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Equality for Animals


Nils Holtug

1. INTRODUCTION All animals are equal. So says Old Major in George Orwells satirical allegory of the Russian Revolution, Animal Farm. Some moral philosophers have adopted a utilitarian interpretation of Majors slogan, according to which all animals (human and non-human) are entitled to equal consideration of their interests.1 However, surprisingly little attention has been paid to what various forms of egalitarianism imply for the issue of animal ethics.2 In particular, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the fact that egalitarianism, given certain plausible assumptions, implies what Peter Vallentyne has called the problematic conclusion, according to which
1

Most notably Peter Singer, see e.g. his Animal Liberation (New York: Random House, 1975),

All Animals Are Equal, in Peter Singer (ed.), Applied Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), and Practical Ethics, 2nd edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).
2

Exceptions being Richard Arneson, What, if Anything, Renders All Humans Morally Equal,

in Dale Jamieson (ed.), Singer and His Critics (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1999), Jeff McMahan, Cognitive Disability, Misfortune, and Justice, Philosophy and Public Affairs, 25 (1996), Ingmar Persson, A Bassis for (Interspecies) Equality, in Paola Cavalieri and Peter Singer (eds.), The Great Ape Project (London: Fourth Estate, 1993), Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights (London: Routledge, 1984), and Peter Vallentyne, Of Mice and Men: Equality and Animals, in Nils Holtug and Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen (eds.), Egalitarianism. New Essays on the Nature and Value of Equality (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007).

2 morality requires a massive shift of resources away from most humans even most of those with significantly diminished human lives to most mice (and other sentient non-human animals).3 Roughly, egalitarianism has this implication because most non-human animals are in relevant respects much worse off than most humans and so equality requires a massive transfer from the latter to the former. But, to most of us, the problematic conclusion is highly counterintuitive. My concern in this chapter is with the implications of egalitarianism for the issue of nonhuman animals and, in particular, with the problematic conclusion. I guess that many egalitarians will find this problem, construed as a problem for egalitarianism, superficial, or for other reasons of little importance. I, however, find it genuine, and genuinely challenging. First, let me say something about the framework I shall employ. I shall assume that welfare (rather than e.g. resources) is the currency of justice. That is, insofar as we are egalitarians we should be welfare egalitarians and so aim for an equal distribution of welfare. This is a controversial claim, but I shall merely assume it.4 It is, however, worth noting that the
3

Peter Vallentyne, Of Mice and Men: Equality and Animals, p. 212. For an introduction to the currency of egalitarian justice issue (as well as egalitarianism more

generally), see Nils Holtug and Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen, An Introduction to Contemporary Egalitarianism, in Nils Holtug and Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen (eds.), Egalitarianism. New Essays on the Nature and Value of Equality (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007), pp. 2-5. Important contributions to this debate include Richard Arneson, Equality and Equal Opportunity for Welfare, Philosophical Studies, 56 (1989), G.A. Cohen, On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice, Ethics, 99 (1989), Ronald Dworkin, What is Equality? Part 1: Equality of Welfare, Philosophy and Public Affairs, 10 (1981), and Ronald Dworkin, What is Equality? Part 2:

3 problematic conclusion will follow even if we assume e.g. resources to be the currency of egalitarian justice. This is because, just as most non-human animals have a much lower welfare than most humans, they also have much fewer resources. Since my concern is with welfare I am only interested in sentient non-human animals. In the following, then, whenever I refer to non-human animals, I shall take them to be of the sentient kind. I shall also assume that we can gradually improve the welfare of non-human animals by gradually assigning more resources to them. This is perhaps most obvious in the case of factory farming, animal experiments, zoos and other cases in which we treat animals very poorly (note, incidentally, that even if we were to reach the conclusion that meat-eating, harmful animal experiments and zoos should be abandoned, there would still be the issue of what to do with existing farm, laboratory and zoo animals and with respect to them, clearly more resources could increase their welfare). But even in the case of wild animals, it seems true that we can gradually improve their welfare by gradually assigning more resources. For instance, there would seem to be no limit as to how much money could be spent on research on diseases, nutrients etc. to the benefit of non-human animals. This is just to show that the problematic conclusion cannot be blocked by denying that a massive transfer of resources from human to non-human animals could in fact be to the benefit of the latter. Another assumption I shall make is that morality requires that we significantly promote equality. At a minimum, this means that there is a strong pro tanto reason to promote equality. Let me spell this out in greater detail. Perhaps the obligation to promote equality is limited by certain (other) agent-neutral values, say, welfare and autonomy. Perhaps there are also agent-

Equality of Resources, Philosophy and Public Affairs, 10 (1981).

4 relative constraints that imply that there are certain ways in which it is impermissible to promote equality. And perhaps there are agent-relative options and so permissible acts that bring about outcomes that are suboptimal with respect to this value.5 However, insofar as there are such alternative values, constraints and options, they do not rule out there beings ways in which it is permissible and indeed required to promote equality, and these required ways of promoting it are compatible with a high degree of equality. At least, this is what I am assuming for now. Nevertheless, I shall take the egalitarian principle under consideration to be compatible with a paretian requirement, according to which one must not choose a pareto-inferior alternative (i.e. an alternative that is worse for some and better for none). This requirement renders egalitarianism more palatable in that we are not required to level down i.e. render some worse off and none better off whenever doing so would bring about a more equal distribution. While I have thus left some room for deviations from equality, I consider I shall for the most part assume that equality should be maximized. This is just to simplify my discussion. An obligation to redistribute vast amounts of resources from human to non-human animals would follow even if I were to allow for such deviations from equality. I shall also assume that, in the distributions I consider no one is responsible for holding (or deserves to hold) the level of welfare that she holds. While this is of course a controversial claim to make about any actually obtaining distribution, again, it simply serves to simplify my discussion. It allows me to assume that considerations of responsibility and desert do not speak against redistributing resources from human to non-human animals (or the other way around, for that matter). But note that the questions I discuss would arise even if individuals were to some
5

For a description and (critical) discussion of agent-relative constraints and options, see Shelly

Kagan, The Limits of Morality (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989).

