Why Animals Matter for Climate Change
(Oxford University Press, in contract)
In this book I argue that animals matter for climate change and that climate change matters for animals. In particular, many animals (especially farmed animals) will have a significant impact on the climate, and the climate will also have a significant impact on many animals (especially wild animals). As a result, I argue, we morally ought to center animals in our attempts to address climate change. In particular, we morally ought to resist animal agriculture as part of our mitigation efforts and assist wild animals as part of our adaptation efforts. I also evaluate different strategies for accomplishing these aims, and I consider connections with debates about wellbeing, population ethics and duties to future generations, and the nature and limits of moral and political theory. The upshot of this discussion is that we should extend legal and political standing to all animals, that we should seek to abolish animal agriculture through individual and collective action, and that we should research interventions in wild animal suffering so that we can be prepared to assist wild animals if and when the time comes.
Chimpanzee Rights (with other philosophers)
In this book we make the case for chimpanzee rights. Under current U.S. law, one is either a ‘person’ or a ‘thing’. If you are a person, you have the capacity for rights. If you are a thing, you do not. And unfortunately, all nonhuman animals are currently considered things. We argue that this approach to personhood and rights is unacceptable. We consider the four main conceptions of personhood that U.S. courts have used to deny the possibility of chimpanzee personhood: a species conception, a social contract conception, a community conception, and a capacities conception. We argue that the species conception of personhood fails, since species are morally arbitrary taxonomic categories. We then argue that the other three conceptions of personhood, plausibly interpreted, are compatible with chimpanzee personhood. We conclude that if we continue to classify every being as either a person or a thing, and if we continue to say that personhood is necessary for rights, then we should classify chimpanzees as persons, not things. We close by considering future directions for discussions about nonhuman rights.
Food, Animals, and the Environment (with Christopher Schlottmann)
In this book we examine some of the main impacts that agriculture has on humans, nonhumans, and the environment, as well as some of the main questions that these impacts raise for the ethics of food production, consumption, and activism. Agriculture is having a lasting effect on this planet. Some forms of agriculture are especially harmful. For example, industrial animal agriculture kills hundreds of billions of animals per year; consumes vast amounts of land, water, and energy; and produces vast amounts of waste, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. Other forms, such as local, organic, and plant-based food, have many benefits, but they also have many costs, especially at scale. These impacts raise difficult ethical questions. What do we owe animals, plants, species, ecosystems, and future generations? What are the ethics of risk, uncertainty, and collective harm? What are the ethics of supporting harmful industries, and what are the ethics of resisting harmful industries? The discussion ranges over topics such as effective altruism, abolition and regulation, revolution and reform, individual and structural change, single-issue and multi-issue activism, and legal and illegal activism.
Activism (with Peter Singer)
Critical Terms for Animal Studies (forthcoming)
In this chapter we discuss the past, present, and future of animal activism. For decades, animal activists have debated which strategies for helping animals are most effective. Some animal activists are now attempting to use evidence to resolve these disagreements. However, evidence-based animal activism raises concerns as well. For example, it could lead to a bias in favor of types of activism that aim for direct, measurable benefits and against types of activism that aim for indirect, less measurable benefits. The challenge, then, is to find ways to preserve the benefits of evidence-based activism while mitigating risk of bias as much as possible along the way. We make several provisional recommendations about how to do that.
Animals and Climate Change
Philosophy and Climate Change (forthcoming)
Animals are central to climate change, since farmed animals are a leading cause of climate change and climate change will be a leading cause of wild animal suffering. In these chapter I defend these claims and examine their implications. I start by arguing that industrial animal agriculture is responsible for 10-50% of global GHG emissions, and therefore we need to center abolition of industrial animal agriculture in our efforts to mitigate climate change. I then argue that climate change will have a pervasive impact on wild animal populations, and therefore we need to center consideration of wild animals in our efforts to adapt to climate change. I close by discussing the issues in science and philosophy that we need to address to make further progress on these issues.
Animals and Consequentialism (with Tyler John)
The Oxford Handbook of Consequentialism (forthcoming, pending final review)
In this chapter we examine animal ethics from a consequentialist perspective. We start with a discussion of moral status. Should animals have rights according to different kinds of consequentialism? If so, which animals and which rights? We then consider implications for domesticated animals. Do farmed animals have good or bad lives on average or in total (in industrial and non-industrial settings), and what are the implications for the ethics of food production, consumption, and activism from a consequentialist perspective? We then consider implications for liminal and wild animals. Do liminal and wild animals have good or bad lives on average and in total, and what are the implications for the ethics of intervention from a consequentialist perspective? We close with a brief discussion of future directions for this topic.
