Two Problems Posed by the Suffering of Animals

Journal of Speculative Philosophy 33 (2):324-339 (2019)
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ABSTRACT What is the ethical significance of the suffering of nonhuman animals? For many, the answer is simple. Such suffering has clear moral significance: nonhuman animal suffering is suffering, suffering is something bad, and the fact that it is bad gives us reason to alleviate or prevent it. The practical problem that remains is how to do this most efficiently or effectively. I argue that this does not exhaust the ethical significance of certain evils, once we consider how the existence of those evils may detract from the meaning of human life, even on fully “naturalistic” conceptions of meaning in life. I will draw a distinction between what I will call “spiritual” problems and “moral” problems and consider why moral philosophers may be well suited to addressing both problems, as long as the domain of the ethical is not taken to be exhausted by the domain of the moral. Finally, I will elaborate on why marking a distinction between these problems—the moral and the spiritual—may help illuminate some disagreements between Utilitarians and their opponents about the ethical significance of the suffering of nonhuman animals.

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Vida Yao
Rice University


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