5 extent responsible for their shares of welfare. Let us further assume that our egalitarian principle applies to human and non-human animals alike. That is, the moral importance of an inequality does not in itself depend upon whether it obtains between humans (only), or between humans and non-human animals. I shall discuss this assumption in greater detail below. Let us also assume that most non-human animals have a much lower welfare than most humans. This is another assumption I shall return to below. But for now, I simply make these assumptions to set up the egalitarian argument for the problematic conclusion. Most egalitarians hold that whole lives (rather than time-segments or time-slices) is what matters from the perspective of justice. I shall follow them in assuming this.6 So two individuals are equal in welfare in the relevant sense if equal life-time sums of welfare accrue to them. Since most humans have longer lives than most non-human animals and so have more years in which benefits accrue to them, this assumption will tend to strengthen the claim that egalitarianism implies the problematic conclusion. Later in the chapter, I shall consider the possibility of challenging this assumption.
6

Richard Arneson, Equality and Equal Opportunity for Welfare, p. 85, Norman Daniels, The

Prudential Life-span Account of Justice Across Generations, in his Justice and Justification. Reflective Equilibrium in Theory and Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 259-264, Ronald Dworkin, What is Equality? Part 2: Equality of Resources, pp. 304-305, Thomas Nagel, Equality and Priority (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 69, and John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 78. For an introduction to this issue of the temporal unit of egalitarian concern, see Nils Holtug and Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen, An Introduction to Contemporary Egalitarianism, pp. 9-12.

6 So far, I have taken egalitarianism to be compatible with each of two different types of distributive principle, namely egalitarianism (proper) and prioritarianism.7 However, I now want to distinguish between them. According to egalitarianism (proper), we ought to bring about an equal distribution of welfare (perhaps subject to the restrictions mentioned above). Our concern will then be with how much welfare individuals have relative to how much welfare other individuals have. In the following, I shall refer to egalitarianism (proper) simply as egalitarianism. According to prioritarianism, we ought to bring about the highest possible sum of weighted individual welfare, where welfare is weighted such that the worse off an individual is, the greater the value of a further unit of welfare to her (again, perhaps subject to some of the restrictions mentioned above). Unlike egalitarianism, prioritarianism is not concerned with how well off individuals are relative to each other. The moral value of a further unit of welfare to an individual depends only on her own welfare level. Nevertheless, just like egalitarianism, prioritarianism implies that the best possible distribution of a fixed sum of welfare is a perfectly equal distribution. In the following, I shall mostly be concerned with the implications of prioritarianism for the issue of non-human animals. This is partly because I believe that, for independent reasons, prioritarianism is a more plausible distributive principle,8 partly because it is less demanding with respect to our obligations to non-human animals than is egalitarianism and so is, in this respect,
7

Derek Parfit, Equality or Priority?, The Lindley Lecture (University of Kansas, 1991). Nils Holtug, Prioritarianism, in Nils Holtug and Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen (eds.),

Egalitarianism. New Essays on the Nature and Value of Equality (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007).

7 more intuitive. I shall return to both these issues below. But note here that, on the assumptions listed above, both egalitarianism and prioritarianism imply the problematic conclusion. Assuming that most non-human animals are much worse off than most humans, that these individuals are not themselves responsible for their distributive shares, that egalitarianism applies equally to human and non-humans animals, and that we should significantly promote equality, egalitarianism requires a massive shift of resources from most humans to most non-human animals. Likewise, on similar assumptions, prioritarianism implies that most non-human animals have priority over most humans. And so a massive shift of resources would seem to be in order. Note, incidentally, that the issue of non-human animals cannot be considered in isolation from the issue of humans with similar cognitive capacities (e.g., humans with severe cognitive disabilities). Whatever we say about the former is likely to have an impact on what we must say about the latter, and vice versa. But whereas most egalitarians and prioritarians will not be troubled by the thought that humans with severe cognitive disabilities have priority over humans who do not have such disabilities and (for that reason) enjoy higher levels of welfare, I take it that they will be troubled by the claim that non-human animals have such priority. This is another issue I return to below, but it is worth bearing in mind from the outset. In the following, I shall first consider the demandingness of morality with respect to non-humans animals in light of two traditional accounts of animal ethics, namely Peter Singers utilitarianism and Tom Regans (in some respects more prioritarian) animal rights view. This will allow me to relate my discussion to some main themes in contemporary animal ethics, to briefly motivate a distribution-sensitive concern for justice (e.g. egalitarianism or prioritarianism), and to explain why prioritarianism should not take a form in which it gives absolute priority to the very worst off (as in maximin or leximin). Then I shall consider the implications of

8 egalitarianism and prioritarianism in greater detail and motivate my choice of the latter. Furthermore, I shall consider various ways in which prioritarianism might be rendered less demanding with respect to non-human animals, such as to avoid the problematic conclusion. I shall argue that each of these revisions of prioritarianism is either implausible, or does little to reduce demandingness. Finally, I shall briefly reconsider the issue of just how problematic the problematic conclusion is.

2. TWO ACCOUNTS OF ANIMAL ETHICS According to what Thomas Nagel has referred to as an assumption of moral equality between persons, equal weight should be given to each person.9 This is a minimal assumption of equality in the sense that it is compatible with all major distributive principles, including utilitarianism, egalitarianism, prioritarianism and (even) libertarianism. Thus, utilitarians claim that peoples equal interests matter equally, prioritarians that peoples equal weighted interests matter equally, egalitarians that people should have equal shares of welfare or resources (or equal opportunities to obtain them), and libertarians that people have an equal claim to self-ownership. The claim that all animals are equal extends this sort of minimal equality to non-human animals, but like the assumption of moral equality between persons, it does not distinguish between the great majority of even minimally plausible distributive principles. Rather, these principles provide different interpretations of it. Thus, both Peter Singer and Tom Regan perhaps the two most prominent animal ethicists around are able to appeal to the all animals are equal slogan when describing their otherwise rather different accounts of our obligations to
9

Thomas Nagel, Equality, in his Mortal Questions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,

1979), pp. 111-12.