Do Individuals or Groups Matter More? Yes
Animals and their Environments (forthcoming, pending contract and final review)
Animal and environmental ethicists often disagree about whether individuals or groups matter more. In this chapter I argue that they both do, in different ways. In particular, I argue that individuals matter more than groups metaphysically, since the moral standing of groups depends on the moral standing of individuals. And I argue that groups matter more than individuals epistemically, since knowledge about individual duties and/or rights depends (or at least ought to depend) on knowledge about group duties and/or rights in many cases. Finally, I argue that if we accept these ideas, then we can build a simple, unified theory of moral standing that vindicates much of what animal and environmental ethicists want to say.
Effective Altruism and Transformative Values (with L.A. Paul)
Effective Altruism: Philosophical Issues (forthcoming, pending final review)
Effective altruists attempt to use evidence and reason to do the most good that they can. However, many of our choices involve transformative experience, i.e. they affect our values in ways that we cannot fully anticipate. This limits our ability to make informed, rational decisions about long-term plans. In this chapter, we discuss the challenges and opportunities that decisions involving transformative experience pose for effective altruists. For example, how should I think about what career to pursue, given that this choice will affect who I am as a person? And, how should we think about how to engage with the public, given that these choices will affect who we are as a movement? We consider several possible answers to these questions, and we indicate where we think this discussion should head next.
Effective Animal Activism
The Routledge Handbook of Animal Ethics (forthcoming)
Effective animal activists attempt to use evidence and reason to do the most good they can for animals. In this chapter I introduce this approach to animal activism and consider several principled and pragmatic objections. For example, does effective animal activism involve too much cluelessness, demandingness, and alienation? Is it too capitalist, technocratic, and apolitical? Does it focus too much on direct, short-term, individual change and not enough on indirect, long-term, structural change? I defend effective animal activism against the principled objections that people offer against it, and I argue that effective animal activists ought to make certain changes in light of the pragmatic objections that people offer against it.
The Ethics and Politics of Plant-Based and Cultured Meat
Les Ateliers de l’éthique/The Ethics Forum (forthcoming)
In this paper I examine several of the moral and political questions raised by new kinds of meat. I begin by discussing the risks and harms associated with industrial animal agriculture, and I argue that plant-based meat and cultured meat are a promising alternative to conventional meat. I then explore the moral, conceptual, social, political, economic, and technical challenges that stand in the way of widespread adoption of these alternatives. For example, whether or not we achieve widespread adoption will depend on whether or not we can persuade business and political leaders to see plant-based and cultured meat as an opportunity rather than as a threat. Finally, I consider several ways of meeting these challenges, and I argue that we must be very careful if we want to avoid the kinds of problems that other, similar technological innovations such as GMOs have faced.
The Moral Problem of Other Minds
The Harvard Review of Philosophy (forthcoming)
I ask how we should treat other beings in cases of uncertainty about whether or not they are sentient (on the assumption that sentience is necessary and sufficient for moral status). I evaluate three options: (1) an incautionary principle that permits us to treat other beings as non-sentient, (2) a precautionary principle that requires us to treat other beings as sentient, and (3) an expected value principle that requires us to multiply our credence that other beings are sentient by the amount of sentience that they would have if they were. I then draw three conclusions. First, the precautionary and expected value principles are more plausible than the incautionary principle. Second, if we accept a precautionary or expected value principle, then we morally ought to treat many beings as having at least partial moral status. Third, if we morally ought to treat many beings as having at least partial moral status, then morality involves more cluelessness and demandingness than we might have thought.
Chimpanzee Personhood (with other philosophers)
An amicus brief submitted to the New York Court of Appeals (2018)
Under current U.S. law, one is either a ‘person’ or a ‘thing’. If you are a person, you have the capacity for rights. If you are a thing, you do not. And unfortunately, all nonhuman animals are currently considered things. In this brief, submitted as part of an appeal by the Nonhuman Rights Project, we make the case for chimpanzee personhood. We consider the four main conceptions of personhood that U.S. courts have used to deny nonhuman personhood: a species conception, a social contract conception, a community conception, and a capacities conception. We argue that the species conception fails, and that the other three, plausibly interpreted, are compatible with chimpanzee personhood. We conclude that if we insist on classifying every being as either a person or a thing, then we should classify chimpanzees as persons, not things.
