only,consequentialist theory is utilitarianism. The classical utilitarian regards

About Ethics 3

an action as right if it produces more happiness for all affected by it thanany alternative action and wrong if it does not. Two qualifications to thatstatement are necessary: ‘more happiness’ here means net happiness,after deducting any suffering or misery that may also have been causedby the action; and if two different actions tie for the title of producingthe greatest amount of happiness, either of them is right.

The consequences of an action vary according to the circumstancesin which it is performed. Hence, a utilitarian can never properly beaccused of a lack of realism or of a rigid adherence to ideals in defianceof practical experience. The utilitarian will judge lying as bad in somecircumstances and good in others, depending on its consequences.

Ethics is not Based on Religion

The third thing ethics is not is something intelligible only in the contextof religion. I shall treat ethics as entirely independent of religion.

Some theists say that ethics cannot do without religion because thevery meaning of ‘good’ is nothing other than ‘what God approves’. Platorefuted a similar claim more than two thousand years ago by arguingthat if the gods approve of some actions it must be because those actionsare good, in which case it cannot be the gods’ approval that makes themgood. The alternative view makes divine approval entirely arbitrary: ifthe gods had happened to approve of torture and disapprove of helpingour neighbours, torture would have been good and helping our neigh-bours bad. Some theists have attempted to extricate themselves fromthis dilemma by maintaining that God is good and so could not possiblyapprove of torture; but if these theists want to maintain that good meanswhat God approves, they are caught in a trap of their own making, forwhat can they possibly mean by the assertion that God is good – that Godis approved of by God?

Traditionally, the more important link between religion and ethicswas that religion was thought to provide a reason for doing what is right,the reason being that those who are virtuous will be rewarded by aneternity of bliss while the rest roast in hell. Not all religious thinkers haveaccepted this: Immanuel Kant, a most pious Christian, scorned anythingthat smacked of a self-interested motive for obeying the moral law. Wemust obey it, he said, for its own sake. Nor do we have to be Kantiansto dispense with the motivation offered by traditional religion. There isa long line of thought that finds the source of ethics in our benevolentinclinations and the sympathy most of us have for others. This is, however,a complex topic, and I shall not pursue it here because it is the subject

4 Practical Ethics

of the final chapter of this book. It is enough to say that our everydayobservation of our fellows clearly shows that ethical behaviour does notrequire belief in heaven and hell and, conversely, that belief in heavenand hell does not always lead to ethical behaviour.

If morality was not given to us by a divine creator, from where didit come? We know that, like our close relatives the chimpanzees andbonobos, we have evolved from social mammals. It seems that duringthis long period of evolution, we developed a moral faculty that gener-ates intuitions about right and wrong. Some of these we share with ourprimate relatives – they too have a strong sense of reciprocity; and intheir sometimes outraged responses to a flagrant failure to repay a goodturn, we can see the beginnings of our own sense of justice. Observinga group of chimps living together, Frans de Waal noticed that after onechimp, Puist, had supported another, Luit, in fending off an attack froma third, Nikkie, Nikkie subsequently attacked Puist. Puist beckoned toLuit for support, but Luit did nothing. When the attack from Nikkie wasover, Puist furiously attacked Luit. De Waal comments: ‘If her fury wasin fact the result of Luit’s failure to help her after she had helped him,this would suggest that reciprocity among chimpanzees is governed bythe same sense of moral rightness and justice as it is among humans.’

From these intuitive responses, shared with other social mammals,morality has developed under the influence of our acquisition of lan-guage. It has taken distinct forms in different human cultures, but thereis still a surprisingly large common ground which you, the reader, willmost probably share. It is vital for everything that follows in this bookthat we should understand that these evolved intuitions do not necessar-ily give us the right answers to moral questions. What was good for ourancestors may not be good for human beings as a whole today, let alonefor our planet and all the other beings living on it. No doubt small humancommunities on a lightly populated planet were more likely to surviveif they had an ethic that said ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ and, consistentlywith this, favoured large families and condemned homosexuality. Today,we can and should critically examine any intuitive reactions we may haveto such practices and take account of the consequences of having largefamilies or of homosexuality, for the world in which we live.

Many people assume that anything natural is good. They are likelyto think that if our moral intuitions are natural, we ought to followthem, but this would be a mistake. As John Stuart Mill pointed out inhis essay On Nature, the word ‘nature’ either means everything that existsin the universe, including human beings and all that they create, or it

About Ethics 5

means the world as it would be, apart from human beings and whathumans bring about. In the first sense, nothing that humans do can be‘unnatural.’ In the second sense, the claim that something humans do is‘unnatural’ is no objection at all to doing it, for everything that we do isan interference with nature, and obviously much of that interference –like treating disease – is highly desirable.

Understanding the origins of morality, therefore, frees us from twoputative masters, God and nature. We have inherited a set of moralintuitions from our ancestors. Now we need to work out which of themshould be changed.

Ethics is not Relative to the Society in which You Live

The most philosophically challenging view about ethics that I shall denyin this opening chapter is that ethics is relative or subjective. At least,I shall deny this view in some of the senses in which it is often asser-ted. This point requires a more extended discussion than the otherthree.

Let us take first the oft-asserted idea that ethics is relative to the societyone happens to live in. This is true in one sense and false in another.It is true that, as we have already seen in discussing consequentialism,actions that are right in one situation because of their good consequencesmay be wrong in another situation because of their bad consequences.Thus, casual sexual intercourse may be wrong when it leads to the exist-ence of children who cannot be adequately cared for and not wrongwhen, because of the existence of effective contraception, it does notlead to reproduction at all. This is only a superficial form of relativ-ism. It suggests that a specific principle like ‘Casual sex is wrong’ maybe relative to time and place, but it is compatible with such a prin-ciple being objectively false when it is stated to apply to all instancesof casual sex, no matter what the circumstances. Nor does this form ofrelativism give us any reason to reject the universal applicability of amore general principle like ‘Do what increases happiness and reducessuffering.’

A more fundamental form of relativism became popular in the nine-teenth century when data on the moral beliefs and practices of far-flungsocieties began pouring in. The knowledge that there were places wheresexual relations between unmarried people were regarded as perfectlywholesome brought the seeds of a revolution in sexual attitudes to thestrict reign of Victorian prudery. It is not surprising that to some the new

6 Practical Ethics

knowledge suggested, not merely that the moral code of nineteenth-century Europe was not objectively valid, but that no moral judgmentcan do more than reflect the customs of the society in which it is made.

Marxists adapted this form of relativism to their own theories. Theruling ideas of each period, they said, are the ideas of its ruling class,and so the morality of a society is relative to its dominant economic class,and thus indirectly relative to its economic basis. This enabled them,they thought, to triumphantly refute the claims of feudal and bourgeoismorality to objective, universal validity. Then some Marxists noticed thatthis raises a problem: if all morality is relative, what is so special aboutcommunism? Why side with the proletariat rather than the bourgeoisie?

Friedrich Engels, Marx’s co-author, dealt with this problem in theonly way possible: by abandoning relativism in favour of the more lim-ited descriptive claim that the morality of a society divided into classeswill always reflect the interests of the ruling class. In contrast, the moralityof a society without class antagonisms would, Engels wrote, be a ‘reallyhuman’ morality. This is no longer normative relativism – that is, relativ-ism about what we ought to do – at all, but Marxism still, in a confusedsort of way, provides the impetus for a lot of woolly relativist ideas, oftendressed up as ‘postmodernism’.

The problem that led Engels to abandon relativism defeats ordinaryethical relativism as well. Anyone who has thought about a difficult ethicaldecision knows that being told what our society thinks we ought to dodoes not settle the quandary. We have to reach our own decision. Thebeliefs and customs we were brought up with may exercise great influenceon us, but once we start to reflect on them, we can decide whether to actin accordance with them or go against them.

The opposite view – that ethics is and can only be relative to a particularsociety – has most implausible consequences. If our society disapprovesof slavery while another society approves of it, this kind of relativism givesus no basis for choosing between these conflicting views. Indeed, on arelativist analysis, there is no conflict – when I say slavery is wrong, I amreally only saying that my society disapproves of slavery, and when theslave owners from the other society say that slavery is right, they are onlysaying that their society approves of it. Why argue? Most likely, we areboth speaking the truth.

Worse still, the relativist cannot satisfactorily account for the non-conformist. If ‘slavery is wrong’ means ‘my society disapproves of slavery’,then someone who lives in a society that does not disapprove of slaveryis, in claiming that slavery is wrong, making a simple factual error. An

About Ethics 7

opinion poll could demonstrate the error of an ethical judgment. Would-be reformers are therefore in a parlous situation: when they set outto change the ethical views of their fellow citizens, they are necessarilymistaken; it is only when they succeed in winning most of the societyover to their own views that those views become right.

Ethics is not Merely a Matter of Subjective Taste or Opinion

These difficulties are enough to sink ethical relativism; ethical subject-ivism at least avoids making nonsense of the valiant efforts of would-bemoral reformers, for it makes ethical judgments depend on the approvalor disapproval of the individual making the judgment, rather than thatperson’s society. There are other difficulties, though, that at least someforms of ethical subjectivism cannot overcome.

If those who say that ethics is subjective mean by this that when I saythat cruelty to animals is wrong I am really only saying that I disapproveof cruelty to animals, they are faced with an aggravated form of one of thedifficulties of relativism: the inability to account for ethical disagreement.What was true for the relativist in the case of disagreement betweenpeople from different societies is for the subjectivist true of all ethicaldisagreement. I say cruelty to animals is wrong; you say it is not wrong. Ifthis means that I disapprove of cruelty to animals and you do not, bothstatements may be true and there is nothing to argue about.

Other theories that can be regarded as falling under the broad labelof ‘subjectivism’ are not open to this objection. Suppose someone main-tains that ethical judgments are neither true nor false because they do notdescribe anything – neither objective moral facts nor one’s own subject-ive states of mind. This theory might hold that ethical judgments expressemotional attitudes rather than describe them, and we disagree aboutethics because we try, by expressing our own attitude, to bring our listen-ers to a similar attitude. This view, first developed by C. L. Stevenson, isknown as emotivism. Or it might be, as R. M. Hare has urged, that ethicaljudgments are prescriptions and therefore more closely related to com-mands than to statements of fact. On this view – Hare calls it universalprescriptivism, and we shall look at it more closely later in this chapter –we disagree because we care about what people do. A third view, defen-ded by J. L. Mackie, grants that many aspects of the way we think and talkabout ethics imply the existence of objective moral standards, but assertsthat these features of our thought and talk involve us in some kind oferror – perhaps the legacy of the belief that ethics is a God-given system

8 Practical Ethics

of law, or perhaps just another example of our tendency to objectify ourpersonal wants and preferences.

These are plausible accounts of ethics, as long as they are carefullydistinguished from the crude form of subjectivism that sees ethicaljudgments as descriptions of the speaker’s attitudes. In their denial of arealm of ethical facts that is part of the real world, existing quite inde-pendently of us, they may be correct. Suppose that they are correct: doesit follow from this that ethical judgments are immune from criticism,that there is no role for reason or argument in ethics and that, from thestandpoint of reason, any ethical judgment is as good as any other? I donot think it does, and advocates of the three positions referred to in theprevious paragraph do not deny reason and argument a role in ethics,though they disagree as to the significance of this role.

This issue of the role that reason can play in ethics is the crucial pointraised by the claim that ethics is subjective. To put practical ethics on asound basis, it has to be shown that ethical reasoning is possible. Thedenial of objective ethical facts does not imply the rejection of ethicalreasoning. Here the temptation is to say simply that the proof of thepudding lies in the eating, and the proof that reasoning is possible inethics is to be found in the remaining chapters of this book; but this is notentirely satisfactory. From a theoretical point of view, it is unsatisfactorybecause we might find ourselves reasoning about ethics without reallyunderstanding how this can happen; and from a practical point of view,it is unsatisfactory because our reasoning is more likely to go astray if welack a grasp of its foundations. I shall therefore attempt to say somethingabout how we can reason in ethics.

what ethics is: one view

What follows is a sketch of a view of ethics that allows reason to playan important role in ethical decisions. It is not the only possible viewof ethics, but it is a plausible view. Once again, however, I shall have topass over qualifications and objections worth a chapter to themselves.To those who think there are objections that defeat the position I amadvancing, I can only say, again, that this entire chapter may be treatedas no more than a statement of the assumptions on which this book isbased. In that way, it will at least assist in giving a clear view of what I takeethics to be.

What is it to make a moral judgment, or to argue about an ethicalissue, or to live according to ethical standards? How do moral judgments

About Ethics 9

differ from other practical judgments? What is the difference between aperson who lives by ethical standards and one who doesn’t?

All these questions are related, so we only need to consider one ofthem; but to do this, we need to say something about the nature ofethics. Suppose that we have studied the lives of several people, and weknow a lot about what they do, what they believe and so on. Can we thendecide which of them are living by ethical standards and which are not?

We might think that the way to proceed here is to find out who believesit wrong to lie, cheat, steal and so on, and does not do any of thesethings, and who has no such beliefs, and shows no such restraint intheir actions. Then those in the first group would be living according toethical standards, and those in the second group would not be. Butthis procedure runs together two distinctions: the first is the distinc-tion between living according to (what we judge to be) the right ethicalstandards and living according to (what we judge to be) mistaken eth-ical standards; the second is the distinction between living according tosome ethical standards and living according to no ethical standards atall. Those who lie and cheat, but do not believe what they are doingto be wrong, may be living according to ethical standards. They maybelieve, for any of a number of possible reasons, that it is right to lie,cheat, steal and so on. They are not living according to conventionalethical standards, but they may be living according to some other ethicalstandards.

This first attempt to distinguish the ethical from the non-ethical wasmistaken, but we can learn from our mistakes. We found that we mustconcede that those who hold unconventional ethical beliefs are still livingaccording to ethical standards if they believe, for some reason, that it is right todo as they are doing. The italicized condition gives us a clue to the answerwe are seeking. The notion of living according to ethical standards istied up with the notion of defending the way one is living, of giving areason for it, of justifying it. Thus, people may do all kinds of thingswe regard as wrong, yet still be living according to ethical standards ifthey are prepared to defend and justify what they do. We may find thejustification inadequate and may hold that the actions are wrong, but theattempt at justification, whether successful or not, is sufficient to bringthe person’s conduct within the domain of the ethical as opposed tothe non-ethical. When, on the other hand, people cannot put forwardany justification for what they do, we may reject their claim to be livingaccording to ethical standards, even if what they do is in accordance withconventional moral principles.

10 Practical Ethics

We can go further. If we are to accept that a person is living accord-ing to ethical standards, the justification must be of a certain kind. Forinstance, a justification in terms of self-interest alone will not do. WhenMacbeth, contemplating the murder of Duncan, admits that only ‘vault-ing ambition’ drives him to do it, he is admitting that the act cannot bejustified ethically. ‘So that I can be king in his place’ is not a weak attemptat an ethical justification for assassination; it is not the sort of reason thatcounts as an ethical justification at all. Self-interested acts must be shownto be compatible with more broadly based ethical principles if they areto be ethically defensible, for the notion of ethics carries with it the ideaof something bigger than the individual. If I am to defend my conducton ethical grounds, I cannot point only to the benefits it brings me. Imust address myself to a larger audience. ‘So that I can end the reignof a cruel tyrant’ would at least have been an attempt at an ethical jus-tification of murdering the king, although as Shakespeare portrays the‘gentle Duncan’, it would have been false.

From ancient times, philosophers and moralists have expressed theidea that ethical conduct is acceptable from a point of view that is some-how universal. The ‘Golden Rule’ attributed to Moses, to be found inthe book of Leviticus and subsequently reiterated by Jesus, tells us to gobeyond our own personal interests and ‘Do unto others as you wouldhave them do unto you’ – in other words, give the same weight to theinterests of others as you give to your own interests. The same idea ofputting oneself in the position of another is involved in the other Chris-tian formulation, that we love our neighbours as ourselves (at least, if weinterpret ‘neighbour’ sufficiently broadly). It was commonly expressedby ancient Greek philosophers and by the Stoics in the Roman era.The Stoics held that ethics derives from a universal natural law, an ideathat Kant developed into his famous formula: ‘Act only on that maximthrough which you can at the same time will that it should become auniversal law.’ Kant’s theory received further development in the work ofR. M. Hare, who saw ‘universalizability’ as a logical feature of moral judg-ments. The eighteenth-century British philosophers Hutcheson, Humeand Adam Smith appealed to an imaginary ‘impartial spectator’ as thetest of a moral judgment. Utilitarians, from Jeremy Bentham to thepresent, take it as axiomatic that in deciding moral issues, ‘each countsfor one and none for more than one’; and John Rawls incorporatedessentially the same axiom into his own theory by deriving basic ethicalprinciples from an imaginary choice behind a ‘veil of ignorance’ thatprevents those choosing from knowing whether they will be the ones

About Ethics 11

who gain or lose by the principles they select. Even Continental philo-sophers like the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre and the critical theoristJürgen Habermas, who differ in many ways from their English-speakingcolleagues – and from one another – agree that ethics is in some senseuniversal.

One could argue endlessly about the merits of each of these character-izations of the ethical, but what they have in common is more importantthan their differences. They agree that the justification of an ethical prin-ciple cannot be in terms of any partial or sectional group. Ethics takesa universal point of view. This does not mean that a particular ethicaljudgment must be universally applicable. Circumstances alter cases, aswe have seen. What it does mean is that in making ethical judgments, wego beyond our own likes and dislikes. From an ethical perspective, it isirrelevant that it is I who benefit from cheating you and you who lose by it.Ethics goes beyond ‘I’ and ‘you’ to the universal law, the universalizablejudgment, the standpoint of the impartial spectator or ideal observer, orwhatever we choose to call it.

Can we use this universal aspect of ethics to derive an ethical theorythat will give us guidance about right and wrong? Philosophers fromthe Stoics to Hare and Rawls have attempted this. No attempt has metwith general acceptance. The problem is that if we describe the universalaspect of ethics in bare, formal terms, a wide range of ethical theories,including quite irreconcilable ones, are compatible with this notion ofuniversality; if, on the other hand, we build up our description of theuniversal aspect of ethics so that it leads us ineluctably to one particularethical theory, we shall be accused of smuggling our own ethical beliefsinto our definition of the ethical – and this definition was supposed to bebroad enough, and neutral enough, to encompass all serious candidatesfor the status of ‘ethical theory’. Because so many others have failed toovercome this obstacle to deducing an ethical theory from the universalaspect of ethics, it would be foolish to attempt to do so in a brief intro-duction to a work with a quite different aim. Instead, I shall proposesomething less ambitious. The universal aspect of ethics, I suggest, doesprovide a ground for at least starting with a broadly utilitarian position.If we are going to move beyond utilitarianism, we need to be given goodreasons why we should do so.

My reason for suggesting this is as follows. In accepting that ethicaljudgments must be made from a universal point of view, I am acceptingthat my own needs, wants and desires cannot, simply because they are mypreferences, count more than the wants, needs and desires of anyone else.

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Thus, my very natural concern that my own wants, needs and desires –henceforth I shall refer to them as ‘preferences’ – be looked after must,when I think ethically, be extended to the preferences of others. Now,imagine that I am one of a group of people who live by gathering foodfrom the forest in which we live. When I am alone, I find a particularlygood fruit tree and face the choice of whether to eat all the fruit myselfor to share it with others. Imagine, too, that I am deciding in a completeethical vacuum and that I know nothing of any ethical considerations – Iam, we might say, in a pre-ethical stage of thinking. How would I make upmy mind? One thing – perhaps at this pre-ethical stage, the only thing –that would be relevant would be how the choice I make will affect mypreferences.

Suppose I then begin to think ethically, to the extent of putting myselfin the position of others affected by my decision. To know what it is liketo be in their position, I must take on their preferences – I must imaginehow hungry they are, how much they will enjoy the fruit and so on.Once I have done that, I must recognize that as I am thinking ethically,I cannot give my own preferences greater weight, simply because theyare my own, than I give to the preferences of others. Hence, in place ofmy own preferences, I now have to take account of the preferences ofall those affected by my decision. Unless there are some other ethicallyrelevant considerations, this will lead me to weigh all these preferencesand adopt the course of action most likely to maximize the preferences ofthose affected. Thus, at least at some level in my moral reasoning, ethicspoints towards the course of action that has the best consequences, onbalance, for all affected.

In the previous paragraph, I wrote ‘points towards’ because, as weshall see in a moment, there could be other considerations that pointin a different direction. I wrote ‘at some level in my moral reasoning’because, as we shall see later, there are utilitarian reasons for believingthat we ought not to try to calculate these consequences for every ethicaldecision we make in our daily lives, but only in very unusual circumstancesor when we are reflecting on our choice of general principles to guide usin the future. In other words, in the specific example given, one mightat first think it obvious that sharing the fruits that I have gathered hasbetter consequences for all affected than not sharing them. This mayin the end also be the best general principle for us all to adopt, butbefore we can have grounds for believing this to be the case, we mustalso consider whether the effect of a general practice of sharing gatheredfruits will benefit all those affected or will harm them by reducing the

About Ethics 13

amount of food gathered, because some will cease to gather anything ifthey know that they will get sufficient food from their share of what othersgather.

The way of thinking I have outlined is a form of utilitarianism, but notthe version of utilitarianism defended by classical utilitarians like JeremyBentham, John Stuart Mill and Henry Sidgwick. They held that we shouldalways do what will maximize pleasure, or happiness, and minimize pain,or unhappiness. This is ‘hedonistic utilitarianism’ – the term ‘hedonist’comes from the Greek word for pleasure. In contrast, the view we havereached is known as ‘preference utilitarianism’ because it holds that weshould do what, on balance, furthers the preferences of those affected.Some scholars think that Bentham and Mill may have used ‘pleasure’ and‘pain’ in a broad sense that allowed them to include achieving what onedesires as a ‘pleasure’ and the reverse as a ‘pain’. If this interpretation iscorrect, the difference between preference utilitarianism and the utilit-arianism of Bentham and Mill disappears. (Sidgwick, as always, was moreprecise: in The Methods of Ethics, he carefully distinguishes the preferenceview from the hedonistic one and opts for the latter.)

I am not claiming that preference utilitarianism can be deduced fromthe universal aspect of ethics. Instead of universalizing my preferences, Icould base my ethical views on something completely distinct from pref-erences. Hedonistic utilitarianism, like preference utilitarianism, is fullyimpartial between individuals and satisfies the requirement of universal-izability; so too are other ethical ideals, like individual rights, fairness,the sanctity of life, justice, purity and so on. They are, at least in someversions, incompatible with any form of utilitarianism. So – to return tothe situation of the finder of abundant fruit, who is deciding whether toshare it with others – I might hold that I have a right to the fruit, because Ifound it. Or I might claim that it is fair that I should get the fruit, becauseI did the hard work of finding the tree. Alternatively, I could hold thateveryone has an equal right to the abundance nature provides, and so Iam required to share the fruit equally.

If I take one of these views but can offer no reason for holding it,other than the fact that I prefer it – I prefer a society in which thosewho find natural objects have a right to them, or I prefer a society witha sense of fairness that rewards effort, or I prefer a society in whicheverything is shared equally – then my preference must be weighedagainst the contrary preferences of others. Perhaps, though, I want tomaintain that this view is not just my preference, but I really have aright to the fruit I found, or everyone really is entitled to an equal share

14 Practical Ethics

of nature’s abundance. If so, then that claim needs to be defended bysome kind of ethical theory. Where are we to get such a theory? Somesubstantial moral argument is needed.

What this shows is that we very swiftly arrive at an initially prefer-ence utilitarian position once we apply the universal aspect of ethics tosimple, pre-ethical decision making. The preference utilitarian positionis a minimal one, a first base that we reach by universalizing self-interesteddecision making. We cannot, if we are to think ethically, refuse to takethis step. To go beyond preference utilitarianism we need to producesomething more. We cannot just rely on our intuitions, even those thatare very widely shared, since these could, as we have seen, be the resultof our evolutionary heritage and therefore an unreliable guide to whatis right.

One way of arguing would be to hold up to critical reflection andscrutiny the claim that the satisfaction of preferences should be ourultimate end. People have very strong preferences for winning lotteries,although researchers have shown that those who win major lotteries arenot, once the initial elation has passed, significantly happier than theywere before. Is it nevertheless good that they got what they wanted? Facedwith such reports, preference utilitarians are likely to grant that peopleoften form preferences on the basis of misinformation about what itwould be like to have their preference satisfied. The preferences thatshould be counted, the preference utilitarians may say, are those thatwe would have if we were fully informed, in a calm frame of mind andthinking clearly. On the other hand, hedonistic utilitarians would say thatthe fact that we would abandon many of our preferences, if we knew thattheir satisfaction would not bring us happiness, shows that it is happinesswe really care about, not the satisfaction of our preferences. To this thepreference utilitarians may reply that a would-be poet may choose a lifewith less happiness, if she thinks it will enable her to write great poetry.These are the kinds of argument we need to sort through in order todecide which is the more defensible form of utilitarianism. Then we alsohave to consider arguments against any kind of utilitarianism and in favorof quite different moral theories. That, however, is a topic for a differentbook.

This book can be read as an attempt to indicate how a consistentpreference utilitarian would deal with a number of controversial prob-lems. Despite the difficulties just mentioned, preference utilitarianismis a straightforward ethical theory that requires minimal metaphysicalpresuppositions. We all know what preferences are, whereas claims that

About Ethics 15

something is intrinsically morally wrong, or violates a natural right, oris contrary to human dignity invoke less tangible concepts that maketheir truth more difficult to assess. But because preference utilitarianismmay, in the end, prove not to be the best approach to ethical issues, I’llalso consider, at various points, how hedonistic utilitarianism, theories ofrights, of justice, of absolute moral rules and so on, bear on the problemsdiscussed. In this way, you will be able to come to your own conclusionsabout the possibility of reason and argument in ethics and about themerits of utilitarian and non-utilitarian approaches to ethics.


Equality and Its Implications

the basis of equality

The period since the end of World War II has seen dramatic shifts inmoral attitudes on issues like abortion, sex outside marriage, same-sexrelationships, pornography, euthanasia and suicide. Great as the changeshave been, no new consensus has been reached. The issues remain con-troversial, and the traditional views still have respected defenders.

Equality seems to be different. The change in attitudes towardsinequality – especially racial inequality – has been no less sudden anddramatic than the change in attitudes towards sex, but it has been morecomplete. Racist assumptions shared by most Europeans at the begin-ning of the twentieth century have become totally unacceptable, at leastin public life. A poet could not now write of ‘lesser breeds without thelaw’, and retain – indeed enhance – his reputation, as Rudyard Kiplingdid in 1897. This does not mean that there are no longer any racists, butonly that they must disguise their racism if their views and policies are tohave any chance of general acceptance. The principle that all humansare equal is now part of the prevailing political and ethical orthodoxy.But what, exactly, does it mean and why do we accept it?

Once we go beyond the agreement that blatant forms of racial discrim-ination are wrong and raise questions about the basis of the principle thatall humans are equal, the consensus starts to weaken. It weakens evenmore if we seek to apply the principle of equality to particular cases. Onesign of this was the controversy that occurred during the 1970s over theclaims made by Arthur Jensen, professor of Educational Psychology atthe University of California, Berkeley, and H. J. Eysenck, professor of


Equality and Its Implications 17

Psychology at the University of London, that genetic differences liebehind variations in intelligence between different races. The issue wasrevived in 1994 by the publication of The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnsteinand Charles Murray. Many of the most forceful opponents of Jensen,Eysenck, Herrnstein and Murray assumed that these claims would, ifsound, justify racial discrimination. Are they right? A similar question canbe asked about the speculation by Lawrence Summers in 2005, when hewas president of Harvard University, that biological differences betweenmen and women could be a factor in the difficulty the university washaving in appointing more women to chairs in math and science. Theensuing row was widely seen as a factor in Summers’ subsequent resigna-tion as Harvard’s president. Was he being sexist?

Another issue requiring us to reconsider our understanding of equal-ity is whether members of disadvantaged minorities should be givenpreferential treatment in employment or university admission. Somephilosophers and lawyers argue that equality requires affirmative action,whereas others contend that equality rules out any discrimination ongrounds of race, ethnicity or sex, whether for or against members of adisadvantaged group.

To answer these questions, we need to be clear about what it is we canjustifiably say when we assert that all humans are equal. We can start byinquiring into the ethical foundations of the principle of equality.

When we say that all humans are equal, irrespective of race or sex, whatexactly are we claiming? Racists, sexists and other opponents of equalityhave often pointed out that, by whatever test we choose, it simply is nottrue that all humans are equal. Some are tall, some are short; some arebrilliant at mathematics, others can barely add; some can run 100 metresin ten seconds, some can’t run at all; some would never intentionallyhurt another being, others would kill a stranger for $100 if they couldget away with it; some have emotional lives that reach the heights ofecstasy and the depths of despair, whereas others live on a more evenplane, relatively untouched by what goes on around them . . . and this listof differences could be continued for many more lines. The plain fact isthat humans differ, and the differences apply to so many characteristicsthat the search for a factual basis on which to erect the principle ofequality seems hopeless.

John Rawls suggested, in his influential book A Theory of Justice, thatequality can be founded on the natural characteristics of human beings,provided we select what he calls a ‘range property’. Suppose we draw acircle on a piece of paper. Then all points within the circle – this is the

18 Practical Ethics

‘range’ – have the property of being within the circle, and they have thisproperty equally. Some points may be closer to the centre and othersnearer the edge, but all are, equally, points inside the circle. Similarly,Rawls suggests, the property of ‘moral personality’ is a property thatvirtually all humans possess, and all humans who possess this propertypossess it equally. By ‘moral personality’ Rawls does not mean ‘morallygood personality’; he is using ‘moral’ in contrast to ‘amoral’. A moralperson, Rawls says, must have a sense of justice. More broadly, one mightsay that to be a moral person is to be the kind of person to whom onecan make moral appeals with some prospect that the appeal will beheeded.

Rawls maintains that moral personality is the basis of human equality, aview that derives from his adherence to an approach to justice that stemsfrom the social contract tradition. That tradition sees ethics as a kindof mutually beneficial agreement: ‘Don’t hit me, and I won’t hit you.’(That is far too crude but gives you the general idea.) Hence, only thosecapable of appreciating that they are not being hit, and of restrainingtheir own hitting accordingly, are within the sphere of ethics.

There are problems with using moral personality as the basis of equal-ity. One objection is that having a moral personality is a matter of degree.Some people are highly sensitive to issues of justice and ethics generally;others, for a variety of reasons, have only a very limited awareness of suchprinciples. The suggestion that being a moral person is the minimumnecessary for coming within the scope of the principle of equality stillleaves it open as to where this minimal line is to be drawn. Nor is itintuitively obvious why, if moral personality is so important, we shouldnot have grades of moral status, with rights and duties corresponding tothe degree of refinement of one’s sense of justice.

Still more serious is the objection that not all humans are moral per-sons, even in the most minimal sense. Infants and small children, alongwith humans with profound intellectual disabilities, lack the requiredsense of justice. Shall we then say that all humans are equal, except forvery young or intellectually disabled ones? This is certainly not what weordinarily understand by the principle of equality. If this revised principleimplies that we may disregard the interests of very young or intellectu-ally disabled humans in ways that would be wrong if they were older ormore intelligent, we would need far stronger arguments to induce us toaccept it. (Rawls deals with infants and children by including potentialmoral persons along with actual ones within the scope of the principleof equality. This is an ad hoc device, confessedly designed to square his

Equality and Its Implications 19

theory with our ordinary moral intuitions, rather than something forwhich independent arguments can be produced. Moreover, althoughRawls admits that those with irreparable intellectual disabilities ‘maypresent a difficulty’, he offers no suggestions towards the solution of thisdifficulty.)

So the possession of ‘moral personality’ does not provide a satisfactorybasis for the principle that all humans are equal. I doubt that any naturalcharacteristic, whether a ‘range property’ or not, can fulfil this function,for I doubt that there is any morally significant property that all humanspossess equally.

There is another possible line of defence for the belief that there is afactual basis for a principle of equality that prohibits racism and sexism.We can admit that humans differ as individuals and yet insist that there areno morally significant differences between the races and sexes. Knowingthat someone is of African or European descent, female or male, doesnot enable us to draw conclusions about her or his intelligence, sense ofjustice, depth of feelings or anything else that would entitle us to treather or him as less than equal. The racist claim that people of Europeandescent are superior to those of other races in these capacities is false.The differences between individuals in these respects are not capturedby racial boundaries. The same is true of the sexist stereotype that seeswomen as emotionally deeper and more caring, but also less aggressiveand less enterprising, than men. Obviously, this is not true of women asa whole. Some women are emotionally shallower, less caring and moreaggressive and more enterprising than some men.

The fact that humans differ as individuals, not as races or sexes,is important, and we shall return to it when we come to discuss theimplications of the claims made by Jensen, Eysenck and others; yet itprovides neither a satisfactory principle of equality nor an adequatedefence against a more sophisticated opponent of equality than theblatant racist or sexist. Suppose that someone proposes that peopleshould be given intelligence tests and then classified into higher orlower status categories on the basis of the results. Perhaps those scoringhigher than 125 would be a slave-owning class; those scoring between100 and 125 would be free citizens but lack the right to own slaves;whereas those scoring less than 100 would be the slaves of those scoringhigher than 125. A hierarchical society of this sort seems as abhorrentas one based on race or sex; but if we base our support for equality onthe factual claim that differences between individuals cut across racialand sexual boundaries, we have no grounds for opposing this kind of

20 Practical Ethics

hierarchical society, for it would be based on real differences betweenpeople.

We can reject this ‘hierarchy of intelligence’ and similar fantasticschemes only if we are clear that the claim to equality does not reston the possession of intelligence, moral personality, rationality or similarmatters of fact. There is no logically compelling reason for assuming thata difference in ability between two people justifies any difference in theamount of consideration we give to their interests. Equality is a basicethical principle, not an assertion of fact. We can see this if we return toour earlier discussion of the universal aspect of ethical judgments.

We saw in the previous chapter that when we make ethical judgments,we must go beyond a personal or sectional point of view and take intoaccount the interests of all those affected, unless we have sound ethicalgrounds for doing otherwise. This means that we weigh interests, con-sidered simply as interests and not as my interests, or the interests ofpeople of European descent, or of people with IQs higher than 100.This provides us with a basic principle of equality: the principle of equalconsideration of interests.

The essence of the principle of equal consideration of interests is thatwe give equal weight in our moral deliberations to the like interests of allthose affected by our actions. This means that if only X and Y would beaffected by a possible act, and if X stands to lose more than Y stands togain, it is better not to do the act. We cannot, if we accept the principle ofequal consideration of interests, say that doing the act is better, despitethe facts described, because we are more concerned about Y than weare about X. What the principle really amounts to is: an interest is aninterest, whoever’s interest it may be.

We can make this more concrete by considering a particular interest,say the interest we have in the relief of pain. Then the principle says thatthe ultimate moral reason for relieving pain is simply the undesirabilityof pain as such, and not the undesirability of X’s pain, which might bedifferent from the undesirability of Y’s pain. Of course, X’s pain mightbe more undesirable than Y’s pain because it is more painful, and thenthe principle of equal consideration would give greater weight to therelief of X’s pain. Again, even where the pains are equal, other factorsmight be relevant, especially if others are affected. If there has beenan earthquake, we might give priority to the relief of a doctor’s pain soshe can treat other victims. But the doctor’s pain itself counts only onceand with no added weighting. The principle of equal consideration ofinterests acts like a pair of scales, weighing interests impartially. True

Equality and Its Implications 21

scales favour the side where the interest is stronger or where severalinterests combine to outweigh a smaller number of similar interests, butthey take no account of whose interests they are weighing.

From this point of view, race is irrelevant to the consideration ofinterests; for all that counts are the interests themselves. To give lessconsideration to a specified amount of pain because that pain was exper-ienced by a member of a particular race would be to make an arbitrarydistinction. Why pick on race? Why not on whether a person was born ina leap year? Or whether there is more than one vowel in her surname? Allthese characteristics are equally irrelevant to the undesirability of painfrom the universal point of view. Hence, the principle of equal consider-ation of interests shows straightforwardly why the most blatant forms ofracism, like that of the Nazis, are wrong: the Nazis based their policiesonly on what would be good for the ‘Aryan’ race, and the sufferings ofJews, Gypsies and Slavs were of no concern to them.

The principle of equal consideration of interests is sometimes thoughtto be a purely formal principle, lacking in substance and too weak toexclude any inegalitarian practice. We have already seen, however, that itdoes exclude racism and sexism, at least in their most blatant forms. If welook at the impact of the principle on the imaginary hierarchical societybased on intelligence tests, we can see that it is strong enough to providea basis for rejecting this more sophisticated form of inegalitarianism too.

The principle of equal consideration of interests prohibits making ourreadiness to consider the interests of others depend on their abilities orother characteristics, apart from the characteristic of having interests.It is true that we cannot know where equal consideration of interestswill lead us until we know what interests people have, and this mayvary according to their abilities or other characteristics. Considerationof the interests of mathematically gifted children may lead us to teachthem advanced mathematics at an early age, which for different childrenmight be entirely pointless or positively harmful. The basic element, thetaking into account of the person’s interests, whatever they may be, mustapply to everyone, irrespective of race, sex or scores on an intelligencetest. Enslaving those who score below a certain line on an intelligencetest would not – barring extraordinary and implausible beliefs abouthuman nature – be compatible with equal consideration. Intelligencehas nothing to do with many important interests that humans have,like the interest in avoiding pain, in satisfying basic needs for food andshelter, to love and care for any children one may have, to enjoy friendlyand loving relations with others and to be free to pursue one’s projects

22 Practical Ethics

without unnecessary interference from others. Slavery prevents the slavesfrom satisfying these interests as they would want to, and the benefits itconfers on the slave owners are hardly comparable in importance to theharm it does to the slaves.

So the principle of equal consideration of interests is strong enoughto rule out an intelligence-based slave society as well as cruder forms ofracism and sexism. It also rules out discrimination on the grounds ofdisability, whether intellectual or physical, insofar as the disability is notrelevant to the interests under consideration (as, for example, severeintellectual disability might be if we are considering a person’s interest invoting in an election). The principle of equal consideration of interests,therefore, may be a defensible form of the principle that all humansare equal, a form that we can use in discussing more controversial issuesabout equality. Before we go on to these topics, however, it will be usefulto say a little more about the nature of the principle.

Equal consideration of interests is a minimal principle of equalityin the sense that it does not dictate equal treatment. Take a relativelystraightforward example of an interest, the interest in relief of physicalpain. Imagine that after an earthquake I come across two victims: onewith a crushed leg, in agony, and one with a gashed thigh, in slight pain.I have only two shots of morphine left. Equal treatment would suggestthat I give one to each injured person, but one shot would not do muchto relieve the pain of the person with the crushed leg. She would still bein much more pain than the other victim, and even after I have givenher one shot, giving her the second shot would achieve a more markedreduction in her pain than giving one shot to the person in slight painwould do for that person. Hence, equal consideration of interests in thissituation leads to what some may consider an inegalitarian result: twoshots of morphine for one person and none for the other.

There is a still more controversial inegalitarian implication of theprinciple of equal consideration of interests. In the example involvingearthquake victims, although equal consideration of interests leads tounequal treatment, this unequal treatment produces a more egalitarianresult. By giving the double dose to the more seriously injured person, webring about a situation in which there is less difference in the degree ofsuffering felt by the two victims than there would be if we gave one doseto each. Instead of ending up with one person in considerable pain andone in no pain, we end up with two people in slight pain. This is in linewith the principle of declining marginal utility, a principle well-known toeconomists, which states that the more someone has of something, the

Equality and Its Implications 23

less she will gain from an additional quantity of it. If I am struggling tosurvive on 200 grams of rice a day, and you provide me with an extra50 grams per day, you have improved my position significantly; but if Ialready have a kilo of rice per day, I won’t care much about the extra50 grams. The same is true of money: $100 means a lot to someone forwhom it is equivalent to his weekly income, but it means very little to abillionaire. When marginal utility is taken into account, the principle ofequal consideration of interests inclines us towards an equal distributionof income – disincentive effects aside – and to that extent the egalitarianwill endorse its conclusions. What is likely to trouble the egalitarianabout the principle of equal consideration of interests is that there arecircumstances in which the principle of declining marginal utility doesnot hold or is overridden by countervailing factors.

We can vary the example of the earthquake victims to illustrate this.Let us say, again, that there are two victims, one more severely injuredthan the other, but this time we shall say that the more severely injuredvictim, A, has lost a leg and is in danger of losing a toe from her remainingleg; while the less severely injured victim, B, has an injury that threatensher leg. We have medical supplies for only one person. If we use themon A, the more severely injured victim, the most we can do is save hertoe; whereas if we use them on B, the less severely injured victim, wecan save her leg. In other words, we assume that the situation is: with-out medical treatment, A loses a leg and a toe, while B loses a leg; ifwe give the treatment to A, then A loses a leg and B also loses a leg; ifwe give the treatment to B, A loses a leg and a toe, while B loses no-thing.

Assuming that it is much worse to lose a leg than it is to lose a toe(even when that toe is on one’s sole remaining foot), the principle ofdeclining marginal utility does not suffice to give us the right answer inthis situation. We will do more to further the interests, impartially con-sidered, of those affected by our actions if we use our limited resources onthe less seriously injured victim than on the more seriously injured one.Therefore, this is what the principle of equal consideration of interestsleads us to do. Thus, equal consideration of interests can, in special cases,widen rather than narrow the gap between two people at different levelsof welfare. It is for this reason that the principle is a minimal principleof equality, rather than a thorough-going egalitarian principle. A morethorough-going form of egalitarianism would, however, be difficult tojustify, both in general terms and in its application to special cases of thekind just described.

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Minimal as it is, the principle of equal consideration of interests canseem too demanding in some cases. Can any of us really give equalconsideration to the welfare of our family and that of strangers? Thisquestion will be dealt with in Chapter 8, when we consider our obligationsto assist those in need in poorer parts of the world. I shall try to show,then, that although the principle of equal consideration of interests mayclash with some widely held views about what it is to live ethically, it is theseother views we should reject, not the principle of equal consideration ofinterests. Meanwhile, we shall see how the principle assists us in discussingsome of the controversial issues raised by demands for equality.

equality and genetic diversity

In 1969, Arthur Jensen published a long article in the Harvard EducationalReview entitled ‘How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achieve-ment?’ One short section of the article discussed the probable causes ofthe undisputed fact that – on average – African Americans do not scoreas well as other Americans in standard IQ tests. Jensen summarized theupshot of this section as follows:

all we are left with are various lines of evidence, no one of which is definitivealone, but which, viewed altogether, make it a not unreasonable hypothesis thatgenetic factors are strongly implicated in the average negro-white intelligencedifference. The preponderance of evidence is, in my opinion, less consistentwith a strictly environmental hypothesis than with a genetic hypothesis, which,of course, does not exclude the influence of environment or its interaction withgenetic factors.

This heavily qualified statement comes in the midst of a detailed reviewof a complex scientific subject, published in a scholarly journal. It wouldhardly have been surprising if it passed unnoticed by anyone but sci-entists working in the area of psychology or genetics. Instead, it waswidely reported in the popular press as an attempt to defend racism onscientific grounds. Jensen was accused of spreading racist propagandaand was likened to Hitler. His lectures were shouted down, and studentsdemanded that he be dismissed from his university post. H. J. Eysenck, aBritish professor of psychology who supported Jensen’s theories receivedsimilar treatment, in Britain and Australia as well as in the United States.Interestingly, Eysenck did not suggest that those of European descenthave the highest average intelligence among Americans; instead, henoted some evidence that Americans of Japanese and Chinese descent

Equality and Its Implications 25

do better on tests of abstract reasoning (despite coming from back-grounds lower on the socioeconomic scale) than Americans of Europeandescent.

The opposition to genetic explanations of alleged racial differencesin intelligence is only one manifestation of a more general opposition togenetic explanations in other socially sensitive areas. It closely parallels,for instance, the hostility of 1970s feminists to the idea that there are bio-logical factors behind male dominance in politics and business. (Today’sfeminists are more willing to entertain the idea that biological differencesbetween the sexes are influential in, for example, greater male aggres-sion and stronger female caring behaviour.) The opposition to geneticexplanations also has obvious links with the intensity of feelings arousedby evolutionary explanations of human behaviour. The worry here is thatif human social behaviour is seen as having evolved over millions of yearsand having links with the behaviour of other social mammals, we shallcome to think of hierarchy, male dominance and inequality as part ofour evolved nature, and thus unchangeable. Nevertheless, evolutionaryexplanations of human behaviour are now much more widely acceptedthan they were in the 1970s. The mapping of the human genome, whichis part of the larger scientific undertaking of achieving greater under-standing of the nature and function of the human genetic code, has alsogiven rise to concern over what such a map might reveal about geneticdifferences among humans and the uses to which such information mightbe put.

It would be inappropriate for me to attempt to assess the scientificmerits of biological explanations of human behaviour in general, or ofracial or sexual differences in particular. My concern is rather with theimplications of these theories for the ideal of equality. For this purpose,it is not necessary for us to establish whether the theories are right. Allwe have to ask is: suppose that one ethnic group does turn out to havea higher average IQ than another, and that part of this difference hasa genetic basis; would this mean that racism is defensible and that wehave to reject the principle of equality? A similar question can be askedabout the impact of theories of biological differences between the sexes.In neither case does the question assume that the theories are sound.Suppose that our scepticism about such theories led us to neglect thesequestions, and then unexpected evidence turned up giving support tothe theories. A confused and unprepared public might then take thetheories to have implications for the principle of equality that they donot have.

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I shall begin by considering the implications of the view that there isa difference in the average IQ of two different ethnic groups, and thatgenetic factors are responsible for at least a part of this difference. I shallthen consider the impact of alleged differences in temperament andability between the sexes.

Racial Differences and Racial Equality

Let us suppose, just for the sake of exploring the consequences, that evid-ence accumulates supporting the hypothesis that there are differences inintelligence between the different ethnic groups of human beings. (Weshould not assume that this would mean that Europeans come out ontop. As we have already seen, there is some evidence to the contrary.)What significance would this have for our views about racial equality?

First, a word of caution. When people talk of differences in intelligencebetween ethnic groups, they are usually referring to differences in scoreson standard IQ tests. ‘IQ’ stands for ‘Intelligence Quotient’, but this doesnot mean that an IQ test really measures what we mean by ‘intelligence’in ordinary contexts. Obviously there is some correlation between thetwo: if schoolchildren regarded by their teachers as highly intelligent didnot generally score better on IQ tests than schoolchildren regarded asbelow normal intelligence, the tests would have to be changed – as indeedthey have been changed in the past. This does not show how close thecorrelation is, however, and because our ordinary concept of intelligenceis vague, there is no way of telling. Some psychologists have attemptedto overcome this difficulty by defining ‘intelligence’ as ‘what intelligencetests measure’, but this merely introduces a new concept of ‘intelligence’,which is easier to measure than our ordinary notion but may be quitedifferent in meaning. Because ‘intelligence’ is a word in everyday use, touse the same word in a different sense is a sure path to confusion. Whatwe should talk about, then, is differences in IQ rather than differences inintelligence, because this is all that the available evidence could support.

The distinction between intelligence and scores on IQ tests has ledsome to conclude that IQ is of no importance; this is the opposite, butequally erroneous, extreme to the view that IQ is identical with intel-ligence. IQ is important in our society. One’s IQ is a factor in one’sprospects of improving one’s occupational status, income or social class.If there are genetic factors in racial differences in IQ, there are likelyto be genetic factors in racial differences in occupational status, incomeand social class. So if we are interested in equality, we cannot ignore IQ.

Equality and Its Implications 27

When people of different racial origin are given IQ tests, there tendto be differences in the average scores they get. The existence of suchdifferences is not seriously disputed, even by those who most vigorouslyopposed the views put forward by Jensen and Eysenck and by the authorsof The Bell Curve. What is hotly disputed is whether the differences areprimarily to be explained by heredity or by environment – in otherwords, whether they reflect innate differences between different groupsof human beings or whether they are due to the different social andeducational situations in which these groups find themselves. Almosteveryone accepts that environmental factors do play a role in IQ differ-ences between groups; the debate is over whether these environmentalfactors can explain all or virtually all of the differences.

Let us suppose that the genetic hypothesis turns out to be correct(making this supposition, as I have said, not because we believe it iscorrect but in order to explore its implications). What would be theimplications of genetically based differences in IQ between differentraces? For three reasons, the implications of this supposition are lessdrastic than they are often supposed to be, and they give no comfort toracists.

First, the genetic hypothesis does not imply that we should reduceour efforts to overcome other causes of inequality between people; forexample, in the quality of housing and schooling available to less well-offpeople. Admittedly, if the genetic hypothesis is correct, these efforts willnot bring about a situation in which different racial groups have equalIQs. But this is no reason for accepting a situation in which any people arehindered by their environment from doing as well as they can. Perhapswe should put extra efforts into helping those who start from a positionof disadvantage so that we end with a more egalitarian result.

Second, the fact that the average IQ of one racial group is a fewpoints higher than that of another does not allow anyone to say thatall members of the group with the higher average IQ have IQs aboveall members of the group with the lower average – this is clearly falsefor any racial group – or that a randomly selected individual from thegroup with the higher average IQ group will have a higher IQ thana randomly selected individual from the group with the lower averageIQ – this will often be false. The point is that these figures are averagesand say nothing about individuals. There will be a substantial overlapin IQ scores between the two groups. So whatever the cause of the dif-ference in average IQs, it will provide no justification for racial segreg-ation in education or any other field. It remains true that members of

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different racial groups must be treated as individuals, irrespective of theirrace.

The third reason why the genetic hypothesis gives no support forracism is the most fundamental of the three. It is simply that, as we sawearlier, the principle of equality is not based on a claim about peoplebeing equal in any nonmoral characteristic. I have argued that the onlydefensible basis for the principle of equality is equal consideration ofinterests, and I have also suggested that the most important humaninterests – like the interest in avoiding pain, in satisfying basic needsfor food and shelter, in enjoying warm personal relationships, in beingfree to pursue one’s projects without interference, and many others – arenot affected by differences in intelligence. Thomas Jefferson, who draftedthe ringing assertion of equality with which the American Declaration ofIndependence begins, knew this. In reply to an author who had endeav-oured to refute the then common view that Africans lack intelligence, hewrote:

Be assured that no person living wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a completerefutation of the doubts I have myself entertained and expressed on the gradeof understanding allotted to them by nature, and to find that they are on a parwith ourselves . . . but whatever be their degree of talent, it is no measure of theirrights. Because Sir Isaac Newton was superior to others in understanding, he wasnot therefore lord of the property or person of others.

Jefferson was right. Equal status does not depend on intelligence. Racistswho maintain the contrary are in peril of being forced to kneel beforethe next genius they encounter.

These three reasons suffice to show that claims that there is a geneticbasis for differences between racial groups on IQ tests do not providegrounds for denying the moral principle that all humans are equal. Thethird reason, however, has further ramifications that we shall follow upafter discussing differences between the sexes.

Sexual Differences and Sexual Equality

The debates over psychological differences between females and malesare not about IQ in general, but about the distinct abilities measured bydifferent questions in the IQ test. There is some evidence suggesting thatfemales have greater verbal ability than males. This involves being betterable to understand complex pieces of writing and being more creative

Equality and Its Implications 29

with words. Males, on the other hand, do better on tests involving whatis known as ‘visual-spatial’ ability. Reading a map and using it to navigateinvolves visual-spatial ability, although the sex differences are most clearlyshown on the mental rotation test, in which subjects are shown two three-dimensional shapes and asked whether the shapes are identical but havebeen rotated or are mirror images of each other.

Girls score higher than boys on tests requiring them to recognizethe emotional states of others and to predict other people’s behaviourfrom an awareness of their emotional states. Although it is commonlybelieved that boys do better than girls in mathematics, the average scoresof girls and boys differ little and the difference sometimes favours girls.The boys’ scores tend to be more spread out, at both ends of the scale,whereas the girls’ scores are clustered around the middle. This meansthat boys are more likely to finish at both top and bottom of the mathclass.

We shall discuss the significance of these relatively minor differencesin intellectual abilities shortly. There is also one major nonintellectualcharacteristic in respect of which there is a marked difference betweenthe sexes: aggression. Studies conducted on children in several differentcultures have borne out what parents have long suspected: boys are morelikely to play roughly, attack each other and fight back when attacked,than girls. Males are readier to hurt others than females, a tendencyreflected in the fact that almost all violent criminals are male. It hasbeen suggested that aggression is associated with competitiveness, andthe drive to dominate others and get to the top of whatever pyramid oneis a part of. In contrast, females are readier to adopt a role that involvescaring for others.

These are the major psychological differences that have repeatedlybeen observed in many studies of females and males. They emerge,of course, only when averages are taken; there is a substantial overlapbetween the sexes. What is the origin of these differences? Once again,the rival explanations are environmental versus biological. Although thisquestion of origin is important in some special contexts, it was giventoo much weight by the 1970s feminists who assumed that the case forwomen’s liberation rested on acceptance of the environmentalist view.What is true of racial discrimination holds here too: discrimination canbe shown to be wrong whatever the origin of the known psychologicaldifferences. First, let us look briefly at the rival explanations.

Anyone who has had anything to do with children will know that in allsorts of ways children learn that the sexes have different roles. Forty years

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after the feminist movement of the 1970s, boys are still more likely to gettrucks or guns for their birthday presents; girls get dolls or brush-and-comb sets. Girls are put into dresses and told how nice they look; boysare dressed in jeans and praised for their strength and daring. Before the1970s, children’s books almost invariably portrayed fathers going out towork while mothers clean the house and cook the dinner; some still do,although in many countries feminist criticisms of this type of literature –and the fact that more women work – have changed the images presentedto children.

Social conditioning exists, certainly, but how well does it explain theexistence of differences between the sexes? It is, at best, an incompleteexplanation. We still need to know why our society – and not just ours,but practically every human society – should shape children in this way.One popular answer is that in earlier, simpler societies, the sexes had dif-ferent roles because women had to breastfeed their children during thelong period before weaning. This meant that the women stayed closerto home while the men went out to hunt. As a result, females evolved amore social and emotional character, while males became tougher andmore aggressive. Because physical strength and aggression were the ulti-mate forms of power in these simple societies, males became dominant.The sex roles that exist today are, on this view, an inheritance from thesesimpler circumstances, an inheritance that became obsolete once tech-nology made it possible for the weakest person to operate a crane thatlifts fifty tons or to fire a missile that kills millions. Nor do women haveto be tied to home and children in the way they used to be, because awoman can now combine motherhood and a career.

The alternative view is that although social conditioning plays somerole in determining psychological differences between the sexes, bio-logical factors are also at work. This has been supported by a study inwhich babies just one day old were shown either a live face or a mech-anical mobile. Baby girls spent more time looking at the face, and babyboys more time looking at the mobile. In addition, the preferences youngfemales show for playing with dolls, and young males for playing with toytrucks, have even been shown to hold for vervet monkeys! No wonderthat parents continue to give their children the toys that they most desireand with which they are most likely to play.

The evidence that the sex difference in aggression has a biologicalbasis is summarized by Eleanor Maccoby and Carol Jacklin in The Psycho-logy of Sex Differences:

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(1) Males are more aggressive than females in all human societies inwhich the difference has been studied.

(2) Similar differences are found in humans and in apes and otherclosely related animals.

(3) The differences are found in very young children, at an age whenthere is no evidence of any social conditioning in this direction(indeed Maccoby and Jacklin found some evidence that boys aremore severely punished for showing aggression than girls).

(4) Aggression has been shown to vary according to the level of sexhormones and females become more aggressive if they receivemale hormones.

The evidence for a biological basis of the differences in visual-spatialability is a little more complicated, but it consists largely of genetic stud-ies that suggest that this ability is influenced by a recessive sex-linkedgene. As a result, it is estimated, approximately 50 percent of maleshave a genetic advantage in situations demanding visual-spatial ability,but only 25 percent of females have this advantage. On the other hand,environmental factors can significantly reduce the male advantage in thisarea.

Evidence for and against a biological factor in the superior verbalability of females and the superior mathematical ability of high-achievingmales (a result of the greater spread in mathematical ability among malesthat we mentioned earlier) is, at present, too weak to suggest a conclusionone way or the other.

Adopting the strategy we used before in discussing race and IQ, Ishall not go further into the evidence for and against these biologicalexplanations of differences between males and females. Instead, I shallask what the implications of the biological hypotheses would be.

The differences in the intellectual strengths and weaknesses of thesexes cannot explain more than a small proportion of the differencein positions that males and females hold in our society. For instance, ifsuperior visual-spatial ability is supposed to explain the male dominanceof architecture and engineering, why isn’t there equality even in areaswhere the relevant abilities are ones in which women score as well asor better than men? Professions requiring high verbal abilities are anexample. It is true that there are more women journalists than engineers,and many women have achieved lasting fame as novelists; yet femalejournalists and television commentators continue to be outnumbered by

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males. So even if we accept biological explanations for the patterningof these abilities, we can still argue that women do not have the sameopportunities as men to make the most of the abilities they have andreach the top of their field.

On the other hand, the fact that there are more males at both extremesof ability in mathematics, whereas females tend to cluster more aroundthe average level, does support Lawrence Summers’ ill-fated remarkabout the relative scarcity of suitable female candidates for Harvard pos-itions in those areas of science and engineering in which mathematicalability plays a key role. Only those with exceptional ability become pro-fessors, and even within that select group, only those among the verybest have any prospect of becoming a professor at an elite institution likeHarvard. It isn’t difficult to see that males are likely to be overrepresen-ted among those at the extreme upper end of the scale of mathematicalgiftedness.

What of differences in aggression? A first reaction to the sugges-tion that there is a biological basis to greater male aggression mightbe that feminists should seize this way of showing the ethical superiorityof females, for it means that a woman’s greater reluctance to hurt othersis part of her nature. But the fact that most violent criminals are malemay be only one side of greater male aggression. The other side could begreater male competitiveness, ambition and drive to achieve power. Thiswould have different, and for feminists less welcome, implications. Someyears ago an American sociologist, Steven Goldberg, built a provocativelyentitled book, The Inevitability of Patriarchy, around the thesis that thebiological basis of greater male aggression will always make it impossibleto bring about a society in which women have as much political power asmen. From this claim, it is easy to move to the view that women shouldaccept their inferior position in society and not strive to compete withmales or to bring up their daughters to compete with males in theserespects. Instead, women should return to their traditional sphere oflooking after the home and children. This is just the kind of argumentthat has aroused the hostility of some feminists towards biological explan-ations of male dominance.

As in the case of race and IQ, the moral conclusions alleged to followfrom the biological theories do not really follow from them at all. Similararguments apply.

First, whatever the origin of psychological differences between thesexes, social conditioning can emphasize or soften these differences.As Maccoby and Jacklin stress, the biological bias towards, say, male

Equality and Its Implications 33

visual-spatial superiority is really a greater natural readiness to learnthese skills. Where women are brought up to be independent, theirvisual-spatial ability is much higher than when they are kept at homeand dependent on males. This is no doubt true of other differences aswell. Hence, feminists may well be right to attack the way in which weencourage girls and boys to develop in distinct directions, even if thisencouragement is not itself responsible for creating psychological differ-ences between the sexes, but only reinforces innate predispositions.

Second, whatever the origin of psychological differences between thesexes, they exist only when averages are taken, and some females are moreaggressive and have better visual-spatial ability than some males. We haveseen that the genetic hypothesis offered in explanation of male visual-spatial superiority itself suggests that a quarter of all females will havegreater natural visual-spatial ability than half of all males. Some femalesare also among the top one percent of all people in mathematical ability.Our own observations should convince us that there are females who arealso more aggressive than some males. So, biological explanations or not,we are never in a position to say: ‘You’re a woman, so you can’t becomean engineer or a math professor’, or ‘Because you are female, you willnot have the drive and ambition needed to succeed in politics.’ Norshould we assume that no male can possibly have sufficient gentlenessand warmth to stay at home with the children while their mother goesout to work. We must assess people as individuals, not merely lump theminto ‘female’ and ‘male’ if we are to find out what they are really like; andwe must keep the roles occupied by females and males flexible if peopleare to be able to do what they are best suited for.

The third reason is, like the previous two, parallel to the reasons I havegiven for believing that a biological explanation of racial differences inIQ would not justify racism. The most important human interests are nomore affected by differences in aggression than they are by differencesin intelligence. Less aggressive people have the same interest in avoidingpain, developing their abilities, having adequate food and shelter, enjoy-ing good personal relationships, and so on, as more aggressive people.There is no reason why more aggressive people ought to be rewarded fortheir aggression with higher salaries and the ability to provide better forthese interests.

Because aggression, unlike intelligence, is not generally regarded as adesirable trait, it is easy to see that greater aggression in itself provides noethical justification of the greater proportion of men in leading roles inpolitics, business, the universities and the professions. It may, however, be

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used to suggest that the present situation is merely the result of compet-ition between males and females under conditions of equal opportunity.Hence, the argument would go, the status quo is not unfair. This sugges-tion once again raises the further ramifications of biological differencesbetween people that, as I said at the close of our discussion of the raceand IQ issue, need to be followed up in more depth.

from equality of opportunity to equality of


In our society, large differences in income and social status are commonlythought to be all right, as long as they were brought into being underconditions of equal opportunity. The idea is that there is no injustice inJill earning $300,000 and Jack earning $30,000, as long as Jack had hischance to be where Jill is today. Suppose that the difference in incomeis due to the fact that Jill is a doctor whereas Jack is a farm worker. Thiswould be acceptable if Jack had the same opportunity as Jill to be adoctor, and this is taken to mean that Jack was not kept out of medicalschool because of his race or religion or a disability that was irrelevantto how good a doctor he would be – in effect, if Jack’s exam results hadbeen as good as Jill’s, or he had satisfied other criteria relevant to beingable to practice medicine as well as Jill had, he would have been able tostudy medicine, become a doctor and earn $300,000 a year. Life, on thisview, is a kind of race in which it is fitting that the winners should get theprizes, so long as all get an equal start. The equal start represents equalityof opportunity and this, some say, is as far as equality should go.

To say that Jack and Jill had equal opportunities to become a doctor,because Jack would have been accepted into medical school if his resultshad been as good as Jill’s, is to take a superficial view of equal opportunitythat will not stand up to further probing. We need to ask why Jack’s resultswere not as good as Jill’s. Perhaps his education up to that point had beeninferior – bigger classes, less qualified teachers, inadequate resourcesand so on. If so, he was not competing on equal terms with Jill after all.Genuine equality of opportunity requires us to ensure that schools givethe same advantages to everyone.

Making schools equal would be difficult enough, but it is the easiestof the tasks that await a thorough-going proponent of equal opportunity.Even if schools are the same, some children will be favoured by the kindof home they come from. A quiet room to study, plenty of books andparents who encourage their child to do well at school could explainwhy Jill succeeds where Jack, forced to share a room with two younger

Equality and Its Implications 35

brothers and take part-time jobs to help support the family, does not.But how does one equalize a home? Or parents? Unless we are preparedto abandon the traditional family setting and bring up our children incommunal nurseries, we can’t.

This might be enough to show the inadequacy of equal opportunityas an ideal of equality, but the ultimate objection – the one that connectswith our previous discussion of equality – is still to come. Even if wedid rear our children communally, as on a kibbutz in Israel, they wouldinherit different abilities and character traits, including different levelsof aggression and different IQs. Eliminating differences in the child’senvironment would not affect differences in genetic endowment. True, itwould almost certainly reduce the disparity between IQ scores, because itis likely that, at present, social differences accentuate genetic differences;but the genetic differences would remain, and on most estimates they area significant component of the existing differences in IQ. (Rememberthat we are now talking of individuals. We do not know if race affects IQ,but there is little doubt that differences in IQ between individuals of thesame race are, in part, genetically determined.)

So equality of opportunity is not an attractive ideal. It rewards thelucky, who inherit those abilities that allow them to pursue interestingand lucrative careers. It penalizes the unlucky, whose genes make it veryhard for them to achieve similar success.

We can now fit our earlier discussion of race and sex differencesinto a broader picture. Whatever the facts about the social or geneticbasis of racial differences in IQ, removing social disadvantages willnot suffice to bring about an equal or a just distribution of income –not an equal distribution because those who inherit the abilities asso-ciated with high IQ will continue to earn more than those who donot; and not a just distribution because distribution according to theabilities one inherits has nothing to do with what people deserve orneed. The same is true of visual-spatial ability, mathematical ability andaggression, if these do lead to higher incomes or status. If, as I haveargued, the basis of equality is equal consideration of interests, andthe most important human interests have little to do with how highone’s IQ is or how aggressive one is, this raises a moral question abouta society in which income and social status correlate strongly with thesefactors.

When we pay people high salaries for programming computers andlow salaries for cleaning offices we are, in effect, paying people for havingvery specific abilities that very probably are to a significant degree inher-ited, and in any case almost wholly determined before they reach an age

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at which they are responsible for their actions. From the point of view ofjustice and utility, there is something wrong here. Both would be betterserved by a society that adopted the famous Marxist slogan: ‘From eachaccording to his ability, to each according to his needs.’ If this could beachieved, the differences between the races and sexes would lose theirsocial significance. Only then would we have a society truly based on theprinciple of equal consideration of interests.

Is it realistic to aspire to a society that rewards people according totheir needs rather than their IQ, aggression or other inherited abilities?Don’t we have to pay people more to be doctors or lawyers or universityprofessors, or computer programmers, to do the intellectually demand-ing work essential for our well-being?

There are difficulties in paying people according to their needs ratherthan their inherited abilities. If one country attempts to introduce such ascheme while others do not, the result is likely to be a brain drain. Thereare many examples of this already. We can see it, on a small scale, in thenumber of doctors who have left Canada to work in the United States –not because Canada pays people according to need rather than inheritedabilities, but because doctors can earn much more in the United Statesthan in Canada. If any one country were to make a serious attempt toequalize the salaries of doctors and manual workers, there can be nodoubt that the number of doctors emigrating would greatly increase.During the communist period in the Soviet Union and its satellite states,emigration had to be severely restricted, for even though there were stillsteep differentials in income within the communist states, without therestrictions there would have been a crippling outflow of skilled peopleto the capitalist nations, which rewarded skill more highly. Hence, theEast German border guards had orders to shoot to kill people attemptingto flee to the West. If bringing about a more just distribution of incomein one country requires making the country a giant prison, however, theprice of a just distribution may be too high.

To allow these difficulties to lead us to the conclusion that we cando nothing to improve the distribution of income that now exists incapitalist countries would, however, be too pessimistic. There is, in themore affluent Western nations, a good deal of scope for reducing paydifferentials before the point is reached at which significant numbersof people begin to think of emigrating. This is, of course, especiallytrue of those countries, like the United States, where pay differentialsare presently very great. It is here that pressure for a more equitabledistribution can best be applied.

Equality and Its Implications 37

Some might claim that if we did not pay people a lot of money to bedoctors or university professors, they would not undertake the studiesrequired to achieve these positions. I do not know what evidence there isin support of this assumption, but it seems to me highly dubious. My ownsalary is considerably higher than the salaries of the people employedby the university to mow the lawns and keep the grounds clean, but ifour salaries were identical I would still not want to swap positions withthem – although their jobs are a lot more pleasant than some lowly paidwork. Nor do I believe that my doctor would jump at a chance to changeplaces with his receptionist if their salaries did not differ. It is true that mydoctor and I have had to study for several years to get where we are, butI at least look back on my student years as among of the most enjoyableof my life.

Although I do not think it is because of the pay that people chooseto become doctors rather than receptionists, there is one qualificationto be made to the suggestion that payment should be based on needrather than ability. The prospect of earning more money sometimesleads people to make greater efforts to use the abilities they have, andthese greater efforts can benefit patients, customers, students or thepublic as a whole. It might therefore be worth trying to reward effort,which would mean paying people more if they worked near the upperlimits of their abilities, whatever those abilities might be. This, however,is quite different from paying people for the level of ability they happento have, which is something they cannot themselves control. As JeffreyGray, a British professor of psychology, has written, the evidence forgenetic influence on IQ suggests that to pay people differently for ‘upperclass’ and ‘lower class’ jobs is ‘a wasteful use of resources in the guise of“incentives” that either tempt people to do what is beyond their powersor reward them more for what they would do anyway’.

We have, up to now, been thinking of people like university professors,who (at least in some countries) are paid by the government, and doc-tors, whose incomes are determined either by government bodies, wherethere is some kind of national health service, or by the government pro-tection given to professional associations like a medical association, whichenables the profession to exclude those without certain credentials whomight seek to offer similar services at a lower cost. These incomes aretherefore already subject to government control and could be alteredwithout drastically changing the powers of government. The businesssector is a different matter. Those who are smart and possess entrepren-eurial talent will, under any private enterprise system, make more money

38 Practical Ethics

than their rivals. Taxation can help to redistribute some of this income,but it seems that there are limits to how steeply progressive a tax systemcan be without leading smart people to spend inordinate amounts oftime and energy in finding ingenious new ways to avoid paying tax.

Some would wish to use this argument to argue that justice requiresus to abolish private enterprise, worldwide. That may be a nice idea, butit is not going to happen. Private enterprise has a habit of reassertingitself under the most inhospitable conditions. Under communism, as theRussians and East Europeans soon found, black markets emerged, and ifyou wanted your plumbing fixed swiftly, it was advisable to pay a bit extraon the side. China, though nominally still communist, has become moreprosperous only by accepting private enterprise. Only a radical change inhuman nature – a decline in acquisitive and self-centred desires – couldovercome the tendency for people to find a way around any system thatsuppresses private enterprise. Because no such change in human natureis in sight, we might as well accept that financial rewards will go to thosewith inherited abilities, rather than those who have the greatest needs.

This doesn’t mean that we should forget all about the principle of pay-ment according to needs and effort rather than inherited ability. Duringthe global financial crisis of 2008-09, the huge salaries and bonuses thatmany senior executives were receiving, even while their companies hadtheir hands out for public funds to ward off insolvency, aroused wide-spread popular revulsion. At these moments, it is worth rememberingthat even if their financial judgment had been more astute, these execut-ives would not have deserved those payments. The realistic componentof the principle of justice I have been defending is that we should tryto create a climate of opinion that will lead to a reduction in excessivepayments to senior management and an increase in payments to thosewhose income barely meets their needs. The problem is how to makethis more than a pious wish.

affirmative action

The preceding section suggested that moving to a more egalitarian soci-ety in which differences of income are reduced is ethically desirablebut likely to prove difficult. Short of bringing about greater equalityof income, we might attempt to ensure that members of disadvantagedracial and ethnic groups, and women, should not be on the worse end ofmajor differences in income, status and power to an extent that is dispro-portionate to their numbers in the community as a whole. Inequalities

Equality and Its Implications 39

among members of the same ethnic group may be no more justifiablethan those between ethnic groups, or between males and females; butwhen these inequalities coincide with an obvious difference betweenpeople like the differences between African Americans and Americansof European descent, or between males and females, they do more toproduce a divided society with a sense of superiority on the one sideand a sense of inferiority on the other. Racial and sexual inequality maytherefore have a more divisive effect than other forms of inequality. Itmay also do more to create a feeling of hopelessness among the inferiorgroup, because their sex or their race is not the product of their ownactions and there is nothing they can do to change it.

How are racial and sexual equality to be achieved within an inegal-itarian society? We have seen that equality of opportunity is practicallyunrealizable, and if it could be realized might still allow innate differ-ences in aggression or IQ unfairly to determine membership of theupper strata. One way of overcoming these obstacles is to go beyondequality of opportunity and give preferential treatment to members ofdisadvantaged groups. This is affirmative action (sometimes also called‘reverse discrimination’). It may be the best hope of reducing long-standing inequalities; yet it appears to offend against the principle ofequality itself.

Affirmative action is most often used in education and employment.Education is a particularly important area, because it has an importantinfluence on one’s prospects of earning a high income, holding a satisfy-ing job and achieving power and status in the community. In the UnitedStates, education has been at the centre of the dispute over affirmativeaction because the Supreme Court has rejected some university admis-sion procedures favouring disadvantaged groups. These cases have arisenbecause people of European descent were denied admission to coursesalthough their academic records and admission test scores were betterthan those of some African-American students admitted. The universitiesdid not deny this; they sought to justify it by explaining that they operatedadmission schemes intended to help disadvantaged students.

For many years, the leading case was Regents of the University of Californiav. Bakke. Alan Bakke applied for admission to the medical school of theUniversity of California at Davis. In an attempt to increase the number ofmembers of minority groups who attended medical school, the universityreserved sixteen out of every one hundred places for students belongingto a disadvantaged minority. Because these students would not have wonso many places in open competition, fewer students of European descent

40 Practical Ethics

were admitted than there would have been without this reservation. Someof these students denied places would certainly have been offered themif, scoring as they did on the admission tests, they had been membersof a disadvantaged minority. Bakke was among these rejected EuropeanAmerican students, and on being rejected he sued the university. Let ustake this case as a standard case of affirmative action. Is it defensible?

I shall start by putting aside one argument sometimes used to justifydiscrimination in favour of members of disadvantaged groups. It is some-times said that if, say, 20 percent of the population is a racial minorityand yet only 2 percent of doctors are from this minority, this is suffi-cient evidence that, somewhere along the line, there is discriminationon the basis of race. (Similar arguments have been mounted in supportof claims of sex discrimination.) Our discussion of the genetics-versus-environment debate indicates why this argument is inconclusive. It maybe the case that members of the underrepresented group are, on average,less gifted for the kind of study one must do to become a doctor. I am notsaying that this explanation is true, or even probable, but it is difficult torule out entirely, just as the disproportionately large number of African-American athletes on the U.S. Olympic athletic team is not in itself proofof discrimination against Americans of European descent. There might,of course, be other evidence suggesting that the small number of doc-tors from the minority group really is the result of discrimination, butthis would need to be shown. In the absence of positive evidence of dis-crimination, it is not possible to justify affirmative action on the groundsthat it merely redresses the balance of discrimination existing in thecommunity.

Another way of defending a decision to accept a minority studentin preference to a student from the majority group who scored higherin admission tests would be to argue that standard tests do not give anaccurate indication of ability when one student has been severely disad-vantaged. This is in line with the point made in the last section about theimpossibility of achieving equal opportunity. Education and home back-ground presumably influence test scores. A student with a backgroundof deprivation who scores 55 percent in an admission test may have bet-ter prospects of graduating in minimum time than a more privilegedstudent who scores 70 percent. Adjusting test scores on this basis wouldnot mean admitting disadvantaged minority students in preference tobetter-qualified students. It would reflect a decision that the disadvant-aged students really were better qualified than the others. This is notracial discrimination.

Equality and Its Implications 41

The University of California could not attempt this defence, for itsmedical school at Davis had simply reserved 16 percent of places forminority students. The quota did not vary according to the ability dis-played by minority applicants. Nor does the evidence support the viewthat minority students who benefit from affirmative action are really aswell qualified as other students who had better admission scores. Thegrades of students admitted under affirmative action programs are, onaverage, lower than those of the class as a whole.

We have seen that the only defensible basis for the claim that allhumans are equal is the principle of equal consideration of interests. Thatprinciple condemns forms of racial and sexual discrimination which giveless weight to the interests of those discriminated against. Could Bakkeclaim that in rejecting his application the medical school gave less weightto his interests than to those of African-American students?

We have only to ask this question to appreciate that university admis-sion is not normally a result of consideration of the interests of eachapplicant. It depends rather on matching the applicants against stand-ards that the university draws up with certain policies in mind. Take themost straightforward case: admission rigidly governed by scores on anintelligence test. Suppose those rejected by this procedure complainedthat their interests had been given less consideration than the interestsof applicants of higher intelligence. The university would reply that itsprocedure did not take the applicants’ interests into account at all, andso could hardly give less consideration to the interests of one applicantthan it gave to others. We could then ask the university why it used intel-ligence as the criterion of admission. It might say, first, that to pass theexaminations required for graduation takes a high level of intelligence.There is no point in admitting students unable to pass, for they will wastetheir own time and the university’s resources. Secondly, the universitymay say, the higher the intelligence of our graduates, the more usefulthey are likely to be to the community. The more intelligent our doctors,the better they will be at preventing and curing disease. Hence, a med-ical school that selects the most intelligent students is likely to get bettervalue for the community’s outlay on medical education.

This particular admission procedure is of course one-sided; a gooddoctor must have other qualities in addition to a high degree of intelli-gence. It is only an example, however, and that objection is not relevantto the point I am using the example to make. This point is that no oneobjects to intelligence as a criterion for selection in the way that theyobject to race as a criterion; yet those of higher intelligence admitted

42 Practical Ethics

under an intelligence-based scheme have no more of an intrinsic right toadmission than those admitted by reverse discrimination. Higher intelli-gence, I have argued before, carries with it no right or justifiable claim tomore of the good things our society offers. If a university admits studentsof higher intelligence, it does so not in consideration of their greaterinterest in being admitted, nor in recognition of their right to be admit-ted, but because it favours goals that it believes will be advanced by thisadmission procedure. So if this same university should adopt new goalsand use affirmative action to promote them, applicants who would havebeen admitted under the old procedure cannot claim that the new pro-cedure violates their right to be admitted or treats them with less respectthan others. They had no special claim to be admitted in the first place;they were the fortunate beneficiaries of the old university policy. Nowthat this policy has changed, others benefit, not they. If this seems unfair,it is only because we had become accustomed to the old policy.

So affirmative action cannot justifiably be condemned on the groundsthat it violates the rights of university applicants or treats them withless than equal consideration. There is no inherent right to admission,and equal consideration of the interests of applicants is not involvedin normal admission tests. If affirmative action is open to objection, itmust be because the goals it seeks to advance are bad, because it will notreally promote these goals, or because although the goals are good andaffirmative action will promote them, there are even more importantcosts to pursuing an affirmative action program.

The principle of equality might be a ground for condemning the goalsof a racially discriminatory admissions procedure. When universities dis-criminate against already disadvantaged minorities, we suspect that thediscrimination really does result from less concern for the interests ofthe minority. Why else did universities in the American South excludeAfrican Americans until they were compelled to admit them? Then, incontrast to the affirmative action situation, those rejected could justifi-ably claim that their interests were not being weighed equally with theinterests of European Americans who were admitted. Other explanationsmay have been offered, but they were surely specious.

Opponents of affirmative action have not objected to the goals ofsocial equality and greater minority representation in the professions.They would be hard put to do so. Equal consideration of interests sup-ports moves towards equality because of the principle of diminishingmarginal utility, because progress towards equality will reduce the feel-ing of hopeless inferiority that can exist when members of one race or

Equality and Its Implications 43

sex are always worse off than members of another race or the other sex,and because severe inequality between races means a divided communitywith consequent racial tension.

Within the overall goal of social equality, greater minority representa-tion in professions like law and medicine is desirable for several reasons.Members of minority groups are more likely to work among their ownpeople than those who come from the mainstream ethnic groups, andthis may help to overcome the scarcity of doctors and lawyers in poorneighbourhoods where most members of disadvantaged minorities live.They may also have a better understanding of the problems disadvant-aged people face than any outsider would have. Minority and femaledoctors and lawyers can serve as role models to other members of minor-ity groups and to women, breaking down the unconscious mental barriersagainst aspiring to such positions. Finally, the existence of a diverse stu-dent group will help members of the majority ethnic group to learn moreabout the attitudes of members of the minority group, and thus becomebetter able, as doctors and lawyers, to serve the whole community.

Opponents of affirmative action are on stronger ground when theyclaim that affirmative action will not promote equality. As Justice Pow-ell said, in the Bakke case, ‘Preferential programs may only reinforcecommon stereotypes holding that certain groups are unable to achievesuccess without special protection.’ To achieve real equality, it might besaid, members of minority groups and women must win their places ontheir merits. As long as they get into law school more easily than oth-ers, law graduates from disadvantaged minority groups – including thosewho would have been accepted by their law school under open competi-tion – will be regarded as inferior. More recently, some have claimed thataffirmative action produces an academic mismatch that places minoritystudents in classes with students who mostly are more academically giftedthan they are. As a result, it is said, they tend to be near the bottom oftheir class, and are less likely to graduate than if they were in a class thatbetter matched their abilities.

These practical objections raise difficult factual issues. Though theywere referred to in the Bakke case, they have not been central in the Amer-ican legal battles over affirmative action. Judges are properly reluctantto decide cases on factual grounds on which they have no special expert-ise. Alan Bakke won his case because a majority of the judges held thateither the U.S. Constitution or the Civil Rights Act of 1964 providesthat no person shall, on the grounds of colour, race or national ori-gin, be excluded from any activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

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The majority opinion written by Justice Powell added, however, thatthere would be no objection to a university seeking diversity in its stu-dent body, and in the pursuit of that objective, it could include race asone among a number of factors, like athletic or artistic ability, work exper-ience, demonstrated compassion, a history of overcoming disadvantageor leadership potential. The court thus effectively allowed universities tochoose their student body in accord with their own goals, so long as theydid not use quotas.

That view was upheld by the Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger, a2003 decision involving the University of Michigan Law School. JusticeO’Connor, writing the majority opinion, considered that the law school’sprogram passed the test of providing a ‘highly individualized, holisticreview of each applicant’s file, giving serious consideration to all the waysan applicant might contribute to a diverse educational environment’. Atthe same time, in Gratz v. Bollinger, the court rejected the University ofMichigan’s undergraduate affirmative action program which automat-ically gave every member of an underrepresented minority group a setamount of extra points towards admission, without conducting the kindof individual and flexible assessment of each applicant provided by thelaw school.

In the United States, then, managing admissions to achieve diversity ispermissible, but racial or ethnic quotas are not. In other countries – andin general, when we look at the issue with an eye to ethics, rather than thelaw – the distinction between quotas and other ways of giving preferenceto disadvantaged groups may be less significant. The important pointis that affirmative action, whether by quotas or some other method, isnot contrary to any sound principle of equality and does not violate anyrights of those excluded by it. Properly applied, it is in keeping with equalconsideration of interests, in its aspirations at least. The only real doubtis how well it works. On that, the evidence is still being collected andassessed.

a concluding note: equality and disability

In this chapter, we have been concerned with the interplay of the moralprinciple of equality and the differences, real or alleged, between groupsof people. Perhaps the clearest way of seeing the irrelevance of IQ, orspecific abilities, to the moral principle of equality is to consider the situ-ation of people with disabilities, whether physical or intellectual. Whenwe ask how such people ought to be treated, there is no argument about

Equality and Its Implications 45

whether their abilities are the same as those of people without disab-ilities. By definition, they are lacking at least some ability that normalpeople have. Their disabilities will sometimes mean that they should betreated differently from others. If we are looking for firefighters, we canjustifiably exclude someone who is confined to a wheelchair; and if weare seeking a proofreader, a blind person need not apply. The fact that aspecific disability may rule a person out of consideration for a particularposition does not, however, mean that that person’s interests should begiven less consideration than those of anyone else. Nor does it justifydiscrimination against disabled people in any situation in which the par-ticular disability a person has is irrelevant to the employment or serviceoffered.

For centuries, people with disabilities have been subjected to preju-dice, in some cases no less severe than those under which racial minoritieshave suffered. Disabled people have been locked up, out of sight of thepublic, in appalling conditions. Some were virtual slaves, exploited forcheap labour in households or factories. Under a so-called euthanasiaprogram, the Nazis murdered tens of thousands of intellectually disabledpeople, many of whom were enjoying their lives but were deemed ‘uselessmouths’ and a blot on the Aryan race. Even today, some businesses willnot hire a person in a wheelchair for a job that she could do as well asanyone else. Others seeking a salesperson will not hire someone whoseappearance is abnormal, for fear that sales will fall. Similar argumentswere used against employing members of racial minorities. We can bestovercome such prejudices by becoming more familiar with people whoare different from us, which won’t happen if they are not employed inpositions where they meet members of the public.

We are now just starting to think about the injustices that have beendone to people with disabilities and to consider them as a disadvantagedgroup. That we have been slow in doing so may well be due to the con-fusion between factual equality and moral equality discussed earlier inthis chapter. Because disabled people are different in some significantrespects, we have not seen it as discriminatory to treat them differently.We have overlooked the fact that, as in the examples given previously, theperson’s disability has been irrelevant to the different – and disadvant-ageous – treatment. There is therefore a need to ensure that legislationthat prohibits discrimination on grounds of race, ethnicity or genderalso prohibits discrimination on the grounds of disability, unless thedisability can be shown to be relevant to the employment or serviceoffered.