9 non-human animals.10 According to Peter Singers (total act-) utilitarian interpretation of this slogan, all sentient beings are entitled to equal consideration of their interests, where this means that their interests are equally important and should be weighted on the basis of their strength alone.11 According to Singer, this principle implies that we should radically change the way that we treat non-human animals and, amongst other things, abandon factory farming and greatly reduce animal experiments. Presumably, utilitarianism also implies that much more resources should be spent on finding treatments for painful animal diseases and, in general, on improving the conditions of both domestic and wild animals. In these and other respects, utilitarianism is usually considered a very demanding view. In fact, most find it too demanding. As Singer points out, the implications of utilitarianism differ from those of egalitarianism, as can be seen from the following example:

Let us say that there are two victims, one more severely injured than the other, but this time we shall say that the more severely injured victim, A, has lost a leg and is in danger of losing a toe from her remaining leg; while the less severely injured victim, B, has an injury to her leg, but the limb can be saved. We have medical supplies for only one person. If we use them on the more severely injured victim the most we can do is save her toe, whereas if we use them on the less severely injured victim we can save her leg. In other words, we assume that the situation is as follows: without medical treatment, A
10

Peter Singer in All Animals Are Equal and Tom Regan in The Case for Animal Rights

(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), p. 239.


11

Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, Ch. 2.

10 loses a leg and a toe, while B loses only a leg; if we give the treatment to A, A loses a leg and B loses a leg; if we give the treatment to B, A loses a leg and a toe, while B loses nothing.12

Presumably, utilitarianism would imply that we should give the treatment to B, because then the total loss will be a leg and a toe rather than two legs. However, everything else being equal, it would be more equal if each of the two people lost a leg than if one person loses a leg and a toe and the other person loses nothing. Intuitively, I guess that many of us will side with Singer and claim that it is better if one person loses a leg and a toe than if two people each lose a leg. However, we do not need to invoke utilitarianism to explain this judgment. Prioritarians may claim that while A is worse off if she loses a leg and a toe than either A or B is if each lose a leg, the loss of a leg is a much greater loss than the loss of a toe. Therefore, even if we give priority to the interests of A, her interest in not losing a toe is outweighed by Bs interest in not losing a leg. Likewise, some egalitarians will claim that egalitarian concerns should be combined with utilitarian concerns and that all told, such a combined view will also favor giving the treatment to B. Now suppose instead that while A has already lost a leg, both A and B are about to lose a toe if they are not treated, and we can treat only one of them. Suppose also that losing a toe will be equally harmful to each. Here, utilitarianism implies that, everything else being equal, it is indifferent whether A or B receives the treatment. Both egalitarianism and prioritarianism, on the other hand, plausibly imply that everything else being equal, the treatment should go to the unfortunate A, who is already much worse off than B. And such concern for the worse off, or
12

Singer, Practical Ethics, p. 25.

11 equality, is of course what motivates some of us to reject utilitarianism in favour of prioritarianism or egalitarianism. Tom Regan adopts a rather different and in at least one respect more prioritarian interpretation of the claim that all animals are equal. According to Regan, all sentient beings have an inherent value that cannot be reduced to the value of their own or anyone elses experiences and they have this value equally. This means that they are not to be treated as mere receptacles of welfare and that they should not be harmed merely because this would yield the best aggregate consequences.13 Thus, what Regan proposes here is an agent-relative constraint

13

Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights, pp. 276-77. Regan explicitly complains that

utilitarianism treats sentient beings as mere receptacles, whose welfare can simply be aggregated to determine the moral status of acts (pp. 200-11). When explaining what he means by mere receptacles of welfare, he attributes to utilitarians the view that they [i.e. sentient beings] have no value of their own; what has value is what they contain (i.e., what they experience) (p. 205). However, this is misleading, at best. It is true that according to impersonal utilitarianism, welfare is good, period, and sentient beings are valuable only because and insofar as they contain it. However, according to person-affecting utilitarianism, this is not true. Rather, welfare is good because it is what is good for sentient beings. For a further account of the difference between these two kinds of utilitarianism and, more generally, the difference between impersonal and person-affecting ethics, see Nils Holtug, Person-affecting Moralities, in Jesper Ryberg and Torbrn Tnnsj (eds.), The Repugnant Conclusion. Essays on Population Ethics (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004).

12 against harming (innocent) sentient beings.14 Regans animal rights view is therefore in some respects more demanding than Singers utilitarianism, e.g. because it implies a complete ban on meat-eating and harmful animal experiments. However, in other respects, it may be less demanding. Thus, Regan does not claim (but nor does he deny) that we have an obligation to prevent harm to non-human animals, where this harm is not the result of agency.15 Utilitarianism, on the other hand, implies that we have at least a pro tanto moral reason to, say, develop and utilize a vaccine against a widespread and painful disease that a certain species of wild animals suffers from. Regans anti-aggregationism also comes out in a principle he calls the worse-off principle:

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 any other option were chosen, then we ought to override the rights of the many.16

The worse-off principle implies that in the case in which A has already lost a leg and either A or B will further lose a toe, it is better if B loses it than if A does, because if A were to also lose a toe, this would render her worse off than B would be if it were she who were to lose it (while the
14

Strictly speaking, this is not quite right. Regan does permit some acts of intentional harm, e.g.

in cases of innocent shields and innocent threats; see The Case for Animal Rights, pp. 291-94.
15

Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights, pp. xxvi-xxvii. Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights, p. 308.