Multi-Issue Food Activism
The Oxford Handbook of Food Ethics (2018)
Food activism sits at the intersection of many different social movements. The pluralistic nature of food activism has benefits as well as costs. For instance, it allows us to build alliances across movements, but it can also lead to conflict across movements. This article examines the debate between multi-issue food activism, which spans multiple movements and addresses multiple issues, and single-issue food activism, which does not. I begin by reviewing the kinds of connections across issues that are relevant here. I then present and evaluate two arguments for multi-issue food activism – one principled and one pragmatic – and three approaches to multi-issue food activism – unity, solidarity, and mutual understanding. Finally, I close with a few preliminary conclusions about how we can do food activism in a thoughtful and strategic way.
Agency and Moral Status
Journal of Moral Philosophy (2017)
According to our traditional conception of agency, most human beings are agents and most, if not all, nonhuman animals are not. However, recent developments in philosophy and psychology have made it clear that we need more than one conception of agency, since human and nonhuman animals are capable of thinking and acting in more than one kind of way. In this paper, I make a distinction between perceptual and propositional agency, and I argue that many nonhuman animals are perceptual agents and that many human beings are both kinds of agent. I then argue that, insofar as human and nonhuman animals exercise the same kind of agency, they have the same kind of moral status, and I explore some of the moral implications of this idea.
Final Draft / Discussion
Bivalves Are Better (with Jennifer Jacquet and Max Elder)
The domestication of aquatic species is the fastest and most poorly thought out expansion of domesticated animals to ever occur. Many people are promoting aquaculture as replacing or at least supplementing wild, capture fisheries. A growing body of literature has assessed ecological concerns about aquaculture. Less consideration has been given to food security or animal welfare concerns. We argue that, if we are to culture aquatic animals (and that debate should remain open), we must include food security and animal welfare considerations in our deliberations so that we do not make the same mistakes as we did with terrestrial animals. We also argue that if our aim is to culture aquatic animals while minimizing negative ecological, food security, and animal welfare consequences, bivalves (e.g., oysters, mussels, clams and scallops) appear to be the species group with the most promise.
The Just Soul
The Journal of Value Inquiry (2015)
Many philosophers think that, if your “day self” and “night self” are physically, psychologically, and narratively continuous with each other, then they are the same unit of moral concern. But I argue that your day self and night self can share all of these relations and still be different units of moral concern, on the grounds that they can share all of these relations and still be in the circumstances of justice. I then argue that this conception of the scope of morality has revisionary, but ultimately plausible, implications for the morality of self-binding. For example, it implies that your day self and night self have a prima facie duty not to coerce or physically restrain each other in order to get what they want. But it also implies that they are morally permitted to coerce and physically restrain each other much more often, and with respect to many more issues, than, say, you and your friend are.
Multiplicity, Self-Narrative, and Akrasia
Philosophical Psychology (2015)
In this paper I present a new account of akrasia based on the idea that human psychology and self-narrativity are more complex and layered than we have traditionally thought. I begin by arguing that, if we have at least some different beliefs, desires, preferences, etc. in different situations, then we can rationally do what we think, at the time of action, is best for, or from the standpoint of, “part of me” while acting contrary to what we think, at the time of action, is best for, or from the more comprehensive standpoint of, “me.” I then argue that many of us do, in fact, think and act this way in everyday life, and that this kind of action satisfies all the criteria for akrasia. Finally, I briefly argue that, on my account of akrasia, akratic actions are not necessarily irrational or blameworthy, though they often will be.
Necessary Conditions for Morally Responsible Animal Research (with David DeGrazia)
Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics (2015)
Animal research raises moral questions for several reasons. Nearly all animal research harms its subjects, animal subjects almost never benefit directly from their involvement in research, and animal subjects cannot give informed consent to their involvement in research. In this paper, we present three necessary conditions for ethical animal research that, we think, people on both sides of this debate can accept. Specifically, we argue that animal research is morally permissible only if it satisfies (a) an expectation of net benefit condition, (b) a worthwhile life condition, and (c) a no unnecessary harm / qualified basic needs condition. We then claim that, whether or not these necessary conditions are jointly sufficient, many animal experiments fail to satisfy them and are therefore morally wrong.