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Nor is that all. Many of the arguments for affirmative action in the caseof those disadvantaged by race or gender apply even more strongly topeople with disabilities. Mere equality of opportunity will not be enoughin situations in which a disability makes it impossible to become an equalmember of the community. Giving disabled people equal opportunityto attend university is not much use if the library is accessible only bya flight of stairs that they cannot use. Many disabled children are cap-able of benefiting from normal schooling but are prevented from takingpart because additional resources are required to cope with their specialneeds. Because such needs are often very central to the lives of peoplewith disabilities, the principle of equal consideration of interests will givethem much greater weight than it will give to the more minor needs ofothers. For this reason, it will generally be justifiable to spend more onbehalf of disabled people than we spend on behalf of others. Just howmuch more is, of course, a difficult question. Where resources are scarce,there must be some limit. By giving equal consideration to the interestsof those with disabilities, and empathetically imagining ourselves in theirsituation, we can get closer to the right answer.

Some will claim to find a contradiction between this recognition ofpeople with disabilities as a group that has been subjected to unjustifiablediscrimination and arguments that appear later in this book defendingabortion and euthanasia in the case of a fetus or an infant with a severedisability. For these later arguments presuppose that life is better withouta disability than with one; and is this not itself a form of prejudice held bypeople without disabilities and parallel to the prejudice that it is betterto be a member of the European race, or a man, than to be of Africandescent, or a woman?

The error in this argument is not difficult to detect. It is one thing toargue that people with disabilities who want to live their lives to the fullshould be given every possible assistance in doing so. It is another, andquite different thing, to argue that if we are in a position to choose, for ournext child, whether that child shall begin life with or without a disability,it is mere prejudice or bias that leads us to choose to have a child withouta disability. If disabled people who must use wheelchairs to get aroundwere suddenly offered a miracle drug that would, with no side effects, givethem full use of their legs, how many of them would refuse to take it onthe grounds that life with a disability is in no way inferior to life withouta disability? In seeking to raise research funds to overcome and preventdisability, people with disabilities themselves show that the preferencefor a life without disability is no mere prejudice. Some disabled people

Equality and Its Implications 47

might say that they make this choice only because society puts so manyobstacles in the way of people with disabilities. They claim that it is socialconditions that disable them, not their physical or intellectual condition.This assertion takes the simple truth that social conditions make thelives of the disabled much more difficult than they need be, and twistsit into a sweeping falsehood. To be able to walk, to see, to hear, to berelatively free from pain and discomfort, to communicate effectively –all these are, under virtually any social conditions, genuine benefits. Tosay this is not to deny that people lacking these benefits may triumphover their disabilities and have lives of astonishing richness and diversity.Nevertheless, we show no prejudice against people with disabilities if weprefer, whether for ourselves or for our children, not to be faced withhurdles so great that to surmount them is in itself a triumph.


Equality for Animals?

racism and speciesism

In the previous chapter, I gave reasons for believing that the fundamentalprinciple of equality, on which the idea that humans are equal rests, is theprinciple of equal consideration of interests. Only a basic moral principleof this kind can allow us to defend a form of equality that embraces almostall human beings, despite the differences that exist between them. (Theexceptions are human beings who are not and have never been consciousand therefore have no interests to be considered – a topic to be discussedin Chapters 6 and 7.) Although the principle of equal consideration ofinterests provides the best possible basis for human equality, its scopeis not limited to humans. When we accept the principle of equality forhumans, we are also committed to accepting that it extends to somenonhuman animals.

When I wrote the first edition of this book, in 1979, I warned thereader that the suggestion I was making here might seem bizarre. Itwas then generally accepted that discrimination against members ofracial minorities and against women ranked among the most import-ant moral and political issues. Questions about animal welfare, however,were widely regarded as matters of no real significance, except for peoplewho are dotty about dogs and cats. Issues about humans, it was commonlyassumed, should always take precedence over issues about animals. Now,thanks to organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Anim-als and vocal animal advocates all over the world, the view that animalsare in some sense our equals is less likely to meet with blank stares. It


Equality for Animals? 49

has become more familiar, even if it is still a minority view and oftenmisunderstood.

The belief that issues about humans should always take precedenceover issues about animals reflects a popular prejudice against takingthe interests of animals seriously – a prejudice no better founded thanthe prejudice of white slave owners against taking seriously the interestsof their African slaves. It is easy for us to criticize the prejudices of ourgrandfathers, from which our fathers freed themselves. It is more difficultto search for prejudices among the beliefs and values we hold. What isneeded now is a willingness to follow the arguments where they lead,without a prior assumption that the issue is not worth our attention.

The argument for extending the principle of equality beyond our ownspecies is simple. It amounts to no more than a clear understanding ofthe principle of equal consideration of interests. We have seen that thisprinciple implies that our concern for others ought not to depend onwhat they are like or what abilities they possess (although precisely whatthis concern requires us to do may vary according to the characteristics ofthose affected by what we do). It is on this basis that we are able to say thatthe fact that some people are not members of our race does not entitleus to exploit them, and the fact that some people are less intelligentthan others does not mean that their interests may be discounted ordisregarded. The principle also implies that the fact that beings are notmembers of our species does not entitle us to exploit them, and it similarlyimplies that the fact that other animals are less intelligent than we aredoes not mean that their interests may be discounted or disregarded.

We saw in the previous chapter that many philosophers have advocatedequal consideration of interests, in some form or another, as a basic moralprinciple. Few recognized that the principle has applications beyond ourown species. One of those few was Jeremy Bentham, the founding fatherof modern utilitarianism. In a forward-looking passage, written at a timewhen African slaves in the British dominions were still being treatedmuch as we now treat nonhuman animals, Bentham wrote:

The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rightswhich never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny.The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reasonwhy a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of atormentor. It may one day come to be recognised that the number of the legs,the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equallyinsufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it

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that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or perhaps thefaculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a morerational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week,or even a month, old. But suppose they were otherwise, what would it avail? Thequestion is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?

In this passage, Bentham points to the capacity for suffering as the vitalcharacteristic that entitles a being to equal consideration. The capacityfor suffering – or more strictly, for suffering and/or enjoyment or hap-piness – is not just another characteristic like the capacity for languageor for higher mathematics. Bentham is not saying that those who try tomark ‘the insuperable line’ that determines whether the interests of abeing should be considered happen to have selected the wrong charac-teristic. The capacity for suffering and enjoying things is a prerequisitefor having interests at all, a condition that must be satisfied before wecan speak of interests in any meaningful way. It would be nonsense tosay that it was not in the interests of a stone to be kicked along theroad by a child. A stone does not have interests because it cannot suf-fer. Nothing that we can do to it could possibly make any differenceto its welfare. A mouse, on the other hand, does have an interest innot being tormented, because mice will suffer if they are treated in thisway.

If a being suffers, there can be no moral justification for refusing totake that suffering into consideration. No matter what the nature of thebeing, the principle of equality requires that the suffering be countedequally with the like suffering – in so far as rough comparisons can bemade – of any other being. If a being is not capable of suffering, or ofexperiencing enjoyment or happiness, there is nothing to be taken intoaccount. This is why the limit of sentience (using the term as convenient,if not strictly accurate, shorthand for the capacity to suffer or experienceenjoyment or happiness) is the only defensible boundary of concern forthe interests of others. To mark this boundary by some characteristic likeintelligence or rationality would be to mark it in an arbitrary way. Whynot choose some other characteristic, like skin colour?

Racists violate the principle of equality by giving greater weight to theinterests of members of their own race when there is a clash between theirinterests and the interests of those of another race. The white racists whosupported slavery typically did not give the suffering of Africans as muchweight as they gave to the suffering of Europeans. Similarly, speciesistsgive greater weight to the interests of members of their own species whenthere is a clash between their interests and the interests of those of other

Equality for Animals? 51

species. Human speciesists do not accept that pain is as bad when it isfelt by pigs or mice as when it is felt by humans.

That, then, is really the whole of the argument for extending the prin-ciple of equality to nonhuman animals, but there may be some doubtsabout what this equality amounts to in practice. In particular, the lastsentence of the previous paragraph may prompt some people to reply:‘Surely pain felt by a mouse just is not as bad as pain felt by a human.Humans have much greater awareness of what is happening to them, andthis makes their suffering worse. You can’t equate the suffering of, say,a person dying slowly from cancer and a laboratory mouse undergoingthe same fate.’

I fully accept that in the case described, the human cancer victimnormally suffers more than the nonhuman cancer victim. This in noway undermines the extension of equal consideration of interests tononhumans. It means, rather, that we must take care when we comparethe interests of different species. In some situations, a member of onespecies will suffer more than a member of another species. In this case,we should still apply the principle of equal consideration of interests butthe result of so doing is, of course, to give priority to relieving the greatersuffering. A simpler case may help to make this clear.

If I give a horse a hard slap across its rump with my open hand, thehorse may start, but it presumably feels little pain. Its skin is thick enoughto protect it against a mere slap. If I slap a baby in the same way, however,the baby will cry and presumably does feel pain, for the baby’s skin ismore sensitive. So it is worse to slap a baby than a horse, if both slaps areadministered with equal force. But there must be some kind of blow –I don’t know exactly what it would be, but perhaps a blow with a heavystick – that would cause the horse as much pain as we cause a baby bya simple slap. That is what I mean by ‘the same amount of pain’, andif we consider it wrong to inflict that much pain on a baby for no goodreason then we must, unless we are speciesists, consider it equally wrongto inflict the same amount of pain on a horse for no good reason.

There are other differences between humans and animals that causeother complications. Normal adult human beings have mental capacit-ies that will, in certain circumstances, lead them to suffer more thananimals would in the same circumstances. If, for instance, we decidedto perform extremely painful or lethal scientific experiments on normaladult humans, kidnapped at random from public parks for this purpose,adults who entered parks would become fearful that they would be kid-napped. The resultant terror would be a form of suffering additional to

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the pain of the experiment. The same experiments performed on non-human animals would cause less suffering because the animals wouldnot have the anticipatory dread of being kidnapped and experimentedon. This does not mean, of course, that it would be right to perform theexperiment on animals, but only that there is a reason, and one that isnot speciesist, for preferring to use animals rather than normal adulthumans, if the experiment is to be done at all. Note, however, that thissame argument gives us a reason for preferring to use human infants –orphans perhaps – or severely intellectually disabled humans for exper-iments, rather than adults, because infants and severely intellectuallydisabled humans would also have no idea of what was going to happento them. So far as this argument is concerned, nonhuman animals andinfants and severely intellectually disabled humans are in the same cat-egory; and if we use this argument to justify experiments on nonhumananimals, we have to ask ourselves whether we are also prepared to allowexperiments on human infants and severely intellectually disabled adults.If we make a distinction between animals and these humans, how can wedo it, other than on the basis of a morally indefensible preference formembers of our own species?

There are many areas in which the superior mental powers of normaladult humans make a difference: anticipation, more detailed memory,greater knowledge of what is happening and so on. These differencesexplain why a human dying from cancer is likely to suffer more thana mouse. It is the mental anguish that makes the human’s position somuch harder to bear. Yet these differences do not all point to greatersuffering on the part of the normal human being. Sometimes animalsmay suffer more because of their more limited understanding. If, forinstance, we are taking prisoners in wartime, we can explain to them thatalthough they must submit to capture, search and confinement, theywill not otherwise be harmed and will be set free at the conclusion ofhostilities. If we capture wild animals, however, we cannot explain thatwe are not threatening their lives. Animals cannot distinguish attemptsto overpower and confine from attempts to kill them; the one causes asmuch terror as the other.

It may be objected that comparisons of the sufferings of differentspecies are impossible to make, and that for this reason when the interestsof animals and humans clash, the principle of equality gives no guidance.It is true that comparisons of suffering between members of differentspecies cannot be made precisely. Nor, for that matter, can comparisonsof suffering between different human beings be made precisely. Precision

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is not essential. As we shall see shortly, even if we were to prevent theinfliction of suffering on animals only when the interests of humans willnot be affected to anything like the extent that animals are affected, wewould be forced to make radical changes in our treatment of animals thatwould involve the food we eat, the farming methods we use, experimentalprocedures in many fields of science, our approach to wildlife and tohunting, trapping and the wearing of furs, and areas of entertainmentlike circuses, rodeos and zoos. As a result, the total quantity of sufferingwe cause would be hugely reduced.

So far, I have said a lot about the infliction of suffering on animalsbut nothing about killing them. This omission has been deliberate. Theapplication of the principle of equality to the infliction of suffering is,in theory at least, fairly straightforward. Pain and suffering are bad andshould be prevented or minimized, irrespective of the race, sex or spe-cies of the being that suffers. How bad a pain is depends on how intenseit is and how long it lasts, but pains of the same intensity and durationare equally bad, whether felt by humans or animals. When we come toconsider the value of life, we cannot say quite so confidently that a lifeis a life and equally valuable, whether it is a human life or an animallife. It would not be speciesist to hold that the life of a self-aware being,capable of abstract thought, of planning for the future, of complex actsof communication and so on, is more valuable than the life of a beingwithout these capacities. (I am not saying, at this stage, whether this viewis justifiable or not; I am saying only that it cannot simply be rejected asspeciesist, because it is not on the basis of species itself that one life isheld to be more valuable than another.) The value of life is a notoriouslydifficult ethical question, and we can only arrive at a reasoned conclu-sion about the comparative value of human and animal life after wehave discussed the value of life in general. This is the topic of the nextchapter. Meanwhile, there are important conclusions to be derived fromthe extension beyond our own species of the principle of equal consider-ation of interests, irrespective of our conclusions about the value of life.

speciesism in practice

Animals as Food

For most people in modern, urbanized societies, the principal form ofcontact with nonhuman animals is at meal times. The use of animals forfood is probably the oldest and the most widespread form of animal use.

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There is also a sense in which it is the most basic form of animal use, thefoundation stone of an ethic that sees animals as things for us to use tomeet our needs and interests.

If animals count in their own right, our use of animals for foodbecomes questionable. Inuit living a traditional lifestyle in the far northwhere they must eat animals or starve can reasonably claim that theirinterest in surviving overrides that of the animals they kill. Most of uscannot defend our diet in this way. People living in industrialized soci-eties can easily obtain an adequate diet without the use of animal flesh.Meat is not necessary for good health or longevity. Indeed, humans canlive healthy lives without eating any animal products at all, although avegan diet requires greater care, especially for young children, and aB12 vitamin supplement should be taken. Nor is animal production inindustrialized societies an efficient way of producing food, because mostof the animals consumed have been fattened on grains and other foodsthat we could have eaten directly. When we feed these grains to anim-als, only about one-quarter – and in some cases, as little as one-tenth –of the nutritional value remains as meat for human consumption. So,with the exception of animals raised entirely on grazing land unsuitablefor crops, animals are eaten neither for health nor to increase our foodsupply. Their flesh is a luxury, consumed because people like its taste.(The livestock industry also contributes more to global warming than theentire transport sector.)

In considering the ethics of the use of animal products for humanfood in industrialized societies, we are considering a situation in which arelatively minor human interest must be balanced against the lives andwelfare of the animals involved. The principle of equal considerationof interests does not allow major interests to be sacrificed for minorinterests.

The case against using animals for food is at its strongest when animalsare made to lead miserable lives so that their flesh can be made availableto humans at the lowest possible cost. Modern forms of intensive farmingapply science and technology to the attitude that animals are objects forus to use. Competition in the marketplace forces meat producers to copyrivals who are prepared to cut costs by giving animals more miserablelives. In buying the meat, eggs or milk produced in these ways, we toleratemethods of meat production that confine sentient animals in cramped,unsuitable conditions for the entire duration of their lives. They aretreated like machines that convert fodder into flesh, and any innovationthat results in a higher ‘conversion ratio’ is liable to be adopted. As one

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authority on the subject has said, ‘cruelty is acknowledged only whenprofitability ceases’. To avoid speciesism, we must stop these practices.Our custom is all the support that factory farmers need. The decision tocease giving them that support may be difficult, but it is less difficult thanit would have been for a white Southerner to go against the values of hiscommunity and free his slaves. If we do not change our dietary habits,how can we censure those slave holders who would not change their ownway of living?

These arguments apply to animals reared in factory farms – whichmeans that we should not eat chicken, pork or veal unless we know thatthe meat we are eating was not produced by factory farm methods. Thesame is true of beef that has come from cattle kept in crowded feedlots (asmost beef does in the United States). Eggs come from hens kept in smallwire cages, too small even to allow them to stretch their wings, unlessthe eggs are specifically sold as ‘cage-free’ or ‘free range’. (At the timeof writing, Switzerland has banned the battery cage, and the EuropeanUnion is in the process of phasing it out. In the United States, Californiavoted in 2008 to ban it, and that ban will come into effect in 2015. Alaw passed in Michigan in 2009 requires battery cages to be phased outover ten years.) Dairy products also often come from cows confined toa barn, unable to go out to pasture. Moreover, to continue to give milk,dairy cows have to be made pregnant every year, and their calf then takenaway from them shortly after birth, so we can have the milk. This causesdistress to both the cow and the calf.

Concern about the suffering of animals in factory farms does nottake us all the way to a vegan diet, because it is possible to buy animalproducts from animals allowed to graze outside. (When animal productsare labeled ‘organic’, this should mean that the animals have access tothe outdoors, but the interpretation of this rule is sometimes loose.)The lives of free-ranging animals are undoubtedly better than those ofanimals reared in factory farms. It is still doubtful if using them for foodis compatible with equal consideration of interests. One problem is, ofcourse, that using them for food involves killing them (even laying hensand dairy cows are killed when their productivity starts to drop, whichis far short of their natural life span), but this is an issue to which, asI have said, we shall return in later chapters. Apart from killing them,there are also many other things done to animals in order to bring themcheaply to our dinner table. Castration, the separation of mother andyoung, the breaking up of herds, branding, transporting, slaughterhousehandling and finally the moment of slaughter itself – all of these are likely

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to involve suffering and do not take the animals’ interests into account.Perhaps animals can be reared on a small scale without suffering in theseways. Some farmers take pride in producing ‘humanely raised’ animalproducts, but the standards of what is regarded as ‘humane’ vary widely.Any shift towards more humane treatment of animals is welcome, butit seems unlikely that these methods could produce the vast quantity ofanimal products now consumed by our large urban populations. At thevery least, we would have to considerably reduce the amount of meat, eggsand dairy products that we consume. In any case, the important questionis not whether animal products could be produced without suffering,but whether those we are considering buying were produced withoutsuffering. Unless we can be confident that they were, the principle ofequal consideration of interests implies that their production wronglysacrificed important interests of the animals to satisfy less importantinterests of our own. To buy the results of this process of production is tosupport it and encourage producers to continue to do it. Because thoseof us living in developed societies have a wide range of food choices anddo not need to eat these products, encouraging the continuation of acruel system of producing animal products is wrong.

For those of us living in cities where it is difficult to know how theanimals we might eat have lived and died, this conclusion brings us veryclose to a vegan way of life. I shall consider some objections to it in thefinal section of this chapter.

Experimenting on Animals

Perhaps the area in which speciesism can most clearly be observed is theuse of animals in experiments. Here the issue stands out starkly, becauseexperimenters often seek to justify experimenting on animals by claimingthat the experiments lead us to discoveries about humans; if this is so,the experimenter must agree that human and nonhuman animals aresimilar in crucial respects. For instance, if forcing a rat to choose betweenstarving to death and crossing an electrified grid to obtain food tells usanything about the reactions of humans to stress, we must assume thatthe rat feels stress in this kind of situation.

People sometimes think that all animal experiments serve vital med-ical purposes and can be justified on the grounds that they relieve moresuffering than they cause. This comfortable belief is mistaken. The LD50 –a test designed in the 1920s to find the ‘Lethal Dose’, or level of con-sumption that will make 50 percent of a sample of animals die – is still

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used today for some purposes. It is, for example, used to test the popularanti-wrinkle treatment, Botox R© Cosmetic. For this purpose, mice aregiven varying doses. Those given a high enough dose slowly suffocate astheir respiratory muscles become paralyzed, undoubtedly after consider-able suffering. These tests are not necessary to prevent human suffering:even if there were no alternative to the use of animals to test the safetyof the products, it would be better to do without them, and learn to livewith wrinkles, as most elderly people always have.

Nor can all university experiments be defended on the grounds thatthey relieve more suffering than they inflict. In a well-known series ofexperiments that went on for more than fifteen years, H. F. Harlow of thePrimate Research Center, Madison, Wisconsin, reared monkeys underconditions of maternal deprivation and total isolation. He found that inthis way he could reduce the monkeys to a state in which, when placedamong normal monkeys, they sat huddled in a corner in a condition ofpersistent depression and fear. Harlow also produced female monkeys soneurotic that when they became mothers they smashed their infant’s faceinto the floor and rubbed it back and forth. Although Harlow himselfis no longer alive, some of his former students at other U.S. universitiescontinued to perform variations of his experiments for many years afterhis death.

In these cases, and many others like them, the benefits to humans areeither non-existent or very uncertain; while the losses to members ofother species are certain and real. Hence, the experiments indicate afailure to give equal consideration to the interests of all beings, irrespect-ive of species. In the past, argument about animal experimentation hasoften missed this point because it has been put in absolutist terms: wouldthe opponent of experimentation be prepared to let thousands die froma terrible disease that could be cured only by experimenting on oneanimal? This is a purely hypothetical question, because no experimentcould ever be predicted to have such dramatic results, but so long as itshypothetical nature is clear, I think the question should be answered affir-matively – in other words, if one, or even a dozen animals had to sufferexperiments in order to save thousands, I would think it right and inaccordance with equal consideration of interests that they should do so.

To the hypothetical question about saving thousands of peoplethrough experiments on limited number of animals, opponents of spe-ciesism can reply with a hypothetical question of their own: would experi-menters be prepared to perform their experiments on orphaned humanswith severe and irreversible brain damage if that were the only way to save

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thousands? (I say ‘orphaned’ in order to avoid the complication of thefeelings of the human parents.) If experimenters are not prepared touse orphaned humans with severe and irreversible brain damage, theirreadiness to use nonhuman animals seems to discriminate on the basis ofspecies alone, because apes, monkeys, dogs, cats and even mice and ratsare more intelligent, more aware of what is happening to them, moresensitive to pain and so on than many severely brain-damaged humansbarely surviving in hospital wards and other institutions. There seems tobe no morally relevant characteristic that such humans have that nonhu-man animals lack. Experimenters, then, show bias in favour of their ownspecies whenever they carry out experiments on nonhuman animals forpurposes that they would not think justified them in using human beingsat an equal or lower level of sentience, awareness, sensitivity and so on.If this bias were eliminated, the number of experiments performed onanimals would be greatly reduced.

It is possible that a small number of actual experiments on anim-als could be justified along the lines of the hypothetical justification Iaccepted previously, that is, without violating the principle of equal con-sideration of interests. Although the gains from an actual experimentwould never be as certain as in the hypothetical example, if the bene-fit were sufficiently great, the probability of achieving that benefit highenough and the suffering to the animals sufficiently small, a utilitariancould not say that it is wrong to do it. That would also be true if the exper-iment were to be done on an orphaned, brain-damaged human being.Whether or not the occasional experiment on animals is defensible, cur-rent institutional practices of using animals in research are not because,despite some improvements during the past thirty years, these practicesstill come nowhere near to giving equal consideration to the interestsof animals. It would therefore be better to shift funds now going intoresearch on animals to clinical research involving consenting patientsand to developing other methods of research that do not make anyone,animal or human, suffer.

Other Forms of Speciesism

I have concentrated on the use of animals as food and in research,because these are examples of large-scale, systematic speciesism. Theyare not, of course, the only areas in which the principle of equal consid-eration of interests, extended beyond the human species, has practicalimplications. There are many other areas that raise similar issues, includ-ing the fur trade, hunting in all its different forms, circuses, rodeos, zoos

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and the pet business. Because the philosophical questions raised by theseissues are not very different from those raised by the use of animals asfood and in research, I shall leave it to the reader to apply the appropriateethical principles to them.

some objections

When I first put forward the views outlined in this chapter, in 1973,there was no animal liberation or animal rights movement. Now there is,and the hard work of countless animal activists has paid off, not only ingreater public awareness of animal abuse, but also in concrete benefitsfor animals in many different areas. Despite this increasing acceptanceof many aspects of the case for equal consideration for the interests ofanimals and the slow but tangible progress made on behalf of animalsin many different areas, a number of objections keep coming up. In thisfinal section of the chapter, I shall attempt to answer the most importantof these objections.

How Do We Know That Animals Can Feel Pain?

We can never directly experience the pain of another being, whetherthat being is human or not. When I see a child fall and scrape her knee,I know that she feels pain because of the way she behaves – she cries, shetells me her knee hurts, she rubs the sore spot and so on. I know thatI myself behave in a somewhat similar – if more inhibited – way when Ifeel pain, and so I accept that the child feels something like what I feelwhen I scrape my knee.

The basis of my belief that animals can feel pain is similar to the basisof my belief that children can feel pain. Animals in pain behave in muchthe same way as humans do, and their behaviour is sufficient justificationfor the belief that they feel pain. It is true that, with the exception ofa few animals who have learned to communicate with us in a humanlanguage, they cannot actually say that they are feeling pain – but babiesand toddlers cannot talk either. They find other ways to make their innerstates apparent, however, demonstrating that we can be sure that a beingis feeling pain even if the being cannot use language.

To back up our inference from animal behaviour, we can point to thefact that the nervous systems of all vertebrates, and especially of birdsand mammals, are fundamentally similar. Those parts of the humannervous system that are concerned with feeling pain are relatively old,in evolutionary terms. Unlike the cerebral cortex, which developed only

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after our ancestors diverged from other mammals, the basic nervoussystem evolved in more distant ancestors and so is common to all ofthe other ‘higher’ animals, including humans. This anatomical parallelmakes it likely that the capacity of vertebrate animals to feel is similar toour own.

The nervous systems of invertebrates are less like our own, and per-haps for that reason we are not justified in having quite the same con-fidence that they can feel pain. In the case of bivalves like oysters, mus-sels and clams, a capacity for pain or any other form of consciousnessseems unlikely, and if that is so, the principle of equal consideration ofinterests will not apply to them. On the other hand, scientists studyingthe responses of crabs and prawns to stimuli like electric shock or a pinchon an antenna have found evidence that does suggest pain. Moreover,the behaviour of some invertebrates – especially the octopus, who canlearn to solve novel problems like opening a screw-top glass jar to getat a tasty morsel inside – is difficult to explain without accepting thatconsciousness has also evolved in at least some invertebrates.

It is significant that none of the grounds we have for believing thatanimals feel pain hold for plants. We cannot observe behaviour suggest-ing pain – sensational claims to have detected feelings in plants by attach-ing lie detectors to them proved impossible to replicate – and plants donot have a centrally organized nervous system like ours.

Animals Eat Each Other, So Why Shouldn’t We Eat Them?

This might be called the Benjamin Franklin Objection because Franklinrecounts in his Autobiography that he was for a time a vegetarian, but hisabstinence from animal flesh came to an end when he was watching somefriends prepare to fry a fish they had just caught. When the fish was cutopen, it was found to have a smaller fish in its stomach. ‘Well’, Franklinsaid to himself, ‘if you eat one another, I don’t see why we may not eatyou’, and he proceeded to do so.

Franklin was at least honest. In telling this story, he confesses that heconvinced himself of the validity of the objection only after the fish wasalready in the frying pan and smelling ‘admirably well’; and he remarksthat one of the advantages of being a ‘reasonable creature’ is that onecan find a reason for whatever one wants to do. The replies that can bemade to this objection are so obvious that Franklin’s acceptance of itdoes testify more to his hunger on that occasion than to his powers ofreason. For a start, most animals who kill for food would not be able tosurvive if they did not, whereas we have no need to eat animal flesh. Next,

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it is odd that humans, who normally think of the behaviour of animals as‘beastly’ should, when it suits them, use an argument that implies that weought to look to animals for moral guidance. The most decisive point,however, is that nonhuman animals are not capable of considering thealternatives open to them or of reflecting on the ethics of their diet.Hence, it is impossible to hold the animals responsible for what they door to judge that because of their killing they ‘deserve’ to be treated in asimilar way. Those who read these lines, on the other hand, must considerthe justifiability of their dietary habits. You cannot evade responsibilityby imitating beings who are incapable of making this choice.

Sometimes people draw a slightly different conclusion from the factthat animals eat each other. This suggests, they think, not that animalsdeserve to be eaten, but rather that there is a natural law according towhich the stronger prey on the weaker, a kind of Darwinian ‘survival ofthe fittest’ in which by eating animals we are merely playing our part.

This interpretation of the objection makes two basic mistakes, one offact and the other of reasoning. The factual mistake lies in the assumptionthat our own consumption of animals is part of some natural evolutionaryprocess. This might be true of those who still hunt for food, but it hasnothing to do with the mass production of domestic animals in factoryfarms.

Suppose that we did hunt for our food, though, and this was partof some natural evolutionary process. There would still be an error ofreasoning in the assumption that because this process is natural it is right.It is, no doubt, ‘natural’ for women to produce an infant every year ortwo from puberty to menopause, but this does not mean that it is wrongto interfere with this process. We need to understand nature and developthe best theories we can to explain why things are as they are, becauseonly in that way can we work out what the consequences our actions arelikely to be; but it would be a serious mistake to assume that natural waysof doing things are incapable of improvement.

Ethics and Reciprocity

In the earliest surviving major work of moral philosophy in the Westerntradition, Plato’s Republic, we find the following view of ethics:

They say that to do injustice is, by nature, good; to suffer injustice, evil; but thatthere is more evil in the latter than good in the former. And so when men haveboth done and suffered injustice and have had experience of both, any who arenot able to avoid the one and obtain the other, think that they had better agreeamong themselves to have neither; hence they begin to establish laws and mutual

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covenants; and that which is ordained by law is termed by them lawful and just.This, it is claimed, is the origin and nature of justice – it is a mean or compromise,between the best of all, which is to do injustice and not be punished, and theworst of all, which is to suffer injustice without the power of retaliation.

This was not Plato’s own view. He put it into the mouth of Glaucon inorder to allow Socrates, the hero of his dialogue, to refute it. It is a viewthat has never gained general acceptance but has not died away either.Echoes of it can be found in the ethical theories of philosophers like JohnRawls and David Gauthier, and it has been used to justify the exclusion ofanimals from the sphere of ethics, or at least from its core. For if the basisof ethics is that I refrain from doing nasty things to others as long as theydon’t do nasty things to me, I have no reason to avoid doing nasty thingsto those who are incapable of appreciating my restraint and controllingtheir conduct towards me accordingly. Animals, by and large, are in thiscategory. If I am surfing and a shark attacks, my respect for the interestsof animals will not help me – I am as likely to be eaten as a surfer who,when not surfing, fishes for sharks from the safety of a boat. Becauseanimals cannot reciprocate, they are, on this view, outside the limits ofthe ethical contract.

In assessing this conception of ethics, we should distinguish betweenexplanations of the origin of ethical judgments and justifications of thesejudgments. The explanation of the origin of ethics in terms of a tacitcontract between people for their mutual benefit has some plausibility(though in view of the quasi-ethical social rules that have been observedin the societies of other mammals, it is obviously a historical fantasy). Wecould accept this account as a historical explanation, however, withoutthereby committing ourselves to any views about the rightness or wrong-ness of the ethical system that has resulted. No matter how self-interestedthe origins of ethics may be, it is possible that once we have startedthinking ethically, we are led beyond these mundane premises, for weare capable of reasoning, and reason is not subordinate to self-interest.When we are reasoning about ethics, we are using concepts that, as wesaw in the first chapter of this book, take us beyond our own personalinterests and even beyond the interests of some sectional group to whichwe belong. According to the contract view of ethics, this universalizingprocess should stop at the boundaries of our community; but once theprocess has begun, we may come to see that it would not be consistentwith our other convictions to halt at that point. Just as the first math-ematicians, who may have started counting in order to keep track of the

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number of people in their tribe, had no idea that they were taking thefirst steps along a path that would lead to the infinitesimal calculus, sothe origins of ethics tell us nothing about where ethics should end.

When we turn to the question of justification, we can see that con-tractual accounts of ethics have many problems. Clearly, such accountsexclude from the ethical sphere a lot more than nonhuman animals.Because profoundly intellectually disabled humans are equally incap-able of reciprocating, they must also be excluded. The same goes forinfants and very young children. Nor are the problems of the contractualview limited to these special cases. The ultimate reason for entering intothe ethical contract is, on this view, self-interest. Unless some additionaluniversal element is brought in, one group of people has no reason todeal ethically with another if it is not in their interest to do so. If wetake this seriously, we shall have to revise our ethical judgments verydrastically. For instance, the white slave traders who transported Africanslaves to America had no self-interested reason for treating Africans anybetter than they did. The Africans had no way of retaliating. If theyhad only been contractualists, the slave traders could have rebutted theabolitionists by explaining to them that ethics stops at the boundariesof our community and adding that because Africans are not part of ourcommunity – as, at the time, they were not – we have no duties to them.

Most striking of all is the impact of the contract model on our attitudeto future generations. ‘Why should I do anything for posterity? What hasposterity ever done for me?’ would be the view we ought to take if we haveno obligations to those who are unable to reciprocate. How can peoplewho will be alive in the year 2150 do anything to make our lives betteror worse? Hence, on the contract view, we need have no worries aboutproblems like the disposal of nuclear waste. True, some nuclear wasteswill still be deadly for a quarter of a million years; but as long as we putit in containers that will keep it safe for 100 years, we have done all thatethics demands of us.

These examples should suffice to show that, whatever its origin, theethics we have now does go beyond a tacit understanding between beingscapable of reciprocity. The prospect of returning to such a basis is notappealing. Because no account of the origin of morality compels us tobase our morality on reciprocity, and no other arguments in favour ofthis conclusion have been offered, we should reject this view of ethics.

At this point in the discussion, some contract theorists appeal to alooser view of the contract idea, urging that we include within the moralcommunity all those who have or will have the capacity to take part in

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a reciprocal agreement, irrespective of whether they are in fact able toreciprocate and irrespective of when they will have this capacity. Plainly,this view is no longer based on reciprocity at all, for (unless we care greatlyabout having our grave kept tidy or our memory preserved forever)later generations cannot enter into reciprocal relationships with us, eventhough they will one day have the capacity to reciprocate. If contracttheorists abandon reciprocity in this manner, however, what is left of thecontract account? Why adopt it at all? And why limit morality to thosewho have the capacity to enter into agreements with us, if in fact thereis no possibility of them ever doing so? Rather than cling to the husk ofa contract view that has lost its kernel, it would be better to abandon italtogether and consider, on the basis of universalizability, which beingsought to be included within morality.

Differences Between Humans and Animals

That humans and animals are utterly different kinds of beings was unques-tioned for most of the course of Western civilization. The basis of thisassumption was undermined by Darwin’s discovery of our origins and theassociated decline in the credibility of the story of our divine creation inthe image of God. Darwin himself argued that the difference between usand animals is one of degree, rather than of kind – a view that even today,some find difficult to accept. They have searched for ways of drawing aline between humans and animals. To date, these boundaries have beenshort-lived. For instance, it used to be said that only humans used tools.Then it was observed that the Galapagos woodpecker used a cactus thornto dig insects out of crevices in trees. Next, it was suggested that even ifother animals used tools, humans are the only animals who make tools.Then Jane Goodall found that chimpanzees in the jungles of Tanzaniachewed up leaves to make a sponge for sopping up water and trimmedthe leaves from branches to make tools for catching insects. The use oflanguage was another boundary line – but now chimpanzees, bonobos,gorillas and orangutans have learnt to sign in the language used in Amer-ica by people who are deaf, and parrots have learned to speak – and notmerely parrot – English.

Even if these attempts to draw the line between humans and animalshad fitted the facts, they would still not carry the moral weight requiredto justify our treatment of animals. As Bentham pointed out, the fact thatan animal does not use language is no reason for ignoring its suffering,and neither is the fact that she does not use tools.

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Some philosophers have claimed that there is a more profound dif-ference between humans and animals. They have claimed that animalscannot think or reason, and that accordingly, they have no conceptionof themselves, no self-awareness. They live from instant to instant anddo not see themselves as distinct entities with a past and a future. Nordo they have autonomy, the ability to choose how to live one’s life. Ithas been suggested that autonomous, self-aware beings are in some waymuch more morally significant than beings who live from moment tomoment, without the capacity to see themselves as distinct beings with apast and a future. Accordingly, on this view, the interests of autonomous,self-aware beings ought normally to take priority over the interests ofother beings. I shall not now consider whether some nonhuman animalsare self-aware and autonomous because in the present context, not muchdepends on this question. We are now considering only the applicationof the principle of equal consideration of interests. In the next chapter,when we discuss questions about what makes it wrong to take a life, weshall see that there are reasons for holding that self-awareness makes adifference in debates about whether a being has a right to life; and weshall then investigate the evidence for self-awareness in nonhuman anim-als. Meanwhile, the more important issue is: does the fact that a being isself-aware entitle that being to some kind of priority of consideration?

The claim that self-aware beings are entitled to more considerationthan other beings is compatible with the principle of equal considerationof interests if it amounts to no more than the claim that something thathappens to self-aware beings can be contrary to their interests, whereassimilar occurrences would not be contrary to the interests of beings whoare not self-aware. This might be because the self-aware creature canfit the event into the overall framework of a longer time period, hasdifferent desires and so on. This, however, is a point I granted at the startof this chapter, and provided that it is not carried to ludicrous extremes –like insisting that if I am self-aware and a veal calf is not, depriving meof veal causes more suffering than depriving the calf of his freedom towalk, stretch and eat grass – it is not denied by the criticisms I made ofanimal experimentation and factory farming.

It would be a different matter if it were claimed that, even when a self-aware being did not suffer more than a being that was merely sentient,the suffering of the self-aware being is more important because these areinherently more valuable beings. This introduces non-utilitarian claims ofvalue – claims that do not derive simply from taking a universal standpointin the manner described in the final section of Chapter 1. Because the

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argument for utilitarianism developed in that section was admittedly tent-ative, I cannot use it to rule out all non-utilitarian values. Nevertheless,we are entitled to ask why self-aware beings should be considered morevaluable and in particular why the alleged greater value of a self-awarebeing should result in preferring the lesser interests of a self-aware beingto the greater interests of a merely sentient being, even where the self-awareness of the former being is not itself at stake. This last point is animportant one, for we are not now considering cases in which the livesof self-aware beings are at risk but cases in which self-aware beings willgo on living, their faculties intact, whatever we decide. In these cases, ifthe existence of self-awareness does not mean that the interests of theself-aware being really are greater, and more adversely affected, than theinterests of the non-self-aware being, it is not clear why we should bringself-awareness into the discussion at all, any more than we should bringspecies, race or sex into similar discussions.

There is another possible reply to the claim that self-awareness, orautonomy or some similar characteristic, can serve to distinguish humanfrom nonhuman animals. Recall that there are intellectually disabledhumans who have less claim to be regarded as self-aware or autonomousthan many nonhuman animals. If we use these characteristics to place agulf between humans and other animals, we place these less able humanson the other side of the gulf; and if the gulf is taken to mark a differencein moral status, then these humans would have the moral status of anim-als rather than humans. But none of us would want to use profoundlyintellectually disabled humans in painful experiments, or fatten them tosatisfy some gourmets’ interests in tasting a new kind of meat.

Defending Speciesism

When faced with the objection that their position implies that we wouldbe entitled to treat profoundly intellectually disabled humans as we nowtreat nonhuman animals, some philosophers fall back on defending spe-ciesism, either because of its instrumental value, or, more boldly, on thegrounds that species membership is itself morally significant.

The instrumental defence of speciesism invokes the widely used ‘slip-pery slope’ argument. The claim is that a first step in a certain directionwill put us on a slippery slope, and we shall not be able to stop sliding intoa moral abyss. In the present context, the argument is used to suggestthat we need a clear line to divide those beings we can experiment on,or fatten for dinner, from those we cannot. The species boundary makes

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a nice sharp dividing line, whereas levels of self-awareness, autonomy orsentience do not. Once we allow that any human being, no matter howprofoundly intellectually disabled, has no higher moral status than ananimal, the argument goes, we have begun to slide down a slope, thenext level of which is denying rights to social misfits, and the bottom ofwhich is classifying anyone we do not like as sub-human and eliminatingthem.

In response to this slippery slope argument, it is important to remem-ber that the aim of my argument is to elevate the status of animals ratherthan to lower the status of any humans. I do not wish to suggest thatintellectually disabled humans should be force-fed with food colouringsuntil they get ill or die – although this would certainly give us a moreaccurate indication of whether the substance was safe for humans thandoing this to rabbits or dogs. I would like our conviction that it would bewrong to treat intellectually disabled humans in this way to be transferredto nonhuman animals at similar levels of self-awareness and with similarcapacities for suffering. It is excessively pessimistic to refrain from tryingto alter the way we treat animals on the grounds that we might start treat-ing intellectually disabled humans with the same lack of concern we nowhave for animals, rather than give animals the greater concern that wenow have for intellectually disabled humans. If we really are convincedof the dangers of the slippery slope, we can avoid it by insisting that allsentient beings, whether self-aware or not, should have basic rights.

The slippery slope argument may serve as a valuable warning in somecontexts, but without some specific reasons for believing that there is areal likelihood that the alleged slide will occur, it cannot bear too muchweight. For we could just as well argue that there is a link between theway we treat animals and the way we treat humans that points in the op-posite direction. Many studies in psychology and criminology have shownthat violent criminals are likely to have a history of animal abuse duringtheir childhood or adolescence. Perhaps if we treated animals better, wewould also treat our fellow humans better. Admittedly, this is a speculat-ive claim, but slippery slope arguments also make speculative claims, sothe two claims could be taken to cancel each other out. In any case,if the special status we now give to humans allows us to ignore theinterests of billions of sentient creatures, we should not be deterredfrom trying to rectify this situation by the mere possibility that the prin-ciples on which we base this attempt will be misused by evil people fortheir own ends. Instead, we should heighten our vigilance against suchmisuse.

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An argument that comes closer to making species a matter of intrinsicmoral significance is that profoundly intellectually disabled humans whodo not possess the capacities that mark the normal human off from otheranimals should nevertheless be treated as if they did possess these capa-cities, because they belong to a species, members of which normally dopossess them. The suggestion is, in other words, that we treat individuals,not in accordance with their actual qualities, but in accordance with thequalities normal for their species.

It is interesting that this suggestion should be made in defence oftreating members of our species better than members of another species,when it would be firmly rejected if it were used to justify treating membersof our race or sex better than members of another race or sex. In theprevious chapter, when discussing the impact of possible differences in IQbetween members of different ethnic groups, I made the obvious pointthat whatever the difference between the average scores for differentgroups, some members of the group with the lower average score willdo better than some members of the group with the higher averagescore, and we ought to treat people as individuals and not according tothe average score for their ethnic group, whatever the explanation ofthat average might be. If we accept this, we cannot consistently acceptthe suggestion that we should grant profoundly intellectually disabledhumans the status or rights normal for their species. For what is thesignificance of the fact that this time the line is to be drawn around thespecies rather than around the race or sex? We cannot insist that beingsbe treated as individuals in the one case and as members of a group inthe other.

It has also been argued that although profoundly intellectually dis-abled humans may not possess higher capacities than other animals,they are nonetheless ‘us’ and for that reason we have obligations to themthat we do not have to those who are not ‘us’. This argument begs thequestion about who we consider ourselves to be. Are we essentially mem-bers of the species Homo sapiens, or are we essentially self-aware beings orperhaps essentially sentient beings? Personally, I would feel that an intel-ligent alien with whom I could communicate and share feelings wouldhave more in common with me than a member of my own species who isso profoundly disabled as to be unable to have any conscious experiencesat all – even if the latter looked much more like me.

It is understandable that human beings who look like us evoke warmfeelings that aliens, or some other animals, may not evoke. It would be amistake, however, to tie morality too closely to our affections. Of course

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some people may have a closer relationship with the most profoundlyintellectually disabled human than they do with any nonhuman animal,and it would be absurd to tell them that they should not feel this way. Theysimply do, and as such there is nothing good or bad about it. The questionis whether our moral obligations to a being should be made to dependon our feelings in this manner. Notoriously, some human beings havea closer relationship with their cat than with their neighbours. Wouldthose who tie morality to affections accept that these people are justifiedin saving their cats from a fire before they save their neighbours? Eventhose who are prepared to answer this question affirmatively would, Itrust, not want to go along with racists who could argue that if people havemore personal relationships with, and greater affection towards, otherswho have the same skin colour or the same kind of hair, it is all right forthem to give preference to the interests of such people. Ethics does notdemand that we eliminate personal relationships and partial affections,but it does demand that, when we act, we assess the moral claims ofthose affected by our actions with some degree of independence fromour feelings for them.

Shortly before he died in 2003, the British philosopher Bernard Wil-liams defended speciesism in an article entitled, appropriately enough,“The Human Prejudice.” Williams started from the claim that all ourvalues are necessarily ‘human values’. In one sense, of course, they are.Because we have yet to encounter any nonhumans who articulate, reflecton and discuss their values, all the values up for discussions are humanin the sense that they have been formulated and articulated by humanbeings. The fact that our values are human in this sense does not excludethe possibility of developing values that would be accepted by any rationalbeing capable of empathy with other beings. Nor – and this is the mostimportant point – does the human nature of our values tell us anythingabout what our values can or should be and, in particular, whether weshould value the pains, pleasures and lives of nonhuman animals lesshighly than we value our own pains, pleasures and lives. Williams, tohis credit, acknowledged that ‘it is itself part of a human, or humane,outlook to be concerned with how animals should be treated, and thereis nothing in what I have said to suggest that we should not be con-cerned with that’. What, then, is the significance of the fact that ourvalues are human values? Williams’ ultimate defence of ‘the humanprejudice’ is surprisingly crude. He asks us to imagine that our planethas been colonized by benevolent, fair-minded and far-sighted alienswho judge it necessary to remove us. He then says that no matter how

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fair-minded and well-informed that decision was (we can imagine, per-haps, that our incorrigible aggression was likely, sooner or later, to destroythe planet), we would be right to side with our own species against thesealiens. The ultimate question, Williams says, is ‘Which side are you on?’

We have heard that question before. In times of war, or racial, eth-nic, religious or ideological conflict, ‘which side are you on?’ is used toevoke group solidarity and suggest that any questioning of the struggleis treason. In the United States in the1950s, followers of Senator JosephMcCarthy asked it of those who opposed their methods of fighting com-munism. Senior figures in the administration of President George W.Bush used it to imply that their critics were giving support to terrorists.The question divides the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’ and demands that themere fact of this division transcends the very different question: ‘What isthe right thing to do?’ In these circumstances, the right and courageousthing to do is not to side with the tribal instincts that prompt us to say,‘My tribe (country, race, ethnic group, religion, etc.) right or wrong’ butto say, ‘I’m on the side that does what is right’. Although it is fantasticto imagine that a fair-minded, well-informed, far-sighted judge couldever decide that there was no alternative to the ‘removal’ of our speciesin order to avoid much greater injustice and misery, if this really werethe case, we should reject the tribal – or species – instinct and answerWilliams’ question in the same way.


What’s Wrong with Killing?

An oversimplified summary of the first three chapters of this book mightread like this: the first chapter sets up a conception of ethics from which,in the second chapter, the principle of equal consideration of interestsis derived; this principle is then used to illuminate problems about thesense in which humans are equal and, in the third chapter, applied tononhuman animals.

Thus, the principle of equal consideration of interests has been behindmuch of our discussion so far; but as I suggested in the previous chapter,the application of this principle when lives are at stake is less straight-forward than when we are concerned with interests like avoiding painand experiencing pleasure. In this chapter, we shall look at some viewsabout the wrongness of taking life, in order to prepare the ground forthe following chapters in which we shall turn to some practical issuesabout when it is wrong to kill someone and when it is wrong to allowsomeone to die.

human life

People often say that life is sacred. They almost never mean what theysay. They do not mean, as their words seem to imply, that all life is sacred.If they did, killing a pig or pulling up a cabbage would be as abhorrentto them as the murder of a human being. When people say that life issacred, it is human life they have in mind. But why should human lifehave special value?

In discussing the doctrine of the sanctity of human life, I shall nottake the term ‘sanctity’ in a specifically religious sense. The doctrine may


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well have a religious origin, but it is now part of a broadly secular ethic,and it is as part of this secular ethic that it is most influential today. Norshall I take the doctrine as maintaining that it is always wrong to takehuman life, for this would imply absolute pacifism, and there are manysupporters of the sanctity of human life who concede that we may killin self-defence and some who support capital punishment. We may takethe doctrine of the sanctity of human life as simply a way of saying thathuman life has some very special value, a value quite distinct from thevalue of the lives of other living things.

The view that human life has unique value is deeply rooted in oursociety and is enshrined in our law. To see how far it can be taken,consider what happened to Peggy Stinson, a Pennsylvania schoolteacher,who was twenty-four weeks pregnant when she went into premature labor.The baby, whom Peggy and her husband named Andrew, was marginallyviable. Despite a firm statement from both parents that they wanted ‘noheroics’, the doctors in charge of their child used all the technologyof modern medicine to keep him alive for nearly six months. Andrewhad periodic fits. Towards the end of that period, it was clear that if hesurvived at all, he would be seriously and permanently impaired. Andrewwas also suffering considerably: at one point his doctor told the Stinsonsthat it must ‘hurt like hell’ every time Andrew drew a breath. Andrew’streatment cost $104,000, and these events took place in 1977 – todaythe cost of keeping an infant in intensive care for six months could easilyexceed a million dollars.

Andrew Stinson was kept alive, against the wishes of his parents, at asubstantial financial cost, notwithstanding evident suffering and despitethe fact that after a certain point it was clear that he would never beable to live an independent life or to think and talk in the way that mosthumans do. Whether it is right to treat an infant human being like thisis a question we shall examine in Chapter 7. Here, I want to note thestriking contrast between such efforts to preserve a human life and thecasual way in which we take the lives of stray dogs, monkeys used inexperiments, and the cattle, pigs and chickens we eat. What could justifythe difference?

In every society known to us, there has been some prohibition onthe taking of life. Presumably no society can survive if it allows its mem-bers to kill one another without restriction. Precisely who is protected,however, is a matter on which societies have differed. In many tribalsocieties, the only serious offence is to kill an innocent member of the

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tribe itself – members of other tribes may be killed with impunity. Inmore sophisticated nation-states, protection has generally extended toall within the nation’s territorial boundaries, although there have beennotorious cases in which a minority was excluded. Nowadays most agree,in theory if not in practice, that, apart from special cases like self-defence,war, possibly capital punishment and one or two other doubtful areas,it is wrong to kill human beings irrespective of their race, religion, classor nationality. The moral inadequacy of narrower principles, limitingrespect for life to a tribe, race or nation, is taken for granted; but theargument of the preceding chapter must raise doubts about whether theboundary of our species marks a defensible limit to the protected circle.

At this point, we should pause to ask what we mean by terms like‘human life’ or ‘human being’. These terms figure prominently indebates about abortion and experimentation on embryos. ‘Is the fetusa human being?’ is often taken as the crucial question in the abortiondebate; but unless we think carefully about these terms, such questionscannot be answered.

It is possible to give ‘human being’ a precise meaning. We can use itas equivalent to ‘member of the species Homo sapiens’. Whether a beingis a member of a given species is something that can be determinedscientifically by an examination of the nature of the chromosomes in thecells of living organisms. In this sense there is no doubt that from the firstmoments of its existence, an embryo conceived from human sperm andeggs is a human being; and the same is true of the most profoundly andirreparably intellectually disabled human being, even of an anencephalicinfant – that is, an infant that, as a result of a defect in the formation ofthe neural tube, has no brain.

There is another use of the term ‘human’, one proposed by JosephFletcher, a major figure in the development of bioethics. Fletcher com-piled a list of what he called ‘Indicators of Humanhood’ that includes thefollowing: self-awareness, self-control, a sense of the future, a sense of thepast, the capacity to relate to others, concern for others, communicationand curiosity. This is the sense of the term that we have in mind whenwe praise someone by saying that she is ‘a real human being’ or shows‘truly human qualities’. In saying this we are not, of course, referring tothe person’s membership in the species Homo sapiens, which as a matterof biological fact is never in doubt; we are implying that human beingscharacteristically possess certain qualities, and this person possesses themto a high degree.

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These two senses of ‘human being’ overlap but do not coincide. Theembryo, the later fetus, the profoundly intellectually disabled child, eventhe newborn infant – all are indisputably members of the species Homosapiens, but none are self-aware, have a sense of the future, or the capacityto relate to others. Hence, the choice between the two senses can makean important difference to how we answer such questions as, ‘Is the fetusa human being?’

When choosing which words to use in a situation like this, we shouldchoose terms that will enable us to express our meaning clearly, and thatdo not prejudge the answer to substantive questions. To stipulate thatwe shall use ‘human’ in, say, the first of the two senses just described,and that therefore the fetus is a human being and abortion is immoral,would not do. Nor would it be any better to choose the second senseand argue on this basis that the fetus is not a human being so abortion isacceptable. The morality of abortion is a substantive issue, the answer towhich cannot depend on a stipulation about how we shall use words. Inorder to avoid begging any questions, I shall for the moment put aside thetricky term ‘human’ and substitute two different terms, correspondingto the two different senses of ‘human’. For the first sense, the biologicalsense, I shall simply use the cumbersome but precise expression ‘memberof the species Homo sapiens’, and for the second sense, I shall use the term‘person’.

This use of ‘person’ is itself, unfortunately, liable to mislead, because‘person’ is often used as if it meant the same as ‘human being’. Yet theterms are not equivalent; there could be a person who is not a memberof our species. There could also be members of our species who are notpersons. The word ‘person’ has its origin in the Latin term for a maskworn by an actor in classical drama. By putting on masks, the actorssignified that they were acting a role. Subsequently, ‘person’ came tomean one who plays a role in life, one who is an agent. According to theOxford Dictionary, one of the current meanings of the term is ‘a self-conscious or rational being’. This sense has impeccable philosophicalprecedents. John Locke defines a person as ‘a thinking intelligent beingthat has reason and reflection and can consider itself as itself, the samethinking thing, in different times and places’.

This definition makes ‘person’ close to what Fletcher meant by‘human’, except that it selects two crucial characteristics – rationality andself-consciousness – as the core of the concept. Quite possibly, Fletcherwould have agreed that these two are central and the others more or lessfollow from them. In any case, I propose to use ‘person’, in the sense of

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a rational and self-aware being, to capture those elements of the popularsense of ‘human being’ that are not covered by ‘member of the speciesHomo sapiens’. (I take ‘self-conscious’ and ‘self-aware’ to mean the samething.)

Killing Members of the Species Homo sapiens

With the clarification gained by our terminological interlude, and theargument of the preceding chapter to draw on, this section can be verybrief. The wrongness of inflicting pain on a being cannot depend on thebeing’s species, and nor can the wrongness of killing it. The biologicalfacts on which the boundary of our species is based do not have moralsignificance. To give preference to the life of a being simply because thatbeing is a member of our species would put us in a position uncomfortablysimilar to that of racists who give preference to those who are membersof their race.

To those who have read the preceding chapters of this book, thisconclusion may seem obvious, for we have worked towards it gradually;but it differs strikingly from the prevailing attitude in our society, whichas we have seen treats the lives of all members of our species as uniquelyvaluable. How is it that our society should have come to accept a view thatbears up so poorly under critical scrutiny? A short historical digressionmay help to explain.

If we go back to the origins of Western civilization, to Greek or Romantimes, we find that membership of Homo sapiens was not sufficient toguarantee that one’s life would be protected. There was no respect forthe lives of slaves or other ‘barbarians’; and even among the Greeksand Romans themselves, infants had no automatic right to life. Greeksand Romans killed deformed or weak infants by exposing them to theelements on a hilltop. Plato and Aristotle thought that the state shouldenforce the killing of deformed infants. The celebrated legislative codessaid to have been drawn up by Lycurgus and Solon contained similarprovisions. In this period, it was thought better to end a life that hadbegun inauspiciously than to attempt to prolong that life, with all theproblems it might bring.

Our present attitudes date from the coming of Christianity. Therewas a specific theological motivation for the Christian insistence on theimportance of species membership: the belief that all born of humanparents are immortal and destined for an eternity of bliss or for ever-lasting torment. With this belief, the killing of Homo sapiens took on a

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fearful significance, because it consigned a being to his or her eternalfate. A second Christian doctrine that led to the same conclusion was thebelief that because we are created by God we are his property, and tokill a human being is to usurp God’s right to decide when we shall liveand when we shall die. As Thomas Aquinas put it, taking a human lifeis a sin against God in the same way that killing a slave would be a sinagainst the master to whom the slave belonged. Nonhuman animals, onthe other hand, were believed to have been placed by God under man’sdominion, as recorded in the Bible (Genesis 1:29 and 9:1–3). Hence,humans could kill nonhuman animals as they pleased, so long as theywere not the property of another.

During the centuries of Christian domination of European thought,the ethical attitudes based on these doctrines became part of the unques-tioned moral orthodoxy of European civilization. Today, the religiousdoctrines are no longer universally accepted, but the ethical attitudesto which they gave rise fit in with the deep-seated Western belief in theuniqueness and special privileges of our species; these ethical attitudeshave survived. Now that we are reassessing our speciesist view of nature,however, it is also time to reassess our belief in the sanctity of the lives ofmembers of our species.

Killing a Person

We have broken down the doctrine of the sanctity of human life intotwo separate claims, one that it is especially serious to take the life ofa member of our species, and the other that it is especially serious totake the life of a person. We have seen that the former claim cannotbe defended. What of the latter? Is there something about the life of arational and self-conscious being, as distinct from a being that is merelysentient, that makes it much more serious to take the life of the formerthan the latter?

One line of argument for giving an affirmative answer to this questionruns as follows. A self-conscious being is aware of itself as a distinct entity,with a past and a future. (This, remember, was Locke’s criterion for beinga person.) A being aware of itself in this way will be capable of havingdesires about its own future. A student may look forward to graduating;a child may want to go to a birthday party; a professor of philosophy mayhope to write a book critical of some widely accepted ethical beliefs. Totake the lives of any of these people, without their consent, is to thwarttheir desires for the future. For most mature humans, these forward-looking desires are absolutely central to our lives, so to kill a normal

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human against his or her wishes is to thwart that person’s most signi-ficant desires. Killing a snail does not thwart any desires of this kind,because snails are incapable of having such desires. (In this respect,however, human fetuses and even newborn infants are in the same situ-ation as snails. We shall explore the implications of this in a subsequentchapter.)

Admittedly, when a person is killed we are not left with a thwarteddesire in the same sense in which I have a thwarted desire when I amhiking through dry country and, pausing to ease my thirst, discover thatmy water bottle is empty. Then I have a desire that I cannot fulfil, and Ifeel frustration and discomfort because of the continuing and unsatisfieddesire for water. When I am killed, the desires I have for the future donot continue after my death, and I do not suffer from the fact that Icannot satisfy them. Does this mean that preventing the fulfilment ofthese desires does not matter?

Classical or hedonistic utilitarianism, as we have already noted, judgesactions by their tendency to maximize pleasure or happiness and min-imize pain or unhappiness. Terms like ‘pleasure’ and ‘happiness’ lackprecision, but it is clear that they refer to something that is experiencedor felt – in other words, to states of consciousness. According to hedon-istic utilitarianism, therefore, there is no direct significance in the factthat desires for the future go unfulfilled when people die. If you dieinstantaneously, whether you have any desires for the future makes nodifference to the amount of pleasure or pain you experience. Thus, forthe hedonistic utilitarian, the status of ‘person’ is not directly relevant tothe wrongness of killing.

Indirectly, however, being a person may be important for the hedon-istic utilitarian. Its importance arises in the following manner. If I ama person, I know that I have a future. I also know that my future exist-ence could be cut short. If I think that this is likely to happen at anymoment, my present existence will be fraught with anxiety and will pre-sumably be less enjoyable than if I do not think I am likely to die forsome time. If I know that people like myself are very rarely killed, I willworry less than if the opposite is the case. Hence, the hedonistic utilit-arian can defend a prohibition on killing persons on the indirect groundthat it will increase the happiness of people who would otherwise worrythat they might be killed. I call this an indirect ground because it doesnot refer to any direct wrong done to the person killed, but rather toa consequence of the killing for others. There is, of course, somethingodd about objecting to murder, not because of the wrong done to thevictim, but because of the effect that the murder will have on others.

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One has to be a tough-minded hedonistic utilitarian to be untroubledby this oddness. Remember, though, that we are now only consideringwhat is especially wrong about killing a person. The hedonistic utilitariancan still regard killing as wrong because it eliminates the happiness thatthe victim would have experienced had she lived. This direct objectionto murder will apply to any being likely to have a happy future, irre-spective of whether the being is a person. For present purposes, however,the main point is that the indirect ground does provide a reason whyeven the hedonistic utilitarian should take the killing of a person, undercertain conditions, more seriously than the killing of a being that is nota person. If a being is incapable of conceiving of itself as existing overtime, we need not take into account the possibility of it worrying aboutthe prospect of its future existence being cut short. It can’t worry aboutthis, for it has no conception of its own future.

I said that the indirect hedonistic utilitarian reason for taking thekilling of a person more seriously than the killing of a being that is nota person holds ‘under certain conditions’. The most obvious of theseconditions is that the killing of the person may become known to otherpersons, who therefore become fearful of being murdered or gloomyabout their prospects of living to a ripe old age. It is of course possiblethat a person could be killed in complete secrecy, so that no one elseknew a murder had been committed. Then, this indirect reason againstkilling would not apply.

To this last point, however, a qualification must be made. In the circum-stances described in the last paragraph, the indirect utilitarian reasonagainst killing would not apply in so far as we judge this individual case.There is something to be said, however, against applying utilitarianism –whether classical hedonistic utilitarianism or preference utilitarianism –only or primarily at the level of each individual case. It may be that in thelong run, we will achieve better results – greater overall happiness – if weurge people not to judge each individual action by the standard of utility,but instead to think along the lines of some broad principles that willcover all or virtually all of the situations that they are likely to encounter.

Several reasons have been offered in support of this approach. R.M.Hare has suggested a useful distinction between two levels of moral reas-oning: the intuitive and the critical. To consider the possible circum-stances in which one might maximize utility by secretly killing someonewho wants to go on living is to reason at the critical level. Those who arereflective, self-critical or philosophically inclined may find it interestingand helpful to think about such unusual hypothetical cases. In real life,

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we usually cannot foresee all the complexities of our choices. It is simplynot practical to try to calculate the consequences, in advance, of everychoice we make. Even if we were to limit ourselves to the more significantchoices, there would be a danger that in many cases we would be doingthese complex calculations in less than ideal circumstances. We could behurried or flustered. We might be feeling angry or hurt or competitive.Our thoughts could be coloured by greed or sexual desire or thoughtsof vengeance. Our own interests, or the interests of those we love, mightbe at stake. Or we might just not be very good at thinking about suchcomplicated issues as the likely consequences of a significant choice. Forall these reasons, Hare suggests, it will be better if we adopt some broadethical principles for our everyday ethical life and do not deviate fromthem. These principles should include those that experience has shown,over the centuries, to be generally conducive to producing the best con-sequences. In Hare’s view, that would include many of the standard moralprinciples; for example, telling the truth, keeping promises, not harmingothers and so on. Respecting the lives of people who want to go on livingwould presumably be among these principles. Even though, at the crit-ical level, we can conceive of circumstances in which better consequenceswould flow from acting against one or more of these principles, peoplewill do better on the whole if they stick to the principles than if theydo not.

On this view, the moral principles we choose to live by should belike a good tennis coach’s instructions to a player. The instructions aregiven with an eye to what will pay off most of the time; they are a guideto playing ‘percentage tennis’. Occasionally, a player whose strength isplaying from the baseline will rush the net and pull off a winner that haseveryone applauding; but if the coach is any good at all, deviations fromthe instructions laid down will, more often than not, lose. So it is better fora baseline player to put the thought of going to the net out of her mind,except perhaps in carefully defined circumstances. Similarly, if we areguided by a set of well-chosen intuitive principles, we may do better if wedo not attempt to calculate the consequences of each significant moraldecision we must make, but instead consider what principles apply toour decisions and act accordingly. Perhaps very occasionally we will findourselves in circumstances in which it is absolutely plain that departingfrom the principles will produce a much better result than we will obtainby sticking to them, and then we may be justified in making the departure.For most of us most of the time, however, such circumstances will not ariseand can be excluded from our thinking. Therefore, even though at the

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critical level the utilitarian must concede the possibility of cases in whichit would be better not to respect a person’s desire to continue living –for example, because the person could be killed in complete secrecy,and a great deal of unalleviated misery could thereby be prevented – thiskind of thinking has no place at the intuitive level that should guide oureveryday actions. So, at least, a utilitarian can argue.

That is, I think, the gist of what the hedonistic utilitarian would sayabout the distinction between killing a person and killing some other typeof being. Preference utilitarianism – the version of utilitarianism that wereach by universalizing our own preferences in the manner described inthe opening chapter of this book – gives greater weight to the distinc-tion. According to preference utilitarianism, an action contrary to thepreference of any being is wrong, unless this preference is outweighedby contrary preferences. Killing a person who prefers to continue liv-ing is therefore wrong, other things being equal. That the victims arenot around after the act to lament the fact that their preferences havebeen disregarded is irrelevant. The wrong is done when the preferenceis thwarted. (Think about your own preference to go on living. You don’twant it to be thwarted, and I doubt very much that you will be persuadedto change your mind about this by the fact that, if you are killed instantly,you will never suffer from the fact that your desire to go on living hasbeen thwarted.)

For preference utilitarians, taking the life of a person will normallybe worse than taking the life of some other being, because persons arehighly future-oriented in their preferences. To kill a person is therefore,normally, to violate not just one but a wide range of the most centraland significant preferences a being can have. Very often, it will makenonsense of everything that the victim has been trying to do in the pastdays, months or even years. In contrast, beings that cannot see themselvesas entities with a future do not have any preferences about their ownfuture existence. This is not to deny that such beings might struggleagainst a situation in which their lives are in danger, as a fish struggles toget free of the barbed hook in its mouth; but this indicates no more thana preference for the cessation of a state of affairs that causes pain or fear.The behaviour of a fish on a hook suggests a reason for not killing fish bythat method but does not in itself suggest a preference utilitarian reasonagainst killing fish by a method that brings about death instantly, withoutfirst causing pain or distress. Struggles against danger and pain do notsuggest that fish are capable of preferring their own future existence tonon-existence. (Again, remember that we are here considering what is

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especially wrong about killing a person; I am not saying that there arenever any preference utilitarian reasons against killing sentient beingsthat are not persons. We shall return to this question shortly.)

Does a Person Have a Right to Life?

Although preference utilitarianism does provide a direct reason for notkilling a person, some may find the reason – even when coupled with theimportant indirect reasons that any form of utilitarianism will take intoaccount – not sufficiently stringent. For preference utilitarianism, thewrong done to the person killed is serious, but not necessarily decisive.The preference of the victim for continued life could sometimes beoutweighed by the strong preferences of others. Many believe that theprohibition on killing people is more absolute than any kind of utilitariancalculation can imply. Our lives, we feel, are things to which we havea right, and rights are not to be traded off against the preferences orpleasures of others.

I am not convinced that the notion of a moral right is a helpful ormeaningful one, except when it is used as a shorthand way of referring tomore fundamental moral considerations, such as the view that – for thereasons offered in the preceding section – for all normal circumstanceswe should we put the idea of killing people who want to go on living com-pletely out our minds. Nevertheless, because the idea that we have a rightto life is a popular one, it is worth asking whether there are grounds forattributing a right to life to a person, as distinct from other living beings.

Michael Tooley, a contemporary American philosopher, has arguedthat the only beings who have a right to life are those who can conceiveof themselves as distinct entities existing over time – in other words,persons, as we have used the term. His argument is based on the claimthat there is a conceptual connection between the desires a being iscapable of having and the rights that the being can be said to have. AsTooley puts it:

The basic intuition is that a right is something that can be violated and that, ingeneral, to violate an individual’s right to something is to frustrate the corres-ponding desire. Suppose, for example, that you own a car. Then I am under aprima facie obligation not to take it from you. However, the obligation is notunconditional: it depends in part upon the existence of a corresponding desirein you. If you do not care whether I take your car, then I generally do not violateyour right by doing so.

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Tooley admits that it is difficult to formulate the connections betweenrights and desires precisely because there are problem cases, like peoplewho are asleep or temporarily unconscious. He does not want to say thatsuch people have no rights because they have, at that moment, no desires.Nevertheless, Tooley holds, the possession of a right must in some way belinked with the capacity to have the relevant desires, if not with havingthe actual desires themselves.

The next step is to apply this view about rights to the case of theright to life. To put the matter as simply as possible – more simply thanTooley himself does and no doubt too simply – if the right to life is theright to continue existing as a distinct entity, then the desire relevant topossessing a right to life is the desire to continue existing as a distinctentity. But only a being who is capable of conceiving herself as a distinctentity existing over time – that is, only a person – could have this desire.Therefore, only a person could have a right to life.

This is how Tooley first formulated his position, in a striking articleentitled “Abortion and Infanticide”, published in 1972. The problem ofhow precisely to formulate the connections between rights and desires,however, led Tooley to alter his position in a subsequent book with thesame title, Abortion and Infanticide. He there argues that an individualcannot at a given time – say, now – have a right to continued exist-ence unless the individual is of a kind such that it can now be in itsinterests that it continues to exist. One might think that this makes adramatic difference to the outcome of Tooley’s position, for althougha newborn infant would not seem to be capable of conceiving itself asa distinct entity existing over time, we commonly think that it can bein the interests of an infant to be saved from death, even if the deathwould have been entirely without pain or suffering. We certainly do thisin retrospect. If my mother told me that when I was a baby, my pramrolled into the path of a speeding train, and it was only the quick actionof a stranger that saved me, I might say that that stranger is my greatestbenefactor, for without her swift thinking I would never have had thehappy and fulfilling life that I am now living. Tooley argues, however,that the retrospective attribution of an interest in living to the infant is amistake. I am not the infant from whom I developed. The infant couldnot look forward to developing into the kind of being I am, or eveninto any intermediate being, between the being I now am and the infant.I cannot even recall being the infant; there are no mental links betweenus. Continued existence cannot be in the interests of a being who neverhas had the concept of a continuing self – that is, never has been able

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to conceive of itself as existing over time. If the train had instantly killedthe infant, the death would not have been contrary to the interests of theinfant, because the infant would never have had the concept of existingover time. It is true that I would then not be alive, but I can say that it is inmy interests to be alive only because I do have the concept of a continuingself. I can with equal truth say that it is in my interests that my parents met,because if they had never met, they could not have created the embryofrom which I developed, and so I would not be alive. This does not meanthat the creation of this embryo was in the interests of any potential beingwho was lurking around, waiting to be brought into existence. There wasno such being, and had I not been brought into existence, there wouldnot have been anyone who missed out on the life I have enjoyed living.Similarly, we make a mistake if we now construct an interest in future lifein the newborn infant who in the first days following birth can have noconcept of continued existence and with whom I have no mental links.

Hence, in his book Tooley reaches, though by a more circuitous route,a conclusion that is practically equivalent to the conclusion he reachedin his article. To have a right to life, one must have, or at least at one timehave had, the concept of having a continuing existence. Note that thisformulation avoids any problems in dealing with sleeping or unconsciouspeople; it is enough that they, at one time, have had the concept ofcontinued existence for us to be able to say that continued life may bein their interests. This makes sense: my desire to continue living – or tocomplete the book I am writing, or to travel to Nepal next year – doesnot cease whenever I am not consciously thinking about these things. Weoften desire things without the desire being at the forefront of our minds.The fact that we have the desire is apparent if we are reminded of it, orsuddenly confronted with a situation in which we must choose betweentwo courses of action, one of which makes the fulfilment of the desireless likely. In a similar way, when we go to sleep our desires for the fu-ture do not cease to exist. They will still be there when we wake. As thedesires are still part of us, so too our interest in continued life remainspart of us while we are asleep or unconscious.

Respect for Autonomy

To this point, our discussion of the wrongness of killing people hasfocused on their capacity to envisage their future and have desires relatedto it. Another implication of being a person may also be relevant to thewrongness of killing. There is a strand of ethical thought, associated

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with Kant but including many modern writers who are not Kantians,according to which respect for autonomy is a basic moral principle.‘Autonomy’ here refers to the capacity to choose and to act on one’s owndecisions. Rational and self-aware beings presumably have this capacity,whereas beings who cannot consider the alternatives open to them arenot capable of choosing in the required sense and, hence, cannot beautonomous. In particular, only a being who can grasp the differencebetween dying and continuing to live can autonomously choose to live.Hence, killing a person who does not choose to die fails to respect thatperson’s autonomy; and as the choice of living or dying is about themost fundamental choice anyone can make, the choice on which allother choices depend, killing a person who does not choose to die is thegravest possible violation of that person’s autonomy.

Not everyone agrees that respect for autonomy is a basic moral prin-ciple or a valid moral principle at all. Utilitarians do not respect autonomyfor its own sake; although as we have seen, they might give great weightto a person’s desire to go on living, either directly as a preference utilit-arian would or as evidence that the person’s life was on the whole a happyone, as a hedonistic utilitarian would. But a utilitarian cannot place thesame stress on autonomy as those who take respect for autonomy as anindependent moral principle. The hedonistic utilitarian might have toaccept that in some cases it would be right to kill a person who doesnot choose to die on the grounds that the person will otherwise lead amiserable life, and the preference utilitarian may have to reach a similarconclusion if a person’s desire to go on living is outweighed by the equallystrong desires of others. This is true, however, only on the critical levelof moral reasoning. As we saw earlier, utilitarians may encourage peopleto adopt, in their daily lives, principles that will in almost all cases leadto better consequences when followed than any alternative action. Theprinciple of respect for autonomy would be a prime example of such aprinciple. We shall discuss actual cases that raise this issue in the chapteron euthanasia.

It may be helpful here to draw together our conclusions about thewrongness of taking a person’s life. We have seen that there are fourpossible reasons for holding that it is especially serious to take a person’slife: the hedonistic utilitarian concern with the effects of the killing onothers; the preference utilitarian concern with the frustration of thevictim’s desires and plans for the future; the argument that the capacityto conceive of oneself as existing over time is a necessary condition of aright to life; and respect for autonomy. Although at the level of critical

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reasoning a hedonistic utilitarian would accept only the first, indirect,reason and a preference utilitarian only the first two reasons, at theintuitive level utilitarians of both kinds would probably advocate the ideaof a right to life as well as respect for autonomy. The distinction betweencritical and intuitive levels thus leads to a greater degree of convergence,at the level of everyday moral decision making, between utilitarians andnon-utilitarians than we would find if we took into account only thecritical level of reasoning. In any case, none of the four reasons forgiving special protection to the lives of persons can be rejected out ofhand. We shall therefore bear all four in mind when we turn to practicalissues involving killing.

Before we do turn to practical questions about killing, however, wehave still to consider whether killing is wrong when the being that iskilled is neither a member of our species nor a person.

conscious life

Many beings are sentient and capable of experiencing pleasure and pain,but they are not rational and self-conscious and, therefore, are not per-sons. I shall refer to these as ‘merely conscious’ beings. Many nonhumananimals fall into this category; so must newborn infants and some intel-lectually disabled humans. Exactly which of these lack self-awareness issomething we shall consider in the next chapters. If Tooley is right, beingsthat lack self-awareness cannot be said to have a right to life, in the fullsense, though it might be wrong to kill them for other reasons. In thepresent section, we shall ask if it is wrong to take the life of a merelyconscious being and, if so, why.

Killing a Merely Conscious Being

The most obvious reason for thinking that it is wrong to kill a beingcapable of experiencing pleasure or pain is the one that a hedonisticutilitarian would give: because of the pleasure it can experience. If wevalue our own pleasures – like the pleasures of eating, of sex, of thewarmth of the sun on our skin, or of swimming on a hot day – thenthe universal aspect of ethical judgments requires us to extend our pos-itive evaluation of our own experience of these pleasures to the similarexperiences of all who can experience them. But death is the end ofall pleasurable experiences. Thus, the fact that beings will experiencepleasure in the future is a reason for saying that it would be wrong to kill

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them. Of course, a similar argument about pain points in the oppositedirection, and this argument counts against killing only when we believethat the pleasure that beings are likely to experience outweighs the painthey are likely to suffer. So what this amounts to is that we should not cutshort a pleasant life.

This seems simple enough: we value pleasure, and killing those wholead pleasant lives eliminates the pleasure they would otherwise experi-ence, therefore such killing is wrong. Note that this claim goes beyondthe simple argument for preference utilitarianism based on universal-izing our own preferences that I outlined in Chapter 1. The merelyconscious being does not have a preference for continued life. Perhapswhile having a pleasurable experience it has a preference for that experi-ence to continue, or while having a painful experience it has a preferencefor that experience to end, but it will not have any preferences for thelong-term future, and the desires it has do not survive periods of sleepor temporary unconsciousness, because unlike a self-aware being, it hasno conception of its own future existence after a period of sleep. Thus ifwe are concerned only about the thwarting of preferences, for a merelyconscious being, painless killing and administering an anesthetic seemto be equivalent. Killing does not thwart any more desires than puttingthe being to sleep. The being will be able to continue to satisfy its pref-erences after it awakes, but from the being’s subjective perspective it isas if a new being, with new preferences, came into existence. Tooley’sclaim about newborn infants applies here to all merely conscious beings:in the subject experience of the being itself, there is no sense of continu-ity between its mental life before it falls asleep and after it wakes. Thatis why the claim, in the first sentence of this paragraph, that ‘we valuepleasure’ needs to be understood in terms that go beyond the preferenceutilitarian starting point for ethics. It asserts that pleasure is a value – andthus, that there are things of value, independently of a being preferringthem.

This particular value is easy to accept. Isn’t it obvious that pleasureis of positive value and pain is of negative value? Jeremy Bentham, thefounder of the utilitarian school, even went so far as to say that the words‘benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness’ all come to the samething, and ‘a thing is said to promote the interest, or to be for the interest,of an individual, when it tends to add to the sum total of his pleasures:or, what comes to the same thing, to diminish the sum total of his pains’.Some philosophers think Bentham was wrong about this: they think thatsomething can be in my interest if it is what I most want, whether or not

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it will give me the most pleasure or the least pain. To defend Bentham’sview, we would have to regard pleasure and pain as objective values (in thecase of pain, an objective negative value or disvalue), not based merelyon the universalizing of our preferences. To defend that claim, we wouldneed to explain the nature of such objective values and how we come toknow of them. These would be philosophically controversial claims, butnot necessarily indefensible ones.

Suppose, then, that we did accept the idea that pleasure is object-ively good and pain is objectively bad, and that we agreed with Benthamthat to say that something promotes the interest of an individual is tosay that it tends to add to the sum total of his, or her, pleasures, aftersubtracting pains. We now face another difficult issue. Stating the argu-ment in terms of the interests of an individual conceals the fact thatthere are two ways of reducing the amount of pleasure in the world:one is to eliminate pleasures from the lives of those leading pleasantlives; the other is to eliminate those leading pleasant lives. The formerleaves behind beings who experience less pleasure than they otherwisewould have. The latter does not. This means that we cannot move auto-matically from valuing a pleasant life rather than an unpleasant one, tovaluing a pleasant life rather than no life at all. For, it might be objected,being killed does not make us worse off; it makes us cease to exist. Oncewe have ceased to exist, we shall not miss the pleasure we would haveexperienced.

You may think that this is sophistical – an instance of the ability ofacademic philosophers to find distinctions where there are no significantdifferences. Why not, you may ask, regard killing a being as just the sameas reducing the pleasures of an existing being to zero? One reason forthinking that there might be a morally significant difference between thetwo ways of reducing the amount of pleasure in the world is that we dothink there is a morally significant difference between the two parallelways of increasing the amount of pleasure in the world, one of whichis to increase the pleasure of those who now exist, and the other is toincrease the number of those who will lead pleasant lives. If killing thoseleading pleasant lives is bad because of the loss of pleasure, then it wouldseem to be good to increase the number of those leading pleasant lives.We could do this by having more children, provided we could reasonablyexpect their lives to be pleasant, or by rearing large numbers of animalsunder conditions that would ensure that their lives would be pleasant.Would it really be good to create more pleasure by creating more pleasedbeings?

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There seem to be two possible approaches to these perplexing issues.The first approach is simply to accept that it is good to increase theamount of pleasure in the world by increasing the number of pleasantlives and bad to reduce the amount of pleasure in the world by reducingthe number of pleasant lives. This approach has the advantage of beingstraightforward and clearly consistent, but it requires us to hold that ifwe could increase the number of beings leading pleasant lives withoutmaking others worse off, it would be good to do so. To see whether youare troubled by this conclusion, it may be helpful to consider a specificcase. Imagine that a couple are trying to decide whether to have children.Suppose that so far as their own happiness is concerned, the advantagesand disadvantages balance out. Children will interfere with their careersat a crucial stage of their professional lives, and they will have to give uptheir favourite recreation, backcountry hiking, for a few years at least. Onthe other hand, they know that, like most parents, they will get joy andfulfilment from having children and watching them develop. Supposethat if others will be affected, here too the good and bad effects willcancel each other out. Finally, suppose that because the couple couldprovide their children with a good start in life, and the children wouldbe citizens of a developed nation with a high living standard, it is probablethat their children will lead enjoyable lives. Should the couple count thelikely future pleasure of their children as a significant reason for havingchildren? I doubt that many couples would, but if we accept this firstapproach, they should.

I shall call this approach the ‘total’ view because on this view we shouldaim to increase the total amount of pleasure (strictly, the net total amountof pleasure after deducting the total amount of pain) and we should beindifferent to whether this is done by increasing the pleasure of existingbeings or increasing the number of beings who exist.

The second approach is to be concerned only about beings who existand those who will exist independently of what we do – as we noted indiscussing the social contract view of ethics, it would be wrong to disreg-ard the interests of future generations merely because they do not existnow. We can call this the ‘prior existence’ view because it is concernedwith beings who exist, or whose existence is already determined, prior tothe decision we are making. The prior existence view denies that thereis value in increasing pleasure by creating additional beings. It is morein harmony with the intuitive judgment most people have (I think) thatcouples are under no moral obligation to have children simply because

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the children are likely to lead enjoyable lives and no one else is adverselyaffected. But how do we square the prior existence view with our intu-itions about the reverse case, when a couple are considering having achild who, perhaps because it will inherit a genetic defect, would lead athoroughly miserable life and die before its second birthday? We wouldthink it wrong for a couple knowingly to conceive such a child; but if thepleasure a possible child will experience is not a reason for bringing itinto the world, why is the pain a possible child will experience a reasonagainst bringing it into the world? The prior existence view must eitherhold that there is nothing wrong with bringing a miserable being intothe world or explain the asymmetry between cases of possible childrenwho are likely to have enjoyable lives and possible children who are likelyto have miserable lives.

Denying that it is bad knowingly to bring a miserable child into theworld is hardly likely to appeal to those who adopted the prior existenceview in the first place because it seemed more in harmony with theirintuitive judgments than the total view; but a convincing explanation ofthe asymmetry is not easy to find. Perhaps the best one can say – and itis not very good – is that there is nothing directly wrong in conceivinga child who will be miserable, but once such a child exists, because itslife can contain nothing but misery, we should reduce the amount ofpain in the world by an act of euthanasia. This is, at best, paradoxical,for it implies that there is nothing wrong with conceiving a child eventhough one knows that, once the child exists, it will be morally obligatoryto kill it. In addition if, as in most societies today, euthanasia is a crimethat renders one liable to a long term of imprisonment, one might haveoverriding reasons for not killing the miserable child once it exists. Inthat case, on this view, one has no reason against conceiving a childwho will have a miserable life even when there is an overriding reasonnot to end that life once the child exists. The parents can foresee thatthe child they bring into existence is likely to exist in misery for severaldecades, and yet they will, on the prior existence view, have done nothingwrong.

This leaves us with counterintuitive consequences for both the totaland the prior existence view. Where has this taken us with regard to ouroriginal question, whether it is wrong to cut short a pleasant life? Oneither the total view or the prior existence view, we can hold that it iswrong, but our answers commit us to different things in each case. Wecan only take the prior existence approach if we accept that it is not wrong

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to bring a miserable being into existence – or else offer an explanationfor why this should be wrong and yet it would not be wrong to fail tobring into existence a being whose life will be pleasant. Alternatively, wecan take the total approach, but then we must accept that it is also goodto create more beings whose lives will be pleasant – and this has someodd practical implications. The importance of the choice between thetwo views will become more apparent in the chapters that follow.

