The question of whether or not we should favor the interests of humans over those of nonhuman animals is at the core of animal ethics. The view that we should favor human interests has been criticized as speciesist. You can find more information about this in our section on speciesism.
The claim that we should favor humans over other animals, and thus treat nonhumans disadvantageously, has been defended in several different ways:
- By simply stating that we should act that way without presenting any argument to back up that view.1
- By claiming that humans are in a superior position for reasons that cannot be corroborated in any way.2
- By claiming that humans have certain special capacities that we can verify nonhumans don’t have.3
- By claiming that humans have certain special relations with each other that we can verify we don’t have with nonhumans.4
These claims have been responded to in the following ways:
- If we accept an impartial viewpoint, we’ll have to reject the disadvantageous consideration of nonhumans.
- A difference in treatment for arbitrary reasons cannot be accepted.
- The reasons defended to not fully consider nonhuman animals also apply in the case of some human beings.
- The reasons defended to not fully consider nonhuman animals aren’t morally relevant.
The structure of these arguments is explained in detail in these posts:
1 Gaita, R. (2003) The philosopher’s dog: Friendships with animals, London: Routledge. Posner, R. (2004) “Animal rights: Legal, philosophical and pragmatical perspectives”, in Sunstein, C. & Nussbaum, M. (eds.) Animal rights: Current debates and new directions, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 51-77.
2 Harrison, P. (1989) “Theodicy and animal pain”, Philosophy, 64, pp. 79-92. Reichmann, J. B. (2000) Evolution, animal ‘rights’ and the environment, Washington: The Catholic University of America Press.
3 Carruthers, P. (1992) The animal issue: Moral theory in practice, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ferry, L. (1995 ) The new ecological order, Chicago: Chicago University Press. Frey, R. G. (1980) Interests and rights: The case against animals, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Leahy, M. P. T. (1991) Against liberation: Putting animals in perspective, London: Routledge.
4 Goldman, M. (2001) “A trascendental defense of speciesism”, Journal of Value Inquiry, 33, pp. 59-69. Midgley, M. (1983) Animals and why they matter, Athens: University Georgia Press. Næss, A. (1989) Ecology, community and lifestyle, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Petrinovich, L. (1999) Darwinian dominion: Animal welfare and human interests, Massachusetts: MIT Press.