16

13 worse-off principle speaks of the few and the many, it is supposed to also apply to cases of equal numbers). Likewise, if the choice were between saving As toe and a toe on each of ten other people (who had not lost a leg), it is As toe that should be saved, because the interests of the ten should not be aggregated and so cannot outweigh As claim to the treatment. Thus, the worse-off principle has a built-in tendency to equalize welfare. After all, improving the lot of A rather B, or even ten people in Bs position, will have a welfare-equalizing effect. However, the worse-off principle is not an egalitarian principle. Rather, it is more akin to maximin, because it gives absolute priority to the very worst off in cases of conflicting interests. And like maximin, it is excessive in its concern for the very worst off. Suppose we can realize one of the following two outcomes (the numbers represent individual welfare levels): A = (-50, 100, 100 100) and B = (-49, -49, -49 -49). In A, one individual suffers horribly her life is much worse than nothing whereas everyone else has an extremely good and rewarding life. In B, everyone suffers horribly, although slightly less than the first individual does in A. Both maximin and the worse-off principle imply that it is better to bring about B than to bring about A. This will be so quite independently of how many individuals there are in the group that is much better off in A. Surely this cannot be right. This case shows us why prioritarians should not assign absolute priority to the very worst off. Rather, prioritarians should gradually assign more weight to benefits, the worse off the recipient is. Thus, while it is more important to raise the first individual from -50 to -49 than to raise another individual from -49 to -48, it is not more important to raise the first individual from -50 to -49 than to raise an indefinite number of individuals from -49 to 100. Therefore, Regans animal rights view does not provide a plausible basis for an adequate prioritarian account of our obligations to non-human animals.

14 3. EQUALITY AND PRIORITY As we have seen, utilitarianism is a rather demanding view. It requires us not only to radically reform our practices with respect to meat-eating, animal experiments, hunting, breeding of pets, zoos etc., but also more generally to transfer resources from human to non-human animals until the point where the marginal welfare loss to humans equals the marginal welfare gain to nonhuman animals. However, egalitarianism is more demanding still. On certain plausible empirical assumptions, egalitarianism requires us to transfer resources to non-human animals well beyond this point. Thus, it seems plausible that, at least when basic needs have been met, most humans are more efficient than most non-human animals at converting resources into welfare. This is partly because of their superior cognitive skills, but also because it seems plausible that humans have more of the sort of neurons, neurotransmitters, receptors etc. relevant for pleasure (and pain). Since humans are more efficient converters, utilitarianism implies that humans should also receive more resources. In a utilitarian scheme, then, most humans will receive more resources than most non-human animals and since they are in any case more efficient converters, they will end up with higher levels of welfare. Egalitarianism, on the other hand, implies that even if humans are more efficient converters, we must sacrifice efficiency when doing so is necessary to promote equality (perhaps subject to the restrictions mentioned in Section 1). Therefore, just as we should be willing to spend resources on sick and disabled people out of proportion to their ability to convert them into welfare,17 we should be willing to spend resources on non-human animals out of proportion to their ability to convert. Thus, even if, say, a certain cancer research project is likely to greatly
17

Amartya Sen, On Economic Inequality (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973), pp. 16-18.

15 increase our ability to treat various forms of human cancer, it may be less important than a research project that is likely to increase our ability to treat a certain disease that afflicts deer in national parks, even if the former project would be much better in terms of total welfare. Of course, egalitarians are able to reject the problematic conclusion if they deny some of the assumptions I made in Section 1. One of these assumptions was that equality should be significantly promoted. I took this assumption to be compatible with a paretian requirement, according to which one must never choose a pareto-inferior alternative. However, one could of course introduce a stronger requirement of efficiency, thus rendering the egalitarian position under consideration closer to utilitarianism. Along these lines, it has been suggested that combining egalitarian concerns with utilitarian ones is a plausible way of decreasing what would otherwise be an excessively demanding obligation to promote the welfare of non-human animals.18 In effect, such a version of egalitarianism may be indistinguishable from prioritarianism in terms of the policies it recommends. Nevertheless, I believe that prioritarianism is the more plausible of these two distributive views. I cannot fully defend this claim here, but let me nevertheless say the following. Many egalitarians consider equality non-instrumentally valuable. They will therefore claim that more equal outcomes are in one respect better than less equal outcomes, even if they are not better all things considered. This renders them vulnerable to the so-called levelling down objection.19 According to this objection, it is implausible to claim that it is in even one respect better to increase equality when doing so harms some and benefits none. In other words, these egalitarians will claim that (1, 1) is in one respect better than (2, 1), although
18

Ingmar Persson, A Basis for (Interspecies) Equality, p. 192. Derek Parfit, Equality or Priority, p. 17.

19

16 (for reasons of efficiency) not better all things considered, and this is implausible. After all, the increase in equality in (1, 1) is better for no one.20 Prioritarianism, on the other hand, is not vulnerable to the levelling down objection, as it does not any make claims about the noninstrumental value of equality. Nevertheless, not all versions of egalitarianism are vulnerable to this objection, e.g. because they do not make claims about the relative worth of outcomes but only (say) about the rightness of acts. I cannot go further into this issue here.21 Instead, let me simply note that what I say about the implications of prioritarianism for our obligations to non-human animals will apply equally to versions of egalitarianism that yield equivalent policy recommendations. Like egalitarianism, prioritarianism seems to speak in favour of a massive shift of resources from most humans to most non-human animals. That is, it seems to imply the problematic conclusion. After all, since most non-human animals have lower levels of welfare,
20

I consider this objection to egalitarianism, and various replies that may be made on behalf of

the egalitarian, in much greater detail in Nils Holtug, Egalitarianism and the Levelling Down Objection, Analysis, 58 (1998), Good for Whom?, Theoria, lxix (2003), Prioritarianism, and A Note on Conditional Egalitarianism, Economics and Philosophy (forthcoming).
21

But see e.g. Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen, The Insignificance of the Distinction Between Telic

and Deontic Egalitarianism, in Nils Holtug and Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen (eds.), Egalitarianism. New Essays on the Nature and Value of Equality (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007), pp. 118-23. Here he argues that at least some versions of such deontic egalitarianism are vulnerable to a slightly revised version of the levelling down objection.