Comparing the Value of Different Lives

If we can give an affirmative – albeit somewhat shaky – answer to thequestion whether the life of a merely conscious being has some value,can we also compare the value of different lives at different levels ofconsciousness or self-awareness? We are not, of course, going to attemptto assign numerical values to the lives of different beings, or even toproduce an ordered list. The best that we could hope for is some ideaof the principles that, when supplemented with the appropriate detailedinformation about the lives of different beings, might serve as the basisfor such a list. The most fundamental issue, however, is whether we canaccept the idea of ordering the value of different lives at all.

Some say that it is anthropocentric, even speciesist, to order the valueof different lives in a hierarchical manner. If we do so, we shall, they say,inevitably put ourselves at the top and other beings closer to us in propor-tion to the resemblance between them and ourselves. Instead, we shouldaccord equal value to every life. Those who take this view recognize, ofcourse, that a person’s life may include the study of philosophy whereasa mouse’s life cannot; but they say that the pleasures of a mouse’s lifeare all that the mouse has, and are as important to the mouse as thepleasures of studying philosophy are to the most enthusiastic student ofthe subject.

Is it speciesist to judge that the life of a normal adult member of ourspecies is more valuable than the life of a normal adult mouse? It is pos-sible to defend such judgments only if we can find some neutral ground,some impartial standpoint from which we can make the comparison.

The difficulty of finding neutral ground is a very real practical diffi-culty, but I am not convinced that it presents an insoluble theoreticalproblem. I would frame the question we need to ask in the followingmanner. Imagine that I have the peculiar property of being able to turnmyself into an animal, so that like Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘sometimes a horse I’ll be, sometimes a hound’. Suppose that when I am

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a horse, I really am a horse, with all and only the mental experiences ofa horse, and when I am a human being, I have all and only the mentalexperiences of a human being. Now let us make the additional suppos-ition that I can enter a third state in which I remember exactly what itwas like to be a horse and exactly what it was like to be a human being.What would this third state be like? In some respects – the degree ofself-awareness and rationality involved, for instance – it might be morelike a human existence than an equine one, but it would not be a humanexistence in every respect. In this third state, then, I could comparehorse existence with human existence. Suppose that I were offered theopportunity of another life, and given the choice of life as a horse or asa human being, the lives being in each case about as good as horse orhuman lives can reasonably be expected to be. I would then be deciding,in effect, between the value of the life of a horse (to the horse) and thevalue of the life of a human (to the human).

Undoubtedly, this scenario requires us to suppose a lot of things thatcould never happen and some things that strain our imagination. Thecoherence of an existence in which one is neither a horse nor a human,but remembers what it is like to be both, might be questioned. Never-theless, I think I can make some sense of the idea of choosing from thisposition; and I am fairly confident that from this position, some forms oflife would be seen as preferable to others.

If it is true that we can make sense of the choice between existenceas a horse and existence as a human, then – whichever way the choicewould go – we can make sense of the idea that the life of one kind ofanimal possesses greater value than the life of another; and if this is so,then the claim that the life of every being has equal value is on very weakground. We cannot defend this claim by saying that every being’s life isall-important for it, because we have now accepted a comparison thattakes a more objective – or at least intersubjective – stance and thus goesbeyond the value of the life of a being considered solely from the pointof view of that being.

So it would not necessarily be speciesist to rank the value of differentlives in some hierarchical ordering. How we should go about doing this isanother question, and I have nothing better to offer than the imaginativereconstruction of what it would be like to be a different kind of being.Some comparisons may be too difficult. We may have to say that we havenot the slightest idea whether it would be better to be a fish or a snake;but then, we do not very often find ourselves forced to choose betweenkilling a fish or a snake. Other comparisons might not be so difficult.

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In general, it does seem that the more highly developed the mental lifeof the being, the greater the degree of self-awareness and rationalityand the broader the range of possible experiences, the more one wouldprefer that kind of life, if one were choosing between it and a being at alower level of awareness. Can utilitarians defend such a preference? In afamous passage, John Stuart Mill attempted to do so:

Few human creatures would consent to be changed into any of the lower animals,for a promise of the fullest allowance of a beast’s pleasures; no intelligent humanbeing would consent to be a fool, no instructed person would be an ignoramus,no person of feeling and conscience would be selfish and base, even though theyshould be persuaded that the fool, the dunce, or the rascal is better satisfied withhis lot than they are with theirs . . . It is better to be a human being dissatisfiedthan a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. Andif the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only knowtheir own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows bothsides.

As many critics have pointed out, this argument is open to challenge.Does Socrates really know what it is like to be a fool? Can he truly exper-ience the joys of idle pleasure in simple things, untroubled by the desireto understand and improve the world? We may doubt it. But anothersignificant aspect of this passage is less often noticed. Mill’s argument forpreferring the life of a human being to that of an animal (with whichmost modern readers would be quite comfortable) is exactly paralleledby his argument for preferring the life of an intelligent human being tothat of a fool. Given the context and the way in which the term ‘fool’ wascommonly used in his day, it seems likely that by this he means what wewould now refer to as a person with an intellectual disability. With this fur-ther conclusion, some modern readers will be distinctly uncomfortable;but as Mill’s argument suggests, it is not easy to embrace the preferencefor the life of a human over that of a nonhuman animal without at thesame time endorsing a preference for the life of a normal human beingover that of another human at a similar intellectual level to that of thenonhuman in the first comparison.

Mill’s argument is difficult to reconcile with hedonistic utilitarianism,because it just does not seem true that the more intelligent being neces-sarily has a greater capacity for happiness; and even if we were to acceptthat the capacity is greater, the fact that, as Mill acknowledges, this capa-city is less often filled (the fool is satisfied, Socrates is not) would have tobe taken into consideration. Would a preference utilitarian have a better

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prospect of defending the judgments Mill makes? That would dependon how we compare different preferences, held with differing degreesof awareness and self-consciousness. It does not seem impossible that weshould find ways of ranking such different preferences, but at this stagethe question remains open.

This chapter has focused on the killing of beings that are self-aware,or at least conscious. It is intended to serve as a basis for the discussionsto follow on the killing of nonhuman animals, embryos and fetuses;those who wish to die; and infants who suffer such severe damage thattheir parents consider it would be better if the child were to die. We willconsider whether there is anything wrong about taking non-consciouslife – the lives of trees or plants, for instance – in Chapter 10.


Taking Life


In the preceding chapter, we examined some general principles aboutthe value of life. In this and the following two chapters, we shall drawfrom that discussion some conclusions about three cases of killing thathave been the subject of heated debate: abortion, euthanasia and killinganimals. Of these three, the question of killing animals has aroused theleast controversy. Nevertheless, for reasons that will become clear later,it is impossible to defend a position on abortion and euthanasia withouttaking some view about the killing of nonhuman animals. So we shalllook at that question first.

can a nonhuman animal be a person?

We have seen that there are reasons for holding that the killing of aperson is more seriously wrong than the killing of a being who is not aperson. This is true whether we accept preference utilitarianism, Tooley’sargument about the right to life or the principle of respect for autonomy.Even a hedonistic utilitarian would say that there may be indirect reas-ons why it is worse to kill a person. So in discussing the wrongness ofkilling nonhuman animals, it is important to ask if any of them arepersons.

It sounds odd to call an animal a person, but this may be no more than asymptom of our habit of keeping our own species sharply separated fromothers. In any case, we can avoid the linguistic oddness by rephrasing thequestion in accordance with our definition of ‘person’. What we are reallyasking is whether any nonhuman animals are rational and self-consciousbeings, aware of themselves as distinct entities with a past and a future.


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In ancient myths and in contemporary stories and movies, we imaginebeing able to talk to animals. That dream was at least partially realized in1967 when two scientists at the University of Nevada, Allen and BeatriceGardner, guessed that the failure of previous attempts to teach chimpan-zees to talk was due to the chimpanzees’ lacking, not the intelligencerequired for using language, but the vocal equipment needed to repro-duce the sounds of human language. The Gardners therefore decidedto treat a young chimpanzee as if she were a human baby without vocalchords. They communicated with her, and with one another when in herpresence, by using American Sign Language, a language widely used bydeaf people.

The technique worked. The chimpanzee, whom they called ‘Washoe,’learnt to understand about 350 different signs and to use about 250 ofthem correctly. She put signs together to form simple sentences and,in doing so, provided strong evidence of a sense of self. When shownher own image in a mirror and asked ‘Who is that?’ she replied: ‘Me,Washoe.’ Later Washoe moved to Ellensburg, Washington, where shelived with other chimpanzees under the care of Roger and DeborahFouts. Here, she adopted an infant chimpanzee and soon began not onlysigning to him but even deliberately teaching him signs, for example, bymoulding his hands into the sign for ‘food’ in an appropriate context.Washoe died in 2007 at the age of forty two.

Gorillas, bonobos and orangutans have also been able to learn signlanguage, although the extent of their ability is controversial. For morethan thirty years, Francine Patterson has been signing and speaking Eng-lish with Koko, a lowland gorilla. She claims that Koko now has a workingvocabulary of more than 500 signs and understands an even larger num-ber of spoken English words. In front of a mirror, Koko will make facesor examine her teeth. Chantek, an orangutan, has been taught sign lan-guage by Lyn Miles. When shown a photograph of a gorilla pointing toher nose, Chantek was able to imitate the gorilla by pointing to his ownnose. Apes also use signs to refer to past or future events, thus showing asense of time. The Fouts hold regular festivities for the chimpanzees atEllensburg. Each year, after Thanksgiving, Roger and Deborah Fouts setup a Christmas tree covered with edible ornaments. The chimpanzeesuse the sign combination ‘candy tree’ to refer to the Christmas tree. In1989, when snow began to fall just after Thanksgiving but the tree hadnot yet appeared, a chimpanzee named Tatu asked: ‘Candy tree?’ TheFouts interpreted this as showing, not only that Tatu remembered thetree, but also that she knew that this was the season for it. Later, Tatu also

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remembered that the birthday of one of the chimpanzees, Dar, followedclosely on that of Deborah Fouts. The chimpanzees got ice cream fortheir birthdays; and after the festivities for Deborah’s birthday were over,Tatu asked: ‘Dar ice cream?’

Suppose that on the basis of such evidence, we accept that thesigning apes are self-conscious. Are they exceptional among all thenonhuman animals in this respect precisely because they can use lan-guage? Or is it merely that language enables these animals to demon-strate to us a characteristic that they, and other animals, possessed allalong?

Some philosophers have argued that thinking requires language: onecannot think without formulating one’s thoughts in words. The Oxfordphilosopher Stuart Hampshire, for example, has written:

The difference here between a human being and an animal lies in the possib-ility of the human being expressing his intention and putting into words hisintention to do so-and-so, for his own benefit or for the benefit of others. Thedifference is not merely that an animal in fact has no means of communicat-ing, or of recording for itself, its intention, with the effect that no one can everknow what the intention was. It is a stronger difference, which is more correctlyexpressed as the senselessness of attributing intentions to an animal which hasnot the means to reflect upon, and to announce to itself or to others, its ownfuture behaviour . . . It would be senseless to attribute to an animal a memorythat distinguished the order of events in the past, and it would be senseless toattribute to it an expectation of an order of events in the future. It does not havethe concepts of order, or any concepts at all.

Obviously, Hampshire was wrong to distinguish so crudely betweenhumans and animals; for as we have just seen, the signing apes haveshown that they do have ‘an expectation of an order of events in thefuture’ Hampshire wrote before apes had learned to use sign language,so this lapse may be excusable. Suppose that his argument were to berephrased so that it referred to animals who have not learned to use a lan-guage, rather than all animals. Would it then be sound? If so, no beingwithout language can be a person. This applies, presumably, to younghumans as well as to non-signing animals. It might be argued that manyspecies of animals do use language, just not our language. Certainly mostsocial animals have some means of communicating with one another,whether it be the melodious songs of the humpback whales, the buzzesand whistles of dolphins, the alarm calls of vervet monkeys, which varyaccording to the kind of predator sighted, the howls and barks of dogs,

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the songs of birds and even the dance performed by honey bees return-ing to the hive, from which other bees learn the distance and directionof the food source from which the bee has come. Whether these forms ofcommunication amount to language, in the required sense, is doubtful.Because pursuing this issue would take us too far from our topic, I shallassume that they do not, and consider what can be learned from thenon-linguistic behaviour of animals.

Hampshire’s argument is an example of a pitfall to which philosophersof previous generations were especially prone: reaching conclusions fromthe armchair on a topic that demands investigation in the real world.There is nothing altogether inconceivable about a being possessing thecapacity for conceptual thought without having a language, and thereare instances of animal behaviour that are extraordinarily difficult, ifnot downright impossible, to explain except under the assumption thatthe animals are thinking conceptually. In one experiment, for example,German researchers presented a chimpanzee named Julia with two seriesof five closed and transparent containers. At the end of one series wasa box with a banana; the box at the end of the other series was empty.The box containing the banana could only be opened with a distinctivelyshaped key; this was apparent from looking at the box. This key couldbe seen inside another locked box; and to open that box, Julia neededanother distinctive key, which had to be taken out of a third box whichcould only be opened with its own key, which was inside a fourth lockedbox. Finally, in front of Julia, were two initial boxes, open and eachcontaining a distinctive key. Julia was able to choose the correct initial keywith which she could open the next box in the series that led, eventually,to the box with the banana. To do this, she must have been able to reasonbackwards from her desire to open the box with the banana to her needto have the key that would open it, to her need for the key that wouldopen that box, and so on. Because Julia had not been taught any form oflanguage, her behaviour proves that beings without language can thinkin quite complex ways.

Nor is it only in laboratory experiments that the behaviour of animalspoints to the conclusion that they possess both memory of the past andexpectations about the future, that they are self-aware and that theyform intentions and act on them. For several years, Frans de Waal andhis colleagues watched chimpanzees living in semi-natural conditionsin two acres of forest at Arnhem Zoo in the Netherlands. They oftenobserved co-operating activity that requires planning. For example, the

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chimpanzees liked to climb the trees and break off branches so that theycould eat the leaves. To prevent the rapid destruction of the small forest,the zookeepers placed electric fencing around the trunk of the trees. Thechimpanzees overcame this by breaking large branches from dead trees(which had no fences around them) and dragging them to the base ofa live tree. One chimpanzee then held the dead branch while anotherclimbed up it, over the fence and into the tree. The chimpanzee whogot into the tree in this way shared the leaves thus obtained with the oneholding the branch.

De Waal also observed deliberately deceptive behaviour that clearlyshows both self-awareness and an awareness of the intentions of another.Chimpanzees live in groups in which one male will be dominant and willattack other males who mate with receptive females. Despite this, a gooddeal of sexual activity goes on when the dominant male is not watching.Male chimpanzees often seek to interest females in sexual activity by sit-ting with their legs apart, displaying their erect penis. (Human males whoexpose themselves in a similar way may be continuing a form of primatebehaviour that has become socially inappropriate.) On one occasion, ajunior male was enticing a female in this manner when the dominantmale walked over. The junior male covered his erection with his handsso that the dominant male could not see it.

Not only philosophers like Hampshire, but also some scientists haveargued that ‘mental time travel’ – the ability to imagine a future event –is unique to humans. As so often happens with attempts to draw linesbetween humans and animals, this one had to be stated in a very preciseform in order to be at all plausible. Everyone who has a dog as a com-panion knows that the dog can anticipate going for a walk. The abilityunique to humans is therefore said to be that of anticipating the futurebeyond one’s current set of motivations. So this claim is not refuted by adog who brings her lead and puts it at the feet of her human companion.The dog, it is said, is simply in the grip of her desire to go for a walkand is acting on that desire. Humans, in contrast, can plan on satisfyingmotivations that they do not presently feel – as when we go shopping tomake sure there will be something to eat for dinner, even though we arenot hungry now. Many animals will hide food for future use, as squirrelsdo, but can it be shown that this involves conscious forethought, ratherthan purely instinctive behaviour?

Jane Goodall has described an incident showing forward planning byFigan, a young wild chimpanzee in the Gombe region of Tanzania. In

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order to bring the animals closer to her observation post, Goodall hadhidden some bananas in a tree:

One day, sometime after the group had been fed, Figan spotted a banana that hadbeen overlooked – but Goliath [an adult male ranking above Figan in the group’shierarchy] was resting directly underneath it. After no more than a quick glancefrom the fruit to Goliath, Figan moved away and sat on the other side of the tentso that he could no longer see the fruit. Fifteen minutes later, when Goliath gotup and left, Figan without a moment’s hesitation went over and collected thebanana. Quite obviously he had sized up the whole situation: if he had climbedfor the fruit earlier, Goliath would almost certainly have snatched it away. If hehad remained close to the banana, he would probably have looked at it from timeto time. Chimps are very quick to notice and interpret the eye movements of theirfellows, and Goliath would possibly, therefore, have seen the fruit himself. Andso Figan had not only refrained from instantly gratifying his desire but had alsogone away so that he could not ‘give the game away’ by looking at the banana.

For many years, Goodall’s observation was dismissed as a mere anec-dote. Now, however, similar behaviour has been observed in pigs, both innatural circumstances and in controlled experiments. A pig who knowswhere to find food will not go there if she is being followed by a heavierpig who does not know where the food is. It seems that she is aware thatthe heavier pig would push her aside and take the food. Instead, shelearns to behave in ways that minimize the chances that the other pig willbe able to take her food – for example, she goes to the food only when theheavier pig is out of sight or much further away from the food than she is.

Another example of behaviour that shows an ability to look forwardin time comes from Mathias Osvath’s sustained observation of Santino,a chimpanzee in a Swedish zoo. Over a decade, Santino has regularlycollected and cached stones. He does this in the morning, before visitorsare admitted to the zoo. Several hours later, he goes to his stones, whichhe has placed on the side of his enclosure where visitors appear, andthrows them at the visitors. He has even discovered how to detect, byknocking, places where the concrete in his enclosure is thin enough forhim to break it into pieces of a suitable size for throwing. He then breaksit in these weak spots and adds the pieces to his cache of natural stones.In winter, when the zoo is closed to visitors, he does not collect stones.Throwing rocks isn’t instinctive in chimpanzees, and nor, of course, isbreaking up concrete. Santino does these things calmly, when there areno visitors present, so he cannot be gripped by the same motivation hehas when he gets excited by their presence.

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A still more rigorous demonstration of an animal’s ability to anticipateits own future desires comes, remarkably enough, from experiments, notwith apes or other primates, but with scrub jays. Scientists have usedtwo characteristics of these birds to design an ingenious experiment.Like us, scrub jays store food for later consumption. Also like us, aftergorging on one kind of food, they become satiated with it and prefersomething different. Experimenters gave one group of birds pine nutsand then allowed them to store either pine nuts or kibble. Before theyhad access to their cache, they again got pine nuts. After becomingfamiliar with this routine, the jays preferred to store kibble. If they werefed kibble on both occasions, however, they preferred to store pine nuts.This could be explained by the fact that at the time of storing the food,the birds were satiated with what they had been eating, and just preferredto store the other kind of food. With another group of jays, however, theexperimenters varied the routine. This time they gave the birds one foodand allowed them to store it – but before these birds got access to theircache, they were fed the other kind of food from the one that they hadbeen fed before they were able to store food. These birds preferred tostore the food that they had just eaten, even though they were satiatedwith it. It is difficult to see any explanation for the different behaviour ofthese birds other than their ability to anticipate that, before they couldget at their cached food, they would be satiated, not with the food theyhad just eaten, but with the other kind of food, and so would prefer theone that they did not want now but would want then. If that is the case,scrub jays not only have exactly what Hampshire said creatures withoutlanguage could not have, ‘an expectation of an order of events in thefuture’, but more remarkably still, they also have desires based on theirawareness that their future desires will be different from their presentones.

killing nonhuman persons

I think we should conclude, on the basis of the evidence just summarized,that some nonhuman animals are persons, as we have defined the term.To judge the significance of this, we must set it in the context of ourearlier discussion in which I argued that the only defensible version ofthe doctrine of the sanctity of human life was what we might call the‘doctrine of the special significance of taking personal life’. I suggestedthat if most human beings have lives of special significance, or have aspecial claim for their lives to be protected, this must be tied up with

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the fact that most human beings are persons. So if some nonhumananimals are persons too, they also have a special claim for their lives tobe protected. Whether we base these special moral features of the lives ofhuman persons on preference utilitarianism, on a right to life derivingfrom their capacity to see themselves as continuing selves, or on respectfor autonomy, these arguments must apply to nonhuman persons as well.Only the indirect utilitarian reason for not killing persons – the fear thatsuch acts are likely to arouse in other persons – applies less readily tononhuman persons, because nonhumans are less likely than humans tolearn about killings that take place at a distance from them. This reasondoes not apply to all killings of human persons either, however, becausesometimes it is possible to kill in such a way that no one learns that aperson has been killed.

Hence, we should reject the doctrine that killing a member of our spe-cies is always more significant than killing a member of another species.Some members of other species are persons; some members of our ownspecies are not. No objective assessment can support the view that it isalways worse to kill members of our species who are not persons than itis to kill members of other species who are. On the contrary, as we haveseen, there are strong arguments for thinking that to take the lives ofpersons is, in itself, more serious than taking the lives of those who arenot persons. So it seems that killing a chimpanzee is, other things beingequal, worse than the killing of a human being who, because of a pro-found intellectual disability, is not and never can be a person. (Often, ofcourse, other things are not equal: for instance, the attitudes of parentsof humans with profound intellectual disability are relevant.)

The great apes may be the clearest cases of nonhuman persons, butas we have seen, there is evidence of future-directed thinking in severalother species. Self-awareness is sometimes linked to knowing that whenyou look in a mirror, you are seeing yourself rather than another being.This has been tested by putting a coloured dye on a part of the animalwhere it will be seen in the mirror but cannot be seen otherwise – forexample, on an ape, the forehead. (The dye is put on when the animal isasleep so that she does not notice.) Then the animal is given a mirror, withwhich she has previously become familiar. If she looks in the mirror andthen touches the dyed spot, this indicates that she knows that the imagein the mirror is herself. All the great apes can pass the mirror test, butso too can elephants, dolphins and even magpies. Magpies belong to thecrow family, as do scrub jays, which as we have already seen are capable oftaking their future desires into account. Alex, an African gray parrot, who

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was taught a vocabulary of between fifty and one hundred words by IrenePepperberg, understood concepts like ‘colour’ and ‘shape’ as well as‘same’ and ‘different’. He did not take the mirror test, but Pepperberg’smeticulously recorded account of his abilities and behaviour leaves littledoubt that he too was self-aware to some extent. Human children lessthan one year old typically fail the mirror test, but by the time they areeighteen months old, most can pass it.

Passing the mirror test may show self-awareness, but failing it does notprove that an animal is not self-aware. In contrast to apes, monkeys do notshow signs of self-recognition, although some can learn to use mirrorsto locate food that they cannot otherwise see. Dogs have not passed themirror test, but that may be because they rely more on their sense of smellthan on sight. Many people who live with dogs and cats are convincedthat their animal companions are self-conscious and have a sense of thefuture. If dogs and cats qualify as persons, the mammals we use for foodcannot be far behind. We think of dogs as being more ‘human’ than pigs,but we have already seen that pigs can plan ahead and grasp whetheranother pig does or does not know the location of food. Are we turningpersons into bacon? Additionally, because at least some birds appear tobe persons, we should be cautious about excluding chickens, too. Inflocks of up to ninety birds, chickens appear to recognize one anotheras individuals, always knowing whether another bird is above or belowthem in the pecking order. They also have the capacity for self-controland to envisage at least the near future. In one experiment, chickenswere taught that pecking one key would, after two seconds, bring themaccess to food for three seconds; whereas pecking a different key would,after six seconds, bring them access to food for twenty-two seconds. Thehens preferred to wait for the opportunity to feed longer. At a moreanecdotal level, many people who keep free range hens and lock themup at night describe them as eager to get outside in the mornings – anattitude that suggests anticipating the future.

Of the animals that regularly appear on our plates, fish may seemthe least likely to be persons, but the category is an extremely broadone: there are approximately 28,000 species of fish, more than all theother vertebrates combined. They vary widely in their abilities. In 2003,the journal Fish and Fisheries published a special issue on learning infish, the introduction of which described fish as ‘steeped in social intel-ligence, pursuing Machiavellian strategies of manipulation, punishmentand reconciliation . . . and cooperating to inspect predators and catchfood.’ Whether any of this involves conscious planning is unclear, but

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we do know that the popular myth that fish can remember things foronly three seconds is quite wrong – experiments have shown that theycan remember the location of a hole in a net even if they have not beennear the net for eleven months. As for invertebrates, the veined octopushas been observed to pick up coconut half shells discarded by touristsand carry them a considerable distance – which makes movement quiteawkward for this small octopus – in order to assemble them later as akind of protective shelter. Given what we know of the learning abilitiesof octopuses, it is not too far-fetched to interpret this behaviour as indic-ating that the octopus is aware of its own future need for shelter and isplanning ahead.

It is difficult to establish when another being has a sense of its ownself, or of the past and the future. If it is wrong to kill a person when wecan avoid doing so, and there is real doubt about whether a being we arethinking of killing is a person, the best thing to do is to give that beingthe benefit of the doubt. The rule here is the same as that among deerhunters: if you see something moving in the bushes and are not sureif it is a deer or a hunter, don’t shoot! (We may think that the huntersshouldn’t shoot in either case, but the rule is a sound one within theethical framework that hunters use.) On these grounds, much killing ofnonhuman animals is open to objection. It may be justifiable of course,for overriding reasons, but it is in need of justification.

On the other hand, even for those nonhuman animals who are self-aware, and hence meet our definition of “person” it is still true that theyare not likely to be nearly as much focused on the future as normalhuman beings are. Gary Varner, in his Personhood and Animals in the Two-Level Utilitarianism of R.M. Hare, argues for a more demanding definitionof a person than the one I have used. To be a person, in his view, onemust have a biographical sense of self. Humans, he points out, typicallytell stories about their lives, weaving narratives that bring together wherethey have come from, where they are now and what they hope for inthe future. Only beings with a sophisticated language, Varner suggests,have this kind of biographical sense of their lives, which means that onlyhumans will have it – and not all humans, either, because not all humansare capable of language. Varner believes that this biographical sense ofone’s life gives a life a special significance that is lacking in the lives ofother beings. Some nonhuman animals, in his view, are ‘near-persons’ inthat they have some self-awareness but not a biographical sense of self.

Roger Scruton, a British philosopher, has said that the untimely deathof a human being is a tragedy because there are likely to be things that she

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hoped to accomplish but now will not be able to achieve. The prematuredeath of a cow is not a tragedy in this sense, because whether cows liveone year or ten, there is nothing that they hope to achieve. Even thosegreat apes who can use sign language do not talk to us about their plansfor the distant future. Scrub jays hide food for the next day, but as far aswe know, they do not embark on long-term projects that will pay off inthe years ahead. (If it could be shown that squirrels and other animalswho hide food for the winter are doing this with conscious foresight oftheir future needs, that would be an impressive counter-example, butthis behaviour may be instinctive.)

Accepting these differences between normal mature humans and non-human animals, we could see the wrongness of killing, not as a black andwhite matter, dependent on whether the being killed is or is not a person,but as a matter of degree, dependent on, among other things, whetherthe being killed was fully a person or was a near-person or had no self-awareness at all, the extent to which, by our best estimate, the being hadfuture-directed desires, and how central those desires were to the being’slife. The criminal law can reasonably take a different view on the groundsthat public policy is better served by laws that draw sharp boundaries, butthe relevant moral considerations suggest a continuum.

killing other animals

Arguments against killing based on the capacity to see oneself as anindividual existing over time apply to some nonhuman animals, but pre-sumably there are others who, though conscious, are not persons. Let’sassume that there are some animals about whom we can be confident thatthey are not persons, or even near-persons. The rightness or wrongnessof killing these animals then seems to rest on utilitarian considerations,for they are not autonomous and – at least if Tooley’s analysis of rights iscorrect – do not qualify for a right to life.

Before we discuss the utilitarian approach to killing in itself, we shouldremind ourselves that a wide variety of indirect reasons will figure inthe utilitarian’s calculations. Many modes of killing used on animals donot inflict an instantaneous death, so there is pain in the process ofdying. There is also the effect of the death of one animal on his or hermate or other members of the animal’s social group. There are manyspecies of birds, and a few mammals, in which the bond between maleand female lasts for a lifetime. The death of one member of this pair

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presumably causes distress and a sense of loss and sorrow for the survivor.The mother-child relationship in mammals can be a source of intensesuffering if either is killed or taken away. (Dairy farmers routinely removecalves from their mothers at an early age so that the milk will be availablefor humans; anyone who has lived on a dairy farm will know that, fordays after the calves have gone, their mothers keep calling for them.) Insome species, the death of one animal may be felt by a larger group – asthe behaviour of wolves and elephants suggests. All these factors wouldlead the utilitarian to oppose some killing of animals, whether or not theanimals are persons. These factors would not, however, be reasons foropposing killing in itself, apart from the pain and distress it may cause.

Deciding on the correct utilitarian verdict on killing that is painlessand causes no loss to others is complicated, because it depends both onhow we choose between the two versions of utilitarianism outlined inthe previous chapter, that is, the total or the prior existence view, andalso on whether we are hedonistic or preference utilitarians. I will beginby supposing that we are hedonistic utilitarians, because this makes thediscussion of the differences between the total and the prior existenceviews more straightforward, and only subsequently will I consider whatimpact a switch to preference utilitarianism makes.

On the prior existence view, it is wrong to kill any being whose lifeis likely to contain, or can be brought to contain, more pleasure thanpain. This view implies that it is normally wrong to kill animals for food,because usually we could argue that these animals would have had a fewpleasant months or even years before they died – and the pleasure weget from eating them would not outweigh this. In contrast, the total viewcan lead to a different outcome. In Social Rights and Duties, a collection ofessays and lectures published in 1896, Leslie Stephen, a British essayist –and the father of the novelist Virginia Woolf – writes:

Of all the arguments for Vegetarianism none is so weak as the argument fromhumanity. The pig has a stronger interest than anyone in the demand for bacon.If all the world were Jewish, there would be no pigs at all.

Stephen’s point is that although meat eaters are responsible for thedeath of the animal they eat and for the loss of pleasure experienced bythat animal, they are also responsible for the creation of more animals,because if no one ate meat there would be no more animals bred forfattening. The loss meat eaters inflict on one animal is thus compensatedfor by the benefit they confer on the next. The argument is periodically

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revived by those who seek to defend meat eating – in the twenty-firstcentury, for example, by Michael Pollan in his best-seller The Omnivore’sDilemma, and also by the British chef and food writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. We may call it ‘the replaceability argument’, for it assumesthat if we kill one animal, we can replace it with another as long as thatother will lead a life as pleasant as the one killed would have led, ifit had been allowed to go on living. Hedonistic utilitarians who acceptthe total view must agree with this, for that version of utilitarianismregards sentient beings as valuable only insofar as they make possiblethe existence of intrinsically valuable experiences like pleasure. It is asif sentient beings are receptacles of something valuable, and it does notmatter if a receptacle gets broken so long as there is another receptacleto which the contents can be transferred without any getting spilt. (Thismetaphor should not be taken too seriously, however; unlike preciousliquids, pleasure and other experiences cannot exist independently froma conscious being, and so even on the total view, sentient beings cannotproperly be thought of merely as receptacles.)

The first point to note about the replaceability argument is that evenif it is valid when the animals in question have pleasant lives, it would notjustify eating the flesh of animals reared in modern factory farms, wherethe animals are so crowded together and restricted in their movementsthat their lives seem to be more of a burden than a benefit to them.Pollan and Fearnley-Whittingstall are aware of this. They unequivocallycondemn factory farming and recommend that we avoid its products.

A second point is that if it is good to create happy life, then presumablyit is good for there to be as many happy beings on our planet as it canpossibly hold. Defenders of meat eating had better hope that they canfind a reason why it is better for there to be happy people rather thanjust the maximum possible number of happy beings, because otherwisethe argument implies that we should eliminate almost all human beingsin order to make way for the much larger numbers of smaller happyanimals that could sustainably replace them. If, however, the defendersof meat eating do come up with a reason for preferring the creation ofhappy people to, say, happy mice, then their argument will not supportmeat eating at all. For with the exception of some areas suitable only forpasture, the surface of our globe can support more people if we growplant foods than if we raise animals.

A third point is that if replaceability holds for animals, it must holdfor humans at a similar mental level. Suppose that whenever a child is

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born, the parents are offered the option of creating a clone of theirchild to serve as an organ donor for the child later in life. The clonesare gestated in artificial wombs and then reared separately from otherhuman beings in order to prevent the parents becoming so attached tothem that they will be reluctant to remove the clone’s organs. While inembryonic form, the clones are genetically modified so that their mentalabilities never develop beyond those of a human infant. Intellectuallyincapable of understanding their fate, they will lead lives similar to thoseof happy, well-cared-for infants until the time comes for them to bekilled – humanely, of course. Their hearts and other organs are thenused to prolong the lives of the children – now usually adults – fromwhom they were cloned. Those who receive the organs pay for them, andthe revenue from these sales makes it possible to rear new clones fromthe next generation of babies. Suppose that there is one religious group,let’s say Buddhism, that objects to this practice, refuses to use clones, andurges us to accept the idea of living a natural lifespan, which Buddhistssee as ethically better than using organs from clones to prolong our lives.To this a modern Leslie Stephen might reply: ‘Of all the arguments fora natural lifespan, none is so weak as the argument from humanity. Theclone has a stronger interest than anyone in the demand for organs. Ifall the world were Buddhist, there would be no clones at all.’ Given ourearlier rejection of speciesism, it isn’t easy to see how we can use thereplaceability argument to defend meat eating without also accepting itas a defence of this form of organ banking.

These three points undoubtedly reduce the appeal of the replaceabil-ity argument as a defence of meat eating, but they do not go to the heartof the matter. Are some sentient beings really replaceable? The total viewand the replaceability argument have been widely criticised, but none ofthe critics have offered satisfactory solutions to the underlying problemsto which these positions offer a consistent, if uncongenial, answer.

Henry Salt, a nineteenth-century English vegetarian and author of abook called Animals’ Rights, thought that the argument rested on a simplephilosophical error:

The fallacy lies in the confusion of thought that attempts to compare exist-ence with non-existence. A person who is already in existence may feel that hewould rather have lived than not, but he must first have the terra firma of exist-ence to argue from: the moment he begins to argue as if from the abyss ofthe non-existent, he talks nonsense, by predicating good or evil, happiness orunhappiness, of that of which we can predicate nothing.

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Salt claims that the Roman philosopher Lucretius, who lived in the firstcentury before the Christian era, refuted Stephen’s ‘vulgar sophism’ inthe following passage of De Rerum Natura:

What loss were ours, if we had known not birth?Let living men to longer life aspire,While fond affection binds their hearts to earth:But who never hath tasted life’s desire,Unborn, impersonal, can feel no dearth.

When I wrote the first edition of Animal Liberation, I accepted Salt’s view.I thought that it was absurd to talk as if one conferred a favour on abeing by bringing it into existence, because at the time one confers thisfavour, there is no being at all. But I have since changed my mind on thispoint. As we saw in the preceding chapter, we do seem to do somethingbad if we knowingly bring a miserable being into existence, and if this isso, it is difficult to explain why we do not do something good when weknowingly bring a happy being into existence.

Derek Parfit has offered a thought experiment that amounts to aneven stronger case for the replaceability view. He asks us to imagine thattwo women are each planning to have a child. The first woman is alreadythree months pregnant when her doctor gives her both bad and goodnews. The bad news is that the fetus she is carrying has a defect that willsignificantly diminish the future child’s quality of life – although not soadversely as to make the child’s life utterly miserable, or not worth livingat all. The good news is that this defect is easily treatable. All the womanhas to do is take a pill that will have no side effects, and the future childwill not have the defect. In this situation, Parfit very plausibly suggests,we would all agree that the woman should take the pill and that she doeswrong if she refuses to take it.

The second woman sees her doctor before she is pregnant, when sheis about to stop using contraception. She also receives bad and goodnews. The bad news is that she has a medical condition, the effect ofwhich is that if she conceives a child within the next three months, thechild will have the same defect that the first woman’s child will have ifshe does not take the pill. This defect is not treatable, but the good newsis that the woman’s condition is a temporary one, and if she waits threemonths before becoming pregnant, her child will not have the defect.Here too, Parfit suggests, we would all agree that the woman shouldwait before becoming pregnant and that she does wrong if she does notwait.

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Suppose that the first woman does not take the pill, and the secondwoman does not wait before becoming pregnant, and that as a result eachhas a child with a significant disability. It would seem that they have eachdone something wrong. Is their wrongdoing of equal magnitude? If weassume that it would have been no more difficult for the second womanto wait three months before becoming pregnant than it would have beenfor the first woman to take the pill, it would seem that the answer is yes,what they have done is equally wrong. But now consider what this answerimplies. The first woman has harmed her child. That child can say toher mother: ‘You should have taken the pill. If you had done so, I wouldnot now have this disability, and my life would be significantly better.’ Ifthe child of the second woman tries to make the same claim, however,her mother can respond: ‘If I had waited three months before becomingpregnant, you would never have existed. I would have produced anotherchild, from a different egg and different sperm. Your life, even with yourdisability, is worth living. You never had a chance of existing without thedisability. So I have not harmed you at all.’ This reply seems a completedefence to the charge of having harmed the child now in existence.If, despite this, we persist in our belief that it was wrong of the womannot to postpone her pregnancy, in what does the wrongness consist? Itcannot lie in bringing into existence the child to whom she gave birth,for that child has an adequate quality of life. Could it lie in not bringinga possible being into existence – to be precise, in not bringing intoexistence the child she would have had if she had waited three months?If we explain the wrongness of the second woman’s decision in this way,we are rejecting the prior existence view in favour of the total view, orsomething closer to it. We are also a step closer to accepting replaceability,for our explanation implies that we should give weight to the interests ofbeings who would come into existence, if we chose to bring them intoexistence.

Because some people are unsure what to say about the case of the twowomen – in particular, whether what they do is equally wrong – I will addone more example, adapting a case that Parfit calls ‘Depletion’ so that itbecomes very like the choice that developed nations are facing now onwhat to do about climate change. We could continue to use the cheapestenergy available to give ourselves, our children and perhaps our grand-children a high standard of living. In discussions of climate policy, this isoften referred to as ‘Business As Usual’. If we do this, however, the warm-ing of the planet will mean that sometime in the next century, thingswill get much worse for future generations and will remain much worse

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for several centuries – although we shall assume, for the purposes of thisdiscussion, that they will not get so bad that people in these future cen-turies will not have a life that is not worth living. Alternatively, we couldfollow a policy we will call ‘Sustainability’: this involves a quick end to theuse of fossil fuels, with significantly changed lifestyles, different indus-tries, less travel, less meat and many other changes. We and our childrenand perhaps our grandchildren would be slightly worse off under Sustain-ability than under Business As Usual, but more distant future generationswould, for many centuries, be much better off. Overall, if we considerthe welfare of every generation, including ours, as far as we can foresee,Sustainability has much better consequences than Business As Usual.But imagine that we are selfish, and don’t care much about future gen-erations, beyond our own grandchildren, and so we decide to opt forBusiness As Usual.

Have we done something wrong? Surely we have; but who have wewronged? It may seem that we have wronged the people who will livein later centuries, because they will have less good lives than they wouldhave had if we had opted for Sustainability. But this response overlooksthe fact that our choice of policies will have such widespread effectsthat it will also change who meets whom, and who has children withwhom. For example, people will travel less and so will meet differentpeople. New industries will develop in different parts of the country,and people will move there to find employment. Who we are dependson who our parents are – if my parents had never met, I would notexist. Probably my mother and my father would have had other chil-dren, with other partners, and none of those children would have beenme. So if we choose Business as Usual, we can pre-empt any complaintsfrom twenty-third-century people by leaving them a document explainingthat if we had chosen Sustainability, they would not have been better off,but rather they would not have been at all. Moreover, if their lives arenot so bad as not to be worth living, they are better off existing than notexisting.

What is wrong with this justification of Business as Usual? On theprior existence view, it is difficult to see what could be wrong with it. Theprior existence view tells us to do what is best for those who exist, orwill exist anyway, and following Business As Usual does that. The peoplewho are made worse off by our continuation of Business As Usual arepeople who would not have existed if we had chosen Sustainability. Theexample shows that to focus only on those who exist or will exist anywayleaves out something vital to the ethics of this decision. We can, and

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should, compare the lives of those who will exist with the lives of thosewho might have existed, if we had acted differently. Contrary to Salt,we can and should ‘argue as if from the abyss of the non-existent’. Wecan condemn the decision to continue with Business As Usual only bytaking into account the fact that, if we switch to Sustainability, the livesof those who will exist would be much better than the lives of thosewho will exist under Business As Usual. Granted, the people for whosesake we should switch to Sustainability will remain, in Lucretius’s words,‘unborn, impersonal’ if we do not make that switch. Never having tasted‘life’s desire’, they will ‘feel no dearth’ of life. Yet the quality of the livesthey would have led is inescapably relevant to our decision.

If then we should, in making ethical decisions, at least sometimes takeaccount of the impact we could have on the lives of people the existenceof whom is, at the time we are making the decision, uncertain, we needto ask: at what stage in the development from people we might bringinto existence to people actually in existence does replaceability cease toapply? What characteristic makes the difference?

Here, there is a difference between preference utilitarianism andhedonistic utilitarianism. Preference utilitarians can draw a distinctionbetween self-aware individuals, leading their own lives and wanting togo on living, and those with no future-directed preferences. They wouldagree with Lucretius that there is a difference between killing livingbeings who ‘to longer life aspire’ and failing to create a being who,unborn and impersonal, can feel no loss of life. But what of beings who,though alive, cannot aspire to longer life because they lack the concep-tion of themselves as living beings with a future? These being are also, ina sense, ‘impersonal’. We might say that we do them no personal wrong,which a preference utilitarian might understand as meaning that becausethey have no future-directed preferences, we are not acting contrary toany of their preferences if we kill them instantly and painlessly. So per-haps the capacity to see oneself as existing over time, and thus to aspireto longer life (as well as to have other non-momentary, future-directedinterests), is the characteristic that marks out those beings who cannotbe considered replaceable.

This conclusion is in harmony with Tooley’s views about what it takesto have a right to life. For a preference utilitarian, concerned with thesatisfaction of preferences rather than experiences of suffering or hap-piness, there is a similar fit with the distinction already drawn betweenkilling those who are rational and self-conscious and killing those whoare not. Rational, self-conscious beings are individuals, leading lives of

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their own, and cannot in any sense be regarded merely as receptaclesfor containing a certain quantity of happiness. Beings that are con-scious, but not self-conscious, on the other hand, more nearly approx-imate the image of receptacles for experiences of pleasure and pain,because their preferences will be of a more immediate sort. Given theevidence we have just reviewed, it is not easy to say with confidencewhich animals might be conscious but not self-conscious, but it is reas-onable to suppose that there are some in this category. They will nothave desires that project their images of their own existence into thefuture. Their conscious states are not internally linked over time. Ifthey become unconscious, for example by falling asleep, then beforethe loss of consciousness they would have no expectations or desires foranything that might happen subsequently; and if they regain conscious-ness, they have no awareness of having previously existed. Therefore, ifthey were killed while unconscious and replaced by a similar numberof other members of their species who will be created only if the firstgroup are killed, there would, from the perspective of their awareness,be no difference between that and the same animals losing and regainingconsciousness.

For a merely conscious being, death is the cessation of experiences,in much the same way that birth is the beginning of experiences. Deathcannot be contrary to an interest in continued life any more than birthcould be in accordance with an interest in commencing life. To thisextent, with merely conscious beings, birth and death cancel each otherout; whereas with self-aware beings, the fact that one may desire to con-tinue living means that death inflicts a loss for which the birth of anotheris insufficient compensation.

The test of universalizability supports this view. If I imagine myself inturn as a self-conscious being and a merely conscious being, it is onlyin the former case that I could have forward-looking desires that extendbeyond periods of sleep or temporary unconsciousness, for example adesire to complete my studies, a desire to have children, or simply adesire to go on living, in addition to desires for immediate satisfactionor pleasure, or to get out of painful or distressing situations. Hence,it is only in the former case that my death involves a greater loss thanjust a temporary loss of consciousness, and my death is not adequatelycompensated for by the creation of a being with similar prospects ofpleasurable experiences.

In reviewing the first edition of this book, the late H. L. A. Hart, amajor figure in twentieth-century philosophy of law, suggested that for

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a utilitarian, self-conscious beings must be replaceable in just the sameway as non-self-conscious beings are. The type of utilitarianism one holdswill, in Hart’s view, make no difference here, because:

Preference Utilitarianism is after all a form of maximizing utilitarianism: itrequires that the overall satisfaction of different persons’ preferences be max-imized just as Classical Utilitarianism requires overall experienced happiness tobe maximized . . . If preferences, even the desire to live, may be outweighed bythe preferences of others, why cannot they be outweighed by new preferencescreated to take their place?

It is of course true that preference utilitarianism is a form of maximizingutilitarianism in the sense that it directs us to maximize the satisfaction ofpreferences, but that does not mean that we should regard the thwartingof existing preferences as something that can be outweighed by creatingnew preferences – whether in existing beings or in beings we bring intoexistence – that we will then satisfy. For whereas the satisfaction of anexisting preference is a good thing, how we should evaluate the packagedeal that involves creating and then satisfying a preference is a very dif-ferent question. If I put myself in the place of another with an unsatisfiedpreference and ask myself if I would, other things being equal, want thatpreference satisfied, the answer is self-evidently yes, because that is justwhat it is to have an unsatisfied preference. If, on the other hand, I askmyself whether I wish to have a new preference created that can then besatisfied, I may say that it all depends on what the preference is. If I thinkof a case in which the satisfaction of the preference will be highly pleasur-able, I may say yes. If we know that we are going to eat well in the evening,we may take a walk beforehand to be sure that we have a good appetite;and people take all kinds of supposed aphrodisiacs in order to stimulatesexual desire when they know that the circumstances for satisfying thatdesire are propitious. In these cases, the creation of the new desire leadsto more pleasure, and most people prefer more pleasure; so the creationof the new desire is a means of achieving something that I desire anyway.If, on the other hand, I think of the creation of a preference that is morelike a privation, I will say no, I don’t want it, even if I will be able to satisfyit. We don’t deliberately make ourselves thirsty because we know thatthere will be plenty of water on hand to quench our thirst. This suggeststhat the creation and satisfaction of a preference is in itself neither goodnor bad: our response to the idea of the creation and satisfaction of apreference varies according to whether the experience as a whole willbe desirable in terms of other longstanding preferences we may have. If

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not, there is no value in creating a new desire just so that we can thensatisfy it.

Consistently with this conclusion, we might think of the creation ofan unsatisfied preference as putting a debit in a kind of moral ledger ofdebits and credits. The satisfaction of the preference merely cancels outthe debit. This ‘debit model’ of the ethical significance of preferenceshas the advantage of explaining the puzzling asymmetry in our oblig-ations regarding bringing children into existence, which is mentionedin the previous chapter. We consider it wrong to bring into existence achild who, because of a genetic defect, will lead a thoroughly miserableexistence for a year or two and then die; yet we do not consider it goodor obligatory to bring into existence a child who, in all probability, willlead a happy life. The debit view of preferences explains why this shouldbe so: to bring into existence a child, most of whose preferences we willbe unable to satisfy, is to create a debit that we cannot cancel and istherefore wrong. To create a child whose preferences will be satisfied isto create a debit that will be erased when the desires are satisfied. On thedebit view, this is ethically neutral. The model can also explain why, inParfit’s example, what the two women do is equally wrong – for althoughneither thwarts any existing preferences, both quite unnecessarily bringinto existence a child who is likely to have a larger negative balance inthe moral ledger than a child they could have brought into existence.Similarly, it explains why continuing with Business As Usual is wrong –it too leaves larger negative balances in the moral ledger than would bethe case if we switched to Sustainability.

There is, however, one serious objection to this account of preferences:if the creation of each preference is a debit that is cancelled only whenthe desire is satisfied, it would follow that it is wrong, other things beingequal, to bring into existence a child who will on the whole be very happyand will be able to satisfy nearly all, but not quite all, of her preferences.Because everyone has some unsatisfied desires, even the best life anyonecan realistically hope to lead is going to leave a small debit in the ledger.The conclusion to be drawn is that it would have been better if none ofus had been born!

Is that too absurd to take seriously? It is reminiscent of the philosophyof pessimism defended by the nineteenth-century German philosopherArthur Schopenhauer, and also of some strands of Buddhist thinking. ForSchopenhauer and perhaps for Buddha, we are always striving for some-thing, and when we attain it, instead of achieving lasting satisfaction, newdesires emerge that need to be satisfied. Because the only satisfaction

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we can achieve is transient relief from a negative state, life is not worthliving, and the best we can hope for is to escape from the cycle of birthand death. David Benatar, a South Africa philosopher, has recently defen-ded something like Schopenhauer’s pessimism in his book Better Never toHave Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. Benatar argues that bringingsomeone into existence harms them in a way that is not compensatedfor by the positive experiences they may have. One of Benatar’s argu-ments for this claim is grounded on something like the debit view ofpreferences: to have an unfulfilled desire is, he holds, to be in a stateof dissatisfaction, and that is a bad thing. Moreover, we spend most ofour lives with unfulfilled desires, and the occasional satisfactions that areall most of us can achieve are insufficient to outweigh these prolongednegative states.

Let us revisit the climate change scenario and add a third option towhich this kind of pessimism points. We can call it the Party & Go option.Advocates of this option want us to become even more profligate with ourenergy usage than in the Business As Usual scenario; but to ensure thatour actions are not going to leave any kind of larger negative balance inthe overall moral ledger of our planet, they urge that we all get sterilized.The people who now exist will be the last generation on Earth. Suppose,implausibly, that everyone agrees to this, no one minds being the lastgeneration, and our actions will not make nonhuman animals worse off(or perhaps we will sterilize all of them, too). If the pessimists are correct,this would be the right thing to do, and we might think that those whohold the debit view of preferences must accept that it would be right or,at least, not wrong. For if to bring someone into existence will inevitablyleave a negative balance in the moral ledger, why should we do it? Weshould do it only, presumably, if otherwise there will be a bigger negativebalance in the moral ledgers of those who already exist – that is, if theywant to have children or want there to be generations that come afterthem. If the assumptions on which Party & Go is based can be granted,however, that is not the case. Those who already exist will lead better livesif there are no future generations.

Does the debit view of preferences leave us with any basis on whichto reject Party & Go? To refresh your memory on what is at stake here:remember that the debit view of preferences was a response to Hart’sargument that a preference utilitarian should regard all beings as replace-able, whether they desire to go on living or not. If the debit view ofpreferences requires us to accept Party & Go, many would consider thatan objection to the debit view, and hence an objection to my attempt

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to argue that persons are not replaceable. I think, however, that we canreject Party & Go while retaining the debit view of preferences, but to doso requires an appeal to a notion of value that goes beyond the minimalistbasis for preference utilitarianism outlined in Chapter 1 of this book.

Consider two different universes. In the Nonsentient Universe, thereis never any sentient life at all. In the Peopled Universe, there are severalbillion self-aware beings. They lead rich and full lives, experiencing thejoys of love and friendship, of fulfilling and meaningful work, and ofbringing up children. They seek knowledge, successfully adding to theirunderstanding of themselves and the universe they inhabit. They respondto the beauties of nature, cherish the forests and animals that pre-datetheir own existence, and create literature and music that is on a par withthe works of Shakespeare and Mozart. They manage to prevent or relievemany forms of suffering, but they are mortal and are not able to satisfyall their desires. Is it better that the Peopled Universe exist rather thanthe Nonsentient Universe?

Can we answer this question by universalizing our own preferences?We might say that we would prefer to live the kind of life that is lived inthe Peopled Universe than not to live at all. R. M. Hare once suggestedthat we could take this approach to abortion. Because I enjoy my life, I ampleased that my parents did not abort the fetus from which I developed.Therefore, other things being equal, he argued, we should not abortfetuses if we have reason to believe that the fetus will develop into a personwho will enjoy being alive; and if, should the fetus be aborted, there willbe fewer such persons (that is, the aborted fetus will not subsequently bereplaced by another that would not otherwise have existed). But thereis a significant difference between putting yourself in the place of otherexisting beings who will be affected by your act and putting yourselfin the place of beings who might not exist at all. In one case, we aresatisfying existing preferences, and in the other, bringing preferencesinto existence. To draw on the example to which I have already referred,if people are thirsty, that is a reason for giving them water, but it doesn’tfollow that we have a reason for making people thirsty and then offeringthem water. Similarly, no obligation to bring more beings into existencefollows from the fact that, if we do, they will be able to satisfy most of theirpreferences. Hence, to take into account the interests of merely possiblefuture beings – as we can scarcely avoid doing in some scenarios – goesbeyond the original minimalist idea of preference utilitarianism based onuniversalizing our own preferences. It may be based on a judgment thatthere is value in certain kinds of lives. We could try to distinguish two kinds

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of value: preference-dependent value, which depends on the existenceof beings with preferences and is tied to the preferences of those specificbeings, and value that is independent of preferences. When we say thatthe Peopled Universe is better than the Nonsentient Universe, we arereferring to value that is independent of preferences. Henry Sidgwick,the nineteenth-century utilitarian, said that if we reflect carefully, we willsee that the only thing that is intrinsically or ultimately good – good for itsown sake – is a form of consciousness, or state of mind, that we regard asdesirable. He thought that this desirable consciousness is pleasure, and,like other hedonistic utilitarians, would have thought that the PeopledUniverse is better because it contains a surplus of pleasure over pain andthe Nonsentient Universe does not. To say that pleasure is good and painis bad is to assert not only that there are preference-independent values,but to say that pleasure and pain are such values. If there are preference-independent values, there are many other possible views about what is ofvalue, in this sense. My account of the Peopled Universe was designed tocapture a variety of possible views about what kinds of consciousness aredesirable. We could hold a pluralist view of value and consider that love,friendship, knowledge and the appreciation of beauty, as well as pleasureor happiness, are all of value. My point here is not to determine thenature of preference-independent value but to show that some notion ofit provides a basis for objecting to the Party & Go option, as well as theBusiness as Usual option, in our climate change example.

Hedonistic utilitarians must face a different objection. Because theywould prefer any universe that contains a surplus of pleasure over pain toa universe with neither pleasure nor pain, they must prefer, not only thePeopled Universe to the Nonsentient Universe, but also the Happy SheepUniverse, where the only sentient beings are sheep who have plenty ofgrass on which to graze. Lambs gambol happily in the fields, grow up,reproduce, and when their offspring are mature, die swiftly and withoutsuffering. Whether hedonistic utilitarians would prefer the Happy SheepUniverse over the Peopled Universe would depend on which has thegreater surplus of pleasure over pain and, as we saw at the end of theprevious chapter, whether we agree with Mill’s assessment of the pleasuresand pains of animals and normal human beings.

It seems obvious to me that both the Peopled Universe and the HappySheep Universe are better than the Nonsentient Universe, but at thispoint we are dealing with such basic values that it is difficult to findan argument that would persuade someone who denies this. Rememberthat the Peopled Universe is not our actual universe. It may be that

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there is more suffering and misery than happiness in our actual universe,especially if we consider the extremes of suffering that exist in it. So Iam not here committed to an optimistic view of our actual universe,but only to the view that if life were really good for everyone, withoutterrible suffering, that would be a better universe than the Nonsentientone. Still, I admit that it would be possible for a preference utilitarianto bite the bullet here and say that the Nonsentient Universe is as goodas the Peopled Universe – and explain our reluctance to embrace thisconclusion by saying that it is the outcome of our evolved instinct toreproduce and care for our offspring.

In discussing this choice of universes, I have been met with the objec-tion that the Nonsentient Universe cannot be compared, ethically, withany other universe. It is neither worse nor better than any other uni-verse. It doesn’t have zero value on a scale that gives a positive valueto the Peopled Universe, it is just outside the scope of ethics and noscale of value applies to it. That might seem plausible until we imagine aHellish Universe peopled exclusively by small children who suffer agon-izing pain for several years, with no redeeming aspects of their lives, andthen die. The same people who deny that we can compare the PeopledUniverse with the Nonsentient Universe are prepared to agree that thisis worse than the Nonsentient Universe. That implies that we can com-pare the Nonsentient Universe with universes containing sentient beings.Moreover, we can imagine a whole series of universes, with progressivelyless sentience in them, stretching from the Peopled Universe to the Non-sentient Universe. The one closest to the Nonsentient Universe mighthave no sentient life, ever, except for one shrimp, which lives, has a briefflash of consciousness and then dies. It seems very odd to claim that wecan rank that universe on the same scale as the Peopled Universe, but assoon as the universe does not have even that momentary consciousness,it becomes incomparable with all the others.

In the thirty years since the first edition of this book was published,many philosophers have put forward ingenious solutions to the problemof how we should think about decisions that affect who will exist. Aview that most philosophers find even tolerably satisfactory is still to befound, and any new suggestion is bound to give rise to some difficultiesor counter-intuitive results. That is not in itself a reason for rejecting theview, because the difficulties may still be less serious than the difficultiesafflicting all other views. It is, therefore, a consideration in favour of thekind of value I have been suggesting that, in combination with the debitview of preferences, it helps us to formulate answers to these baffling

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questions. It enables us to move beyond the prior existence view, whichis clearly not adequate for dealing with some of these questions, withoutforcing us to accept that all sentient beings, even those who are self-aware,are replaceable. Moreover, if provides a basis for rejecting Party & Go as astrategy for dealing with climate change. Nevertheless, this combinationof preference utilitarianism and an idea of intrinsic value that is notdependent on preferences sacrifices one of the great advantages of anyform of utilitarianism that is based on just one value, which is that thereis no need to explain how different values are to be traded off against oneanother. Instead, because this view suggests that there are two kinds ofvalues, one personal and based on preferences and the other impersonal,it isn’t easy to see how we are to proceed when the two kinds of valuesclash.

Before we leave the topic of killing animals, I should emphasize thatto hold that merely conscious beings are replaceable is not to say thattheir interests do not count. I hope that the third chapter of this bookmakes it clear that their interests do count. As long as sentient beings areconscious, they have an interest in satisfying their desires, or in experien-cing as much pleasure and as little pain as possible. Sentience suffices toplace a being within the sphere of equal consideration of interests, butit does not mean that the being has a personal interest in continuing tolive.


If the arguments in this chapter are correct, there is no single answer tothe question: ‘Is it normally wrong to kill an animal?’ The term ‘animal’ –even in the restricted sense of ‘nonhuman animal’ – covers too diverse arange of lives for one principle to apply to all of them.

Some nonhuman animals appear to conceive of themselves as dis-tinct beings with a past and a future, and this provides a direct reasonagainst killing them, the strength of which will vary with the degree towhich the animal is capable of having desires for the future. Our increas-ing knowledge of the intellectual capacities of nonhuman animals hasextended the number of species to which this reason against killing canreasonably be applied. Twenty years ago, we could confidently attributeself-awareness only to great apes. Now, we can include not only elephantsand dolphins but also some birds. It is hard to know what further researchmay show. We should therefore try to give the benefit of the doubt tomonkeys, dogs, cats, pigs, seals, bears, cattle, sheep and so on, perhaps

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even to birds and fish – much depends how far we are prepared to go inextending the benefit of the doubt, where a doubt exists. Our discussionhas raised a question mark over the justifiability of a great deal of killingof animals carried out by humans, even when this killing takes placepainlessly and without causing suffering to other members of the animalcommunity. (Most of this killing, of course, does not take place undersuch ideal conditions.)

When we come to animals that, as far as we can tell, lack self-awareness,the best direct reason against killing points to the loss of a pleasant orenjoyable life. Where the life taken would not, on balance, have beenpleasant or enjoyable, no direct wrong is done. Even when the animalkilled would have lived pleasantly, it is at least arguable that no wrong isdone if the animal killed will, as a result of the killing, be replaced byanother animal living an equally pleasant life. Taking this view involvesholding that a wrong done to an existing being can be made up for bya benefit conferred on an as yet non-existent being. Thus, it is possibleto regard merely conscious animals as interchangeable with one anotherin a way that beings with a sense of their own future are not. This meansthat in some circumstances – when animals lead pleasant lives, are killedpainlessly, their deaths do not cause suffering to other animals and thekilling of one animal makes possible its replacement by another thatwould not otherwise have lived – the killing of animals without self-awareness is not wrong.

Is it possible, along these lines, to justify raising any animals for theirmeat, not in factory farm conditions but roaming freely around a farm-yard? Suppose that we could be confident that chickens, for example,are not aware of themselves as existing over time (and as we have seen,this assumption is questionable). Assume also that the birds can be killedpainlessly, and the survivors do not appear to be affected by the deathof one of their numbers. Assume, finally, that for economic reasons wecould not rear the birds if we did not eat them. Then the replaceabilityargument appears to justify killing the birds, because depriving them ofthe pleasures of their existence can be offset against the pleasures ofchickens who do not yet exist and will exist only if existing chickens arekilled.

As a piece of critical moral reasoning, this argument may be sound, butits application is limited. It cannot justify factory farming, where animalsdo not have pleasant lives. Nor does it normally justify the killing of wildanimals. A duck shot by a hunter (assuming for the sake of the argumentthat ducks are not self-aware and that the shooter can be relied on to kill

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the duck instantly) was probably leading a pleasant life, but the shootingof a duck does not lead to its replacement by another. Unless the duckpopulation is at the maximum that can be sustained by the available foodsupply, the killing of a duck ends a pleasant life without starting anotherand is, for that reason, wrong on straightforward utilitarian grounds.

Even in the case of animals with some self-awareness, killing for foodwill not always be wrong. Many people who think nothing of buyingfactory-farmed ham or chicken from a supermarket are quick to con-demn hunting; yet hunting is more defensible than factory farming.Consider deer hunting in those parts of the United States where thereare no longer any predators, other than human beings, to keep the deerpopulation in check. Deer then reproduce to the point where they nolonger have enough to eat, and they begin to degrade the environment.Eventually many of them will starve. Hunters argue that a quick deathfrom a bullet is better for the deer than slow starvation, and environment-alists point out that the high density of deer may cause other species, bothplants and animals, to become endangered. That death from a well-aimedbullet is preferable to starvation is undeniable, and this holds even if deerare self-aware. In practice, because not all hunters aim well and some willinjure the animals rather than kill them, some form of fertility controlwould be better than permitting hunting. (It is an indication of our lackof concern about killing animals that there has been so little researchinto developing practical methods of contraception or sterilization forwild animals.) Let’s assume, however, that there is no feasible method offertility control; that the hunter is a good enough shot to kill the deerwithout inflicting suffering; and that if the deer are not shot they willdie slowly and painfully in the coming winter. When that is the situation,it seems that a consequentialist cannot object to the deer being killed.To do so would require holding that we are responsible for the deathswe inflict but not for the deaths that ‘nature’ will bring about if we donothing. That argument is similar to one sometimes used to distinguishactive euthanasia from ‘allowing nature to take its course’, and as weshall see when we discuss it in Chapter 7, it is not defensible. Huntingunder these circumstances, however, covers only a few of the billions ofpremature deaths humans inflict on animals each year.

It is sometimes argued that even vegans cannot avoid responsibilityfor killing, because a tractor plowing a field to plant crops may crushfield mice, and moles can be killed when their burrows are destroyedby the plow. Harvesting crops removes the ground cover in which smallanimals shelter, making it possible for predators to kill them. Steven

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Davis, an animal scientist at Oregon State University, has claimed that thenumber of animals killed by growing crops is greater than the numberkilled by rearing beef cattle on pasture, even including the deaths of thecattle. His findings have been used by other defenders of meat-eating,including Michael Pollan. Davis has, however, failed to take into accountthe fact that an area of land used for crops will feed about ten times asmany people as the same area of land used for grass-fed beef. When thatdifference is fed into the calculations, Davis’s argument is turned on itshead and proves that vegans are responsible for killing only about a fifthas many animals as those who eat grass-fed beef.

None of this discussion is intended to suggest that people who needto kill animals in order to survive – people living in poverty who arestruggling to get enough to feed themselves and their families, or thoseliving a traditional hunting and gathering existence – should not doso. If cows, pigs, chickens and the other animals we usually eat are self-aware, they are still not self-aware to anything like the extent that humansnormally are. I agree with Varner and Scruton that the more one thinksof one’s life as a story that has chapters still to be written, and the moreone hopes for achievements yet to come, the more one has to lose bybeing killed. For this reason, when there is an irreconcilable conflictbetween the basic survival needs of animals and of normal humans, itis not speciesist to give priority to the lives of those with a biographicalsense of their life and a stronger orientation towards the future.


Taking Life

The Embryo and Fetus

the problem

Few ethical issues have been as bitterly fought over during the past fortyyears as abortion, and neither side has had much success in altering theopinions of its opponents. Until 1967, abortion was illegal in almost allthe Western democracies except Sweden and Denmark. Then Britainchanged its law to allow abortion on broad social grounds, and in the1973 case of Roe v. Wade, the United States Supreme Court held thatwomen have a constitutional right to an abortion in the first six monthsof pregnancy. Conservative presidents have changed the composition ofthe Supreme Court, but to date it has continued to uphold the core ofthe Roe v. Wade decision while allowing states to restrict access to abortionin various minor ways. In recent decades, European nations, includingRoman Catholic countries like Italy, Spain and France, have liberalisedtheir abortion laws. Even Ireland and Poland now permit abortion insome circumstances. Worldwide, only a handful of countries, mostly inLatin America, prohibit abortion entirely.

In 1978, the birth of Louise Brown – the first human to have been bornfrom an embryo that had been fertilised outside a human body – raised anew issue about the status of early human life. The achievement of RobertEdwards and Patrick Steptoe in demonstrating the possibility of in vitrofertilization, or IVF, was the result of several years of experimentationon early human embryos – none of which had survived – and sincethen more embryos have been used in experiments aimed at improvingthe success rate of this means of enabling otherwise infertile couplesto have children. IVF is now a routine procedure for certain types of


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infertility, and millions of people owe their existence to it. IVF can alsobe used by couples who have a high risk of having a child with a geneticabnormality. Their embryos can be screened in the laboratory for geneticabnormalities, and only those embryos that do not carry the abnormalityare implanted. This avoids the need for prenatal diagnosis and abortion,but still destroys human embryos.

Because the IVF procedure often produces more embryos than cansafely be transferred to the uterus of the woman from whom the eggcame, embryo freezing has been developed so that surplus embryos canbe frozen and stored until they are needed. Normal children can developfrom these embryos, but if the original transfer of a ‘fresh’ embryo res-ults in the desired child, the frozen embryos may not be wanted. Asa result, there are now large numbers of embryos preserved in specialfreezers around the world. (In the United States alone, there are morethan 400,000 frozen embryos.) A few of these unwanted frozen embryosmay be given to other infertile couples who cannot produce their owneggs or sperm, but the fate of the others is uncertain. In many cases,contact with the couple from whom the egg and sperm came has beenlost. Scientists have become interested in using some of these surplusor abandoned embryos in order to obtain stem cells, which they believemay offer the potential for finding cures for Parkinson’s disease, juvenilediabetes, Alzheimer’s, spinal cord injuries, heart disease and other med-ical conditions. Because the process of obtaining the stem cells destroysthe embryo, however, it has become embroiled in the same ethical andpolitical controversy as abortion over the question of when it is wrong todestroy early human life. In 2001, President George W. Bush prohibitedthe use of federal funds for research using stem cell lines derived fromembryos after the date of his announcement. This decision was promptlyreversed by President Barack Obama after he took office in 2009, buthis executive order permitting the use of federal funds was itself over-turned by a federal judge in 2010, who ruled that it is contrary to a lawpreventing the use of federal funds for research that destroys embryos.

In this chapter we shall consider the moral status of the early embryoand of the fetus. I shall mostly use the term ‘fetus’, but it should beunderstood to include the embryo, unless the context makes it clear thatthis is not the case.

The issue of when it is wrong to destroy early human life needs care-ful thought because the development of the human being is a gradualprocess. Immediately after conception, the fertilized egg is just a singlecell, and its death has little emotional resonance for most of us – in fact,in normal conception, the woman in whose body fertilization takes place

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will not even know that the egg was fertilized or, should there be anearly miscarriage, that the conception was lost. After several days, it isstill only a tiny cluster of cells without a single anatomical feature of thehuman being it will later become. The cells that will eventually becomethe embryo proper are at this stage indistinguishable from the cells thatwill become the placenta and amniotic sac. Up to about fourteen daysafter fertilization, we cannot even tell if the embryo is going to be one ortwo individuals, because splitting can take place, leading to the formationof identical twins. At fourteen days, the first anatomical feature, the so-called primitive streak, appears in the position in which the backbone willlater develop. At this point, the embryo could not possibly be consciousor feel pain. Yet this embryo will, in the normal process of development,gradually develop into an adult human being. To kill a human adult ismurder, and, except in special circumstances, some of which will be dis-cussed in the next chapter, is unhesitatingly and universally condemned.The absence of any obvious sharp line that divides the fertilized egg fromthe adult creates the problem.

I shall begin by stating the position of those opposed to abortion,which I shall refer to as the conservative position. I shall then examinesome of the standard liberal responses and show why they are inadequate.Finally, I shall use our earlier discussion of the value of life to approachthe issue from a broader perspective. In contrast to the common opinionthat the moral question about abortion is a dilemma with no solution, Ishall show that, at least within the bounds of non-religious ethics, thereis a clear-cut answer and those who take a different view are mistaken.

the conservative position

The central argument against abortion, put as a formal argument, wouldgo something like this:

First premise: It is wrong to kill an innocent human being.Second premise: A human fetus is an innocent human being.Conclusion: Therefore, it is wrong to kill a human fetus.

The usual liberal response is to deny the second premise of this argument.So it is on whether the fetus is a human being that the issue is joined,and the dispute about abortion is often taken to be a dispute about whena human life begins.

On this issue the conservative position is difficult to shake. The con-servative points to the continuum between the fertilized egg and childand challenges the liberal to point to any stage in this gradual process

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that marks a morally significant dividing line. Unless there is such a line,the conservative says, we must either upgrade the status of the earliestembryo to that of the child, or downgrade the status of the child to thatof the embryo; but no one wants to allow children to be dispatched onthe request of their parents, and so the only tenable position is to grantthe fetus the protection we now grant the child.

Is it true that there is no morally significant dividing line betweenfertilized egg and child? Those commonly suggested are: birth, viability,quickening and the onset of consciousness. Let us consider these in turn.


Birth is the most visible possible dividing line and the one that wouldsuit liberals best. It coincides to some extent with our sympathies – weare less disturbed by the destruction of a fetus we have never seen thanat the death of a being we can all see, hear and cuddle. Is this enoughto make birth the line that decides whether a being may or may not bekilled? The conservative can plausibly reply that the fetus/baby is thesame entity, whether inside or outside the womb, with the same humanfeatures (whether we can see them or not) and the same degree ofawareness and capacity for feeling pain. A prematurely born infant maywell be less developed in these respects than a fetus nearing the end of itsnormal term. It seems peculiar to hold that we may not kill the prematureinfant but may kill the more developed fetus. The location of a being –inside or outside the womb – should not make that much difference tothe wrongness of killing it.


If birth does not mark a crucial moral distinction, should we push theline back to the time at which the fetus could survive outside the womb?This overcomes one objection to taking birth as the decisive point, forit treats the viable fetus on a par with the infant, born prematurely,at the same stage of development. Viability is where the United StatesSupreme Court drew the line in Roe v. Wade. The Court held that thestate has a legitimate interest in protecting potential life, and this interestbecomes ‘compelling’ at viability ‘because the fetus then presumably hasthe capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb’. Therefore,statutes prohibiting abortion after viability would not, the Court said, beunconstitutional. The judges who wrote the majority decision gave no

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indication why the mere capacity to exist outside the womb should makesuch a difference to the state’s interest in protecting potential life. Afterall, if we talk, as the Court did, of potential human life, then the fetusbefore the time of viability is as much a potential adult human as thefetus after that time. (I shall return to this issue of potentiality shortly;but it is a different issue from the conservative argument we are nowdiscussing, which claims that the fetus is already a human being and notjust a potential human being.)

There is another important objection to making viability the cut-offpoint. The point at which the fetus can survive outside the mother’s bodyvaries according to the state of medical technology. Until the develop-ment of modern methods of intensive care, it was generally accepted thata baby born more than two months premature could not survive. Nowa six-month-old fetus – three months premature – can often be pulledthrough, thanks to sophisticated medical techniques, and fetuses bornafter as little as five and a half months of gestation have survived.

In the light of these medical developments, do we say that a six-month-old fetus should not be aborted now but could have been aborted withoutwrongdoing fifty years ago, when it would have been unlikely to survive?The same comparison can also be made, not between the present and thepast, but between different places. A six-month-old fetus might have a fairchance of survival if born in a city where the latest medical techniquesare used, but no chance at all if born in a remote New Guinea village.Suppose that for some reason a woman, six months pregnant, was to flyfrom New York to a New Guinea village and that, once she had arrivedin the village, there was no way she could return quickly to a city withmodern medical facilities. Are we to say that it would have been wrongfor her to have an abortion before she left New York, but now that she isin the village she may go ahead? The trip does not change the nature ofthe fetus, so why should it remove its claim to life?

The liberal might reply that the fact that the fetus is totally dependenton the mother for its survival means that it has no right to life inde-pendent of her wishes. In other cases, however, we do not hold thattotal dependence on another person means that that person may decidewhether one lives or dies. A newborn baby is totally dependent on itsmother if it happens to be born in an isolated area in which there isno other lactating woman or the means for bottle feeding. An elderlywoman may be totally dependent on her son looking after her, and ahiker who breaks her leg five days’ walk from the nearest road may dieif her companion does not bring help. We do not think that in these

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situations the mother may take the life of her baby, the son the life of hisaged mother, or a hiker the life of her injured companion. So it is notplausible to suggest that the dependence of the nonviable fetus on itsmother gives her the right to kill it; and if dependence does not justifymaking viability the dividing line, it is hard to see what does.


If neither birth nor viability marks a morally significant distinction, thereis less still to be said for a third candidate, quickening. Quickening isthe time when the mother first feels the fetus move, and in traditionalCatholic theology, this was thought to be the moment at which the fetusgained its soul. If we accepted that view, we might think quickeningimportant, because the soul is, on the Christian view, what marks humansoff from animals. The idea that the soul enters the fetus at quickeningis, however, an outmoded piece of superstition, discarded now even byCatholic theologians. Putting aside these religious doctrines makes quick-ening insignificant. It is no more than the time when the fetus is first feltto move of its own accord; the fetus is alive before this moment, and ultra-sound studies have shown that fetuses do in fact start moving as early assix weeks after fertilization, long before they can be felt to move. In anycase, the capacity for physical motion – or the lack of it – has nothing todo with the seriousness of one’s claim for continued life. We do not seethe lack of such a capacity as negating the claims of paralysed people togo on living.


Movement might be thought to be indirectly of moral significance, inso-far as it is an indication of some form of awareness – and as we havealready seen, consciousness and the capacity to feel pleasure or painare of real moral significance. Despite this, neither side in the abortiondebate has made much mention of the development of consciousness inthe fetus. Those opposed to abortion may show films about the ‘silentscream’ of the fetus when aborted, but the intention behind such films ismerely to stir the emotions of the uncommitted. Opponents of abortionreally want to uphold the right to life of the human being from concep-tion, irrespective of whether it is conscious or not. For those in favourof abortion, to appeal to the absence of a capacity for consciousness hasseemed a risky strategy. On the basis of the studies showing that move-ment takes place as early as six weeks after fertilization, coupled with

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other studies that have found some brain activity as early as the seventhweek, it has been suggested that the fetus could be capable of feelingpain at this early stage of pregnancy. That possibility has made liberalsvery wary of appealing to the onset of consciousness as a point at whichthe fetus has a right to life. We shall return to the issue of consciousnesslater in this chapter.

Our discussion has shown that the liberal search for a morally crucialdividing line between the newborn baby and the fetus has failed to yieldany event or stage of development that can bear the weight of separatingthose with a right to life from those who lack such a right in a waythat clearly shows that, when most abortions take place, the fetus lacksa right to life. The conservative is on solid ground in insisting that thedevelopment from the embryo to the infant is a gradual process, notmarked by any obvious point at which there is a change in moral statussufficient to justify the difference between regarding the killing of aninfant as murder and the killing of a fetus as something that a pregnantwoman should be free to choose as she wishes.

some liberal arguments

Some liberals do not challenge the conservative claim that the fetus isan innocent human being, but they nevertheless argue that abortion ispermissible. I shall consider three arguments for this view.

The Consequences of Restrictive Laws

The first argument is that laws prohibiting abortion do not stop abortionsbut merely drive them underground. Women who want to have abortionsare often desperate. They will go to backyard abortionists or try folk rem-edies. Abortion performed by a qualified medical practitioner is as safeas any medical operation, but attempts to procure abortions by unquali-fied people often result in serious medical complications and sometimesdeath. Thus, the effect of prohibiting abortion is not so much to reducethe number of abortions performed as to increase the difficulties anddangers for women with unwanted pregnancies. Moreover, when abor-tion was illegal, some abortion providers bribed the police to turn a blindeye to what they were doing, thus contributing to police corruption.

This argument has been influential in gaining support for more liberalabortion laws. It was accepted by the Canadian Royal Commission on theStatus of Women, which concluded that: ‘A law that has more bad effectsthan good ones is a bad law . . . As long as it exists in its present form

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thousands of women will break it.’ In those Latin American countriesthat prohibit abortion or allow it only in very limited circumstances,illegal abortions are widespread and a major cause of death and injuryin young women.

The main point to note about this argument is that it is not an argu-ment against the view that abortion is morally wrong, but rather an argu-ment against prohibiting abortion. This is an important distinction, oftenoverlooked in the abortion debate. The present argument well illustratesthe distinction, because one could accept it and quite consistently advoc-ate that the law should allow abortion on request, while at the same timedeciding oneself – if one were pregnant or counselling another who waspregnant – that it would be wrong to have an abortion. It is a mistake toassume that the law should always enforce morality. Attempts to enforceright conduct may lead to consequences no one wants and no decreasein wrongdoing. If that is the case, they are better abandoned.

So this first argument is an argument about abortion law, not aboutthe ethics of abortion. Even within those limits, however, it is open tochallenge, for it fails to meet the conservative claim that abortion is thedeliberate killing of an innocent human being and in the same ethicalcategory as murder. Those who take this view of abortion will not restcontent with the assertion that restrictive abortion laws do no more thandrive women to backyard abortionists. They will insist that this situationcan be changed and the law properly enforced. They may also suggestmeasures to make pregnancy easier to accept for those women whobecome pregnant against their wishes. Conservatives may also say thatthere will be some deterrent effect of the law even if it isn’t properlyenforced and that the lives of the unborn saved by this deterrent effectoutweigh the harm done to women by backyard abortionists.

If the initial conservative argument against abortion is not contested,then these are reasonable responses, and for this reason the first argu-ment does not succeed in avoiding the central ethical issue of whether itis wrong to kill a fetus.

Not the Law’s Business?

The second argument is again an argument about abortion laws ratherthan the ethics of abortion. In the 1950s, the British government set upa committee under Sir John Wolfenden to inquire into whether homo-sexual acts and prostitution should remain crimes. Wolfenden’s reportdid not contest the immorality of such acts but recommended that the

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law should be changed because ‘there must remain a realm of privatemorality and immorality that is, in brief and crude terms, not the law’sbusiness’. This view is widely accepted among liberal thinkers and canbe traced back to John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. The ‘one very simpleprinciple’ of this work is, in Mill’s words

that the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any mem-ber of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others . . . Hecannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for himto do so, because it will make him happier, because in the opinions of others, todo so would be wise or even right.

Mill’s view is often and properly quoted in support of the repeal of lawsthat create ‘victimless crimes’ – laws prohibiting homosexual relationsbetween consenting adults, the use of marijuana and other drugs, prosti-tution, gambling and so on. Abortion is often included in this list. Thosewho consider abortion a victimless crime say that, although everyone isentitled to hold and act on his or her own view about the morality of abor-tion, no section of the community should try to force others to adhereto its own particular view. In a pluralist society, we should tolerate otherswith different moral views and leave the decision to have an abortion upto the woman concerned.

The fallacy involved in numbering abortion among the victimlesscrimes should be obvious. The dispute about abortion is, largely, a disputeabout whether or not abortion does have a ‘victim’. Opponents of abor-tion maintain that the victim of abortion is the fetus. Those not opposedto abortion may deny that the fetus counts as a victim. They might, forinstance, say that a being cannot be a victim unless it has interests that areviolated, and the fetus has no interests. This dispute could be resolved indifferent ways, but whichever way it may go, one cannot simply ignore iton the grounds that people should not attempt to force others to followtheir own moral views. My view that what Hitler did to the Jews is wrongis a moral view, and if there were any prospect of a revival of Nazism Iwould certainly do my best to force others to act in accordance with thisview. Mill’s principle is defensible only if it is restricted, as Mill restrictedit, to acts that do not harm others. To use the principle as a means ofavoiding the difficulties of resolving the ethical dispute over abortion isto take it for granted that abortion does not harm an ‘other’ – which isprecisely the point that needs to be proven before we can legitimatelyapply the principle to the case of abortion.

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A Feminist Argument

The last of the three arguments that seek to justify abortion withoutdenying that the fetus is an innocent human being is that a woman hasa right to choose what happens to her own body. This argument becameprominent with the rise of the women’s movement in the 1970s andhas been elaborated by American philosophers sympathetic to feminism.An influential version of it by Judith Jarvis Thomson makes use of aningenious analogy. Imagine, she says, that you wake up one morning andfind yourself in a hospital bed, somehow connected to an unconsciousman in an adjacent bed. You are told that this man is a famous violinistwith kidney disease. The only way he can survive is for his circulatorysystem to be plugged into the system of someone else with the same bloodtype, and you are the only person whose blood is suitable. So a society ofmusic lovers kidnapped you, had the connecting operation performed,and there you are. Because you are now in a reputable hospital you could,if you choose, order a doctor to disconnect you from the violinist; butthe violinist will then certainly die. On the other hand, if you remainconnected for only (only?) nine months, the violinist will have recoveredand you can be unplugged without endangering him.

Thomson believes that if you found yourself in this unexpected pre-dicament, you would not be morally required to allow the violinist to useyour kidneys for nine months. It might be generous or kind of you to doso, but to say this is, Thomson claims, quite different from saying thatyou would be doing wrong if you did not do it.

Note that Thomson’s conclusion does not depend on denying that theviolinist is an innocent human being, with the same right to life as anyother innocent human being. On the contrary, Thomson affirms that theviolinist does have a right to life – but to have a right to life does not, shesays, entail a right to the use of another’s body, even if without that useone will die.

The parallel with pregnancy, especially pregnancy due to rape, shouldbe obvious. A woman pregnant through rape finds herself, through nochoice of her own, linked to a fetus in much the same way as the personis linked to the violinist. True, a pregnant woman does not normally haveto spend nine months in bed, but even if she had a medical conditionthat made it necessary for her to stay in bed for the entire pregnancy,opponents of abortion would not regard this as a sufficient justificationfor abortion. Giving up a newborn baby for adoption might be moredifficult, psychologically, than parting from the violinist at the end of his

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illness; but this too does not seem a sufficient reason for killing the fetus.Accepting for the sake of the argument that the fetus does count as a fullyfledged human being with corresponding morally significant interests,having an abortion when the fetus is not viable has the same moralsignificance as unplugging oneself from the violinist. So if we agree withThomson that it would not be wrong to unplug oneself from the violinist,we must also accept that, whatever the status of the fetus, abortion is notwrong – at least not when the pregnancy results from rape.

Can Thomson’s argument be extended beyond cases of rape? Supposethat you found yourself connected to the violinist, not because you werekidnapped by music lovers, but because you had intended to enter thehospital to visit a sick friend; and when you got into the elevator, you care-lessly pressed the wrong button and ended up in a section of the hospitalnormally visited only by those who have volunteered to be connected topatients who would not otherwise survive. A team of doctors, waiting forthe next volunteer, assumed you were it, jabbed you with an anestheticand connected you. If Thomson’s argument was sound in the kidnapcase, it is probably sound here too, because nine months unwillingly sup-porting another is a high price to pay for ignorance or carelessness. If so,the argument might apply beyond rape cases to the much larger num-ber of women who become pregnant through ignorance, carelessness orcontraceptive failure.

