Philosophy: The Animal Rights Assignment

The Due Date:


The purpose of this assignment is to have you practice the skills necessary in completion of Student Outcomes 2, 3, 4, and 7, these are:

1. Identify and apply a variety of epistemological, metaphysical and ethical theory

2. Evaluate and differentiate between an epistemological, a metaphysical and an ethical question

3. Understand and apply the criteria of correct philosophical reasoning

4. Present a solution to a philosophical problem

But, in a round-about way, each of the outcomes is present. And with this, we will have hit on all of the outcomes for this class, in one way or another.

Task: The reading is Warburton 67-77

In the text, there is an argument against the morality of eating meat (as in, arguments for you being vegetarian/vegan). This argument, I called in the lecture, the Animal Suffering Argument. Your task is to:

A. Explain the Animal Suffering Argument (in your own words) (5pts)

After this, you can either (10pts):

B1. Explain Descartes reply to the argument

C1. Explain one problem with this reply

Each of these should take you around a paragraph to answer. Each of them are worth 5pts. Labeling your paragraphs with





according to what part you are talking about in them will make grading very fast and easy for me. Since this is worth 20pts, this is worth 5% of your total grade.


To submit this assignment, I only accept .pdf, .doc, .odt, and .docx. I do not accept .pages. You can find where to submit in the upper right of this screen. As for all assignments in this class, the standard is Times New Roman, 12pt font, double spaced, 2-3 pages (that is, at least a few words onto the second page to the bottom of the third).

Here is an example:

 The Animal Suffering Argument is one which is found in several forms in the contemporary debate over the permissibility of meat consumption, fur clothing, or the use of animal products in general. It is even applied to the idea that we should not perform animal testing for medicines. Put in my own words, it goes like this: First, it seems obvious that animals of certain complexities feel pain and have interests. Second, we have that Utilitarianism is correct, meaning that the right action is the one that causes the best outcome (the greatest amount of pleasure once the pain is subtracted). As it turns out, the pain and suffering caused by the process of raising animals for slaughter outweighs the pleasure to us in eating them.  Therefore, killing animals for food is morally wrong.

Although there are several replies to this argument, including, but not limited to, Speciesism, human excellence, and almost any non-consequentialist theory, the one which I will focus on originates from Rene Descartes. Descartes, as we covered in this class, held that the world was made of two substances, the mental and the physical (substance dualism). Experiencing pain and having interests requires that the being have this mental substance beyond merely having a physical form. Descartes held that only humans can have these souls or mental substances. Only people feel pain or have interests. As a result, non-human animals, like a cat, can’t feel pain. An injured animal, for Descartes, is nothing more than a broken machine. This means that the pain animals are supposed to feel doesn’t exist and doesn’t feature in the ethics of eating meat. 

There are several things wrong with this reply, though I can understand why people of certain beliefs would think it is correct. The one which stood out to me was physicalism. Physicalism is directly opposed to dualism. It holds that there is only one substance in the world, physical, rather than there being two. Whatever explanation which the physicalism can give to the experience of pain can easily be applied to non-human animals and does not require that they have some manner of oogy-boogy substance over and above the physical. This reply takes the wind out of Descartes’ sails, his stance can’t get off the ground if it is correct.

I find this reply to Descartes to be very powerful. It cuts through to the very assumption made in getting the stance off of the ground and shows that it is not so obvious. At the end of the day. I find the Animal Suffering Argument to make various assumptions which can be questioned (such as whether all cases of meat consumption are wrong, which could be argued against, saying that this only applies to some), but dualism and Descartes can’t say with certainty that the argument is flawed.

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