Personhood, Ethics, and Animal Cognition: Situating Animals in Hare's Two Level Utilitarianism

By Gary E. Varner | Go to book overview

5
Which Animals Are Sentient?

§5.1. Sentience, Phenomenal Consciousness, and Pain

In his later works, Hare mentioned that sentient animals certainly have moral standing on his theory (MT, pp. 90–91; EB, p. 82), and he credited his former graduate student Peter Singer with drawing his attention to the moral standing of animals (EB, p. 221). Hare published only one paper that was focused on issues involving animals, however—“Why I am only a Demi-Vegetarian,” first published in 1993 as chapter 15 of his Essays on Bioethics —and he nowhere systematically investigated the question of which animals are sentient. Yet this is a key question, because sentience defines the outer limit of the moral community for a Harean utilitarian. Informally stated, Hare argues that the logic of moral discourse requires you to choose as if you had to “stand in the shoes” of everyone affected by your actions. In those informal terms, the answer to the question “Which animals are sentient?” tells us who has shoes to stand in.

In this chapter, I consider how far sentience extends in the animal kingdom. The bulk of the chapter concerns what I call the “standard” argument by analogy concerning pain, which concludes that (with some exceptions perhaps) vertebrates probably are conscious, while invertebrates probably are not. After getting clear about the meanings of “sentience” and some other key terms in this first section, I will discuss animal consciousness and arguments by analogy consciousness in §5.2, and then present the standard argument in §5.3. In §5.4, I respond to two important criticisms of the standard argument. The final section of this chapter is a broader consideration of “what consciousness might do for an organism,” apart from helping it to avoid noxious stimuli, as in the case of pain. The upshot of this first chapter of part II is that good ILS rules governing our treatment of animals will cover at least all vertebrates. The remaining three chapters in this second part of the book will complicate the picture by arguing that a Harean utilitarian should recognize a distinction among persons, near-persons, and the merely sentient, and that while we have no good evidence that any non-human animals are persons, at least some animals probably qualify as near-persons. The extended illustration of Harean

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