Is the argument sound? The short answer is: it is sound if the particulartheory of rights that lies behind it is sound; and it is unsound if that theoryof rights is unsound.

The theory of rights in question can be illustrated by another of Thom-son’s fanciful examples: suppose I am desperately ill, and the only thingthat can save my life is the touch of my favourite film star’s cool hand onmy fevered brow. Well, Thomson says, even though I have a right to life,this does not mean that I have a right to force the film star to come tome or that he is under any moral obligation to fly over and save me –although it would be frightfully nice of him to do so. Thus, Thomsondoes not accept that we are always obliged to take the best course ofaction, all things considered, or to do what has the best consequences.She accepts, instead, a system of rights and obligations that allows us tojustify our actions independently of their consequences.

I shall say more about this conception of rights in Chapter 8. At thisstage, it is enough to notice that a utilitarian would reject this theory ofrights and would reject Thomson’s judgment in the case of the violinist.The utilitarian would hold that, however outraged I may be at having

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been kidnapped, if the consequences of disconnecting myself from theviolinist are, on balance and taking into account the interests of everyoneaffected, worse than the consequences of remaining connected, I oughtto remain connected. This does not mean that utilitarians would regard awoman who disconnected herself as wicked or deserving of blame. Theymight recognize that she has been placed in an extraordinarily difficultsituation, one in which to do what is right involves a considerable sacrifice.They might even grant that most people in this situation would followself-interest rather than do the right thing. Nevertheless, they would holdthat to disconnect oneself is wrong.

In rejecting Thomson’s theory of rights, and with it her judgmentin the case of the violinist, the utilitarian would also be rejecting herargument for abortion. Thomson claimed that her argument justifiedabortion even if we allowed the life of the fetus to count as heavily as thelife of a normal person. The utilitarian would say that it would be wrongto refuse to sustain a person’s life for nine months if that was the only waythe person could survive. Therefore, if the life of the fetus is given thesame weight as the life of a normal person, the utilitarian would say thatit would be wrong to refuse to carry the fetus until it can survive outsidethe womb.

This concludes our discussion of the usual liberal replies to the conser-vative argument against abortion. We have seen that liberals have failedto establish a morally significant dividing line between the newborn babyand the fetus, and their arguments – with the possible exception of Thom-son’s argument if her theory of rights can be defended – also fail to justifyabortion in ways that do not challenge the conservative claim that thefetus is an innocent human being. Nevertheless, it would be prematurefor conservatives to assume that their case against abortion is sound. Itis now time to bring into this debate some more general considerationsabout the value of life.

the value of fetal life

Let us go back to the beginning. The central argument against abortionfrom which we started was:

First premise: It is wrong to kill an innocent human being.Second premise: A human fetus is an innocent human being.Conclusion: Therefore, it is wrong to kill a human fetus.

The first set of replies we considered accepted the first premise ofthis argument but objected to the second. The second set of replies

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rejected neither premise but objected to drawing the conclusion fromthese premises (or objected to the further conclusion that abortionshould be prohibited by law). None of the replies questioned the firstpremise of the argument. Given the widespread acceptance of the doc-trine of the sanctity of human life, this is not surprising; but the discussionof this doctrine in the earlier chapters of this book shows that this premiseis less secure than many people think.

The weakness of the first premise of the conservative argument is thatit relies on our acceptance of the special status of human life. We haveseen that ‘human’ is a term that straddles two distinct notions: being amember of the species Homo sapiens and being a person. Once the termis dissected in this way, the weakness of the conservative’s first premisebecomes apparent. If ‘human’ is taken as equivalent to ‘person’, thesecond premise of the argument, which asserts that the fetus is a humanbeing, is clearly false; for one cannot plausibly argue that a fetus is eitherrational or self-conscious. If, on the other hand, ‘human’ is taken tomean no more than ‘member of the species Homo sapiens’, then theconservative defence of the life of the fetus is based on a characteristiclacking moral significance, and so the first premise is false. The pointshould by now be familiar: whether a being is or is not a member ofour species is, in itself, no more relevant to the wrongness of killing itthan whether it is or is not a member of our race. The belief that meremembership of our species, irrespective of other characteristics, makes agreat difference to the wrongness of killing a being is a legacy of religiousdoctrines that even those opposed to abortion hesitate to bring into thedebate.

Recognizing this simple point transforms the abortion issue. The keyquestion is no longer ‘when does a human life begin?’ because we cannow see that granting that the fetus is a living human being does notresolve the question of whether it is wrong to kill it. We can look at thefetus for what it is – the actual characteristics it possesses – and can valueits life on the same scale as the lives of beings with similar characteristicswhich are not members of our species. This change of perspective makesit apparent that the ‘Pro Life’ or ‘Right to Life’ movement is misnamed.Those who protest against abortion but dine regularly on the bodies ofchickens, pigs and calves can hardly claim to have concern for ‘life’ assuch. Their concern about embryos and fetuses suggests only a biasedconcern for the lives of members of our own species. On any fair compar-ison of morally relevant characteristics, like rationality, self-consciousness,awareness, autonomy, pleasure and pain and so on, the calf, the pig andthe much derided chicken come out well ahead of the fetus at any stage

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of pregnancy – whereas if we make the comparison with an embryo, or afetus of less than three months, a fish shows much more awareness.

My suggestion, then, is that we accord the fetus no higher moralstatus than we give to a nonhuman animal at a similar level of rationality,self-consciousness, awareness, capacity to feel and so on. Because no fetusis a person, no fetus has the same claim to life as a person. Until a fetushas some capacity for conscious experience, an abortion terminates anexistence that is – considered as it is and not in terms of its potential –more like that of a plant than of a sentient animal like a dog or a cow.(The issue of the difference the potential of the fetus should make is stillto be discussed.)

the fetus as a sentient being

Once the fetus is sufficiently developed to be conscious, though notself-conscious, abortion should not be taken lightly (if a woman everdoes take abortion lightly). So we need to ask when the fetus becomesconscious. It is not surprising that those on different sides of the abortiondebate tend to give different answers to this question. By asserting thatthe fetus is conscious early in pregnancy, and describing the pain thatthey believe the fetus experiences during the abortion process, thoseopposed to abortion add an emotionally powerful argument to theircase against abortion. Those who take a liberal view on abortion typicallyprefer not to think about the possibility that the fetus can feel pain duringan abortion.

To resolve the issue, we need both scientific knowledge of the devel-opment of the brain and nervous system of the fetus and – becausescientists cannot directly observe pain but only what we believe to beits physiological correlates – a view about what level of development isrequired for the existence of consciousness and a capacity to experiencepain. As we have seen in considering pain in animals very different fromourselves, like invertebrates, it is difficult to know if there can be pain,or consciousness of any kind, without a functioning cerebral cortex. Inhumans, prior to about eighteen weeks of gestation, the cerebral cortexis not sufficiently developed for synaptic connections to take place withinit – in other words, the signals that give rise to pain in an adult are notbeing received. Between eighteen and twenty-five weeks, the brain ofthe fetus reaches a stage at which there is some nerve transmission inthose parts associated with consciousness. Even then, however, the fetusappears to be in a persistent state of sleep and, therefore, may not be able

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to perceive pain. The fetus begins to ‘wake up’ at a gestational age ofaround thirty weeks. This is, of course, well beyond the stage of viability,and a ‘fetus’ that was alive and outside the womb at this stage would bea premature baby and not a fetus at all.

In order to give the fetus the benefit of the doubt, it would be reason-able to use the earliest point at which it can plausibly be claimed that thefetus is able to feel anything as the boundary after which the fetus shouldbe protected. Thus, we should disregard the uncertain evidence aboutwakefulness and take instead the point at which the brain is physicallycapable of receiving signals necessary for awareness. This suggests eight-een weeks of gestation as the earliest time at which the fetus can feel pain.Prior to that stage, to believe that the fetus is conscious we would haveto hold that the fetus has some way of feeling pain that does not requiresynaptic connections in the cerebral cortex. This is possible, but we haveno evidence of it. Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of abortionsare performed much earlier than eighteen weeks – in the United States,over 85 percent of abortions are done in the first trimester, that is, whenthe fetus is less than thirteen weeks old. Therefore, most abortions areunlikely to involve any experience of pain for the fetus.

After eighteen weeks of gestation, the interests of the fetus in not suf-fering should be taken into account in the same way that we should takeinto account the interests of sentient, but not self-conscious, nonhumananimals. As we have seen, killing a sentient creature can be justified, butit is important that the killing be done as painlessly as possible. In thecase of nonhuman animals, the importance of humane killing is widelyaccepted (even if laws requiring humane killing are often inadequatelyenforced). Oddly, in the case of abortion, relatively little attention ispaid to the possible suffering of the fetus. This is not because abortionis known to kill the fetus swiftly and humanely. Not long ago, late abor-tions – which are the ones in which the fetus may be able to suffer –were performed by injecting a salt solution into the amniotic sac thatsurrounds the fetus. This causes the fetus to have convulsions and diebetween one and three hours later. This method is rarely used today, butit has been abandoned primarily because of risks it poses for the preg-nant woman rather than from any concern to avoid causing the fetusto suffer. Today, late abortions are likely to be carried out by the use ofprostaglandin, a synthetic hormone that causes contractions similar tolabour but may also cause convulsions and can result in live births. Toprevent the risk of live births, digoxin can be injected into the heart ofthe fetus, which kills it rapidly. This method should be used, not only

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because it prevents live births, but because it avoids unnecessary fetalsuffering.

the fetus as potential life

Up to this point, we have taken into account only the actual charac-teristics of the fetus and not its potential characteristics. On the basisof its actual characteristics, some opponents of abortion will admit, thefetus compares unfavourably with many nonhuman animals; it is whenwe consider its potential to become a mature human being, they will say,that membership of the species Homo sapiens becomes important, andthe importance of the life of the fetus far surpasses that of any chicken,pig or calf. Now is the time to look at this other argument. We can stateit as follows:

First premise: It is wrong to kill a potential human being.Second premise: A human fetus is a potential human being.Conclusion: Therefore, it is wrong to kill a human fetus.

The second premise of this argument is stronger than the second premiseof the preceding argument. Whereas it is problematic whether a fetusactually is a human being – it depends on what we mean by the term –it cannot be denied that the fetus is a potential human being, whetherby ‘human being’ we mean ‘member of the species Homo sapiens’ or arational and self-conscious being, a person. The strong second premiseof the new argument is, however, purchased at the cost of a weaker firstpremise, for the wrongness of killing a potential human being – evena potential person – is more open to challenge than the wrongness ofkilling an actual person.

It is of course true that the potential rationality, self-consciousness andso on of a fetal Homo sapiens surpasses that of a cow or pig; but it doesnot follow that the fetus has a stronger claim to life. There is no rule thatsays that a potential X has the same value as an X or has all the rights ofan X. There are many examples that show just the contrary. To pull outa sprouting acorn is not the same as cutting down a venerable oak. Todrop a fertile egg into a pot of boiling water is very different from doingthe same to a live chicken. Prince Charles is (at the time of writing) apotential King of England, but he does not now have the rights of a king.

In the absence of any general inference from ‘A is a potential X’ to‘A has the rights of an X’, we should not accept that a potential personshould have the rights of a person, unless we can be given some specificreason why this should hold in this particular case. What could that

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reason be? This question becomes especially pertinent if we recall thegrounds on which, in the previous chapter, it was suggested that the lifeof a person merits greater protection than the life of a being which isnot a person. These reasons – the indirect classical utilitarian concernwith not arousing in others the fear that they may be the next killed, theweight given by the preference utilitarian to a person’s desires, Tooley’slink between a right to life and the capacity to see oneself as a continuingmental subject, and the principle of respect for autonomy – are all basedon the fact that persons see themselves as distinct entities with a pastand future. None of the reasons apply to those who are not now andnever have been capable of seeing themselves in this way. If these arethe grounds for not killing persons, the mere potential for becoming aperson does not count against killing.

It might be said that this reply misunderstands the relevance of thepotential of the human fetus and that this potential is important, notbecause it creates in the fetus a right or claim to life, but because any-one who kills a human fetus deprives the world of a future rational andself-conscious being. If rational and self-conscious beings are intrinsicallyvaluable in a way that other conscious beings are not, to kill a humanfetus is to deprive the world of something with special intrinsic value, andtherefore wrong. Yet the claim that rational and self-conscious beings areof especially high intrinsic value cannot serve as a reason for objectingto all abortions, or even to abortions carried out merely because thepregnancy is inconveniently timed. Suppose a woman has been look-ing forward to joining a Himalayan mountain-climbing expedition inJune – climbing being one of her passions and this expedition being arare opportunity to climb in a region new to her – but in January shelearns that she is two months pregnant. She and her partner have oftendiscussed the kind of family they want to have, and they both want tohave two children sometime within the next five years. This pregnancyis unwanted only because the timing is so bad. Opponents of abortionwould presumably think an abortion in these circumstances particularlyoutrageous, for neither the life nor the health of the mother is at stake –only the enjoyment she gets from climbing mountains. Yet if abortion iswrong only because it deprives the world of a future person, this abortionis not wrong. It does not prevent the entry of a person into the world, itmerely delays it.

On the other hand, to argue against abortion on the grounds that itprevents beings of high intrinsic value coming into the world is impli-citly to condemn practices that reduce the future human population:contraception, whether by ‘artificial’ means or by ‘natural’ means such

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as abstinence on days when the woman is likely to be fertile, and alsocelibacy. This argument does not provide any reason for thinking abor-tion worse than any other means of population control. If the world isalready overpopulated, the argument provides no reason at all againstabortion.

Is there any other significance in the fact that the fetus is a potentialperson? Paul Ramsey, a former Professor of Religion at Princeton Uni-versity, wrote that modern genetics, by teaching us that the first fusionof sperm and ovum creates a ‘never-to-be-repeated’ informational speck,leads us to the conclusion that ‘all destruction of fetal life should be clas-sified as murder’. President George W. Bush said something similar in2001 when, in defending his restrictions on federal funding for stem cellresearch, he claimed that every embryo is unique, ‘like a snowflake’. Butthe fact that something is unique is not in itself a reason for preservingit – we don’t try to preserve snowflakes. A canine fetus is also, no doubt,genetically unique. Does this mean that it is as wrong to abort a dog as ahuman? When identical twins are conceived, the genetic information isrepeated. Would Ramsey or Bush therefore have thought it permissibleto abort one of a pair of identical twins?

Developments in reproductive technology have put the argumentfrom uniqueness under more pressure, especially when it is used – asPresident Bush used it – as an argument against the destruction ofembryos to obtain stem cells. It is now a relatively simple matter to allowan embryo to develop to the stage at which it consists of two or fourcells and then divide it in half. This procedure creates two geneticallyidentical embryos, each of which can, if implanted into a woman’s uterus,develop normally. (The procedure is similar to what happens naturallywhen an embryo splits and becomes identical twins.) If the reason whyit is wrong to destroy an embryo is that each embryo is unique, thenwe could divide embryos in this way and destroy only one of them, thuspreserving uniqueness. I doubt that this would be acceptable to many ofthose who think it wrong to destroy human embryos.

This kind of embryo splitting is a form of cloning, but not, of course,the much more heavily publicized form that resulted in the birth of thecloned sheep Dolly. Dolly was cloned from an adult cell. The scientiststook the nucleus of a cell from a sheep’s mammary gland and placed itinside an egg from which the nucleus had been removed. The resultingembryo was then transferred to the uterus of a second sheep. Dollywas genetically identical to the sheep from which the mammary glandcell had been taken. This form of cloning has now been done with

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many species, including cats, dogs, horses and monkeys, and there isno scientific reason to think that it could not be done with humans.Thus, our genetic uniqueness is on the threshold of becoming a matterof choice – if we wish to clone ourselves, we probably could. But pro-life advocates are no more likely to accept that we can destroy a clonedembryo, because it is not genetically unique, than they are to agree tothe destruction of one of a pair of identical twins.

The possibility of cloning poses a different problem for argumentsagainst destroying embryos based on their potential. We now know that avariety of cells, both from adults and from embryos, can develop into newhuman beings. Stem cells are a good example, because it has been shownthat, when transferred to an enucleated egg, they readily develop intonew beings. A plausible way of construing the argument from potential isto see it as the claim that if an entity can develop into a new human being,we should grant that entity a moral status similar to that of a human being.If we accept that claim, however, we seem to be committed to grantingthis moral status, not only to embryos, but also to all of these other cellsthat can develop into human beings. Thus, the attempt to defuse thecontroversy over obtaining stem cells from embryos by using adult stemcells instead of embryonic ones would misfire, because the stem cellsthemselves, whatever their origin, have the potential to develop into newhuman beings. Once we realize that so many cells have the potential tobecome new human individuals, however, we can also see the absurdityof the claim that we should protect all potential human beings.

two more arguments against abortion

Two further arguments against abortion are worth mentioning separately,because they both accept that it is not satisfactory merely to assert thatthe fetus is a member of the species Homo sapiens, and therefore that it iswrong to kill it.

The first of these arguments was put forward by Don Marquis ina widely reprinted article called “Why Abortion is Immoral”. Marquisbegins by asking why killing one of us – say you, the reader – would bewrong. His answer to this is that to kill you would be wrong because itdeprives you of your future, and that is something of value to you. If thisis so, then it is, other things being equal, wrong to kill a being who can beexpected to have a future like yours in the relevant respects and, hence,of value to them. The fetus can be expected to have such a future. Sokilling a fetus is wrong, because it deprives it of ‘a future like ours’.

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This objection to abortion does not apply if the fetus cannot beexpected to have a future like ours. Suppose, for instance, that prenataldiagnosis shows that the fetus has the gene for Tay-Sachs disease, anincurable condition that causes paralysis and eventually death, usuallyby the age of four. Marquis accepts that his argument does not provideany reason against killing such a fetus. This leads many advocates of thepro-life position to reject his view, but this flexibility should rather beseen as a strength of the position (and an indication that it is not simplythe traditional defence of the sanctity of human life in new guise).

Marquis thus avoids the objection that his view is a form of speciesism,but it is more difficult for him to avoid the objection that applies toarguments based on the potential of the fetus. If what is wrong with killingthe fetus is that we deprive it of a valuable future, isn’t that also wrongwhen we decide not to have a child at all? Or when we decide to haveonly two children rather than three? In that respect, abortion, reliablecontraception and abstinence are all equally effective in preventing theexistence of a being with a valuable future.

Marquis acknowledges that what he calls ‘the contraceptive objec-tion’ is the strongest counter to his argument, but he believes he has acogent reply: ‘The wrong of killing is primarily a wrong to the individualwho is killed; at the time of contraception there is no individual to bewronged.’ In other words, on Marquis’s ethic, you can only do wrong ifyou wrong an existing individual. That’s a widely shared view. It seemsobvious that it is worse to kill a person who is looking forward to thatvaluable future than it is to fail to bring into existence a person whowould, if conceived, have a valuable future – indeed, that is the basis ofthe preference utilitarian reason against killing, as discussed in Chapters4 and 5. This difference dwindles, however, when we have in mind, not aperson who is looking forward to his or her future, but a fetus that is notconscious and never has been conscious. The fetus itself, if killed beforeawareness commences, experiences nothing different than it would haveexperienced if it had not been conceived – for in both cases there are noexperiences at all. The only difference is that in the abortion case wecan say, ‘there existed a fetus that experienced nothing and then ceasedto exist’; whereas in the contraception situation we can only say that nofetus came into existence. This is too slender a difference on which torest the distinction between an immoral act and a morally innocuousone.

The problem gets even worse if we consider what we might call ‘thetotipotent cell objection’. Marquis is not committed to the view that an

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individual exists from the moment that the sperm penetrates the egg.Considering when the individual who will have the future of value firstcomes into existence, he writes:

The fact that the cells produced up to the sixteen cell stage are totipotent, andtherefore can split into one or more individuals suggests a difficulty with the viewthat a human individual (a later stage of which is an adult) begins to exist atconception. Indeed, perhaps at the sixteen cell stage there are sixteen humanindividuals.

If Marquis is right about this, it only makes things more difficult for hisposition. As we saw earlier, we can divide the two-cell or four-cell embryo,thus creating identical twins or quadruplets. (Leaving the division tothe sixteen-cell stage reduces the chances of success, as by this time thetotipotency of the cells is waning.) If we divide, say, the four-cell embryointo quadruplets and transfer them to a woman’s uterus, or perhapsbetter, the uteruses of four women, each one can be expected to have afuture of value. Is it therefore immoral not to do this – to allow the embryoto continue to grow, thus reducing the number of lives with futures ofvalue from four to one? This seems absurd, yet Marquis cannot say herethat there is no existing individual to take into account, because he hasacknowledged that – perhaps – each totipotent cell is a human individual.Of course, we could deny that each totipotent cell is an individual, butfor Marquis to defend his position in this way reveals how crucially theapplication of his argument – and the decision that an act is immoral –depends on making fine distinctions about the status of various entitiesrather than on whether the act has better or worse consequences thansomething else one could have done.

Patrick Lee and Robert George, two noted American opponents ofabortion and the destruction of embryos, have recently revived a view thathas roots deep in the Catholic moral tradition but does not seek supportfrom religious premises. In a manner somewhat similar to Marquis, Leeand George reject any explicit appeal to the mere fact that the embryoor fetus is a member of the species Homo sapiens and disavow any useof the argument from potential, agreeing that ‘the right to life must bebased on what is true of the entity now, not just what is true of its future’.They go on to say: ‘it is true of the human embryo now that he or she is adistinct individual with a rational nature, even though it will take him orher several years fully to actualise his or her basic, natural capacities sothey are immediately exercisable’. Given that we all agree that the humanembryo cannot reason, has never been able to reason, and will not be

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able to reason for a long time, is it more accurate to say that the humanembryo is ‘a distinct individual with a rational nature’ or to say that thehuman embryo ‘is a distinct individual with the potential to become arational being’? If we have to choose between these two ways of puttingit, it is the latter that gives a more accurate description of the embryo. Itdoes not have ‘a rational nature’. What it has is the genetic coding thatwill, under favourable circumstances, lead it to develop into a being witha rational nature. While disavowing any argument from potential, in theend what Lee and George appear to rely upon is the embryo’s potentialto reason. For if they were to insist that the right to life is based onthe human embryo’s existing property of having a rational nature, whatcould they mean? Only, it seems, that it is an organism that, unlike someother organisms, for example an adult dog, has a genetic coding thatwill lead to the human individual having, in some years time, a rationalnature. If this is the argument, Lee and George still owe us an accountof why that property is sufficient to make it worse to kill a being than itis to kill an adult dog who lacks that property but has a greater presentcapacity to be aware of, and have preferences about, its life. Why shouldwe decide which beings it is most seriously wrong to kill by referenceto a genetic coding that will, in some years’ time, lead to a capacity toreason? It is hard to see how, without slipping back into either a religiousargument or an argument from potential, this claim could be defended.

the status of the embryo in the laboratory

The preceding discussion of abortion also enables us to resolve the newerdebate about the moral status of early human embryos outside the humanbody. This emergence of this issue shows that we cannot bypass the issueof the moral status of the embryo and fetus by asserting that, even ifthe embryo counts as much as an adult human being, a woman still hasthe right to control her own body and therefore may choose to end herpregnancy. When the embryo is not in a woman’s body, that argumentdoes not apply. One might therefore think that the case against embryoexperimentation is stronger than the case for abortion. For one argumentin favour of abortion does not apply, and the major arguments againstabortion – either that the embryo is entitled to protection because it isa human being or that the embryo is entitled to protection because itis a potential human being – do. In fact, however, the two argumentsagainst abortion do not apply as straightforwardly to the embryo in thelaboratory as one might imagine.

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First, is the embryo already a human being? We have already seenthat even if we acknowledge that a human life begins at conception, thatdoes not justify the conclusion that it is wrong to destroy an embryo orfetus, because claims for a right to life should not be based on speciesmembership. Also if, as I have argued, the fetus is not a person, it iseven more apparent that the embryo cannot be one. There is a furtherinteresting point to be made against the claim that the early embryo isa human being: human beings are individuals, and whether the earlyembryo is an individual human being is contentious. As we have justnoted, human embryos occasionally split into two or more geneticallyidentical twins. This can happen at any time up to about fourteen daysafter fertilization. When we have an embryo prior to this point, we cannotbe sure if what we are looking at will give rise to one or more humanadults.

This poses a problem for those who stress the continuity of our exist-ence from conception to adulthood. Suppose we have an embryo in adish on a laboratory bench. If we think of this embryo as the first stageof an individual human being, we might call it Mary. Now suppose theembryo divides into two. Is one of them still Mary and the other Jane? Ifso, which one is Mary? There is nothing to distinguish the two, no wayof saying that the one we call Jane split off from the one we call Mary,rather than vice versa. So should we say that Mary is no longer with us,and instead we have Jane and Helen? What happened to Mary? Did shedie? Should we mourn her? David Oderberg, who seeks to defend theview that the human adult is one and the same individual as the zygote orearly embryo from which he or she developed, has suggested that wecould properly mourn the loss of Mary, although because we know solittle about her, we would not, of course, mourn her in the way we wouldmourn someone we knew well. An attitude of mourning implies thatthere is something to be sad about, and it is hard to see anything aboutthe formation of twins that one should be sad about – unless, of course,one does not want to cope with the burden of having two babies at once.Unless we have some reason to want the cluster of cells we called Mary torealize its potential in the form of Mary rather than in the form of Janeand Helen, what reason is there to mourn even a tiny bit? Indeed, we cannow see that naming this cluster of cells ‘Mary’ is already to assume thatit is a particular individual, and perhaps it is that which makes it possibleto think that there is the loss of an individual one could mourn. If wethink of it as a cluster of cells, with the number of individuals who willdevelop from it still unknown, then there is no temptation to imagine

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that a life has been lost. It would make just as much sense to mourn theloss of Jane and Helen, if the embryo does develop into just one child.(We don’t yet know what causes an embryo to divide. Does it make adifference if the division is predetermined by the inherent nature of theembryo – and we simply don’t know if this is going to happen – ratherthan if splitting depends on factors independent of the embryo itself,perhaps in the body of the pregnant woman? If the former is the case,there may be a better argument for saying that in some sense whateverchild or children result from the embryo existed from the moment thatthe sperm penetrates the egg; whereas if division depends on somethingexternal to the embryo, that view is more difficult to defend. Of course,if splitting is the result of human intervention – if we decide to dividethe embryo at the two-cell stage – it would be impossible to say that bothtwins existed before that operation was performed.)

So there is a case for denying that the early embryo is an individualhuman being, but it is by no means a conclusive one. It provides somebasis for the laws and guidelines in Britain and various other countriesthat allow experimentation on the embryo up to fourteen days afterfertilization. I will not take the discussion further, however, because Ihave already given reasons why, even if the embryo before fourteen daysis an individual human being, it does not follow that it is wrong to destroyit. Hence, laws limiting destructive experimentation on embryos to thefirst fourteen days of their existence are unnecessarily restrictive.

Arguments for protecting embryos in the laboratory based on theirpotential also face more difficulties when applied to early embryos thanwhen applied to the fetus in the womb. In the normal process of humansexual reproduction inside the body, the embryo remains unattachedfor the first seven to fourteen days and then implants in the wall of theuterus. As long as unattached embryos existed only inside the woman’sbody, there was no way of observing them during that period. Thevery existence of the embryo could not be definitively established untilafter implantation. Under these circumstances, once the existence ofan embryo was known, that embryo had a good chance of becoming aperson, unless its development was deliberately interrupted. The prob-ability of such an embryo becoming a person was therefore very muchgreater than the probability of an egg in a fertile woman uniting withsperm from that woman’s partner and leading to a child. There is also, inhuman sexual reproduction, a further important distinction between theembryo and the egg and sperm. Whereas the embryo inside the femalebody has some definite chance (we shall shortly consider how great a

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chance) of developing into a child unless a deliberate human act inter-rupts its growth, the egg and sperm can only develop into a child if thereis a human act – the sexual act. So in the one case, all that is neededfor the embryo to have a prospect of realizing its potential is for thoseinvolved to refrain from stopping it; in the other case, they have to carryout a positive act. The development of the embryo inside the femalebody can therefore be seen as a mere unfolding of a potential that isinherent in it. (Admittedly, this is an oversimplification, for it ignores thepositive acts involved in childbirth and in caring for the newborn child,but it is close enough.) The development of the separated egg and spermis more difficult to regard in this way, because no further developmentwill take place unless the couple have sexual intercourse or use artificialinsemination.

Now consider what has happened as a result of the successful develop-ment of IVF. The procedure involves removing one or more eggs froma woman’s ovary, placing them in the appropriate fluid in a glass dish,and then adding sperm to the dish. In competent laboratories, this leadsto fertilization in about 80 percent of the eggs thus treated. The embryocan then be kept in the dish for a few days while it grows and its cellsdivide. If it appears to be growing normally, it will either be transferredto a woman’s uterus or frozen for later use, in case the woman does notbecome pregnant from the embryo or embryos transferred. Althoughthe transfer itself is a simple procedure, it is after the transfer that thingsare most likely to go wrong, for reasons that are not fully understood; witheven the most successful IVF teams, the probability of a given embryothat has been transferred to the uterus actually implanting there andleading to a live birth is generally less than 20 percent, and in womenolder than thirty-seven, generally less than 10 percent (IVF clinics fre-quently cite much higher ‘success rates’, but their figures are based onlive births ‘per treatment cycle’ and a cycle typically involves the transferof two or three embryos.) In summary, then, before the advent of IVF,in every instance in which we knew of the existence of a normal humanembryo, it would have been true to say of that embryo that, unless it wasdeliberately interfered with, it would most likely develop into a person.The process of IVF, however, leads to the creation of embryos that can-not develop into a person unless there is some deliberate human act (thetransfer to the uterus) and that even then, in the best of circumstances,will most likely not develop into a person.

The upshot of all this is that IVF has reduced the difference betweenwhat can be said about the embryo and what can be said about the egg

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and sperm, when still separate but considered as a pair. Before IVF, anynormal human embryo known to us had a far greater chance of becominga child than any egg plus sperm prior to fertilization taking place. WithIVF, there is a much more modest difference in the probability of a childresulting from a two-cell embryo in a glass dish, and the probability ofa child resulting from an egg and some sperm in a glass dish. To bespecific, if we assume that a laboratory succeeds in fertilizing 80 percentof the eggs it collects from its patients and its rate of pregnancy perembryo transferred is 20 percent, then when the laboratory has receivedthe egg, the chance of that egg developing into a child is 16 percent;whereas once it has an embryo, the probability of a child resulting fromthat embryo is 20 percent. So if the embryo is a potential person, whyare not the egg-and-sperm, considered jointly, also a potential person?Yet no member of the pro-life movement wants to rescue eggs and spermin order to save the lives of the people that they have the potential tobecome.

Consider the following, not too improbable scenario. In the IVF labor-atory, a woman’s egg has been obtained. It sits in one dish on the bench.The sperm from her partner sits in an adjacent dish, ready to be mixedinto the solution containing the egg. Then some bad news arrives: theobstetrician has discovered that the woman has a health condition thatprevents her uterus being able to receive an embryo for at least a month,and the laboratory does not have the ability to freeze embryos. Thereis therefore no point in going ahead with the procedure. A laboratoryassistant is told to dispose of the egg and sperm. She does so by tippingthem down the sink. So far, so good; but a few hours later, when theassistant returns to prepare the laboratory for the next procedure, shenotices that the sink is blocked. The egg and its fluid are still there, inthe bottom of the sink. She is about to clear the blockage, when sherealizes that the sperm has been tipped into the sink too. Quite possibly,the egg has been fertilised! Now what is she to do? Those who drawa sharp distinction between the egg-and-sperm and the embryo musthold that, whereas the assistant could quite innocently pour the egg andsperm down the sink, it would be wrong to clear the blockage now. Thisis difficult to accept. Potentiality seems not to be such an all-or-nothingconcept; the difference between the egg-and-sperm and the embryo isone of degree, related to the probability of development into a person.

Traditional defenders of the right to life of the embryo have beenreluctant to introduce degrees of potential into the debate, because oncethe notion is accepted, it seems undeniable that the early embryo is less

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of a potential person than the later embryo or the fetus. This could easilybe understood as leading to the conclusion that the prohibition againstdestroying the early embryo is less stringent than the prohibition againstdestroying the later embryo or fetus. Nevertheless, some defenders ofthe argument from potential have invoked probability. Among these hasbeen the Roman Catholic theologian John Noonan:

As life itself is a matter of probabilities, as most moral reasoning is an estimateof probabilities, so it seems in accord with the structure of reality and the natureof moral thought to found a moral judgment on the change in probabilities atconception . . . Would the argument be different if only one out of ten childrenconceived came to term? Of course this argument would be different. This argu-ment is an appeal to probabilities that actually exist, not to any and all states ofaffairs which may be imagined . . . If a spermatozoon is destroyed, one destroys abeing which had a chance of far less than 1 in 200 million of developing into areasoning being, possessed of the genetic code, a heart and other organs, andcapable of pain. If a fetus is destroyed, one destroys a being already possessed ofthe genetic code, organs and sensitivity to pain, and one which had an 80 percent chance of developing further into a baby outside the womb who, in time,would reason.

The article from which this quotation is taken was once influential inthe abortion debate, often quoted and reprinted by those opposed toabortion, but the development of our understanding of the reproduct-ive process has made Noonan’s position untenable. The initial difficultyis that Noonan’s figures for embryo survival even in the uterus are nolonger regarded as accurate. At the time Noonan wrote, the estimateof pregnancy loss was based on clinical recognition of pregnancies atsix to eight weeks after fertilization. At this stage, the chance of los-ing the pregnancy through spontaneous abortion is about 15 percent.Recent technical advances allowing earlier recognition of pregnancy,however, provide startlingly different figures. If pregnancy is diagnosedbefore implantation (within fourteen days of fertilization), the prob-ability of a birth resulting falls to 25 to 30 percent. After implanta-tion, this increases initially to 46 to 60 percent, and it is not until sixweeks gestation that the chance of birth occurring increases to 85 to90 percent.

Noonan claimed that his argument is ‘ . . . an appeal to probabilitiesthat actually exist, not to any and all states of affairs which may be ima-gined’. Once we substitute the real probabilities of embryos, at variousstages of their existence, becoming persons, however, Noonan’s argu-ment no longer supports the moment of fertilization as the time at which

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the embryo gains a significantly different moral status. Indeed, if wewere to require an 80 percent probability of further development intoa baby – the figure Noonan himself mentions – we would have to waituntil nearly six weeks after fertilization before the embryo would havethe significance Noonan wants to claim for it.

At one point in his argument Noonan refers to the number of sperminvolved in a male ejaculation, and he says that there is only one chancein 200 million of a sperm becoming part of a living being. This focus onthe sperm rather than the egg is curious (perhaps an instance of malebias?), but even if we let that pass, new technology provides still one moredifficulty for the argument. There is now a means of overcoming maleinfertility caused by a low sperm count. The egg is removed as in thenormal in vitro procedure; but instead of adding a drop of seminal fluidto the dish with the egg, a single sperm is picked up with a fine needleand micro-injected under the outer layer of the egg. So if we comparethe probability of the embryo becoming a person with the probabilityof the egg – together with the single sperm that has been picked up bythe needle and is about to be micro-injected into the egg – becoming aperson, we will be unable to find any sharp distinction between the two.Does that mean that it would be wrong to stop the procedure once thesperm has been picked up? Noonan’s argument from probabilities wouldseem to commit him either to this implausible claim, or to acceptingthat we may destroy human embryos. This procedure also underminesRamsey’s claim about the importance of the unique genetic blueprint –that ‘never-to-be-repeated’ informational speck having been determinedin the case of the embryo but not in the case of the egg and sperm. Forthat, too, is here determined before fertilization.

In this section, I have tried to show how the special circumstances ofthe embryo in the laboratory affect the application of the arguments dis-cussed elsewhere in this chapter about the status of the embryo or fetus.I have not attempted to cover all aspects of the ethics of in vitro fertiliz-ation and embryo experimentation. To do that, it would be necessary toinvestigate several other issues, including the appropriateness of allocat-ing scarce medical resources to this area at a time when the world has aserious problem of overpopulation. Further uses of IVF, such as donatingor selling embryos to others, employing a surrogate to bear the child,using IVF to enable older women to have children (in 2008, a 70-year-oldIndian woman used the technique to become the oldest woman reliablyrecorded as having had a child), or selecting from among a number ofembryos for the one that meets some criteria of genetic desirability, raise

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separate ethical issues. They are important, but to cover them would takeus too far from the main themes of this book.

abortion and infanticide

There remains one major objection to the argument I have advanced infavour of abortion. We have already seen that the strength of the conser-vative position lies in the difficulty liberals have in pointing to a morallysignificant line of demarcation between an embryo and a newborn baby.The standard liberal position needs to be able to point to some such line,because liberals usually hold that it is permissible to kill an embryo orfetus but not a baby. I have argued that the life of a fetus (and even moreplainly, of an embryo) is of no greater value than the life of a nonhumananimal at a similar level of rationality, self-awareness, capacity to feel andso on, and that because no fetus is a person, no fetus has the same claimto life as a person. Now we have to face the fact that these argumentsapply to the newborn baby as much as to the fetus. A week-old baby is nota rational and self-aware being, and there are many nonhuman animalswhose rationality, self-awareness, capacity to feel and so on, exceed thatof a human baby a week or a month old. If, for the reasons I have given,the fetus does not have the same claim to life as a person, it appearsthat the newborn baby does not either. Thus, although my positionon the status of fetal life may be acceptable to many, the implicationsof this position for the status of newborn life are at odds with the virtuallyunchallenged assumption that the life of a newborn baby is as sacrosanctas that of an adult. Indeed, some people seem to think that the life ofa baby is more precious than that of an adult. Lurid tales of Germansoldiers bayoneting Belgian babies figured prominently in the wave ofanti-German propaganda that accompanied Britain’s entry into the FirstWorld War, and it seemed to be tacitly assumed that this was a greateratrocity than the murder of adults.

I do not regard the conflict between the position I have taken andwidely accepted views about the sanctity of infant life as a ground forabandoning my position. In thinking about ethics, we should not hesit-ate to question ethical views that are almost universally accepted if wehave reasons for thinking that they may not be as securely grounded asthey appear to be. It is true that infants appeal to us because they aresmall and helpless, and there are no doubt very good evolutionary reas-ons why we should instinctively feel protective towards them. It is alsotrue that infants cannot be combatants, and killing infants in wartime

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is the clearest possible case of killing civilians, which is prohibited byinternational convention. In general, because infants are harmless andmorally incapable of committing a crime, those who kill them lack theexcuses often offered for the killing of adults. None of this shows, how-ever, that the death of an infant is as bad as the death of an (innocent)adult.

In attempting to reach a considered ethical judgment about this mat-ter, we should put aside feelings based on the small, helpless and –sometimes – cute appearance of human infants. To think that the lives ofinfants are of special value because infants are small and cute is on a parwith thinking that a baby seal, with its soft white fur coat and large roundeyes deserves greater protection than a gorilla, who lacks these attributes.Nor can the helplessness or the innocence of the infant Homo sapiens be aground for preferring it to the equally helpless and innocent fetal Homosapiens, or, for that matter, to laboratory rats who are ‘innocent’ in exactlythe same sense as the human infant, and, in view of the experimenters’power over them, almost as helpless.

If we can put aside these emotionally moving but strictly irrelevantaspects of the killing of a baby, we can see that the grounds for not killingpersons do not apply to newborn infants. The indirect, classical utilitarianreason does not apply, because no one capable of understanding whatis happening when a newborn baby is killed could feel threatened by apolicy that gave less protection to the newborn than to adults. In thisrespect, Bentham was right to describe infanticide as ‘of a nature not togive the slightest inquietude to the most timid imagination’. Once we areold enough to comprehend the policy, we are too old to be threatenedby it.

Similarly, the preference utilitarian reason for respecting the life ofa person cannot apply to a newborn baby. Newborn babies cannot seethemselves as beings that might or might not have a future, and so theycannot have a desire to continue living. For the same reason, if a rightto life must be based on the capacity to want to go on living, or on theability to see oneself as a continuing mental subject, a newborn babycannot have a right to life. Finally, a newborn baby is not an autonomousbeing, capable of making choices, and so to kill a newborn baby cannotviolate the principle of respect for autonomy. In all this, the newbornbaby is on the same footing as the fetus, and hence fewer reasons existagainst killing both babies and fetuses than exist against killing thosewho are capable of seeing themselves as distinct entities, existing overtime.

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It would, of course, be difficult to say at what age children begin tosee themselves as distinct entities existing over time. But a difficulty indrawing the line is not a reason for drawing it in a place that is obviouslywrong, any more than the notorious difficulty in saying how much haira man has to have lost before we can call him ‘bald’ is a reason forsaying that someone whose pate is as smooth as a billiard ball is not bald.Granted, where rights are at risk, we should err on the side of safety.There is some plausibility in the view that, for legal purposes, becausebirth provides the only sharp, clear and easily understood line, the law ofhomicide should continue to apply from the moment of birth. Becausethis is an argument at the level of public policy and the law, it is quitecompatible with the view that, on purely ethical grounds, the killing ofa newborn infant is not comparable with the killing of an older childor adult. Alternatively, recalling Hare’s distinction between the criticaland intuitive levels of moral reasoning, one could hold that the ethicaljudgment we have reached applies only at the level of critical morality; foreveryday decision making, we should act as if an infant has a right to lifefrom the moment of birth. In the next chapter, however, we shall consideranother possibility: that there should be at least some circumstances inwhich a full legal right to life comes into force, not at birth, but only ashort time after birth – perhaps a month. This would provide the amplesafety margin mentioned previously.

If these conclusions seem too shocking to take seriously, it may beworth remembering that our present absolute protection of the lives ofinfants is a distinctively Christian attitude rather than a universal ethicalvalue. Infanticide has been practised in societies ranging geographicallyfrom Tahiti to Greenland and varying in culture from nomadic Australianaborigines to the sophisticated urban communities of ancient Greece ormandarin China or Japan before the late nineteenth century. In someof these societies, infanticide was not merely permitted but, in certaincircumstances, deemed morally obligatory. Not to kill a deformed orsickly infant was often regarded as wrong, and infanticide was probablythe first, and in several societies the only, form of population control.

We might think that we are more ‘civilized’ than these ‘primitive’peoples, but it is not easy to feel confident that we are more civilizedthan the best Greek and Roman moralists, nor than the highly soph-isticated civilizations of China and Japan. In ancient Greece, it was notjust the Spartans who exposed their infants on hillsides: both Plato andAristotle recommended the killing of deformed infants. Romans likeSeneca, whose compassionate moral sense strikes the modern reader

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(or me, anyway) as superior to that of the early and mediaeval Christianwriters, also thought infanticide the natural and humane solution to theproblem posed by sick and deformed babies. The change in Western atti-tudes to infanticide since Roman times is, like the doctrine of the sanctityof human life of which it is a part, a product of Christianity. Perhaps itis now possible to think about these issues without assuming the Chris-tian moral framework that has, for so long, prevented any fundamentalreassessment.

None of this is meant to suggest that someone who goes around ran-domly killing babies is morally on a par with a woman who has an abor-tion. We should put very strict conditions on permissible infanticide;but these restrictions should owe more to the effects of infanticide onothers than to the intrinsic wrongness of killing an infant. Obviously, inmost cases, to kill an infant is to inflict a terrible loss on those who loveand cherish the child. My comparison of abortion and infanticide wasprompted by the objection that the position I have taken on abortionalso justifies infanticide. I have admitted this charge to the extent thatthe intrinsic wrongness of killing the late fetus and the intrinsic wrong-ness of killing the newborn infant are not markedly different. In casesof abortion, however, we assume that the people most affected – theparents-to-be or at least the mother-to-be – want to have the abortion.Thus, infanticide can only be equated with abortion when those closestto the child do not want it to live. As an infant can be adopted by othersin a way that a pre-viable fetus cannot be, such cases will be rare. (Someof them are discussed in the following chapter.) Killing an infant whoseparents do not want it dead is, of course, an utterly different matter, justas forcing a woman to have an abortion she does not want to have isutterly different from allowing a woman to choose to have an abortion.


Taking Life


At the end of the last chapter, we looked beyond abortion to the issue ofinfanticide, thus confirming the suspicions of supporters of the sanctityof human life that once abortion is accepted, euthanasia lurks aroundthe corner. For them, that is an added reason for opposing abortion.Euthanasia has, they point out, been rejected by doctors since the fifthcentury BC, when physicians first took the Oath of Hippocrates andswore ‘to give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest anysuch counsel’. Moreover, they argue, the Nazi extermination programmeis a terrible modern example of what can happen once we give the statethe power to kill innocent human beings.

It is true that if one accepts abortion on the grounds provided in thepreceding chapter, the case for killing other human beings, in certaincircumstances, is strong. As I shall try to show in this chapter, however,this is not something to be regarded with horror, and the use of the Nazianalogy is utterly misleading. On the contrary, once we abandon thosedoctrines about the sanctity of human life that – as we saw in Chapter 4 –collapse as soon as they are questioned, it is the refusal to accept killingthat, in some cases, is horrific.

When the first edition of this book appeared in 1979, no country hadlegalized euthanasia, although in Switzerland a physician could prescribelethal drugs to patients seeking aid in dying. Thirty years on, voluntaryeuthanasia and/or physician-assisted suicide is legal in the Netherlands,Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the American states of Oregon,Washington and Montana. Before we consider the justifiability of thesepractices, some terminological clarification will be helpful.


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forms of aid in dying

Like abortion, providing aid in dying is highly controversial, and thepolitics of the issue has affected the terms used. In the United States, thediscussion has focused on whether, if a patient asks a doctor for help indying, the doctor ought to be allowed to prescribe something that will,if the patient takes it, end the patient’s life swiftly and humanely. Thishas been legalized in the states of Oregon and Washington followingcitizen-initiated referenda that were passed by a majority of voters, andthe Montana Supreme Court declared in 2009 that it is not contraryto law. It is usually called ‘physician-assisted suicide’ but in the UnitedStates, at least, ‘suicide’ has such negative associations that organizationsseeking to legalize it prefer to call it ‘death with dignity’ or ‘aid in dying.’These terms are too vague for philosophical discussions. ‘Death withdignity’ can mean almost anything, depending on what one considers adignified way to die. ‘Aid in dying’ is barely more specific. It could referto acts that make a dying person more comfortable, without shorteninglife, like giving modest amounts of pain relief, or it could refer to givinga patient, on request, a lethal injection. In addition, neither of theseexpressions says anything about who assists the patient to die. The term‘physician-assisted dying’ gets closer to what happens, but it still doesnot emphasize that it is the patient who takes the step of ending herown life. Although it is certainly true that patients who are terminally illand choose to end their own life to avoid further suffering are making avery different decision from people who kill themselves because they areemotionally disturbed, that does not change the basic fact that all thesepeople are ending their own lives rather than continuing to live for aslong as they can. Hence, we should not shy away from the term ‘physician-assisted suicide,’ because that offers the most precise description of whathappens when a physician, acting on a request from the patient, providesa prescription for a drug which the patient then takes to end her life. Inusing this term, we should try to dismiss any negative associations thatthe term ‘suicide’ may have. Many cultures have considered suicide, incertain circumstances, to be a rational, honourable, and even sometimesa noble act. The Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote that a wise person‘lives as long as he ought, not as long as he can’. Cato the Younger, aRoman politician renowned for his integrity and refusal to take bribes,committed suicide when he was unable to stop Julius Caesar’s overthrowof the Roman republic. According to Plutarch’s account, Caesar said‘Cato, I grudge your death’ – acknowledging that in ending his life,

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Cato had done something truly noble. So let’s use that term, withoutprejudicing our discussion of whether, in the circumstances we shall bediscussing, physician-assisted suicide is justifiable or should be legal.

Physician-assisted suicide can be considered as one form of euthanasia,but the latter term has a wider meaning. According to the dictionary,‘euthanasia’ refers to ‘a gentle and easy death’, but it is now used torefer to the killing of those who are incurably ill and in great pain ordistress, in order to spare them further suffering or distress. Hence,it differs from physician-assisted suicide in that the physician or otherperson providing euthanasia may do the killing, for example, by givingthe patient a lethal injection. Within the usual definition of euthanasiathere are three different types, each of which raises distinctive ethicalissues. It will help our discussion if we begin by setting out the threeforms of euthanasia and place them within the broader framework. Wecan then assess the justifiability of each form.

Voluntary Euthanasia

Voluntary euthanasia is euthanasia carried out at the voluntary requestof the person killed, who must be, when making the request, mentallycompetent and adequately informed. Euthanasia can be voluntary evenif a person is not mentally competent right up to the moment of deathbecause a person may, while in good health, make a written request foreuthanasia specifying the conditions under which, if she should cease tobe mentally competent, she would wish to die. In killing a person whohas made such a request, has re-affirmed it from time to time, and is nowin one of the states described, one could truly claim to be acting with herconsent; and this would therefore be voluntary euthanasia.

In the Netherlands, a series of court cases during the 1980s uphelda doctor’s right to assist a patient to die. The courts did not distinguishbetween providing a patient with a prescription for a lethal dose of a drugand giving the patient a lethal injection – in fact, in the Netherlands mostdoctors think it better that the physician be present when the patientdies to make sure that nothing goes wrong. Moreover, some patients areunable to swallow, or keep down, a large dose of a drug, and so injectionsare generally preferred.

In 2002, the Dutch parliament legalized voluntary euthanasia, as longas doctors comply with certain guidelines (which will be described laterin this chapter). Belgium did the same later in the year. In 2008, Luxem-bourg became the third country to legalize voluntary euthanasia.

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Involuntary Euthanasia

I shall regard euthanasia as involuntary when the person killed is capableof consenting to her own death but does not do so, either because sheis not asked or because she is asked and chooses to go on living. Admit-tedly, this definition lumps two different cases under one heading. Thereis a significant difference between killing someone who chooses to go onliving and killing someone who has not consented to being killed, but ifasked would have consented. In practice, though, it is hard to imaginecases in which a person is capable of consenting, and would have con-sented if asked, but was not asked. Why not ask? Only in the most bizarresituations could one conceive of a reason for not obtaining the consentof a person both able and willing to consent.

Killing someone who has not consented to being killed can properlybe regarded as euthanasia only when the motive for killing is the desireto prevent unbearable suffering on the part of the person killed. It is,of course, odd that anyone acting from this motive should disregard thewishes of the person for whose sake the action is done. Genuine cases ofinvoluntary euthanasia appear to be very rare.

Nonvoluntary Euthanasia

These two definitions leave room for a third kind of euthanasia. If ahuman being is not capable of understanding the choice between lifeand death, euthanasia would be neither voluntary nor involuntary, butnonvoluntary. Those unable to give consent would include incurably illor severely disabled infants and people who through accident, illnessor old age have permanently lost the capacity to understand the issueinvolved, without having previously requested or rejected euthanasia inthese circumstances.

In 1988 Samuel Linares, an infant, swallowed a small object that stuckin his windpipe, causing a loss of oxygen to the brain. Had such a caseoccurred fifty years earlier, Samuel would undoubtedly have died soonafterwards, and no decision would have had to be made. Instead, giventhe availability of modern medical technology, he was admitted to aChicago hospital in a coma and placed on a respirator. Eight monthslater he was still comatose, still on the respirator, and the hospital wasplanning to move Samuel to a long-term care unit. Shortly before themove, Samuel’s parents visited him in the hospital. His mother left theroom, while his father produced a pistol and told the nurse to keep away.

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He then disconnected Samuel from the respirator and cradled the babyin his arms until he died. When he was sure Samuel was dead, he gave uphis pistol and surrendered to police. He was charged with murder, but thegrand jury refused to issue a homicide indictment, and he subsequentlyreceived a suspended sentence on a minor charge arising from the useof the pistol.

In Canada in 1993, Robert Latimer killed his twelve-year-old disableddaughter Tracey by placing her in the cabin of the family truck andpiping exhaust fumes into it. Evidence suggested that Tracey, who had asevere form of cerebral palsy, could not walk, talk, or feed herself andhad suffered considerable pain. Latimer said that his priority was ‘toput her out of her pain’. He was convicted of murder and sentencedto life imprisonment with a minimum of ten years before parole. ManyCanadians felt the sentence was unreasonably harsh, but several appealsfailed to free Latimer. He was granted parole in 2008.

Obviously, such cases raise different issues from those raised by vol-untary euthanasia. There is no desire to die on the part of the personkilled. The question can be raised whether, in such cases, the death iscarried out for the sake of the infant or for the sake of the family as awhole. Caring for Samuel Linares would have been a great and no doubtfutile burden for the family and a drain on the state’s limited medicalresources; but if he was comatose, he could not have been suffering,and death could not be said to be in (or contrary to) his interests. It istherefore not euthanasia, strictly speaking, as I have defined the term. Itmight nevertheless be a justifiable ending of a human life.

Because cases of infanticide and nonvoluntary euthanasia are the kindof cases most nearly akin to our previous discussions of the status ofanimals and the human fetus, we shall consider them first.

justifying infanticide and nonvoluntary euthanasia

As we have seen, euthanasia is nonvoluntary when the subject has neverhad the capacity to choose to live or die. This is the situation of theseverely disabled infant or the older human being who has been pro-foundly intellectually disabled since birth. Euthanasia or other formsof killing are also nonvoluntary when the subject is not now but oncewas capable of making the crucial choice and did not then express anypreference relevant to her present condition.

The case of someone who has never been capable of choosing to liveor die is a little more straightforward than that of a person who had, but

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has now lost, the capacity to make such a decision. We shall, once again,separate the two cases and take the more straightforward one first. Forsimplicity, I shall concentrate on infants, although everything I say aboutthem would apply to older children or adults whose mental age is andhas always been that of an infant.

Life and Death Decisions for Disabled Infants

If we were to approach the issue of life or death for a seriously disabledhuman infant without any prior discussion of the ethics of killing ingeneral, we might be unable to resolve the conflict between the widelyaccepted obligation to protect the sanctity of human life and the goal ofreducing suffering. Some say that such clashes of fundamental values canonly be resolved by a ‘subjective’ decision, or that life and death questionsmust be left to God and Nature. Our previous discussions have, however,prepared the ground, and the principles established and applied in thepreceding three chapters make the issue much less baffling than mosttake it to be.

In Chapter 4, we saw that the fact that a being is a human being, inthe sense of a member of the species Homo sapiens, is not relevant to thewrongness of killing it; instead, characteristics like rationality, autonomyand self-awareness make a difference. Infants lack these characteristics.Killing them, therefore, cannot be equated with killing normal humanbeings or any other self-aware beings. The principles that govern thewrongness of killing nonhuman animals that are sentient but not rationalor self-aware must apply here too. As we saw, the most plausible argumentsfor attributing a right to life to a being apply only if there is some aware-ness of oneself as a being existing over time or as a continuing mentalself. Nor can respect for autonomy apply where there is no capacity forautonomy. The remaining principles identified in Chapter 4 are utilit-arian. Hence, the quality of life that the infant can be expected to haveis important.

This conclusion is not limited to infants who, because of irreversibleintellectual disabilities, will never be rational, self-aware beings. We sawin our discussion of abortion that the potential of a fetus to become arational, self-aware being cannot count against killing it at a stage whenit lacks these characteristics – not, that is, unless we are also prepared tocount the value of rational self-aware life as a reason against contraceptionand celibacy. No infant – disabled or not – has as strong an intrinsic claim

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to life as beings capable of seeing themselves as distinct entities existingover time.

The difference between killing disabled and normal infants lies, not inany supposed right to life that the latter has and the former lacks, but inother considerations about killing. Most obviously, there is the differencethat often exists in the attitudes of the parents. The birth of a child isusually a happy event for the parents. They are likely to have plannedfor the child. The mother has carried it for nine months. From birth,a natural affection begins to bind the parents to it. So one importantreason why it is normally a terrible thing to kill an infant is the effect thekilling will have on its parents.

It is different when the infant is born with a serious disability. Birthabnormalities vary, of course. Some are trivial and have little effect onthe child or its parents, but others turn the normally joyful event of birthinto a threat to the happiness of the parents and of any other childrenthey may have.

Parents may, with good reason, regret that a disabled child was everborn. In those circumstances, the effect that the death of the child willhave on its parents can be a reason for, rather than against, killing it.Of course, this is not always the case. Some parents want even the mostgravely disabled infant to live as long as possible, and their desire is thena reason against killing the infant. But what if this is not the case? In thediscussion that follows, I shall assume that the parents do not want thedisabled child to live. I shall also assume that the disability is so seriousthat – again in contrast to the situation of an unwanted but normal childtoday – there are no other couples keen to adopt the infant. This is arealistic assumption even in a society in which there is a long waitinglist of couples wishing to adopt normal babies. It is true that from timeto time, when a case of an infant who is severely disabled and is beingallowed to die has been publicised, couples have come forward offeringto adopt the child. Unfortunately, such offers are the product of thehighly publicised dramatic life-and-death situation and do not extend tothe less publicised but far more common situations in which parents feelthemselves unable to look after a severely disabled child, and the childthen languishes in an institution.

Consider, for instance, Tay-Sachs disease, a genetic condition thatwithin the first year of life causes the child’s muscles to atrophy. Thechild becomes blind, deaf, unable to swallow and eventually paralysed.The child also suffers mental deterioration and has seizures. Even with

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the best medical care, children with Tay-Sachs disease usually die beforetheir fifth birthday. This seems to be a life that can reasonably be judgednot to be worth living. When the life of an infant will be so miserable asnot to be worth living, from the internal perspective of the being whowill lead that life, both the ‘prior existence’ and the ‘total’ version ofutilitarianism entail that if there are no ‘extrinsic’ reasons for keepingthe infant alive – like the feelings of the parents – it is better that thechild should be helped to die without further suffering.

A more difficult problem arises – and the convergence between thetwo views ends – when we consider disabilities that make the child’s lifeprospects significantly less promising than those of a normal child, butnot so bleak as to make the life one not worth living. Haemophilia mayserve as an example. The haemophiliac lacks the element in normalblood that makes it clot and thus risks prolonged bleeding, especiallyinternal bleeding, from the slightest injury. If allowed to continue, thisbleeding leads to permanent crippling and eventually death. The bleed-ing is painful, and although improved treatments have eliminated theneed for constant blood transfusions, haemophiliacs still have to spend alot of time in hospital. They are unable to play most sports and live con-stantly on the edge of crisis. Nevertheless, haemophiliacs do not appear tospend their time wondering whether to end it all; most find life definitelyworth living, despite the difficulties they face.

Given these facts, suppose that a newborn baby is diagnosed as a hae-mophiliac. The parents, daunted by the prospect of bringing up a childwith this condition, are not anxious for him to live. Could euthanasiabe defended here? Our first reaction may well be a firm ‘no’, for theinfant can be expected to have a life that is well worth living, even if notquite as good as that of a normal child. The ‘prior existence’ version ofutilitarianism supports this judgment. The infant exists. His life can beexpected to contain a positive balance of happiness over misery. To killhim would deprive him of this positive balance of happiness. Therefore,it would be wrong.

On the ‘total’ version of utilitarianism, on the other hand, we cannotreach a decision on the basis of this information alone. The total viewmakes it necessary to ask whether the death of the haemophiliac infantwould lead to the creation of another being who would not otherwisehave existed. In other words, if the haemophiliac child is killed, will hisparents have another child whom they would not have if the haemophil-iac child lives? If they would, is the second child likely to have a betterlife than the one killed?

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Often it will be possible to answer both these questions affirmatively.Like the mountaineer we considered in the previous chapter, a womanmay plan to have two children. If one dies while she is of child-bearingage, she may conceive another in its place. Suppose a woman planningto have two children has one normal child, and then gives birth to ahaemophiliac child. The burden of caring for that child may make itimpossible for her to cope with a third child; but if the disabled childwere to die, she would have another. It is also plausible to suppose thatthe prospects of a happy life are better for a normal child than for ahaemophiliac.

If we favour the total view rather than the prior existence view, then wehave to take account of the probability that when the death of a disabledinfant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of ahappy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabledinfant is killed. The loss of happy life for the first infant is outweighedby the gain of a happier life for the second. Therefore, if killing thehaemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others, it would, accordingto the total view, be right to kill him.

The total view treats infants as replaceable, in much the same wayas it treats animals that are not self-aware as replaceable (as we saw inChapter 5). Many will think that the replaceability argument cannot beapplied to human infants. The direct killing of even the most hopelesslydisabled infant is still officially regarded as murder. How then could thekilling of infants with far less serious problems, like haemophilia, beaccepted? Yet on further reflection, the implications of the replaceabilityargument do not seem quite so bizarre. For there are disabled membersof our species whom we now deal with exactly as the argument suggests weshould. These cases closely resemble the ones we have been discussing.There is only one difference, and that is a difference of timing – thetiming of the discovery of the problem and the consequent killing of thedisabled being.

Prenatal diagnosis is now routine for pregnant women. There arevarious medical techniques for obtaining information about the fetusduring the early months of pregnancy. At one stage in the developmentof these techniques, it was possible to discover the sex of the fetus but notwhether the fetus would suffer from haemophilia. Haemophilia is a sex-linked genetic defect from which only males suffer – females can carrythe gene and pass it on to their male offspring without themselves beingaffected. So a woman who knew that she carried the gene for haemophiliacould, at that stage, avoid giving birth to a haemophiliac child only by

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finding out the sex of the fetus and aborting all males fetuses. Statistically,only half of these male children of women who carried the defective genewould have suffered from haemophilia, and so half of the fetuses beingkilled were normal. This practice was widespread in many countries andyet did not cause any great outcry. Now that we have techniques foridentifying haemophilia before birth, we can be more selective, but theprinciple is the same: women are offered, and usually accept, abortionsin order to avoid giving birth to children with haemophilia.

The same can be said about several other conditions that can bedetected before birth. Down syndrome is one of these. Children withthis condition have intellectual disabilities, and most will never be ableto live independently, but their lives, like those of children, can be joyful.The risk of having a Down syndrome child increases sharply with the ageof the mother, and for this reason in many countries prenatal diagnosisis offered to all pregnant women over thirty-five. The overwhelmingmajority of pregnant women who are told that their child will have Downsyndrome end their pregnancy, and many start another pregnancy, whichin most cases leads to the birth of a child without this condition.

Prenatal diagnosis, followed by abortion in selected cases, is commonpractice in countries with liberal abortion laws and advanced medicaltechniques. I think this is as it should be. As the arguments of the lastchapter indicate, I believe that abortion can be justified. Note, however,that neither haemophilia nor Down syndrome is so crippling as to makelife not worth living from the inner perspective of the person with thecondition. To abort a fetus with one of these disabilities, intending to haveanother child who will not be disabled, is to treat fetuses as replaceable. Ifthe mother has previously decided to have a certain number of children,then what she is doing, in effect, is rejecting one potential child in favourof another. She could, in defence of her actions, say: the loss of life ofthe aborted fetus is outweighed by the gain of a better life for the normalchild that will be conceived only if the disabled one dies.

When death occurs before birth, replaceability does not conflict withgenerally accepted moral convictions. That a fetus is known to be disabledis widely accepted as grounds for abortion. Yet, in discussing abortion,we saw that birth does not mark a morally significant dividing line. It isnot easy to defend the view that fetuses may be ‘replaced’ before birthbut newborn infants may not be. Nor is there any other point, such asviability, that does a better job of dividing the fetus from the infant. Self-awareness, which could provide a basis for holding that it is wrong to killone being and replace it with another, is not to be found in either the

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fetus or the newborn infant. Neither the fetus nor the newborn infantis an individual capable of regarding itself as a distinct entity with a lifeof its own to lead, and it is only for newborn infants, or for still earlierstages of human life, that replaceability should be considered to be anethically acceptable option.

Some disability advocates object strongly to this conclusion. They saythat to replace either a fetus or a newborn infant because of a disabilityis wrong, for it suggests to disabled people living today that their lives areless worth living than the lives of people who are not disabled. Yet thatbelief is the only way to make sense of actions that we all take for granted.Recall thalidomide: this drug, when taken by pregnant women, causedmany children to be born without arms or legs. Once the cause of theabnormal births was discovered, the drug was taken off the market, andthe company responsible had to pay compensation. If we really believedthat there is no reason to think the life of a disabled person is likely tobe any worse than that of a normal person, we would not have regardedthe use of thalidomide by pregnant women as a tragedy. No compensa-tion would have been sought by parents or awarded by the courts. Thechildren would merely have been ‘different’. We could even have left thedrug on the market, so that women who found it a useful sleeping pillduring pregnancy could continue to take it. If this sounds grotesque, thatis only because we are all in no doubt at all that it is better to be bornwith limbs than without them. To believe this involves no disrespect atall for those who are lacking limbs; it simply recognizes the reality of thedifficulties they face.

In any case, the position taken here does not imply that it wouldbe better that no people born with severe disabilities should survive; itimplies only that the parents of such infants should be able to make thisdecision. Nor does this imply lack of respect or equal consideration forpeople with disabilities who are now living their own lives in accordancewith their own wishes. As we saw at the end of Chapter 2, the principle ofequal consideration of interests rejects any discounting of the interestsof people on grounds of disability.

Even those who reject abortion and the idea that the fetus is replace-able are likely to regard possible people as replaceable. Recall the secondwoman in Parfit’s case of the two women, described in Chapter 5. Shewas told by her doctor that if she went ahead with her plan to becomepregnant immediately, her child would have a disability (it could havebeen haemophilia); but if she waited three months, her child would nothave the disability. If we think she would do wrong not to wait, it can only

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be because we are comparing the two possible lives and judging one tohave better prospects than the other. Of course, at this stage no life hasbegun; but the question is, when does a life, in the morally significantsense, really begin? In Chapters 4 and 5, we saw several reasons for sayingthat life only gains its full moral significance when there is awareness ofone’s existence over time.

Regarding newborn infants as replaceable, as we now regard fetuses,would have considerable advantages over prenatal diagnosis followedby abortion. Prenatal diagnosis still cannot detect all major disabilities.Some disabilities, in fact, are not present before birth; they may be theresult of extremely premature birth or of something going wrong in thebirth process itself. At present, parents can choose whether to keep theirdisabled offspring only if the disability happens to be detected duringpregnancy. There is no logical basis for restricting parents’ choice tothese particular disabilities. If newborn infants were not regarded ashaving a right to life until some time after birth, it would allow parents,in consultation with their doctors, to choose on the basis of far greaterknowledge of the infant’s condition than is possible before birth.

All these remarks have been concerned with the wrongness of endingthe life of the infant considered in itself rather than for its effects onothers. When we take effects on others into account, the picture mayalter. Obviously, to go through the whole of pregnancy and labour only togive birth to a child who one decides should not live would be a difficult,perhaps heartbreaking, experience. For this reason, many women wouldprefer prenatal diagnosis and abortion rather than live birth with thepossibility of infanticide; but if the latter is not morally worse than theformer, this would seem to be a choice that the woman herself should beallowed to make.

Another factor to take into account is the possibility of adoption.When there are more couples wishing to adopt than normal childrenavailable for adoption, a childless couple may be prepared to adopt ahaemophiliac. This would relieve the mother of the burden of bringingup a haemophiliac child and enable her to have another child, if shewished. Then the replaceability argument could not justify infanticide,for bringing the other child into existence would not be dependent onthe death of the haemophiliac. The death of the haemophiliac would bea straightforward loss of a life of positive quality not outweighed by thecreation of another being with a better life.

The issue of ending life for disabled newborn infants is not withoutcomplications, both factual and philosophical. Philosophically, the most

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difficult issue is whether to accept the prior existence or the total versionof utilitarianism (or some other view altogether), because in the caseof infants with disabilities whose lives are nevertheless worth living, thejustifiability of a decision to end the infant’s life will depend on whichview we choose. Nevertheless, the main point remains clear, even afterthe various objections and complications have been considered: killinga disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very oftenit is not wrong at all.

Other Nonvoluntary Life and Death Decisions

In the preceding section, we discussed justifiable killing of beings whohave never been capable of choosing to live or die. Ending a life withoutconsent may also be considered in the case of those who were oncepersons capable of choosing to live or die but now, through accident orold age, have permanently lost this capacity and did not, prior to losingit, express any views about whether they wished to go on living in suchcircumstances. These cases are not rare. Many hospitals care for motoraccident victims whose brains have been damaged beyond all possiblerecovery. They may survive, in a coma or perhaps barely conscious, formany years. Rita Greene, a nurse, was twenty-four when she became ill andwent into a persistent vegetative state. She died at the age of sixty-threewithout ever having recovered consciousness. Estimates of the numberof people in a persistent vegetative state in the United States at any giventime range from 10,000 to 40,000. In other developed countries, wherelife-prolonging technology is not used so aggressively, there are far fewerlong-term patients in this condition.

Decisions about the treatment of people in a persistent vegetative statesometimes come before the courts and receive extensive publicity. Nonehas received more attention than the case of Terri Schiavo, who died in aFlorida hospice in 2005 after spending fifteen years in what her doctorssaid was a persistent vegetative state. Michael Schiavo, Terri’s husband,wanted her feeding tube removed so that she would die. He claimed thatthis was in accordance with her wishes, as previously expressed to him.Robert and Mary Schindler, her parents, denied this and also claimed thatshe showed signs of awareness and so was not in a persistent vegetativestate. Court decisions favoured Michael Schiavo, and the feeding tubethat was keeping Terri Schiavo alive was withdrawn. The case was soontaken up as a cause by those opposed to abortion and euthanasia. Theysucceeded in persuading the Florida legislature to pass a new law to keep

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Terri’s case before the Florida courts, and when the courts again failed toorder that Terri be kept alive, Congress was recalled from a break to passa special law allowing the Schindlers to take their case to a federal court.President George W. Bush flew from his Texas ranch to Washington tosign the law, but the federal court also held that Michael Schiavo hadthe right to make the decision to withdraw his wife’s feeding tube. TheU.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from that decision, andTerri died. An autopsy showed that Terri Schiavo’s brain was severelyatrophied, and that no treatment could have reversed the loss of brainmatter.

It is possible that a small percentage of patients diagnosed as beingin a persistent vegetative state do have some awareness. Improved ima-ging techniques enable us to see, however, that for many patients ina persistent vegetative state, there is no blood flow to the parts of thebrain responsible for consciousness. Without blood flow, the brain rap-idly decays; and so in those patients, the existence of consciousness, orthe recovery of it, can definitely be excluded. Once it is clear that apatient in a persistent vegetative state has no awareness, and never againcan have any awareness, her life has no intrinsic value. These patientsare alive biologically but not biographically. If this verdict seems harsh,ask yourself whether there is anything to choose between the followingoptions: (a) instant death; or (b) instant coma, followed by death withoutrecovery in ten years. I can see no advantage in survival in a comatosestate if death without recovery is certain.

There is, however, one important respect in which these patients dif-fer from disabled infants. In discussing infanticide in the final section ofChapter 6, I cited Bentham’s comment that infanticide need not ‘givethe slightest inquietude to the most timid imagination’. This is becausethose old enough to be aware of the killing of disabled infants are neces-sarily outside the scope of the policy. This cannot be said of decisionsabout how to treat those who once were rational and self-aware. So apossible objection to ending the life of such a patient would be that itwill lead to insecurity and fear among those who are not now, but mightcome to be, within its scope. For instance, elderly people, knowing thatnonvoluntary euthanasia is sometimes applied to senile elderly patientswho lack the capacity to accept or reject death, might fear that everyinjection or tablet will be lethal. This fear might be quite irrational, butit would be difficult to convince people of this, particularly if old agereally had affected their memory or powers of reasoning. This objec-tion could be met by a procedure allowing those who do not wish to

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be subjected to nonvoluntary euthanasia under any circumstances toregister their refusal. If this became routine, it would have the additionalbenefit of preventing lengthy and costly legal cases like that of TerriSchiavo.

justifying voluntary euthanasia

Where euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are illegal, doctors whohelp their terminally ill patients to die are risking serious criminalcharges. Although juries are extremely reluctant to convict in cases ofthis kind, the law is clear that neither a request to be killed, nor thedegree of suffering, nor the incurable condition of the person killed aredefences to a charge of murder. Advocates of voluntary euthanasia pro-pose that this law be changed so that a doctor may lawfully respond to apatient’s desire to die without further suffering. The case for voluntaryeuthanasia has some common ground with the case for nonvoluntaryeuthanasia, in that death is a benefit for the one killed – or at least, inthe case of people who are irreversibly unconscious, not a harm. The twokinds of euthanasia differ, however, in that voluntary euthanasia involvesthe killing of a person, a rational and self-aware being. (People who arerational and self-aware at the time they make a request may no longer berational and self-aware at the time when the request is acted on, but forsimplicity I shall disregard this complication.)

We have seen that it is possible to justify ending the life of a humanbeing who lacks the capacity to consent. We must now ask in what waythe ethical issues are different when the being is capable of consentingand does in fact consent.

Let us return to the general principles about killing proposed inChapter 4. I argued there that killing a being with a sense of his orher own future is a more serious matter than killing a merely consciousbeing. I gave four distinct grounds on which this could be argued:

1. The classical utilitarian claim that because self-aware beings arecapable of fearing their own death, killing them has worse effectson others.

2. The preference utilitarian calculation that counts the thwarting ofthe victim’s desire to go on living as an important reason againstkilling.

3. A theory of rights according to which to have a right one musthave the ability to desire that to which one has a right, so that to

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have a right to life one must be able to desire one’s own continuedexistence.

4. Respect for the autonomous decisions of rational agents.

Now suppose we have a situation in which a person suffering from apainful and incurable disease wishes to die. Do any of the four groundsfor holding that it is normally worse to kill a person provide reasonsagainst killing when the individual is a person who wants to die?

The classical utilitarian objection does not apply to killing that takesplace only with the genuine consent of the person killed. That people arekilled under these conditions would have no tendency to spread fear orinsecurity, because if we do not wish to be killed, we simply do not consent.In fact, the argument from fear points in favour of voluntary euthanasia,for if voluntary euthanasia is not permitted we may, with good cause,be fearful that our deaths will be unnecessarily drawn out and distress-ing. In the Netherlands, a nationwide government-commissioned studyfound that ‘many patients want an assurance that their doctor will assistthem to die should suffering become unbearable’. Often, having receivedthis assurance, no request for euthanasia eventuated. The availability ofeuthanasia brought comfort without euthanasia having to be provided.

Preference utilitarianism also points in favour of, not against, volun-tary euthanasia. Just as preference utilitarianism must count a desire togo on living as a reason against killing, so it must count a desire to die asa reason for killing.

Next, according to the theory of rights we have considered, it is anessential feature of a right that one can waive one’s rights if one sochooses. I may have a right to privacy; but I can, if I wish, install webcamsin every room of my house and leave them on 24/7. No one who looks atthe resulting images on my Web site violates my right to privacy, becauseI have waived the right. Similarly, to say that I have a right to life is notto say that it would be wrong for my doctor to end my life, if I choose towaive my right to life.

Lastly, the principle of respect for autonomy tells us to allow rationalagents to live their own lives according to their own autonomousdecisions, free from coercion or interference; but if rational agentsshould autonomously choose to die, then respect for autonomy will leadus to assist them to do as they choose.

So, although there are reasons for thinking that killing a self-awarebeing is normally worse than killing any other kind of being, in the special

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case of voluntary euthanasia most of these reasons count for euthanasiarather than against it. Surprising as this result might at first seem, it reallydoes no more than reflect the fact that what is special about self-awarebeings is that they can know that they exist over time and will, unlessthey die, continue to exist. Normally this continued existence is ferventlydesired, but when the foreseeable continued existence is dreaded ratherthan desired, the wish to die may take the place of the normal wish tolive, reversing the reasons against killing. Thus, the case for voluntaryeuthanasia is arguably much stronger than the case for nonvoluntaryeuthanasia.

Some opponents of the legalization of voluntary euthanasia mightconcede that all this follows, if we have a genuinely free and rationaldecision to die; but, they add, we can never be sure that a request to bekilled is the result of a free and rational decision. Will not the sick andelderly be pressured by their relatives to end their lives quickly? Will itnot be possible to commit outright murder by pretending that a personhas requested euthanasia? Even if there is no pressure or falsification,can anyone who is ill, suffering pain, and very probably in a drugged andconfused state of mind make a rational decision about whether to liveor die?

We now have a growing body of experience with the legalization ofvoluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, and that provides abasis for responding to these concerns. Although the Dutch parliamentdid not legalize euthanasia until 2002, this followed almost two decadesduring which Dutch physicians could be sure that they would not be pro-secuted for carrying out euthanasia, as long as they followed guidelinesdeveloped by the courts in a series of cases in which physicians had beencharged with euthanasia and acquitted. When euthanasia was legalized,similar conditions became part of the law. In the Netherlands, euthanasiais lawful only if:

� it is carried out by a physician;� the patient has explicitly requested euthanasia in a manner that leaves

no doubt that the patient’s desire to die is voluntary, well-informedand well-considered;

� the patient has a condition causing protracted physical or mentalsuffering which the patient finds unbearable;

� there is no reasonable alternative (reasonable from the patient’s pointof view) to alleviate the patient’s suffering; and

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� the doctor has consulted another independent professional whoagrees with his or her judgment.

These guidelines make murder in the guise of euthanasia very difficultto carry out, and there has been no suggestion that this is occurring inthe Netherlands. Since the law was passed, governments of differentpolitical complexions have held power, with the Christian Democratstaking the leading role in successive coalition governments. Nevertheless,there has been no move to repeal the legalization of euthanasia. It is nota coincidence that the next nations to legalize euthanasia, Belgium andLuxembourg, are neighbours of the Netherlands and that their laws aresimilar to the Dutch law. The majority of Belgians, in particular, arewell-placed to observe the practice of euthanasia in the Netherlands,because they speak Dutch. It is implausible that these countries wouldhave legalized euthanasia if there were clear evidence of serious abusesin the Netherlands.

Similarly, Oregon legalized physician-assisted suicide in 1997, so thereis now considerable experience of that practice in one part of the UnitedStates. There has been no evidence of any abuse of the law. Once again,a neighbour has observed and then followed. At the elections held in2008, the voters of Washington passed a law very similar to Oregon’s.

Another common objection to euthanasia is that doctors can be mis-taken. In rare instances, patients diagnosed by two competent doctors assuffering from an incurable condition have survived and enjoyed years ofgood health. Possibly the legalization of voluntary euthanasia would, overthe years, mean the deaths of one or two people who would otherwisehave recovered from their immediate illness and lived for some extrayears. This is not, however, the knockdown argument against euthanasiathat some imagine it to be. Against a very small number of unnecessarydeaths that might occur if euthanasia is legalized we must place the verylarge amount of pain and distress that will be suffered quite pointlessly,by patients who really are terminally ill, if euthanasia is not legalized.Longer life is not such a supreme good that it outweighs all other consid-erations. (If it were, there would be many more effective ways of savinglife – such as a ban on smoking or a reduction of speed limits to tenkilometres per hour, not to mention the issue of foreign aid that is thetopic of the next chapter.) The possibility that two doctors may make amistake means that the person who opts for euthanasia is deciding onthe balance of probabilities and giving up an extremely small chance ofsurvival in order to avoid suffering that is overwhelmingly likely to end

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in death. This may be a perfectly rational choice. Probability is the guideof life, and of death too.

Against this, some will reply that improved care for the terminally illhas eliminated pain and made voluntary euthanasia unnecessary. But itis not only physical pain that makes people wish to die: they may sufferfrom bones so fragile they fracture at sudden movements, uncontrollablenausea and vomiting, slow starvation due to a cancerous growth, inabilityto control one’s bowels or bladder, difficulty in breathing and so on.These symptoms often cannot be eliminated, at least not without keepingthe patient unconscious all the time.

Dr. Timothy Quill from Rochester, New York, has described how heprescribed barbiturate sleeping pills for ‘Diane’, a patient with a severeform of leukaemia, knowing that she wanted the tablets in order to beable to end her life. Dr. Quill had known Diane for many years andadmired her courage in dealing with previous serious illnesses. In anarticle in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Quill wrote:

It was extraordinarily important to Diane to maintain control of herself and herown dignity during the time remaining to her. When this was no longer possible,she clearly wanted to die. As a former director of a hospice program, I knowhow to use pain medicines to keep patients comfortable and lessen suffering. Iexplained the philosophy of comfort care, which I strongly believe in. AlthoughDiane understood and appreciated this, she had known of people lingering inwhat was called relative comfort, and she wanted no part of it. When the timecame, she wanted to take her life in the least painful way possible. Knowing of herdesire for independence and her decision to stay in control, I thought this requestmade perfect sense . . . In our discussion it became clear that preoccupation withher fear of a lingering death would interfere with Diane’s getting the most outof the time she had left until she found a safe way to ensure her death.

Not all dying patients who wish to die are fortunate enough to have adoctor like Timothy Quill. Betty Rollin has described, in her movingbook Last Wish, how her mother developed ovarian cancer that spreadto other parts of her body. One morning her mother said to her:

I’ve had a wonderful life, but now it’s over, or it should be. I’m not afraid todie, but I am afraid of this illness, what it’s doing to me . . . There’s never anyrelief from it now. Nothing but nausea and this pain . . . There won’t be any morechemotherapy. There’s no treatment anymore. So what happens to me now? Iknow what happens. I’ll die slowly . . . I don’t want that . . . Who does it benefitif I die slowly? If it benefits my children I’d be willing. But it’s not going to doyou any good. . . . There’s no point in a slow death, none. I’ve never liked doingthings with no point. I’ve got to end this.

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Betty Rollin found it very difficult to help her mother to carry out herdesire: ‘Physician after physician turned down our pleas for help (Howmany pills? What kind?).’ After her book about her mother’s death waspublished, she received hundreds of letters, many from people, or closerelatives of people, who had tried to die, failed, and suffered even more.Many of these people were denied help from doctors, because althoughsuicide is legal in most jurisdictions, assisted suicide is not.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a Michigan pathologist, sought to help peoplewho want to die but cannot get assistance from their own doctor. Initially,he helped people to die with a ‘suicide machine’ consisting of a metalpole with three different bottles attached to a tube of the kind used toprovide an intravenous drip. He would insert the tube in the patient’svein, but with the switch set so that only a harmless saline solution canpass through it. The patient could then flip a switch allowing a coma-inducing drug to come through the tube; this was automatically followedby a lethal drug contained in the third bottle. Dr. Kevorkian announcedthat he was prepared to make the machine available to any terminally illpatient who wished to use it. In June 1990, Janet Adkins, who was suf-fering from Alzheimer’s disease but still competent to make the decisionto end her life, contacted Dr. Kevorkian and told him of her wish to dierather than go through the slow and progressive deterioration that thedisease involves. Dr. Kevorkian was in attendance while she made use ofhis machine. He then reported Janet Adkins’ death to the police. He wassubsequently charged with murder, but the judge refused to allow thecharge to proceed to trial, on the grounds that Janet Adkins had causedher own death. During the next eight years, Dr. Kevorkian assisted manyother people to die. He was repeatedly charged with assisting suicide, butno jury convicted him of that offence. When his licence to practise medi-cine was withdrawn, and he was no longer able to obtain the lethal drughe had been using, he altered the ‘suicide machine’ so that it releasedcarbon monoxide, through a gas mask, to the patient. Finally in 1998,Kevorkian decided to help Thomas Youk, who was dying from ALS, alsoknown as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and had asked Kevorkian to end his life.Those suffering from ALS lose control of their muscles, and so as theinevitable end approaches, they are unable to flip switches or take drugs.Kevorkian crossed the line from assisted suicide to voluntary euthanasiaby giving Youk a lethal injection. Moreover, in a clear challenge to thelegal authorities, he released a video taken while he was giving the injec-tion. This time, a jury convicted him of second-degree homicide, and heserved eight years in prison before being released on parole.

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Philip Nitschke prefers to work at the edge of the law rather thanto challenge it directly. Nitschke was practicing medicine in Australia’sNorthern Territory when that region legalized voluntary euthanasia.Nitschke helped four terminally ill people end their lives before thelaw was overturned by the Federal government in 1997. Convinced thatpeople have a right to end their own lives if they choose to do so, hefounded Exit International, an organization that runs workshops in Aus-tralia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States advisingpeople on how to end their lives reliably and safely. He has co-authoredThe Peaceful Pill Handbook to provide the same knowledge to those whocannot attend the workshops. The hard copy version of the book hasbeen banned in Australia, but is available in the United States, andNitschke has made an electronic version available online (although itis an offense to download it in Australia). Whatever one thinks about theethics of voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, whethersuch information should be publicly available is itself an ethical ques-tion, given the possibility of misuse by those who are not terminally orincurably ill. Many advocates of the legalization of voluntary euthanasiaand physician-assisted suicide are themselves against publishing ‘do ityourself’ guides to dying, arguing that laws restricting aid in dying todoctors provide important safeguards. Nitschke might agree that thiswould be desirable, but consider that because there are still few coun-tries in which either voluntary euthanasia or physician-assisted suicideis legal, the importance of helping those who have good reason to endtheir lives outweighs the small risk of misuse.

