Chapter 6 - What are we entitled to do, vis-a-vis other organisms?

Back to Main Page Chapter five Chapter six - Appendix A Chapter six - Appendix B
Principles of Deep Ecology Francione's animal rights baselines References

6.0 Chapter outline

In the following discussion, I shall be outlining an ethical position which is at once humanistic (insofar as it permits human beings to engage in activities that promote their own telos), Aristotelian (in its conception of what that telos consists of), and biophilic (in that it accords inherent value to each and every living thing).

In this chapter, I reject what I call the Instrumentality Thesis, or the principle that animals and other living things exist simply as resources to be used for our benefit. To justify our use of living creatures for food, clothing and medicine, I put forward an alternative Telos-Promoting Principle, which affirms that human beings are morally entitled to promote any of the basic human goods which constitute their telos. I then propose a Telos-Promoting Harm Principle, which limits the harm human beings may inflict on other living things, while pursuing their own good. I discuss further ethical constraints on our pursuit of basic goods. Finally, I propose a Justifiable Defence of Ecosystems Principle which allows human beings to defend the environment against the depredations of non-human organisms (e.g. introduced pests).

6.1 Instrumentalism rejected

The clearest philosophical exposition of the idea that animals and other organisms possess a purely instrumental value is found in the writings of Kant, who regarded animals as things, or instruments to serve human ends:

Now I say: man and generally any rational being exists as an end in himself, not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will, but in all his actions, whether they concern himself or other rational beings, must be always regarded at the same time as an end... Beings whose existence depends not on our will but on nature's, have nevertheless, if they are nonrational beings, only a relative value as means, and are therefore called things; rational beings, on the contrary, are called persons, because their very nature points them out as ends in themselves, that is as something which must not be used merely as means, and so far therefore restricts freedom of action (and is an object of respect) (Foundation of the Metaphysics of Morals, translated from the German by T.K.Abbot, 1873, italics mine).
Henceforth I shall refer to the Kantian view that animals are merely resources to serve human ends as the Instrumentality Thesis or IT.

If, as I have argued in this thesis, living things possess intrinsic value, then they cannot be regarded as mere resources that exist simply for the benefit of other beings. Intrinsic value is incompatible with IT.

Some philosophers would reject as absurd the claim that the lives of non-rational organisms can have any kind of purpose, meaning or value, apart from that assigned to them by their owners. But this objection misconstrues both the concept of finality (as extrinsic finality), and the concept of meaning (as an end that an agent strives for). Non-rational organisms do have to exist "for" anything else, in order to possess intrinsic value. And although they do not strive to find meaning in their lives, their internal goal-directed activities certainly have a meaning, which can be defined in terms of the organism's self-preservation and well-being - in other words, the realisation of its telos.

At first sight, the following statement from Aristotle might be taken as lending support to IT:

For some animals bring forth, together with their offspring, so much food as will last until they are able to supply themselves...[Thus] the viviparous animals have up to a certain time a supply of food for their young in themselves, which is called milk. In like manner we may infer that, after the birth of animals, plants exist for their sake, and that the other animals exist for the sake of man - the tame for use and food, the wild, if not all, at least the greater part of them, for food, and the provision of clothing and various instruments. Now if nature makes nothing incomplete, and nothing in vain, the inference must be that she has made all animals for the sake of man (Politics (I.8, 1256b11-21).

However, Cameron (2000, pp. 132-134) argues at length that this text has been mis-read by commentators: Aristotle makes it clear that animals do not have our benefit as one of their in-built ends, but only as an end derived from our use of them. This is clear from the context of his statement: animals exist for man in the same sense that mothers' milk exists for the sake of their young. Mothers' milk, argues Cameron, has no intrinsic ends as it is merely a body part, whose ends are purely derivative upon (i) the intrinsic reproductive ends of the parents, and (ii) the nutritive ends of the offspring.

Moreover, since Aristotle certainly believed that all living things have a telos of their own, he can hardly have thought them to possess merely instrumental value, as Kant did. Nonetheless, he had no moral qualms about using them in any way that benefits human beings: in the passge cited, he sanctions the use of non-rational creatures not just for food but for "other accessories of life". Aristotle never made the ethical leap from teleology to biocentrism, the necessity of which I defended in chapter five.

The question I now propose to explore is: which (if any) usages of non-human life-forms can be sanctioned by someone who espouses that biocentrist position that I advocated in the previous chapter?

6.2 The cardinal difficulty of biocentrism

The principal objection to biocentrism is that it appears unable to justify making use of other living things, even for subsistence needs like food and clothing. For if all organisms possess intrinsic value, what could possibly justify one organism's making use of another?

I shall argue that this objection rests on the mistaken belief that the fundamental principles of ethics are negative rather than positive. The removal of this ethical misconception allows us to construct an ethic that is at once humanistic and biophilic.

This "negativist" approach to ethics is implicit in Comstock's (2000) argument that an ethic of intrinsic value (such as Paul Taylor's respect-for-life ethic) is incompatible with agriculture:

Taylor, for example, holds that all living things including plants have a telos and that we have at least a corresponding prima facie duty not to interfere with them. Most humans could survive, and many could flourish, eating only nuts, berries and vegetable products taken from dead or dying plants. If all living things deserve respect then agriculture, the implements and practices of which inherently destroy many living things, would be unjustifiable.

