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Environmental Ethics

Volume 5, Issue 4, Winter 1983

Peter Miller
Pages 319-333

Do Animal Have Interests Worthy of Our Moral Interest?

The conclusion of animal liberationists that the underlying assumptions of modern egalitarian humanism can be construed to imply an equal moral desert for the higher nonhuman animals has recently been challenged by R. G. Frey on the grounds that linguistic incompetence and lack of self-consciousness on the part of animals preclude them from having desires, beliefs, interests, and rights. Although Frey’s arguments fail, they challenge us to provide alternative accounts of these descriptive and normative categories of human and animal psychology. Phenomenological and behavioral analyses demonstrate both the meaningfulness and the truthfulness ofattributing desires, beliefs, and interests to many nonhuman animals. Principles ofaxiology and ethics prescribe that animal interests ought to be objects of our moral concern, but do not vindicate an egalitarian interpretation of animal liberation. A fundamental challenge of the anima1liberation debate is how to frame a nonegalitarian ethic that can nevertheless preserve the moral gains of various liberation movements inspired by principles of equality.

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