Does the idea of giving everyone access to a ‘peaceful pill’ perhapsgive too much weight to individual freedom and autonomy? After all,we do not allow people free choices on matters like, for instance, thetaking of heroin. This is a restriction of freedom but, in the view of many,one that can be justified on paternalistic grounds. If preventing peoplebecoming heroin addicts is justifiable paternalism, why isn’t preventingpeople having themselves killed?

The question is a reasonable one, because respect for individual free-dom can be carried too far. John Stuart Mill thought that the state shouldnever interfere with the individual except to prevent harm to others. Theindividual’s own good, Mill thought, is not a proper reason for state inter-vention. But Mill may have had too high an opinion of the rationality ofmost human beings. It may occasionally be right to prevent people mak-ing choices that are obviously not rationally based and which we can besure they will later regret. The prohibition of voluntary euthanasia cannot

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be justified on paternalistic grounds, however, for voluntary euthanasiais an act for which good reasons exist. Voluntary euthanasia occurs onlywhen, to the best of medical knowledge, a person is suffering from anincurable and painful or extremely distressing condition. In these cir-cumstances one cannot say that to choose to die quickly is obviouslyirrational. The strength of the case for voluntary euthanasia lies in thiscombination of respect for the preferences, or autonomy, of those whodecide for euthanasia; and the clear rational basis of the decision itself.When information about ending one’s life is made easily available, peoplemay decide to end their lives without such a clear rational basis. Legal,regulated voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide have farless potential for abuse, and when they are available, there is no need tomake it easy for people to find out how to kill themselves.

not justifying involuntary euthanasia

Involuntary euthanasia resembles voluntary euthanasia in that it involvesthe killing of those capable of consenting to their own death. It differs inthat they do not consent. This difference is crucial, as the argument of thepreceding section shows. All the four reasons against killing self-awarebeings apply when the person killed does not choose to die.

Something very like involuntary euthanasia appears to have takenplace in a hospital in New Orleans during the floods caused by HurricaneKatrina in 2005. Memorial Medical Center, a community hospital thatwas holding more than 200 patients at the time, was cut off by the risingwater. Three days after the hurricane hit, the hospital had no electricity,the water supply had failed, and toilets could no longer be flushed. Somepatients who were dependent on ventilators died. In stifling heat, doctorsand nurses were hard-pressed to care for surviving patients lying on soiledbeds. Adding to the anxiety were fears that law and order had brokendown in the city, and the hospital itself might be a target for armedbandits.

Helicopters were called in to evacuate patients. Priority was given tothose who were in better health, and could walk. State police arrived andtold staff that because of the civil unrest, everybody had to be out of thehospital by 5 p.m.

On the eighth floor, Jannie Burgess, a 79-year-old woman withadvanced cancer, was on a morphine drip and close to death. To evacu-ate her, she would have to be carried down six flights of stairs and wouldrequire the attention of nurses who were needed elsewhere. If she were

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left unattended, however, she might come out of her sedation and bein pain. One of the physicians present instructed the nurse to increasethe morphine ‘giving her enough until she goes’. Another physician toldnursing staff that several patients on the seventh floor were also too ill tosurvive. She injected them with morphine and another drug that slowedtheir breathing until they died.

At least one of the patients injected with this lethal combination ofdrugs appears to have otherwise been in little danger of imminent death.Emmett Everett was a 61-year-old man who had been paralysed in anaccident several years earlier and was in the hospital for surgery to relievea bowel obstruction. When others from his ward were evacuated, he askednot to be left behind; but he weighed 380 lbs (172 kg), and it would havebeen extremely difficult to carry him down the stairs and then up againto where the helicopters were landing. He was told the injection he wasbeing given would help with the dizziness from which he suffered.

Whether any of these killings can be justified in these circumstancesis debatable, but the killing of Emmett Everett, in my view, cannot be.Significantly, the physicians’ actions were not the result of a slippery slopefrom the acceptance of voluntary euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide,for those practices have always been illegal in Louisiana. Rather, fromwhat the physicians told Sheri Fink, on whose The New York Times reportthe previous account is based, the physicians saw what they were doingas an application of the doctrine of double effect, on which physicianscommonly draw when giving morphine to relieve pain in a terminallyill patient, though they know it will shorten life. We shall discuss thatdoctrine shortly.

Would it ever be possible to justify involuntary euthanasia on pater-nalistic grounds, to save someone extreme agony? We can imagine a casein which the agony is so great, and so certain, that it overrides all fourreasons against killing self-aware beings. Yet to make this decision onewould have to be confident that one can judge when a person’s life is sobad as to be not worth living – and that one is in a better position to makethat judgment than the person herself. But the fact that the other personwishes to go on living is good evidence that her life is worth living. Whatbetter evidence could there be?

The only kind of case in which the paternalistic argument is at allplausible is one in which the person to be killed does not realize whatagony she will suffer in the future, and if she is not killed now she willhave to live through to the very end. On these grounds, one might killa person who has – though she does not yet realize it – fallen into the

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hands of homicidal sadists who will torture her to death. These cases are,fortunately, more commonly encountered in fiction than reality.

Here, the distinction between critical and intuitive levels of moralreasoning (see pp. 78–80, Chapter 4) is again relevant. If in real life weare unlikely ever to encounter a case of justifiable involuntary euthanasia,then it may be best to dismiss from our minds the fanciful cases in whichone might imagine defending it and treat the rule against involuntaryeuthanasia as, for all practical purposes, absolute. At the intuitive level,the level of moral reasoning we apply in our daily lives, we can simply saythat euthanasia is only justifiable if those killed either:

a. lack the ability to consent to death, because they lack the capacityto understand the choice between their own continued existenceor non-existence; or

b. have the capacity to choose between their own continued life anddeath and have made an informed, voluntary and settled decisionto die.

active and passive euthanasia

The conclusions we have reached in this chapter violate one of the mostfundamental tenets of Western ethics – that killing an innocent humanbeing is always wrong. I have already shown that my conclusions are, atleast in the area of disabled infants, a less radical departure from existingpractice than one might suppose because of the widespread support forprenatal diagnosis and abortion of a pregnancy that will lead to a disabledchild. In this section, I shall argue that there is another area of acceptedmedical practice that is not intrinsically different from the practices thatI advocate. Against this background, the conclusions we have reachedmay seem less shocking than they otherwise would.

‘Baby Doe’ – a legal pseudonym – was born in Bloomington, Indiana,in 1982, with Down syndrome and some additional problems, includingan improperly formed oesophagus – the passage from the mouth to thestomach. This meant that Baby Doe could not receive nourishment bymouth. Surgery to fix the problem was offered, but the parents, afterdiscussing the situation with their obstetrician, refused. Without surgery,Baby Doe would soon die. Baby Doe’s father later said that as a school-teacher he had worked closely with Down syndrome children, and thathe and his wife had decided that it was in the best interests of Baby Doe,and of their family as a whole (they had two other children), to refuse

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consent for the operation. The hospital authorities, uncertain of theirlegal position, took the matter to court. Both the local county court andthe Indiana State Supreme Court upheld the parents’ right to refuseconsent to surgery. The case attracted national media attention, and anattempt was made to take it to the United States Supreme Court; butbefore this could happen, Baby Doe died.

One result of the Baby Doe case was that the United States govern-ment, headed at the time by President Ronald Reagan, issued regulationsdirecting that all infants are to be given necessary life-saving treatment,irrespective of disability. But the new regulations were strongly resisted bythe American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediat-rics. In court hearings on the regulations, even Dr. C. Everett Koop,Reagan’s surgeon general and the driving force behind the attemptto ensure that all infants should be treated, had to admit that therewere some cases in which he would not provide life-sustaining treatment.Dr. Koop mentioned three conditions in which, he said, life-sustainingtreatment was not appropriate: anencephalic infants (infants bornwithout a brain); infants who had, usually as a result of extreme prema-turity, suffered such severe bleeding in the brain that they would neverbe able to breathe without a respirator and would never be able evento recognize another person; and infants lacking a major part of theirdigestive tract, who could only be kept alive by means of a drip providingnourishment directly into the bloodstream.

The regulations were eventually accepted only in a watered-downform, allowing some flexibility to doctors. Even so, a subsequent surveyof American paediatricians specialising in the care of newborn infantsshowed that 76 percent thought that the regulations were not necessary,66 percent considered the regulations interfered with parents’ rights todetermine what course of action was in the best interests of their chil-dren, and 60 percent believed that the regulations did not allow adequateconsideration of infants’ suffering.

In a series of British cases, the courts have accepted the view that thequality of a child’s life is a relevant consideration in deciding whetherlife-sustaining treatment should be provided. In a case called In re B,concerning a baby like Baby Doe, with Down syndrome and an intestinalobstruction, the court said that surgery should be carried out, becausethe infant’s life would not be ‘demonstrably awful’. In another case,Re C, where the baby had a poorly formed brain combined with severephysical handicaps, the court authorised the paediatric team to refrainfrom giving life-prolonging treatment. This was also the course taken in

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the case of Re Baby J; this infant was born extremely prematurely and wasblind, deaf and would probably never have been able to speak.

A survey of European physicians working in neonatal intensive careunits in France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain,Sweden and the United Kingdom showed that in all these countries, amajority had set limits to the intensive care given to an infant because ithad an incurable condition. They had, for example, withheld resuscita-tion after a baby’s heart had stopped or not put the baby on a respirator.Thus, though many would disagree with Baby Doe’s parents’ decision(because people with Down syndrome can live enjoyable lives and areoften warm and loving individuals), virtually everyone recognizes that inmore severe conditions, allowing an infant to die is the only humane andethically acceptable course to take. The question is: if it is right to allowinfants to die, why is it wrong to kill them?

This question has not escaped the notice of the doctors involved.Frequently, they answer it by invoking a verse by the nineteenth-centurypoet, Arthur Clough:

Thou shalt not kill; but need’st not striveOfficiously to keep alive.

Unfortunately for those who appeal to Clough’s immortal lines as anauthoritative ethical pronouncement, they come from a biting satire –‘The Latest Decalogue’ – the intent of which is to mock the attitudesdescribed. The opening lines, for example, are:

Thou shalt have one god only; whoWould be at the expense of two.No graven images may beWorshipped except the currency.

So Clough cannot be numbered on the side of those who think it wrongto kill, but right not to try too hard to keep alive. Is there, nonetheless,something to be said for this idea? The view that there is somethingto be said for it is often termed ‘the acts and omissions doctrine’. Itholds that there is an important moral distinction between performingan act that has certain consequences – say, the death of a disabled child –and omitting to do something that has the same consequences. If thisdoctrine is correct, the doctor who gives the child a lethal injection doeswrong; the doctor who omits to give the child antibiotics, knowing fullwell that without antibiotics the child will die, does not.

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What grounds are there for accepting the acts and omissions doctrine?Few champion the doctrine for its own sake as an important ethical firstprinciple. It is, rather, an implication of one view of ethics, of a view thatholds that so long as we do not violate specified moral rules that placedeterminate moral obligations on us, we do all that morality demands ofus. These rules are of the kind made familiar by the Ten Commandmentsand similar moral codes: ‘Do not kill’, ‘Do not lie’, ‘Do not steal’ andso on. Characteristically they are formulated in the negative, so that toobey them it is necessary only to abstain from the actions they prohibit.Hence, obedience can be demanded of every member of the community.

An ethic consisting of specific duties, prescribed by moral rules thateveryone can be expected to obey, must make a sharp moral distinctionbetween acts and omissions. Take, for example, the rule: ‘Do not kill.’If this rule is interpreted, as it has been in the Western tradition, asprohibiting only the taking of innocent human life, it is not too difficultto avoid overt acts in violation of it. Few of us are murderers. It is notso easy to avoid letting innocent humans die. Many people die becauseof insufficient food or poor medical facilities. If we could assist some ofthem but do not do so, we are letting them die. Taking the rule againstkilling to apply to omissions would make living in accordance with it amark of saintliness or moral heroism rather than a minimum requiredof every morally decent person.

An ethic that judges acts according to whether they do or do notviolate specific moral rules must, therefore, place moral weight on thedistinction between acts and omissions. An ethic that judges acts by theirconsequences will not do so, for the consequences of an act and anomission will often be, in all significant respects, indistinguishable. Forinstance, deciding not to put a premature infant who cannot breatheunaided on a respirator has consequences just as fatal as giving the childa lethal injection.

The acts and omissions issue poses the choice between these two basicapproaches in an unusually clear and direct way. What we need to dois imagine two parallel situations differing only in that in one a personperforms an act resulting in the death of another human being, whereasin the other she omits to do something, with the same result. Here is adescription of a relatively common situation, taken from an essay by SirGustav Nossal, an eminent Australian medical researcher:

An old lady of 83 has been admitted [to a nursing home for the aged] becauseher increasing degree of mental confusion has made it impossible for her to stay

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in her own home, and there is no one willing and able to look after her. Overthree years, her condition deteriorates. She loses the ability to speak, requiresto be fed, and becomes incontinent. Finally, she cannot sit in an armchair anylonger, and is confined permanently to bed. One day, she contracts pneumonia.

In a patient who was enjoying a reasonable quality of life, pneumoniawould be routinely treated with antibiotics. Should this patient be givenantibiotics? Nossal continues:

The relatives are contacted, and the matron of the nursing home tells them thatshe and the doctor she uses most frequently have worked out a loose arrangementfor cases of this type. With advanced senile dementia, they treat the first threeinfections with antibiotics, and after that, mindful of the adage that ‘pneumoniais the old person’s friend’, they let nature take its course. The matron emphasisesthat if the relatives desire, all infections can be vigorously treated. The relativesagree with the rule of thumb. The patient dies of a urinary tract infection sixmonths later.

This patient died when she did as a result of a deliberate omission.Many people would think that this omission was well-justified. They mightquestion whether it would not have been better to omit treatment evenfor the initial occurrence of pneumonia. There is, after all, no moralmagic about the number three. Would it also have been justifiable, atthe time when a decision not to give an antibiotic was taken, to give aninjection that would bring about the patient’s death in a peaceful way?

Comparing these two possible ways of bringing about a patient’s deathat a particular time, is it reasonable to hold that the doctor who givesthe injection is a murderer who deserves to go to jail, whereas the doctorwho decides not to administer antibiotics is practising good and compas-sionate medicine? That may be what courts of law would say, but surelyit is an untenable distinction. In both cases, the outcome is the death ofthe patient. In both cases, the doctor knows that this will be the resultand decides what she will do on the basis of this knowledge, becauseshe judges this result to be better than the alternative. In both cases, thedoctor must take responsibility for her decision – it would not be correctfor the doctor who decided not to provide antibiotics to say that she wasnot responsible for the patient’s death because she did nothing. Doingnothing in this situation is itself a deliberate choice, and one cannotescape responsibility for its consequences.

One might say, of course, that the doctor who withholds antibioticsdoes not kill the patient, she merely allows the patient to die; but onemust then answer the further question why killing is always wrong and

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letting die is sometimes right. The answer that most advocates of the dis-tinction give is simply that there is a moral rule against killing innocenthuman beings and none against allowing them to die. This answer treatsa conventionally accepted moral rule as if it were beyond questioning;it does not go on to ask whether we should have a moral rule againstkilling (but not against allowing to die). We have already seen that theconventionally accepted principle of the sanctity of human life is unten-able. The moral rules that prohibit killing but accept ‘letting die’ cannotbe taken for granted either.

Reflecting on these cases leads us to the conclusion that there is nointrinsic moral difference between killing and allowing to die. That is,there is no difference which depends solely on the distinction betweenan act and an omission. (This does not mean that all cases of allowing todie are morally equivalent to killing. Other factors – extrinsic factors –will sometimes be relevant. This will be discussed further in the nextchapter.) Allowing to die – sometimes called ‘passive euthanasia’ – isalready accepted as a humane and proper course of action in certaincases. If there is no intrinsic moral difference between killing and allow-ing to die, active euthanasia should also be accepted as humane andproper in certain circumstances.

Others have suggested that the difference between withholding treat-ment necessary to prolong life and giving a lethal injection lies in theintention with which the two are done. Those who take this view resortto the ‘doctrine of double effect’, a doctrine widely held among RomanCatholic moral theologians and moral philosophers, to argue that oneaction (for example, refraining from life-sustaining treatment) may havetwo effects (in this case, not causing additional suffering to the patientand shortening the patient’s life). They then argue that as long as thedirectly intended effect is the beneficial one that does not violate an abso-lute moral rule, the action is permissible. Though we foresee that ouraction (or omission) will result in the death of the patient, this is merelyan unwanted side effect. But the distinction between directly intendedeffect and side effect is a contrived one, and the doctrine can easily bemisused, as we have seen in the case of Memorial Medical Center in NewOrleans after Hurricane Katrina. We cannot avoid responsibility simplyby directing our intention to one effect rather than another. If we fore-see both effects, we must take responsibility for the foreseen effects ofwhat we do. We often want to do something but cannot do it becauseof its other, unwanted consequences. For example, a chemical companymight want to get rid of toxic waste in the most economical manner, by

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dumping it in the nearest river. Would we allow the executives of thecompany to say that all they directly intended was to improve the effi-ciency of the factory, thus promoting employment and keeping downthe cost of living? Would we regard the pollution as excusable becauseit is merely an unwanted side effect of furthering these worthy object-ives? Obviously, the defenders of the doctrine of double effect would notaccept such an excuse. In rejecting it, however, they would have to relyon a judgment that the cost – the polluted river – is disproportionate tothe gains. Here, a consequentialist judgment lurks behind the doctrineof double effect. The same is true when the doctrine is used in medicalcare. Normally, saving life takes precedence over relieving pain. If inthe case of a particular patient it does not, this can only be because wehave judged that the patient’s prospects for a future life of acceptablequality are so poor that in this case relieving suffering can take preced-ence. This is, in other words, not a decision based on acceptance of thesanctity of human life, but a decision based on a disguised quality of lifejudgment.

Equally unsatisfactory is the common appeal to a distinction between‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’ means of treatment, coupled with thebelief that it is not obligatory to provide extraordinary means. Togetherwith my colleague, Helga Kuhse, I carried out a survey of paediatriciansand obstetricians in Australia and found that they had remarkable ideasabout what constituted ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’ means. Some eventhought that the use of antibiotics – the cheapest, simplest and mostcommon medical procedure – could be extraordinary. The reason forthis range of views is easy to find. When one looks at the justificationsgiven by moral theologians and philosophers for the distinction, it turnsout that what is ‘ordinary’ in one situation can become ‘extraordinary’in another. For example, in the landmark case of Karen Ann Quinlan, ayoung New Jersey woman who was in a coma, breathing with the aid ofa respirator and considered to have no prospect of recovery, a RomanCatholic bishop testified that the use of a respirator was ‘extraordinary’and hence optional because Quinlan had no hope of recovery fromthe coma. Obviously, if doctors had thought that Quinlan was likely torecover, the use of the respirator would not have been optional andwould have been declared ‘ordinary’. On the other hand, when the res-pirator was removed and Quinlan, to most people’s surprise, continuedto breathe on her own, her parents, who were Roman Catholics, did notseek the removal of her feeding tube. Quinlan survived for another nineyears but never recovered from her coma.

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In 2004, during the controversy over Terri Schiavo, Pope John Paul IIstated firmly that a feeding tube must not be withdrawn from people ina vegetative state, saying that ‘the administration of water and food, evenwhen provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means ofpreserving life, not a medical act’. It is hard to see how the use of a feedingtube is not a medical act – inserting one is not something that peoplewithout health care training can do. Is there really a significant moraldifference between withdrawing a respirator and withdrawing a feedingtube? The patient’s prospects of at least a minimal quality of life (and,where resources are limited and could be used more effectively to savelives elsewhere, the cost of the treatment) should determine whether agiven form of treatment is to be provided or not.

Indeed, because of extrinsic differences – especially differences inthe time it takes for death to occur – active euthanasia may be the morehumane course. In the 1970s, Dr. John Lorber, a British physician, recom-mended that infants born with the most severe form of spina bifida – thena relatively common birth defect in which the baby has a wound on theback exposing the nerves – should be allowed to die, because he con-sidered that their prospects of a worthwhile life were poor. Lorber openlyacknowledged that the object of not treating these infants is that theyshould die soon and painlessly. Yet when he charted the fate of twenty-fiveinfants born with spina bifida on whom it had been decided not to oper-ate, he found that fourteen were still alive after one month and sevenafter three months. An Australian clinic following Lorber’s approach tospina bifida found that of seventy-nine untreated infants, five survivedfor more than two years. For both the infants, and their families, thismust have been a long, drawn-out ordeal. It is also (although in a soci-ety with a reasonable level of affluence this should not be the primaryconsideration) a considerable burden on the hospital staff and the com-munity’s medical resources. (Today, far fewer babies are born with spinabifida, partly because of the discovery that taking folic acid early in preg-nancy reduces the incidence of the condition and partly because spinabifida can now be detected during pregnancy and most fetuses with thecondition are aborted.)

Consider, to take another example, infants born with Down syndromeand a blockage in the digestive system which, if not removed, will makeit impossible for the baby to eat. Like ‘Baby Doe’, these infants may beallowed to die. Yet the blockage can be removed and has nothing to dowith the degree of intellectual disability the child will have. Moreover,the death resulting from the failure to operate in these circumstances is,

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though sure, neither swift nor painless. The infant dies from dehydrationor hunger. Baby Doe took about five days to die, and in other recordedinstances of this practice, it has taken up to two weeks for death tocome.

It is interesting, in this context, to think again of our earlier argumentthat membership of the species Homo sapiens does not entitle a being tobetter treatment than a being at a similar mental level who is a memberof a different species. We could also have said – except that it seemed tooobvious to need saying – that membership of the species Homo sapiensis not a reason for giving a being worse treatment than a member ofa different species. Yet in respect of euthanasia, this needs to be said.If your dog is ill and in pain with no chance of recovery, the humanething to do is take her to the vet, who will end her suffering swiftlywith a lethal injection. To ‘allow nature to take its course’, withholdingtreatment while your dog dies slowly and in distress over days, weeks ormonths, would obviously be wrong. It is only our misplaced respect forthe doctrine of the sanctity of human life that prevents us from seeingthat what it is obviously wrong to do to a dog, it is equally wrong to doto a human being who has never been able to express a view about suchmatters.

To summarize: passive ways of ending life result in a drawn-out death.They introduce irrelevant factors (a blockage in the intestine or thepresence of an easily curable infection) into the selection of those whoshall die. If we are able to admit that our objective is a swift and painlessdeath, we should not leave it up to chance to determine whether thisobjective is achieved. Having chosen death, we should ensure that itcomes in the best possible way.

the slippery slope: from euthanasia to genocide?

Before we leave this topic, we must consider an objection that looms solarge in the anti-euthanasia literature that it merits a section to itself. It is,for instance, the reason why Dr. John Lorber rejected active euthanasia.He wrote:

I wholly disagree with euthanasia. Though it is fully logical, and in expert andconscientious hands it could be the most humane way of dealing with such asituation, legalizing euthanasia would be a most dangerous weapon in the handsof the State or ignorant or unscrupulous individuals. One does not have to gofar back in history to know what crimes can be committed if euthanasia werelegalized.

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Would euthanasia be the first step down a slippery slope? In the absenceof prominent moral footholds to check our descent, would we slideall the way down into the abyss of state terror and mass murder? Theexperience of Nazism, to which Lorber no doubt is referring, has oftenbeen invoked as a spectre to warn us against euthanasia. Here is a morespecific example, from an article by another doctor, Leo Alexander:

Whatever proportions [Nazi] crimes finally assumed, it became evident to all whoinvestigated them that they had started from small beginnings. The beginnings atfirst were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitude of the physicians.It started with the acceptance of the attitude, basic in the euthanasia movement,that there is such a thing as life not worthy to be lived. This attitude in its earlystages concerned itself merely with the severely and chronically sick. Graduallythe sphere of those to be included in the category was enlarged to encompassthe socially unproductive, the ideologically unwanted, the racially unwanted andfinally all non-Germans. But it is important to realize that the infinitely smallwedged-in lever from which this entire trend of mind received its impetus wasthe attitude toward the nonrehabilitable sick.

Alexander singles out the Nazis’ so-called euthanasia program as the rootof all the horrendous crimes the Nazis later committed, because that pro-gram implied ‘that there is such a thing as life not worthy to be lived’.Lorber could hardly agree with Alexander on this, because his recom-mended procedure of not treating infants with the worst form of spinabifida is based on exactly this judgment. Although people sometimes talkas if we should never judge a human life to be not worth living, thereare times when such a judgment is obviously correct. A life of physicalsuffering, unredeemed by any form of pleasure or by a minimal levelof self-awareness, is not worth living. As we have already noted, life withTay-Sachs disease is a plausible example of a life not worth living. Surveysundertaken by health care economists in which people are asked howmuch they value being alive in certain states of health, regularly find thatpeople give some states a negative value – that is, they indicate that theywould prefer to be dead than to survive in that condition. Apparently,the life of the elderly woman described by Sir Gustav Nossal was, in theopinion of the matron of the nursing home, the doctor, and the relatives,not worth living. If we can set criteria for deciding who is to be allowedto die and who is to be given treatment, then why should it be wrongto set criteria, perhaps the same criteria, for deciding who should bekilled?

So it is not the attitude that some lives are not worth living that marksout the Nazis from normal people who do not commit mass murder. What

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then is it? Is it that they went beyond passive euthanasia and practisedactive euthanasia? Many, like Lorber, worry about the power that a pro-gram of active euthanasia could place in the hands of an unscrupulousgovernment. This worry is not negligible but should not be exagger-ated. Unscrupulous governments already have within their power moreplausible means of getting rid of their opponents than euthanasia admin-istered by doctors on medical grounds. ‘Suicides’ can be arranged. ‘Acci-dents’ can occur. If necessary, assassins can be hired, and their crimesblamed on others. Our best defence against such possibilities is to doeverything possible to keep our government democratic, open, and inthe hands of people who would not seriously wish to kill their opponents.Once the wish is serious enough, governments will find a way, whethereuthanasia is legal or not.

In fact, the Nazis did not have a euthanasia program, in the propersense of the word. Their so-called euthanasia program was not motiv-ated by concern for the suffering of those killed. If it had been, theywould not have kept their operations secret, deceived relatives about thecause of death of those killed, or exempted from the program certainprivileged classes, such as veterans of the armed services or relatives ofthe euthanasia staff. Nazi ‘euthanasia’ was never voluntary and often wasinvoluntary rather than nonvoluntary. ‘Doing away with useless mouths’– a phrase used by those in charge – gives a better idea of the object-ives of the program than ‘mercy-killing’. Both racial origin and abilityto work were among the factors considered in the selection of patientsto be killed. It was the Nazi belief in the importance of maintaininga pure Aryan Volk – a quasi-mystical racist concept that was thoughtof as more important than mere individuals’ lives – that made boththe so-called euthanasia program and later the entire holocaust pos-sible. Proposals for the legalization of euthanasia, on the other hand,are based on respect for autonomy and the goal of avoiding pointlesssuffering.

Hence, there is little prospect that legalizing euthanasia will lead us toslide into the abyss of Nazi-style atrocities. It could still be argued that nomatter how arbitrary the distinctions between human and nonhuman,fetus and infant, and killing and allowing to die, may be, the rule thatit is always wrong to kill an innocent human being at least marks aworkable line. The distinction between an infant whose life may be worthliving and one whose life definitely is not is much more difficult to draw.Perhaps people who see that some kinds of human beings may be killed

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in certain circumstances are more likely to conclude that it is not wrongto kill others not very different from the first kind. So will the boundaryof acceptable killing be pushed gradually back? In the absence of anylogical stopping place, will the outcome be the loss of all respect forhuman life?

If our laws were altered so that anyone could carry out an act ofeuthanasia, the absence of a clear line between those who might justifiablybe killed and those who might not would pose a real danger; but thatis not what advocates of euthanasia propose. If acts of euthanasia canonly be carried out by a member of the medical profession, with theconcurrence of a second doctor, it is not likely that the propensity to killwould spread unchecked throughout the community. Doctors alreadyhave a good deal of power over life and death through their ability towithhold treatment. There has been no suggestion that doctors whobegin by allowing severely disabled infants to die from pneumonia willmove on to withhold antibiotics from political extremists or patients whobelong to a racial minority. In fact, legalizing euthanasia might well actas a check on the power of doctors because it would bring what somedoctors do now, on their own initiative and in secret, into the open andunder the scrutiny of another doctor.

There is, anyway, little historical evidence to suggest that a permissiveattitude towards the killing of one category of human beings leads to abreakdown of restrictions against killing other humans. Ancient Greeksregularly killed or exposed infants but appear to have been at least asscrupulous about taking the lives of their fellow citizens as medievalChristians or modern Americans. In traditional Eskimo societies, it wasthe custom for a man to kill his elderly parents, but the murder of anormal healthy adult was almost unheard of. I mention these practices,not to suggest that they should be imitated, but only to indicate that linescan be drawn at places other than where we now draw them. If thesesocieties could separate human beings into different categories withouttransferring their attitudes from one group to another, we with our moresophisticated legal systems and greater medical knowledge should beable to do the same.

All of this is not to deny that departing from the traditional sanc-tity of life ethic carries with it a small but nevertheless finite risk ofunwanted consequences. Against this risk we must balance the tangibleharm to which the traditional ethic gives rise – harm to those whosemisery is needlessly prolonged. We must also ask if the widespread

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acceptance of abortion and passive euthanasia has not already revealedflaws in the traditional ethic that make it a weak defence against thosewho lack respect for individual lives. A sounder, if less clear-cut, ethicmay in the long run provide a firmer ground for resisting unjustifiablekilling.


Rich and Poor

some facts about poverty

At the end of the twentieth century, the World Bank sent out a teamof researchers to record the views of 60,000 women and men livingin extreme poverty. Visiting seventy-three countries, the research teamheard, over and over, that poverty meant these things:

� You are short of food for all or part of the year, often eating only onemeal per day, sometimes having to choose between stilling your child’shunger or your own, and sometimes being able to do neither.

� You can’t save money. If a family member falls ill and you need moneyto see a doctor, or if the crop fails and you have nothing to eat, youhave to borrow from a local moneylender; he will charge you so muchinterest that the debt continues to mount, and you may never be freeof it.

� You can’t afford to send your children to school; or if they do startschool, you have to take them out again if the harvest is poor.

� You live in an unstable house, made with mud or thatch that you needto rebuild every two or three years, or after severe weather.

� You have no close source of safe drinking water. You have to carry it along way, and even then, it can make you ill unless you boil it.

Along with these material deprivations goes, very often, a humiliatingstate of powerlessness, vulnerability and a deep sense of shame or failure.

Extreme poverty, as defined by the World Bank, means not havingenough income to meet the most basic human needs for adequate food,water, shelter, clothing, sanitation, health care or education. In 2008, the


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Bank calculated that this requires a daily income that is the purchasingpower equivalent of about US$1.25 per day in the United States. This isnot the foreign exchange equivalent of US$1.25, which might not be sobad, because as everyone who travels from a rich country to a poor oneknows, the currencies of rich countries often have much greater purchas-ing power in poor countries. The World Bank’s definition takes that dif-ference into account: the poor earn only as much as will buy, in their cur-rency, the quantity of necessities that $1.25 will buy in the United States.The bank estimates that 1.4 billion people have less income than this.

In industrialized countries, people are poor by comparison to othersin their society. Their poverty is relative – they have enough to meettheir basic needs and usually access to free health care as well. The1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty in developing countries arepoor by an absolute standard: they have difficulty meeting their basicneeds. Absolute poverty kills. According to UNICEF, the United NationsInternational Children’s Emergency Fund, 8.8 million children underfive years old died from avoidable, poverty-related causes in 2008. Thatcomes to 24,000 – think of it as a football stadium full of children – dyingunnecessarily every day. (The number of children dying has been fallingsteadily since the 1960s but still remains far too high.) Millions of adultsalso die because of absolute poverty. Life expectancy in the rich nations isnow seventy-eight years; in developing countries, it is around fifty. Whenabsolute poverty does not cause death, it still causes misery of a kind notoften seen in the affluent nations. Malnutrition in young children stuntsboth physical and mental development. Millions of people on poor dietssuffer from deficiency diseases, like goiter, or blindness caused by a lackof vitamin A. The food value of what the poor eat is further reducedby parasites such as hookworm and ringworm, which are endemic inconditions of poor sanitation and health education.

Death and disease apart, absolute poverty remains a miserable con-dition of life, with inadequate food, shelter, clothing, sanitation, healthservices and education. This is the ‘normal’ situation of our world. At leastten times as many people died from preventable, poverty-related diseaseson September 11, 2001, as died in the terrorist attacks on the World TradeCenter and the Pentagon on that black day. The terrorist attacks led totrillions of dollars being spent on the ‘war on terrorism’ and on securitymeasures that have inconvenienced every air traveller since then. Thedeaths caused by poverty were ignored. So whereas very few people havedied from terrorism since September 11, 2001, approximately 30,000people died from poverty-related causes on September 12, 2001, and

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on every day between then and now, and will die tomorrow. Even whenwe consider larger events, like the Asian tsunami of 2004, which killedapproximately 230,000 people, or the 2010 earthquake in Haiti thatkilled up to 200,000, we are still talking about numbers that representjust one week’s toll for preventable, poverty-related deaths – and thathappens fifty-two weeks in every year.

some facts about affluence

We can juxtapose a picture of ‘absolute affluence’ against this pictureof absolute poverty. Those who are absolutely affluent are not necessar-ily affluent by comparison with their neighbours, but they have moreincome than they need to provide themselves adequately with all thebasic necessities of life. After buying (either directly or through theirtaxes) food, shelter, clothing, basic health services and education, theabsolutely affluent still have money to spend on luxuries. The absolutelyaffluent choose their food for the pleasures of the palate, not to stophunger; they buy new clothes to look good, not to keep warm; they movehouse to be in a better neighbourhood or have more space for the chil-dren to play, not to keep out the rain; and after all this, there is stillmoney to spend on home entertainment centres and exotic holidays.

At this stage, I am making no ethical judgments about absolute afflu-ence; I am merely pointing out that it exists. Its defining characteristic is asignificant amount of income above the level necessary to provide for thebasic human needs of oneself and one’s dependents. By this standard,the majority of citizens of Europe, North America, Japan, Australia, NewZealand and the oil-rich Middle Eastern states are all absolutely affluent.There are also hundreds of millions of affluent people in countries likeChina, India and Brazil, although there is also extreme poverty in thosecountries. These affluent people have wealth that they could, withoutthreatening their own basic welfare, transfer to the extremely poor.

At present, very little is being transferred. In 1970, the United NationsGeneral Assembly set a modest target for the amount of foreign aid thatthe rich nations should give: 0.7 percent of Gross National Income, or 70cents for every hundred dollars a nation earns. Forty years later, only Den-mark, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway and Sweden have reachedthat level. In 2008, the United States and Japan, the two largest econom-ies among the affluent nations, gave only 0.19 percent, or 19 cents inevery $100 they earned. Australia and Canada did only slightly better,at 0.32 percent, whereas France, Germany and Britain were around the

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average for affluent nations, giving between 0.38 and 0.43 percent. Incomparison to their income, what the rich nations are giving is relativelytrivial.

the moral equivalent of murder?

These facts suggest that, by giving far less than they could, rich peopleare allowing more than a billion people to continue to live in conditionsof deprivation and to die prematurely. This conclusion applies not onlyto governments but to each affluent individual, for each of us has theopportunity to do something about the situation; for instance, to giveour time or money to voluntary organizations that are helping to providehealth care, safe drinking water, education and better agricultural tech-niques for the poor. If, then, allowing someone to die is not intrinsicallydifferent from killing someone, it would seem that we are all murderers.

Is this verdict too harsh? Many will reject it as self-evidently absurd.They would sooner take it as showing that allowing to die cannot beequivalent to killing than as showing that living in an affluent style withoutcontributing to an aid agency is ethically equivalent to going over toEthiopia and shooting a few peasants. They point to several significantdifferences between spending money on luxuries, when we could use itto save lives, and deliberately shooting people. Let us look at some ofthese differences and then consider which of them really are morallysignificant.

First, the motivation will normally be different. Those who deliberatelyshoot others go out of their way to kill. Motivated by malice, sadism orsome equally unpleasant motives, they want their victims dead. A personwho buys an iPod presumably wants to enhance her enjoyment of music –not in itself a terrible thing. At worst, spending money on luxuries insteadof giving it away indicates selfishness and indifference to the sufferings ofothers, characteristics that may be undesirable but are not comparableto actual malice or similar motives.

Second, it is not difficult for most of us to act in accordance with arule against killing people: it is, on the other hand, very difficult to obeya rule that commands us to save all the lives we can. To live a comfortableor even luxurious life, it is not necessary to kill anyone, but we do haveto allow to die some whom we might have saved, for the money thatwe need to live comfortably could have been given away. Thus, the dutyto avoid killing is much easier to discharge completely than the dutyto save. Saving every life we possibly could save would mean cutting our

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standard of living down to the bare essentials needed to keep us alive.∗ Todischarge this duty completely would require a degree of moral heroismutterly different from that required by mere avoidance of killing.

A third difference is the greater certainty of the outcome of shootingwhen compared with not giving aid. If I point a loaded gun at someoneat close range and pull the trigger, it is virtually certain that the personwill be killed; whereas the money that I could give might be spent on aproject that turns out to be unsuccessful and helps no one.

Fourth, when people are shot, there are identifiable individuals whohave been harmed. We can point to them and to their grieving families.When I buy my iPod, I cannot know who my money would have saved ifI had given it away.

Fifth, it might be said that the plight of the hungry is not my doing,and so I cannot be held responsible for it. The starving would have beenstarving if I had never existed. If I kill, however, I am responsible for myvictims’ deaths, for those people would not have died if I had not killedthem.

These differences need not shake our previous conclusion that thereis no intrinsic difference between killing and allowing to die. They areextrinsic differences, that is, differences normally but not necessarilyassociated with the distinction between killing and allowing to die. Wecan imagine cases in which someone allows another to die for maliciousor sadistic reasons. We can imagine a world in which there are so fewpeople needing assistance and they are so easy to assist, that our duty notto allow people to die is as easily discharged as our duty not to kill. Wecan imagine situations in which the outcome of not helping is as sure asshooting. We can imagine cases in which we can identify the person weallow to die. We can even imagine a case of allowing to die in which, ifI had not existed, the person would not have died – for instance, a casein which if I had not been in a position to help (though I didn’t help),someone else would have been in my position and would have helped.These imaginary situations aside, however, it is true that the extrinsicdifferences that normally mark off killing and allowing to die help toexplain why we normally regard killing as much worse than allowing to die.To explain our conventional ethical attitudes, however, is not to justify

∗ Strictly, we would need to cut down to the minimum level compatible with earning theincome which, after providing for our needs, left us most to give away. Thus, if my presentposition pays me $100,000 a year but requires me to spend $30,000 a year on living in amore expensive location than I otherwise might, I cannot save more people by movingto an inexpensive rural area if that will mean taking a job that pays only $60,000.

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them. Do the five differences not only explain, but also justify, our atti-tudes? Let us consider them one by one.

(1) Take the lack of an identifiable victim first. Research has shownthat people offered an opportunity to give to a poor child are more likelyto give if they are shown a photograph of the child and told her name andage than if they are not given any identifying details. But this may show nomore than that, during the millions of years in which our ancestors livedin small face-to-face groups, we developed an instinctive response to helpindividuals. In contrast, we did not develop any response to giving moreanonymous forms of aid, for which there was no opportunity anyway.Should this make any difference to our ethical obligations? Suppose that Iam a travelling salesperson, selling tinned food, and I learn that a batch oftins contains a contaminant, the known effect of which, when consumed,is to double the risk that the consumer will die from stomach cancer.Suppose I continue to sell the tins. My decision may have no identifiablevictims. Some of those who eat the food will die from stomach cancer.The proportion of consumers dying in this way will be twice that of thecommunity at large, but who among the consumers died because theyate what I sold, and who would have contracted the disease anyway? It isimpossible to tell; but surely this impossibility makes my decision no lessreprehensible than it would have been had the contaminant had morereadily detectable, though equally fatal, effects. Moreover, if this is truefor killing an unidentifiable individual, why should it be any different forfailing to save one?

(2) The lack of certainty that by giving money I could save a life doesreduce the wrongness of not giving, by comparison with deliberate killing;but it is insufficient to show that not giving is acceptable conduct. Themotorist who speeds through pedestrian crossings, heedless of anyonewho might be on them, is not a murderer. She may never actually hit apedestrian; yet if she knowingly risks killing an innocent person, whatshe does is very wrong indeed.

(3) The idea that we are responsible for our acts but not for ouromissions is more puzzling. On the one hand, we feel ourselves to beunder a greater obligation to help those whose misfortunes we havecaused. (It is for this reason that advocates of increased foreign aid oftenargue that the rich nations have created the poverty of the poor nations,through forms of economic exploitation that go back to the colonialsystem.) On the other hand, any consequentialist would insist that we areresponsible for all the consequences of our actions; and if a consequenceof my spending money on an iPod is that someone dies, I am responsible

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for that death. It is true that the person would have died even if I hadnever existed, but what is the relevance of that? The fact is that I do exist,and the consequentialist will say that our responsibilities derive from theworld as it is, not as it might have been.

One way of making sense of the non-consequentialist view of respons-ibility is to base it on a theory of rights of the kind proposed by JohnLocke and more recently defended by libertarians like Robert Nozickand Jan Narveson. If everyone has a right to life, and this right is a rightagainst others who might threaten my life but not a right to assistancefrom others when my life is in danger, then we can understand the feel-ing that we are responsible for killing but not for omitting to save. Theformer violates the rights of others, the latter does not.

Should we accept such a theory of rights? If we build up our theory ofrights by imagining, as Locke and Nozick do, individuals living independ-ently from one another in a ‘state of nature’, it may seem natural to adopta conception of rights in which as long as each leaves the other alone, norights are violated. I might, on this view, quite properly have maintainedmy independent existence if I had wished to do so. So if I do not makeyou any worse off than you would have been if I had had nothing at allto do with you, how can I have violated your rights? The factual basis ofthis theory is doubtful. Thomas Pogge challenges it in World Poverty andHuman Rights, arguing that several features of the world economic ordershow that we contribute to the impoverishment of some people to ourown benefit. To take just one example, we rely on oil and minerals boughtfrom countries ruled by dictators who use the money to enrich themselvesor to strengthen their armies and entrench themselves in power. Thesedictators have no moral right to the wealth that lies beneath the soil ofthe countries in which they have seized power. The proceeds should goto the people of the country as a whole. The dictators are robbers andmurderers, and we are receivers of stolen goods. Our willingness to handover billions of dollars to dictators in return for oil and mineral rightsalso creates a huge incentive for anyone who fancies their chances ofoverthrowing an existing government, and thus increases instability inthese countries, which in turn contributes to poverty. (Climate changecreates another problem for the view that we are not harming the poor –but that is the topic of the next chapter.)

Even if we put aside such problems with the factual basis of the liber-tarian argument, we need to ask why we should start from the unhistor-ical, abstract and ultimately inexplicable idea of a human being livingindependently. Our ancestors were – like other primates – social beings

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long before they were human beings, and they could not have developedthe abilities and capacities of human beings if they had not been socialbeings first. We are not, now, isolated individuals, and we never havebeen. So why should we assume that rights must be restricted to rightsagainst interference? We might, instead, adopt the view that taking rightsto life seriously is incompatible with standing by and watching people diewhen one could easily save them.

(4) What of the difference in motivation? That a person does notpositively wish for the death of another lessens the severity of the blameshe deserves, but not by as much as is suggested by our present attitudes togiving aid. The behaviour of the speeding motorist is again comparable,for such motorists usually have no desire at all to kill anyone. They merelywant to get somewhere sooner, or they enjoy speeding and are indifferentto the consequences. Despite their lack of malice, those who kill with carsdeserve not only blame but also severe punishment.

(5) The difference I have left for last is the most significant. The factthat to avoid killing people is normally not difficult whereas to save allone possibly could save is heroic must make an important difference toour attitude to failure to do what the respective principles demand. Notto kill is a minimum standard of acceptable conduct we can require ofeveryone. In contrast, to save all one possibly could is not somethingthat can realistically be required, especially not in societies accustomedto giving as little as ours do. Given the generally accepted standards,people who give, say, 10 percent of what they earn to help the poor aremore aptly praised for their above-average generosity than blamed forgiving less than they might. The appropriateness of praise and blameis, however, a separate issue from the rightness or wrongness of actions.The former evaluates the agent; the latter evaluates the action. Perhapsmany people who give 10 percent really ought to give 50 percent, but toblame them for not giving more could be counterproductive. It mightmake them feel that what is required is too demanding, and if one isgoing to be blamed anyway, one might as well not give anything at all.That an ethic that puts saving all one possibly can on the same footingas not killing would be an ethic for saints or heroes should not lead usto assume that the alternative must be an ethic that makes it obligatorynot to kill but puts us under no obligation to save anyone. There arepositions in between these extremes, as we shall see.

Let’s summarize the five differences that normally exist between killingand allowing to die in the context of extreme poverty and overseas aid.The lack of an identifiable victim is of no moral significance, though itmay play an important role in explaining our attitudes. The idea that

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we are directly responsible for those we kill, but not for those we donot help, depends on a questionable notion of responsibility and mayneed to be based on a dubious theory of rights. Differences in certaintyand motivation are ethically significant and show that not aiding thepoor is not to be condemned as murdering them; it could, however, beon a par with killing someone as a result of reckless driving, which isserious enough. Finally, the difficulty of completely discharging the dutyof saving all one possibly can makes it inappropriate to blame those whofall short of this target in the same way that we blame those who kill; butthis does not show that the act itself is less serious. Nor does it excusethose who make no effort to save anyone.

In any case, whereas failing to save a life may not always be ethicallyon par with deliberate killing, it is clear that how we respond to theexistence of both absolute poverty and absolute affluence is one of thegreat moral issues of our time. So let us consider afresh whether we havean obligation to assist those whose lives are in danger and, if so, how thisobligation applies to the present world situation.

the obligation to assist

The Argument for an Obligation to Assist

On my way to give a lecture, I pass a shallow ornamental pond and noticethat a small child has fallen in and is in danger of drowning. I look aroundto see where the parents, or babysitter, are, but to my surprise, I see thatthere is no one else around. It seems that it is up to me to make surethat the child doesn’t drown. Would anyone deny that I ought to wade inand pull the child out? This will mean getting my clothes muddy, ruiningmy shoes and either cancelling my lecture or delaying it until I can findsomething dry to change into; but compared with the avoidable death ofa child none of these things are significant.

A plausible principle that would support the judgment that I oughtto pull the child out is this: if it is in our power to prevent somethingvery bad happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparablemoral significance, we ought to do it. This principle seems uncontro-versial. It will obviously win the assent of consequentialists; but non-consequentialists should accept it too, because the injunction to preventwhat is bad applies only when nothing comparably significant is at stake.Thus, the principle cannot lead to the kinds of actions of which non-consequentialists strongly disapprove – serious violations of individualrights, injustice, broken promises and so on. If non-consequentialists

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regard any of these as comparable in moral significance to the bad thingthat is to be prevented, they will automatically regard the principle as notapplying in those cases in which the bad thing can only be prevented byviolating rights, doing injustice, breaking promises or whatever else is atstake. Most non-consequentialists hold that we ought to prevent what isbad and promote what is good. Their dispute with consequentialists liesin their insistence that this is not the sole ultimate ethical principle: thatit is an ethical principle is not denied by any plausible ethical theory.

Nevertheless, the uncontroversial appearance of the principle thatwe ought to prevent what is bad when we can do so without sacrificinganything of comparable moral significance is deceptive. If it were takenseriously and acted on, our lives and our world would be fundament-ally changed. For the principle applies, not just to rare situations inwhich one can save a child from a pond, but to the everyday situationin which we can assist those living in absolute poverty. In saying this, Iassume that absolute poverty, with its hunger and malnutrition, lack ofshelter, illiteracy, disease, high infant mortality and low life expectancy,is a bad thing. Additionally, I assume that it is within the power of theaffluent to reduce absolute poverty, without sacrificing anything of com-parable moral significance. If these two assumptions and the principlewe have been discussing are correct, we have an obligation to help thosein absolute poverty that is no less strong than our obligation to rescue adrowning child from a pond. Not to help would be wrong, whether ornot it is intrinsically equivalent to killing. Helping is not, as convention-ally thought, a charitable act that is praiseworthy to do but not wrong toomit. It is something that everyone ought to do.

Set out more formally, this argument would look like this.

First premise: If we can prevent something bad without sacrificinganything of comparable significance, we ought to doit.

Second premise: Extreme poverty is bad.Third premise: There is some extreme poverty we can prevent without

sacrificing anything of comparable moral signific-ance.

Conclusion: We ought to prevent some extreme poverty.

The first premise is the substantive moral premise on which the argu-ment rests, and I have tried to show that it can be accepted by peoplewho hold a variety of ethical positions.

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The second premise is unlikely to be challenged. It would be hard tofind a plausible ethical view that did not regard extreme poverty, withthe suffering and deaths of both adults and children that it causes, notto mention the lack of education, sense of hopelessness, powerlessnessand humiliation that are also its effects, as a bad thing.

The third premise is more controversial, even though it is cautiouslyframed. It claims only that some extreme poverty can be preventedwithout the sacrifice of anything of comparable moral significance. Itthus avoids the objection that any aid I can give is just ‘drops in theocean’, for the point is not whether my personal contribution will makeany noticeable impression on world poverty as a whole (of course it won’t)but whether it will prevent some poverty. This is all the argument needs tosustain its conclusion, because the second premise says that any extremepoverty is bad and not merely the total amount of extreme poverty. Ifwithout sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance we canprovide just one family with the means to raise itself out of extremepoverty, the third premise is vindicated.

Nevertheless, some will argue that I can’t have any confidence thatmy donation to an aid organization will save a life or will help people tolift themselves out of extreme poverty. Often these arguments are basedon demonstrably false beliefs, such as the idea that aid organizations usemost of the money given to them for administrative costs, so that only asmall fraction gets through to the people who need it, or that corruptgovernments in developing nations will take the money. In fact, the majoraid organizations use no more than 20 percent of the funds they raise foradministrative purposes, leaving at least 80 percent for the programs thatdirectly help the poor; and they do not donate to governments but workdirectly with the poor, or with grassroots organizations in developingcountries that have a good record of helping the poor.

Measuring the effectiveness of an aid organization by the extent towhich it can reduce its administrative costs is, however, a common mis-take. Administrative costs include the salaries of experienced peoplewho can ensure that your donation will fund projects that really helpthe poor in a sustainable, long-term way. An organization that does notemploy such people may have lower administrative costs than one thatdoes, but it will still achieve less with your donation. is not an aid organization but an organization that seekshard evidence about which organizations are most effective. It has, forexample, compared the cost per life saved of various organizations thatwork to combat the diseases that kill many of those 8.8 million children

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who die each year from poverty-related causes. According to GiveWell,there are several organizations that can save a life for somewhere inthe range of $600 to $1200, and on the Web site, youcan see which it ranks most highly. Because you can give to one of thetop-ranked organizations, it seems clear that the third premise of theargument is true for people who spend at least a few hundred dollars ayear on things they do not really need. They can save a life, or preventsome extreme poverty, without sacrificing anything of comparable moralsignificance.

I have left the notion of moral significance unexamined in orderto show that the argument does not depend on any specific values orethical principles. On any defensible view of what is morally significant,the third premise will be true for most people living in industrializednations. Our affluence means that we have income we can dispose ofwithout giving up the basic necessities of life, and we can use this incometo reduce extreme poverty. Just how much we will think ourselves obligedto give up will depend on what we consider to be of comparable moralsignificance to the poverty we could prevent: stylish clothes, expensivedinners, a sophisticated stereo system, exotic holidays, a luxury car, alarger house, private schools for our children and so on. For a utilitarian,none of these is likely to be of comparable significance to the reductionof extreme poverty; and those who are not utilitarians surely must, if theysubscribe to the principle of universalizability, accept that at least some ofthese things are of far less moral significance than the extreme povertythat could be prevented by the money they cost. So the third premiseseems to be true on any plausible ethical view – although the preciseamount of extreme poverty that can be prevented before anything ofcomparable moral significance is sacrificed will vary according to theethical view one accepts.

Objections to the Argument

Taking Care of Our OwnAnyone who has worked to increase foreign aid will have come across theargument that we should look after those near us, our families and thenthe poor in our own country before we think about poverty in distantplaces.

No doubt we instinctively prefer to help those who are close to us. Fewcould stand by and watch a child drown; many can ignore the avoidabledeaths of children in Africa or India. The question, however, is not what

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we usually do, but what we ought to do, and it is difficult to see any soundmoral justification for the view that distance, or community membership,makes a crucial difference to our obligations.

Consider, for instance, racial affinities. Should people of Europeanorigin help poor Europeans before helping poor Africans? Most of uswould reject such a suggestion, and our discussion of the principle ofequal consideration of interests in Chapter 2 has shown why we shouldreject it: people’s need for food has nothing to do with their race, and ifAfricans are in greater need than Europeans, it would be a violation ofthe principle of equal consideration to give preference to Europeans.

The same point applies to citizenship or nationhood. Every affluentnation has some relatively poor citizens, but absolute poverty is limitedlargely to the developing nations. In the United States, a family of fouris officially classified as poor if they have an annual income of less than$22,000. It can be very difficult to support a family on that income in theUnited States, but clearly it will take several thousand dollars to make asignificant improvement in the lives of people in that situation. In devel-oping countries, on the other hand, it costs less than $1,000 to save thelife of a child who would otherwise die from a poverty-related disease,and to double the income of ten families living in extreme poverty wouldtake less than $5,000. (The figure is merely for comparison – I am notsuggesting that the best way to reduce poverty is to give money directly tothe poor.) Because everyone’s resources are limited, it makes sense to usethem where they can have the most beneficial impact. Under these cir-cumstances, it would be wrong to decide that only those fortunate enoughto be citizens of our own affluent community will share our abundance.

We feel obligations of kinship more strongly than those of citizenship.What kind of parents could give away their last bowl of rice if their ownchildren were starving? To do so would seem unnatural. Indeed, it wouldbe contrary to our nature as biologically evolved mammals with offspringwho are dependent on us for many years – but that alone would not showthat it was wrong to do so. In any case, we are not faced with that situationbut with one in which our own children are well fed, well clothed, welleducated and would now like new bikes or more sophisticated computergames. In these circumstances, any special obligations we might haveto our children have been fulfilled, and the needs of strangers make astronger claim on us.

The element of truth in the view that we should first take care of ourown lies in the advantage of a recognized system of responsibilities. Whenfamilies and local communities look after their own poorer members, ties

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of affection and personal relationships achieve ends that would other-wise require a large, impersonal bureaucracy. Hence, it would be absurdto propose that from now on we all regard ourselves as equally respons-ible for the welfare of everyone in the world; but the argument for anobligation to assist does not propose that. It applies only when someare in extreme poverty, and others can help without sacrificing anythingof comparable moral significance. To allow one’s own kin to sink intoextreme poverty would be to sacrifice something of comparable signific-ance; and well before that point had been reached, the breakdown of thesystem of family and community responsibility would be a factor to weighthe balance in favour of a modest preference for family and community.This modest degree of preference is, however, decisively outweighed byexisting discrepancies in wealth and property.

Property RightsDo people have a right to private property, a right that contradicts theview that they are under an obligation to give some of their wealth away tothose in absolute poverty? According to some theories of rights, peoplewho have acquired their property without the use of unjust means likeforce and fraud may be entitled to great wealth and every conceivableluxury while others starve. This individualistic conception of rights isin contrast to other views, like the Christian doctrine that holds thatproperty exists for the satisfaction of human needs; and so, as ThomasAquinas wrote, ‘whatever a man has in superabundance is owed, of nat-ural right, to the poor for their sustenance’. A socialist would also, ofcourse, see wealth as belonging to the community rather than the indi-vidual; whereas utilitarians, whether socialist or not, would be preparedto override property rights to prevent great evils.

Does the argument for an obligation to assist others therefore pre-suppose one of these other theories of property rights and reject theidea of a strong individual right to property? Not necessarily. A theory ofproperty rights can insist on our right to retain wealth without pronoun-cing on whether the rich ought to give to the poor. Robert Nozick, forexample, rejected the use of compulsory means like taxation to redis-tribute income, but he suggested that we can achieve the ends we deemmorally desirable by voluntary means. So Nozick would have rejected theclaim that rich people have an ‘obligation’ to give to the poor, insofar asthis implies that the poor have a right to our aid, but could have agreedthat giving is something we ought to do and failing to give – though

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within one’s rights – is wrong, for there is more to an ethical life thanrespecting the rights of others.

The argument for an obligation to assist can survive, with only minormodifications, even if we accept an individualistic theory of propertyrights. In any case, however, I do not think we should accept such atheory. It leaves too much to chance to be an acceptable ethical view.For instance, many of those whose forefathers happened to inhabit somesandy wastes around the Persian Gulf are now fabulously wealthy, becauseoil lay under those sands; whereas many of those whose forefathers settledon better land south of the Sahara live in extreme poverty, because ofdrought and bad harvests. Can this distribution be acceptable from animpartial point of view? If we imagine ourselves about to begin life as acitizen of either Kuwait or Chad – but we do not know which – would weaccept the principle that citizens of Kuwait are under no obligation toassist people living in Chad?

Population and the Ethics of TriagePerhaps the most serious objection to the argument that we have anobligation to assist is that because the major cause of extreme poverty isoverpopulation, helping those currently in poverty will only ensure thatyet more people are born to live in poverty in the future.

In its most extreme form, this objection is taken to show that weshould adopt a policy of ‘triage’. The term comes from medical policiesadopted in wartime. With too few doctors to cope with all the casualties,the wounded were divided into three categories: those who would prob-ably survive without medical assistance, those who might survive if theyreceived assistance but otherwise probably would not, and those whoeven with medical assistance probably would not survive. Only those inthe middle category were treated. The idea, of course, was to use limitedmedical resources as effectively as possible. For those in the first category,medical treatment was not strictly necessary; for those in the third cat-egory, it was likely to be useless. In the 1970s, some suggested that weshould apply the same policies to countries, according to their prospectsof becoming self-sustaining. If we were to accept that view, we would notaid countries that, even without our help, will soon be able to feed theirpopulations. We would not aid countries that, even with our help, willnot be able to limit their population to a level they can feed. We wouldaid those countries where our help might make the difference betweensuccess and failure in bringing food and population into balance.

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In support of this view, Garrett Hardin offered a metaphor: we in therich nations are like the occupants of a crowded lifeboat adrift in a seafull of drowning people. If we try to save the drowning by bringing themaboard, our boat will be overloaded and we shall all drown. Because it isbetter that some survive than none, we should leave the others to drown.In the world today, according to Hardin, ‘lifeboat ethics’ apply. The richshould leave the poor to starve, for otherwise the poor will drag the richdown with them. He cited India and Bangladesh as examples of countriesin which the population was increasing beyond the carrying capacity ofthe land they occupied. So, he suggested they should be left alone untilfamine, disease and natural disasters had reduced their population tothe level at which they can support it.

Against this view, some writers have argued that overpopulation is amyth. The world produces ample food to feed its population and could,according to some estimates, feed several times as many. People arehungry not because there are too many people but because of inequitableland distribution and because the international political and economicsystem exploits the poor nations for the benefit of the rich.

The world does produce enough to feed its inhabitants – in fact wewaste vast quantities of grain and soybeans by feeding them to animals,getting back from the animals only a small fraction of the nutritionalvalue of the plant foods we put into them. We also waste further significantquantities of grain by turning it into biofuel so we can drive more. In fact,the amount of grain we feed to animals would be enough to give all ofthe 1.4 billion people now living in extreme poverty more than twice thecalories they need.

Since Hardin wrote about ‘lifeboat ethics,’ the populations of Indiaand Bangladesh have continued to grow, but the capacities of those coun-tries to feed their populations have proved much greater than Hardinthought possible. These countries now have a smaller proportion of theirpeople going hungry than they had when Hardin advocated shutting offaid to them. Nevertheless, it is hard not to be alarmed by the populationgrowth rates of some African nations. By 2050, the population of Nigeria,for example, is expected to almost double from its present size of 144million. By then, Ethiopia, now with 77 million people, is predicted tohave 146 million, and the Democratic Republic of Congo will have 187million, almost three times its current population of 63 million. Thequestion is: how should we respond to these rapid rates of populationgrowth in countries that already have a large proportion of their popula-tion living in extreme poverty? Advocates of triage propose that we allow

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the population growth of such countries to be checked by a rise in deathrates – that would mean, in practice, by famines, malnutrition, increasedinfant mortality or epidemics of infectious diseases.

These consequences are so horrible that we are inclined to reject,without further thought, triage on this scale. How could we sit by ourtelevisions watching millions starve while we do nothing? Would not thatbe the end of all notions of human equality and respect for human life?Anyone whose initial reaction to triage was not one of repugnance wouldbe an unpleasant sort of person. Yet initial reactions based on strongfeelings are not always reliable guides. Advocates of triage are rightlyconcerned with the long-term consequences of our actions. They saythat helping people who are extremely poor now merely ensures thatthere will be more extremely poor and starving people in the future.When we tire of helping, or our capacity to help is finally unable to cope,the suffering will be greater than it would be if we stopped helping now. Ifthis were correct, there would be nothing we could do to prevent extremepoverty, in the long run, and so we would have no obligation to assist. Nordoes it seem reasonable to hold that under these circumstances peoplehave a right to our assistance. If we do accept such a right irrespective ofthe consequences, we are saying that, in Hardin’s metaphor, we shouldcontinue to haul the drowning into our lifeboat until the boat sinks andwe all drown.

If triage is to be rejected, it must be tackled on its own ground, withinthe framework of consequentialist ethics. Here it is vulnerable. Any con-sequentialist ethics must take probability of outcome into account. Acourse of action that will certainly produce some benefit is to be pre-ferred to an alternative course that may lead to a slightly larger benefitbut is equally likely to result in no benefit at all. Only if the greatermagnitude of the uncertain benefit outweighs its uncertainty should wechoose it. Better one certain unit of benefit than a 10 percent chanceof five units; but better a 50 percent chance of three units than a singlecertain unit. The same principle applies when we are trying to avoid evils.

Advocates of shutting off aid to the poorest countries predict that thiswill result in a very great evil: population control by famine and disease.Tens of millions would die slowly. Hundreds of millions would continueto live in extreme poverty, at the very margin of existence. Against thisprospect, those who support this policy place a possible evil that is greaterstill: the same process of famine and disease taking place in, say, fifty years’time when the world’s population will be at least 50 percent greater thanits present level and the number who will die from famine or struggle

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on in extreme poverty will be that much greater. The question is: howprobable is this forecast that continued assistance now will lead to greaterdisasters in the future?

Forecasts of population growth are notoriously fallible, and theoriesabout the factors that affect it remain speculative. The most widely accep-ted model of population changes postulates that countries pass througha ‘demographic transition’ as their standard of living rises. When peopleare very poor and have no access to modern medicine, their fertility ishigh, but population is kept in check by high death rates, especially infantmortality. The introduction of sanitation, modern medical techniquesand other improvements reduces child mortality, and initially populationgrows rapidly. Some poor countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, arenow in this phase. As child mortality falls, however, couples begin to real-ize that to have the same number of children surviving to maturity as inthe past, they do not need to give birth to as many children as their parentsdid. The need for children to provide economic support in old age mayalso diminish. Improved education and the emancipation and employ-ment of women reduce the birth rate, and so population growth begins tolevel off. Most rich nations have reached this stage, and their populationsare – aside from immigration – growing only very slowly, if at all.

If this model is right, there is an alternative to the disasters accepted asinevitable by those who think that aid only promotes population growth.We can assist poor countries to raise the living standards of the poorestmembers of their population. We can encourage the governments ofthese countries to enact land reform measures, improve education, edu-cate women and provide them with alternatives to a purely child-bearingrole. We can also help other countries to make contraception and ster-ilization widely available. There is a fair chance that these measures willhasten the onset of the demographic transition and bring populationgrowth down to a manageable level. According to United Nations estim-ates, the total fertility rate in developing countries fell from six birthsper woman in the late 1960s to less than three births at the beginningof the twenty-first century. Notable successes in encouraging the use ofcontraception during this period have occurred in Thailand, Indonesia,Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and Bangladesh. These achievements reflecteda relatively low expenditure in developing countries – considering thesize and significance of the problem – with only a small part of the moneycoming from developed nations. So expenditure in this area seems likelyto be highly cost-effective. Admittedly, there are signs that the decline infertility is slowing, and even stalling, in some countries, so there is a real

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need to remain focused on the dangers of continued population growth.Nevertheless, the evidence concerning the impact on population growthof improvements in economic security and education, and in makingcontraceptives more widely available, is sufficient to render shutting offaid ethically unacceptable. We cannot allow millions to die from starva-tion and disease when there is a reasonable probability that populationgrowth can be brought under control without such horrors.

Population growth is not a reason against giving aid but a reasonfor reconsidering the kind of aid to give. This may mean putting moreresources into education, especially the education of women, or intothe provision of contraceptive services. Whatever kind of aid provesmost effective in specific circumstances, the obligation to assist is notreduced.

One awkward question remains. What should we do about a poor andalready overpopulated country that, for religious or nationalistic reas-ons, restricts the use of contraceptives and refuses to slow its populationgrowth? Should we nevertheless offer development assistance? Or shouldwe make our offer conditional on effective steps being taken to reducethe birth rate? To the latter course, some would object that putting con-ditions on aid is an attempt to impose our own ideas on independentsovereign nations. So it is – but is this imposition unjustifiable? If theargument for an obligation to assist is sound, we have an obligationto reduce extreme poverty; but we have no obligation to make sacrificesthat, to the best of our knowledge, have no prospect of reducing extremepoverty in the long run – and could even increase it. Hence, we have noobligation to assist countries whose governments have policies that willundermine the effectiveness of our aid. This could be very harsh on poorcitizens of these countries – for they may have no say in their govern-ment’s policies – but we will help more people in the long run by usingour resources where they are most effective. (The same principles mayapply, incidentally, to countries that refuse to take other steps that couldmake assistance effective – like refusing to allow women to be educated.)

Leaving it to the GovernmentWe often hear that foreign aid should be a government responsibility andnot left to private charity. Giving privately, it is said, allows the governmentto escape its responsibilities. If we give, the government won’t see theneed to do so.

Because increasing government aid is the surest way of signific-antly increasing the total amount of aid given, I would agree that the

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governments of affluent nations should give more aid than they givenow – as long as it is given for projects that effectively help thosein extreme poverty. Less than 25 cents in every $100 dollars of grossnational income is a scandalously small amount for a nation as wealthyas the United States to give to relieve extreme poverty in the world’spoorest countries – and that figure includes both government aid andnon-government charitable donations. Even the official UN target of 0.7percent seems much less than affluent nations can and should give –though it is a target few have reached. But is this a reason against each ofus giving as much as we can through voluntary agencies? To believe thatit is seems to assume that the more people there are who give throughvoluntary agencies, the less likely it is that the government will do its part.Is this plausible? The opposite view – that if no one gives voluntarily, thegovernment will assume that its citizens are not in favour of overseas aidand will cut its programme accordingly – is more reasonable. In any case,unless there is a definite probability that by refusing to give we would behelping to bring about an increase in government assistance, refusing togive privately is wrong for the same reason that shutting off aid becauseof the risks of overpopulation is wrong: it is a refusal to prevent a definiteevil for the sake of a very uncertain gain. The onus of showing how arefusal to give privately will make the government give more is on thosewho refuse to give.

This is not to say that giving privately is enough. As active concernedcitizens, we should campaign for entirely new standards for both publicand private aid. We should also work for fairer trading arrangementsbetween rich and poor countries, including an end to rich nations payingsubsidies to their agricultural producers that make it impossible for poorcountries to compete in global markets. Perhaps it is more importantto be politically active in the interests of the poor than to give to themoneself – but why not do both? Unfortunately, many use the view that aidis the government’s responsibility as a reason against giving but not as areason for being politically active.

Too High a Standard?The final objection to the argument I have given for an obligation toassist is that it is too demanding; it sets a standard so high that only asaint could attain it. This objection comes in at least three versions. Thefirst maintains that, human nature being what it is, we cannot achieve sohigh a standard; and because it is absurd to say that we ought to do whatwe cannot do, we must reject the claim that we ought to give so much. Thesecond version asserts that even if we could achieve so high a standard,

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to do so would be undesirable. The third version of the objection is thatto set so high a standard is undesirable because it will be perceived astoo difficult to reach and will discourage many from even attempting todo so.

Those who put forward the first version of the objection often makeobservations about human nature. They point out that we all are muchmore concerned about our own interests, and those of our immediatefamily, than we are about the interests of strangers. That is, they may add,because we have evolved from a natural process in which those with ahigh degree of concern for their own interests, or the interests of theiroffspring and kin, tended to leave more descendants in future genera-tions than those who were not so concerned with their own interests orthose of their kin. Thus, the biologist Garrett Hardin has argued, in sup-port of his ‘lifeboat ethics’, that altruism can only exist ‘on a small scale,over the short term, and within small, intimate groups’; and RichardDawkins has written, in his provocative book The Selfish Gene: ‘Much aswe might wish to believe otherwise, universal love and the welfare of thespecies as a whole are concepts which simply do not make evolutionarysense.’

I have already noted, in discussing the objection that we should firsttake care of our own, the very strong tendency for partiality in humanbeings. Our preference for our own interests, and those of our closekin, over the interests of strangers is no doubt a natural outcome ofthe evolutionary process. What this means is that we would be foolishto expect widespread conformity to a standard that demands impartialconcern, and for that reason it would scarcely be appropriate or feasibleto condemn all those who fail to reach such a standard. Yet to act impar-tially, though it might be very difficult, is not impossible. The commonlyquoted maxim ‘ought implies can’ does not apply here. That maxim is areason for rejecting such moral judgments as, ‘You ought to have savedall the people from the sinking ship’, when in fact if you had taken onemore person into the lifeboat, it would have sunk and you would nothave saved any. In that situation, it is absurd to say that you ought to havedone what you could not possibly do. When we have money to spend onluxuries and others are starving, however, it is clear that we can all givemuch more than we do give, and we can therefore all come closer to theimpartial standard proposed in this chapter. Nor is there, as we approachcloser to this standard, any barrier beyond which we cannot go.

A remarkable illustration of what is possible for a family to do began inAtlanta, Georgia, in 2006 when the car in which Kevin Salwen was drivinghis fourteen-year-old daughter Hannah was halted by a stoplight. On one

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side Hannah saw a gleaming Mercedes coupe, and on the other she saw ahomeless man. ‘You know, Dad,’ she said, pointing, ‘if that man had a lessnice car, that man there could have a meal.’ That started a conversationthat continued at home. Instead of scoffing at the idea, Hannah’s motherchallenged her: ‘What do you want to do: sell our house, move into onehalf the size, give up your room?’ Over a series of family discussions,the Salwens, a well-off family of four, decided to do just that: sell theirhome, give half the money they received for it to the poor and, with theother half, buy a smaller home. Friends thought they were crazy, but theywere confident that they were doing the right thing. As a result, theywere able to give more than $800,000 to help rural villagers in Ghanalift themselves out of poverty. Many people would consider moving toa smaller home a sacrifice, but Kevin Salwen says that even in terms ofself-interest, it made sense: ‘Giving away half of something we had toomuch of (our house) brought us a togetherness, trust and joy we neverhad.’

Admittedly, the Salwens’ decision still left them comfortably off. Theycould have given more without sacrificing anything comparable in signi-ficance to the lives that they could, by giving even more, have saved. Sothis example does not demonstrate that this standard is achievable, butit does show how a family can break through barriers that most of us takefor granted. Zell Kravinsky pushed those barriers even further. After mak-ing more than $40 million though canny real estate investments, he gaveaway almost all of it, living with his family in a modest suburban home.Then, on learning that people die from kidney disease while waiting fora transplant to become available, and studying research showing that thechances of anyone needing both kidneys are as low as 1 in 4000, he wentto a city hospital that served mostly African Americans and donated oneof his kidneys to a stranger. With examples like these, we cannot say thatthe impartial standard is mistaken because it is impossible for us – foranyone one of us, individually – to achieve it. We don’t really know howfar in the direction of impartiality it is possible to go. Unlike the Salwensor Zell Kravinsky, most people never try.

The second version of the objection has been put by several philo-sophers during the past decade, among them Susan Wolf in a forcefularticle entitled “Moral Saints”. Wolf argues that if we all took the kindof moral stance defended in this chapter, we would have to do withouta great deal that makes life interesting: opera, gourmet cooking, elegantclothes and professional sport, for a start. The kind of life we come tosee as ethically required of us would be a single-minded pursuit of the

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overall good, lacking that broad diversity of interests and activities that,on a less demanding view, can be part of our ideal of a good life for ahuman being. To this, however, one can respond that although the richand varied life that Wolf upholds as an ideal may be the most desirableform of life for a human being in a world of plenty, it is wrong to assumethat it remains a good life in a world in which buying luxuries for oneselfmeans accepting the continued avoidable suffering of others. A doctorfaced with hundreds of injured victims of a train crash can scarcely thinkit defensible to treat fifty of them and then go to the opera, on thegrounds that going to the opera is part of a well-rounded human life.The life-or-death needs of others must take priority. Looking at the worldas a whole, and our ability to make a difference, we are like the doctor inthat we live in a time when we all have an opportunity to help to mitigatea disaster.

Associated with this second version of the objection is the claim thatan impartial ethic of the kind advocated here makes it impossible tohave serious personal relationships based on love and friendship. Theserelationships are, of their nature, partial. We put the interests of ourloved ones, our family and our friends ahead of those of strangers. If wedid not do so, would these relationships survive? I have already indicated,in the response I gave when considering the objection that we shouldfirst take care of our own, that there is a place within an impartiallygrounded moral framework for recognising some degree of partialityfor kin, and the same can be said for other close personal relationships.Clearly, for most people personal relationships are among the necessitiesof a flourishing life, and to give them up would be to sacrifice somethingof great moral significance. Moreover, for most people, to give up suchrelationships would diminish, not only their happiness and their mentalhealth, but also their effectiveness as an agent of change. Hence, no suchsacrifice is required by the principle for which I am here arguing.

The third version of the objection asks: might it not be counterpro-ductive to demand that people give up so much? Might not people say,‘As I can’t do what is morally required anyway, I won’t bother to give atall’? If, however, we were to set a more realistic standard, people mightmake a genuine effort to reach it. Thus, setting a lower standard mightactually result in more aid being given.

It is important to get the status of this third version of the objectionclear. Its accuracy as a prediction of human behaviour is quite compatiblewith the argument that we are obliged to give to the point at which bygiving more we sacrifice something of comparable moral significance to

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what we achieve by our donation. What would follow from the objectionis that public advocacy of this standard of giving is undesirable. It wouldmean that, in order to do the maximum to reduce extreme poverty,we should advocate a standard lower than the amount we think peoplereally ought to give. Of course we ourselves – those of us who accept theoriginal argument, with its higher standard – would know that we oughtto do more than we publicly propose people ought to do, and we mightactually give more than we urge others to give. There is no inconsistencyhere, because in both our private and our public behaviour we are tryingto do what will most reduce extreme poverty.

For a consequentialist, this apparent conflict between public andprivate morality is always a possibility and not in itself an indication thatthe underlying principle is wrong. The consequences of a principle areone thing, the consequences of publicly advocating it another. A variantof this idea is already acknowledged by the distinction between the intu-itive and critical levels of morality, of which I have made use in previouschapters. If we think of principles that are suitable for the intuitive levelof morality as those that should be generally advocated, these are theprinciples that, when advocated, will give rise to the best consequences.Where aid is concerned, they will be the principles that lead to the largestamount being given by the affluent to the poor – as long as the money isgiven to an organization that will use it with maximum effectiveness.

Is it true that the standard set by our argument is so high as to becounterproductive? There is not much evidence to go by, but discussionsof the argument with students and others have led me to think it might be.On the other hand, the conventionally accepted standard – a few coins ina collection tin when one is waved under your nose – is obviously far toolow. What level should we advocate? In my book The Life You Can Save –and on the corresponding website, – I havesuggested a progressive scale, like a tax scale. It begins at just 1 percent ofincome; and for 90 percent of taxpayers, it does not require giving morethan 5 percent. This is therefore an entirely realistic amount, and onethat people could easily give with no sacrifice – and indeed, often witha personal gain, because there are many psychological studies showingthat those who give are, as the Salwen family found, happier than thosewho do not. I do not really know if the scale I propose is the one thatwill, if widely advocated, achieve the greatest total amount donated, butI calculated that if everyone in the affluent world gave according tothat scale, it would raise $1.5 trillion each year – which is eight timeswhat the United Nations task force headed by the economist Jeffrey

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Sachs calculated would be needed to meet the Millennium DevelopmentGoals set by the leaders of all the world’s nations when they met at theUN Millennium Development Summit in 2000. Those goals includedreducing by half the proportion of the world’s people living in extremepoverty and the proportion of people who suffer from hunger, as wellas reducing by two-thirds the death toll among children under five yearsold – thus saving six million lives every year – and enabling childreneverywhere to have a full course of primary schooling.

This surprising outcome – that if everyone with abundance were tocontribute to the effort to reduce extreme poverty and all that goes withit, the amount each of us would need to give would be quite modest –shows that the argument with which this chapter began is demandingonly because so few of those with the ability to help the poor are doinganything significant to help them. We do not need to transfer half or aquarter or even a tenth of the wealth of the rich to the poor. If few arehelping, those few have to cut very deep before they get to the point atwhich giving more would involve sacrificing something of comparablemoral significance to the life saved by their gift. If we all, or even mostof us, gave according to the much more modest scale I have suggested,none of us would have to give up much. That is why this is a suitablestandard for public advocacy. What we need to do is to change our publicethics so that for anyone who can afford to buy luxuries – and even abottle of water is a luxury if there is safe drinking water available free –giving something significant to those in extreme poverty becomes anelementary part of what it is to live an ethical life.


Climate Change

In the previous chapter, we briefly considered the argument that the onlyobligation we have to strangers is not to harm them. For most of humanexistence, that view would have been easy to live by. Our ancestors livedin groups of no more than a few hundred people, and those on theother side of a river or mountain range might as well have been livingin a separate world. We developed ethical principles to help us to dealwith problems within our community, not to help those outside it. Theharms that it was considered wrong to cause were generally clear and welldefined. We developed inhibitions against, and emotional responses to,such actions, and these instinctive or emotional reactions still form thebasis for much of our moral thinking.

Today, we are connected to people all over the world in ways ourancestors could not have imagined. The discovery that human activitiesare changing the climate of our planet has brought with it knowledge ofnew ways in which we can harm one another. When you drive your car,you burn fossil fuel that releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Youare changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere and, hence,the climate. What does this do to others?

In some parts of the world, what you are doing is already apparent.According to the World Health Organization, the warming of the planetcaused an additional 140,000 deaths in 2004, as compared with the num-ber of deaths there would have been had average global temperaturesremained as they were during the period 1961 to 1990. This means thatclimate change is already causing, every week, as many deaths as occurredin the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The immediate causes ofthe additional death are mostly climate-sensitive diseases such as malaria,


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dengue, and diarrhoea, which is more common when there is a lack ofsafe water. Malnutrition resulting from crops that fail because of hightemperatures or low rainfall is also responsible for many extra deaths.

Changes are also already apparent in the fertile, densely settled deltaregions in Egypt, Bangladesh, India and Vietnam, which are at risk fromrising sea levels. The Sunderbans, islands in the Ganges delta that arehome to four million Indians, are disappearing – two islands have van-ished entirely; in total, an area of land measuring thirty-one square mileshas disappeared over the last thirty years. Hundreds of families havehad to move to camps for displaced people. Some small Pacific nationslike the Maldives, Kiribati and Tuvalu, which consist of low-lying coralatolls, are in similar danger; within a few decades, these nations may besubmerged beneath the waves.

These are only the first signs of much greater change to come. In2007, the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel onClimate Change, the scientific body established by the United NationsEnvironment Program and the World Meteorological Association, foundthat a temperature rise, by 2080, in the range of 2.0◦C to 2.4◦C wouldput stress on water resources used by 1.2 billion people. Rising sea levelswould expose, each year, an additional 16 million people to coastal flood-ing. If temperatures rise as much as 3.3◦C over the same period, the stresson water resources would affect 2.5 to 3.2 billion people, and each yearwould expose an additional 29 million to coastal flooding.

What we are doing to strangers in other communities right now is,therefore, far more serious and far more widespread than the harm wewould do if we were in the habit of occasionally sending out a group ofwarriors to rape and pillage a village or two. Yet causing imperceptibleharm at a distance by the release of waste gases is a completely new formof harm, and so we lack any kind of instinctive inhibitions or emotionalresponse against causing it. We have trouble seeing it as harm at all.

The polar bear perched on a melting chunk of ice has become anicon of the campaign against global warming, making the point thatit is not only humans who will suffer from climate change. Millions ofanimals will die in droughts and floods. Some will be able to move astheir environments change, but for others there will be nowhere to go.In some regions, for instance, alpine species will be able to move higherup mountains as temperatures increase, but in others – Australia is oneexample – alpine plants and animals are already clinging to the mostelevated regions of the country, and there is nowhere higher to go.Global warming will cause extinctions on a vast scale.

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In the previous chapter, I argued against the view that the only oblig-ation we have to strangers is to avoid harming them; but even if we wereto take that view, the facts of climate change would demonstrate clearlythat we are harming hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of the world’spoor. It would seem, therefore, that on any plausible view, we have anobligation to stop harming them and to compensate them for the harmwe have already caused them – harm that will continue to unfold for thenext century at least, even if we cut all greenhouse gas emissions to zerotoday. We need international arrangements to deal with climate change,and we need a global ethic on which to base these arrangements. Thischapter will discuss what this global ethic might look like and what theresponsibilities of both nations and individuals are in respect of climatechange.

‘enough and as good’

Imagine that we live in a village in which everyone puts their waste downa giant drain. No one quite knows what happens to the waste after it goesdown the drain, but because it disappears and doesn’t seem to botheranyone, no one worries about it. No matter how much we pour downthe drain, others can do the same. For as long as anyone can remember,the capacity of the drain to dispose of our waste has seemed limitless. Webelieve that we can take what we want and still leave, in the words of theseventeenth-century English philosopher John Locke, ‘enough and asgood left in common for others’. This, on Locke’s view, is a key factor inour being able to acquire property from natural resources. Now imaginethat we start producing more waste, and suddenly we find that the drain’scapacity is not limitless after all; on the contrary, it is being used to thefull. At this point, when we continue to throw our wastes down the drainwe are no longer leaving ‘enough and as good for others’, and hence ourright to unchecked waste disposal becomes questionable.

Think of our atmosphere as that giant drain and our wastes as carbondioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases. We have just discoveredthat the atmosphere’s capacity to absorb our gases without harmful con-sequences is limited. The evidence shows that we are already using itbeyond its capacity. Before the industrial revolution, carbon dioxide inour atmosphere amounted to only 270 parts per million (ppm). Thenhumans began to burn coal in large quantities, and later oil and gas.In 2010, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 390 ppm. Thisis a higher level than at any time in recorded history, and it is still

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increasing at 2 ppm each year. There is general agreement that if wecause average temperatures to increase by 2◦C, dangerous, large-scaleconsequences, much more severe than anything we have seen so far,are probable. Until about 2008, most scientists agreed on 450 ppmas the level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere that should not beexceeded if we are to prevent a greater increase than 2◦C. On currenttrends, we will reach 450 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphereby 2040.

