Value Relevance And Who Deserves Our Moral Consideration
When it comes to making moral decisions, we tend to consult internally with ourselves about whether (and to what extent) the interests of the beings involved should count. The fact that we humans often find more reasons to favor the interests of our fellow human beings as compared to those of other animals, suggests that only the former group is given full moral consideration. Naturally, then, the following question arises: are there any morally relevant criteria that permit us to distinguish between human and non-human animals?
This paper discusses what it takes for a being to be morally considered and what role relevance plays. When it comes to why humans should be regarded worthy of higher moral consideration, mainstream opinion focuses on several aspects, ranging from simply being members of the human species, to the possession of certain features such as complex cognitive capacities, to factors beyond corroboration such as a superior ontological status or being “God’s favorite species” — views which are commonly perceived as speciesist. However. this paper presents a different argument, one that claims that it is actually sentience that should be both a sufficient and a necessary criterion for full moral considerability.
While moral relevance considers what is right and wrong, value relevance would encompass beings who can receive value/disvalue and the specific value/disvalue that a certain action would entail. Think of a dog who can feel pain (a disvalue) and an action that would cause the dog pain (e.g. hitting them). In this sense, the dog would deserve moral considerability as it is a potential disvalue recipient, whereas the action of hitting the dog would be considered immoral as it would convey the disvalue. The paper argues that despite clear examples where the dependence between what is morally relevant and what is value relevant is direct, there are instances where the dependence is indirect, for example, the refusal to torture one being to save others. There are also situations where the two are unrelated – various beliefs come to mind when people deem a given action wrong despite it not causing any harm.
Theories of wellbeing claim that our own wellbeing depends on three main accounts of value/disvalue:
- positive and negative experiences;
- satisfied and thwarted preferences;
- other factors that can lead to positive and negative mental states, but also including things such as achievement and failure, virtue and vice, knowledge and ignorance which, allegedly, would be objectively good or bad for us regardless of our attitudes and beliefs.
The latter indicates that the interests of those who have complex cognitive capacities would not always be more significant, as intellectual beings have more non-vital interests. Furthermore, it is clear that humans are not exclusively capable to have positive and negative experiences. In many cases nonhuman animals also express perceiving a wide range of experiences through their behavior. Consciousness seems to be the best explanation we have for understanding how their centralized nervous systems process information in complex ways, converting it into experiences. Not to mention the presence of opioid receptors across many species – signs of capacity to feel suffering and pleasure.
Via more rigorous philosophical thought, the paper puts its finger right on the crux of the matter – once we accept that morality depends on value relevance, the implications associated with wellbeing criteria, and the fact that many nonhumans are sentient – the speciesist argument cannot be held consistently. Animal advocates will welcome this thorough discussion within the field of animal ethics, especially since concepts such as value relevance may bring us closer to establishing, once and for all, why many beings beyond humans are worthy of full moral consideration.