Comstock's argument is open to criticism on both emprical and moral grounds. First, his assertion that we could all live on a diet of "nuts, berries and vegetable products taken from dead or dying plants" is clearly erroneous if he is referring to the 6.4 billion people currently living on this planet. The reason why our Stone Age forebears (who, incidentally, ate lots of meat) switched to agriculture and took up a cereal-based diet (despite its nutritional inadequacies) was probably to satisfy the food demands of a burgeoning population (Diamond, 2003). (Whether we have a right to populate the planet at its current level is an issue that will be discussed below.)

In addition to its factual errors, Comstock's ethical argument is invalid: the premise that all living things are intrinsically valuable (and hence morally significant) does not imply the conclusion that we have an unconditional obligation to refrain from harming living things. Another premise is required: the premise that we have an unconditional obligation to refrain from harming morally significant beings. The Hippocratic injunction to "First do no harm" could be interpreted in this way. According to this account, the primary precept of morality is a negative one.

"First do no harm" may be an excellent cardinal rule for the practice of medicine, but it is clearly inadequate as a first principle of moral conduct. The notion of wrong is logically derivative upon the notion of right, whose content needs to be defined first. The notion that harming living things is a bad thing to do makes no sense unless one first recognises that promoting the well-being of an organism - including oneself - is a good thing to do.

An additional reason for rejecting the "First do no harm" principle is that it yields practical contradictions in a world where the interests of living things conflict. We can only eat by killing other living things. Should we then starve ourselves to death (thereby harming ourselves) or eat (thereby harming other living things)?

Finally, the notion that we have an over-riding obligation to refrain from harming other living things is ethically flawed, because it obliges us to put the lives of other living things before our own.

6.3 The deficiencies of a holistic ethic

If we may sometimes harm other living things, then under what circumstances may we do so? According to environmental holists, we may inflict harm on other living things, if and only if our actions benefit or do no harm to the environment as a whole. Leopold's oft-quoted maxim encapsulates this ethic:

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends to do otherwise (1966, p. 240).

However, there are good grounds for believing that environmental holism cannot serve as a warrant for even our most basic needs, and that it is in any case ethically flawed.

Leopold's holism has been labelled as "environmental fascism" (Regan, 1988, p. 362), and not without reason. It is doubtful whether holism would allow most of us to satisfy even our vital needs. There is a widely held view among environmental holists that a human population of 6.4 billion puts a severe strain on the earth's biosphere, and that from a purely ecological point of view, it would be a good thing if most of us were not here. Some holists even claim that humanity's very existence is a threat to the biosphere. The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT)'s declaration that "phasing out the human race by voluntarily ceasing to breed will allow Earth's biosphere to return to good health", exemplifies the profoundly anti-human ideologies that are compatible with environmental holism. The cartoon below humorously illustrates the various shades of misanthropy endorsed by holists. (Misanthropic statements by some prominent spokespeople for animal rights and the environment are cited in the Appendix.)

Image courtesy of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. Eco Depth Gauge also published in "Deep Environmental Politics: The Role of Radical Environmentalism in Crafting American Environmental Policy" by Phillip F. Cramer, Praeger 1998, page 11.

However, the ethical arguments advanced by environmental holists are unsound. In particular, the argument put forward by members of VHEMT that we, as a species, have somehow forfeited our right to exist by causing the extinctions of other species, begs the question: to what, or whom, are we beholden for this "right to exist"? "Mother Nature", after all, is not a moral agent.

The general problem with ethical arguments in support of environmental holism is that they rest on a false metaphor of the biosphere as a living organism. According to this metaphor, each individual is a part of a whole, so its interests should be completely subordinated to those of the whole. In the previous chapter, it was argued that this metaphor was inaccurate, and that ecosystems (and by extension, the biosphere) do not exhibit the kind of part-whole subordination that living things possess. Because the functioning of its parts is not directed or regulated by that of the whole, an ecosystem cannot be said to have interests, properly speaking. An ecosystem, then, is not a single organism but a loose network of organisms, whose interests, although inter-connected, are nevertheless separately identifiable.

I conclude that any ethically sound justification of the harms humans inflict on other living things has to be based on an individualistic ethic, rather than a holistic one.

By contrast, the modest claim that any harms we inflict on the environment should be sustainable in the long term, does not in any way presuppose holism: it merely assumes that we care about our descendants. But if we believe that each and every living thing matters, then this minimal claim can hardly serve to define which harms we inflict on organisms are morally wrong. The fact that a practice is sustainable does not make it right.

6.4 Vital, central and peripheral needs

If we are going to construct a non-holistic ethic that allows us to make use of living things, we might start with a minimalistic formulation: human beings may harm other living things, but only for the sake of satisfying their vital needs. Naess (1989) seems to endorse this idea in his Deep Ecology Platform:

Humans have no right to reduce [the] richness and diversity [of life forms] except to satisfy vital needs (Principle 3).

However, Naess's ethical proposal would be extremely limiting, if implemented. For instance, it would only allow people to build essential structures like houses, as the construction of buildings destroys millions of earthworms, plants and soil microbes.

Naess does not define what he means by "vital needs" in his platform. Does he mean biological needs? Such an equation is too simplistic for humans and many other animals: as we saw in chapter 2, educable animals have ends that are not purely biological (Beisecker, 1999). In the previous chapter, we drew up a list of basic animal goods. In addition to pursuing their own biological ends, animals may also seek practical knowledge. In chapter 3, we discussed evidence that social animals enjoy the company of other individuals of their kind, as well as engaging in play.