Allowing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to reach 450ppm is already taking a grave risk. In the first decade of the twenty-firstcentury, global warming repeatedly exceeded the predictions made byearlier reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, andwe developed a better understanding of the dangers of feedback loopsin planetary warming. The melting of arctic ice is one visible exampleof something happening more rapidly than scientists had predicted. Italso illustrates the dangers of a feedback loop. Four hundred years ago,explorers sought the legendary ‘Northeast Passage’ that would enablethem to sail across the north of Europe and Russia to China. They foundthe arctic ice impenetrable and gave up their quest. In 2009, commer-cial vessels successfully navigated the Northeast Passage. The large areaof the Arctic Ocean that is now ice-free in summer is a symptom of globalwarming. In addition, it is itself a cause of further warming. Ice and snowreflect the sun’s rays back upwards. An ice-free ocean surface absorbsmore warmth from the sun. Our greenhouse gas emissions have, by caus-ing enough warming to melt arctic ice, created a feedback loop thatwill generate more warming, even if we were to stop emitting all green-house gases tomorrow. Other feedback loops pose even greater danger.In Siberia, vast quantities of methane, an extremely potent greenhousegas, are locked up in what used to be called ‘permafrost’ – regions inwhich the ground was permanently frozen. Areas that used to be frozenare now thawing, and as they thaw they release the methane, contribut-ing to further warming and to the thawing of further regions, releasingmore methane.

Evidence of this kind led James Hansen, of the U.S. National Aero-nautics and Space Administration, and his colleagues to conclude, in anarticle published in Science in 2008, that if we wish ‘to preserve a planetsimilar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earthis adapted,’ we need to reduce carbon dioxide to ‘at most 350 ppm’.That is, of course, a level that we passed some years ago. So if we think ofthe atmosphere as a giant drain, then the drain is already overused. We

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need to cut back on our usage. How can we decide who should cut backthe most?

what is an equitable distribution?

Historical Responsibility

In addressing the question of justice in distribution in his book Anarchy,State and Utopia, the philosopher Robert Nozick made a useful distinctionbetween ‘historical’ principles and ‘time-slice’ principles. An historicalprinciple is one that says: to understand whether a given distribution ofgoods is just or unjust, we must ask how the distribution came about; wemust know its history. Are the parties entitled, by an originally justifiableacquisition and a chain of legitimate transfers, to what they now have? Ifso, the present distribution is just. If not, rectification or compensationwill be needed to produce a just distribution. In contrast, a time-sliceprinciple just looks at the existing distribution, at this moment of time,and asks on that basis if it is just.

One historical principle, often applied in the case of pollution, is ‘Youbroke it, you fix it’ – also known as ‘The polluter pays’. If a chemicalfactory pollutes a river, then the owner of the factory is responsible forcleaning up the river. If we apply this principle to climate change, thenit would assign responsibility for fixing the problem to each country inproportion to the amount that the country has contributed to causingthe problem. Historical emissions of carbon dioxide are relevant, becausemost of the carbon dioxide emitted a century ago is still in the atmospheretoday.

In discussions at the United Nations on climate change in 1997, theBrazilian government proposed that emission reduction targets shouldbe set according to the impact of a nation’s historic emissions on tem-perature rise. A scientific group was set up to evaluate the proposal andindicate whether the data existed to allow conclusions to be reached onwhat contributions different nations or regions had made to the increasein global temperatures. This group eventually reported, in 2008, that thedata was adequate for this, especially for fossil fuel emissions, althoughcontributions due to changes in forestry and agriculture were more dif-ficult to quantify. The group took as its period for measuring contribu-tions from 1890 to 2000, noting that different dates would give slightlydifferent results. It concluded that the United States is responsible for20 percent of the temperature rise and the European nations that are

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members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Develop-ment (OECD) are responsible for 14 percent. Somewhat surprisingly –and perhaps disconcertingly for the Brazilians – Latin America also comesout as contributing 14 percent of the temperature rise, although thestudy notes that this figure falls as low as 8 percent if different data forforestry and land use changes are used. On the other hand, all of EastAsia, including China, has contributed only 10 percent, and South Asia,including India, only 7 percent. On the ‘You broke it, you fix it’ view,therefore, it is the United States and the long-industrialized Europeannations, perhaps together with Latin America, that ought to bear thelargest share of the burden of solving the problem.

China has offered support for the Brazilian proposal, but with theexplicit proviso that historic contributions to climate change should beconsidered on a per capita basis. Carbon Equity, a report prepared by fiveChinese academic and policy-oriented think tanks for the 2009 confer-ence on climate change in Copenhagen, argues that the fact that Chinahas a much larger population than the United States has to be taken intoaccount in apportioning responsibility for the greenhouse problem. Theassumption here, which seems reasonable, is that each person is entitledto an equal share of the atmosphere, and we should be looking at theextent to which people in some nations have, in past centuries, used morethan their share. The report calculates that over the period from 1850to 2004, the average American has been responsible for putting twenty-one times as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as the averageChinese and fifty-three times as much as the average Indian. On average,Britons and Canadians are responsible for sixteen times as much carbonbeing in the atmosphere as Chinese and forty times as much as Indians.The principle of historical responsibility thus indicates that almost all ofthe sacrifices required to stop global warming should be made by theolder industrialized nations.

One sometimes hears the objection that the industrial revolution hasbenefited the entire world, not only the industrialized nations, and hencethat the emissions required for industrialization should not be regardedas only the responsibility of the industrialized nations. It’s true that theindustrial revolution made possible the development of science and tech-nology, and this has benefited and is continuing to benefit billions ofpeople all over the world. But it also enabled the industrialized nationsto colonize much of the world and, even after the era of colonization,to dominate the global trading system. This has greatly benefited thoseliving in the industrialized nations, whereas its impact on the colonized

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nations was, at best, much more mixed. So even if industrialization hasbeen, on balance, a benefit rather than a harm for the world as a whole,it is a benefit that has accrued disproportionately to those in the indus-trialized nations themselves, and the emissions can fairly be seen as theirresponsibility.

Another objection to holding the industrialized nations responsiblefor all their emissions since the industrial revolution is that for most ofthis period they did not know that these emissions would be harmful.That’s true, though as early as 1896, the distinguished scientist SvanteArrhenius predicted that burning fossil fuels would lead to a build-upof carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that would heat the planet. (Hethought, however, that this would be a good thing, making the earth’sclimate ‘more equable’ and stimulating food production. Perhaps thatbenign view of global warming had something to do with his locationin Sweden.) Human-induced global warming was not seriously studieduntil the 1970s, however, and climate change only became an issue ofinternational concern in the 1980s. At U.S. congressional hearings in1987 – at the time the hottest year on record, but now already not evenone of the ten hottest years – James Hansen warned of the dangersof global warming. Other scientists supported him. The following year,the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up, and twoyears later that body reported that the threat of climate change wasreal, and a global treaty was needed to deal with it. The United NationsFramework Convention on Climate Change was agreed to at the “EarthSummit” held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. This convention, accepted by181 governments, including all the major industrialized nations, callsfor greenhouse gases to be stabilized ‘at a low enough level to preventdangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system’. Thenations of the world have not done what they said they would do. Instead,their greenhouse gas emissions continued to grow. (The Kyoto Protocol,agreed to by most industrialized nations in 1997, was an attempt to getaction from the industrialized nations that would fulfil the pledges madeat the Rio Earth Summit five years earlier. The United States, then theworld’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and one with a particularlyhigh per capita level of emissions, did not ratify it.)

Though not legally binding, the Rio de Janeiro commitment demon-strates that in 1992 the developed nations were aware of the need foraction. The study of the Brazilian proposal to consider historical contri-butions, referred to previously, also examined what the outcome wouldbe if the starting date for historical responsibility were not 1890 but

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1990 – a date by which there could be no claim of ignorance about thefact that greenhouse gas emissions posed a risk of bringing about danger-ous climate change. Although this much more recent starting date did ofcourse reduce the contributions of the older industrialized nations, thedifference was smaller than might be expected. The contribution ofthe United States declined from 20 percent to 16 percent, and that of theEuropean OECD nations fell from 14 percent to 11 percent. China’s con-tribution increased to around 13 percent, but India’s remained near 5percent; Africa’s contributions remain extremely small whatever datelineis used. The per capita contributions of the industrialized nations remainlopsidedly greater, because of course the population of the United Statesis only about one quarter that of China. Thus, even if we accept theargument that the ‘You broke it, you fix it’ rule applies only from thetime when the biggest emitters knew that their emissions were riskingdangerous anthropogenic climate change, it would still be the case thatthe United States and the industrialized nations of Europe ought to bedoing much more than any other nations to solve the problem.

Equal Shares

At a 2009 United Nations Summit meeting on climate change, the pres-ident of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, pointed out that climate change willprobably have a more severe impact on Africa than on any other partof the world – and yet Africa has fewer resources to draw on to meetthis challenge. Many models of the changes that global warming is likelyto bring show that precipitation will decrease nearer the equator andincrease nearer the poles. The rainfall on which hundreds of millionsrely to grow their food will become less reliable. Moreover, the poornations depend on agriculture far more than the rich. In the UnitedStates, agriculture represents only 4 percent of the economy; in Malawiit is 40 percent, and 90 percent of Malawians are subsistence farmers, vir-tually all of them dependent on rainfall. Similar patterns of dependenceon farming and rainfall are common across Africa.

It is also obviously true that the poorer nations lack the resources toadapt. In southern Australia, when several states were faced with a long-term trend of declining rainfall, governments built costly desalinationplants to ensure that major cities will not run out of water. In the Nether-lands, the government has raised dykes to keep out rising sea levels andis designing amphibious houses that can rise and float, while remain-ing securely moored, if rivers flood. Other countries cannot afford such

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expensive ways of providing water and controlling flooding from risingsea levels.

President Kagame went on to point out that climate change is only‘very marginally, if at all, a problem of Africa’s making’. We have seenthat he was right about this too. Nevertheless, he offered to wipe the slateclean and forget about the responsibility of the industrialized nations forcausing the problem. Because we are all facing a struggle for survival,he said, he did not want ‘a new round of blame game’ which wouldnot only be in poor taste but also counterproductive. Instead, he pro-posed that every human being is entitled to an equal share of the atmo-sphere. At the same United Nations meeting, Sri Lanka made a similarproposal.

‘Equal shares’ has the great merit of simplicity. It is a time-slice prin-ciple – it takes no account of the past and gives everyone an equal shareof the atmosphere from now on. Like other developing nations, Rwandaand Sri Lanka are using far less than their equal per capita share, and soeven if they give up their right to make a claim against the industrializednations on the basis of historical responsibility, they will still do well onan equal shares basis.

What would equal shares mean in practice? Suppose that we aim tostabilize greenhouse gas emissions at a level that will prevent us exceeding450 ppm carbon dioxide. It is controversial how much carbon we couldemit per person while remaining below that level, but one plausiblefigure is two tons of carbon dioxide per person per year. (Emissions aresometimes expressed in terms of carbon rather than carbon dioxide.One ton of carbon is equivalent to 3.7 tons of carbon dioxide, so twotons of carbon dioxide is not much more than half a ton of carbon. Weshould also remember that the figure for ‘carbon dioxide’ really means‘carbon dioxide equivalent’ for it includes other greenhouse gases suchas methane, converted at a rate that takes into account their potency toheat up the planet.) Now compare actual per capita emissions for somekey nations with this estimate of two tons of carbon dioxide per personthat could be emitted each year. In 2010, the United States, Canada andAustralia all produced about twenty tons of carbon dioxide per personper year, while Germany produced eleven tons, China about four, Indianot much more than one ton, and Sri Lanka only about two-thirds of aton. This means that Sri Lanka could triple its emissions and India couldalmost double its emissions while still remaining within their per capitashares. China would need to halve its current emissions, Germany wouldhave to reduce them by more than 80 percent, and most dramatically of

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all, the United States, Canada and Australia would have to reduce theiremissions to only one-tenth of present levels.

It is, of course, not possible for industrialized nations like Germany andthe United States to make such dramatic reductions in the short term, orat least not without devastating economic consequences that would belikely, in a democracy, to lead to a change of government and a reversalof the policy. Before we conclude that this makes the principle of equalper capita shares an unrealistic idea, however, there are two mitigatingfactors to consider. The first is that making greenhouse gas emissionquotas tradeable would ease the transition to a low-emissions economy.Emissions trading works on the simple economic principle that if you canbuy something more cheaply than you can produce it yourself, you arebetter off buying it than producing it. In this case, what you buy will be atransferable quota to produce greenhouse gases, allocated on the basis ofan equal per capita share. International carbon trading means that cuts incarbon emissions will be made at the lowest possible cost, thus doing theleast possible damage to the global economy. Moreover, a carbon tradingscheme gives countries with few greenhouse gas emissions – generally,poor countries – an incentive to keep their emissions low, so that theyhave more emissions quota to sell to rich countries that are over theirquota. Thus, an international emissions trading scheme could contributetowards solving the problem of poverty discussed in the previous chapter.It would involve the transfer of resources from rich nations to poor ones –not as altruism, but as payment for a valuable commodity.

There are, however, some serious objections to an international car-bon trading scheme. One is whether such a scheme would be verifi-able – that is, whether the emissions of each nation could be properlychecked against the nation’s quota – and what would happen if it werenot. Without a reliable means of verifying emissions cuts, nothing will beachieved. Secondly, payments from rich nations to poor nations will onlyreduce poverty if the governments to which they are paid use them forthat purpose. In the case of governments that refused to do so – which,as we saw in the previous chapter, often happens when dictatorial orcorrupt governments earn royalties from the sale of oil and minerals – itwould be better for the payments to be held in trust until a governmentemerges that can demonstrate that it will use the funds for the benefit ofits people as a whole.

The third objection to an international emissions trading scheme isone that James Hansen has made to any ‘cap and trade’ system – thatis, any system that sets an overall cap on emissions, divides them up

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into emission permits for nations or corporations or individuals, andthen allows these permits to be traded. Hansen points out that suchschemes have a perverse effect on altruistic actions. If I decide to cutmy greenhouse gas emissions by buying a fuel-efficient hybrid car, thisdoes not reduce the emissions total for my country. The cap determinesthe total, and if some people reduce their emissions, this will make theprice of emission permits fall. Thus, fossil fuels will be cheaper than theywould have been if some people had not altruistically decided to reducetheir emissions, and others who are not altruistic will no doubt decide tobuy a bigger car, or use more energy, because of the price fall. Hansentherefore prefers a tax on the carbon content of fossil fuels, with theproceeds divided equally between all of a country’s legal residents – hecalls it a ‘fee and dividend’ scheme. This would reward those who reducetheir carbon footprint, and doing so would reduce the overall emissionstotal. In response, the economist Paul Krugman acknowledges that a capand trade system does reduce the opportunities for climate altruism, buthe denies that altruism is going to enable us to cut emissions to the extentwe need. He also points out that allowing permits to be traded uses themechanism of the market to ensure that emissions are reduced at thelowest possible cost – why reduce emissions at a high cost if someone elsecan reduce them for much less and still profit by selling their permitsto you? Thus, in Krugman’s view and in the view of most economists, acarbon fee or tax is less efficient than a cap and trade system.

This discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of a carbon trad-ing scheme is, however, a digression from our discussion of whether itis possible for developed nations to reduce their emissions to the extentneeded to avoid catastrophe. A carbon trading scheme was one factor thatmay make this task a little more possible than it at first seems. A secondfactor is that the cuts do not need to be made all at once. The GermanAdvisory Council on Global Change, a scientific body that advises theGerman government, has suggested that the total amount of permissibleemissions of carbon dioxide should not be calculated for a single year,but rather should be set for the entire period between now and 2050and designed to make it likely that global temperatures do not rise morethan 2◦C. For this purpose, the council suggested a maximum of 750billion tons of carbon dioxide to be emitted between 2010 and 2050(although even with this amount, the council warned that there wouldbe no more than a two-thirds probability that the temperature rise couldbe kept below 2◦C). This total, the council proposed, should be dividedbetween countries on the basis of equal per capita shares. Countries could

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then produce their own ‘road maps’ showing how they would reducetheir carbon dioxide emissions so as not to exceed their carbon budgetsbefore 2050.

Although the German proposal gives industrialized countries time tomake changes, for those countries with the highest current per capitaemissions outputs, the time is very short. About sixty countries, mostlyindustrialized nations, will, at current rates, use up their budget in lessthan twenty years. Germany, for example, if it continued to emit at thesame rate as it did in 2008, would use up its emissions budget in just tenyears, requiring it to have zero emissions for the next thirty years. (It istherefore commendable that Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, hasaccepted the equal shares principle, saying: ‘ . . . our long-term measurecan only be that per capita CO2 emissions in the world must be equal-ized.’) The United States, Australia and Canada are currently on track touse up their budgets in just six years. Another group of thirty countries,which includes China, Mexico and Thailand, will, at current rates, use uptheir budgets in twenty to forty years. The remaining ninety-five countriesdo not need to reduce their emissions, as at current rates their budgetswill last at least forty years. Brazil is in this group. So too is India, whichwould take eighty-eight years to exhaust its budget at current levels. Someof the poorest nations emit so little carbon that at current rates it wouldtake them several centuries to use up their budget. At the extreme end ofthis spectrum, the small African nation of Burkina Faso would take 2,892years to use up its budget – which means that under an international capand trade scheme, it would be able to sell a large amount of its quota tothose nations that will have the most difficulty in meeting their targets.

Apart from the question of whether the rich nations could realistic-ally comply with the equal per capita share approach, another objec-tion to this approach is that if a country’s population grows, then thatcountry gets a larger allocation; while everyone else’s allocation dimin-ishes because the total permissible emissions level must remain constant.Thus, a country with a rapidly growing population is imposing a burdenon other countries, forcing them to reduce their emissions still further.It would be better to have a system that gives countries an incentive toslow population growth. We could do this by setting national allocationsthat are tied to today’s population rather than letting them rise withan increase in population. Because different countries have differentproportions of young people about to reach reproductive age, however,this provision would produce greater hardship in countries with youngerpopulations than in those with older populations. That problem could be

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avoided if national allocations were based on an estimate of a country’spopulation at some future date. The Population Division of the UnitedNations Department of Economic and Social Affairs publishes predic-tions of the population that each nation will reach in 2050. Using thisfigure as the basis for the per capita allocation would encourage coun-tries to aim to remain below their projected population, for any countrythat could achieve this would have a larger per person allocation thanthat to which its actual population would entitle it. Conversely, a countrywould have a reduced emission quota per actual resident if its populationgrowth exceeded the UN population forecast.

Luxury versus Subsistence

In A Theory of Justice, perhaps the most influential work on justice pub-lished in the twentieth century, John Rawls argued that if devoting moreresources to those who are worse off will improve their situation, thenthat is what justice requires us to do. In the1992 United Nations Frame-work Convention on Climate Change, the importance of favouring thosewho are worse off was recognized by a provision stating that the countriessigning the convention ‘have a right to, and should, promote sustainabledevelopment’. This accepts the importance of development for poorcountries, but the right to development is constrained by the need fordevelopment to be sustainable. The countries of the world thereforehave, in the wording of the convention, ‘common but differentiatedresponsibilities’.

In 1993, the philosopher Henry Shue argued that a just allocation ofquotas to emit greenhouse gases would distinguish between ‘subsistenceemissions’ and ‘luxury emissions’ so that methane from rice paddies inpoor countries would not rank equally with emissions from large vehiclesused for recreational driving in the rich nations. At a United Nations Gen-eral Assembly debate on climate change in 2007, a diplomat representingChina used the same language, saying that ‘emissions of subsistence’ and‘development emissions’ of poor countries should be accommodated byany future agreements, whereas the ‘luxury emissions’ of rich countriesshould be restricted. Whether one chooses an egalitarian, Rawlsian, orutilitarian principle of justice, that is difficult to deny.

Drawing a distinction between subsistence and luxury emissions showsconvincingly that Burkina Faso is under no obligation to restrict emis-sions that are helpful for its development – but then, as we have seen, thatis also apparent from an application of the principle of equal per capita

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shares. The distinction between subsistence emissions and luxury emis-sions is of only limited use to China, however, because there are alreadymore Chinese living an affluent lifestyle, and therefore responsible for ahigh level of emissions, than there are, say, Germans. Admittedly, almostall Germans are responsible for a high level of emissions, whereas onlya small proportion of Chinese are, but if China is calling on rich coun-tries to restrict their ‘luxury emissions’, it can scarcely ignore the luxuryemissions coming from its own elite.

a form of aggression?

All of the three principles we have discussed have something to be saidfor them, and the choice between them is difficult. We could try tocombine them, modifying the basic idea of equal per capita shares bygiving some weight to historical contributions and some to a country’sneed to develop and provide the means for all its citizens to reach aminimum standard of living. Without going into the complexities ofsuch possible combinations, it is clear that on any of these principles,or on any combination of them, the rich nations cannot justify theircontinued high output of greenhouse gases. It is impossible to think of aplausible ethical principle by which they could justify it. We can thereforeconclude that they are doing something wrong.

What exactly is the nature of the wrongdoing? At an African Unionsummit in 2007, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda told the nations ofEurope and North America: ‘You are causing aggression to us by causingglobal warming . . . Alaska will probably become good for agriculture,Siberia will probably become good for agriculture, but where does thatleave Africa?’ We have already seen that the facts to which Musevenirefers are basically accurate. Nevertheless, his use of the term ‘aggression’shocks us. Can he be right?

When we think of ‘aggression’, we imagine troops moving across aborder, or planes bombing enemy positions. In emitting high levels ofgreenhouse gases, the rich nations are not deliberately attacking anothercountry, but their actions may be even more devastating than conven-tional forms of aggressive war. Because of what the rich nations are doing,lands that now grow crops will become barren, glaciers that for millenniahave fed rivers will dwindle, the sea will take over fertile fields, trop-ical diseases will spread, and people will starve or become refugees. Forat least the past twenty years, the rich countries have known that theiractions risk causing these effects; and from some time in the first decade

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of the twenty-first century, they have known that their actions very prob-ably will have these effects. The fact that these harms are an unwantedbut unavoidable side effect of pursuing otherwise innocuous goals, likegiving people the kind of lifestyle they desire, is no justification for caus-ing such harms. According to the doctrine of double effect, knowinglycausing harm can be justified if the harm is not intended, the goal is suf-ficiently important to outweigh the harm caused, and there is no otherway of achieving the goal without causing at least as great a harm. In thecase of global warming, however, the reverse is the case: the harm causedfar outweighs the good obtained. President George W. Bush admittedas much early in his presidency when, asked if he would do somethingabout global warming, he said: ‘We will not do anything that harms oureconomy, because first things first are the people who live in America.’Shortly afterwards Ari Fleischer, his spokesperson, was asked at a pressbriefing whether the president would call on drivers to sharply reducetheir fuel consumption, Fleischer replied: ‘That’s a big no. The Presidentbelieves that it’s an American way of life, and that it should be the goal ofpolicymakers to protect the American way of life.’ Such remarks suggestthat the United States was bringing life-threatening harm to hundreds ofmillions of people because its leader put a higher priority on preservingits citizens’ economic interests, and their rights to burn as much fuelas they wish, than on the survival of people outside the United States.Though George W. Bush is no longer in power, unless the United Statesdrastically changes course on emissions, that will remain true. One couldsay the same about other developed nations, even if their leaders aremore guarded in their comments.

What we are doing to the people most at risk from global warming,therefore, is similar in its impact to waging aggressive war on them.It differs in its motivation, but that will be little consolation to them.Moreover, because we know what we are doing and yet do not stop doingit, we cannot shirk responsibility for it. We are culpable for the harm weare doing to them.

what ought individuals to do?

The next question to ask is: what obligation does this place on us asindividual citizens of the culpable nations? When we looked at our indi-vidual responsibilities as affluent individuals in a world with a billionpeople living in extreme poverty, the answer was clear. We may well tryto change the behaviour of our government, urging it to increase its aid

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to the world’s poor and to make that aid as effective as possible, but wealso can and should act on our own, even if – or especially if – the gov-ernment does not live up to its obligations. As long as we can, by givingto aid agencies, stop something very bad from happening without sacrifi-cing anything of comparable moral significance ourselves, then giving tothose agencies is what we ought to do. That does seem to be the situation:a given donation can have a significant, discernible impact – not on theproblem of poverty as a whole, but on a child and the child’s family. Canwe say the same about climate change?

At first glance it seems that we can. Suppose that, like the averageAmerican, I am personally responsible for emitting the equivalent oftwenty tons of carbon dioxide every year. I use air-conditioning to keepmy house cool in summer, with the electricity coming largely from coal-fired power stations, and I use oil to heat it in winter. My diet is heavy inbeef and dairy products, I drive a car, and I fly to Florida for my wintervacation. Then I become concerned about climate change, so I switchto eating mostly plant-based foods, improve my home insulation, installsolar hot water, heating and electricity generation, ride my bike or thetrain instead of driving, and take vacations closer to home. Amazingly, Imanage to cut my greenhouse gas emissions to two tons a year. Will thechange in my lifestyle have a significant, discernible impact on anyone?It surely won’t have an impact that anyone can detect. Even if we assumethat the result of my actions is that eighteen fewer tons of carbon dioxidego into the atmosphere each year, that is too small a quantity to haveany discernible effect on anyone. That’s not to say that it won’t have anyeffect at all, but rather that we cannot know what effect – if any – it has.

We often find ourselves faced with actions that seem to be wrong, eventhough it isn’t obvious that they will have bad consequences. A favouriteexample of philosophers is taking a short cut across a beautiful lawn.Assume that all of us would save a few seconds by taking the short cut,but none of us want to see the lawn damaged. Still, what difference willit make if I take the short cut, just this once? The grass will not showany perceptible damage from one person walking on it. To this the usualreply is: ‘What if everyone did that?’ If everyone did it, of course, anunsightly muddy path would form, and none of us want to see that. Thesuggestion is that, because it would be bad if everyone were to do it, itmust be wrong for me to do it.

‘What if everyone did that?’ isn’t always a good objection to an action.‘What if everyone became a philosopher? We would all starve!’ is not agood reason against becoming a philosopher, as long as we know that

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there is no chance that everyone will become a philosopher. Even wheresufficient others might want to do what I am doing to bring about the badconsequence – as in the lawn-crossing example – it isn’t clear that ‘Whatif everyone did that?’ really shows that an action is wrong. Is it wrongfor me to cross the lawn because I might set a bad example to others,and thus increase the chances that everyone will do it? What if it is lateat night and no one else is around? Is it wrong because my imprint onthe grass will make a causal contribution, even if only a small one, to thegrass wearing out? Suppose that I have studied the amount of traffic thislawn can bear, and I find that it can withstand ten people walking acrossit per day without showing any signs of wear at all. I also know that nomore than six people do walk across it each day. So as long as I only do itwhen fewer than ten people are crossing it each day, and I do it when noone else is looking, and so do not influence others to cross it, my strollover the lawn will have no harmful consequences at all. Am I still wrongto do it because it would be bad if everyone did it?

Here consequentialists and non-consequentialists differ. An act-utilitarian who judges every act in accordance with its consequenceswould say that if you could really be sure that walking across the grasswould have no harmful consequences at all, it would not be wrong todo it. A rule-utilitarian could say that because the best rule for everyoneto observe in these circumstances would be ‘Do not cross the lawn’, itwould be wrong for me to cross it, even if my crossing would have nobad consequences. A Kantian, too, could reject lawn crossing becauseKant said that if I cannot will the maxim of my action to be a universallaw, then it must be wrong. The difficult question for the rule-utilitariansand Kantians, however, is how to formulate the rule or maxim that mustbe universalized. It is true that ‘Cross the lawn whenever it is conveni-ent to you to do so’ would, if widely observed, damage the lawn; andbecause I value the unspoilt law, I could not will it to be a universallaw. What about ‘Cross the lawn whenever crossing it will not set a badexample and will not damage the grass’? If we are allowed to makeour rules or maxims as specific as that, then, as David Lyons showed inhis book Forms and Limits of Utilitarianism, rule-utilitarianism becomesindistinguishable from act-utilitarianism – that is, rule-utilitarians willapprove of just those actions of which an act-utilitarian would approve,and they will disapprove of those of which an act-utilitarian woulddisapprove. R. M. Hare made a similar claim in respect of Kant’sappeal to the idea of universal law, arguing that this principle leadsutilitarianism.

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In Ideal Code, Real World, Brad Hooker argues for a version of rule-utilitarianism that provides a barrier against making rules too complic-ated. He holds that we act wrongly if we act contrary to a rule that wouldbe part of the set of rules that, if internalized by the overwhelming major-ity of people, would have the best consequences. If we make rules toospecific, people will find them too difficult to internalize, or act on, andthe costs of educating people to act on the rules will be too high. Because,on Hooker’s view, the code must be publicly known and promoted, it ishard to imagine that a rule like ‘Cross the lawn only when you can do itin secret’ could be part of the best moral code, for then everyone wouldknow that ‘secret’ lawn crossings were permitted, and too many peoplewould cross the lawn.

Christopher Kutz examines these issues in his book Complicity: Ethicsand Law for a Collective Age, and suggests what he calls the ComplicityPrinciple:

I am accountable for what others do when I intentionally participate in the wrongthey do or the harm they cause.

This principle is not consequentialist, Kutz says, because it makes meaccountable independently of the actual difference I make. As anexample of complicity, he considers the emission of chlorofluorocar-bons, or CFCs, the gases that damage the ozone layer and enlarge theozone hole, causing an increase in the rate of skin cancer in many partsof the world. Although in many respects the ozone hole problem wassimilar to the problem of climate change – individual emissions frommany nations were damaging the atmosphere, to the detriment of all –the ozone was being damaged by a much more specific and economic-ally less significant class of gases, used largely in refrigerators and someair-conditioners. International agreement on stopping the use of thegases was therefore far easier to obtain and was achieved by the 1987Montreal Protocol, which granted developing countries a longer periodthan the industrialized nations to phase out their use of CFCs. Kutzfocuses on an individual driver who uses a CFC-based coolant in his car’sair-conditioning. Is he doing anything wrong? Kutz says that althoughthere is no clear victim of the driver’s use of CFCs, ‘individuals mustthink of themselves as inclusively accountable for what they do together’.If collectively we cause harm, then – even though we do not deliberatelyset out to do something together, and the contribution of a single indi-vidual may make no difference to the harm done – each one of us iscomplicit in causing the harm and accountable for it.

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It isn’t clear, however, that we need a special non-consequentialistcomplicity principle of the kind that Kutz proposes. Neither the ozonedamage nor global warming is like the case of a lawn that could withstandthe tread of a few more people without any damage. By the time thedangers of CFCs and of greenhouse gases were known, the thresholdfor damage had already been crossed. Our emissions of CFCs were, andour emissions of greenhouse gases still are, making the situation worse –and of course the damage is much more serious than ruining a lawn.This suggests that we do not need to depart from consequentialism toshow what is wrong with emitting harmful gases into the atmosphere. InReasons and Persons, Derek Parfit points out that we tend to think that wecan only be harming others in a serious way if there is someone who hasa ground for a serious complaint. That may be a relic of the conditionsof our earlier existence when, as mentioned at the beginning of thischapter, if we harmed someone, it was usually obvious that we had doneso, and nothing we did was likely to affect a very large number of people.Now our actions can affect millions – perhaps billions. This means thatwe can inflict harm that is so broadly dispersed that no one individualcan plausibly claim to have been seriously affected by it.

Jonathan Glover offers a vivid illustration of how ignoring impercept-ible harms can lead us astray. Glover imagines that in a poor village, 100people are about to eat lunch. Each has a bowl containing 100 beans.Suddenly, 100 hungry bandits swoop down on the village. Each bandittakes the contents of the bowl of one villager, eats it, and gallops off.Next week, the bandits plan to do it again, but one of them is afflictedby qualms about causing poor peasants to go hungry. These doubts areset to rest by another bandit who proposes that each of them should takeno more than one bean from any villager’s bowl. Because the loss of onebean cannot make a perceptible difference to any villager – you don’treally notice if you are eating 99 or 100 beans – no bandit will have madeanyone worse off. So the bandits swoop down on the village, but insteadof just grabbing a whole bowl from a villager, each bandit goes to all 100villagers, taking just one solitary bean from each bowl. The villagers arejust as hungry as they were the previous week, but the bandits can allsleep well on their full stomachs, knowing that none of them has harmedanyone.

Glover’s example shows the absurdity of disregarding tiny harms. Evenif each of us makes no perceptible difference, we are each responsible fora share of the total harms we collectively cause. If, acting together with abillion other affluent people, we each emit twenty tons of carbon dioxide,

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each of us makes only an imperceptible difference to the climate and soinflicts only an imperceptible harm on anyone. Yet we are still, collectively,inflicting a very great harm on a very large number of people, and wemust bear our share of responsibility for that. We can, following Kutz, seethe wrongness of what we are doing in terms of a non-consequentialistprinciple of complicity, but we can also see it, at least in this kind of case,as consistent with a strict application of consequentialism.

Up to this point, we have been assuming that my change of lifestyle,and that of many others acting on a similarly voluntary basis, will overtime result in less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than there wouldhave been if we had not reduced our emissions. That seems obvious, butas we saw earlier, James Hansen has pointed out that if the governmentadopts a cap and trade scheme for reducing carbon emissions, individualreductions in carbon emissions may have no effect on reducing emissions.Suppose my government commits itself to reduce greenhouse gases by,say, 50 percent by 2050. In order to achieve this, it calculates how muchcarbon can be emitted each year and auctions permits, which majoremitters need to buy in order to continue to run their power stationsor factories. If more people install solar panels, and fewer coal-firedpower stations are required, power companies will not need to buy somany permits; or if they have already bought them, they will have surpluspermits to sell to whoever needs them. The price of permits will falland with it the cost of carbon-intensive products. Consumers who caremore about saving money than about doing what is right will buy moreof these products, and, if the emissions trading scheme is well-designedand implemented, emissions will still equal the target the governmenthas set. The savings in emissions caused by my change of lifestyle will nothave resulted in fewer emissions overall.

Could there still be benefits in voluntary lifestyle changes that reduceemissions, even under a cap and trade scheme? People who consumeless demonstrate that we can live more lightly on the planet. If the targetset by the government for cutting greenhouse gas is easily met, thatcould persuade the government to make its next target more ambitious.When people change their lifestyles, they are expressing their values andencouraging others to reconsider their values as well. That could lead togreater concern for the environment and for all who share the planetwith us. Changes in consumption could also reduce the profits of carbon-intensive industries and thus diminish their lobbying power with thegovernment. This might be particularly important with an industry thathas a lot of political muscle, such as the beef industry. Cattle and sheep

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emit high levels of methane, and hence the livestock industry is a majorcontributor to climate change – in fact, worldwide, livestock contributesmore to global warming than all forms of transport combined. Becauseof this, in 2010 the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization proposeda tax on livestock. Nevertheless, in many countries livestock producersare lobbying to be exempted from carbon trading schemes, and in somecountries, at the time of writing, these lobbying efforts appear to behaving considerable success. If they do succeed, a voluntary boycott ofproducts from cattle and sheep would be the only way to reduce the largequantity of emissions these industries cause.

For non-consequentialists, the complicity principle is relevant here.If the government’s emissions trading scheme does not cut greenhousegas emissions to a point at which there is no further danger of seriousdamage to the planet’s climate – and at the time of writing, no countryhas implemented a scheme that will cut greenhouse gases sufficiently toeliminate such risks – then to continue to emit greenhouse gases, even ata level consistent with the government’s scheme, is still to participate ina wrongful practice that will harm others. A non-consequentialist couldtherefore hold that our intentional participation in this practice is wrong,even if cutting one’s own emissions to zero would have no impact onthe total amount of greenhouse gases put into the atmosphere. Thisis a kind of ‘I’m keeping my hands clean, anyway, even if it makes nodifference’ approach that is difficult to justify on direct consequentialistgrounds, but some successful movements for change have their originsin the actions of those who resist evil without really giving themselves anychance of making a difference. A resolutely non-consequentialist stancecan have good consequences. Perhaps our sense that it is objectionableto be complicit in a harmful practice, even if our own actions make nodifference, has arisen because it will sometimes have best consequencesif people act as if they were non-consequentialists.

One thing on which everyone can agree is that in addition to beingresponsible for the wrong we do, either individually or collectively,through our emissions, we have an obligation to try to change the policyof our government in whatever way will best slow the rate of climatechange. As we have seen, in failing to cut their greenhouse gas emissions,the rich nations are culpably causing harm to others on a vast scale. Thereis room for diverse opinions on the best method of cutting emissions.It might involve adopting a carbon trading scheme, or a carbon tax,so that everyone has a strong financial incentive for avoiding productsthat required the emission of greenhouse gases. By putting a price on

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carbon emissions – which ideally would mean, including in the price ofactivities that emit carbon the full cost these activities impose on thirdparties who are harmed by climate change – we create an incentive forfinding new ways to discover cost-effective, low-emission forms of energythat will replace the use of fossil fuels simply because they are cheaper.We can also urge governments to fund research and development in suchforms of energy. Note, however, that even if we did find a replacementfor fossil fuels, that would still leave untouched the problem of methaneemissions from cattle and sheep, so these emissions also need to be taxedor brought within the scope of a carbon trading scheme.

Given the gravity of the risks that our planet and its entire populationface from climate change over the next century, the level of protestagainst inaction has, to date, been quite small. There is an urgent needfor greater understanding about what is likely to happen if we do notstart cutting, deeply and rapidly, our greenhouse gas emissions. In thissituation, we should not be passive spectators.


The Environment

A river tumbles through forested ravines and rocky gorges towardsthe sea. The state hydro-electricity commission sees the falling wateras untapped energy. Building a dam across one of the gorges wouldprovide three years of employment for a thousand people, and longer-term employment for twenty or thirty. The dam would store enough waterto ensure that the state could economically meet its energy needs for thenext decade. This would encourage the establishment of energy-intensiveindustry thus further contributing to employment and economic growth.

The rough terrain of the river valley makes it accessible only to thereasonably fit, but it is nevertheless a favoured spot for bushwalking.The river itself attracts the more daring whitewater rafters. Deep in thesheltered valleys are stands of rare Huon pine, many of the trees beingmore than a thousand years old. The valleys and gorges are home tomany birds and animals, including an endangered species of marsupialmouse that has seldom been found outside the valley. There may be otherrare plants and animals as well, but no one knows, for scientists are yetto investigate the region fully.

Should the dam be built? This is one example of a situation in whichwe must choose between very different sets of values. The description isloosely based on a proposed dam on the Franklin River, in the south-west of Australia’s island state, Tasmania. An account of the fate of thatproposal can be found in Chapter 11, but I have deliberately alteredsome details, and this description should be treated as a hypotheticalcase. Many other examples would have posed the choice between valuesequally well: logging virgin forests, building a paper mill that will release


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pollutants into coastal waters, or opening a new mine on the edge of anational park. In this chapter, I shall explore the values that underliedebates about these decisions, and the example I have presented canserve as a point of reference to these debates. I shall focus particularly onthe values at issue in controversies about the preservation of wildernessbecause here the fundamentally different values of the two parties aremost apparent. When we are talking about flooding a river valley, thechoice before us is starkly clear.

In general terms, we can say that those who favour building the dam arevaluing employment and a higher per capita income for the state abovethe preservation of wilderness, of plants and animals (both common onesand members of endangered species) and of opportunities for outdoorrecreational activities. Before we begin to scrutinize the values of thosewho would have the dam built and those who would not, however, let’slook at the roots of our attitudes towards the natural world.

the western tradition

Western attitudes to nature grew out of a blend of those of the Hebrewpeople, as represented in the early books of the Bible, and the philosophyof ancient Greece, particularly that of Aristotle. In contrast to some otherancient traditions, for example those of India, both the Hebrew and theGreek traditions put humans at the centre of the moral universe. Indeed,in some respects even that understates the importance that humans havein the Western tradition, because it suggests that other beings have moralsignificance, even if they are less centrally important. For much of theWestern tradition, however, humans are not merely of central moral sig-nificance, they constitute the entirety of the morally significant featuresof this world.

The biblical story of creation in Genesis makes very clear the Hebrewview of the special place of human beings in the divine plan:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let themhave dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over theearth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him;male and female created he them.

And God blessed them, and God said upon them, Be fruitful, and multiply,and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of thesea and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon theearth.

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Today, Christians debate the meaning of this grant of ‘dominion’.Those concerned about the environment prefer to interpret it as ‘stew-ardship’; that is, not as a license to do as we will with other living things,but rather as a directive to look after them, on God’s behalf, and beanswerable to God for the way in which we treat them. There is, however,little justification in the text itself for such an interpretation; and giventhe example God set when he drowned almost every animal on earthin order to punish human beings for their wickedness, it is no wonderthat people should think the flooding of a single river valley is hardlyworth worrying about. After the flood there is a repetition of the grantof dominion in more ominous language:

And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth,and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and uponall the fishes of the sea; into your hands are they delivered.

The implication is clear: to act in a way that causes fear and dread toeverything that moves on the earth is not improper; it is, in fact, inaccordance with a God-given decree.

The most influential early Christian thinkers had no doubts about howman’s dominion was to be understood. ‘Doth God care for oxen?’ askedPaul, in the course of a discussion of an Old Testament command to restone’s ox on the Sabbath, but it was only a rhetorical question – he took itfor granted that the answer must be negative, and the command was tobe explained in terms of some benefit to humans. Augustine shared thisline of thought. He explained the puzzling stories in the New Testamentin which Jesus appears to show indifference to both trees and animals –fatally cursing a fig tree and causing a herd of pigs to drown – as intendedto teach us that ‘to refrain from the killing of animals and the destroyingof plants is the height of superstition’.

When Christianity prevailed in the Roman Empire, it absorbed ele-ments of the ancient Greek attitude to the natural world. The Greekinfluence was entrenched in Christian philosophy by the greatest of themedieval scholastics, Thomas Aquinas, whose life work was the meldingof Christian theology with the thought of Aristotle. Aristotle regardednature as a hierarchy in which those with less reasoning ability exist forthe sake of those with more:

Plants exist for the sake of animals, and brute beasts for the sake of man –domestic animals for his use and food, wild ones (or at any rate most of them)

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for food and other accessories of life, such as clothing and various tools. Sincenature makes nothing purposeless or in vain, it is undeniably true that she hasmade all animals for the sake of man.

In his own major work, the Summa Theologica, Aquinas followed thispassage from Aristotle almost word for word, adding that the positionaccords with God’s command, as given in Genesis. In his classification ofsins, Aquinas has room only for sins against God, ourselves or our neigh-bours. There is no possibility of sinning against nonhuman animals oragainst the natural world.

This was the thinking of mainstream Christianity for at least its firsteighteen centuries. There were gentler spirits, certainly, like Basil, JohnChrysostom and Francis of Assisi, but for most of Christian history theyhave had no significant impact on the dominant tradition. It is thereforeworth emphasising the major features of this dominant Western tradition,because these features can serve as a point of comparison when we discussdifferent views of the natural environment.

According to the dominant Western tradition, the natural world existsfor the benefit of human beings. God gave human beings dominion overthe natural world, and God does not care how we treat it. Human beingsare the only morally important members of this world. Nature itself is ofno intrinsic value, and the destruction of plants and animals cannot besinful, unless by this destruction we harm human beings.

Harsh as this tradition is, it does not rule out concern for the pre-servation of nature, as long as that concern can be related to humanwell-being. One could, within the limits of the dominant Western tradi-tion, oppose the burning of fossil fuels, the destruction of forests and theproliferation of methane-emitting cattle because of the harm to humanhealth and welfare that will occur as a result of climate change. As forarguments about preserving wilderness, there was a time when wilder-ness seemed to be a wasteland, a useless area that needed clearing inorder to render it productive and valuable. Now, however, a differentmetaphor is more appropriate: the remnants of true wilderness left tous are like islands amidst a sea of human activity that threatens to engulfthem. This gives wilderness a scarcity value that provides the basis fora strong argument for preservation, even within the terms of a human-centred ethic. That argument becomes much stronger still when we takea long-term view. We shall now turn to this immensely important aspectof environmental values.

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future generations

A virgin forest is the product of all the millions of years that have passedsince the beginning of our planet. If it is cut down, another forest maygrow up, but the continuity has been broken. The disruption in the nat-ural life cycles of the plants and animals means that the forest will neveragain be as it would have been had it not been cut. The gains made fromcutting the forest – employment, profits for business, export earningsand cheaper cardboard and paper for packaging – are short-term. Evenif the forest is not cut but drowned to build a dam to create electricity,it is very likely that the benefits will last for only a few generations, forin time new technology will render such methods of generating powerobsolete. Once the forest is cut or drowned, however, the link with thepast is gone forever. That is a cost that will be borne by every generationthat succeeds us on this planet. It is for that reason that environmentalistsare right to speak of wilderness as a ‘world heritage’. It is something thatwe have inherited from our ancestors and that we must preserve for ourdescendents if they are to have it at all.

In many stable, tradition-oriented human societies, the prevailing cul-ture strongly emphasizes preservation. Our culture, on the other hand,has great difficulty in recognizing long-term values. It is notorious thatpoliticians rarely look beyond the next election; but even if they do, theywill find their economic advisors telling them that anything to be gainedin the future should be discounted to such a degree as to make it easy todisregard the long-term future altogether. Economists have been taughtto apply a discount rate to all future goods. In other words, a milliondollars in twenty years is not worth a million dollars today, even when weallow for inflation. Economists will discount the value of the million dol-lars by a certain percentage, usually corresponding to the real long-terminterest rates. This makes economic sense, because if I had a thousanddollars today I could invest it so that it would be worth more, in realterms, in twenty years, but the use of a discount rate also means thatvalues gained in the more distant future may count for very little today.Suppose that we believe that in 200 years, people would be prepared topay a million dollars (that’s in today’s dollars, not inflated ones) to beable to have an unspoilt valley. Now imagine that today we can profit bycutting down the forest in the valley, which will never regrow. If we applyan annual discount rate of 5 percent, compounded exponentially, howbig would that profit have to be to justify the loss of a million dollars in2210? The answer, surprisingly, is just sixty dollars! That’s all that a million

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dollars in 200 years is worth, at that rate of discount. Obviously, then, ifwe use a 5 percent discount rate, values gained one thousand years in thefuture scarcely count at all. This is not because of any uncertainty aboutwhether there will be human beings or other sentient creatures inhab-iting this planet at that time, but merely because of the compoundingeffect of the rate of return on money invested now. From the standpointof the priceless and timeless values of wilderness, however, applying a dis-count rate gives us the wrong answer. There are some things that, oncelost, no amount of money can regain. Thus, to justify the destruction ofan ancient forest on the grounds that it will earn us substantial exportincome is unsound, even if we could invest that income and increase itsvalue from year to year; for no matter how much we increased its value,it could never buy back the link with the past represented by the forest.

This argument does not show that there can be no justification forcutting any virgin forests, but it does mean that any such justificationmust take full account of the value of the forests to the generations tocome in the more remote future, as well as those in the more immediatefuture. This value will obviously be related to the particular scenic or bio-logical significance of the forest; but as the proportion of true wildernesson the earth dwindles, every part of it becomes significant, because theopportunities for experiencing wilderness become scarce, and the like-lihood of a reasonable selection of the major forms of wilderness beingpreserved is reduced.

Can we be sure that future generations will appreciate wilderness?Not really; perhaps they will be happier playing electronic games moresophisticated than any we can imagine. Nevertheless, there are severalreasons why we should not give this possibility too much weight. First, thetrend has been in the opposite direction: the appreciation of wildernesshas never been higher than it is today, especially among those nationsthat have overcome the problems of poverty and hunger and have relat-ively little wilderness left. Wilderness is valued as something of immensebeauty, as a reservoir of scientific knowledge still to be gained, for therecreational opportunities that it provides, and because many people justlike to know that something natural is still there, relatively untouchedby modern civilization. If, as we all hope, future generations are ableto provide for the basic needs of most people, we can expect that forcenturies to come, they too will value wilderness for the same reasonsthat we value it.

Arguments for preservation based on the beauty of wilderness aresometimes treated as if they were of little weight because they are ‘merely

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aesthetic’ – even though we go to great lengths to preserve the artistictreasures of earlier human civilizations. It is difficult to imagine anyeconomic gain that we would be prepared to accept as adequate com-pensation for, for instance, the destruction of all the art in the Louvre.How should we compare the aesthetic value of wilderness with that ofthe art in the Louvre? Here, perhaps, judgment does become inescap-ably subjective; so I shall report my own experiences. I have looked atthe paintings in the Louvre, and of many of the other great galleries ofEurope and the United States. I think I have a reasonable sense of appre-ciation of the fine arts; yet I have not had, in any museum, experiencesthat fill my aesthetic senses as they are filled when I hike to a rocky peakand pause there to survey the forested valley below, or if I sit by a streamtumbling over moss-covered boulders set among tall tree ferns growingin the shade of the forest canopy. I do not think I am alone in this – formany people, wilderness is the source of the greatest feelings of aestheticappreciation, rising to an almost spiritual intensity.

It may nevertheless be true that this appreciation of nature will notbe shared by people living a century or two hence. If wilderness can bethe source of such deep joy and satisfaction, that would be a great loss.Moreover to some extent, whether future generations value wilderness isup to us; it is, at least, a decision we can influence. By our preservationof areas of wilderness, we provide opportunities for generations to come;and by the books and films we produce, we create a culture that can behanded on to our children and their children. If we feel that a walk inthe forest, with senses attuned to the appreciation of such an experience,is a more deeply rewarding way to spend a day than playing electronicgames, or if we feel that to carry one’s food and shelter in a backpackfor a week while hiking through an unspoilt natural environment willdo more to develop character than watching television for an equivalentperiod, then we ought to do what we can to encourage future generationsto have a feeling for nature.

Finally, if we preserve intact the amount of wilderness that exists now,future generations will at least have the choice of going to see a worldthat has not been created by human beings. If we destroy the wilderness,that choice is gone forever. Just as we rightly spend large sums to pre-serve cities like Venice, even though future generations conceivably maynot be interested in such architectural treasures, so we should preservewilderness even though it is possible that future generations will carelittle for it. Thus, we will not wrong future generations, as we have beenwronged by members of past generations whose thoughtless actions have

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deprived us of the possibility of seeing such animals as the dodo, Steller’ssea cow, or the thylacine, the striped marsupial also known as the ‘Tas-manian tiger’. We must take care not to inflict equally irreparable losseson the generations that follow us.

For this reason, too, the efforts to mitigate the greenhouse effectdiscussed in the previous chapter deserve the highest priority. For if by‘wilderness’ we mean that part of our planet that is unaffected by humanactivity, it is already too late: there is no wilderness left anywhere onour planet. The first popular book to warn of the dangers of climatechange was Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature. In it, McKibben argued:‘By changing the weather, we make every spot on earth man-made andartificial. We have deprived nature of its independence, and that is fatalto its meaning. Nature’s independence is its meaning; without it there isnothing but us.’ This is a profoundly disturbing thought. Yet McKibbendoes not develop it in order to suggest that we may as well give up ourefforts to reverse the trend. It is true that, as McKibben says, ‘we live ina postnatural world’. Nothing can undo that; the climate of our planetis under our influence. We still have, however, much that we value innature, and it may still be possible to save at least a part of what isleft.

Thus, a human-centred ethic can be the basis of powerful argumentsfor what we may call ‘environmental values’. Properly understood, suchan ethic does not imply that economic growth is more important thanthe preservation of wilderness. In the light of our discussion of species-ism in Chapter 3, however, it should also be clear that it is wrong to limitourselves to a human-centred ethic. We need to consider more funda-mental challenges to this traditional Western approach to environmentalissues.

is there value beyond sentient beings?

Although some debates about significant environmental issues can beconducted by appealing only to the long-term interests of our own spe-cies, in any serious exploration of environmental values a central issuewill be the question of intrinsic value. We have already seen that it isarbitrary to hold that only human beings are of intrinsic value. If wefind value in human conscious experiences, we cannot deny that thereis value in at least some experiences of nonhuman beings. How far doesthis extend? To all, but only, sentient beings? Or beyond the boundaryof sentience?

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To explore this question, a few remarks on the notion of ‘intrinsicvalue’ will be helpful. Something is of intrinsic value if it is good ordesirable in itself, in contrast to something having only ‘instrumentalvalue’ as a means to some other end or purpose. Our own happiness, forexample, is of intrinsic value, at least to most of us, in that we desire itfor its own sake. Money, on the other hand, is only of instrumental value.We want it because of the things we can buy with it. If we were maroonedon a desert island, we would not want it. Happiness, however, would bejust as important to us on a desert island as anywhere else.

Now consider again the issue of damming the river described at thebeginning of this chapter. If the decision were to be made on the basis ofhuman interests alone, we would balance the economic benefits of thedam against the loss for bushwalkers, scientists and others, now and in thefuture, who value the preservation of the river in its natural state. We havealready seen that because this calculation includes an indefinite numberof future generations, the loss of the wild river is a much greater costthan we might at first imagine. Even so, once we broaden the basis of ourdecision beyond the interests of human beings, we have much more to setagainst the economic benefits of building the dam. Into the calculationsmust now go the interests of all the nonhuman animals who live in thearea that will be flooded. Most of the animals living in the flooded areawill die: either they will be drowned, or they will starve. A few may be ableto move to a neighbouring area that is suitable, but wilderness is not fullof vacant niches awaiting an occupant. If there is territory that can sustaina native animal, it is most likely already occupied. Neither drowning norstarvation are easy ways to die, and the suffering involved in these deathsshould, as we have seen, be given no less weight than we would give toa similar amount of suffering experienced by human beings. This willsignificantly increase the weight of considerations against building thedam.

What of the fact that the animals will die, apart from the sufferingthat will occur in the course of dying? As we have seen, one can, withoutbeing guilty of arbitrary discrimination on the basis of species, regardthe death of a nonhuman ‘merely conscious’ animal as less significantthan the death of a person, because normal humans are capable offoresight and forward planning in ways that merely conscious animalsare not. This difference between causing death to a person and to amerely conscious animal does not mean that the deaths of the animalsshould be treated as being of no account. On the contrary, utilitarianswill take into account the loss that death inflicts on the animals – the

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loss of all their future existence and the experiences that their futurelives would have contained. When a proposed dam would flood a valleyand kill thousands, perhaps millions, of sentient creatures, these deathsshould be given great importance in any assessment of the costs andbenefits of building the dam. For those utilitarians who accept the totalview discussed in Chapter 4, moreover, if the dam destroys the habitat inwhich the animals lived, then it is relevant that this loss is a continuingone. If the dam is not built, animals will presumably continue to live in thevalley for thousands of years, experiencing their own distinctive pleasuresand pains. One might question whether life for animals in a naturalenvironment yields a surplus of pleasure over pain, or of satisfactionover frustration of preferences – and if there will be fish in the dam, thetotal utilitarian would have to take the pleasures of their existence intoaccount too as offsetting, to some extent, the loss of the pleasures of theforest animals. At this point, the idea of calculating benefits becomesalmost absurd; but that does not mean that the loss of future animal livesshould be dismissed from our decision making.

That, however, may not be all. Should we also give weight, not onlyto the suffering and death of individual animals, but to the fact that anentire species may disappear? What of the loss of trees that have stoodfor thousands of years? How much – if any – weight should we give tothe preservation of the animals, the species, the trees and the valley’secosystem, independently of the interests of human beings – whethereconomic, recreational or scientific – in their preservation?

Here we have a fundamental moral disagreement: a disagreementabout what kinds of beings ought to be considered in our moral deliber-ations. Let us look at what has been said on behalf of extending ethicsbeyond sentient beings.

Reverence for Life

The ethical position developed in this book extends the ethic of thedominant Western tradition but in other respects is recognizably of thesame type. It draws the boundary of moral consideration around allsentient creatures, but it leaves other living things outside that boundary.The drowning of the ancient forests, the possible loss of an entire species,the destruction of several complex ecosystems, the blockage of the wildriver itself and the loss of those rocky gorges are factors to be taken intoaccount only insofar as they adversely affect sentient creatures. Is a moreradical break with the traditional position possible? Can some or all of

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these aspects of the flooding of the valley be shown to have intrinsicvalue, so that they must be taken into account independently of theireffects on human beings or nonhuman animals?

To extend an ethic in a plausible way beyond sentient beings is adifficult task. An ethic based on the interests of sentient creatures is onfamiliar ground. Sentient creatures have wants and desires. The question:‘What is it like to be a possum drowning?’ at least makes sense, even if it isimpossible for us to give a more precise answer than ‘It must be horrible’.In reaching moral decisions affecting sentient creatures, we can attemptto add up the effects of different actions on all the sentient creaturesaffected by the alternative actions open to us. This provides us with atleast some rough guide to what might be the right thing to do. Thereis, however, nothing that corresponds to what it is like to be a tree dyingbecause its roots have been flooded. Once we abandon the interests ofsentient creatures as our source of value, where do we find value? Whatis good or bad for nonsentient creatures, and why does it matter?

It might be thought that as long as we limit ourselves to living things,the answer is not too difficult to find. We know what is good or badfor the plants in our garden: water, sunlight and compost are good;extremes of heat or cold are bad. The same applies to plants in anyforest or wilderness, so why not regard their flourishing as good in itself,independently of its usefulness to sentient creatures?

One problem here is that without conscious interests to guide us, wehave no way of assessing the relative weights to be given to the flourishingof different forms of life. Is a thousand-year-old Huon pine more worthyof preservation than a tussock of grass? Most people will say that it is, butsuch a judgment seems to have more to do with our feelings of awe forthe age, size and beauty of the tree, or with the length of time it wouldtake to replace it, than with our perception of some intrinsic value in theflourishing of an old tree that is not possessed by a young grass tussock.

If we cease talking in terms of sentience, the boundary between livingand inanimate natural objects becomes more difficult to defend. Wouldit really be worse to cut down an old tree than to destroy a beautifulstalactite that has taken even longer to grow? On what grounds couldsuch a judgment be made? Probably the best known defence of an ethicthat extends to all living things is that of the remarkable theologian,philosopher, musician, physician and humanitarian, Albert Schweitzer. In1952, Schweitzer was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarianwork in founding a hospital in Gabon and for his ethic of ‘reverence forlife’. Though that phrase is often quoted, the arguments he offered in

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support of such a position are less well-known. Here is one of the fewpassages in which he defended his ethic:

True philosophy must commence with the most immediate and comprehensivefacts of consciousness. And this may be formulated as follows: ‘I am life whichwills to live, and I exist in the midst of life which wills to live’ . . . Just as in my ownwill-to-live there is a yearning for more life, and for that mysterious exaltation ofthe will which is called pleasure, and terror in face of annihilation and that injuryto the will-to-live which is called pain; so the same obtains in all the will-to-livearound me, equally whether it can express itself to my comprehension or whetherit remains unvoiced.

Ethics thus consists in this, that I experience the necessity of practising thesame reverence for life toward all will-to-live, as toward my own. Therein I havealready the needed fundamental principle of morality. It is good to maintain andcherish life; it is evil to destroy and to check life. A man is really ethical only whenhe obeys the constraint laid on him to help all life which he is able to succour,and when he goes out of his way to avoid injuring anything living. He does notask how far this or that life deserves sympathy as valuable in itself, nor how far itis capable of feeling. To him life as such is sacred. He shatters no ice crystal thatsparkles in the sun, tears no leaf from its tree, breaks off no flower, and is carefulnot to crush any insect as he walks. If he works by lamplight on a summer eveninghe prefers to keep the window shut and to breathe stifling air, rather than to seeinsect after insect fall on his table with singed and sinking wings.

The American philosopher Paul Taylor defended a similar view in hisbook Respect for Nature, arguing that every living thing is ‘pursuing its owngood in its own unique way’. Once we see this, he claims, we can see allliving things ‘as we see ourselves’, and therefore ‘we are ready to placethe same value on their existence as we do on our own’.

It is not clear how we should interpret Schweitzer’s position. Thereference to the ice crystal is especially puzzling, for an ice crystal is notalive at all. Does Schweitzer perhaps see any form of killing as a kindof vandalism, a pointless destruction of something of value? Putting thispossibility aside, however, the problem with the defences offered by bothSchweitzer and Taylor for their ethical views is that they use languagemetaphorically and then argue as if what they had said was literally true.We may often talk about plants ‘seeking’ water or light so that they cansurvive, and this way of thinking about plants makes it easier to accept talkof their ‘will to live’ or of them ‘pursuing’ their own good. Once we stopto reflect on the fact that plants are not conscious and cannot engagein any intentional behaviour, however, it is clear that all this language ismetaphorical; one might just as well say that a river is pursuing its owngood and striving to reach the sea, or that the ‘good’ of a guided missile

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is to blow up its target. It is misleading of Schweitzer to attempt to swayus towards an ethic of reverence for all life by referring to ‘yearning’,‘exaltation’, ‘pleasure’ and ‘terror’. Plants experience none of these.

Holmes Rolston, an American environmental philosopher, has objec-ted to my comparison – which first appeared in the second edition of thisbook – between the ‘seeking’ behaviour of a plant and a guided missile.He argues that when a missile closes in on a target and blows it up, thatmay be good for the people who launched the missile, but it is not goodfor the missile itself. The missile was designed and built for a purpose.With plants and other natural organisms, on the other hand, Rolstonwrites:

Natural selection picks out whatever traits an organism has that are valuable to it,relative to its survival. When natural selection has been at work gathering thesetraits into an organism, that organism is able to value on the basis of those traits.It is a valuing organism, even if the organism is not a sentient valuer, much lessa conscious evaluator. And those traits, though picked out by natural selection,are innate in the organism, that is, stored in its genes. It is difficult to dissociatethe idea of value from natural selection.

Rolston fails to explain why natural selection gives rise to valuing in theorganism, but human design and manufacture does not. He must beaware that there is something odd about the idea of a valuer that is notsentient or conscious. In defence of that view, he asks what he appearsto think is a rhetorical question: ‘Why is the organism not valuing whatit is making resources of?’ But we can build solar-powered machines thatturn their solar panels to the sun so as to get the most energy for theirbatteries. Should we say that these devices are valuing the sunlight theyuse? If not, does the difference lie in the fact that the plant’s means ofsending its roots out towards water are encoded in its genes, whereasthe machine’s means of obtaining sunlight are encoded in its computerprograms? Why would that make one a valuer and the other not?

There are important differences between living things and machinesdesigned by humans. Nevertheless, in the case of both plants andmachines, it is possible to give a purely physical explanation of whatthe organism or machine is doing; and in the absence of consciousness,there is no good reason why we should have greater respect for the phys-ical processes that govern the growth and decay of living things than wehave for those that govern non-living things. This being so, it is at leastnot obvious why we should have greater reverence for a tree than for astalactite, or for a single-celled organism than for a mountain.

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Deep Ecology

More than sixty years ago, the American ecologist Aldo Leopold wrotethat there was a need for a ‘new ethic’, an ‘ethic dealing with man’srelation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it’. Hisproposed ‘land ethic’ would enlarge ‘the boundaries of the communityto include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively, the land’.The rise of ecological concern in the 1970s led to a revival of interest inthis attitude. The Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess wrote a brief butinfluential article distinguishing between ‘shallow’ and ‘deep’ strandsin the ecological movement. Shallow ecological thinking was limited tothe traditional moral framework: those who thought in this way wereanxious to avoid pollution to our water supply so that we could havesafe water to drink, and they sought to preserve wilderness so that peoplecould continue to enjoy walking through it. Deep ecologists, on the otherhand, wanted to preserve the integrity of the biosphere for its own sake,irrespective of the possible benefits to humans that might flow from sodoing. Subsequently, several other writers have attempted to developsome form of ‘deep’ environmental theory.

Whereas the reverence for life ethic emphasises individual livingorganisms, proposals for deep ecology ethics tend to take somethinglarger as the object of value: species, ecological systems, and even thebiosphere as a whole. Leopold summed up the basis of his new LandEthic thus: ‘A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, sta-bility and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tendsotherwise.’ Subsequently, Arne Naess and George Sessions, an Amer-ican philosopher involved in the deep ecology movement, set out severalprinciples for a deep ecological ethic, beginning with the following:

1. The well-being and flourishing of human and non-human Life onEarth have value in themselves (synonyms: intrinsic value, inherentvalue). These values are independent of the usefulness of the non-human world for human purposes.

2. Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization ofthese values and are also values in themselves.

3. Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity exceptto satisfy vital needs.

Although these principles refer only to life, in the same paper Naessand Sessions say that deep ecology uses the term ‘biosphere’ in a more

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comprehensive way, to refer also to non-living things such as rivers (water-sheds), landscapes and ecosystems. Two Australians working at the deepend of environmental ethics, Richard Sylvan and Val Plumwood, exten-ded their ethic beyond living things, including in it an obligation ‘notto jeopardise the wellbeing of natural objects or systems without goodreason’.

In the previous section, I quoted Paul Taylor’s remark to the effect thatwe should be ready, not merely to respect every living thing, but to placethe same value on the life of every living thing as we place on our own.This is a common theme among deep ecologists, often extended beyondliving things. In Deep Ecology Bill Devall and George Sessions defend aform of ‘biocentric egalitarianism’:

The intuition of biocentric equality is that all things in the biosphere have anequal right to live and blossom and to reach their own individual forms of unfold-ing and self-realization within the larger Self-realization. This basic intuition isthat all organisms and entities in the ecosphere, as parts of the interrelated whole,are equal in intrinsic worth.

If, as this quotation appears to suggest, this biocentric equality rests on a‘basic intuition’, it is up against some very strong intuitions that point inthe opposite direction – for example, the intuition that the rights to ‘liveand blossom’ of normal adult humans ought to be preferred over thatof yeasts, and the rights of gorillas over those of grasses. If, on the otherhand, the point is that humans, gorillas, yeasts and grasses are all parts ofan interrelated whole, then it can still be asked how this establishes thatthey are equal in intrinsic worth. Is it because every living thing plays itsrole in an ecosystem on which all depend for their survival? But, firstly,even if this showed that there is intrinsic worth in micro-organisms andplants as a whole, it says nothing at all about the value of individual micro-organisms or plants, because no individual is necessary for the survival ofthe ecosystem as a whole. Secondly, the fact that all organisms are part ofan interrelated whole does not suggest that they are all of intrinsic worth,let alone of equal intrinsic worth. They may be of worth only becausethey are needed for the existence of the whole, and the whole may be ofworth only because it supports the existence of conscious beings.

The ethics of deep ecology thus fails to yield persuasive answers toquestions about the value of the lives of individual living beings. Perhaps,though, this is the wrong kind of question to ask. The science of ecologylooks at systems rather than individual organisms. In the same way, ecolo-gical ethics might be more plausible if it looks at the level of species and

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ecosystems rather than individual organisms. Behind many attempts toderive values from ecological ethics at this level lies some form of holism –some sense that the species or ecosystem is not just a collection of indi-viduals but really an entity in its own right. This holism is made explicitin Lawrence Johnson’s A Morally Deep World. Johnson is quite preparedto talk about the interests of a species, in a sense that is distinct fromthe sum of the interests of each member of the species, and to arguethat the interests of a species or an ecosystem ought to be taken intoaccount, alongside individual interests, in our moral deliberations. InThe Ecological Self, Freya Mathews contends that any ‘self-realizing system’has intrinsic value in that it seeks to maintain or preserve itself. Livingorganisms are paradigm examples of self-realizing systems, but Mathews,like Johnson, includes in this category species and ecosystems as holisticentities or selves with their own form of realization. She even includesthe entire global ecosystem, following James Lovelock in referring to itby the name of the Greek goddess of the earth, Gaia. On this basis, shedefends her own form of biocentric egalitarianism.

There is, of course, a real philosophical question about whether aspecies or an ecosystem can be considered as the sort of individual thatcan have interests, or a ‘self’ to be realized; and even if it can, the deepecology ethic will face problems similar to those we identified in consid-ering the idea of reverence for life. For it is necessary, not merely thattrees, species and ecosystems can properly be said to have interests, butthat they have morally significant interests. If they are to be regarded as‘selves’, it will need to be shown that the survival or realization of thatkind of self has moral value, independently of the value it has because ofits importance in sustaining conscious life.

We saw in discussing the ethic of reverence for life that one way ofestablishing that an interest is morally significant is to ask what it is likefor the entity affected to have that interest unsatisfied. The same questioncan be asked about self-realization: what is it like for the self to remainunrealized? Such questions yield intelligible answers when asked of sen-tient beings but not when asked of trees, species or ecosystems. The factthat, as James Lovelock points out in Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, thebiosphere can respond to events in ways that resemble a self-maintainingsystem does not in itself show that the biosphere consciously desires tomaintain itself. Calling the global ecosystem by the name of a Greek god-dess is a cute idea, but it may not be the best way of helping us to thinkclearly about its nature. Similarly, on a smaller scale, there is nothingthat corresponds to what it feels like to be an ecosystem flooded by a

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dam, because there is no such feeling. In this respect, trees, ecosystemsand species are more like rocks than they are like sentient beings; sothe divide between sentient and nonsentient creatures is to that extent afirmer basis for a morally important boundary than the divide betweenliving and non-living things, or between holistic entities and any otherentities that we might not regard as holistic. (Whatever these other entit-ies could be: even a single atom is, when seen from the appropriate level,a complex system that ‘seeks’ to maintain itself.)

This rejection of the ethical basis for a deep ecology ethic does notmean that the case for the preservation of wilderness is not strong. All itmeans is that one kind of argument – the argument from the intrinsicvalue of the plants, species or ecosystems – is, at best, problematic. Unlessit can be placed on some other, firmer, footing, we should confineourselves to arguments based on the interests of sentient creatures –present and future, human and nonhuman. These arguments are quitesufficient to show that, at least in a society where no one needs to destroywilderness in order to obtain food for survival or materials for shelterfrom the elements, the value of preserving the remaining significantareas of wilderness greatly exceeds the economic values gained by itsdestruction.

developing an environmental ethic

The broad outlines of a truly environmental ethic are easy to discern.At its most fundamental level, such an ethic fosters consideration forthe interests of all sentient creatures, including subsequent generationsstretching into the far future. It is accompanied by an aesthetic of appre-ciation for wild places and unspoilt nature. At a more detailed level,applicable to the lives of dwellers in cities and towns, it discourages largefamilies. (Here, it forms a sharp contrast to some existing ethical beliefsthat are relics of an age in which the earth was far more lightly popu-lated; it also offers a counterweight, in practical terms, to the apparentlyrepugnant implication of the ‘total’ version of utilitarianism discussedin Chapter 4.) An environmental ethic rejects the ideals of a materialistsociety in which success is gauged by the number of consumer goods onecan accumulate. Instead, it judges success in terms of the development ofone’s abilities and the achievement of real fulfilment and satisfaction. Itpromotes frugality and re-use, insofar as that is necessary for minimisingthe impact we have on the planet. Thus, the various ‘green consumer’guides and books about things we can do to save our planet – recycling

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what we use and buying the most environmentally friendly products avail-able – are part of the new ethic that is required.

An environmental ethic leads us to re-assess our notion of extravag-ance. In a world under environmental pressure, this concept is not con-fined to chauffeured limousines and Dom Perignon champagne. Timberthat has come from a rainforest is extravagant, because the long-termvalue of the rainforest is far greater than the uses to which the timberis put. Disposable paper products are extravagant if ancient hardwoodforests are being converted into woodchips and sold to paper manufac-turers. Motor sports are extravagant, because we can enjoy races that donot require the consumption of fossil fuels and the emission of green-house gases. Beef is extravagant because of the high methane emissionsthat are involved in its production, not to mention the waste of most ofthe food value of the grain and soybeans that are fed to beef cattle.

In Britain during the Second World War, when fuel was scarce, postersasked: ‘Is your journey really necessary?’ The appeal to national solidarityagainst a very visible and immediate danger was highly effective. Thedanger to our environment is harder to see, but the need to cut outunnecessary journeys, and other forms of unnecessary consumption, isjust as great. The emphasis on frugality and a simple life does not meanthat an environmental ethic frowns on pleasure, but that the pleasures itvalues do not come from conspicuous consumption. They come, instead,from loving relationships; from being close to children and friends; fromconversation; from sports and recreations that are in harmony with ourenvironment instead of harmful to it; from food that is not based onthe exploitation of sentient creatures and does not cost the earth; fromcreative activity and work of all kinds; and (with due care so as not toruin precisely what is valued) from appreciating the unspoilt places inthe world in which we live.


Civil Disobedience, Violence and Terrorism

We have examined a number of ethical issues. We have seen that manyaccepted practices are open to serious objections. What ought we to doabout it? This, too, is an ethical issue. Here are five cases – all ones thatactually happened – to consider.

∗Oskar Schindler was a minor German industrialist. During the war, heran a factory near Cracow, Poland. At a time when Polish Jews were beingsent to death camps, he assembled a labour force of Jewish inmates fromconcentration camps and the ghetto, considerably larger than his factoryneeded, and used several illegal stratagems, including bribing membersof the SS and other officials, to protect them. He spent his own moneyto buy food on the black market to supplement the inadequate officialrations he obtained for his workers. By these methods, he was able tosave the lives of about 1,200 people.

∗Dr. Thomas Gennarelli directed a Head Injury Laboratory at the Uni-versity of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. Members of an undergroundorganization called the Animal Liberation Front knew that Gennarelliinflicted head injuries on monkeys there and had been told that the mon-keys underwent the experiments without being properly anaesthetised.They also knew that Gennarelli and his collaborators videotaped theirexperiments to provide a record of what happened during and after theinjuries they inflicted. They tried to obtain further information throughofficial channels but were unsuccessful. In May 1984, they broke into thelaboratory at night and found thirty-four videotapes. They then systemat-ically destroyed laboratory equipment before leaving with the tapes. The


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tapes clearly showed conscious monkeys struggling as they were beingstrapped to an operating table where head injuries were inflicted; theyalso showed experimenters mocking and laughing at frightened animalsabout to be used in experiments. When an edited version of the tapes wasreleased to the public, it produced widespread revulsion. Nevertheless, ittook a further year of protests, culminating in a sit-in at the headquartersof the government organization that was funding Gennarelli’s experi-ments, before the United States Secretary of Health and Human Servicesordered that the experiments stop.

∗In 1986, Joan Andrews entered an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Florida,and damaged a suction abortion apparatus. She refused to be repres-ented in court, on the grounds that ‘the true defendants, the pre-bornchildren, received none, and were killed without due process’. Andrewswas a supporter of Operation Rescue, an American organization thattakes its name, and its authority to act, from the biblical injunction to‘Rescue those who are drawn toward death and hold back those stum-bling to the slaughter.’ Operation Rescue was, at the time, using civildisobedience to shut down abortion clinics, thus, in its view, ‘sparing thelives of unborn babies whom the Rescuers are morally pledged to defend’.Participants blocked the doors of the clinics to prevent physicians andpregnant women seeking abortion from entering. They attempted to dis-suade pregnant women from approaching the clinic by ‘sidewalk coun-selling’ on the nature of abortion. Gary Leber, then an Operation Rescuedirector, said that between 1987 and 1989 alone, as a direct result of such‘rescue missions’, at least 421 women changed their minds about havingabortions, and the children of these women, who would have been killed,are alive today. Charged with the damage she caused to the Pensacolaclinic, Andrews, who had been arrested more than 130 times for her anti-abortion activities, refused to sign a statement promising not to continueher protests. She was sentenced to five years in prison. Since serving thatsentence, she has continued to protest, was frequently arrested, and hasserved more time in prison. Meanwhile, Operation Rescue changed itsleadership and its strategy, restricting itself to opposing abortion by legalmeans. Andrews is no longer associated with the organization.

∗In 1976, a young medical practitioner named Bob Brown rafted downthe Franklin River in Tasmania’s southwest. The wild beauty of the riverand the peace of the undisturbed forests around it impressed him deeply.Then, around a bend on the lower reaches of the river, he came across

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workers for the Hydro-Electric Commission studying the feasibility ofbuilding a dam across the river. Brown gave up his medical practice andfounded the Tasmanian Wilderness Society, with the object of protectingthe state’s remaining wilderness areas. Despite vigorous campaigning, theHydro-Electric Commission recommended the building of the dam, andafter some vacillation the State Government, with support from both thebusiness community and the labour unions, decided to go ahead. TheTasmanian Wilderness Society organized a non-violent blockade of theroad being built into the dam site. In 1982, Brown, along with manyothers, was arrested and jailed for four days for trespassing on landcontrolled by the Hydro-Electric Commission. The blockade turned thedam into a major issue in the Federal election that was then due. TheAustralian Labor Party, in opposition prior to the election, pledged toexplore constitutional means of preventing the dam from going ahead.The election saw the Labor Party elected to office, and legislation passedto stop the dam. Though challenged by the Tasmanian Government,the legislation was upheld by a narrow majority of the High Court ofAustralia on the grounds that the Tasmanian Southwest was a WorldHeritage area, and the Federal Government had constitutional powersto uphold the international treaty creating the World Heritage Com-mission. Today, the Franklin still runs free. Senator Bob Brown leadsthe Australian Greens in the Australian Senate, where he representsTasmania.

∗On a snowy March day in 2009, 2,500 activists surrounded the coal-fired Capitol Power Plant in Washington DC and shut it down for a fewhours in protest against the government’s inadequate response to globalwarming. It was the largest act of civil disobedience for climate changeto have taken place in the United States. In an open letter releasedbefore the protest, Bill McKibben and Wendell Berry, two of America’smost thoughtful writers on environmental questions, wrote: ‘There aremoments in a nation’s – and a planet’s – history when it may be necessaryfor some to break the law in order to bear witness to an evil, bring it towider attention, and push for its correction.’ They believed that that timehad come, they said, in regard to climate change, and they were willingto make sacrifices themselves, ‘even if it’s only a trip to the jail’. (Theprotesters stepped over the property line of the plant and invited arrest,but police did not intervene and no one was arrested.) The protest hadno noticeable effect on U.S. policy on climate change; but in the days

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leading up to it, it was announced that the plant would be convertedfrom coal to natural gas, which will reduce its contribution to climatechange.

∗Do we have an overriding obligation to obey the law? Oskar Schindler, themembers of the Animal Liberation Front who took Gennarelli’s video-tapes, Joan Andrews of Operation Rescue, Bob Brown and those whojoined him in front of the bulldozers in Tasmania’s southwest, and theprotesters who blockaded the Capitol Power Plant were all breaking thelaw. Were they all acting wrongly?

The question cannot be dealt with by invoking the simplistic formula:‘The end never justifies the means.’ For all but the strictest adherent ofan ethic of rules, the end sometimes does justify the means. Most peoplethink that lying is wrong, other things being equal, yet consider it rightto lie in order to avoid causing unnecessary offence or embarrassment –for instance, when a well-meaning relative gives you a hideous vase foryour birthday, and when you thank her politely she asks if you really likeit. If this relatively trivial end can justify lying, it is even more obviousthat some important end – preventing a murder, or saving animals fromgreat suffering – can justify lying. Thus, the principle that the end cannotjustify the means is easily breached. The difficult issue is not whether theend can ever justify the means, but which means are justified by whichends?

individual conscience and the law

There are many people who are opposed to damming wild rivers, to theexploitation of animals, to abortion and to power plants that emit largequantities of greenhouse gases, but they do not break the law in order tostop these activities. No doubt some members of the more conventionalconservation, animal liberation and anti-abortion organizations do notcommit illegal acts because they do not wish to be fined or imprisoned;but others would be prepared to take the consequences of illegal acts.They refrain only because they respect and obey the moral authority ofthe law.

Who is right in this ethical disagreement? Are we under any moralobligation to obey the law if the law protects and sanctions things wehold utterly wrong? A clear-cut answer to this question was given by thenineteenth-century American radical, Henry Thoreau. In his essay ‘Civil

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Disobedience’ – perhaps the first use of this now familiar phrase – hewrote:

Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscienceto the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think we should bemen first and subjects afterwards. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for thelaw, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume,is to do at any time what I think right.

In similar vein, the American philosopher Robert Paul Wolff wrote:

The defining mark of the state is authority, the right to rule. The primary obliga-tion of man is autonomy, the refusal to be ruled. It would seem, then, that therecan be no resolution of the conflict between the autonomy of the individual andthe putative authority of the state. Insofar as a man fulfills his obligation to makehimself the author of his decisions, he will resist the state’s claim to have authorityover him.

Thoreau and Wolff resolve the conflict between individual and society infavour of the individual. We should do as our conscience dictates, as weautonomously decide we ought to do, not as the law directs. Anythingelse would be a denial of our capacity for ethical choice.

Thus stated, the issue looks straightforward and the Thoreau-Wolffanswer obviously right. So Oskar Schindler, the Animal Liberation Front,Joan Andrews, Bob Brown, Wendell Berry and Bill McKibben were fullyjustified in doing what they saw to be right rather than what the statelaid down as lawful. Is it that simple? There is a sense in which it isundeniable that, as Thoreau says, we ought to do what we think right or,as Wolff puts it, make ourselves the authors of our decisions. Faced witha choice between doing what we think right and what we think wrong,of course we ought to do what we think right. This, though true, is notmuch help. What we need to know is, not whether we should do what wedecide to be right, but how we should decide what is right.

Think about the difference of opinion between members of groupslike the Animal Liberation Front and more law-abiding members oforganizations like the Humane Society of the United States or Britain’sRoyal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: ALF membersthink inflicting pain on animals is, unless justified by extraordinary cir-cumstances, wrong, and if the best way to stop it is by breaking the lawthen they think that breaking the law is right. HSUS and RSPCA mem-bers – let us assume – also think that inflicting pain on animals is wrong,unless justified by extraordinary circumstances, but they think breakingthe law is wrong too, and they think that the wrongness of breaking the

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law cannot be justified by the goal of stopping the unjustifiable inflictionof pain on animals. Now suppose there are people opposed to inflictingpain on animals who are uncertain whether they should join the militantlawbreakers or the more conventional animal welfare group. How doestelling these people to do what they think right, or to be the authorof their own decisions, resolve their uncertainty? The uncertainty is anuncertainty about what is the right thing to do, not about whether to dowhat one has decided to be right.

This point can be obscured by talk of ‘following one’s conscience’irrespective of what the law commands. Some who talk of ‘followingconscience’ mean no more than doing what, on reflection, one thinksright – and this may, as in the case of our imagined HSUS or RSPCAmembers, depend on what the law commands. Others mean by ‘con-science’, not something dependent on critical reflective judgment, buta kind of internal voice that tells us that something is wrong and maycontinue to tell us this despite our careful reflective decision, based onall the relevant ethical considerations, that the action is not wrong. Inthis sense of ‘conscience’, an unmarried woman brought up as a strictRoman Catholic to believe that sex outside marriage is always wrong mayabandon her religion and come to hold that there is no sound basis forrestricting sex to marriage – yet continue to feel guilty when she has sex.She may refer to these guilt feelings as her ‘conscience’, but if that is herconscience, should she follow it?

To say that we should follow our conscience is unobjectionable – butunhelpful – when ‘following conscience’ means doing what, on reflec-tion, one thinks right. When ‘following conscience’ means doing as one’s‘internal voice’ prompts one to do, however, to follow one’s conscienceis to abdicate one’s responsibility as a rational agent, to fail to take all therelevant factors into account and act on one’s best judgment of the rightsand wrongs of the situation. The ‘internal voice’ is more likely to be aproduct of one’s upbringing and education than a source of genuineethical insight.

Presumably neither Thoreau nor Wolff wishes to suggest that weshould always follow our conscience in the ‘internal voice’ sense. Theymust mean, if their views are to be at all plausible, that we should followour judgment about what we ought to do. In this case, the most that canbe said for their recommendations is that they remind us that decisionsabout obeying the law are ethical decisions that the law itself cannot settlefor us. We should not assume, without reflection, that if the law prohibits,say, stealing videotapes from laboratories, it is always wrong to do so – any

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more than we should assume that if the law prohibits hiding Jews fromthe Nazis, it is wrong to do so. Law and ethics are distinct. On the otherhand, this does not mean that the law carries no moral weight. It doesnot mean that any action that would have been right if it had been legalmust be right although it is in fact illegal. That an action is illegal maybe of ethical, as well as legal, significance. Whether it really is ethicallysignificant is a separate question.

law and order

If we think that a practice is very seriously wrong, and if we have thecourage and ability to disrupt this practice by breaking the law, howcould the illegality of this action provide an ethical reason against it? Toanswer a question as specific as this, we should first ask a more generalone: why have laws at all?

Human beings are social in nature, but not so social that we do notneed to protect ourselves against the risk of being assaulted or killedby our fellow humans. We might try to do this by forming vigilanteorganizations to prevent assaults and punish those who commit them,but the results would be haphazard and liable to grow into gang warfare.Thus, it is desirable to have, as John Locke said long ago, ‘an established,settled, known law’, interpreted by an authoritative judge and backedwith sufficient power to carry out the judge’s decisions.

