Utilitarianism and Animals

R. G. Frey

in The Oxford Handbook of Animal Ethics

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780195371963
Published online May 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Utilitarianism and Animals

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This article notes that, of all the traditional, mainstream ethical theories, none has been more disposed over the centuries to sympathetic consideration of the pains of animals than utilitarianism. By using a sentiency criterion of moral standing, Jeremy Bentham ensured that the pain and suffering of animals counted in the moral calculus. According to his theory, their pains confer on them moral considerability; and every utilitarian since Bentham has endorsed the sentiency criterion. The discussion in this article examines why utilitarians up to the present day have accepted the sentiency criterion and yet almost routinely failed, with specificity, to include animals within the calculus of utility in their general moral philosophies. Bentham was the first to exhibit this shortcoming. The article holds that in the last four decades, Peter Singer was the first utilitarian in the 1970s to take animals seriously.

Keywords: utilitarianism; moral standing; Jeremy Bentham; moral calculus; sentiency criterion; Peter Singer

Article.  14362 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Moral Philosophy ; Philosophy of Science

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