Utilitarianism, Multiplicity, and Liberalism
In this paper I argue that utilitarianism requires us to tolerate intrapersonal disagreement for the same reasons that it requires us to tolerate interpersonal disagreement. I begin by arguing that multiplicity has many of the same costs and benefits as multiculturalism: it causes conflict, but it also allows us to perform experiments in living, adopt a division of labor, compartmentalize harm, and learn from ourselves. I then argue that, in light of these costs and benefits, utilitarianism requires us to adopt a “liberal system of individual self-government,” according to which we should not try to impose a single, unified set of beliefs and values on ourselves. Finally, I argue that we should apply this policy of liberal toleration to intrapersonal disagreement about utilitarianism too: if we want to maximize utility, then we should tolerate inner conflict not only about how to maximize utility but also about whether we should be trying to maximize utility in the first place.
The Ethics of Incest
Philosophy in the Contemporary World (2006)
In this paper I challenge two common arguments against incest: the genetics argument (that incest is immoral because it might lead to the conception of a genetically deformed child), and the family argument (that incest is immoral because it undermines the family, the emotional center for the individual). These arguments, I claim, commit us to condemning not only incest, but also a wide range of behaviors that we currently permit. I thus present the reader with a dilemma: We must either accept certain forms of incest in order to maintain these other moral judgments or reject these judgments in order to maintain our condemnation of incest. The reader is free to decide which option is preferable, but I suggest that the former is a less radical shift in our moral system as a whole.
A Critique of the Kantian Theory of Indirect Duties to Animals
Animal Liberation Philosophy & Policy (2005)
Kant famously argues that we have no direct moral duties to animals; instead, we have only indirect duties to animals insofar as our treatment of them affects human beings. In this paper, I argue that Kantian ethics implies that we have direct moral duties to animals after all. I begin by arguing that the humanity formula of the categorical imperative, as normally interpreted, poses a problem: if rationality but not animality is an end in itself, then humans as well as nonhumans have only indirect moral status with respect to many of our activities. I then argue that we can solve this problem only by allowing that rationality as well as animality is an end in itself, from which it follows that humans as well as nonhumans have direct moral status. The upshot is that Kantian ethics, in order to protect the vulnerabilities of humans, must protect the vulnerabilities of nonhumans as well.
Sarah Conly, One Child: Do We Have a Right to More? (2016)
Essays in Philosophy (2017)
Tatjana Višak and Robert Garner (eds.), The Ethics of Killing Animals (2015)
Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (2016)
The Discounting Defense of Animal Research
Revise & Resubmit, Journal of Medicine & Philosophy
In this paper, I critique a defense of animal research recently proposed by Baruch Brody. According to what I call the discounting defense of animal research, our policy of favoring members of our own species is like our policy of favoring members of our own family, nation, and generation: It is not a morally impermissible case of discrimination but rather a morally permissible case of discounting. I argue, however, that none of the standard justifications for discounting supports favoring members of our own species in research. Indeed, if anything, these justifications support favoring members of other species in certain respects, especially given our history and legacy of harming nonhumans in research. The upshot is that we have strong prima facie reason to think that our preferential treatment of humans over nonhumans in research counts as discrimination rather than discounting.
The Self as a Center of Psychological Gravity
Revise & Resubmit, Philosophical Papers
In this paper I develop and defend a theory of the self that combines the simplicity of antirealism and the explanatory power of realism. I begin by critiquing two strategies that antirealists have used to achieve this goal. These strategies culminate in Dennett’s analogy with centers of gravity, the potential of which is only partially realized, I argue, in Dennett’s conception of the self as a center of narrative gravity. I then argue that we can fully realize the potential of this analogy, as well as vindicate the idea that the self is simple as well as explanatorily useful, if we say that the self is a center of psychological gravity, i.e., an abstract, simple set of psychological dispositions around which our actual, fluctuating psychological dispositions are “evenly distributed,” which we posit and aim to describe in our self-narratives for purposes of everyday psychological explanation, prediction, and control.
Time-Slice Agency and Moral Responsibility
Many philosophers think that we are morally responsible for what we did in the past, and that this judgment supports the idea that our present self is the same basic moral agent as our past selves. I argue that this is a mistake: even if our present self is a different moral agent than our past selves, we can still be morally responsible for what we did in the past in many ways, e.g. we can still be complicit in, indirectly responsible for, criticizable for, and/or liable for what we did in the past. I then argue that this approach to personal responsibility, which analyzes personal responsibility on the model of interpersonal responsibility, explains and justifies our practice of holding each other responsible for different past actions in different ways at least as well as, if not much better than, more traditional approaches to personal responsibility do.