If people voluntarily refrained from assaulting others, or acting inother ways inimical to a harmonious and happy social existence, wemight manage without judges and sanctions. We would still need con-ventions about such matters as which side of the road one drives on.Even an anarchist utopia would have some settled principles of cooper-ation. So we would have something rather like law. In reality, not every-one is going to voluntarily refrain from behaviour, like assaults, thatothers cannot tolerate. Nor is it only the danger of individual acts likeassaults that make law necessary. In any society there will be disputes:about how much water farmers may take from the river to irrigate theircrops, about the ownership of land, about the custody of a child, aboutthe control of pollution and about the level of taxation. Some settleddecision procedure is necessary for resolving such disputes economic-ally and speedily, or else the parties to the dispute are likely to resort toforce. Almost any established decision procedure is better than a resortto force; for when force is used, people get hurt and the desire forretaliation is likely to lead to more violence. Moreover, most decision

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procedures produce results at least as beneficial and just as a resort toforce.

So laws and a settled decision procedure to generate them are a goodthing. This gives us one important reason for obeying the law. By obeyingthe law, I can contribute to the respect in which the established decisionprocedure and the laws are held. By disobeying, I set an example toothers that may lead them to disobey too. The effect may multiply andcontribute to a decline in law and order. In an extreme case, it may leadto civil war.

A second reason for obedience follows immediately from this first.If law is to be effective, then – given the way humans are – theremust be some machinery for detecting and penalizing lawbreakers. Thismachinery will cost something to maintain and operate, and the cost willhave to be met by the community. If I break the law, the community willbe put to the expense of enforcement.

These two reasons for obeying the law are neither universally applic-able nor conclusive. They are not, for instance, applicable to breachesof the law that remain secret. If, late at night when the streets are deser-ted, I cross the road against the red light, there is no one to be led intodisobedience by my example and no one to enforce the law against me.But this is not the kind of illegality we are interested in.

In the absence of reasons for disobeying the law, these two reasons forobeying the law are sufficient to resolve the issue; but where there areconflicting reasons, we must assess each case on its merits in order to seeif the reasons for disobedience outweigh these reasons for obedience. If,for instance, illegal acts were the only way of preventing many painfulexperiments on animals, of saving significant areas of wilderness, or ofbringing about deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, the importanceof the ends would justify running some risk of contributing to a generaldecline in obedience to law.


At this point, some will say: the difference between Oskar Schindler’sheroic deeds and the indefensible illegal actions of the Animal LiberationFront, Joan Andrews, the opponents of the Franklin dam, and those whocommit civil disobedience to spur action on climate change, is that inNazi Germany, there were no legal channels that Schindler could use tobring about change. All of the others were living in a democracy andcould have made use of legal means of stopping what they considered to

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be wrong. The existence of legal procedures for changing the law makesthe use of illegal means unjustifiable.

It is true that in democratic societies there are legal procedures thatcan be used by those seeking reforms, but this in itself does not show thatthe use of illegal means is always wrong. Legal channels may exist, but theprospects of using them to bring about change in the foreseeable futuremay be very poor. While one makes slow and painful progress – or perhapsno progress at all – through these legal channels, the indefensible wrongsone is trying to stop will be continuing. Prior to the successful struggleto save the Franklin River, an earlier campaign had been fought againsta proposal by the Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Commission to flood LakePeddar, a pristine alpine lake situated in a national park. This campaignemployed more orthodox political tactics. It failed, and Lake Peddar dis-appeared under the waters of the dam. Dr. Thomas Gennarelli’s labor-atory had carried out experiments for several years before the AnimalLiberation Front raided it. Without the evidence of the stolen videotapes,it would probably have functioned for many more years. Similarly, Opera-tion Rescue was founded after fourteen years of more conventional polit-ical action had failed to reverse the permissive legal situation regardingabortion that has existed in the United States since the Supreme Courtdeclared restrictive abortion laws unconstitutional in 1973. During thatperiod, according to Operation Rescue’s Gary Leber, ‘twenty-five millionAmericans’ were ‘“legally” killed’. The climate change protesters believe,on good evidence, that it will soon be too late to stop dangerous and irre-versible climate change. When we take the perspectives of those involvedin disobedience, it is easy to see why the existence of legal channels forchange does not solve the moral dilemma. An extremely slim chanceof bringing about change by legal means is not a strong reason againstusing illegal means if they are more likely to succeed. The most that canfollow from the mere existence of legitimate channels is that because wecannot know, until we have tried them, whether using them will lead tothe desired change, their existence is a reason for postponing illegal actsuntil legal means have been tried and have failed.

Here, the upholder of democratic laws can try another tack: if legalmeans fail to bring about reform, it shows that the proposed reform doesnot have the approval of the majority of the electorate; and to attemptto implement change by illegal means against the wishes of the majoritywould be a violation of the central principle of democracy, majority rule.

The protester can challenge this argument on two grounds, one fac-tual and the other philosophical. The factual claim in the democrat’s

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argument is that a reform that cannot be implemented by legal meanslacks the approval of the majority of the electorate. Perhaps this wouldhold in a direct democracy, in which the electorate voted on each issue,but it is certainly not always true of modern representative democracies.There is no way of ensuring that on any given issue a majority of repres-entatives will take the same view as a majority of their constituents. Onecan be reasonably confident that a majority of those Americans who saw,on television, excerpts from Gennarelli’s videotapes would not have sup-ported the experiments. That, however, is not how decisions are madein a democracy. In choosing between representatives – or in choosingbetween political parties – voters elect to take one ‘package deal’ in pref-erence to other package deals on offer. It will often happen that in orderto vote for policies they favour, voters must go along with other policiesthey are not keen on. It will also happen that policies voters favour arenot offered by any major party. In the case of abortion in the UnitedStates, the crucial decision was not made by a majority of voters, but bythe Supreme Court. It cannot be overturned by a simple majority of theelectors, but only by the Court itself or by the complicated procedure ofa constitutional amendment, which can be thwarted by a minority of theelectorate.

What if a majority did approve of the wrong that the protesters wishto stop? Would it then be wrong to use illegal means? Here, we have thephilosophical claim underlying the democratic argument for obedience,the claim that we ought to accept the majority decision.

The case for majority rule should not be overstated. No sensible demo-crat would claim that the majority is always right. If 49 percent of thepopulation can be wrong, so can 51 percent. Whether the majority sup-ports the views of the Animal Liberation Front or of Operation Rescueor of the protesters against climate change does not settle the questionof whether these views are morally sound. Perhaps the fact that thesegroups are in a minority – if they are – means that they should recon-sider their means. With a majority behind them, they could claim to beacting with democratic principles on their side, using illegal means toovercome flaws in the democratic machinery. Without that majority, allthe weight of democratic tradition is against them, and it is they whoappear as coercers, trying to force the majority into accepting somethingagainst its will. But how much moral weight should we give to democraticprinciples?

Thoreau, as we might expect, was not impressed by majority decisionmaking. ‘All voting,’ he wrote, ‘is a sort of gaming, like checkers or

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backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right andwrong, with moral questions.’ In a sense Thoreau was right. If we reject,as we must, the doctrine that the majority is always right, to submit moralissues to the vote is to gamble that what we believe to be right will comeout of the ballot with more votes behind it than what we believe to bewrong; and that is a gamble we will often lose.

Nevertheless, we should not be too contemptuous about voting, oreven gambling, when the alternative is something worse. Cowboys whoagree to play poker to decide matters of honour do better than cowboyswho continue to settle such matters in the traditional style of Westernmovies. A society that decides its controversial issues by ballots does betterthan one that uses bullets – which, after all, is no more likely to lead tothe right conclusion than voting. To some extent, this is a point we havealready encountered under the heading ‘law and order’. It applies to anysociety with an established, peaceful method of resolving disputes; butin a democracy, there is a subtle difference that gives added weight tothe outcome of the decision procedure. A method of settling disputes inwhich no one has greater ultimate power than anyone else is a methodthat can be recommended to all as a fair compromise between competingclaims to power. Any other method must give greater power to some thanto others and thereby invites opposition from those who have less. That,at least, is true in the egalitarian age in which we live. In a feudal societyin which people accept as natural and proper their status as lord or vassal,there is no challenge to the feudal lord and no compromise would beneeded. (I am thinking of an ideal feudal system, as I am thinking ofan ideal democracy.) In most parts of the world, those times seem to begone forever. The breakdown of traditional authority created a need forpolitical compromise. Among possible compromises, giving one vote toeach person is uniquely acceptable to all. As such, in the absence of anyagreed procedure for deciding on some other distribution of power, itoffers, in principle, the firmest possible basis for a peaceful method ofsettling disputes.

To reject majority rule, therefore, is to reject the best possible basisfor the peaceful ordering of society in an egalitarian age. Where elseshould one turn? To a meritocratic franchise, with extra votes for themore intelligent or better educated, as John Stuart Mill once proposed?Could we agree on who merits extra votes? To a benevolent despot?Many would accept that – if they could choose the despot. In practice,the likely outcome of abandoning majority rule is none of these: it isthe rule of those who command the greatest force. Those who carry

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out disobedience on one issue – say, animal rights – should rememberthat there will be other issues on which they support the law and want itenforced against those who seek to stop a practice of which they approve.Many people in the animal rights movement believe that women shouldbe able to obtain safe and legal abortions, and many people in the anti-abortion movement see nothing wrong with experimenting on animals,nor with slaughtering them for food. These members of the AnimalLiberation Front therefore will want the law enforced against OperationRescue, and vice versa.

So the principle of majority rule does carry substantial moral weight.Disobedience is easier to justify in a dictatorship like Nazi Germany thanin a democracy like those of North America, Europe, India, Japan orAustralia today. In a democracy, we should be reluctant to take any actionthat amounts to an attempt to coerce the majority, for such attemptsimply the rejection of majority rule, to which there is no acceptablealternative. There may, of course, be cases where the majority decision isso appalling that coercion is justified, whatever the risk. The obligation toobey a genuine majority decision is not absolute. We show our respect forthe principle, not by blind obedience to the majority, but by regardingourselves as justified in disobeying only in extreme circumstances.

disobedience, civil or otherwise

If we draw together our conclusions on the use of illegal means to achievelaudable ends, we shall find that: (1) there are reasons why we shouldnormally accept the verdict of an established peaceful method of settlingdisputes; (2) these reasons are particularly strong when the method isdemocratic and the verdict represents a genuine majority view; but (3)there are still situations in which the use of illegal means can be justified.

We have seen that there are two distinct ways in which one might tryto justify the use of illegal means in a society that is broadly democratic.The first is on the grounds that the decision one is objecting to is nota genuine expression of majority opinion. The second is that althoughthe decision is a genuine expression of the majority view, this view is soseriously wrong that action against the majority is justified. It is disobedi-ence on the first ground that best merits the name ‘civil disobedience’.Here, the use of illegal means can be regarded as an extension of the useof legal means to secure a genuinely democratic decision. The extensionmay be necessary because the normal channels for securing reform arenot working properly. On some issues, elected representatives are overly

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influenced by special interest groups with large sums to donate to theirre-election campaigns. On others, the public is unaware of what is hap-pening. Perhaps the legitimate interests of a minority are being ignoredby prejudiced officials. In all these cases, the standard forms of civil dis-obedience – passive resistance, marches or sit-ins – are appropriate. Theblockade of the Hydro-Electric Commission’s road into the site of theproposed Franklin River dam, and the protest at Capitol Power Plant,were cases of civil disobedience in this sense.

In these situations, disobeying the law is not an attempt to coercethe majority. Instead, disobedience attempts to inform the majority, topersuade elected representatives that large numbers of electors feel verystrongly about the issue, to draw national attention to an issue previouslyleft to bureaucrats, or to appeal for reconsideration of a decision toohastily made. Civil disobedience is an appropriate means to these endswhen legal means have failed, because, although it is illegal, it does notthreaten or attempt to coerce the majority (though it will usually imposesome extra costs or inconvenience on them). By not resisting the forceof the law, by remaining non-violent and by accepting the legal penaltyfor their actions, those who engage in civil disobedience make manifestboth the sincerity of their protest and their respect for the rule of lawand the fundamental principles of democracy.

So conceived, civil disobedience can often be justified. The justific-ation does not have to be strong enough to override the obligationto obey a democratic decision, because disobedience is an attempt torestore, rather than frustrate, the process of democratic decision mak-ing. Disobedience of this kind could be justified by, for instance, theaim of making the public aware of the loss of irreplaceable wildernesscaused by the construction of a dam, or of how animals are treated inthe laboratories and factory farms that few people ever see.

The use of illegal means to stop something that is undeniably inaccordance with the majority view is harder – but not impossible – tojustify. We may think it unlikely that a Nazi-style policy of genocide couldever be approved by a majority vote, but if that were to happen it would becarrying respect for majority rule to absurd lengths to regard oneself asbound to accept the majority decision. To oppose evils of that magnitude,we are justified in using virtually any means likely to be effective.

Genocide is an extreme case. To grant that it justifies the use of illegalmeans even against a majority concedes very little in terms of practicalpolitical action. Yet admitting even one exception to the obligation toabide by democratic decisions raises further questions: where is the line

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to be drawn between evils like genocide, when the obligation is clearlyoverridden, and less serious issues, when it is not? Moreover, who isto decide on which side of this imaginary line a particular issue falls?Gary Leber, of Operation Rescue, wrote that in the United States alone,since 1973, ‘we’ve already destroyed four times the number of peoplethat Hitler did’. Ronnie Lee, one of the founders of the Animal Liber-ation Front in Britain, has also used the Nazi metaphor for what we doto animals, saying: ‘Although we are only one species among many onearth, we’ve set up a Reich totally dominating the other animals, evenenslaving them.’ It is not surprising, then, that these activists considertheir disobedience justified; but are they the ones who should be makingthis decision? If not, who is to decide when an issue is so serious that,even in a democracy, the obligation to obey the law is overridden?

The only answer this question can have is: we must decide for ourselveson which side of the line particular cases fall. There is no other way ofdeciding, because the society’s method of settling issues has already madeits decision. The majority cannot be judge in its own case. If we think themajority decision wrong, we must make up our own minds about howgravely it is wrong.

This does not mean that any decision we make on such an issue issubjective or arbitrary. In this book, I have offered arguments about anumber of moral issues. If we apply these arguments to the five caseswith which this chapter began, they lead to specific conclusions. Theracist Nazi policy of murdering Jews was obviously an atrocity, and OskarSchindler was entirely right to do what he could to save some Jews fromfalling victim to it. (Given the personal risks he ran, he was also morallyheroic to do so.) On the basis of the arguments put forward in Chapter 3of this book, the experiments that Gennarelli conducted on monkeyswere wrong, because they treated sentient creatures as mere things tobe used as research tools. To stop such experiments is a desirable goal,and if breaking into Gennarelli’s laboratory and stealing his videotapeswas the only way to achieve it, that was justifiable. Similarly, for reasonsexplored in Chapter 10, to drown the Franklin valley in order to generatea relatively small amount of electricity could only have been based onvalues that took a short-term perspective and were indefensibly human-centred. Civil disobedience was an appropriate means of testifying tothe importance of the values that had been overlooked by those whofavoured the dam. The same can be said about civil disobedience againstclimate change – indeed here, given the extent of the disaster likely tooccur if greenhouse gases are not cut very sharply over the next few years,

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the question that might be asked is: why has there, as yet, been so littlecivil disobedience?

On the other hand, in Chapter 6 we found that the arguments thatlie behind Joan Andrews’ activities are flawed. The human fetus is notentitled to the same sort of protection as older human beings, and thosewho think of abortion as morally equivalent to murder are wrong. Onthis basis, a campaign of civil disobedience against abortion is not jus-tifiable. But it is important to realise that the mistake lies in Andrews’moral reasoning about abortion, not in her moral reasoning about civildisobedience. If abortion really were morally equivalent to murder, weall ought to be out there blocking the doors to the abortion clinics.

This makes life difficult, of course. It is not likely that Andrews will beconvinced by the arguments in this book. Her reliance on biblical quota-tions suggests that her opposition to abortion is fundamentally religious,so there is no easy way of convincing her that her civil disobedience isunjustified. We may regret this, but there is nothing to be done aboutit. There is no simple moral rule that will enable us to declare when dis-obedience is justifiable and when it is not, without going into the rightsand wrongs of the target of the disobedience. (As we saw, however, Oper-ation Rescue no longer practices civil disobedience, perhaps because itcame to the conclusion that those tactics were not helping it to achieveits goal of ending abortion in America.)

When we are convinced that we are trying to stop something thatreally is a serious moral wrong, we still have other moral questions to askourselves. We must balance the magnitude of the evil we are trying tostop against the possibility that our actions will contribute to a declinein respect for law and for democracy. We must also take into accountthe likelihood that our actions will fail in their objective and provokea reaction that will reduce the chances of success by other means. (Forinstance, violent attacks on experimenters enable defenders of researchon animals to brand all critics of animal experimentation as terrorists.)

One result of a consequentialist approach to this issue that may at firstseem odd is that the more deeply ingrained the habit of obedience todemocratic rule, the more easily disobedience can be defended. There isno paradox here, however, merely another instance of the homely truththat young plants need to be cosseted, but well established specimenscan take rougher treatment. Thus, on a given issue disobedience mightbe justifiable in Britain or the United States but not in a country thathas recently been through dictatorship and civil war and is seeking toestablish a democratic system of government.

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Every case differs, and these issues cannot be settled in general terms.When the evils to be stopped are neither utterly horrendous (like gen-ocide) nor relatively harmless (like the design for a new national flag),reasonable people will differ on the justifiability of attempting to thwartthe implementation of a considered democratic decision. Where illegalmeans are used with this aim, an important step has been taken, fordisobedience then ceases to be ‘civil disobedience’ if by that term ismeant disobedience that is justified by an appeal to principles that thecommunity itself accepts as the proper way of running its affairs. It maystill be best for such obedience to be civil in the other sense of theterm, which makes a contrast with the use of violence or the tactics ofterrorism.

violence and terrorism

As we have seen, civil disobedience intended as a means of attractingpublicity or persuading the majority to reconsider is much easier to justifythan disobedience intended to coerce the majority. Violence is obviouslyharder still to defend. Some go so far as to say that the use of violence as ameans, particularly violence against people, is never justified, no matterhow important the end.

Opposition to the use of violence can be on the basis of an absoluterule or an assessment of its consequences. Pacifists have usually regardedthe use of violence as absolutely wrong, irrespective of its consequences.This, like other ‘no matter what’ prohibitions, assumes the validity of thedistinction between acts and omissions. Without this distinction, paci-fists who refuse to use violence when it is the only means of preventinggreater violence would be responsible for the greater violence they failto prevent. Suppose we have an opportunity to assassinate a tyrant whois systematically murdering those he suspects of being opposed to hisrule. We know that if the tyrant dies he is very likely to be replaced bya popular opposition leader, now in exile, who will restore the rule oflaw. If we say that violence is always wrong, and refuse to carry out theassassination, mustn’t we bear some responsibility for the tyrant’s futuremurders? If the objections made to the acts and omissions distinction inChapter 7 were sound, those who do not use violence to prevent greaterviolence have to take responsibility for the violence they could have pre-vented. Thus, the rejection of the acts and omissions distinction makes acrucial difference to the discussion of violence, for it opens the door toa plausible argument in defence of violence.

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Marxists used this argument to rebut attacks on their support for viol-ent revolution. In his classic indictment of the social effects of nineteenth-century capitalism, The Condition of the Working Class in England, Engelswrote:

If one individual inflicts a bodily injury upon another which leads to the deathof the person attacked we call it manslaughter; on the other hand, if the attackerknows beforehand that the blow will be fatal we call it murder. Murder has alsobeen committed if society places hundreds of workers in such a position that theyinevitably come to premature and unnatural ends. Their death is as violent as ifthey had been stabbed or shot . . . Murder has been committed if thousands ofworkers have been deprived of the necessities of life or if they have been forcedinto a situation in which it is impossible for them to survive . . . Murder has beencommitted if society knows perfectly well that thousands of workers cannot avoidbeing sacrificed so long as these conditions are allowed to continue. Murder ofthis sort is just as culpable as the murder committed by an individual. At first sightit does not appear to be murder at all because responsibility for the death of thevictim cannot be pinned on any individual assailant. Everyone is responsible andyet no one is responsible, because it appears as if the victim has died from naturalcauses. If a worker dies no one places the responsibility for his death on society,though some would realize that society has failed to take steps to prevent thevictim from dying. But it is murder all the same.

One might object to Engels’ use of the term ‘murder’. The objectionwould resemble the arguments discussed in Chapter 8, when we con-sidered whether our failure to aid the starving makes us murderers. Wesaw that there is no intrinsic significance in the distinction between actsand omissions; but from the point of view of motivation and the appropri-ateness of blame, most cases of failing to prevent death are not equivalentto murder. The same would apply to the cases Engels describes. Engelstries to pin the blame on ‘society’, but society is not a person or a moralagent and cannot be held responsible in the way an individual can.

Still, this is nit-picking. Whether or not ‘murder’ is the right term,whether or not we are prepared to describe as ‘violent’ the deaths ofmalnourished workers in unhealthy and unsafe factories, Engels’ fun-damental point stands. These deaths are a wrong of the same order ofmagnitude as the deaths of hundreds of people in a terrorist bombing.It would be one-sided to say that violent revolution is always absolutelywrong, without taking account of the evils that the revolutionaries aretrying to stop. If violent means had been the only way of changing theconditions Engels describes, those who opposed the use of violent meanswould have been responsible for the continuation of those conditions.

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Some of the practices we have been discussing in this book are violent,either directly or by omission. In the case of nonhuman animals, ourtreatment is often violent by any description. Those who regard thehuman fetus as a moral subject will obviously consider abortion to be aviolent act against it. In the case of humans at or after birth, what arewe to say of an avoidable situation in which some countries have infantmortality rates twenty times higher than others, and a person born inone country can expect to live thirty years more than someone bornin another country? Is this violence? As we saw in Chapter 9, PresidentMuseveni of Uganda has said that by their release of greenhouse gases,the industrialized nations are committing aggression against developingnations in tropical regions. Again, it doesn’t really matter what term weuse: in their effects, these practices are as terrible as violence.

Absolutist condemnations of violence stand or fall with the distinctionbetween acts and omissions. Therefore they fall. There are, however,strong consequentialist objections to the use of violence. We have beenpremising our discussion on the assumption that violence might be theonly means of changing things for the better. Consequentialists mustask whether violence ever is the only means to an important end or,if not the only means, the swiftest means. They must also ask aboutthe long-term effects of pursuing change by violent means. Could onedefend, on consequentialist grounds, a condemnation of violence that isin practice, if not in principle, as all-encompassing as that of the absolutepacifist? One might attempt to do so by emphasizing the hardeningeffect that the use of violence has: how committing one murder, nomatter how ‘necessary’ or ‘justified’ it may seem, lessens the resistanceto committing further murders. Is it likely that people who have becomeinured to acting violently will be able to create a better society? This is aquestion on which the historical record is relevant. The course taken byseveral revolutions – from the French revolution of 1789 to the Bolshevikrevolution in Russia and, perhaps most horrifically of all, the rule of theKhmer Rouge in Cambodia – must shake the belief that a burning desirefor social justice provides immunity to the corrupting effects of violence.There are, admittedly, other examples that may be read the other way;but it would take a considerable number of examples to outweigh thelegacy of Robespierre, Stalin and Pol Pot.

The consequentialist pacifist can also use another argument – similarto the argument I urged against the suggestion that we should allow star-vation to reduce the populations of the poorest nations to the level atwhich they could feed themselves. Like this policy, violence involves the

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certainty of causing harm, which is said to be justified by the prospectsof future benefits. The future benefits, however, can never be certain;and even in the few cases where violence does bring about desirableends, we can rarely be sure that the ends could not have been achievedequally soon by non-violent means. What, for instance, was achieved bythe thousands of deaths and injuries caused by the decades of IRA bomb-ings in Northern Ireland? Only counter-terrorism by extremist Protest-ant groups. Or think of the completely pointless death and sufferingcaused by the Baader-Meinhoff gang in Germany, or the Red Brigadein Italy. What has the cause of the Palestinian people gained from ter-rorism, other than a less compromising, more ruthless Israel than theone against which they began their struggle so many years – and lives –ago? For all the spectacular operational success that Al Qaeda achievedon September 11, 2001, it seems wildly unlikely that its murder of thou-sands of Americans will have brought it any closer to achieving an end toAmerican military dominance in the Middle East, let alone coercing theUnited States into becoming an Islamic state. One may sympathize withthe ends for which some – not all! – of these groups were or are fighting,but if the means used involve undeniable harm to innocent people, andhold no promise of gaining their ends, it is wrong to use them. Theseconsequentialist arguments add up to a strong case against the use ofviolence as a means, particularly when the violence is indiscriminatelydirected against ordinary members of the public, as terrorist violencetypically is. For sound practical reasons, terrorism is never justified.

There are other kinds of violence that cannot be ruled out so convin-cingly. There is, for instance, the previously mentioned assassination of amurderous tyrant. Here, provided the murderous policies are an expres-sion of the tyrant’s personality rather than part of the institutions hecommands, the violence is strictly limited, the aim is to end much morewidespread violence, there is no other way to stop the more widespreadviolence, and success from a single violent act may be highly probable,violence is justifiable.

Violence may be limited in a different way. The cases we have beenconsidering have involved violence against people. These are the stand-ard cases that come to mind when we discuss violence, but there areother kinds of violence. Animal Liberation Front members have dam-aged laboratories, cages and equipment used to confine, hurt or killanimals, but they avoid violent acts against any animal, human or non-human. (Not all militant animal rights organizations have followed thispolicy – at least two people have been injured by explosive devices left

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by people claiming to be acting in defence of animals. These actionshave been condemned by other groups, including the Animal Libera-tion Front.)

Damage to property is not as serious a matter as injuring or killing;hence, it may be justified on grounds that would not justify anythingthat caused harm to sentient beings. This does not mean that violenceto property is of no significance. Property means a great deal to somepeople, and one would need to have strong reasons to justify destroyingit. But such reasons may exist. The justification might not be anythingso epoch-making as transforming society. As in the case of the raid onGennarelli’s laboratory, it might be the specific and short-term goal ofsaving a number of animals from a painful experiment performed onanimals only because of society’s speciesist bias. Again, whether such anaction would really be justifiable from a consequentialist point of viewwould depend on the details of the actual situation. Someone lackingexpertise could easily be mistaken about the value of an experiment orthe degree of suffering it involved. Moreover, will not the result of dam-aging equipment and liberating one lot of animals simply be that moreequipment is bought and more animals are bred? What is to be done withthe liberated animals? Will illegal acts mean that the government will res-ist moves to reform the law relating to animal experiments, arguing thatit must not appear to be yielding to violence? All these questions wouldneed to be answered satisfactorily before one could come to a decisionin favour of damaging a laboratory.

Violence is not easy to justify, even if it is violence against propertyrather than against sentient beings or violence against a dictator ratherthan indiscriminate violence against the general public. Nevertheless,the differences between kinds of violence are important, because onlyby observing them can we condemn one kind of violence – the terroristkind – in virtually absolute terms. The differences are blurred by sweep-ing condemnations of everything that falls under the general heading‘violence’.


Why Act Morally?

Previous chapters of this book have discussed what we ought, morally,to do about several practical issues and what means we are justified inadopting to achieve our ethical goals. The nature of our conclusionsabout these issues – the demands they make on us – raises a further,more fundamental question: why should we act morally?

Take our conclusions about the use of animals for food, or the aid therich should give the poor. Some readers may accept these conclusions,become vegetarians, and do what they can to reduce absolute poverty.Others may disagree with our conclusions, maintaining that there isnothing wrong with eating animals and that they are under no moralobligation to do anything about reducing absolute poverty. There is also,however, likely to be a third group: readers who find no fault with theethical arguments of these chapters yet do not change their diets ortheir contributions to aid for the poor. Of this third group, some mayjust be weak-willed, but others may want an answer to a further practicalquestion: if the conclusions of ethics require so much of us, they may ask,why should we bother about ethics at all?

understanding the question

‘Why should I act morally?’ is a different type of question from thosethat we have been discussing up to now. Questions like ‘Why shouldI treat people of different ethnic groups equally?’ or ‘Why is abortionjustifiable?’ seek ethical reasons for acting in a certain way. These arequestions within ethics. They presuppose the ethical point of view. ‘Why


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should I act morally?’ is on another level. It is not a question within ethics,but a question about ethics.

‘Why should I act morally?’ is therefore a question about somethingnormally presupposed. Such questions are perplexing. Some philosoph-ers have found this particular question so perplexing that they haverejected it as logically improper, as an attempt to ask something thatcannot properly be asked.

One ground for this rejection is the claim that our ethical principlesare, by definition, the principles we take as overridingly important. Thismeans that whatever principles are overriding for a particular person arenecessarily that person’s ethical principles, and a person who accepts asan ethical principle that she ought to give her wealth to help the poormust, by definition, have actually decided to give away her wealth. Onthis definition of ethics, once a person has made an ethical decision nofurther practical question can arise. Hence, it is impossible to make senseof the question: ‘Why should I act morally?’

It might be thought a good reason for accepting the definition ofethics as overriding that it allows us to dismiss as meaningless an oth-erwise troublesome question. Adopting this definition cannot solve realproblems, however, for it leads to correspondingly greater difficulties inestablishing any ethical conclusion. Take, for example, the conclusionthat the rich ought to aid the poor. Although the argument for this con-clusion in Chapter 8 drew on the intuitive appeal of our readiness torescue the child drowning in the pond, we saw that if that intuition wererejected, it could still rest on the assumption that suffering and deathare bad things, even when they are not your suffering and death. If wedefine ethical principles as whatever principles one takes as overriding,then someone could say that her overriding principle is an egoistic one,and the suffering and death of strangers doesn’t matter at all. We couldnot invoke universalizability in order to deny that this could be an eth-ical principle, because if anything anyone takes as overriding counts asthat person’s ethical principle, there can be no requirement that one’sethical principles be universalizable. Thus, what we gain by being able todismiss the question ‘Why should I act morally?’ we lose by being unableto use the universalizability of ethical judgments – or any other feature ofethics – to argue for particular conclusions about what is morally right.Taking ethics as in some sense necessarily involving a universal point ofview seems to me a more natural and less confusing way of discussingthese issues.

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Other philosophers think that ‘Why should I act morally?’ must berejected for the same reason that we must reject ‘Why should I berational?’ Like the question ‘Why should I act morally?’, the question‘Why should I be rational?’ questions something that we normally pre-suppose. But to question rationality – not the use of reason in any specificcontext, but in general – really is logically improper because in answeringit we can only give reasons for being rational. Thus, the person askingthe question must be seeking reasons and, hence, is herself presuppos-ing rationality. The resulting justification of rationality would have to becircular – which shows, not that rationality lacks a necessary justification,but that it needs no justification, because it cannot intelligibly be ques-tioned unless it is already presupposed. (Note that some questions aboutwhether to use reason to reach a decision are intelligible. For example,‘When deciding whether to trust someone I’ve just met, should I use myreason or my instincts?’ is an intelligible question, because it questionsthe use of reason in a specific context. It is possible that our instinctswill do better than our reason in that context, and if so, the best answerwould be to use your instincts. To say this, however, is itself to give reasonsfor not using reason in that context, so the question poses no challengeto reason as such.)

Is ‘Why should I act morally?’ like ‘Why should I be rational?’ in thatit presupposes the very point of view it questions? It would be, if weinterpreted the ‘should’ as a moral ‘should’. Then the question wouldask for moral reasons for being moral. This would be absurd. Once wehave decided that an action is morally obligatory, there is no furthermoral question to ask. It is redundant to ask why I should, morally, dothe action that I morally should do.

There is, however, no need to interpret the question as a request for anethical justification of ethics. ‘Should’ need not mean ‘should, morally’.It could simply be a way of asking for reasons for action, without anyspecification about the kind of reasons wanted. We sometimes want toask a very general practical question from no particular point of view.Faced with a difficult choice, we ask a close friend for advice. Morally, hesays, we ought to do A, but B would be more in our interests, whereasetiquette demands C and to do D would be just so cool! This answer maynot satisfy us. We want advice on which of these standpoints to adopt.If it is possible to ask such a question, we must ask it from a position ofneutrality between all these points of view, not of commitment to anyone of them. ‘Why should I act morally?’ is this sort of question. If it werenot possible to ask practical questions without presupposing a point of

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view, we would be unable to say anything intelligible about the mostultimate practical choices. Whether to act according to considerationsof ethics, self-interest, etiquette or aesthetics would be a choice ‘beyondreason’ – in a sense, an arbitrary choice. Before we resign ourselves to thisconclusion, we should at least attempt to interpret the question so thatthe mere asking of it does not commit us to any particular point of view.

We can now formulate the question more precisely. It is a questionabout the ethical point of view, asked from a position outside it. What is‘the ethical point of view’? I have suggested that a distinguishing featureof ethics is that ethical judgments are universalizable. Ethics requires usto go beyond our own personal point of view to a standpoint like that ofthe impartial spectator.

Given this conception of ethics, ‘Why should I act morally?’ is a ques-tion that may properly be asked by anyone wondering whether to act onlyon grounds that would be acceptable from this universal point of view. Itis, after all, possible to act – and some people do act – without thinkingof anything except one’s own interests. The question asks for reasons forgoing beyond this personal basis of action and acting only on judgmentsone is prepared to prescribe universally.

reason and ethics

There is an ancient line of philosophical thought that attempts to demon-strate that to act rationally is to act ethically. The argument is today asso-ciated with Kant and is mainly found in the writings of modern Kantians,though it goes back at least as far as the Stoics. The form in which theargument is presented varies, but the variations tend to have a commonstructure, as follows:

1. Some requirement of universalizability or impartiality is essentialto ethics.

2. Reason, whether theoretical or practical, is universally or object-ively valid. If, for example, it follows from the premises ‘All humansare mortal’ and ‘Socrates is human’ that Socrates is mortal, thenthis inference must follow universally. It cannot be valid for meand invalid for you.


3. Only a judgment that satisfies the requirement described in (1) asa necessary condition of an ethical judgment will be an objectively

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rational judgment in accordance with (2). For I cannot expectany other rational agents to accept as valid for them a judgmentthat I would not accept if I were in their place; and if two rationalagents could not accept one another’s judgments, they could notbe rational judgments, for the reason given in (2). To say thatI would accept the judgment I make, even if I were in someoneelse’s position and they in mine is, however, simply to say that myjudgment is one I can prescribe from a universal point of view.Ethics and reason both require us to rise above our own particularpoint of view and take a perspective from which our own personalidentity – the role we happen to occupy – is unimportant. Thus,reason requires us to act on universalizable judgments and, to thatextent, to act ethically.

Is this argument valid? I have already argued for the first point, that eth-ics involves universalizability. The second point also seems undeniable.Reason must be universal. Does the conclusion therefore follow? Hereis the flaw in the argument. The conclusion appears to follow directlyfrom the premises; but this move involves a slide from the limited sensein which it is true that a rational judgment must be universally valid, to astronger sense of ‘universally valid’ that is equivalent to universalizability.

The difference between these two senses can be seen by considering anon-universalizable imperative, like the purely egoistic: ‘Let everyone dowhat is in my interests.’ This differs from the imperative of universalizableegoism – ‘Let everyone do what is in her or his own interests’ – becauseit contains an ineliminable reference to a particular person. It there-fore cannot be an ethical imperative. Does it also lack the universalityrequired if it is to be a rational basis for action? Surely not. Every rationalagent could accept that the purely egoistic activity of other rationalagents is rationally justifiable. Pure egoism could be rationally adopted byeveryone.

Let us look at this more closely. It must be conceded that there is asense in which one purely egoistic rational agent – call him Jack – couldnot accept the practical judgments of another purely egoistic rationalagent – call her Jill. Assuming Jill’s interests differ from Jack’s, Jill may beacting rationally in urging Jack to do A, while Jack is also acting rationallyin deciding against doing A.

This disagreement is, however, compatible with all rational agentsaccepting pure egoism. Though they accept pure egoism, it points themin different directions because they start from different places. When

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Jack adopts pure egoism, it leads him to further his interests; and whenJill adopts pure egoism, it leads her to further her interests. Hence, thedisagreement over what to do. On the other hand – and this is the sensein which pure egoism could be accepted as valid by all rational agents –if we were to ask Jill (off the record and promising not to tell Jack) whatshe thinks it would be rational for Jack to do, she would, if truthful, haveto reply that it would be rational for Jack to do what is in his own interestsrather than what is in her interests.

So when purely egoistic rational agents oppose one another’s acts, itdoes not indicate disagreement over the rationality of pure egoism. Pureegoism, though not a universalizable principle, could be accepted as arational basis of action by all rational agents. This shows that the sense inwhich rational judgments must be universally acceptable is weaker thanthe sense in which ethical judgments must be. ‘Let everyone do what is inmy interests’ could be a valid reason for Jack to do what is in his interests,although it could not be an ethical reasons for him to do it.

A consequence of this conclusion is that rational agents may rationallytry to prevent one another doing what they admit the other is rationallyjustified in doing. There is, unfortunately, nothing paradoxical aboutthis; on most theories of rationality, it is just a fact of everyday life.Salespeople competing for an important sale will accept one another’sconduct as rational, though each aims to thwart the other. The sameholds of rivals in love, enemy soldiers meeting in battle, or footballersvying for the ball.

Accordingly, this attempted demonstration of a link between reasonand ethics fails. Are there other ways of forging this link? The chiefobstacle to overcome is the nature of practical reason. Long ago DavidHume argued that reason in action applies only to means, not to ends.The ends must be given by our wants and desires. Hume unflinchinglydrew out the implications of this view:

‘Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to thescratching of my finger. ‘Tis not contrary to reason for me to choose my totalruin, to prevent the least uneasiness of an Indian or person wholly unknown tome. ’Tis as little contrary to reason to prefer even my own acknowledged lessergood to my greater, and have a more ardent affection for the former than thelatter.

Extreme as it is, Hume’s view of practical reason has stood up to criticismremarkably well. His central claim – that in practical reasoning, we startfrom something we want – is difficult to refute; yet it must be refuted if

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any argument is to succeed in showing that it is rational for all of us toact ethically irrespective of what we want.

In an attempt to refute Hume, several writers start by asserting thatit is rational to take one’s own future desires into account, whether ornot one now happens to desire the satisfaction of those future desires. InThe Possibility of Altruism, Thomas Nagel argued forcefully that not to takeone’s own future desires into account in one’s practical deliberationswould indicate a failure to see oneself as a person existing over time, withthe present being merely one time among others in one’s life. So it is, onNagel’s view, my conception of myself as a person that makes it rationalfor me to consider my long-term interests. This holds true even if I have‘a more ardent affection’ for something that I acknowledge is not really,all things considered, in my own interest.

Derek Parfit provides a striking illustration of someone who fails toconsider his or her interests over time in a way that strikes most of us asobviously irrational. He asks us to imagine someone with a condition hecalls ‘Future Tuesday Indifference’:

This man cares about his own future pleasures or pains, except when they willcome on any future Tuesday. This strange attitude does not depend on ignoranceor false beliefs. Pain on Tuesdays, this man knows, would be just as painful, andjust as much his pain, and Tuesdays are just like other days of the week. Evenso, given the choice, this man would now prefer agony on any future Tuesday toslight pain on any other future day.

About such a person, Parfit comments:

That some ordeal would be much more painful is a strong reason not to preferit. That this ordeal would be on a future Tuesday is no reason to prefer it. So thisman’s preferences are strongly contrary to reason, and irrational.

He adds that although no one has this attitude, it is similar to the biasmany people have towards the near. It would be similarly irrational,he suggests, for anyone to postpone a minute of agony today, knowingthat this would mean an hour of the same degree of agony tomorrow.Less extreme departures from a position of temporal neutrality – thatis, an attitude of equal concern for all moments of time, putting asideuncertainties about the future – are also, in Parfit’s view, irrational.

Whether Nagel’s or Parfit’s arguments succeed in vindicating therationality of prudence, or of temporal neutrality, is one question;whether a similar argument can also be used in favour of a form ofaltruism based on taking the desires of others into account is anotherquestion altogether. Nagel attempted this analogous argument in The

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Possibility of Altruism. The role occupied by ‘seeing the present as merelyone time among others’ is, in this argument for altruism, taken by ‘see-ing oneself as merely one person among others’. The problem is thatwhereas it would be extremely difficult for most of us to cease conceiv-ing of ourselves as existing over time, with the present merely one timeamong others that we will live through, the way we see ourselves as aperson among others is quite different. Henry Sidgwick’s observation onthis point seems exactly right:

It would be contrary to Common Sense to deny that the distinction between anyone individual and any other is real and fundamental, and that consequently‘I’ am concerned with the quality of my existence as an individual in a sense,fundamentally important, in which I am not concerned with the quality of theexistence of other individuals: and this being so, I do not see how it can beproved that this distinction is not to be taken as fundamental in determining theultimate end of rational action for an individual.

So it is not only Hume’s view of practical reason that stands in the wayof attempts to show that to act rationally is to act ethically; we mightsucceed in overthrowing that barrier, only to find our way blocked bythe commonsense distinction between self and others. Nagel no longerholds that the argument in The Possibility of Altruism succeeds, and Parfitis largely in agreement with Sidgwick about the rationality of acting tofurther one’s own interests, even when this is contrary to the greaterinterests of others. Largely, but not entirely, because he thinks that itis irrational to act on your own interests where you have only minorinterests at stake and others have a great deal at stake. So if you couldsave yourself one minute of discomfort by doing something that wouldinflict an agonizing death on a million people, this would, on Parfit’sview, be an irrational thing to do, even if it were in your own interests.Still, this is very far from establishing that doing what is impartially good,or what is right, is required by reason.

Hence, even if Hume’s view of reason is wrong, the next most defens-ible view of reason – Sidgwick’s, perhaps as modified by Parfit – does notenable us to conclude that reason requires us to act morally.

ethics and self-interest

If practical reasoning begins with something wanted, to show that itis rational to act morally would involve showing that by acting morallywe will achieve something we want. If, agreeing with Sidgwick rather

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than Hume, we hold that it is rational to act in our long-term interestsirrespective of what we happen to want at the present moment, we couldshow that it is rational to act morally by showing that it is in our long-term interests to do so. There have been many attempts to argue alongthese lines ever since Plato, in The Republic, portrayed Socrates as arguingthat to be virtuous is to have the different elements of one’s personalityordered in a harmonious manner, and this is necessary for happiness.We shall look at these arguments shortly; but first it is necessary to assessan objection to this whole approach to ‘Why should I act morally?’

People often say that to defend morality by appealing to self-interestis to misunderstand what ethics is all about. F. H. Bradley stated thiseloquently:

What answer can we give when the question Why should I be Moral?, in the senseof What will it advantage Me?, is put to us? Here we shall do well, I think, toavoid all praises of the pleasantness of virtue. We may believe that it transcendsall possible delights of vice, but it would be well to remember that we desert amoral point of view, that we degrade and prostitute virtue, when to those who donot love her for herself we bring ourselves to recommend her for the sake of herpleasures.

In other words, we can never get people to act morally by providingreasons of self-interest, because if they accept what we say and act on thereasons given, they will only be acting self-interestedly, not morally.

One reply to this objection would be that the substance of the action,what is actually done, is more important than the motive. People mightgive money to help those in extreme poverty because their friends willthink better of them if they do, or they might give the same amountbecause they think it is their duty. Those helped by the gift will benefitto the same extent either way.

This is true but crude. It can be made more sophisticated if it is com-bined with an appropriate account of the nature and function of ethics.Ethics is a social practice that has evolved among beings living in socialgroups, and it promotes ways of living that are in the interests of indi-viduals living in groups. Ethical judgments can do this by praising andencouraging actions in accordance with these values. Ethical judgmentsare concerned with motives because this is a good indication of the tend-ency of an action to promote what is considered desirable or undesirable,but also because it is here that praise and blame may be effective in alter-ing the tendency of a person’s actions. In this respect, conscientiousness(that is, acting for the sake of doing what is right) is a particularly useful

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motive. People who are conscientious will, if they accept the values oftheir society (and if most people did not accept these values, they wouldnot be the values of the society), always tend to promote what the societyvalues. They may have no generous or sympathetic inclinations, but ifthey think it their duty to help the poor, they will do so. Moreover, thosemotivated by the desire to do what is right can be relied on to act asthey think right in all circumstances, whereas those who act from someother motive, like self-interest, will only do what they think right whenthey believe it will also be in their interest. Conscientiousness is thusa kind of multipurpose gap-filler that can be used to motivate peopletowards whatever is valued, even if the natural virtues normally associ-ated with action in accordance with those values (generosity, sympathy,honesty, tolerance, humility, etc.) are lacking. (This needs some qualific-ation: a conscientious mother may provide as well for her children as amother who loves them, but she cannot love them because it is the rightthing to do. Sometimes conscientiousness is a poor substitute for the realthing.)

On this view of ethics, it is still results, not motives, that really matter.Conscientiousness is of value because of its consequences. Yet, unlike,say, benevolence, conscientiousness can be praised and encouraged onlyfor its own sake. To praise a conscientious act for its consequences wouldbe to praise not conscientiousness but something else altogether. If weappeal to sympathy or self-interest as a reason for doing one’s duty, thenwe are not encouraging people to do their duty for its own sake. Ifconscientiousness is to be encouraged, it must be thought of as good forits own sake.

It is different in the case of an act done from a motive that people acton irrespective of praise and encouragement. The use of ethical languageis then unnecessary. We do not normally say that people ought to do, orthat it is their duty to do, whatever gives them the greatest pleasure, formost people are sufficiently motivated to do this anyway. So, whereas wepraise good acts done for the sake of doing what is right, we withholdour praise when we believe the act was done from some motive likeself-interest.

This emphasis on motives and on the moral worth of doing right for itsown sake is now embedded in our notion of ethics. To the extent that itis so embedded, we will feel that to provide considerations of self-interestfor doing what is right is to empty the action of its moral worth.

My suggestion is that our notion of ethics has become misleading tothe extent that moral worth is attributed only to action done because it

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is right, without any ulterior motive. It is understandable, and from thepoint of view of society perhaps even desirable, that this attitude shouldprevail; nevertheless, those who accept this view of ethics, and are led byit to do what is right because it is right, without asking for any furtherreason, are falling victim to a kind of confidence trick – though not, ofcourse, a consciously perpetrated one.

That this view of ethics is unjustifiable has already been indicated bythe failure of the argument discussed earlier in this chapter for a rationaljustification of ethics. In the history of Western philosophy, no one hasurged more strongly than Kant that our ordinary moral consciousnessfinds moral worth only when duty is done for duty’s sake. Yet Kant himselfsaw that without a rational justification this common conception of ethicswould be ‘a mere phantom of the brain’. This is indeed the case. If wereject – as in general terms we have done – the Kantian justificationof the rationality of ethics but try to retain the Kantian conception ofethics, ethics is left hanging without support. It becomes a closed system,a system that cannot be questioned because its first premise – that onlyaction done because it is right has any moral worth – rules out the onlyremaining possible justification for accepting this very premise. Moralityis, on this view, no more rational an end than any other allegedly self-justifying practice, like etiquette or the kind of religious faith that comesonly to those who first set aside all sceptical doubts.

Taken as a view of ethics as a whole, we should abandon this Kantiannotion of ethics. This does not mean, however, that we should never dowhat we see to be right simply because we see it to be right, without furtherreasons. Here once again, we need to appeal to the distinction Hare hasmade between intuitive and critical thinking. When I stand back from myday-to-day ethical decisions and ask why I should act ethically, I shouldseek reasons in the broadest sense and not allow Kantian preconceptionsto deter me from considering self-interested reasons for living an ethicallife. If my search is successful, it will provide me with reasons for takingup the ethical point of view as a settled policy, a way of living. I wouldnot then ask, in my day-to-day ethical decision making, whether eachparticular right action is in my interests. Instead, I do it because I seemyself as an ethical person. In everyday situations, I will simply assumethat doing what is right is in my interests; and once I have decided whatis right, I will go ahead and do it, without thinking about further reasonsfor doing what is right. To deliberate over the ultimate reasons for doingwhat is right in each case would impossibly complicate my life; it wouldalso be inadvisable because in particular situations I might be too greatly

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influenced by strong but temporary desires and inclinations and so makedecisions I would later regret.

That, at least, is how a justification of ethics in terms of self-interestmight work, without defeating its own aim. We can now ask if such ajustification exists. I will here put aside one ancient justification that isstill significant for many religious believers: the belief that virtue will berewarded and wickedness will be punished in a life after our bodily death.To rely on such a justification, one would first have to show that we dosurvive death, in some form, and secondly that we will be rewarded andpunished in accordance with the extent to which we have lived an ethicallife. I do not know how this could be demonstrated.

In The Republic, Plato portrays Socrates as debating with skeptics whoask why they should be just and eventually reaching the conclusion that‘the just man is happy and the unjust man miserable.’ Socrates’ argumentconvinces few readers today, however, as he seems to operate with aconcept of leading a good life that assumes that to live well is both to dowhat is right or just and to prosper and be happy. That may have beenwhat it meant to live a good life in ancient Greece, but today we aresharply aware that living ethically is one thing and being prosperous andhappy is another – even if we remain open-minded on whether there isa link between them. Many other philosophers have followed Socratesand Plato in trying to show that the good man will be happy: Aristotle,Aquinas, Spinoza, Butler, Hegel and even – for all his strictures againstprostituting virtue – Bradley. These philosophers made broad claimsabout human nature and the conditions under which human beings canbe happy. Philosophers are not empirical scientists, of course, and manyof the factual claims made by past philosophers lack any sound basis inevidence. But at this point it is relevant to draw on the growing body ofmodern research in what is sometimes called ‘positive psychology’ – thepart of psychology that explores the sources of happiness.

Here we do find evidence for at least a correlation between someaspects of living ethically and happiness. Americans who give to charitywere, in one large survey, 43 percent more likely to say that they were‘very happy’ about their lives than those who did not give. Those whodid voluntary work for charities were similarly more likely to say thatthey were happy than those who did not. In a separate study, those whogive were 68 percent less likely to have felt ‘hopeless’ and 34 percentless likely to say that they felt ‘so sad that nothing could cheer themup’. Giving blood, another altruistic act, also makes people feel goodabout themselves. Volunteering actually seems to improve the health of

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elderly people and help them live longer. Jonathan Haidt, a professor ofpsychology and author of The Happiness Hypothesis, comments: ‘At leastfor older people, it really is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Is this more than just a correlation? Perhaps. In one experiment,researchers gave $100 to each of nineteen female students and gave themthe option of donating some of the money to a local food bank for thepoor. To ensure that any effects observed came entirely from making thedonation, and not, for instance, from having the belief that others wouldthink they were generous, the students were informed that no one, noteven the experimenters, would know which students made a donation.While the students were deciding what to do, the researchers were usingmagnetic resonance imaging, which shows activity in various parts ofthe brain. The research found that when students donated, the brain’s‘reward centres’ – the caudate nucleus, nucleus accumbens and insulae –became active. These are the parts of the brain that respond when you eatsomething sweet or receive money. This is a small-scale experiment andonly more research will show whether this is a widespread phenomenon,and whether it is part of the explanation for why those who give are morelikely to say that they are happy.

The research cited focuses on giving and helping behaviour. Wouldsomething similar apply to living ethically in general? There seems to belittle or no research on this broader topic. A. H. Maslow, an American psy-chologist, asserted that human beings have a need for self-actualizationthat involves growing towards courage, kindness, knowledge, love, hon-esty and unselfishness. When we fulfill this need, we feel serene, joyful,filled with zest, sometimes euphoric and generally happy. When we actcontrary to our need for self-actualization, we experience anxiety, despair,boredom, shame, emptiness and are generally unable to enjoy ourselves.It would be nice if Maslow should turn out to be right; unfortunately, thedata Maslow produced in support of his theory consisted of very limitedstudies of selected people and cannot be considered anything more thansuggestive.

Human nature is so diverse that one may doubt if any generalizationabout the kind of character that leads to happiness could hold for allhuman beings. What, for instance, of those we call ‘psychopaths’? Psy-chiatrists use this term as a label for a person who is asocial, impulsive,egocentric, unemotional, lacking in feelings of remorse or shame orguilt, and apparently unable to form deep and enduring personal rela-tionships. Psychopaths are certainly abnormal, but whether it is properto say that they are mentally ill is another matter. At least on the surface,

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they do not suffer from their condition, and it is not obvious that it is intheir interest to be ‘cured’. Hervey Cleckley, the author of a classic studyof psychopathy entitled The Mask of Sanity, notes that since his book wasfirst published he has received countless letters from people desperatefor help – but they are from the parents, spouses and other relatives ofpsychopaths, almost never from the psychopaths themselves. This is notsurprising, for although psychopaths are asocial and indifferent to thewelfare of others, they have an inflated opinion of their own abilities.When interviewed they say things like:

A lot has happened to me, a lot more will happen. But I enjoy living and I amalways looking forward to each day. I like laughing and I’ve done a lot. I amessentially a clown at heart – but a happy one. I always take the bad with thegood.

There is no effective therapy for psychopathy, which may be explainedby the fact that psychopaths see nothing wrong with their behaviourand often find it rewarding, at least in the short term. Of course, theirimpulsive nature and lack of a sense of shame or guilt means that somepsychopaths end up in prison, though it is hard to tell how many donot, because those who avoid prison are also more likely to avoid contactwith psychiatrists. Studies have shown that a surprisingly large number ofpsychopaths are able to avoid prison despite grossly anti-social behaviour,probably because of their well-known ability to convince others that theyare truly repentant, that what they did will never happen again, and thatthey deserve another chance.

The existence of psychopaths – or more broadly, of people with psy-chopathic tendencies – counts against the contention that benevolence,sympathy and feelings of guilt are present in everyone. It also appearsto count against attempts to link happiness with the possession of theseinclinations. Let us pause before we accept this latter conclusion. Mustwe accept psychopaths’ own evaluations of their happiness? They are,after all, notorious liars. Moreover, even if they are telling the truth asthey see it, are they qualified to say that they are really happy when theyseem unable to experience the emotional states that play such a largepart in the happiness and fulfillment of others? Admittedly, a psychopathcould use the same argument against us: how can we say that we are trulyhappy when we have not experienced the excitement and freedom thatcomes from complete irresponsibility? We cannot enter into the subject-ive states of psychopathic people, nor they into ours, so the dispute is noteasy to resolve.

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Cleckley suggests that the behaviour of psychopaths can be explainedas a response to the meaninglessness of their lives. It is characteristic ofpsychopaths to work for a while at a job and then, just when their abilityand charm have taken them to the crest of success, commit some pettyand easily detectable crime. A similar pattern occurs in their personalrelationships. They live largely in the present and lack any coherent lifeplan. Sometimes their failure to consider the future consequences oftheir acts – even to themselves – is breathtaking. Here is an examplefrom a study by R. D. Hare:

One of our subjects, who scored high on the Psychopathy Checklist, said thatwhile walking to a party he decided to buy a case of beer, but realized that hehad left his wallet at home six or seven blocks away. Not wanting to walk back,he picked up a heavy piece of wood and robbed the nearest gas station, seriouslyinjuring the attendant.

We can find support here for Thomas Nagel’s account of imprudence asan irrational failure to see oneself as a person existing over time, withthe present merely one among other times one will live through. Psycho-paths have an extreme form of this failure. Cleckley explains their erraticand inadequately motivated behaviour by likening the psychopath’s lifeto that of a child forced to sit through a performance of King Lear.Children are restless and misbehave under these conditions becausethey cannot enjoy the play as adults do. They act to relieve boredom.Similarly, Cleckley says, psychopaths are bored because their emotionalpoverty means that they cannot take interest in, or gain satisfaction from,what for others are the most important things in life: love, family, suc-cess in business or professional life and so on. These things simply donot matter to them. Their unpredictable and anti-social behaviour is anattempt to relieve what would otherwise be a tedious existence. Theseclaims are speculative, and Cleckley admits that it may not be possibleto establish them scientifically. They do suggest, however, an aspect ofthe psychopath’s life that undermines the otherwise attractive nature ofthe psychopath’s free-wheeling life. Most reflective people, at some timeor other, want their life to have some kind of meaning. Few of us coulddeliberately choose a way of life that we regarded as utterly meaningless.For this reason, most of us would not choose to live a psychopathic life,however enjoyable it might be.

Yet if we are to reject the psychopath’s claim to be living an enjoyablelife on the ground that it is a meaningless life, we have to face the questionof whether we can find meaning in our own lives. If we are not religious

Why Act Morally? 291

believers, don’t we have to accept that life really is meaningless, not justfor the psychopath but for all of us? And if this is so, why should we notchoose – if it were in our power to choose our personality – the life ofa psychopath? Is it true, though, that, religion aside, life is meaningless?Now our pursuit of reasons for acting morally has led us to what is oftenregarded as the ultimate philosophical question.

has life a meaning?

In what sense does rejection of belief in a god imply rejection of the viewthat life has any meaning? If this world had been created by some divinebeing with a particular goal in mind, it could be said to have a meaning,at least for that divine being. If we could know what the divine being’spurpose in creating us was, we could then know what the meaning of ourlife was for our creator. If we accepted our creator’s purpose (thoughwhy we should do that would need to be explained), we could claim toknow the meaning of life.

When we reject belief in a god, we must give up the idea that lifeon this planet has some preordained meaning. Life as a whole has nomeaning. Life began, as the best available theories tell us, in a chancecombination of molecules; it then evolved through random mutationsand natural selection. All this just happened; it did not happen for anyoverall purpose. Now that it has resulted in the existence of beings thatprefer some states of affairs to others, however, it may be possible forparticular lives to be meaningful. In this sense, atheists can find meaningin life.

Let us return to the comparison between the life of a psychopathand that of a more normal person. Why should the psychopath’s lifenot be meaningful? We have seen that psychopaths are egocentric to anextreme: neither other people, nor worldly success, nor anything elsereally matters to them. Why is their own enjoyment of life not sufficientto give meaning to their lives?

Most of us would not be able to find full satisfaction by deliberatelysetting out to enjoy ourselves without caring about anyone or anythingelse. The pleasures we obtained in that way would seem empty and soonpall. We seek a meaning for our lives beyond our own pleasures andfind fulfilment and happiness in doing what we see to be meaningful.If our life has no meaning other than our own happiness, we are likelyto find that when we have obtained what we think we need to be happy,happiness itself still eludes us.

292 Practical Ethics

That those who aim at happiness for happiness’s sake often fail to findit, whereas others find happiness in pursuing altogether different goals,has been called ‘the paradox of hedonism’. It is not, of course, a logicalparadox but a claim about the way in which we come to be happy. Likeother generalizations on this subject, it lacks empirical confirmation. Yetit matches our everyday observations and is consistent with our nature asevolved, purposive beings. Human beings survive and reproduce them-selves through purposive action. We obtain happiness and fulfillment byworking towards and achieving our goals. In evolutionary terms, we couldsay that happiness functions as an internal reward for our achievements.Subjectively, we regard achieving the goal (or progressing towards it) asa reason for happiness. Our own happiness, therefore, is a by-product ofaiming at something else and is not to be obtained by setting our sightson happiness alone.

The psychopath’s life can now be seen to be meaningless in a waythat a normal life is not. It is meaningless because it looks inward tothe pleasures of the present moment and not outward to anything morelong-term or far-reaching. More normal lives have meaning because theyare lived to some larger purpose.

All this is speculative. You may accept or reject it to the extent thatit agrees with your own observation and introspection. My next – andfinal – suggestion is more speculative still. It is that to find an enduringmeaning in our lives it is not enough to go beyond psychopaths who haveno long-term commitments or life plans; we must also go beyond moreprudent egoists who have long-term plans concerned only with their owninterests. The prudent egoists may find meaning in their lives for a time,for they have the purpose of furthering their own interests; but what,in the end, does that amount to? When everything in our interests hasbeen achieved, do we just sit back and be happy? Could we be happyin this way? Or would we decide that we had still not quite reached ourtarget, that there was something else we needed before we could sit backand enjoy it all? Most materially successful egoists take the latter route,thus escaping the necessity of admitting that they cannot find happinessin permanent holidaying. People who slave to establish small businesses,telling themselves they would do it only until they had made enough tolive comfortably, keep working long after they have passed their originaltarget. Their material ‘needs’ expand just fast enough to keep ahead oftheir income.

In recent years, we have had plenty of examples of the insatiablenature of the desire for wealth – and where it leads. For the 1980s, it was

Why Act Morally? 293

summed up in Oliver Stone’s movie Wall Street starring Michael Douglasas a convincingly unpleasant Gordon Gekko, a financial wheeler-dealerwhose manner of operation resembles that of the real-life financier IvanBoesky who famously pronounced ‘Greed is good.’ The critical voice inthe film is provided by Bud Fox, played by Charlie Sheen. While Gekkoattempts his usual takeover and asset-stripping procedure on the airlinefor which Fox’s father works as a mechanic, an angry Fox asks: ‘Tell me,Gordon, when does it all end, huh? How many yachts can you water-skibehind? How much is enough?’ For Boesky, it seems, $150 million wasnot enough, because his fortune was at least that when he sought toboost it even further by insider trading, a crime for which he eventuallylost his fortune, his reputation and his liberty. With the man who hadgiven the decade its tagline in prison, people began talking about findingfulfilment and satisfaction rather than just accumulating wealth. Wheneconomic good times returned in the first decade of the twenty-firstcentury, however, ostentatious spending reached new heights, with thefounders of equity firms competing to throw lavish birthday party bashesthat cost upwards of $5 million. When the global financial crisis hit in2007, and Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme became the equivalent ofBoesky’s insider trading, the talk once again turned to finding meaningand fulfilment – and it seems safe to predict that, in time, the cycle willrepeat itself.

For anyone seeking to escape this cycle of accumulation and ruin,ethics can provide a more durable alternative. If we are looking for apurpose broader than our own interests, something that will allow usto see our lives as possessing significance beyond the narrow confines ofour wealth or even our own pleasurable states of consciousness, one obvi-ous solution is to take up the ethical point of view. The ethical point ofview does, as we have seen, require us to go beyond a personal point ofview to the standpoint of an impartial spectator. Thus, looking at thingsethically is a way of transcending our inward-looking concerns and identi-fying ourselves with the most objective point of view possible – with, asSidgwick put it, ‘the point of view of the universe’.

The point of view of the universe is a lofty standpoint. In the rarefiedair that surrounds it, we may get carried away into talking, as Kant does,of the moral point of view ‘inevitably’ humbling all who compare theirown limited nature with it. I do not want to suggest anything as sweepingas this. Earlier in this chapter, in rejecting Thomas Nagel’s argument forthe rationality of altruism, I agreed with Sidgwick and Parfit that there isnothing irrational about being concerned with the quality of one’s own

294 Practical Ethics

existence in a way that one is not concerned with the quality of existenceof other individuals. Without going back on this, I am now suggestingthat rationality, in the broad sense that includes self-awareness and reflec-tion on the nature and point of our own existence, may push us towardsconcerns broader than the quality of our own existence; but the processis not a necessary one, and those who do not take part in it – or who,in taking part, do not follow it all the way to the ethical point of view –are not irrational or in error. Some people find collecting stamps or fol-lowing their favourite football team an entirely adequate way of givingpurpose to their lives. There is nothing irrational about that; but othersagain seek something more significant as they become more aware oftheir situation in the world and more reflective about their purposes. Tothis third group, the ethical point of view offers a meaning and purposein life that one does not grow out of. At least, one cannot grow out ofthe ethical point of view until all ethical tasks have been accomplished.If that utopia were ever achieved, our purposive nature might well leaveus dissatisfied, much as egoists might be dissatisfied when they haveeverything they need to be happy. There is nothing paradoxical aboutthis, for we should not expect evolution to have equipped us, in advance,with the ability to find satisfaction in a situation that has never previ-ously occurred. Nor is this going to be a practical problem in the nearfuture.

I will conclude by making these abstract speculations more personaland concrete. Henry Spira was one of the most effective twentieth-centuryAmerican activists for animals. (To give just one example, it is due to Spiramore than anyone else that the words ‘not tested on animals’ appear onso many cosmetic products today.) In addition to his many campaigns thatsaved an immense amount of animal suffering, Spira marched for civilrights in the South, fought against corruption in the National MaritimeUnion, and taught underprivileged kids in New York high schools. I hadthe good fortune to count him as my friend, staying with him manytimes in the sparsely furnished, rent-controlled New York apartment thatserved as his home and his office. When he had cancer and knew thatthe end was not far away, I asked him what had driven him to spend hislife working for others. He replied:

I guess basically one wants to feel that one’s life has amounted to more than justconsuming products and generating garbage. I think that one likes to look backand say that one’s done the best one can to make this a better place for others.You can look at it from this point of view: what greater motivation can there bethan doing whatever one possibly can to reduce pain and suffering?

Why Act Morally? 295

That answer will not provide everyone with overwhelming reasons foracting morally. It cannot be proven that we are all rationally requiredto reduce pain and suffering and make the world a better place forothers. Ethically indefensible behaviour is not always irrational. We willprobably always need the sanctions of the law and social pressure toprovide additional reasons against serious violations of ethical standards.On the other hand, those reflective enough to ask why they should actethically are also those most likely to appreciate the reasons Spira offeredfor taking the ethical point of view.

Notes, References and Further Reading


For more on the protests against the views expressed in this book, seePeter Singer, “On Being Silenced in Germany”, The New York Reviewof Books, August 15, 1991, and Peter Singer, “An Intellectual Autobio-graphy”, in Jeffrey Schaler (ed.), Peter Singer Under Fire (Chicago, 2009).

The injunction against comparing humans and animals is from Eth-ische Grundaussagen (Ethical Foundational Statements) by the Board of theFederal Association Lebenshilfe für geistig Behinderte e.V., published inthe journal of the association, Geistige Behinderung 29:4 (1990) p. 256.

chapter 1: about ethics

The issues discussed in the first section – relativism, subjectivism and thealleged dependence of ethics on religion – are dealt with in several text-books. Perhaps the best brief introduction is James Rachels, The Elementsof Moral Philosophy, 6th ed., edited by Stuart Rachels (New York, 2009).The online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a useful up-to-date source,here as well as on other topics discussed in this book. See also the art-icles on these topics by David Wong, James Rachels and Jonathan Berg,respectively, in Peter Singer (ed.), A Companion to Ethics (Oxford, 1991).Plato’s argument against defining ‘good’ as ‘what the gods approve’ isin his Euthyphro. Engels’ discussion of the Marxist view of morality andhis reference to a ‘really human morality’ are in his Herr Eugen Dühring’sRevolution in Science, chap. 9. For a discussion of Marx’s critique of mor-ality, see Allen Wood, “Marx against morality”, in Peter Singer (ed.),


298 Notes, References and Further Reading

A Companion to Ethics (Oxford, 1991). C. L. Stevenson’s emotivist theoryis most fully expounded in his Ethics and Language (New Haven, 1944).R. M. Hare’s basic position is to be found in The Language of Morals(Oxford, 1952), Freedom and Reason (Oxford, 1963) and Moral Thinking(Oxford, 1981). For a summary statement, see Hare’s essay “Universalprescriptivism”, in P. Singer (ed.), A Companion to Ethics (Oxford, 1991).J. L. Mackie’s Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (Harmondsworth, Middle-sex, 1977) defends a version of subjectivism. Derek Parfit provides aclosely argued defence of objective truth in ethics in his On What Matters(Oxford, forthcoming).

The description of chimpanzee behaviour that suggests a sense ofjustice comes from Frans de Waal, Chimpanzee Politics, ( Jonathan Cape,London, 1982), pp. 205–7. For a detailed account of recent findingson the evolved nature of our moral intuitions, and a discussion of thesignificance of these findings for ethics, see Joshua Greene, The MoralBrain and How to Use It, Penguin Press, New York, forthcoming.

Mill’s essay “On Nature” was first published in John Stuart Mill, Nature,The Utility of Religion, and Theism, (London, 1874).

The more important formulations of the universalizability principlereferred to in the second section are in Immanuel Kant, Groundwork ofthe Metaphysic of Morals, Section II; R. M. Hare, Freedom and Reason andMoral Thinking; R. Firth, “Ethical Absolutism and the Ideal Observer”,Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, vol. 12 (1951–2); J. J. C. Smartand B. Williams, Utilitarianism, For and Against (Cambridge, 1973); JohnRawls, A Theory of Justice (Oxford, 1972; revised edition, 1999); J. P.Sartre, “Existentialism is a Humanism”, in W. Kaufmann (ed.), Existen-tialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre (2nd edition, New York, 1975); and JürgenHabermas, Legitimation Crisis, (tr. T. McCarthy, London, 1976) pt. 111,chap. 2–4.

The tentative argument for a form of utilitarianism based on interestsor preferences owes most to Hare, although it does not go as far asthe argument to be found in his Moral Thinking. Sidgwick distinguishesthe preference view from the hedonistic view in his The Methods of Eth-ics (7th edition, London, 1907), book I, chap. 9, pp. 109–15. For auseful discussion of consequentialism, see the article by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

For the finding that winning lotteries does not lead to greater hap-piness, see Philip Brickman, Dan Coates and Ronnie Janoff-Bulman,“Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative?” Journal ofPersonality and Social Psychology, 36 (1978), pp. 917–27.

Notes, References and Further Reading 299

chapter 2: equality and its implications

Rawls’s argument that equality can be based on the natural characteristicsof human beings is to be found in Sec. 77 of A Theory of Justice (Cambridge,MA, 1971; revised edition, 1999).

For a discussion of intelligence and IQ tests, see James Flynn, Whatis Intelligence? Beyond the Flynn Effect (Cambridge, 2009). Arguments infavour of a link between IQ and race can be found in A. R. Jensen,Genetics and Education (London, 1972) and Educability and Group Differ-ences (London, 1973) and in H. J. Eysenck, Race, Intelligence and Education(London, 1971). A variety of objections are collected in K. Richard-son and D. Spears (eds.), Race, Culture and Intelligence (Harmondsworth,Middlesex, 1972). See also N. J. Block and G. Dworkin, The IQ Controversy(New York, 1976); H. J. Eysenck and Leon Kamin, Intelligence: The Battlefor The Mind (London, 1981); R. C. Lewontin, Steven Rose and LeonKamin, Not in Our Genes (New York, 1984) especially chap. 5; R. J. Her-rnstein and C. Murray, The Bell Curve (New York, 1994) and the debatebetween Robert Nichols and James Flynn, with a comment by Jensen, inS. Modgil and C. Modgil, Arthur Jensen, Consensus and Controversy (NewYork, 1987), pp. 213–35 and 374–81. Thomas Jefferson’s comment onthe irrelevance of intelligence to the issue of rights was made in a letterto Henri Gregoire, 25 February 1809.

The nature and origin of psychological and cognitive differencesbetween the sexes are considered in Eleanor Maccoby and Carol Jack-lin, The Psychology of Sex Differences (Palo Alto, 1974); Diane Halpern,Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities, (3rd edition, London, 2000); DoreenKimura, Sex and Cognition, (Cambridge, Mass., 2000); and Melissa Hines,Brain Gender (New York, 2005). For a critique of some of the science, seeCordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender (New York, 2010).

A typical defence of equality of opportunity as the only justifiable formof equality is Danel Bell, “A ‘Just’ Equality”, Dialogue (Washington DC,1975) vol. 8, no. 2. The quotation by Jeffrey Gray is from “Why ShouldSociety Reward Intelligence?” The Times (London), September 8, 1972.The dilemmas raised by equal opportunity are acutely set out in JamesFishkin, Justice, Equal Opportunity and the Family (New Haven, 1983).

For an overview of the issue of affirmative action, see Robert Fullin-wider’s article “Affirmative Action” in the online Stanford Encyclopediaof Philosophy, Seealso Robert Fullinwider and Judith Lichtenberg, Leveling the Playing Field:Justice, Politics, and College Admissions (Lanham, Maryland, 2004). Evid-ence that minority students admitted under affirmative action do less

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300 Notes, References and Further Reading

well than the class as a whole is presented in Richard Sander, “A SystemicAnalysis of Affirmative Action in American Law Schools,” Stanford LawReview, 57 (2004), pp. 367–484. The argument that affirmative action isbad for minority students can be found in Stephan Thernstrom and Abi-gail Thernstrom, America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible (NewYork, 1997). Affirmative action is defended by two former presidents ofPrinceton and Harvard Universities in William Bowen and Derek Bok,The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in Collegeand University Admissions (Princeton, New Jersey, 1998).

chapter 3: equality for animals?

For a fuller account of my views on the ethics of how we should treatanimals, see Animal Liberation (2nd edition reissued with a new pre-face, New York, 2009). Mary Midgley, Animals and Why They Matter (Har-mondsworth, Middlesex, 1983) is a readable account of these issues.James Rachels, Created from Animals (Oxford, 1990) draws the moralimplications of the Darwinian revolution for our thinking about ourplace among the animals. Richard Ryder charts the history of changingattitudes towards speciesism in Animal Revolution (Oxford, 1989). Alsorecommended: David DeGrazia, Taking Animals Seriously (Cambridge,1996) and the same author’s Animal Rights: A Very Short Introduction(Oxford, 2001); Paola Cavalieri, The Animal Question (New York, 2001)and The Death of the Animal: A Dialogue (New York, 2009); and Karen Dawn,Thanking the Monkey (New York, 2008). On the psychology of our relationswith animals, see Hal Herzog, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat:Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals, (New York, 2010). Antho-logies dealing with animals and ethics include: Tom Regan and PeterSinger (eds.), Animal Rights and Human Obligations (2nd edition, Engle-wood Cliffs, NJ, 1989); Peter Singer (ed.) In Defense of Animals (Oxford,1986) and In Defense of Animals: The Second Wave (Oxford, 2006); SusanArmstrong and Richard Botzler (eds.), The Animal Ethics Reader (London,2003); and Cass Sunstein and Martha Nussbaum (eds.), Animal Rights:Current Debates and New Directions (New York, 2004).

Bentham’s defence of animals is from his Introduction to the Principlesof Morals and Legislation (1789) chap. XVIII, sec. 1, note.

A more detailed description of modern farming conditions can befound in Animal Liberation, chap. 3; in Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’sDilemma (New York, 2006), chap. 17; and in Peter Singer and Jim Mason,The Ethics of What We Eat (New York, 2006). Similarly, Animal Liberation,

Notes, References and Further Reading 301

chap. 2 contains a fuller discussion of the use of animals in researchthan is possible in this book, but see also Richard Ryder, Victims of Science(2nd edition, Fontwell, Sussex, 1983). Details of the Botox experimentcan be found at The experiments by H. F. Harlowon isolating monkeys were originally published in Journal of Comparativeand Physiological Psychology, 78 (1972), p. 202; Proceedings of the NationalAcademy of Science, 54 (1965), p. 90, and Engineering and Science, 33 (April1970), p. 8. On the continuation of Harlow’s work, see Animal Liberation(2nd edition), pp. 34–5.

Among the objections, the claim that animals are incapable of feelingpain has usually been associated with Descartes. Descartes’ view is lessclear (and less consistent) than most have assumed. See John Cotting-han, “A Brute to the Brutes?: Descartes’ Treatment of Animals”, Philo-sophy, 53 (1978), p. 551. In The Unheeded Cry (Oxford, 1989), Bern-ard Rollin describes and criticises more recent ideologies that havedenied the reality of animal pain. On pain in crustaceans, see RobertElwood and Mirjam Appel, “Pain experience in hermit crabs?” AnimalBehaviour, 77 (2009), pp. 1243–46 and Stuart Barr et al., “Nocicep-tion or pain in a decapod crustacean?” Animal Behaviour, 75 (2008),pp. 745–51.

The source for the anecdote about Benjamin Franklin is his Autobi-ography (New York, 1950), p. 41. The same objection has been moreseriously considered by John Benson in “Duty and The Beast”, Philosophy,53 (1978), pp. 545–7.

In the section on ‘Ethics and Reciprocity’, the quotation from Plato’sRepublic is from Book 11, pp. 358–9. Later statements of a similar viewinclude John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Oxford, 1972; revised edition,1999); J. L. Mackie, Ethics, chap. 5; and David Gauthier, Morals by Agree-ment (Oxford, 1986). They exclude animals from the centre of moral-ity, although they soften the impact of this exclusion in various ways(see, for example, A Theory of Justice, p. 512, and Ethics, pp. 193–5).My discussion of the looser version of the reciprocity view draws onEdward Johnson, Species and Morality, PhD Thesis, Princeton University,1976 (University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1981),p. 145.

For an interpretation of the contract view of ethics that is much morefavourable to animals, see Mark Rowlands, Animal Rights: Moral Theoryand Practice, (2nd edition, London, 2009).

In the section ‘Differences between humans and animals’, JaneGoodall’s observations of chimpanzees are engagingly recounted in

302 Notes, References and Further Reading

In The Shadow of Man (Boston, 1971) and Through a Window (London,1990), and in more scholarly form in The Chimpanzees of Gombe (Cam-bridge, Mass., 1986). For more information on the capacities of thegreat apes, see Paola Cavalieri and Peter Singer (eds.), The Great Ape Pro-ject (London, 1993). On the relative moral status of animals and peoplewith profound intellectual disability, see Peter Singer, “Speciesism andMoral Status”, and Eva Feder Kittay, “The Personal is Philosophical isPolitical: A Philosopher and Mother of a Cognitively Disabled PersonSends Notes from the Battlefield”, both in Eva Feder Kittay and LiciaCarlson, (eds.), Cognitive Disability and Its Challenge to Moral Philosophy(Malden, MA, 2010) pp. 331–44 and pp. 393–413.

Of the objections to the argument discussed in the section ‘DefendingSpeciesism’ the claim that we should give individuals the moral statusthat corresponds with the capacities normal for their species was madeby Stanley Benn, “Egalitarianism and Equal Consideration of Interests”,in J. Pennock and J. Chapman (eds.), Nomos IX: Equality (New York, 1967)pp. 62ff.; the argument that we have special duties to humans becausewe think of ourselves as human was made by John Benson, “Duty andthe Beast”, Philosophy, 53 (1978), and related points are made by BonnieSteinbock, “Speciesism and the Idea of Equality”, Philosophy, vol. 53,pp. 255–6 and at greater length by Leslie Pickering Francis and RichardNorman, “Some Animals are More Equal than Others”, Philosophy, vol. 53(1978), pp. 518–27. Bernard Williams defends “The Human Prejudice”in an essay with that title, reprinted in Jeffrey Schaler (ed.), Peter SingerUnder Fire (Chicago, 2009). A fuller response from me can be found inthe same volume.

chapter 4: what’s wrong with killing?

Andrew Stinson’s treatment is described by Robert and Peggy Stinson inThe Long Dying of Baby Andrew (Boston, 1983).

Joseph Fletcher’s article “Indicators of Humanhood: A Tentative Pro-file of Man” appeared in The Hastings Center Report, vol. 2, no. 5 (1972).John Locke’s definition of ‘person’ is taken from his Essay ConcerningHuman Understanding, (1690) bk. II, chap. 27, par. 9.

Aristotle’s views on infanticide are in his Politics, bk. VII, p. 1335b;Plato’s views are in the Republic, bk. V, 460c. Support for the claim thatour present attitudes to infanticide are largely the effect of the influenceof Christianity on our thought can be found in the historical material oninfanticide cited in the notes for Chapter 6. (See especially the article by

Notes, References and Further Reading 303

W. L. Langer, pp. 353–5.) For Aquinas’ statement that killing a humanbeing offends against God as killing a slave offends against the master ofthe slave, see Summa Theologica, II, ii, question 64, article 5.

Hare propounds and defends his two-level view of moral reasoning inMoral Thinking (Oxford, 1981).

Michael Tooley’s “Abortion and Infanticide” was first published inPhilosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 2 (1972). The passage quoted in thesection ‘Does a person have a right to life?’ on p. 81 is from a revisedversion in J. Feinberg (ed.), The Problem of Abortion (Belmont, 1973),p. 60. His book Abortion and Infanticide was published in Oxford in 1983.

For further discussion of respect for autonomy as an objection tokilling, see Jonathan Glover, Causing Death and Saving Lives (Harmonds-worth, Middlesex, 1977), chap. 5., and H. J. McCloskey, “The Right toLife”, Mind, vol. 84 (1975).

Jeremy Bentham gives his account of what it is for something to be inthe interests of an individual in his Introduction to the Principles of Moralsand Legislation, (1789), chap. 1, pars. II, V.

My discussion of the ‘total’ and ‘prior existence’ versions of utilitari-anism owes much to Derek Parfit. I originally tried to defend the priorexistence view in “A Utilitarian Population Principle” in M. Bayles (ed.),Ethics and Population (Cambridge, Mass., 1976) but Parfit’s reply, “OnDoing the Best for Our Children”, in the same volume, persuaded me tochange my mind. Parfit’s Reasons and Persons (Oxford, 1984) is requiredreading for anyone wishing to pursue this topic in depth. See also hisshort account of some of the issues in “Overpopulation and the Qualityof Life”, in Peter Singer (ed.), Applied Ethics (Oxford, 1986). Parfit usesthe term ‘person-affecting’ where I use ‘prior existence’, which seemsmore suitable as the view has no special reference to persons, as distinctfrom other sentient creatures.

The distinction between the two versions of utilitarianism appears tohave been first noticed by Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics (Lon-don, 1907), bk. IV, chap. 1, pp. 414–16. Later discussions include, inaddition to those cited previously, J. Narveson, “Moral Problems of Pop-ulation”, The Monist, vol. 57 (1973); T. G. Roupas, “The Value of Life”,Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 7 (1978); R. I. Sikora, “Is it Wrongto Prevent the Existence of Future Generations”, in B. Barry and R.Sikora (ed.), Obligations to Future Generations (Philadelphia, 1978); JeffMcMahan, “Problems of Population Theory”, Ethics, 92 (1981), pp. 96–127; Melinda Roberts, Child versus Childmaker: Future Persons and PresentDuties in Ethics and the Law, (Lanham, MD, 1998); Jesper Ryberg and

304 Notes, References and Further Reading

Torbjorn Tannsjo (eds.), The Repugnant Conclusion: Essays on PopulationEthics (New York, 2005); Elizabeth Harman, “Can we harm and benefitin creating?” Philosophical Perspectives 18 (2004), pp. 89–109; and Cas-par Hare, “Voices from another world: Must we respect the interests ofpeople who do not, and will never, exist?” Ethics, 117 (2007), pp. 498–523. For an overview, see Jesper Ryberg, “The Repugnant Conclusion” inthe online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Mill’s famous passage comparing Socrates and the fool appearedin his Utilitarianism (first published 1863; J.M. Dent, London, 1960)pp. 8–9.

For a thoughtful in-depth discussion of the entire area covered inthis and the next three chapters, see Jeff McMahan, The Ethics of Killing:Problems at the Margins of Life (New York, 2001).

chapter 5: taking life: animals

The breakthrough in communicating with a being of another specieswas announced in R. and B. Gardner, “Teaching Sign Language to aChimpanzee”, Science, vol. 165 (1969), pp. 664–72. The information onlanguage use in chimpanzees, gorillas and an orangutan is drawn fromthe articles by Roger and Deborah Fouts, Francine Patterson and WendyGordon, and H. Lyn Miles, in Paola Cavalieri and Peter Singer (eds.),The Great Ape Project (London, 1993). For an account of Washoe’s life,see Roger Fouts, Next of Kin (New York, 1997), and for a discussion ofthe mental lives of dolphins, see Thomas White, In Defense of Dolphins,(Blackwell, Oxford, 2007).

The quotation in the first section of Chapter 5 is from Stuart Hamp-shire, Thought and Action (London, 1959), pp. 98–9. Others who haveheld related views are Anthony Kenny, in Will, Freedom and Power (Oxford,1975); Donald Davidson, “Thought and Talk” in S. Guttenplan (ed.),Mind and Language (Oxford, 1975); and Michael Leahy, Against Libera-tion (London, 1991).

Julia’s problem-solving abilities were demonstrated by J. Döhl and B.Rensch; their work is described in Jane Goodall, The Chimpanzees of Gombe,p. 31. Frans de Waal reports his observations of chimpanzees in Chim-panzee Politics (New York, 1983). Goodall’s account of Figan’s thoughtfulmanner of obtaining his banana is taken from p. 107 of In the Shadowof Man. The study showing that pigs avoid showing heavier pigs wherefood is located is by S. Held, M. Mendl, C. Devereux, and R. W. Byrne,

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Notes, References and Further Reading 305

“Foraging pigs alter their behavior in response to exploitation”, AnimalBehaviour 64 (2002), pp. 157–66. Mathias Osvath reported his observa-tions of the stone-throwing chimpanzee Santino in “Spontaneous plan-ning for future stone throwing by a male chimpanzee”, Current Biology,19 (2009), pp. R190-1. The remarkable mental powers of scrub jays isdemonstrated in Sérgio P.C. Correia, Anthony Dickinson and Nicola S.Clayton, “Western Scrub-Jays Anticipate Future Needs Independently ofTheir Current Motivational State”, Current Biology, 17 (2007), pp. 856–61. On this topic generally, see Michael Mendl and Elizabeth S. Paul,“Do animals live in the present? Current evidence and implications forwelfare,” Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 113 (2008), pp. 357–82.