17 they have priority over most humans. This is especially obvious in the case of principles such as maximin (and leximin) that assign absolute priority to the very worst off. Such principles imply that we should transfer resources to the very worst off until the point where we cannot do anymore for them (again, perhaps subject to the restrictions mentioned in Section 1). Presumably, this will imply a huge shift of resources from most humans to most non-human animals. However, as I pointed out when discussing Regans animal rights view, it seems implausible to assign absolute priority to the very worst off. I suggested that therefore, we should rather gradually assign more weight to benefits, the worse off the recipient is. This means that benefits at higher levels will outweigh benefits at lower levels if sufficient in size and/or number. Thus, if the benefit we may bestow on a human is sufficiently great compared to the benefit we may bestow on a worse off non-human animal, the benefit should go to the human. However, if the benefits are equal in size, they should go to the worse off non-human animal, everything else being equal. Note that prioritarianism is therefore less demanding with respect to non-human animals than egalitarianism (or rather, than the version of egalitarianism I considered first that includes only a weak efficiency requirement). Alternative values, constraints and options aside, egalitarianism does, whereas prioritarianism need not, require us to sacrifice a huge increase to better off humans in order to obtain a small increase to worse off non-human animals. Nevertheless, prioritarianism is still very demanding and more so than e.g. utilitarianism. After all, everything else being equal, prioritarianism does require us to give a benefit to a worse off non-human animal rather than give an equal benefit to a better off human, assuming that we can only benefit one of them. Note also that it is the priority weights in prioritarianism that determine exactly how demanding this principle is with respect to non-human animals. So one way of reducing such

18 demands is to give less priority to the worse off. However, doing so will of course also reduce the priority we give to worse off humans and for this reason, understandably, it is something most prioritarians will be quite hesitant to do.

4. WELFARE Our assessment of just how demanding prioritarianism is will of course also depend upon how human and non-human animals compare with respect to their welfare levels. And our assessment of their relative welfare will crucially depend on the particular theory of welfare assumed. So far, I have simply assumed that most humans are much better off than most non-human animals. I shall now consider this question in greater detail. Some theories of welfare may actually imply that, in general, human and many nonhuman animals (say, many non-human mammals) have roughly equal welfare (at least as long as we ignore the fact that humans typically have longer lives). For instance, perhaps some (crude) versions of hedonism imply this. That is, perhaps on some understanding of pleasure and pain, human and many non-human animals have roughly equal overall amounts of them. Likewise, there may be some (crude) preference theories - in which the number, intensity and sophistication of preferences held by an individual do not affect her welfare - that have a similar implication. Furthermore, there is a possible version of perfectionism that implies that two individuals have equal welfare if they equally realize their particular species-typical potentialities. So if a human realizes her (human) potential to the very same degree as a dog realizes its (canine) potential, they are equally well off.22 The point is that, if we assume one of
22

Of course, historically, perfectionists have focused on the superior capacities of humans and

taken them to justify the claim that humans have superior welfare.

19 these theories (and set aside the issue of life-length), prioritarianism may not imply that, in general, non-human animals have priority over humans. On the other hand, many theories of welfare will clearly imply that humans generally have much better lives than non-human animals. This is most obvious with respect to objective list theories that emphasis the value of autonomy, knowledge and other items that require a high degree of psychological sophistication in order to be instantiated. But it is also likely to be the case according to preference theories that focus on the number, intensity and sophistication of preferences, and also according to less crude versions of hedonism. However, theories that imply that non-human animals are generally worse off than humans may also tend to imply that, in general, we can benefit humans more than we can benefit animals. After all, if, say, knowledge is a supreme value and (mere) pleasure is not, then it may take a lot of pleasure to counterbalance even a limited amount of knowledge. Therefore, even if a non-human animal has priority over a human, it may very well be the case that the benefits we are normally in a position to confer on the human are much greater than the benefits we can normally confer on the animal and so outweigh them. Of course, sometimes a human and a non-human animal will be equally well (or badly) off. Suppose that they are undergoing equal amounts of severe pain and for that reason have equal welfare. Suppose also that we can give only one of them a painkiller and that it would equally benefit them. Everything else being equal, prioritarianism then implies that it would be just as good to give the painkiller to the non-human animal as to the human. And this, I think, is as it should be. Admittedly, these points about welfare are rather speculative. But it seems to me plausible that, on average, non-human animals have a significantly lower welfare than humans. It also seems plausible that, although in many cases we are in a position to benefit human more than

20 non-human animals, there are also many cases in which roughly equal resources will contribute roughly equal benefits. At least this is what I shall assume in the following. On these assumptions, prioritarianism remains a rather demanding view.

5. RESTRICTIONS ON SCOPE How, then, might a prioritarian attempt to lessen to the commitment to the welfare of non-human animals? That is, how might she resist the conclusion that we are required to implement a massive shift of resources from most humans to most non-human animals? One suggestion, which I mention only to be able to ignore in the following, is to claim that animals do not fall within the scope of prioritarianism, because they have no moral standing. The individuals referred to in prioritarianism are human individuals. This, of course, is to challenge an assumption I made in Section 1, according to which the distributive principle under consideration should apply to human and non-human animals alike. It seems to me that the philosophical discussion of animal ethics the last thirty years shows that this option is a non-starter. There is no property that all humans share, but no nonhuman animal has, that can justify the exclusion of non-human animals from our distributive principle(s).23 A second suggestion is that only self-conscious beings fall within the scope of prioritarianism. That is, prioritarianism assigns weight only to benefits to self-conscious beings. While some non-human animals such as chimpanzees may well be self-conscious and thus be entitled to priority, most non-human animals (I take it) will not be so entitled. However, this also
23

For a discussion of various human properties that may be - and have been - claimed to justify

the superior moral standing of humans, see Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, Ch. 3.

21 implies that some humans will not be catered for by prioritarianism, including infants and some cognitively disabled people. This strikes me as wildly implausible and I shall not consider this suggestion any further here.

6. PRIORITY RELATIVE TO SPECIES MEMBERSHIP Another way of rendering prioritarianism less sensitive to the welfare of non-human animals would be by making priority levels relative to properties certain individuals have; properties, that tend to favour humans. I shall consider several such proposals, beginning with the crudest and (I take it) least plausible. Suppose we accept that (sentient) non-human animals fall under the scope of prioritarianism, but then claim that what determines an individuals level of priority is not her welfare level, but rather her welfare level relative to what is (in some appropriate sense) normal for individuals of her species. The better this individual does in comparison to other members of her species, the lower the degree of priority. This suggestion implies that a human that is worse off than humans normally are would have priority over a dog that is better off than dogs normally are, even if the human is better off than the dog. Thus, it is not in general true that non-human animals have priority over humans. However, I do not believe that this suggestion works. To determine priority functions on the basis of species-membership is simply speciecist and so an instance of arbitrary discrimination. The mere fact that a dog is a dog and so belongs to a species that generally has less welfare than humans cannot justify giving it less priority. In particular, it seems arbitrary to hold that if a human and a non-human animal have equal capacities for welfare, the human should nonetheless have priority. Nevertheless, there are other ways of fixing priority levels that do not rely on species membership, but do tend to favour humans.