To avoid focusing exclusively on an ethically restrictive set of needs, some authors have suggested a broader account of human and animal goods. VanDeVeer (1979) divides interests into three categories: 1) basic interests necessary for survival, 2) non-basic but serious interests, and 3) non-basic, peripheral interests. In a similar vein, Taylor (1986) divides interests into central and peripheral interests. Unlike Naess, Taylor allows human "peripheral" interests to take priority over the vital interests of other living things, provided that certain principles (self-defense, proportionality, minimum wrong, distributive justice and restitutive justice) are adhered to. However, these principles fail to address the central problem of any broad-based account of human goods: how can one justify prioritising a non-basic interest - even a serious one - over a vital one? Wetlesen (1999) argues that it is "open to doubt" whether Taylor, as a biocentrist, can consistently allow this. The prioritising of peripheral interests over vital ones is even more problematic: as we argued in chapter 1, the satisfaction of an individual's desires may be morally good, bad or neutral.

Our dilemma, in a nutshell, amounts to this: if "human interests" are broadly defined, they is no obvious reason why their bearer should be morally entitled to satisfy them at the expense of living things, especially when the ends they encompass may be good, bad or indifferent. On the other hand, the satisfaction of "vital biological needs", while morally justifiable, is ethically restrictive, as it merely entitles us to subsist, and fails to encompass the gamut of animal (let alone human) thriving.

6.5 A Telos-Based Account of Entitlements and Justifiable Harms

6.5(a) The Telos-Promoting Principle (TPP): which goods are we entitled to pursue?

The above dilemma could be resolved by defining "benefit" and "harm" in an objective way. Satisfying a human interest at the expense of other living creatures could then be justified by arguing that it is objectively beneficial to human beings, or by arguing that not satisfying the interest is objectively harmful to human beings. The concept of telos provides us with a way of objectively grounding the terms "benefit" and "harm": an organism's realisation of its telos is a public occurrence, which is amenable to scientific investigation.

Human beings, like every other species, have a unique telos of their own. It was argued in chapter 5 that this telos includes a range of irreducibly distinct "basic human goods" (variously enumerated by natural law theorists) whose defining feature is that they contribute to human thriving in an objectively knowable way: they are wanted because they are good, not the other way round. Human thriving is contingent on having the opportunity to realise these goods. When deprived of this opportunity, human beings fail to thrive and are thereby physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually stunted - i.e. objectively harmed - even if they do not realise it.

What I am proposing, then, is that human moral agents are entitled to do more than merely subsist: they are entitled to pursue basic human goods, in order to thrive as humans do. Because some of these goods require them to use other creatures, we can say that the usage of other living things is part and parcel of human thriving. Human moral agents cannot deny their right to pursue these goods without putting the welfare of other living beings before their own flourishing.

The proposal that each of us is morally entitled to pursue his/her own thriving may offend those altruists who believe that only unselfish acts are morally virtuous. But self-denying altruism is morally incoherent: one cannot consistently hold that the promotion of another's welfare is good while arguing that the promotion of one's own is not.

The biocentrist's justification for harming other organisms is a broadly Aristotelian one: although they are valuable in their own right, so are we, and our flourishing - which is defined by our attainment of the basic human goods comprising our telos - requires us to make use of them.

The ethical model that I am endorsing here is thus individualistic (in opposition to environmental holism), self-loving (in opposition to self-denying altruism), objectivist (in opposition to ethical relativism) and naturalistic, where the "nature" of a living thing is defined in terms of its telos.

We can summarise the foregoing considerations in an ethical principle, which I shall refer to as the Telos-Promoting Principle (TPP):

Human beings are morally entitled to pursue any of the basic human goods comprising their telos, even at the expense of other organisms.

TPP should be seen as a restricted self-preference principle: it affirms that human beings are entitled to put their own interests first, while restricting the grounds on which people may do so to the pursuit of basic human goods.

6.5(b) The Telos-Promoting Harm Principle (TPHP): which actions are we entitled to perform?

While TPP tells us which goods we may pursue, it does not tell us which acts we may perform to achieve these goods. If human beings are entitled to attain these basic human goods, then they must also be entitled to perform acts which inherently tend to promote one of these goods. Because these acts contribute to human flourishing in an objective way, they are unambiguously good, as regards their essential "whatness". However, these acts may be morally wrong as regards the manner in which they realise a basic good. For instance, building a house is good per se, but building one in an ecologically wasteful manner is morally wrong. In other words, while the pursuit of basic human goods is good in an unqualified sense, acts performed to attain these goods are subject to ethical constraints.

Nevertheless, a telos-promoting biocentric ethic must be capable of sanctioning certain human practices, if it is to do any ethical work. I would like to propose at the outset a litmus test for any minimally "self-loving" environmental ethic: at the very least, it has to be able to justify, under at least some circumstances, those actions that have historically promoted the survival of our own species - that is, practices without which most of us would not be alive today. We can legitimately question the pace or manner of implementation of some of these practices, as well as certain specific instances of them, but we cannot doubt that these practices, in their historical context, were morally justified on the whole, without doubting the goodness of the conditions that enabled our own species to survive and flourish.

On an individual level, one may, of course, regret some of the actions that made one's own existence possible, without regretting one's own existence. Each of us doubtless has ancestors who were conceived as a result of rape, but we can nevertheless regret that these violations occurred without wishing that we had never been born. One can make a distinction between the bad actions of one's ancestors and one's own flourishing, which is morally good. What I am claiming, however, is that this distinction cannot be made at the species level, because a species is an entity that includes all its individual members - past, present and future - and defines their telos, which makes them the kind of individuals they are. To wish that telos-promoting actions by members of our species that saved Homo sapiens from becoming extinct had not occurred, is to say that it would have been better if humans had died out. One cannot consistently believe that, and simultaneously be glad that one is alive as a human individual.