Works In Progress
Animals and Shared Agency
In this paper I argue that nonhumans can share agency in the same kind of way that humans can. I begin by making a distinction between “propositional agency,” which only humans have, and “perceptual agency,” which humans and nonhumans share. I then argue that perceptual agency allows for the same kind of structure that propositional agency does, and therefore, on a widely accepted account of shared agency, we can share both kinds of agency. For instance, if you and I walk together because we each intend to walk with the other, then we count as a shared propositional agent during our walk. Similarly, I argue, if my dog and I walk together because we each experience the other as to-be-walked-with, then we count as a shared perceptual agent during our walk. Finally, I argue that if nonhumans can share agency, then they can also share certain moral and political rights.
Broadening Bioethics (with Dale Jamieson)
In this paper we discuss the past, present, and future of bioethics. Bioethics has a fractured history: some philosophers have associated it primarily with health ethics and others have associated it primarily with environmental ethics. More recently, these lines have blurred, in part because people are starting to combine these conceptions of bioethics and in part because questions about health and the environment are so deeply intertwined. We discuss several issues where considerations of health and the environment play a central role. Some of these issues, like the ethics of food, have received a lot of attention in bioethics. Others, like the ethics of war, have not. We claim that, if we want to make progress in bioethics, then we must follow these problems where they lead, rather than attempt to impose upon them our favored categories of thought.
A New, an Environmental Ethic
Many environmental ethicists think that our current, individualistic morality is hopeless in the face of global moral and political problems like climate change, and they argue that we should therefore replace it with a new, collectivist morality. I am inclined to agree with this idea. However, I also think that this call for a new morality is much more radical than we might have thought. In this paper, I argue that, if we want a new morality, then we have two options. First, we can accept an “esoteric morality.” That is, we can persuade others to accept a moral theory that we believe is false. Second, we can accept an “absurd morality.” That is, we can take a leap of faith and accept a moral theory despite believing that this theory is false. I consider the strengths and limitations of each approach and argue that they are well worth exploring all things considered, in light of the severity of our situation.
Time-Slice Agency and Numerical Identity
In this paper I develop and defend a time-slice theory of agent identity. I begin by arguing that there should be a presumption in favor of the idea that agent identity has the logic of numerical identity. I then argue that, if agent identity has the logic of numerical identity, then we have to choose between a time-slice theory of agent identity, on one hand, and a theory according to which basic agents persist for decades, on the other hand. Finally, I argue that, if we face this choice, then we should accept a time-slice theory of agent identity. The reason is that, if we accept this kind of theory, then we can invoke the distinction between basic agency (which does not come in degrees) and collective agency (which, in an important respect, does come in degrees) in order to explain and justify the widely accepted view that persons are temporally extended agents in a way that comes in degrees.
Wildness and Civilization (with Maryse Mitchell-Brody)
In this article we argue that there is a tension between maintaining order and respecting difference that we see especially clearly in the case of “disorderly” human and nonhuman animals. In the past, political actors have responded to this tension by locking “disorderly” individuals away. We argue that this response is unjust, and we examine the implications for political philosophy. Specifically, it is an open question whether liberal theories of justice, which emphasize the value of stability as well as the value of toleration, have the resources to accommodate the sheer variety of experience we now see among beings who seem to merit political inclusion. We survey possible answers, and we claim that any adequate answer will likely involve either relaxing our conception of the circumstances of justice or admitting that we were never in the circumstances of justice in the first place.
The Personal Is Political
Committee: Derek Parfit, John Richardson, Sharon Street, J. David Velleman (chair)
I argue that Plato was right that we should use political morality as a model for personal morality. Many people have multiple personalities, in the non-pathological sense that we have at least some different thoughts, feelings, and habits in different contexts. For example, you might think, feel, and act one way around family, another way around friends, and another way around colleagues. I argue that each personality is a distinct moral agent, with a distinct set of reasons, duties, and rights. Thus, I argue, many people are like states: They are communities of moral agents who share resources and a common fate. I then pursue the analogy with the state with respect to issues such as integrity, justice, sovereignty, and responsibility.