22

7. PRIORITY RELATIVE TO COMPARABLE PSYCHOLOGICAL POTENTIALS An individuals priority level may be fixed relative to what is (in some appropriate sense) normal for individuals with comparable psychological potentials.24 Like the former suggestion, this suggestion implies that a human (with normal psychological potentials) that is worse off than (similar) humans normally are has priority over a dog (with normal dog psychological potentials) that is better off than (similar) dogs normally are, even if the human is better off than the dog. And since it does not rely on species-membership, it is not speciecist. One problem with this account is that we seem to need some sort of restriction on which potentials count, when assessing priorities. In a sense, a dog has the potential to become a rocket scientist and indeed enjoy a welfare level equivalent to that of a typical human, namely if the dog could be genetically enhanced to achieve this (assuming, that is, that the genetic enhancement is identity-preserving25). Thus, it may be suggested that the relevant sort of potential is intrinsic

24

This suggestion is heavily influenced by Jeff McMahans account of fortune. McMahan claims

that an individuals fortune depends on whether his gains from life are below or above the norm for individuals with psychological potentials similar to his own (Jeff McMahan, The Ethics of Killing. Problems at the Margins of Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 145165). However, McMahans concern here is not distributive justice but an assessment of the badness of death.
25

What this means is that an individual only the potential to become an x (in the relevant sense)

if its being an x is compatible with its survival. Thus, uncontroversially, I do not have the potential to become a stone, because any process that would transform me into a stone would be

23 potential; the potential an individual has in virtue of properties that are, in some appropriate sense, part of its innate constitution.26 It then follows that becoming a rocket scientist and achieving the welfare level of a normal human is not, in the relevant sense, a potential of the dog. However, there are various problems with this restriction on potentials. First, animals, human and non-human, require certain external factors, including nutrients, to survive and so realize their capacities. Thus, it would seem that none of us has the intrinsic potential to realize welfare at all, let alone the level that he or she in fact does realize.27 Second, there are humans who suffer from congenital cognitive disabilities and for that reason do not have the intrinsic potential to realize a very high level of welfare. On the account I am presently considering this means that, if such a disabled person is better off than most others with similar disabilities and I am worse off than most people with potentials similar to mine, then I have priority over the disabled person, even if I am much better off than him. This conclusion seems to me contrary to what a prioritarian would (and should) want to claim. Furthermore, the problem with this account is not just that it seems difficult to provide a suitable account of potential. A further problem is that an individuals priority is rendered relative to what happens to be normal for individuals with similar psychological potentials. Suppose that, for some reason, there is a dramatic decline in the average level of welfare enjoyed by human beings. Perhaps some new horrible disease occurs. Suppose also that a small group of people is in fact immune to this disease. Nevertheless, since there is a dramatic drop in average

one that, in effect, killed me and replaced me with a stone. However, I do (in the relevant sense!) have the potential to become Prime Minister.
26

Jeff McMahan, The Ethics of Killing, p. 152. Jeff McMahan, The Ethics of Killing, p. 152.

27

24 welfare amongst individuals with comparable psychological potentials, each of these immune individuals will now experience a dramatic decline in priority. Since they are now much better off than comparable individuals normally are, they will have less priority than most non-human animals, namely all those non-human animals that are not equally well off relative to what is normal for individuals that have psychological potentials similar to theirs. But since no changes have occurred to either immune humans or non-human animals, such a change in priority between them seems absurd.

8. PRIORITY RELATIVE TO EXCESS OVER RELEVANT WELFARE A lesson to be learned from the discussion in the last section seems to be that priority should not be settled on the basis of how an individuals welfare compares to a group but rather, in some appropriate way, to her own potential. And indeed, in an intriguing discussion of the implications of egalitarianism for non-human animals, Peter Vallentyne considers various suggestions as to what is to be equalized that incorporate this very claim. The most promising suggestion is what he calls fortune as excess over relevant intermediate wellbeing, according to which fortune, for a given individual, is the excess of welfare over her relevant intermediate level of welfare (where shortfalls are negative excesses, and thus cases of misfortune).28 Here is one way of fleshing out this idea. Each individual has a potential-relative welfare ratio, which is simply her welfare divided by the highest welfare she could possibly achieve (if, for instance, all the resources in the world were devoted to her). Thus, if an individual has a welfare of 1 but could have a welfare of 2 (and no more than that), her potential-relative welfare ratio is 0.5. We can then define the maximum achievable average potential welfare ratio, which
28

Peter Vallentyne, Of Mice and Men: Equality and Animals, p. 223.

25 is the highest average ratio that individuals can achieve, given the total amount of resources in the world. Thus, if there are only two individuals and they could have ratios of either 0.5 and 0.5 (average: 0.5), or 0.4 and 0.8 (average: 0.6), the maximum achievable average potential welfare ratio is 0.6. Finally, an individuals maximum achievable average potential welfare point is the level of welfare that gives her the maximum average potential-relative welfare ratio. Thus, if the maximum achievable average potential welfare ratio is 0.6 and an individuals maximum welfare is 10, then her maximum achievable average potential welfare point is 6. If she has a higher level of welfare than her maximum achievable average potential welfare point, then her fortune is the absolute difference between her welfare and this point (and if she has less, her misfortune is also measured in terms of the absolute difference). This implies that if a human and a non-human animal are both at their maximum achievable average potential welfare points (or are equally above it, or equally below it), then they are, in the relevant sense, equal. So if the maximum average potential-relative welfare ratio is 0.6 and the human has a maximum welfare of 10 and the animal of 1, then they are equal if for instance they have a welfare of, respectively, 6 and 0.6. And so, even if non-human animals are in general worse off than humans, equality does not require a massive shift of resources from most humans to most non-human animals. Now, prioritarians will not aim to equalize fortune as excess over relevant intermediate wellbeing, but they may instead use this measure to fix priority levels. Along such lines, it may be suggested that the further below its maximum achievable average potential welfare point an individual is (in absolute terms), the greater priority it is entitled to, and the further above this point it is, the less priority it is entitled to. Thus, in the case just described above, the human and the non-human animal are entitled to equal levels of priority if they have welfare levels of 6 and 0.6, respectively. And they are entitled to higher levels of priority than those who are above their