In addition to being glad about being alive, it makes sense for self-loving individuals to be glad about the reductions in human mortality rates that have given members of our species increased opportunities to realise the basic human goods. Practices that reduced mortality rates in the past should therefore be regarded as justifiable (for the most part, at least) in their historical context. Historically, it is these practices that have allowed our species to flourish.

Which human practices, then, are we committed to sanctioning? Roughly speaking, they would have to include the following:

A genuinely self-loving ethical account has to sanction, in broad outline, both the Agricultural Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. Put simply, agriculture allowed countless millions of people to survive who would otherwise have starved to death, while industrialisation made possible the mass production of all kinds of commodities promoting human welfare and survival. Obvious examples of the latter would include life-saving drugs, devices for measuring the quality of a town's water supply, surgical instruments, fertilisers, pesticides, disinfectants and stoves for boiling unclean water.

Broad approval of historical practices that promoted the human telos is nevertheless compatible with qualified criticism of them. For instance, sanctioning the agricultural and industrial revolutions should not be construed as approving all of their effects on our world, or endorsing the entire range of commodities that have been produced through these practices.

Additionally, certain telos-promoting practices have turned out to be unsustainable for the human species in the long run. Our ancestors thrived by becoming proficient hunters and fishers as well as gatherers, but it is no longer possible for most of the planet's human inhabitants to live by hunting and fishing. And while DDT has saved hundreds of millions of lives, its use in present circumstances is neither necessary nor justifiable.

Nevertheless, since the foregoing practices made it possible for our species to survive and flourish, then we should accept as an ethical "given" their morally permissibility in at least some circumstances. For these kinds of activities, then, the only appropriate moral question we can ask is not: "Are they permissible?" but "When are they permissible?"

What ethical constraints, then, apply to acts performed in pursuit of basic human goods? As a description of these constraints, I would like to propose the following principle, which I shall refer to as the Telos-Promoting Harm Principle (TPHP).

The Telos-Promoting Harm Principle (TPHP)

A human activity which is inherently harmful to other living things is justifiable if:

(i) the activity itself is one which inherently tends to promote or enable the realisation of a basic human good;

(ii) the harm done by the activity EITHER

(a) inherently tends to promote or enable the promotion of a basic human good, OR

(b) does not inherently promote a basic human good, but is merely an unintended consequence of the activity;

(iii) the performance of the act makes a significant difference to the agent's prospects of realising a basic human good;

(iv) the harm done to other creatures by the agent pursuing the basic human good is kept to a practicable minimum. In particular:

(a) among the various possible instantiations of the basic human good in question, there are no alternative instantiations which the agent has the chance to pursue (without jeopardising his/her opportunities to realise the other basic goods), and whose realisation would cause significantly less harm to other creatures; AND

(b) there are no other significantly less harmful ways available to the agent of achieving the particular instantiation of a basic good that he/she has selected;

(v) any project that the act is part of, also conforms to all the conditions of TPHP;

(vi) the performance of this act is not intrinsically immoral for any other reason.
In particular, performance of the act does not:

(a) threaten to irrevocably destroy the agent's capacity for some moral virtue, or

(b) contravene any over-riding duties to morally significant others, or

(c) violate anyone's basic rights, or

(d) involve destroying a person as a means to the agent's ends.

Notes: 1. Long-standing practices that have promoted the survival of the human race, as well as any future practices that may be necessary to the survival of the human race, are by definition virtuous in at least some circumstances, and therefore may not be regarded as intrinsically immoral.

2. The interests that other (non-rational) kinds of organisms have in realising their basic goods can never take precedence over human interests in achieving basic human goods, [except where a [prior claim is involved].

Although TPHP is a sufficient justification for harm inflicted on living things, it is not intended to be the sole justification. TPHP justifies the harm that an act inflicts on living things with reference to some basic human good achieved through the act. However, there is at least one other possible justification for inflicting harm on some living things: namely, the promotion of the basic interests of other living things. For instance, one could argue that eradicating an introduced species from an area is justifiable, if it saves an endangered native species. I shall propose another harm principle below (the Justifiable Defence of Ecosystems Principle, or JDEP), which allows us to harm living things for the sake of defending an ecosystem.

The rationale for TPHP's conditions requires careful, extensive argumentation, which I shall attempt to provide.

A teleological, non-consequentialist approach to morality

The first condition of TPHP stipulates that an inherently harmful act cannot be justified solely in terms of its consequences. Because the act itself is inherently harmful, there is something flawed about the act itself. The only way to vitiate the prima facie wrongfulness of such an act is to re-characterise the act itself as something inherently good. I have argued that only a telos-promoting act can be regarded as inherently good. In a human context, this means that the act must inherently tend to promote a basic human good.

The words "inherently tend" have been chosen with care. For a harm-inflicting act to be morally justifiable, it is not enough that it happen (by accident) to promote some human good. It must do so inherently - i.e. because it is an act of a certain kind. At the same time, it is unreasonable to expect the act to infallibly achieve this good. Human actions seldom bring about results deterministically. Their efficacy may be probabilistic, or it may be off-set by countervailing causes. A reasonable minimum requirement is that the act performed should tend to promote a basic human good.

The differences between TPHP and IT should be readily apparent. IT justifies actions that inflict harm on creatures in terms of their good consequences in relation to some human end, while TPHP justifies them in terms of their inherent goodness as telos-promoting acts. Whereas IT allows people to exploit and/or harm other creatures in any way that advances their (morally licit) ends, TPHP would only allow people to use creatures in a way which is essentially connected to their telos.

