onsdag 26 juni 2013

Vegan/strict vegetarian reply: Does animal intelligence matter for their moral value?

A Note on Animal Intelligence

A question I received: "What do you think of the interest in animals who are perceived to be like humans in terms of intelligence. I am thinking about the idea that great apes or dolphins or elephants have greater moral value because they exhibit human type intelligence."

My reply:

A good question.

Let's assume we have two humans: Mary is a math whiz; John is mentally disabled and cannot do math at all. Is the difference in cognitive ability relevant?

It depends on why we are asking the question.

If we are trying to determine who we should hire as a math teacher, the difference in cognitive abilities matters. We should hire Mary.

If we are trying to determine who we should use in a painful biomedical experiment or whose organs we should take to save the lives of others or who we should enslave, the difference in cognitive abilities is completely irrelevant. We should not use either Mary or John exclusively as a resource for others. Mary and John are completely equal as far as their not being used as a resource for others is concerned. If anything, we may have special heightened obligations to those who are more vulnerable.

The same thing goes for nonhuman animals. If an animal is sentient--that is, subjectively aware and able to experience pain, suffering, distress, etc.--we should not use that animal as a human resource. Period. The degree of humanlike intelligence an animal has is completely irrelevant. And we should not accord greater weight to animals who are more "like us" in having humanlike intelligence. For purposes of being used exclusively as a human resource, a mouse has as much moral weight as an elephant.

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