26 maximum achievable average potential welfare points, and less priority than those who are below. We therefore reach the verdict that just like egalitarianism, prioritarianism does not require a massive shift of resources from most humans to most non-human animals. However, as I have already pointed out and as Vallentyne emphasizes, it may one day become possible to genetically enhance many non-human animals such that they gain much higher capacities for welfare. In fact, they may gain capacities equivalent to those of humans. Therefore, whether we say that they now have such potentials or just say that they will gain them when science progresses enough, the problem of massive shifts of resources from humans to nonhuman animals will eventually return.29

9. PRIORITY RELATIVE TO MORAL STANDING Because of the possibility of genetic enhancements, Vallentyne suggests another possible solution. Very roughly, the core idea is that fortune that which is to be equalized - is welfare relativized to degree of moral standing, where an individuals moral standing is grounded in her capacity for welfare.30 Unlike an individuals potential for welfare, her capacity for welfare is something that can be realized now. Therefore, even if a non-human animal has the potential for as much welfare as a human, namely if the animal is genetically enhanced, it does not now have the capacity to realize such a high welfare. Vallentyne fleshes out the core idea by suggesting that, for non-negative levels of welfare, fortune is welfare divided by degree of moral standing. Thus, assuming that most non-human animals will have a much lower moral standing than most humans, they may well have equal
29

Peter Vallentyne, Of Mice and Men: Equality and Animals, pp. 224-228. Peter Vallentyne, Of Mice and Men: Equality and Animals, pp. 228-235.

30

27 fortunes, even if humans have a much higher welfare. For instance, a non-human animal that has a moral standing of 0.01 and a welfare of 1 will have a fortune equal to that of a human who has a moral standing of 1 and a welfare of 100 (both have a fortune of 100). Therefore, according to Vallentyne, they are in the relevant sense equal. And, as a prioritarian may argue, they are entitled to equal levels of priority. Again, no massive shift of resources from most humans to most animals is warranted. In fact, Vallentynes suggestion is much more sophisticated than this, but for present purposes, no greater degree of sophistication is needed. This is because the objections I shall raise apply equally to Vallentynes more sophistication version. Also, what I shall consider is the prioritarian version of Vallentynes idea, rather than the egalitarian version he himself considers. However, the objections I shall raise apply to both versions. Since (most) humans have a much higher moral standing than (most) non-human animals, or so we are assuming, benefits to humans tend to matter much more than benefits to animals. This is because, for any given welfare level, this welfare level will amount to a much lower fortune for a human than for a non-human animal (with a much lower moral standing). But is this really plausible? My first objection is that it is simply not plausible for a prioritarian (or for an egalitarian, for that matter) to sacrifice the welfare of individuals with a low moral standing to the extent suggested by Vallentynes approach. It means that a small increase to a human who is much better off (in terms of welfare) may outweigh a large increase to a nonhuman animal that is much worse off. Furthermore, a small increase to a much better off human with normal cognitive capacities may outweigh a large increase to a much worse off human with a severe congenital cognitive disability (and so a lower capacity for welfare and hence lower moral standing). And finally, a small increase to a much better off healthy human may outweigh a large increase to a much worse off human with an untreatable disease that continuously causes

28 her to experience pain (where her capacity for welfare is therefore low).31 This strikes me as rather disturbing and in any case something a prioritarian will want to reject. To further bring out the point that individuals with a low(er) moral standing are being unreasonably sacrificed it may be helpful to consider a case in which we, you and I, are at the less attractive end of the spectrum of welfare capacities. Suppose non-terrestrial aliens arrive who have enormous capacities for welfare (they are - in that sense - utility monsters, to use Nozicks catchy phrase). It seems as if, according to the view under consideration, a massive shift in resources from us to them in appropriate circumstances would be an improvement, even if we are much worse off than they are, and in fact gain greater welfare from our resources than they would. Consider also negative welfare levels. As Vallentyne is well aware, an individuals negative welfare cannot simply be divided by her moral standing in order to reach a measure of her fortune. Suppose a human has a welfare of -100 and a moral standing of 1, whereas an animal has a welfare of -1 and a moral standing of 0.01. This means that both have a fortune of -100 and so implausibly implies that they are entitled to equal levels of priority. Instead, Vallentyne tentatively suggests that negative welfare should be multiplied by degree of moral standing when assessing an individuals fortune.32 This plausibly implies that the worse off human has priority over the better off animal (their fortunes are then -100 and -0.01, respectively). However, this suggestion implies that it may be better to inflict a large amount of pain on a worse off non31

As we have seen, Vallentyne defines fortune for non-negative levels of welfare but we may

assume that, despite her pains, the afflicted person manages always to realize a positive (albeit low) welfare level.
32

Peter Vallentyne, Of Mice and Men: Equality and Animals, p. 230 (note 13).