To illustrate the difference between the approaches, let us suppose that the government of a certain country sets aside a sum of money annually for "trivial" biomedical research on animals, performed without any particular objective in mind, on the off-chance that it might lead to a serendipitous medical discovery with a practical application. The government knows full well, however, that most of this research comes to naught. The animals in the experiments are thus harmed for no clear reason. Let us suppose that the research, against all expectations, results in the accidental discovery of a life-saving drug. An IT proponent would then say that the research was justified because it brought major benefits to human beings, whereas the first clause of TPHP implies that the research was immoral because it had no inherent connection to the promotion of any basic human good.

(The implications of the other clauses of TPHP for animal research will be discussed below.)

Justifiably intended harm

The second condition of TPHP is similar to one of the conditions required by the principle of double effect (PDE), except that I have added a disjunct: part (a). In PDE, as in (ii)(b), the harm done must be an unintended consequence. However, when one is dealing with other living things, this condition is too restrictive: conflicts of interest between organisms are in the very nature of things, and one must sometimes intend harm to some other living thing in order to promote one's own flourishing. The point of part (a) is that if the harm is intended, there must be an intrinsic connection between the harm done and the realisation of some basic human good, before the harmful act can be called morally justifiable.

One example would be killing animals for food. Here the harm done is intended. The good realised is nutrition (an aspect of human health). Although the death of the animal per se does not nourish the human agent who kills it, it does enable the agent to prepare a food made from the organism's body parts (e.g. by chopping them up to make a stew). Thus, the harm done inherently enables the promotion of a basic human good. The eating of meat satisfies condition (ii)(a) of TPHP, even if (as I shall argue) it often fails to meet other conditions of TPHP.

Another example would be the use of antibiotics. Here, the eradication of bacterial infections is intentional, but a basic human good is thereby achieved: the restoration of our health.

The use of pesticides also satisfies this condition. While pesticides do not make us healthy per se, they do enable us to protect our crops and ensure that we have enough to eat. As recently as 1960, almost a third of the Asian rice harvest was eaten up by insects (Lomborg, 2001, p. 63).

The harms produced by industrialisation may be either unintended side-effects (e.g. a factory's production of toxic pollutants) or intended harms, in industries where organisms' bodies are utilised as resources. In the latter case, the harm done contravenes condition (ii)(a) if the good realised falls outside the scope of the basic human goods.

Two clearcut cases of industries that inflict unjustifiable harms are the cosmetics industry, which destroys large numbers of plants as well as animals, and the fashion industry, which continues to promote fur purely for the sake of looking glamorous. Smelling fragrant and looking glamorous are simply pleasures, and pleasure for pleasure's sake does not qualify as a basic human good.

Finally, the harm done to organisms in urbanisation is an unintended side-effect of urban construction(as per condition (ii)(b)), rather than a directly intended harm. Additionally, urbanisation is a net environmental blessing because it saves the lives of countless organisms, since high density living spares land that would otherwise have been destroyed (Ausubel, 2000; Ausubel, 2001).

A proportionality requirement

The point of the third condition of TPHP is to exclude acts which incrementally improve human welfare, but at a high cost to other creatures. In essence, this is a proportionality requirement. One difficulty with a pure utilitarian framework, highlighted by Joshua Frank (2002), is that "a minor human interest can prevail over a survival animal interest if a large enough relative weight is given to human interests or if the number of humans affected is sufficiently large". My requirement that performing the act must make a significant difference to the agent's prospects of realising a basic human good, is intended to partly address this concern. Only basic human goods count against the vital interests of other creatures, and only an appreciable improvement (not a marginal one) in the prospects of attaining some basic good could justify the killing of other creatures.

I should acknowledge that my proportionality requirement places much stronger limitations on what isolated individuals can do than those it imposes on society. Consider the following example. Suppose there is a medicinal plant extract, obtained from a rare species of tree in a tropical rainforest, which (on average) adds an extra year to a person's life. From an individual perspective, harvesting the tree for a marginal increase in one's lifespan would be morally unjustifiable, but from society's perspective, giving everyone an extra year of life would result in a significant overall gain in productivity, as well as a reduction in health care costs, freeing up substantial sums of money for spending on basic human goods. It might then be morally permissible for the government to set up a tropical timber plantation and log the trees for their medicine.

However, it should be borne in mind that the foregoing case is atypical: the social benefits are both measurable (in monetary terms) and meaningfully aggregable over a group of individuals, yielding a substantial social benefit. More commonly, the benefits to society of a proposed course of action can only be described in qualitative rather than quantitative terms, and cannot be meaningfully aggregated over individuals. (I would therefore consider Frank's (2002) constrained-utility approach to animal welfare to have limited application, as his aggregation of individuals' welfares lacks objective significance in most contexts.) In these "typical" cases, a significant improvement in the quality of people's social life - defined in terms of their attainment of some basic human good - is required to justify a project that would inflict harm on other creatures.

As an example of how condition (iii) might work, we might look at Frank's (2002) example of building a highway, which he describes thus:

Take the case of a building a road in a non-urban area. As a consequence of constructing the road, there will be some mammals killed by traffic, sometimes with considerable suffering. Presuming other routes already exist, the only advantage to humans of the construction is decreased travel time. Most rights-based systems that seek to give animals greater consideration than they currently receive would suggest that the survival needs of the animals outweigh a peripheral human need. Yet if this logic is applied to all roads, only a primitive and time-consuming network would exist, which many would find to be an unsatisfactory solution.