Animal self-awareness and mirror tests are discussed in several essaysincluded in M. Bekoff, C. Allen and G. Burghardt (eds.), The CognitiveAnimal: Empirical and Theoretical Perspectives on Animal Cognition (Cam-bridge, Mass., 2002). Irene Pepperberg describes her work with Alexthe parrot in Alex and Me (New York, 2008). The ability of chickens toexercise self-control was reported in S. M. Abeyesinghe, C. J. Nicol, S. J.Hartnell and C. M. Wathes, “Can domestic fowl, Gallus gallus domesticus,show self-control?” Animal Behavior, 70 (2005), pp. 1–11. Culum Browndiscusses the mental lives of fish in “Not just a pretty face,” New Scient-ist, 182 (12 June 2004), p. 42. On novel tool use in an octopus, seeJulian K. Finn, Tom Tregenza and Mark Norman, “Defensive tool usein a coconut-carrying octopus”, Current Biology, 19 (2009), pp. R1069–70.

For more on Gary Varner’s understanding of the difference betweena person, a near-person and the merely sentient, see his Personhood andAnimals in the Two-Level Utilitarianism of R.M. Hare. (New York. Forthcom-ing). Roger Scruton writes about when death is and is not a tragedy inhis essay “The Conscientious Carnivore”, in Food for Thought, edited bySteve Sapontzis (Amherst, NY, 2004), pp. 81–91.

Leslie Stephen’s claim that eating bacon is kind to pigs comes fromhis Social Rights and Duties (London, 1896) and is quoted by Henry Saltin “The Logic of the Larder”, which appeared in Salt’s The Humanities ofDiet (Manchester, 1914) and has been reprinted in the first edition of T.Regan and P. Singer (eds.), Animal Rights and Human Obligations (Engle-wood Cliffs, NJ, 1976). For more recent re-statements of the argument,see Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma (New York, 2006) and HughFearnley-Whittingstall, The River Cottage Meat Book, (London, 2004). Myown earlier discussion of this issue is in chapter 6 of the first editionof Animal Liberation (New York, 1975). For a detailed discussion of the

306 Notes, References and Further Reading

issue, arguing against replaceability, see Tatjana Visak, “Killing HappyAnimals”, a PhD thesis submitted to Utrecht University, 2010.

The example of the two women comes from Derek Parfit, “Rights,Interests and Possible People”, in S. Gorovitz et al. (eds.), Moral Problemsin Medicine (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1976); a variation expressed in terms ofa choice between two different medical programs can be found in Parfit’sReasons and Persons (Oxford, 1984), p. 367. James Rachels’ distinctionbetween a biological and a biographical life comes from his The End ofLife (Oxford, 1987). Hart’s discussion of this topic in his review of thefirst edition of this book was titled “Death and Utility” and appeared inThe New York Review of Books, May 15, 1980.

Arthur Schopenhauer argues for his pessimistic view of existence inThe World as Will and Idea, (first published 1818, trans. R. B. Haldane andJ. Kemp, London, 1896), bk. IV, secs. 56–9, pp. 397–420. A more recentdefence is David Benatar’s Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Cominginto Existence (Oxford, 2006).

Henry Sidgwick’s argument for desirable consciousness, or pleasure,as the ultimate good, can be found in The Methods of Ethics, bk. III,chap. 14.

The original presentation of the non-identity problem, which liesbehind my climate change scenario and Parfit’s “Depletion” exampleon which it is based, is Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons (Oxford,1984), pp. 351–74. For an overview of the problem and further refer-ences see Melinda Roberts, “The Nonidentity Problem”, in the onlineStanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

On the ethics of hunting, see Gary Varner, In Nature’s Interests (NewYork, 1998), chap. 5. Steven Davis claims that those who eat grass-fed beefare responsible for fewer animal deaths than vegans in “The Least HarmPrinciple May Require that Humans Consume A Diet Containing LargeHerbivores, Not A Vegan Diet”, Journal of Agricultural and EnvironmentalEthics, 16 (2003), pp. 387–94. The error in his calculations is revealed byGaverick Matheny, “Least Harm: A Defense of Vegetarianism from StevenDavis’s Omnivorous Proposal”, Journal of Agricultural and EnvironmentalEthics, 16 (2003), pp. 505–11.

chapter 6: taking life: the embryo and fetus

The full text of the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade isavailable online; some key sections are reprinted in J. Feinberg (ed.), The

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Notes, References and Further Reading 307

Problem of Abortion. For the number of frozen embryos in the United States,see Pam Belluck, “From Stem Cell Opponents, an Embryo Crusade”, TheNew York Times, June 2, 2005.

The government committee referred to in the “Quickening” section ofChapter 6 – the Wolfenden Committee – issued the Report of the Committeeon Homosexual Offences and Prostitution, Command Paper 247 (London,1957). The quotation is from p. 24. J. S. Mill’s ‘very simple principle’ isstated in the introductory chapter of On Liberty (3rd edition, London,1864). Edwin Schur’s Crimes Without Victims was published in EnglewoodCliffs, NJ, in 1965. Judith Jarvis Thomson’s “A Defense of Abortion”appeared in Philosophy and Public Affairs, 1 (1971) and has been reprintedin Peter Singer (ed.), Applied Ethics.

My account of the development of fetal sentience draws on researchcarried out by Susan Taiwa at the Centre for Human Bioethics, MonashUniversity, and published as “When is the capacity for sentience acquiredduring human fetal development?” Journal of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, 1(1992), pp. 153–65. An earlier expert opinion came from the BritishGovernment advisory group on fetal research, chaired by Sir John Peel,published as The Use of Fetuses and Fetal Materials for Research (London,1972). See also Clifford Grobstein, Science and The Unborn (New York,1988).

Paul Ramsey uses the genetic uniqueness of the fetus as an argu-ment against abortion in “The Morality of Abortion”, in D. H. Labby(ed.), Life or Death: Ethics and Options (London, 1968) and reprinted inJ. Rachels (ed.), Moral Problems (2nd edition, New York, 1975), p. 40.President George W. Bush’s speech on the use of embryos to obtainstem cells is here:–2.html.

Don Marquis’s argument against abortion was published as “Why abor-tion is immoral”, Journal of Philosophy, 86 (1989), pp. 183–202; see alsoAlistair Norcross, “Killing, Abortion and Contraception: A Reply to Mar-quis”, Journal of Philosophy, 87 (1990), pp. 268–77. The quotation abouttotipotency is from Don Marquis, “Singer on Abortion and Infanticide”,in Jeffrey Schaler (ed.), Peter Singer Under Fire (Open Court, 2009), p.151.

On the possibility of creating new human beings from various kindsof cells, see Agata Sagan and Peter Singer, “The Moral Status of StemCells”, Metaphilosophy, vol. 38, no. 2–3 (April 2007), pp. 264–84. Thepassage quoted from Patrick Lee and Robert George is from their essay“Human-Embryo Liberation: A Reply to Peter Singer”, National Review

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308 Notes, References and Further Reading

Online (25 January 2006), george200601250829.asp. See also Patrick Lee and Robert George,Body-Self Dualism in Contemporary Ethics and Politics, (Cambridge UniversityPress, Cambridge, 2008), pp. 81–94.

I owe my speculations about the identity of the splitting embryoto Helga Kuhse, with whom I co-authored “Individuals, humans andpersons: the issue of moral status”, in P. Singer, H. Kuhse, S. Buckle,K. Dawson and P. Kasimba (eds.), Embryo Experimentation (Cambridge,1990). We were both indebted to a remarkable book by a Roman Catholictheologian that challenges the view that conception marks the beginningof the human individual: Norman Ford, When Did I Begin? (Cambridge,1988). For the discussion about mourning the loss of “Mary,” see DavidOderberg, “Modal Properties, Moral Status, and Identity”, Philosophy &Public Affairs, 26 (1997), pp. 270–1.The argument about potentiality inthe context of IVF was first published in Peter Singer and Karen Dawson,“IVF technology and the argument from potential”, Philosophy and PublicAffairs, 17 (1988) and is reprinted in Embryo Experimentation. StephenBuckle takes a different approach in “Arguing from Potential”, Bioethics,2 (1988), also reprinted in Embryo Experimentation. See also Reginald Wil-liams, “Abortion, Potential, and Value”, Utilitas, 20 (2008), pp. 169–84.

The quotation from John Noonan is from his “An almost absolutevalue in history,” in John Noonan (ed.), The Morality of Abortion (Cam-bridge, Mass., 1970), pp. 56–7. On the percentage of embryos thatbecome babies, see United States Department of Human Services, Cen-ters for Disease Control and Prevention, Assisted Reproductive Techno-logy (ART) Report: National Summary, 2007, available at Note that to obtainthe probability of any individual embryo surviving, it is necessary to dividethe pregnancy success rates by the average number of embryos used percycle (because most pregnancies result in only one child). British figurescan be found on the Web site of the Human Fertilisation and EmbryologyAuthority, For theAustralian state of Victoria, see Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treat-ment Authority, Annual Report, 2009, available at

Bentham’s reassuring comment on infanticide is from his Theory ofLegislation (1802), p. 264 and is quoted by E. Westermarck, The Originand Development of Moral Ideas (London, 1924), I, p. 413n. In the final partof Abortion and Infanticide, Michael Tooley discusses the available evidenceon the development in the infant of the sense of being a continuing self.

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Notes, References and Further Reading 309

On this topic, see also Alison Gopnik, The Philosophical Baby (New York,2009).

For historical material on the prevalence of infanticide, see MariaPiers, Infanticide (New York, 1978) and W. L. Langer, “Infanticide: A His-torical Survey”, History of Childhood Quarterly, vol. 1 (1974). An older, butstill valuable survey is in Edward Westermarck, The Origin and Developmentof Moral Ideas, 1, pp. 394–413. An interesting study of the use of infant-icide as a form of family planning is Thomas C. Smith, Nakahara: FamilyFarming and Population in a Japanese Village, 1717–1830. References forPlato and Aristotle’s views on this topic were given in the notes to Chapter4. For Seneca, see De Ira, 1, 15, cited by Westermarck, The Origin andDevelopment of Moral Ideas, I, p. 419. Marvin Kohl (ed.), Infanticide and theValue of Life (Buffalo, NY, 1978) is a collection of essays on infanticide.A powerful argument on public policy grounds for birth as the place todraw the line can be found (by readers of German) in Norbert Hoerster,“Kindestötung und das Lebensrecht von Personen”, Analyse & Kritik, 12(1990), pp. 226–44.

Articles with some affinity with the position I have taken includeMichael Tooley, “Abortion and Infanticide,” Philosophy and Public Affairs,vol. 2 (1972); Mary Anne Warren, “The Moral and Legal Status of Abor-tion”, The Monist, vol. 57 (1973); and R. M. Hare, “Abortion and theGolden Rule”, Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 4 (1975).

chapter 7: taking life: humans

Details of the Linares case are from the New York Times, 27 April 1989, andthe Hastings Center Report, July/August 1989. For more detailed informa-tion and references regarding the entire topic of life and death decisionsfor infants, see: Helga Kuhse and Peter Singer, Should the Baby Live?(Oxford, 1985); Nufffield Council on Bioethics, “Critical Care Decisionsin Fetal and Neonatal Medicine” (2006), 406.html; John D. Lantos andWilliam Meadow, Neonatal Bioethics: The Moral Challenges of Medical Innov-ation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006); and GeoffreyMiller, Extreme Prematurity: Practices, Bioethics and the Law (Cambridge, NewYork: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

The numbers of patients in a persistent vegetative state and the dura-tion of these states are reported in “USA: Right to live, or right to die?”The Lancet, vol. 337 ( January 12, 1991). See also Nancy Frazier O’Brien,“No easy answers seen for questions about persistent vegetative state”,

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310 Notes, References and Further Reading

Catholic News Service 9/20/2007 On the Schiavo case,see William Yardley and Maria Newman, “Schiavo Dies Nearly Two WeeksAfter Removal of Feeding Tube”, The New York Times, March 31, 2005; andTimothy Williams, “Schiavo’s Brain Was Severely Deteriorated, AutopsySays”, The New York Times, June 15, 2005.

The case of Diane is cited from Timothy E. Quill, “Death and Dignity:A Case of Individualized Decision Making”, The New England Journal ofMedicine, 324(10), pp. 691–4 (March 7, 1991). Betty Rollins describes thedeath of her mother in Last Wish (Penguin, 1987) – the passage quotedis from pp. 149–50. On the death of Janet Adkins, see New York Times,14 December 1990; for Jack Kevorkian’s own account, see J. Kevorkian,Prescription: Medicide (Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY, 1991). For morediscussion of physician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia, seeMargaret Pabst Battin, The Least Worst Death, (New York, 1994); J. M.Dieterle, “Physician-Assisted Suicide: A New Look at the Arguments,”Bioethics, 21 (2007), pp. 127–39; and Michael Gill, “Is the Legalizationof Physician-Assisted Suicide Compatible with Good End-of-Life Care?”Journal of Applied Philosophy, 26 (2009), pp. 28–42.

My account of events at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans isbased on Sheri Fink, “The Deadly Choices at Memorial,” The New YorkTimes Sunday Magazine, August 30, 2009.

An official statement of the position of the Roman Catholic Churchon euthanasia and the doctrine of double effect can be found in itsDeclaration on Euthanasia, published by the Sacred Congregation for theDoctrine of the Faith (Vatican City, 1980). Other useful discussions areJonathan Glover, Causing Death and Saving Lives, chap. 14 and 15; D.Humphrey and A. Wickett, The Right to Die: Understanding Euthanasia(New York, 1986); and Helga Kuhse, “Euthanasia”, in P. Singer (ed.), ACompanion to Ethics (Oxford, 1991).

On the issues around the treatment of severely disabled infants, seeC. Gill, “Health Professionals, Disability and Assisted Suicide: An Exam-ination of Relevant Empirical Evidence and Reply to Batavia”, Psychology,Public Policy & Law, 6:2 (2000), pp. 526–45; A. Batavia, “The Relevanceof Data on Physicians and Disability on the Right to Assisted Suicide:Can Empirical Studies Resolve the Issue?” Psychology, Public Policy andLaw, 6:2 (2000), pp. 546–58; and Eva Feder Kittay, “At the Margins ofMoral Personhood”, Ethics, 116 (2005), pp. 100–31. See also the follow-ing essays, and my responses, all of which are in Jeffrey Schaler (ed.), PeterSinger Under Fire (Chicago, 2009); Harry J. Gensler, “Singer’s Unsanctityof Human Life: A Critique”; Harriet McBryde Johnson, “Unspeakable

Notes, References and Further Reading 311

Conversations, or, How I Spent One Day as a Token Cripple at PrincetonUniversity”, and Stephen Drake, “Not Dead Yet!”

The distinction between active and passive euthanasia is succinctly cri-ticized by James Rachels, “Active and Passive Euthanasia”, New EnglandJournal of Medicine, 292 (1975), pp. 78–80, reprinted in Peter Singer(ed.), Applied Ethics. See also Rachels’ The End of Life; Helga Kuhse andPeter Singer, Should the Baby Live?, chap. 4; and Helga Kuhse, The Sanctity-of-Life Doctrine in Medicine – A Critique (Oxford, 1987), chap. 2. An accountof the Baby Doe case is given in chapter 1 of the same book. The sur-vey of American paediatricians was published as: Loretta M. Kopelman,Thomas G. Irons and Arthur E. Kopelman, “Neonatologists Judge the‘Baby Doe’ Regulations”, The New England Journal of Medicine, 318 (March17, 1988), pp. 677–83. The British legal cases concerning such decisionsare described in Derek Morgan, “Letting babies die legally”, Institute ofMedical Ethics Bulletin, May 1989, pp. 13–18; and in “Withholding oflife-saving treatment”, The Lancet, 336 (1991), p. 1121. Arthur Clough’spoem is included in The New Oxford Book of English Verse, edited by HelenGardner (Oxford, 1978). Sir Gustav Nossal’s essay cited in the “Activeand passive euthanasia” section of Chapter 7 is “The Right to Die: Do weNeed New Legislation?” in Parliament of Victoria, Social DevelopmentCommittee, First Report on Inquiry into Options for Dying with Dignity, p. 104.On the doctrine of double effect and the distinction between ordinaryand extraordinary means of treatment, see Helga Kuhse, “Euthanasia”,in Peter Singer (ed.), A Companion to Ethics (Oxford, 1991) and fora fuller account, the same author’s The Sanctity-of-Life Doctrine in Medi-cine – A Critique, (Oxford, 1987) chap. 3–4. For Pope John Paul II’sdecision on the withdrawal of feeding tubes, see “Speech of John Paul IIto the Participants at the International Congress, ‘Life Sustaining Treat-ments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas’”,March 20, 2004, available at See also the previously mentioned Declaration on Euthanasiapublished by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,Vatican City, 1980.

The survey of Australian paediatricians and obstetricians was pub-lished as P. Singer, H. Kuhse and C. Singer, “The treatment of newborninfants with major handicaps”, Medical Journal of Australia, 17 September1983. The testimony of the Roman Catholic bishop, Lawrence Casey, inthe Quinlan case is cited in the judgment, “In the Matter of Karen Quin-lan, An Alleged Incompetent”, reprinted in B. Steinbock (ed.), Killingand Letting Die (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1980). John Lorber describes

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312 Notes, References and Further Reading

his practice of passive euthanasia for selected cases of spina bifida in“Early Results of Selective Treatment of Spina Bifida Cystica”, BritishMedical Journal, 27 October 1973, pp. 201–4. The statistics for survivalof untreated spina bifida infants come from the articles by Lorber andG. K. and E. D. Smith, cited previously. Different doctors report differ-ent figures. Lorber’s objection to active euthanasia is from p. 204 ofthe same article. For further discussion of the treatment of infants withspina bifida, see Helga Kuhse and Peter Singer, Should the Baby Live?,chap. 3.

The argument that Nazi crimes developed out of the euthanasia pro-gramme is quoted from Leo Alexander, “Medical Science under Dictat-orship”, New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 241 (14 July 1949), pp.39–47. Gitta Sereny, Into that Darkness: From Mercy Killing to Mass Murder(London, 1974) makes a similar claim in tracing the career of FranzStangl from the euthanasia centres to the death camp at Treblinka;but in so doing she reveals how different the Nazi ‘euthanasia’ pro-gramme was from what is now advocated (see especially pp. 51–5). Foran example of a survey showing that people regularly evaluate somehealth states as worse than death, see G. W. Torrance, “Utility approachto measuring health-related quality of life”, Journal of Chronic Diseases, 40:6(1987).

On euthanasia among the Eskimo (and the rarity of homicide out-side such special circumstances), see E. Westermarck, The Origin andDevelopment of Moral Ideas, vol. 1, pp. 329–34, 387, n.1 and 392,nn.1–3.

chapter 8: rich and poor

For a more detailed discussion of the obligations of the affluent to thepoor, see Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save (New York, 2009). Othervaluable books on this topic are Peter Unger, Living High and LettingDie (New York, 1996); William Aiken and Hugh LaFollette (eds.), WorldHunger and Moral Obligation (Upper Saddle River, NJ, 1996); ThomasPogge, World Hunger and Human Rights (Cambridge, 2002); Deen Chat-terjee (ed.), The Ethics of Assistance (Cambridge, 2004); Garrett Cullity,The Moral Demands of Affluence (Oxford, 2005); and Thomas Pogge (ed.),Freedom from Poverty as a Human Right (Oxford, 2007). For a discussion ofthe causes of poverty, see Paul Collier, The Bottom Billion (New York, 2007).

The report of the World Bank’s research team on poverty was pub-lished as: Deepa Narayan with Raj Patel, Kai Schafft, Anne Rademacherand Sarah Koch-Schulte, Voices of the Poor: Can Anyone Hear Us? (New York,

Notes, References and Further Reading 313

2000). For UNICEf ’s latest figures on child mortality, see

For figures on how much aid each nation gives, see,3349,en_2649_34447_1783495_1_1_1_1,00.html.

On the difference that an identifiable victim makes on our willing-ness to help, see Paul Slovic, “Psychic Numbing”, Judgment and DecisionMaking, 2 (2007), pp. 79–95. On the difference – or lack of it – betweenkilling and allowing to die, see (in addition to the previous references toactive and passive euthanasia) Jonathan Glover, Causing Death and SavingLives, chap. 7; Richard Trammel, “Saving Life and Taking Life”, Journalof Philosophy, vol. 72 (1975); John Harris, “The Marxist Conception ofViolence”, Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 3 (1974); John Haris, Violenceand Responsibility (London, 1980); and S. Kagan, The Limits of Morality(Oxford, 1989).

John Locke’s view of rights is developed in his Second Treatise on CivilGovernment (1690), and Robert Nozick’s in Anarchy, State and Utopia (NewYork, 1974). For Narveson’s defence of this position and my response,see Jeffrey Schaler (ed.), Peter Singer Under Fire (Chicago, 2009). ThomasAquinas’ very different view is quoted from Summa Theologica, II, ii, ques-tion 66, article 7. Thomas Pogge argues that we are responsible forcausing or maintaining poverty in his World Hunger and Human Rights(Cambridge, 2002).

On the effectiveness of aid, see and my discussionin The Life You Can Save (New York, 2009), chap. 6.

Garrett Hardin proposed his ‘lifeboat ethic’ in “Living on a Lifeboat”,Bioscience, October 1974, another version of which has been reprintedin W. Aiken and H. La Follette (eds.), World Hunger and Moral Obligation(Englewood Cliffs, 1977). Hardin elaborates on the argument in TheLimits of Altruism (Bloomington, Indiana, 1977). An earlier argumentagainst aid was voiced by W. and P. Paddock in their mistitled Famine1975! (Boston, 1967), but pride of place in the history of this viewmust go to Thomas Malthus for An Essay on the Principle of Population(London, 1798). A discussion of the population issue, and of how muchgrain we waste by feeding it to animals, is in Peter Singer, The Life YouCan Save, chap. 7. UN estimates of the drop in fertility rates can befound in United Nations, World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision,Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (NewYork, 2007). On the slowing of the pace of fertility decline, see JohnBongaarts, “Fertility Transitions in Developing Countries: Progress orStagnation?” Population Council, New York, Poverty, Gender, and YouthWorking Paper no. 7, 2008.

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314 Notes, References and Further Reading

On the actions of the Salwen family, see Kevin and Hannah Salwen, ThePower of Half: One Family’s Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back (NewYork, 2010). On Zell Kravinsky, see Ian Parker, “The Gift”, The New Yorker,August 2, 2004. Susan Wolf ’s article “Moral Saints” appeared in Journal ofPhilosophy, 79 (1982), pp. 419–39. For a discussion of whether a positionlike that defended here sets too high a standard, see the “Symposium onImpartiality and Ethical Theory”, Ethics 101:4 ( July 1991). For a forcefuldefence of impartialist ethics against this objection, see S. Kagan, TheLimits of Morality (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1989). See also Peter Singer,The Life You Can Save, chap. 9–10.

chapter 9: climate change

The basic documents for assessing climate change are the AssessmentReports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. At the timeof writing, the most recent of these documents is the Fourth AssessmentReport, released in 2007. The reports are available at TimFlannery’s The Weather Makers (New York, 2001) is a fine broad intro-duction to the topic, as is the same author’s briefer Now or Never (NewYork, 2009). The literature on ethical aspects of climate change includes:Stephen Gardiner, A Perfect Moral Storm (Oxford, 2011); James Garvey,The Ethics of Climate Change, (New York, 2008); and Jeremy Moss (ed.),Climate Change and Social Justice (Melbourne, 2009). A useful collectionis: Stephen Gardiner, Simon Caney, Dale Jamieson and Henry Shue, eds.,Climate Ethics (New York, 2010).

The figure on the number of deaths already caused by global warm-ing comes from World Health Organization, The Global Burden of Dis-ease, 2004, Annex, p.8, burdendisease/GlobalHealthRisks report annex.pdf.

On the disappearance of the Sunderbans: Somini Sengupta, “Sea’sRise in India Buries Islands and a Way of Life”, New York Times, 11April 2007. The predictions regarding the likely future impact of cli-mate change are drawn from the Intergovernmental Panel on ClimateChange (IPCC), “Summary for Policymakers”, in IPCC, Climate Change2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working GroupII to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on ClimateChange (Cambridge, 2007 and online at, pp. 1–22. For theBrazilian proposal, see: and science/other methodological issues/items/1038.php For figures on historical responsibility for climate

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Notes, References and Further Reading 315

change, see: Niklas Höhne et al., Summary report of the ad hoc group forthe modeling and assessment of contributions to climate change (MATCH),November 2008, and science/othermethodological issues/application/pdf/match summary report .pdf;see also Michel den Elzen et al., “Analysing countries’ contribution toclimate change: scientific and policy-related choices”, EnvironmentalScience & Policy, 8 (2005), pp. 614–636. The Chinese document referredto in the text is: Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chinese Academy ofSocial Sciences, Development Research Center of the State Council,National Climate Center, Tsinghua University, Carbon Equity: Perspectivefrom Chinese Academic Community, December 10, 2009.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change can befound at suggestion that we should not exceed 350 ppm of CO2 in theatmosphere was made in James Hansen, et al., “Target AtmosphericCO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?” Open Atmosphere Science Journal,2 (2008), pp. 217–31. Hansen argues against a cap and trade scheme inhis “Cap and Fade,” The New York Times, December 7, 2009; Paul Krug-man responds in his “Building a Green Economy,” New York Times SundayMagazine, April 5, 2010.

For the approach taken by the German Advisory Council on GlobalChange, see WBGU, Solving the Climate Dilemma: The Budget Approach (Ber-lin, 2009). available at sn2009 en.html. Thequote from Angela Merkel is from her speech at the symposium “GlobalSustainability” given in Potsdam, October 9, 2007, available in Germanas ‘Rede von Bundeskanzlerin Dr. Angela Merkel beim Symposium“Global Sustainability“ am 9. Oktober 2007 in Potsdam,” Bundesreg-ierung, Bulletin 104-1 10.10.2007, 1514/Content/DE/Bulletin/2007/10/104-1-bk-klima.html. ForHenry Shue’s distinction, see his “Subsistence Emissions and LuxuryEmissions”, Law and Policy, 15 (1993), pp. 39–59. For China’s defence ofsomething like this view in 2007, see Xinhua news agency, “China urgesaccommodation to ‘emissions of subsistence’” China Daily, 2007–08–02.

President Museveni’s remarks are from his speech at the African Unionsummit, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, February 2007, as reported in AndrewRevkin, “Poor Nations to Bear Brunt as World Warms”, New York Times, 1April 2007.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s proposal for a tax onmeat was included in its report, Livestock in the Balance: The State of Foodand Agriculture, 2009 (Rome, 2010), p. 74.

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316 Notes, References and Further Reading

The quotation from President George W. Bush is reported in EdmundAndrews, “Bush Angers Europe by Eroding Pact on Warming”, New YorkTimes April 1, 2001, and that from his spokesperson, Ari Fleisher, is fromthe White House press briefing of May 7, 2001.

On issues about individual responsibility for actions to which we con-tribute, the following are relevant: David Lyons, Forms and Limits of Util-itarianism (Oxford, 1965); R. M. Hare, “Could Kant have been a Utilit-arian?” Utilitas, 5 (1993), pp. 1–16; Brad Hooker, Ideal Code, Real World(Oxford, 2000); David Schwartz, Consuming Choices (Lanham, Md, 2010);Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons, (Oxford, 1984), chap.3; ChristopherKutz, Complicity: Ethics and Law for a Collective Age, (Cambridge, 2000);and Jonathan Glover, “It makes no difference whether or not I do it”,Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume XLIX (1975).

chapter 10: the environment

On the proposal to dam the Franklin River in Southwest Tasmania,see James McQueen, The Franklin: Not Just a River (Ringwood, Victoria,1983).

The first Bible quotation is from Genesis 1:24–28 and the second fromGenesis 9:1–3. For attempts to soften the message of these passages see,for instance, Robin Attfield, The Ethics of Environmental Concern (Oxford,1983) and Andrew Linzey, Christianity and the Rights of Animals (London,1987). The quotation from Paul comes from Corinthians 9:9–10, and thatfrom Augustine is from The Catholic and Manichean Ways of Life, translatedby D. A. Gallagher and I. J. Gallagher (Catholic University Press, Boston,1966), p. 102. For the cursing of the fig tree, see Mark 11:12–22 and forthe drowning of the pigs, Mark 5:1–13. The passage from Aristotle is tobe found in Politics ( J. M. Dent and Sons, London, 1916), p. 16; for theviews of Aquinas see Summa Theologica, II, ii, question 64, article 1; I, ii,question 72, article 4.

For details on the alternative Christian thinkers, see Keith Thomas,Man and the Natural World (Allen Lane, London, 1983), pp. 246–7, andAttfield, The Ethics of Environmental Concern (London, 1929), pp. 246–7.

The quotations from Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature (New York,1989) are from pp. 58 and 60. See also the same author’s Eaarth, (NewYork, 2010).

Albert Schweitzer’s most complete statement of his ethical stance isCivilization and Ethics (Part II of The Philosophy of Civilization), tr. C.T.

Notes, References and Further Reading 317

Campion, (2nd edition, London, 1929). The quotation is from pp. 246–7. The quotations from Paul Taylor’s Respect for Nature, (Princeton, 1986)are from pp. 45 and 128. For a critique of Taylor, see Gerald Paske, “TheLife Principle: a (metaethical) rejection”, Journal of Applied Philosophy, 6(1989).

Holmes Rolston’s objection to what I wrote in the 2nd edition of thisbook can be found in his “Respect for Life: Counting what Singer Findsof no Account”, in Dale Jamieson (ed.), Singer and Critics (Oxford, 1999),pp. 247–68; see also my response in the same volume.

A. Leopold’s proposal for a ‘land ethic’ can be found in his A SandCounty Almanac, with Essays on Conservation from Round River (New York,1970; first published 1949, 1953); the passages quoted are from pp.238 and 262. The classic text for the distinction between shallow anddeep ecology is Arne Naess, “The Shallow and the Deep, Long-RangeEcology Movement”, Inquiry, 16 (1973), pp. 95–100. For other works ondeep ecology, see, for example: Arne Naess and George Sessions, “BasicPrinciples of Deep Ecology”, Ecophilosophy, 6 (1984); W. Devall and G. Ses-sions, Deep Ecology: Living As If Nature Mattered (Salt Lake City, 1985) (Thepassage quoted in the “Deep ecology” section of Chapter 10 is from p.67); Lawrence Johnson, A Morally Deep World (Cambridge, 1990); FreyaMathews, The Ecological Self (London, 1991); Val Plumwood, “Ecofem-inism: an Overview and Discussion of Positions and Arguments: Crit-ical Review”, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 64 (Supplement, 1986);and Richard Sylvan, “Three Essays Upon Deeper Environmental Ethics”,Discussion Papers in Environmental Philosophy, 13 (1986) (Published bythe Australian National University, Canberra). James Lovelock, Gaia: ANew Look at Life on Earth was published in Oxford in 1979. ChristopherStone’s Earth and Other Ethics (New York, 1987) is a tentative explorationof ways in which nonsentient beings might be included in an ethicalframework.

The original Green Consumer Guide was by John Elkington and JuliaHailes (London, 1988). Adaptations have since been published in sev-eral other countries, as have many similar guides. On the environmentalextravagance of animal production, see the references given for Chapter8. For an excellent introduction to environmental ethics, see Dale Jam-ieson, Ethics and the Environment (Cambridge, 2008). Dale Jamieson (ed.),A Companion to Environmental Philosophy (Oxford, 2001) is a comprehens-ive collection of essays. See also the article “Environmental Ethics” byAndrew Brennan in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

318 Notes, References and Further Reading

chapter 11: civil disobedience, violence and terrorism

The story of Oskar Schindler is brilliantly told by Thomas Kenneally inSchindler’s Ark (London, 1982). The case of Joan Andrews and the workof Operation Rescue is described by Bernard Nathanson, “OperationRescue: Domestic Terrorism or Legitimate Civil Rights Protest?” HastingsCenter Report, November/December 1989, pp. 28–32. The biblical pas-sage quoted is from Proverbs 24:11. The claim by Gary Leber about thenumber of children saved is in his essay “We must rescue them”, Hast-ings Center Report, November/December 1989, pp. 26–7. On Gennarelli’sexperiments and the events surrounding them, see Lori Gruen and PeterSinger, Animal Liberation: A Graphic Guide (Camden Press, London, 1987).On the Animal Liberation Front, see also Philip Windeatt, “They clearlynow see the link: militant voices”, in Peter Singer (ed.), In Defence ofAnimals (Blackwell, Oxford, 1986). The blockade of the Franklin Riveris vividly described by a participant in James McQueen, The Franklin:Not Just a River (Ringwood, Victoria, 1983). On the unsuccessful earliercampaign to save Lake Peddar, see Kevin Kiernan, “I Saw My TempleRansacked”, in Cassandra Pybus and Richard Flanagan (eds.), The Rest ofthe World is Watching (Sydney, 1990). On the Capitol Power Plant protest,see Bryan Walsh, “Despite Snow – and Irony – A Climate Protest Persists”,Time, March 3, 2009.

Henry Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” has been reprinted in sev-eral places, among them H. A. Bedau (ed.), Civil Disobedience: The-ory and Practice (New York, 1969); the passage quoted is on p. 28of this collection. The quotation immediately following is from p.18 of R. P. Wolff ’s In Defense of Anarchism (New York, 1970). Onthe nature of conscience, see A. Campbell Garnett, “Conscienceand Conscientiousness”, in J. Feinberg (ed.), Moral Concepts (Oxford,1969).

John Locke argued for the importance of settled law in his SecondTreatise on Civil Government (1690), especially sections 124–6.

On the many attempts to reform the law on animal experimentation,see Richard Ryder, Victims of Science (London, 1975). For a defence ofcivil disobedience in this context, see Pelle Strindlund, “Butchers Knivesinto Pruning Hooks: Civil Disobedience for Animals”, in Peter Singer, InDefense of Animals: The Second Wave (Oxford, 2006).

Mill’s proposal for multiple votes for the better educated occurs inchapter 8 of his Representative Government. The quotation from Engels’Condition of the Working Class in England (tr. and ed. W. Henderson and

Notes, References and Further Reading 319

W. Chaloner, Oxford, 1958), p. 108, I owe to John Harris, “The Marx-ist Conception of Violence”, Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 3 (1974),which argues persuasively for regarding passive violence as a genuineform of violence. See also Harris’s book, Violence and Responsibility (Lon-don, 1980) and Ted Honderich, Three Essays on Political Violence (Oxford,1976). Dave Foreman and Bill Haywood, Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Mon-keywrenching is now in its 3rd edition (Chico, CA, 1993).

The relevance of democracy to the justification of disobedience tothe law is more fully treated in my Democracy and Disobedience (Oxford,1973). J. G. Murphy (ed.), Civil Disobedience and Violence (Belmont, 1971)is still a useful collection. H. A. Bedau has also edited another anthology,in addition to the one referred to previously: Civil Disobedience in Focus(London, 1991). For more recent discussion of civil disobedience seeKimberley Brownlee, “Civil Disobedience”, in the online Stanford Encyc-lopedia of Philosophy.

Readings on terrorism can be found in Tony Coady and MichaelO’Keefe (eds.), Terrorism and Justice: Moral Argument in a Threatened World(Melbourne 2002), and in Igor Primoratz (ed.), Terrorism: The Philosoph-ical Issues (New York, 2004). Primoratz is also the author of the article onterrorism in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

chapter 12: why act morally?

For attempts to reject the title of this chapter as an improper question,see S. Toulmin, The Place of Reason in Ethics (Cambridge, 1961), p. 162; J.Hospers, Human Conduct (London, 1963), p. 194; and M.G. Singer, Gen-eralization in Ethics (London, 1963), pp. 319–27. D. H. Monro definesethical judgments as overriding in Empiricism and Ethics (Cambridge,1967), see for instance p. 127. R. M. Hare’s prescriptivist view of eth-ics implies that a commitment to act is involved in accepting a moraljudgment, but because only universalizable judgments count as moraljudgments, this view does not have the consequence that whatever judg-ment we take to be overriding is necessarily our moral judgment. Hare’sview therefore allows us to give sense to our question. On this generalissue of the definition of moral terms and the consequences of differentdefinitions, see my “The Triviality of the Debate over ‘Is-Ought’ and theDefinition of ‘Moral’”, American Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 10 (1973).

The argument discussed in the second section is a distillation of suchsources as: Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, bk. IV, par. 4; I. Kant, Groundworkof the Metaphysic of Morals; H. J. Paton, The Categorical Imperative (London,

320 Notes, References and Further Reading

1963), pp. 245–6; J. Hospers, Human Conduct (London, 1963), pp. 584–93; and D. Gauthier, Practical Reasoning (Oxford, 1963), p. 118. For adistinct defence of a Kantian view that would require separate discussion,see Christine Korsgaard, The Sources of Normativity (Cambridge, 1996).

Hume defends his view of practical reason in A Treatise of HumanNature, bk. II, pt. iii, sec. 3. Thomas Nagel’s objections to it are in The Pos-sibility of Altruism (Oxford, 1970). Nagel restated his position in The Viewfrom Nowhere (New York, 1986). Sidgwick’s observation on the rationalityof egoism is on p. 498 of The Methods of Ethics (7th ed., London, 1907).Parfit’s account of the person with Future Tuesday Indifference is quotedfrom Derek Parfit, On What Matters, (Oxford, forthcoming), but he firstdiscussed this possible attitude in his Reasons and Persons (Oxford, 1984),p. 124. Sharon Street responds to Parfit in “In Defense of Future TuesdayIndifference: Ideally Coherent Eccentrics and the Contingency of WhatMatters,” Philosophical Issues, 19 (2009), pp. 273–298. For Parfit’s modi-fication of Sigwick’s position on the rationality of doing what is in one’sown interests, see On What Matters, Ch. 6.

Bradley’s insistence on loving virtue for her own sake comes fromhis Ethical Studies (Oxford, 1876, reprinted 1962), pp. 61–3. The sameposition can be found in Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals,chap. 1, and in D. Z. Phillips, “Does it Pay to be Good?” Proceedings ofthe Aristotelian Society, vol. 64 (1964–5). Bradley and Kant are expound-ing what they take to be ‘the common moral consciousness’ rather thantheir own views. Kant himself adheres to the view of the common moralconsciousness, but later in Ethical Studies Bradley supports a view of mor-ality in which the subjective satisfaction involved in the moral life plays aprominent role.

My account of why we believe that only actions done for the sakeof morality have moral worth is similar to Hume’s view in his EnquiryConcerning the Principles of Morals. Socrates’ conclusion that ‘the just manis happy’ can be found in Plato, The Republic, 354a.

The first survey mentioned in regards to charitable giving is from theSocial Capital Community Benchmark Survey, and the second is fromthe University of Michigan’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics. I owethe references to Arthur Brooks, “Why Giving Makes You Happy,” NewYork Sun, December 28, 2007. Other studies are described in JonathanHaidt, The Happiness Hypothesis (New York, 2006), chap. 8. The brainimaging study is reported in William T. Harbaugh, Ulrich Mayr, andDaniel Burghart, “Neural Responses to Taxation and Voluntary Giving

Notes, References and Further Reading 321

Reveal Motives for Charitable Donations,” Science, 316 ( June 15, 2007),pp. 1622–25.

Maslow presents some very sketchy data in support of his theory ofpersonality in “Psychological Data and Value Theory” in A. H. Maslow(ed.), New Knowledge in Human Values (New York, 1959); see also A. H.Maslow, Motivation and Personality (New York, 1954).

On psychopaths, see H. Cleckley, The Mask of Sanity (5th ed., St Louis,1976). The remark about requests for help coming from relatives, notthe psychopaths themselves, is on p. viii. The quotation from a happypsychopath is from W. and J. McCord, Psychopathy and Delinquency (NewYork, 1956), p. 6. On the ability of psychopaths to avoid prison, seeR. D. Hare, Psychopathy (New York, 1970), pp. 111–12. The exampleof the psychopath who forgot his wallet comes from R. D. Hare, WithoutConscience: The Disturbing World of Psychopaths among Us, (New York, 1993),pp. 58–9. I was directed to it by Heidi Maibom, “Moral Unreason: TheCase of Psychopathy”, Mind & Language, 20 (2005), pp. 237–57.

The ‘paradox of hedonism’ is discussed by F. H. Bradley in the thirdessay of his Ethical Studies; for a psychotherapist’s account, see ViktorFrankl, The Will to Meaning (London, 1971), pp. 33–4.

On the relation between self-interest and ethics, see the concludingchapter of Sidgwick’s Methods of Ethics and the discussion in Derek Parfit’sOn What Matters, Ch. 6.

For details on the birthday parties that cost in excess of $5 million, seeAndrew Ross Sorkin, “In Defense of Schwarzman”, The New York Times,July 29, 2007.


abortion: conservative position on,125–129; contraception objection, 142;definition of human being and, 74; ofdisabled fetus, 164; as ethical issue, viii;feminist argument on, 132–134; andfetal tissue research, 124, 140, 141; andinfanticide, 151–154; justification of,164; late, 137–138; law and, 129–131(See also Roe v. Wade); liberal argumentson, 129–134; as murder, 129, 140;opposition to, 134–154, 257, 270;prenatal diagnosis and, 164;spontaneous, 149; totipotent cellobjection, 142–143; and value of life,134–136; as victimless crime, 131

“Abortion and Infanticide” (Tooley),82–83

absolute affluence, 193–194absolute poverty, 192; cause of, 192;

defined, 192–193; obligation to prevent,200–202, 215

academic freedom, viiiactive euthanasia, 183acts and omissions, responsibilities in,

195–198acts and omissions doctrine, 180–181, 186;

and defense of violence, 271act-utilitarian consequences of lawn

crossing, 232Adkins, Janet, 174adoption, 161, 166aesthetics, wilderness, 243–244affections, and morality, 68–69

affirmative action, 38–40, 41, 43–44affluence: facts about, 193–194; and moral

obligation to assist, 202Africa: climate change and, 223;

greenhouse gas emissions, 223, 227;population growth and, 206

African Americans: and affirmative action,39–40, 41, 42, 43–44; and IQ tests, 24

Aggression, sexual differences in, 29,30–31, 32

aid in dying, 156Alexander, Leo, 187Al Qaeda, 274altruism, 282–283, 293–294Alzheimer’s Disease, 124, 174American Academy of Pediatrics, 179American Medical Association, 179American Sign Language, 95Andrews, Joan, 257, 270anencephalic infants, 179animal experimentation, 51–52; illegal acts

in opposition to, 256–257Animal Liberation Front (ALF), 256–257,

260–261, 264, 269, 274–275animal liberation groups, 259, 274–275animal production, ineffiency of, 54animal rights movement, and abortion,


animals: capacity to feel pain, 49–50, 51,59–60; climate change effect on, 217;communication among, 95, 96–97;consequences of globalwarming on, 217; equality for, 51;


324 Index

animals (cont.)exclusion from ethics, 62;experimentation on, 51–52, 56–58; asfood, 53–56, 60–61; human as differentfrom, ix, 64–66, 96; killing, 104–106,119; killing of, 56–57, 104–106, 119;self-awareness in, 65–66, 97, 98,119–120; self-consciousness in, 96, 101,119; tool use by, 64

anti-abortion organizations, 259;Operation Rescue, 257, 264, 269

apes: language in, 95–96;self-consciousness in, 96, 101, 119; senseof time in, 95. See also chimpanzees

Aquinas, Thomas, 76, 204, 240, 241Aristotle, 153, 240–241Arrhenius, Svante, 222assassination, justification of, 271, 274Augustine (Saint), 240Australia: affluence in, 193; global

warming, 223; greenhouse gasemissions, 224–225, 227;ordinary/extraordinary distinction in,184; overseas aid, 193–194;physician-assisted suicide in, 175

Australian Labor Party, 258Austria, euthanasia protest in, viiiautomobiles, 199autonomy: and animals, 65–66; and

euthanasia, 170; respect for, 83–85; andright to life, 83–85. See also respect forautonomy (principle)

awareness: of suffering, 51; and value oflife, 53. See also self-awareness

Baader-Meinhoff gang, 274“Baby Doe” case, 178–179, 180,

185–186Bakke, Alan. See Regents of the University of

California v. BakkeBangladesh, 206, 208, 217basic human needs, 21, 192battery cages, 55benevolence, 3, 285, 289Benjamin Franklin Objection, 60Bentham, Jeremy, 10, 13, 49, 64, 86–87,


Berry, Wendell, 258Bible, 239, 240. See also Christianitybiocentric egalitarianism, 252, 253bioethics, viii, 73biographical life, 168

biological factors in sexual differences,30–34

biosphere, 251–252, 253birds, 100, 101–102birth, 126birth defects: replaceability argument and,

108–109; spina bifida, 185birth rates, 208Boesky, Ivan, 292–293Bradley, F. H., 284brain drain, 36Brazil: affluence/poverty in, 193;

contraceptive use in, 208; greenhousegas emissions in, 221, 227

breaking promises, 79, 199–200Britain, 123, 193–194Brown, Bob, 257–258Brown, Louise, 123–124Buddhism, 114–115Burkina Faso, greenhouse gas emissions,

227, 228–229Bush, George W., 70, 124, 140

Canada: greenhouse gas emissions,224–225, 227; overseas aid, 193–194

Canadian Royal Commission on the Statusof Women, 129–130

capacity to choose: and autonomy, 65–66,84; and euthanasia, 156, 178; andinvoluntary euthanasia, 158; andnonvoluntary euthanasia, 159

cap and trade system, 225–226, 235capital punishment, 72, 73carbon dioxide, 218–220, 224–227carbon trading, international, 225–227carrying capacity, 206Catholic theology, on quickening, 128Cato, 156–157cats, 102cattle, 121–122celibacy, 140cerebral cortex, 136charitable giving, 210, 287–288chickens, 102, 120children: moral obligations regarding

having, 88–89; as potential moralpersons, 18. See also infants

chimpanzees: conceptual thinking in, 97;intentionality in, 97–98; language in,95–96; language in, 95–96; planningbehavior in, 98–99; self-awareness in, 98;tool making by, 64

Index 325

China: affluence/poverty in, 193; climatechange, 221; greenhouse gas emissions,224–225, 227; infanticide in mandarin,153; luxury emissions, 229

Chinese Americans, intelligence tests and,24–25

chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), 233–234Christianity: ethical standards in, universal,

10; and infanticide, 153–154; status ofhuman beings in, 239–241; and value oflife, 75–76

citizenship, and obligation to assist, 203civil disobedience, 267–271; and climate

change, 258–259, 269; justification of,267–268

“Civil Disobedience” (Thoreau),259–260

Civil Rights Act of 1964, 43–44classical utilitarianism: killing in, 78, 169;

killing infants in, 152; maximization ofhappiness in, 2–3, 13, 113; moraldecision making in, 10; pain andpleasure in, 2–3, 13; person in, 139; andpreference utilitarianism, 13; voluntaryeuthanasia in, 170

Cleckley, Hervey, 289, 290climate change: animal extinctions and,

217; Business-as-Usual option, 109–111,117; civil disobedience against,258–259, 269; consequences of changesin, overall, 216–218; equal shares of,223; equitable distribution of, 220–223;governments, 236–237; livestockindustry and, 54; obligations ofindividuals, 230–237; opposition togovernment reaction to, 258–259;Party-and-Go option, 115–116, 117, 119;Sustainability option, 110; temperaturechange consequences, 217. See alsoenvironment

climate refugees, xcloning, 106–107, 140–141Clough, Arthur, 180coercion, 170, 267Colombia, contraceptive use in, 208comatose state, 168communism, 38, 70community(ies): boundaries of, 62–64;

moral, 63–64; and obligation to assist,203–204; right to determinemembership of, 39

complicity principle, 233–234, 236

The Condition of the Working Class in England(Engels), 272

conscience, and the law, 259–262conscientiousness, 285conscious life, 85consciousness: absence of, 60, 250; in

conservative abortion argument,128–129; and euthanasia, 167–168, 185;in fetus, 128–129

consequentialism, 2–3, 5; acts/omissionsin, 184; civil disobedience in, 270;complicity principle, 233–234, 236;obligation to assist in, 196–197,199–200; and public/private morality,214; responsibility for acts/omissions in,195–198; triage in, 207–208; violencein, 273–274

consumption, 235, 255continuing self, 82–83contraception, 139–140; objection to, 142contract tradition, 82–83crime, victimless, 131critical moral reasoning, 79–80, 84, 85,

153, 178

dams, 238–239, 246–247, 264, 269Darwin, Charles, 64Davis, Stephen, 121–122Dawkins, Richard, 211death and dying: of animals, 104–105,

246–247; desire for, 112, 169 (See alsovoluntary euthanasia); fornonself-conscious beings

death rates, 192death with dignity, 156debit view of preferences, 114, 115–116,

118–119decision making, pre-ethical, 11–13, 14decision-procedure(s), 262–263, 266declining marginal utility (principle),

22–23deep ecology, 251–254Deep Ecology (Devall & Sessions), 252deer hunting, 121deficiency diseases, 192democracy, 263–267; and euthanasia; legal

change in, 264–267democratic principles, moral weight of,

265–267Democratic Republic of Congo, 206demographic transition, 208–209Denmark, 123, 193

326 Index

deontologists, 2De Rerum Natura (Lucretius), 108desires: of others, 86; rights and, 169–170;

thwarted, 76–77, 80, 169, 292–293Devall, Bill, 252developing countries: and aid

organizations, 201; climate change and,217, 221, 223; fertility rate in, 208;population growth/decline in, 208–209;poverty in, 192–193, 203. See alsoindividual country

development assistance: U.N. targets,193–194, 210. See also overseas aid

De Waal, Frans, 4, 97–98diabetes, 124diet, 192; and climate change, 231;

equality for animals and, 54, 55disability: discrimination on grounds of,

22; principle of equality and, 44–47disabled infants: killing, 162, 163; medical

treatment/nontreatment, 161–162; andnonvoluntary euthanasia, 160–167; rightto life, 75

disabled persons: as disadvantaged group,45; in experiments, 52; andnonvoluntary euthanasia, 45. See alsointellectually disabled humans

discount rate, 242–243discrimination: on basis of species, 58, 246;

in favor of disadvantaged groups, 40; ongrounds of disability, 22, 45; racial,16–17. See also affirmative action

disease, climate-sensitive, 217disobedience: justification of, 267–268. See

also illegal actsdivine creation, 64doctrine of double effect, 183–184dogs, 102, 186dolphins, communication among, 96–97Down syndrome, 164, 178–179, 180,

185–186driving automobiles, 199“drops in the ocean” argument, 201

earthquake, in Haiti, 193Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro), 222–223East Asia, 221ecological ethics, 242–245, 251–253The Ecological Self (Mathews), 253ecology: shallow/deep, 251. See also deep


economic growth, and environment, 14ecosystems, 247, 251–254education: affirmative action in, 39–44; of

disabled, 46; equality in, 34–35, 215Edwards, Robert, 123egalitarianism, 22–23, 27, 266; biocentric,

252, 253egg, and IVF, 150–151egoism, and happiness, 292egoist: prudent, 292; pure, 280–281Egypt, 217embryo: and experimentation, 144–151; as

human being, 145–146; making use of,140–141; morally significant dividingline with child, 125–126; potentialrational nature of, 143–144; protectionin laboratory, 146; uniqueness of,140–141

emotivism, 7employment: affirmative action in, 17, 39;

of disabled persons, 45; environmentand, 238, 239, 242

endangered species, 121, 238, 239The End of Nature (McKibben), 245ends/means, 259, 268, 273–274Engels, Friedrich, 6, 272England: limits to neonatal intensive care

in, 180. See also Britainenvironment: deep ecology view on,

251–254; in differences in IQ, 27–28,35; in Western tradition, 239–241. Seealso climate change

environmental ethic, developing, 254–255environmental values, 242–245equal consideration of interests principle:

applied to animals, 48–53, 54–56, 57,58, 60; and disability, 46, 165; andobligation to assist, 203; and pain,20–21, 22; and principle of equality,22–24; and racial/sexual discrimination,20–21, 41, 42–43; and self-consciousness/autonomy, 65–66

equality (principle): and affirmative action,38–44; based on equal consideration ofinterests, 20–24; based on racialdifferences and racial equality, 26–28;based on sexual differences and racialequality, 28–34; basis of, 16–24; capacityfor suffering and, 49–50; and disability,44–47; and genetic diversity, 24–26

equality of consideration, 34–38

Index 327

equality of opportunity: disabled and, 46;and equality of consideration, 34–38;impossibility of, 35

Eskimos, 189ethical issues: as attitudes/as prescriptions,

7; justification of, 278–279; moraljudgments about, 4, 5–6, 62–64;universal aspect of, 10–12, 13, 277, 279;universal law in, 10, 11, 232

ethical judgments, 62–64ethical point of view, 279ethical standards, 9–11; specific to

particular society, 9–10ethics: of abortion, viii; contract view of,

62–64; ecological, 242–245, 251–253;ethical justification of, 278–279;exclusion from, 62; nature and functionof, 284–285; practical, 1; reason and, 8,279, 283; self-interest and, 283–287,291; source of, 3–4; of triage, 205–209;universalizability of, 10–13; what it is,8–15; what it is not, 1–8. See also morality

Ethiopia, 194, 206ethnic groups: and affirmative action,

38–40, 41, 43–44; IQ differences,68

Europe: affluence in, 193. See alsoindividual countries

euthanasia: active/passive, 178–186;arguments against, 155; and criticalmoral reasoning, 178; defining,156–157; and genocide, 186–190; andintuitive moral reasoning, 178;involuntary, 158, 176–178; justificationof, 169–176; nonvoluntary, 158–159;voluntary, 157

evolution, 4, 25existence over time, conception of, 81–82,

104; as beginning of life, 166; in fetus,152; in infants, 82–83, 160–161; andvoluntary euthanasia, 171

experimentation (science): on animals,51–52, 56–58; on disabled persons, 52,57–58; on embryos, 144–151; on humaninfants, 52; protection of fetus, 144, 146

extinction, 217extravagance, 255extreme poverty, 191–192Eysenck, H. J., 16–17, 24–25

factory farms, 54–55, 120

factual equality, 19–20, 45famine, 206–209. See also starvationfarming methods: and poverty, 223; and

treatment of animals, 53, 54–56fear, argument from, and voluntary

euthanasia, 170Fearnley-Whittingstall, Hugh, 105–106fee and dividend scheme, 226feminism, feminists: on abortion, 132–134;

on male dominance, 25fetal life: value of, 134–136; value of life of,

134–136, 154fetal tissue, 124, 140, 141fetus: ability to feel pain, 136–138;

abortion of disabled, 164; consciousnessin, 128–129; killing, 141–143; morallysignificant dividing line with child,125–126; as potential life, 138–141, 142;protection from research andexperimentation, 144, 146;replaceability of, 164–165; right to life,138–139; self-consciousness of, 74, 151;sleeping state of, 136–137; status ashuman being, 74, 125–126, 135–138,152; viability of, 126–128; as victim, 131.See also abortion

Fink, Sheri, 177fish, 80, 102–103Fletcher, Joseph, 73, 74food: animals as, 53–56; population

growth and, 206–207; production andconsumption of, 54, 235–236. See alsofamine; starvation

force: coercion, 170, 267; violence, 67,271–275

foreign aid. See overseas aidforests: destruction of, 241. See also

wildernessfossil fuels, 220–223Fouts, Deborah, 95–96Fouts, Roger, 95–96France, 123, 180, 193–194Franklin, Benjamin, 60Franklin River dam project, 257–258, 269frugality, 254–255future generations: and climate change,

109–111, 115–116; and environment,242–245; obligation to, 63, 64

“Future Tuesday Indifference”, 282

Gaia, 253

328 Index

Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth(Lovelock), 253

Ganges delta, 217Gardner, Allen, 95Gardner, Beatrice, 95genetic blueprint, 150genetic differences, in IQ, 27–28genetic diversity, and equality, 24–26genetics, 24, 40, 140Gennarelli, Thomas, 256–257, 264, 269genocide, 186–190, 268–269George, Robert, 143–144Germany: and euthanasia, viii; and

greenhouse gas emissions, 224–225,226, 227; and limits to neonatalintensive care, 180. See also Nazis,Nazism, 201–202global ecosystem, 253global warming. See climate changeGlover, Jonathan, 234–235God, gods, 3, 239–241, 291Goldberg, Steven, 32Golden Rule, 10Goodall, Jane, 98–99good life, 212–213, 287gorillas: language in, 95. See also apesgovernment: and climate change,

236–237, 258–259; responsibility foroverseas aid, 209–210. See also state

Gratz v. Bollinger, 44Gray, Jeffrey, 37Greece, ancient: infanticide in, 153;

philosophy in, 10, 75, 239greed, 292–293Greene, Rita, 167greenhouse gas emissions, 224; as

aggression against developing nations,229–230, 273; and carbon trading,225–227; equal per capita shareapproach, 224–225, 227–228; andluxury emissions, 228–229

Grutter v. Bollinger, 44guilt feelings, 261, 288, 289

Habernas, Jürgen, 11haemophilia, 162–164Haidt, Jonathan, 288Hampshire, Stuart, 96Hansen, James, 219, 222, 225–226,


happiness: capacity for, 92; ethics and,287–288; intrinsic value of, 291–292. Seealso pleasure

The Happiness Hypothesis (Haidt), 288Hardin, Garrett, 206, 211Hare, R. M., 7, 10, 78, 79, 116, 153, 232,

286, 290Harlow, H. F., 57harm, imperceptible, 234–235Hart, H. L. A., 112–113heart disease, 124Hebrew tradition, 239hedonism, paradox of, 292hedonistic utilitarianism, 13, 14;

difference from preferenceutilitarianism, 111; happiness in, 14;killing in, 77–78, 84–86; preference in,117; value of life in, 92

heredity. See geneticsHerrnstein, Richard, 17hierarchy of intelligence, 19–20, 21–22Hippocratic Oath, 155Hitler, Adolf, 131holism, 253Homo sapiens (species), membership, 73;

embryo as, 73; fetus as, 74, 135–136;and killing, 75–93; and value of life,186

homosexuality, 130–131Hooker, Brad, 233“How Much Can We Boost IQ and

Scholastic Achievement?” (Jensen), 24human being(s): defined, 73–74;

development of, 124–125, 136–137;differences among, 19–20; differencesfrom animals, ix, 64–66, 96; embryo as,73; fetus as, 74, 125–126, 135–138, 152;pain in, 136–138; status of, in Westerntradition, 239–241

Humane Society of the United States(HSUS), 260–261

human genome project, 25humanhood, indicators of, 73human life: beginning of, 125–126,

145–146; taking, 71–75human nature, 38, 69, 210, 211, 287, 288“The Human Prejudice” (Williams), 69–70Hume, David, 10, 281–282hunger, 191, 200, 215. See also famine;

povertyhunting, 58–59, 61, 103, 120–121

Index 329

Hurricaine Katrina, 176–177, 183Hutcheson, Francis, 10

ideal observer, 11illegal acts, justification of, 267–271impartial ethic, 213impartial spectator, 11, 279, 293imprudence, 290income distribution: equality in, 35–38;

justice in, 34–38India: affluence/poverty in, 193; and

climate change, 217, 223; andgreenhouse gas emissions, 224, 227;population growth in, 206

individual differences, 19–20individualistic ethic, 204individual rights, 13individual(s): and group differences, 68;

seeing self as one among others,282–283; and society, 7, 260; and state,175

Indonesia, contraceptive use in, 208industrial revolution, 221–222inegalitarianism, 21, 22, 39The Inevitability of Patriarchy (Goldberg),


infanticide: abortion and, 151–154; ofinfant with disability, 160–167;justification of, 159–160; restrictions on,154

infant mortality, 200, 206–207, 208infants: deformed, 73, 153–154; in

experiments, 52; killing, 75, 152, 162,163; as potential moral persons, 18;premature, 72, 127; as replaceable,165–166; right to life, 82–83; sanctity ofhuman life, 72; status as human beings,82–83. See also disabled infants;infanticide

infertility, in human beings, 123injustice: and consequentialism, 199–200;

toward people with disabilities, 45. Seealso justice

In re B, 179insiders/outsiders, 43instrumental value, 246intellectually disabled humans:

discrimination against, 22; and equality,18; and euthanasia, 159; andexperimentation, 52; and human/animal distinction, 66–67;

as incapable of reciprocity, 63; killing,45; status as human beings, 67–69; valueof life, 18

intelligence: hierarchy of, imagined,19–20, 21–22; racial differences in,16–17, 24; sexual differences in, 17; anduniversity admissions, 17

intentional behavior, in animals, 97–100interests: of animals, 48–49, 53, 54–56, 57,

58, 60; boundary of concern forinterests of others, 50; capacity forsuffering/happiness prerequisite to,49–50; concern for own (see self-interest); of fetus, 131; long-term, 245,282, 283–284; morally significant, 133,253; of nonself-conscious beings, 66;prudent egoism and, 292; of species,ecosystems, 245–247

international carbon trading, 225–227International Whaling Commissionintrinsic value (concept), 119; of plants,

species, ecosystems, 245–247;universalizing, 116–119

intuitive moral reasoning, 79, 85, 153,178

in vitro fertilization (IVF), 123–124,147–148, 150–151

involuntary euthanasia, not justifying,176–178

IQ: environment-based differences in, 27;genetically based differences in, 27–28,35; and principles of equality, 35; andracial differences, 68; and sexualdifferences, 28–34

IQ tests, and African Americans, 24Ireland, abortion in, 123Irish Republican Army (IRA), 274islands, disappearance of, 217Italy, 123, 180

Jacklin, Carol N., 30–31, 32–33Japan: affluence in, 193; infanticide in,

153; overseas aid, 193Japanese Americans, intelligence tests and,

24–25Jefferson, Thomas, 28Jensen, Arthur, 16–17, 24Johnson, Lawrence, 253justice, 13; in distribution, 220, 228; in

income distribution, 34–38; sense of, 4,17–18

330 Index

justification: of abortion, 164; of actions,independently of consequences,195–198; of assassination, 271, 274;circular, 278; of civil disobedience,267–268; of ethical judgments, 62–64;ethical justification of ethics, 278–279;of ethical standards, 9–11; of ethics ofself-interest, 286–287; of euthanasia,169–176; of hunting, 121; of illegal acts,267–271; of infanticide, 159–160; ofmeat-eating, 121–122; of nonvoluntaryeuthanasia, 159–160; of rationality ofethics, 278; of violence, 271–275; ofvoluntary euthanasia, 169–176

Kagame, Paul, 223Kant, Immanuel, 3, 286Kantian ethics, 10, 232, 279–280, 286Kevorkian, Jack, 174killing: acts/omissions in, 181–184; of

animals, 56–57, 104–106, 119; inhedonistic utilitarianism, 77–78, 79–80,84–86; of Homo sapiens, 75–93; of humanbeings, 76–81; humane, 106–107; ofinfants, 75, 152, 162, 163; of merelyconscious being, 85–90, 169–170; ofnonhuman persons, 100–104; inpreference utilitarianism, 80–81, 84–85,86; prohibition of, 72–73; in secret, 78,79–80; and self-consciousness, 76–81,104, 120; vs. allowing to die, 194–199;wrongness of, 77, 83, 85, 104, 126, 135,154

kinship, and obligation to assist, 203–204Kipling, Rudyard, 16Kiribati, 217Koop, C. Everett, 179Kravinsky, Zell, 212Krugman, Paul, 226Kuhse, Helga, 184Kutz, Christopher, 233–234Kyoto Protocol, 222

Lake Peddar, 264land ethic, 251land reform, 208language: in animals, 95–96; and thinking,


Last Wish (Rollin), 173–174late abortion, 137–138“The Latest Decalogue” (Clough), 180Latimer, Robert, 159

law and order, 262–263laws: and abortion, 129–130, 131; and

individual conscience, 259–262;obligation to obey, 259–260; reasons toobey, 263

LD50 test, 56–57Leber, Gary, 257, 264, 269Lee, Patrick, 143–144Lee, Ronnie, 269Leopold, Aldo, 251less developed countries. See developing

countriesletting die, as moral equivalent of murder,

194–199life: beginning of, 125–126, 145–146;

continuity of, 145, 242; intrinsic valueof, 139; meaning of, 291–295; meaningof reverence for, 247–250. See alsohuman life

lifeboat ethics, 206life expectancy, 192lifestyle, 54, 110, 230, 231, 235–236Linares, Samuel, 158–159livestock, 235–236living/nonliving divide, 254Locke, John, 74, 197, 218The Long Dying of Baby Andrew (Stinson &

Stinson)Lorber, John, 185, 186, 187Louisiana, 176–177Lovelock, James, 253Lucretius, 111Luxembourg: euthanasia in, 157; and

limits to neonatal intensive care, 180;and overseas aid, 193

Lycurgus, 75Lyons, David, 232

Maccoby, Eleanor E., 30–31, 32–33Mackie, J. L., 7–8Madoff, Bernard, 293majority rule, 264, 265–267Malawi, 223Maldives, 217male dominance, 25malnutrition, 217mammals, social, 4, 25marginal utility, 22–23Marquis, Don, 141–143Marxism, Marxists, 6, 36The Mask of Sanity (Cleckley), 289Maslow, A. H., 288

Index 331

Mathews, Freya, 253McCarthy, Joseph, 70McKibben, Bill, 245, 258meaninglessness life, 290–291meaning of life, 290–295meat-eating, justification of, 121–122medical technology: and euthanasia,

126–128; and viability, 72, 126–128medical treatment: ordinary/extraordinary

distinction, 184; and quality of life,182–183; and resource limitations,22–24; withholding, 23

medicine, using fetus in, 124, 140, 141men. See sexism; sex roles; sexual

differences; sexual equality/inequalitymental capacities; and suffering, 51–52. See

also intellectually disabled humansmental time travel, 98merely conscious being, 112Merkel, Angela, 227Mexico, 208, 227Middle East, affluence in, 193Miles, Lyn, 95Mill, John Stuart, 4–5, 13, 92–93, 131, 175minorities: and affirmative action, 17,

39–40, 41, 43–44; representation inprofessions, 40, 43

mirror test, 101–102monkeys, 57. See also apesmoral action: practical reason and,

281–282; reasons for, 276–279;self-interest and, 10, 63, 283–291

moral attitudes, change in, 1–2moral community, 63–64moral decision making, 10moral equality, 45moral heroism, 181, 194–195morality: and affections, 68–69; economic

class and, 6; law and, 129–130, 131; ofreciprocity, 4, 61–64. See also ethics

moral judgment(s), 4, 5–6, 62–64, 211“moral ledger” model, 114A Morally Deep World (Johnson), 253morally significant dividing line, 125–126;

birth as, 126; onset of consciousness as,128–129; quickening as, 128; viability offetus as, 126–128

morally significant interests, 133, 253moral obligation: in infanticide, 152; to

obey the law, 259–260; to reducepoverty, 276

moral personality (concept), 18–19

moral point of view, 284, 293moral principles: and killing animals for

food, 53–56, 60–61; respect forautonomy as, 83–85

moral reason, levels of: critical, 79–80, 84,85, 153,178; intuitive, 79, 85, 153, 178

moral rights, 81, 197moral rules, 181; killing/letting die in,


“Moral Saints” (Wolf), 212–213moral significance: preventing something

bad without sacrificing, 199–202; ofspecies membership boundary, 68–69,75, 200–202

moral standards, objective, 7–8moral status, 66; of embryo, 125–126,

135–138; of intellectually disabledperson, 67–69

moral value, 253moral worth, 285–286motive(s)/motivation: and animals vs.

humans, 98, 99; in killing/letting die,194, 198; theological, 3, 75–76

movement, moral significance of, 103,128–129

murder: abortion as, 129, 140; letting dieas moral equivalent of, 194–199

Murray, Charles, 17Museveni, Yoweri, 229, 273

Naess, Arne, 251–252Nagel, Thomas, 282–283, 290, 293–294Narveson, Jan, 197nationality, 72–73natural law, 10, 61nature: appreciation of, 243–244; end of,

245; in Western tradition, 136Nazis, Nazism, 20–21, 45, 131, 155, 187,

188, 256, 263, 269near-persons, 103needs, paying people according to,


nervous system, 59–60, 136Netherlands: euthanasia in, 157, 170; and

global warming, 223–224; guidelines forvoluntary euthanasia in, 171–172; andlimits to neonatal intensive care, 180;overseas aid, 193

Newton, Isaac, 28New Zealand, affluence in, 193Nitschke, Philip, 175

332 Index

nonhuman animals: as persons, 94–100;violence toward, 100–104

Nonsentient Universe, 116–118nonvoluntary euthanasia, 158–159;

disabled infants and, 160–167;justification of, 159–160; protectionfrom, 167–169

Noonan, John, 149–150North America: affluence in, 193. See also

Canada; United StatesNorway, and overseas aid, 193Nossal, Gustav, 181–182, 187noutilitarian values, 65–66Nozick, Robert, 197, 204–205, 220nuclear power, vii–viiinuclear waste disposal, 63nutrition, 54, 206

Oath of Hippocrates, 155Obama, Barak, 124objective moral standards, 7–8obligation to assist: argument for,

199–202; objections to, 202–209octopus, 103Oderberg, David, 145On Liberty (Mill), 131On Nature (Mill), 4–5Operation Rescue, 257, 264, 269orangutans, language in, 95ordinary vs. extraordinary treatment, 184Oregon, voluntary euthanasia in, 172Organization for Economic Cooperation

and Development (OECD), 220–221,223

Osvath, Mathias, 99outdoor recreation, 239ovarian cancer, 173–174overpopulation: of humans, 150, 205–209,

210; of wild animals, 121overseas aid, 193–194; conditions on, 209;

government responsibility for, 209–210;population growth and, 205–209

ozone layer depletion, 233–234

pacifists, 271, 273–274pain: in animals, capacity to feel, 49–50,

51, 59–60; based on equal considerationof interests, 20–21, 22; in euthanasiadecisions, 173; in fetus, 136–138; andkilling animals, 51; and right to live; andvalue of life, 86. See also suffering

pain relief, based on equal considerationof interests, 20–21, 22

Palestine, 274paradox of hedonism, 292parents: of disabled infants, 72; and

infanticide, 93Parfit, Derek, 108, 109, 234, 282, 283,

293–294Parkinson’s disease, 124passive euthanasia, 183paternalism, 175–176, 177–178Patterson, Francine, 95Paul (Saint), 240The Peaceful Pill Handbook (Nitschke), 175Peopled Universe, 116–118Pepperberg, Irene, 101–102person: conception of oneself as, 282;

defined, 74–75; embryo as, 145; embryobecoming, 146–147; fetus as/not as,136, 151; killing,; near-persons, 103;nonhuman, 94–100; respect forautonomy of, 101; right to life, 81–83,139; seeing ourselves as one amongothers, 282–283; self-consciousness of,103

personal relationships: and obligation toassist, 203–204; of psychopaths, 288,290

philosophy in ancient Greece, 10, 75, 239pigs, 99, 102planning behavior, in animals, 98–100plant life, 60, 248, 249–250Plato, 3–5, 61–62, 153, 284, 287pleasure: and abortion, 128; in animals,

120; maximization of, 88, 89–90; andright to life, 85–86; and value of life,85–86

Plumwood, Val, 252Plutarch, 156–157Pogge, Thomas, 197Poland, abortion in, 123Pollan, Michael, 105–106, 122pollution, 220poor (the). See povertypoor nations, obligation to assist. See

overseas aidpopulation control: abortion/

contraception as, 139–140; by famineand disease, 207–209; infanticide as,153; starvation as, 121, 209

Population Division, of UN, 228

Index 333

population growth as cause of poverty,205–209, effect on per capital emissions,227–228

positive psychology, 287The Possibility of Altruism (Nagel), 282–283posterity. See future generationspotential human life: embryo as; fetus as,

139, 140; state’s interests in protecting,126–127

poverty: extreme, 191–192; facts about,191–193. See also absolute poverty

practical ethics, 1practical reason, 281–282pre-ethical decision making, 11–13, 14preferences: in animals, 247; creation and

satisfaction of, 14, 111–112, 113–114,115

preference utilitarianism, 11–15;difference from hedonisticutilitarianism, 111; killing in, 80–81,84–85, 86, 169; killing infants in, 152;replaceability argument in, 111–112,113–114; value of life in, 92–93;voluntary euthanasia in, 170

preferential treatment. See affirmativeaction

pregnancy: as result of rape, 132–133;trimesters in, 137

pregnancy loss, 149prejudice: against disabled persons, 45;

against interests of animals, 49. See alsodiscrimination

prenatal diagnosis, 123–124, 142, 163–164preventing something bad without

sacrificing anything of moralsignificance (principle), 199–202

primitive streak, 125Princeton University, euthanasia protests

at, viiiprior existence view (utilitarianism):

climate change in, 110–111; killinganimals in, 105; killing disabled infantsin, 88–90, 162; replaceability argumentin, 119

privacy, 63private enterprise, 38problem solving by animals (octopus), 60Pro Life movement (Right to Life

movement), 135–136promises, breaking, 79, 199–200property, violence toward, 274–275

property rights, and obligation to assist,204–205

prostitution, 130–131prudence, 2, 282–283; imprudence, 290psychological differences, between sexes,

28–34The Psychology of Sex Differences (Maccoby &

Jacklin), 30–31psychopaths, 288–291, 292purity, 13

quality of life: of disabled infant, 108–109;and euthanasia, 184, 185; and medicaltreatment, 182–183

quickening, 128Quill, Timothy, 173Quinlan, Karen Ann, 184quotas, and affirmative action, 41, 44

racial affinities, and obligation to assist,203

racial differences, and IQ, 68racial discrimination, 16–17racial equality/inequality, change in

attitudes, 16racism, 19, 22; and affirmative action, 42;

based on equal consideration ofinterests, 20–21; racists, 16; violatingprinciple of, 50–51

Ramsey, Paul, 140range property(ies), 17–18rape, pregnancy as result of, 132–133rationality of ethics, 278Rawls, John, 10–11, 17–18, 228Reagan, Ronald, 179reason(ing): critical moral, 79–80, 84, 85,

153, 178; error in, 46–47, 61, 107; andethics, 8, 279, 283; human/animaldifferences in, 65–66; intuitive moral,79, 85, 153, 178; practical reason,281–282; and self-interest, 62–63

Reasons and Persons (Parfit)Re Baby J, 179–180Re C, 179–180reciprocity, and ethics, 4, 61–64reckless driving, 199recreational choices(s), 239, 243recycling, 254–255Red Brigade, 274Regents of the University of California v. Bakke,

39–40, 41, 43–44

334 Index

relative poverty, 192relativism, 5–7religion, 3, 5, 75–76, 135. See also

Buddhism; Christianity; Hebrewtradition

replaceability argument, 106–107, 120reproductive technology: cloning,

140–141; in vitro fertilization, 123–124,147–148, 150–151

The Republic (Plato), 61–62, 284, 287resource limitations, and medical

treatment, 22–24respect for autonomy (principle): as basic

moral principle, 83–85; and capacity tochoose, 65–66, 84; and euthanasia,65–66, 84, 188; and killing, 83–85, 152;and persons, 101

Respect for Nature (Taylor), 249responsibility: for acts/omissions,

195–198; recognized system of, 203–204

reverence for life ethic, 247–250reverse discrimination. See affirmative

actionrevolution, need for, 272rights: and abortion, 134; and desires,

81–82, 169–170; of fetus, 138–139;individual, 13; obligation to assist in,204–205; of persons, 139; responsibilityin, 18; theory of, 133–134, 169–170,197

right to assistance, 197. See also obligationto assist

right to life: autonomy and, 83–85;capacity to choose and, 132–134; claimsfor, ix; of disabled infants, 75; loss ofcapacity to choose and, 168–169; ofpersons, 81–83, 139; self-consciousnessand, 82–83, 151–154, 160; andvoluntary euthanasia, 170

river(s), damming, 238–239, 246–247,264, 269

Roe v. Wade, 123, 126–127Rollin, Betty, 173–174Rolston, Holmes, 250Roman Catholicism, 123, 183, 184, 185Romans, 153–154Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty

to Animals (RSPCA), 260–261royalties, from oil and minerals, 225rule, moral, 181

rules, ethics of, 2–3rule-utilitarian consequences of lawn

crossing, 232, 233Rwanda, 223

Sachs, Jeffrey, 214–215salary differentials. See income distributionSalt, Henry, 107–108Salwen, Kevin, 211–212sanctity of human life, 13, 71–72, 135sanctity of personal life, 100Sartre, Jean-Paul, 11Schiavo, Terri, 167–168, 185Schindler, Oskar, 256, 263, 269Schopenhauer, Arthur, 114–115Schweitzer, Albert, 248–249scientific research: killing animals in, 283.

See also animal experimentation;experimentation

scrub jays, 100Scruton, Roger, 103–104, 122self, concept of continuing, 82–83self-actualization, need for, 288self-awareness: in animals, 65–66, 97, 98,

119–120. See also self-consciousnessself-consciousness: in animals, 96, 101,

119; and capacity to choose, 84; ofembryo, 151; and equal consideration ofinterests principle, 65–66; andeuthanasia, 169; of fetus, 74, 151; inhumanhood, 73, 74; of infant, 74, 151;and killing, 76–81, 104, 120; of persons,103; and right to life, 82–83, 151–154,160; and value of life, 53, 90

self-defense, 72, 73self-interest: and ethical contract, 62–64;

ethics of, 10, 283–287, 291; andreasoning, 62–63

The Selfish Gene (Dawkins), 211self/other distinction, 283self-realizing systems, 253–254Seneca, 153–154, 156sentience, as boundary of concern for

interests of others, 50sentient being(s): distinct from

nonsentient, 253–254; extending ethicsbeyond, 247–250; fetus as, 136–138;moral consideration of, 247, 248; valuebeyond, 49–50

Sessions, George, 251–252sex, 1–2, 5–6

Index 335

sexism, 19, 22sex roles, 29–30sexual differences: biological, 17; in IQ,

28–34sexual equality/inequality, 38–39;

affirmative action and, 39Shakespeare, William, 10Shue, Henry, 228Siberia, 219Sidgwick, Henry, 117, 283, 293–294sin, Aquinas on, 241skin-cancer, 233slavery, 6–7, 21–22, 63sleeping state, 83, 86, 112; of fetus,

136–137slippery slope argument: in defense of

speciesism, 66–67; euthanasia togenocide

Smith, Adam, 10social conditioning, 30, 32–33social conditions, and disability, 46–47social equality (goal), 42–43social status, 34–35, 38society: and individual, 7, 260; prohibition

of killing, 72–73Socrates, 287Solon, 75soul, 128South Asia, 221Spain, 123, 180species, ecological ethics at level of,

252–253speciesism: defense of, 66–70; forms of,

53–70; and killing nonhuman persons,100–104; and racism, 50–51; and valueof life, 53, 90, 91; and wrongness ofkilling, 75, 135, 160

species loss (extinction), 217species membership: and human/animal

distinction, 52; and killing, 75–93; moralsignificance of boundary of, 68–69, 75,200–202; and right to life, 145

sperm, and IVF, 150spina bifida, 185spinal cord injuries, 124Spira, Henry, 294spontaneous abortion, 149Sri Lanka, and greenhouse gas emissions,


standard(s): ethical (see ethical standards);too high, in obligation to assist, 210–215

starvation: in animal population control,121; in human population control, 209

state: authority of, 260; and euthanasia,159, 186; and freedom of individual,175; and power to kill, 155, 187. See alsogovernment

stem cells, 124, 140, 141Stephen, Leslie, 105Steptoe, Patrick, 123Stevenson, C. L., 7Stinson, Andrew, 72Stinson, Peggy, 72Stoics, 10subjectivism, 7–8suffering: experimentation on animals in

relief of, 56–57; goal of avoiding, 188;goal of avoiding, in animals, 260–261;goal of reducing, 160

suffering, capacity for: in animals, 49–50,51, 246–247; as characteristic entitling abeing to equal consideration, 49–50. Seealso pain

suicide, 156–157; physician-assisted,156–157, 173–175

“suicide machine”, 174Summa Theologica (Aquinas), 241Summers, Lawrence, 17, 32Sunderbans, 217Supreme Court, 39–40, 43–44, 126–127,


Sweden, 123, 180, 193Switzerland, 155; euthanasia protests in,

viiiSylvan, Richard, 252sympathy, 3, 249, 285, 289

taking-care-of-our-own argument, 203–204taking life. See killingTasmania, Franklin River dam project in,

257–258, 269Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Commission,

257–258, 264Tasmanian Wilderness Society, 258taxation, in income distribution, 38Taylor, Paul, 249, 252Tay-Sachs disease, 161–162, 187Ten Commandments, 181terrorism, 70, 274terrorist attacks, on U.S., 192–193, 274Test scores: admission, 39, 40. See also IQ


336 Index

Thailand, 208, 227thalidomide, 165A Theory of Justice (Rawls), 17–18, 228theory of rights, 133–134, 169–170, 197thinking: language and, 97. See also

reason(ing)third world countries. See developing

countriesThomson, Judith J., 132, 133–134Thoreau, Henry, 259–260, 261, 265–266time, sense of, in animals, 95Tooley, Michael, 81–83, 111tool use, by animals, 64total view (utilitarianism): infants as

replaceable in, 163; killing animals in,247; killing disabled infants in, 162, 163;maximization of pleasure in, 88, 89–90;meat-eating in, 105

treatment, equal/unequal, 22triage, ethics of, 205–209tsunami, Asian, 193Tuvalu, 217twins, 145–146

unconscious state, 82, 83, 86, 112, 132,169

United Kingdom, limits to neonatalintensive care in, 180

United Nations (UN): aid target, 193–194,210; Population Division, 228

United Nations Framework Convention onClimate Change, 228

United Nations International Children’sEmergency Fund (UNICEF), 192

United States: climate change and,220–221, 223; greenhouse gasemissions, 224–225, 227; overseas aid,193

universalizability (principle): of ethicalstandards, 10–13; and ethics, 279; ofintrinsic value, 116–119; andpreferences, 13–14, 116–119; andreplaceability argument, 112

universal point of view, 10–12, 13, 277universal prescriptivism, 7university admissions: and affirmative

action, 39–44; and intelligence, 17University of California at Davis, 39–40, 41University of Michigan Law School, 44U. S. Civil Rights Act, 43–44utilitarianism: classical (see classical

utilitarianism); and consequentialism,

2–3, 232, 233; death of animals in,246–247; hedonistic (see hedonisticutilitarianism); killing animals in,105–106; killing in, 77–78, 84–85; andobligation to assist, 202; preference (seepreference utilitarianism); priorexistence view in (see prior existenceview); total version (see total view); valueof life in, 92–93

utility, declining marginal, 22–23

value: beyond sentient beings, 49–50;moral, 253; preference-dependent,116–117; preference-independent, 117

value of life: and abortion, 134–136; inChristianity, 75–76; claims about, ix;comparing, 90–93; in deep ecology,251–252; fetal life, 134–136, 154;human life, 71–72; and killingnonhuman persons, 100–104; ofmembers of species Homo sapiens;newborn infant, 72, 151, 152; inWestern civilization, 75

values: common, 69; in ecological ethics,242–245, 251–252; long-term, 242–243;noutilitarian, 65–66

Varner, Gary, 103, 122vegetarian diet, 54, 105vegetative state, 167–169veil of ignorance, 10–11viability, of fetus, 126–128victimless crime, abortion as, 131victim(s), identifiable, 195, 196,


Vietnam, 217violence, 67, 271–275virtues: ethical, 287; natural, 285visual-spatial ability, sexual differences in,

29, 31, 32–33voluntary agencies, 210voluntary euthanasia, 170; justification of,


war, killing during, 73Washington state, voluntary euthanasia in,


wealth: desire for, 292–293; entitlement to,204; transfer of, 193–194, 215

Western civilization, value of life in, 75Western tradition: environment in,

239–241; reverence for life in, 247–250whales, communication among, 96–97

Index 337

wilderness, aesthetic appreciation of,243–244

wilderness preservation: illegal acts in,257–258, 269; long-term value of,242–243; values in controversies about,242–245

Williams, Bernard, 69–70Wolf, Susan, 212–213

Wolfenden, John, 130–131Wolff, Robert P., 260, 261women. See sexism; sex roles; sexual

differences; sexual equality/inequalitywomen’s liberation movement, 29World Bank, 191–192World Health Organization, 216World Heritage Commission, 258

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