Beyond the Basic/Nonbasic Interests Distinction: A Feminist Approach to Inter-Species Moral Conflict and Moral Repair
Emmerman-Mazner, Karen S.
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There is no longer a dearth of well-reasoned argumentation for taking animals seriously and thus for questioning our exploitative relationships with them. It is over-determined that animals warrant moral attention. However, playing close attention to animals quickly reveals that taking their interests into account often generates conflicts with humans' interests. One common way to adjudicate competing claims is to point to a difference between basic interests (food, shelter, water, medical care, and avoiding unnecessary pain) and nonbasic interests (non-subsistence related interests) and claim that basic interests are always more important, morally speaking, than nonbasic ones. For example, a human's nonbasic interest in delicious chicken soup ought not to trump a chicken's basic interest in not suffering a horrific life under factory farming conditions and being killed for others' consumption. Careful attention to humans' interests reveals, however, that some of our seemingly less important interests are tied to highly valued ends. The chicken soup may play a significant role in my Jewish culture and in my relationship with my grandmother, for example. A tension can arise, therefore, between (1) the insight that animals' moral considerability warrants that we not harm them in service of nonbasic human interests and (2) the insight that some of our nonbasic interests are nonetheless morally significant. This tension is the focal point of my dissertation. I critically examine three methodologies for managing the tension between strong obligations to animals and the robustness of human interests (from philosophers Peter Singer, Paul Taylor, and Gary Varner). After arguing that all three are deficient in important ways, I recommend a feminist approach to inter-species conflicts of interest that I think best addresses the tension. The feminist approach is pluralist, non-hierarchical, and contextualized. It highlights how relationships of love and care complicate both humans' and animals' interests. It also underscores the importance of undertaking the work of moral repair in both the inter-human and inter-species realms when causing harm to some party is unavoidable. Thus, the feminist methodology is well positioned to take seriously our strong obligations to animals without ignoring or discounting the robustness of human interests.
- Philosophy