I agree with Frank that it often makes sense to build highways, but disagree with his diagnosis of the failure of what he calls "rights-based systems". Frank argues that these systems fail because "the peripheral human interests in terms of reduced travel time" will always take second place to "the basic interests of wildlife". To complicate matters further, in practice, humans will risk their own lives (a basic human good) by speeding on the old road, so as to get from A to B more quickly. Frank contends that this alters the moral equation: we now have a trade-off between the two basic goods of human life and animal life.

I believe the expansion of the highway can be justified even without suicidal drivers, as the goal of getting from A to B falls under the oft-neglected basic human good of practical reason, which covers goals that people need to achieve in order to realise the other basic human goods. People need to travel in order to realise basic goods such as work and play. For a large number of people living in a city, a major reduction in travel time would probably result in a significant improvement in their opportunities to realise these other basic goods - especially the good of work, as people can complete projects that they might not have otherwise attempted, creating new business opportunities and resulting in a substantial alteration in people's lifestyles. According to the third condition of TPHP, this significant gain would then justify the construction of the highway. If, on the other hand, no new business projects were being planned as a result of the highway, or if the additional jobs created were short-term ones, then the gains would be too insignificant to justify its construction.

Harm minimisation

TPHP's fourth condition is arguably the one with the most ecological "bite". It can be characterised as a harm minimisation requirement, with some similarities to Regan's (1988) mini-ride principle and Taylor's (1986) principle of minimum wrong. My proposed harm minimisation principle, unlike Taylor's, does not allow humans' non-basic interests to over-ride the basic interests of other living creatures, but this difference is more apparent than real, as the interests I include as "basic" are considerably broader in scope than Taylor's. For instance, building a park would fall under the basic human good of play.

My harm minimisation principle stipulates that whenever we are considering a course of action that inflicts harm on other creatures, we should first ask what basic human good we are attempting to realise. Because these basic human goods are categories of ends, they are general rather than specific. Having identified the basic good, we should then ask whether there are any other specific realisations of it which cause significantly less harm to creatures, and which we can achieve without significantly affecting our attainment of the other basic human goods. (This last proviso frees us from the obligation to seek a less harmful instance of the basic good, if it would be prohibitively expensive or would otherwise substantially reduce our quality of life.) Having selected a specific realisation of the basic good we are trying to realise, we should then seek to achieve it in a way that minimises the harm we inflict on creatures.

If we are going to minimise harm done to creatures, then we need a way of evaluating the relative harms wrought by alternative courses of action. Some animal rights philosophers have proposed measures which appear relatively straightforward: counting the number of sentient animals or subjects-of-a-life affected. Such proposals can be faulted on both practical and moral grounds. If one confines one's scope to mentally normal mammals aged one year or more (Regan, 1988), then counting the number of victims is easy but morally arbitrary, as it excludes morally significant creatures with minds, such as fish, cephalopods and insects. If, however, one includes these creatures, then counting becomes logistically infeasible.

Additionally, the foregoing proposal simply ignores the biological interests of the other inhabitants of the biosphere: bacteria (many of which are beneficial to human beings and most of which are harmless), protoctista, plants, fungi and simple animals.

Finally, the animal-counting proposal only handles relatively simple cases. While I would agree that the wrongful killing of a sentient animal is worse than the wrongful killing of another organism, in real life, one seldom faces such straightforward choices. Usually one has to choose between killing different populations of organisms (some sentient and some not) which may live in different habitats.

I propose that we evaluate the relative harms caused by alternative courses of action by comparing their overall ecological impacts. There are different measures in use, such as the Ecological Footprint (Wackernagel and Rees, 1995; Redefining Progress, 2004) and the Sustainable Process Index (Narodoslawsky and Krotscheck, 1999). However imperfect they may be, they can serve as a general guide to our actions.

In Appendix B, I discuss some interesting implications of TPHP's fourth condition for one's choice of transport.

The need for ethical long-term planning

The fifth condition relates to long-term projects. A succession of telos-promoting acts, each of which meets the conditions of TPHP (including the "harm minimisation" clause (iv)), may be performed as part of a long-term project, and yet the project as a whole may fail to satisfy the conditions of TPHP - in particular, the harm-minimisation condition. Indeed, if we ignore the fifth condition of TPHP, the project the project could theoretically continue ad infinitum, wreaking great environmental harm.

The proper way to avoid such a paradox is to include a requirement that TPHP's conditions should apply not only to the individual stages in a project, but also to the long-term project as a whole.

In Appendix B, I discuss the implications of this principle for family planning and affluent consumption.

Prohibition of intrinsically immoral acts

TPHP's sixth condition is unavoidable: without it, TPHP is unacceptably selfish. Two cases bring out this point.

(1) Lifeboat dilemmas are a commonplace of ethics textbooks. In the famous case of Regina v. Dudley and Stephens, three sailors (including Dudley and Stephens), who were stranded on a lifeboat, ate a fourth sailor in order to stay alive. Most moralists would agree that the cannibal sailors should be found guilty of murder. Only if one of the sailors starved to death would the others be justified in eating his flesh. However, the first five conditions of TPHP would have allowed the three shipwrecked sailors to kill and eat their companion, because the act promoted the basic human good of health.

(2) In October 1984, the living heart of a seven-month-old female baboon was transplanted into an infant who was nicknamed "Baby Fae" by the press. (The baby died 21 days later.) Even if this procedure had succeeded, many ethicists would condemn it as unacceptably cruel. However, the first five conditions of TPHP set no limit on the kind or degree of cruelty we may inflict on animals, while pursuing basic human goods.