29 human animal (or a human with a severe cognitive disability, or a human with an untreatable painful disease) than to inflict a small amount of pain on a (healthy) better off human. But a unit of pain does not hurt any less, just because it accrues to a being with lower capacities (this, of course, is true by definition). And so, once again, this version of prioritarianism seems insufficiently sensitive to the plight of beings with low capacities for welfare. A second objection is that not only does Vallentynes approach sacrifice the welfare of beings with low moral standing, it also implies that we can downplay the importance of welfare to certain individuals by ensuring that they remain at such a low moral standing. Suppose, for instance, that by not adequately feeding a baby, we can ensure that she will develop a cognitive disability and in fact only reach a moral standing of, say, 0.01. Had we adequately fed her, on the other hand, she would have reached a (normal) level of 1. This means that since we have not adequately fed her, we need only confer one unit of welfare on her in order for her to acquire a fortune equivalent to what normal humans need 100 units to acquire. And so by depriving her of what would have been a much better future for her, we enable ourselves to downplay the importance of benefits accruing to her and so, relatively speaking, to increase the importance of benefits to ourselves. Again, this does not seem right.33
33

In his more sophisticated account, Vallentyne stresses that just like her present capacities, an

individuals actual future capacities may influence her level of fortune (Peter Vallentyne, Of Mice and Men: Equality and Animals, p. 232). However, since the baby is in fact not fed, her future capacities will always be limited. In other words, the fact that she could have had higher capacities does not boost her moral standing. Also, Vallentyne suggests that an individual may have a claim to having her capacities enhanced if they have been wrongfully thwarted (p. 231, note 14). However, the baby does not yet have these capacities and so it is not clear that they are

30

10. THE TEMPORAL UNIT OF DISTRIBUTIVE CONCERN Let me now consider a final manoeuvre prioritarians may make to try to render our obligations to non-human animals less excessive. One of the assumptions I made in Section 1 was that whole lives are what matter from the perspective of justice. This assumption reinforces the problematic conclusion because humans tend to have longer lives than most non-human animals (assuming, of course, that these extra years are valuable ones). Alternatively, it may be claimed that time-segments or time-slices are what matter when assessing how well off an individual is from the perspective of justice. These alternative views will tend to downplay the extent to which humans are better off than non-human animals and so the extent to which redistribution in favour of the latter is required. Consider time-slice prioritarianism, which is the view that has the largest such impact. According to time-slice prioritarianism, the lower an individuals welfare at some point in time t, the higher the value of a further benefit to this individual at t. Thus, if one individual is now worse off than another, it is more urgent now to benefit the former individual than the latter, even if the latter will have the better life (taken as a whole). Now consider a particular distribution, A, where h is a human and a is a non-human animal, T1-T4 are time-slices and the numbers refer individual welfare levels:

A h

T1 12

T2 12

T3 12

T4 12

Total 48

thwarted. In any case, if we claim that they are thwarted, what reason can we give for why a nonhuman animal does not have its capacities thwarted when we refuse to enhance it?

31 a 2 2

For simplicity, I have assumed that a exists only in one time-slice and h only in four. This is just to bring out that h has the longer life. Also, h is better off at each point in time than a is in the only time-slice in which she exists, T1. Finally, suppose that we can redistribute such as to bring about either B or C:

B h a

T1 10 10

T2 10 -

T3 10 -

T4 10 -

Total 40 10

C h a

T1 6.25 25

T2 6.25 -

T3 6.25 -

T4 6.25 -

Total 25 25

According to whole lives prioritarianism, we should bring about C, because the best possible distribution of a fixed sum of welfare is a distribution that gives individuals equal life-time shares. According to time-slice prioritarianism, on the other hand, we should bring about B, because the best possible distribution of a fixed sum of welfare is a distribution that gives individuals equal shares at particular times. And since there is less of a transfer from h to a in B than in C, time-slice prioritarianism is the less demanding view with respect to non-human animals.

32 Nevertheless, even if time-slice prioritarianism is less demanding than whole lives prioritarianism, it is still rather demanding. After all, it is plausible that not only over whole lives but also at particular times, humans are on average much better off than non-human animals. And so, in general, non-human animals will still have priority over humans. Furthermore, time-slice prioritarianism suffers from the drawback that it is insensitive to the sort of inter-temporal compensation that can take place in a life. Suppose that one individual, a, is now worse off than another individual, b, but better off than b at all other times. In fact, he is much better off at these other times and so has a much higher life-time sum of welfare. Suppose also that we can now provide a benefit for either a or b. According to time-slice prioritarianism, it should go to a. It is simply irrelevant that a is better off than b at all other times. But this seems wrong. Surely as present hardship is to some extent compensated by his being better off at other times. Therefore, time-slice prioritarianism implausibly fails to cater for the importance of intertemporal compensation. Prioritarians can respond by either giving up time-slice prioritarianism in favour of whole lives prioritarianism, or at least by combining these two distributive concerns.34 But in either case, they will once again be pumping up our moral obligations with respect to non-human animals.

11. CONCLUSION
34

For the suggestion that these two versions of prioritarianism should be (suitably) combined, see

Dennis McKerlie, Egalitarianism and the Difference Between Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Judgments, in Nils Holtug and Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen (eds.), Egalitarianism. New Essays on the Nature and Value of Equality (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007).

33 I end my discussion of what justice implies for non-human animals here. I have mainly focussed on (a version of) prioritarianism and suggested that it would seem to imply the problematic conclusion. I have then considered various ways in which prioritarians may seek to render this view less demanding than it initially seems: restrict its scope such that it does not apply to nonhuman animals, or render priority levels relative to species membership, individuals with comparable psychological capacities, excess over relevant welfare, or moral standing. Furthermore, I have considered the case for substituting whole lives prioritarianism with timeslice prioritarianism. However, I have argued that all these suggestions fail. Nevertheless, as I have also noted, much depends on the theory of welfare we feed into prioritarianism. Some such theories will imply that the gap in welfare between human and nonhuman animals is large, others that it is smaller, just as some will imply that we are mostly in a position to provide much greater benefits for humans, whereas others will be less generous towards humans in this regard. I am myself inclined to accept the implications of prioritarianism with respect to nonhuman animals. While these implications may seem counterintuitive, the counterintuitiveness may very well be due to speciecist and so unreliable intuitions about fairness. Thus, I do not find it counterintuitive that justice requires us to give priority to people who have severe cognitive disabilities and short lives, and are for this reason much worse off than others. It is therefore up to prioritarians (and egalitarians) who do not find the relevant implications of prioritarianism (and egalitarianism) acceptable to come up with a version of one of these principles that does not imply them. But, as I have argued, this may not be an easy task.35
35

I would like to thank members of the audience at my talk on Prioritarianism, Animals and

Future Generations at the Oxford University Moral Philosophy Seminar, 2006, for helpful

34

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