Animal experiments are used widely to make new medicines and test the safety of certain products to be used by human beings. The use of animals in laboratory experiments typically involves, causing them distress, pain, or mutilation, housing them in cages, and, finally, killing them. Many of these experiments cause serious suffering to the animals involved or reduce their quality of life in many ways.
The chief reason given for using animals in scientific research is to ensure progress in basic and applied biological and medical science. Moreover, it is also argued that if prevention of human suffering is a moral obligation, then the use of animals is unavoidable in scientific experiments. But the pain and suffering given to animals in scientific experiments raises serious moral issues.
The ethical issue that I take up in this paper is – Is it morally justified to perform experiments on animals for human needs? To analyze this, there seems to be a need to turn towards the basis of moral consideration. One of the most fundamental dividing lines in morality is the one that we draw between those who count in our moral considerations and those who do not, or, as ethicists put it, between those who do and those who don’t have a moral standing. Therefore, it is required to know whether animals are morally considered? Or in other words, do animals have a moral standing? If they have a moral standing then we can probably conclude that there is something immoral if we use animals in human experimentation.
Philosophers have different standpoints on this issue. Many philosophers argue that humans differ from the rest of the natural world. These philosophers would justify certain human practices towards animals. On the other hand, some philosophers argue for the opposite. These philosophers maintain that although humans are different in a variety of ways from animals, these differences do not grant that animals do not have any moral consideration. I will be engaging myself with the views of different philosophers on the moral standing of animals.
1. Moral standing: General Remarks
An important question to be considered initially is what is moral standing? There is a need to know what we mean by moral standing in order to know the moral standing of animals. Generally speaking, the moral standing of a being determines the extent to which its well-being must be ethically considered for its own sake. In other words, to say that someone has a moral standing is to say that, his or her well-being must be given some consideration.
Claire Andre and Manuel Velasquez (1991) consider that, an individual has moral standing for us if we believe that it makes a difference, morally, how that individual is treated, apart from the effects it has on others. That is, an individual has moral standing for us if, when making moral decisions, we feel we ought to take that individual's welfare into account for the individual's own sake and not merely for our benefit or someone else’s benefit.
According to Russ Shafer-Landau (2007) moral standing is its intrinsic moral importance—its ability to impose moral demands on others just by the virtue of its own nature. A person or animal has moral standing provided that we must respect it even when doing so might only thwart our purposes and interest.
Moral standing may or may not entail rights While moral standing is necessary for the possession of rights, it may not be sufficient. So, non-human animals may have moral standing without having any rights (Sytsma and Machery, 2012).
According to some of these above definitions, if entities are said to have moral standing then they deserve moral consideration, or concern, from moral agents. Duties or obligations seems to rests on the moral agents towards entities that have moral standing. Entities that are said to have a moral standing means that those entities morally make a difference. So if animals have moral standing then we mean to say that animals matter to us morally. Duties and obligations seem to rest on other moral agents to protect their well being.
Philosophers have laid down various criteria for moral standing. According to various philosophers there has to been certain essentials that are required in order to claim moral standing. So they offer theories on the basis of which I will try to find whether animals have moral standing.
2. Philosophers on Moral Standing
In this section I consider the ideas of different philosophers on the moral standing to find out whether animals can have moral standing. There are different views maintained by philosophers on this topic. Philosophers have set out some criterion for moral standing. Here I discuss some of them.
Philosophers who rely on rationality as a criteria for moral standing generally hold that only rational agents can be brought under moral purview. Rationality has been one of the most often cited criteria for moral standing This view rests on the assumption of a human characteristic, namely, a characteristic that makes humans different from mere animals and maintains that this is the basis of our moral standing. This can be traced to famous greek philosopher Aristotle’s view that rationality is unique to humans. He saw nature as a hierarchy and maintained that less rational creatures like animals are made for the benefit of those that are more rational such as human beings. Aristotle maintains that plants exist for the sake of animals, and brute beasts for the sake of man (Aristotle quoted in Singer, 1990). Thus, according to Aristotle’s principle of rationality nonhuman animals are incapable of having moral agency as human beings have. What seems to be drawn out Aristotle’s view is that animals cannot have full moral standing, although they might have some sort of lesser moral status.
A similar approach is taken by philosopher Immanuel Kant who suggests that as far as animals are concerned we have no direct moral duties; animals are not self conscious and are there merely as a means to an end. That end is man (Kant in Landau, 2007). It seems that Kant was in agreement with Aristotle as he, too, suggested that reason plays a critical role in morality. In quest to identify the universal principle that determines right and wrong, Kant argued that such a moral principle must be one of pure reason (as opposed to empirical reason) – with moral law being imposed by reason itself rather than by some external enforcer such as God.