What these cases illustrate is the impossibility of developing a purely egocentric account of morality, because on at least some occasions, my own flourishing as a human being is inseparable from the way in which I treat others. An act which promotes one of the agent's basic human goods may also be morally destructive to the agent on another level - either because it is morally corrupting, destroying my capacity for virtue (if we follow a virtue-based account of morality), or because it over-rides duties which I am bound to recognise under all circumstances (on a duty-based account of morality), or because it violates another individual's rights (on a rights-based account), or because it treats an individual as a mere means to an end (on a Kantian account).

It is not my intention in this thesis to adjudicate between these different accounts of morality. Rather than endorse a single ethical account of what makes an act immoral, I have decided to append a general, catch-all clause prohibiting intrinsically immoral acts, which I re-express in the terminology of several different accounts of ethics. (I have omitted accounts such as utilitarianism, which has no concept of "intrinsically immoral acts".)

The scope of parts (a), (b) and (c) in TPHP's sixth condition includes non-human animals as well as people. Animals fall within the scope of the virtues insofar as we can harm or mistreat them. And the performance of telos-promoting acts that cause extreme distress to animals has the potential to deaden our moral sensitivities.

As morally significant beings, animals also fall within the scope of over-riding obligations. While TPHP certainly justifies the killing of animals for food in the absence of practicable alternatives, there may (as we argued in chapter 5) be an over-riding duty not to kill a companion animal, even in extremis.

Over-riding obligations may sometimes force us to choose a course of action other than the least ecologically harmful one, and settle for a second-best option. Controlled burning may be a very efficient way of removing excess undergrowth in a forest, but one may have to consider another alternative if the forest is the habitat of an endangered animal species (e.g. the koala).

The question of whether animals qualify as rights-bearers requires an analysis of the concept of "right", which I attempt to undertake in Appendix A.

Preserving TPHP as a self-loving ethical principle

The above clause prohibiting intrinsically immoral acts poses a potential danger to any genuinely self-loving environmental ethic. Because it does not spell out what these acts are, its absolute prohibition threatens to undo the philosophical work accomplished by the first five conditions of TPHP, which were designed to guarantee our right to engage in certain kinds of self-promoting acts. To counter this threat, I have decided to add two riders to the clause.

The first rider is a modest one: the only practices it exempts from moral controversy are long-standing practices promoting the survival of the human species. Harmful practices that may have helped certain civilisations to prosper at the expense of others (e.g. slavery or imperialism) are not covered by the first rider.

The second rider is meant to guarantee that people's interests in realising basic human goods shall never be over-ridden by the basic interests of other organisms. Without this guarantee, TPHP could hardly be described as a truly "self-loving" ethic. The only possible exception to this "people-first" rule is where the good in question is one which by its very nature the organism has a prior claim to. I discuss this in Appendix A, in connection with an animal's right to bodily integrity.

Despite the avowedly humanistic bias of the second rider, there are still some situations where it might be rational for me, as a human being, to set aside my basic interests in favour of other organisms. I list a few examples in Appendix B.

Clauses that have not been included in TPHP

Hart (2000) lists several definitions of "sustainability". It might be asked why TPHP does not include a "sustainability clause" stipulating that an activity harming creatures should be ecologically sustainable before it can be deemed morally justifiable. To be sure, clause (v) stipulates that in cases where an action forms part of a larger project, that project should also conform to the harm-minimising condition in clause (iv). However, even the best available means of reducing harm for the project may still be unsustainable over an indefinite period. Should the project then be discontinued?

I think not. Human patterns of activity change over the course of time, in such a way that patterns of activity that would be unsustainable over the long term are usually discontinued before they become a threat to the biosphere. Most of the historical practices that contributed to the survival of the human species would not qualify as "sustainable" if extrapolated into the indefinite future. It would be ethically burdensome to proscribe an ecologically unsustainable action that is only meant to serve as a "stop-gap" until a sustainable alternative is found.

For instance, it would be misanthropic to condemn industrialists living in the 18th century for building ecologically unsustainable smokestacks for their factories at a time when less polluting methods of waste disposal were unavailable. As well as providing people with work, making them more affluent and enabling them to purchase the necessities of life for their families, many of these factories produced goods that, directly or indirectly, saved millions of human lives: disinfectant, cheap soap, toilet paper, stoves for boiling water, and medical instruments, to name just a few.

I have also omitted Regan's worse-off principle from TPHP, because its implicit ranking of basic as well as peripheral goods is potentially extremely prejudicial to human interests. The principle stipulates:

Special considerations aside, when we must decide to override the rights of the many or the rights of the few who are innocent, and when the harm faced by the few would make them worse-off than any of the many would be if the other options were chosen, then we ought to override the rights of the many (1988, p. 305).

If we follow this line of reasoning, then any proposed development (such as a highway) that: (a) enhances a lot of people's opportunities to realise basic goods, (b) does not save any human lives, but (c) results in the deaths of a few animals, will forever be stymied.

Two other principles that I have not included in TPHP are Taylor's (1986) principles of distributive and restitutive justice - the former because its giving equal weight to the basic interests of both human and non-human organisms is incompatible with the avowedly humanistic tenor of TPHP, and the latter because as Sam von Mizener points out, we cannot "make it up" to the organisms we have already killed - and also because the idea of replacing them with other organisms is often impracticable and in any case, goes against Taylor's argument that it is individuals, not ecosystems, that are of primary importance (Nolt, 2000).

While not obligatory, restitution to a species or an ecosystem can nevertheless be seen as a praiseworthy attempt to restore balance to nature for harm done to individuals.

Implications of TPHP regarding cruelty to animals

TPHP excludes cruel acts that are not inherently telos-promoting

The first condition of TPHP only allows us to inflict suffering on creatures when performing an act that inherently tends to promotes a basic human good, and the second condition further stipulates that the suffering itself must either inherently tend to promote a basic human good, or be an unwanted side-effect of the activity. Let us consider the case of a sadist who orders a man to torture a dog, and who threatens to torture and then execute his family if he does not comply. Torturing the dog cannot be excused here as an unintended side-effect of an action: the man has to do it, to humour the sadist into releasing his family. Nor is it an act that promotes a basic human good per se: making the dog suffer does not save any human lives as such, but merely humors the sadist into releasing the man.

Some readers may object to my suggestion that the victim should let his/her entire family be tortured to death rather than torture the dog. It may seem a terrible waste of life to let people die in place of one dog. "Isn't a person's life worth more?", they may ask.

The moral concept that is being introduced here is that of intrinsic value, or more precisely, inherent worth, as Taylor (1986) calls it. It has been argued in the previous chapter that comparisons of the intrinsic values of living things on a single sliding scale are inappropriate: instead of saying that human beings have "more value" than other animals, we should say that they have more "dimensions" of value, as they can realise a greater number of different categories of good.

In any case, neither the statement "A is inherently more valuable than B" nor the statement "A has more dimensions of intrinsic value than B" entails the conclusion, "C may sacrifice B for the sake of A", which is what the sadist wants his victim to do. To justify this conclusion, an additional premise is required: "B exists for the sake of A" - in other words, the Instrumentality Thesis which we rejected at the beginning of this chapter. What the foregoing premises do imply is that it would be worse for C (the man) to kill (or torture) A (a member of the his family) than to do the same to B (the dog). However, that in no way establishes that it would be right to torture the dog.

Is the intentional infliction of suffering ever justified?

On the other hand, TPHP implies that the obligation not to intentionally inflict pain and suffering on animals is only a qualified one. One can envisage an extreme situation - say, a fight to the death with a dangerous animal - where one possessed the means to make the animal desist and run away, but only by inflicting such pain on the animal as to make it too concerned for its own welfare to continue fighting (e.g. fighting off an attacking animal by gouging its eyes). Here, one has to not only inflict suffering on an animal, but intend its suffering as a means to an end: its abandonment of a life-threatening course of action. However, it was argued in chapter five that we may not, under any circumstances, intend an animal's suffering as an end in itself.

TPHP excludes cruel acts that do not minimise harm

TPHP's clause (iv) prohibits cruel practices that do not promote a basic human good, or practices for which there is an alternative, practicable, cruelty-free way of realising the basic good. For instance, even if one argued that bull-fighting was a sport and promoted the human good of play, the practice would still fall foul of TPHP's clause (iv), as many other sports inflict no suffering on animals.

Another example of cruelty excluded by TPHP would be the modern-day slaughter of whales. According to the report, "Troubled Waters", released in 2004 by the Whalewatch coalition, some whales can take over an hour to die, and cites naturalist Sir David Attenborough as likening the harpooning of whales to "a horse having two or three explosive spears stuck in its stomach and being made to pull a butcher's truck through the streets of London while it pours blood into the gutter".

On the other hand, since TPHP has been designed to articulate a self-loving humanistic ethic, it has to sanction, in broad outline, practices that were cruel to animals but historically contributed in a significant way to human survival at times when no alternative was available (e.g. hunting for food and animal husbandry).

6.6 Can harm done to other living things sometimes be justified on ecological grounds?

There is one more kind of harm that has yet to be addressed: sometimes it is necessary to inflict harm on some living things, in order to save other living things. In addition to TPHP, I would like to propose an ethical principle regulating this harm: the Justifiable Defence of an Ecosystem Principle (JDEP).

A human activity which inflicts harm on other living things is justifiable if:

JDEP offers us an ethically sound and realistic way to adjudicate between the competing interests of different species, while looking after ecosystems. The governing idea is not that we have duties to ecosystems as such, but that in addition to their competing short-term interests, nearly all of the organisms in an ecosystem have a long-term interest in keeping their ecosystem sustainable. The sustainability of an ecosystem is a convenient short-hand way of representing the combined interests of the individual organisms living in an ecosystem. If humans manage an ecosystem in accordance with JDEP, they are acting on behalf of these organisms.

One implication of the foregoing proposal is that it would allow what Varner (1998) calls therapeutic hunting, to cull populations of animals in an ecosystem that are growing at an unchecked rate. (A recent example is the culling of koalas on Kangaroo Island in March 2004.)

Another consequence would be that we are permitted to kill introduced species if doing so will save an existing ecosystem or an endangered species. (A case in point is the planned culling of four types of wallaby - the dama or tammar, parma, swamp and brush-tailed rock wallaby - which were introduced to New Zealand from Australia in the 1870s. These wallabies now constitute a threat to native forests on New Zealand's Kawau island, as well as reducing food sources such as worms and insects for native birds. Successful eradication programmes on nearby Rangitoto and Motutapu Islands have led to marked forest re-growth. The Pohutukawa Trust New Zealand plans to eradicate wallabies from the island by 2005, after repatriating a small sample of them to Australia, in order to replenish local breeding stocks. Source: New Zeakland Department of Conservation,

Additionally, JDEP also forbids us to jeopardise ecosystems simply in order to satisfy the needs of companion animals. (While TPHP allows for the possibility of destroying an ecosystem in order to promote human interests, it says nothing about the interests of companion animals.)