Direct Moral Standing and Regan's Lifeboat Cases
Tom Regan claims that all entities he calls “subjects-of-lives”, including humans, dogs, and many other non-human animals, have equal inherent value. He claims that entities have direct moral standing in virtue of having inherent value. If he is right, it suggests that all subjects-of-lives have equal direct moral standing. To say that an entity has direct moral standing is to say that there are possible circumstances in which agents morally ought to consider an entity for its own sake when deciding what to do. Regan considers a lifeboat case and prescribes that a human being should be saved over a dog. This is not obviously consistent with the claim that all subjects-of-lives have equal direct moral standing. This might be resolved by citing the greater intrinsic value of human experiences. Regan also considers a second lifeboat case and prescribes that a human being should be saved over a million dogs. As a number of authors have noted, this claim seems difficult to reconcile with the claim that all subjects-of-lives have equal inherent value. In this dissertation, I consider a number of strategies that Regan might adopt to deal with this tension and assess the impact of each on his broader account. This second lifeboat case cannot be explained in the way that the first is explained , by citing the greater intrinsic value of human experiences, since the number of dog experiences is so great. An alternative strategy argues that inherent value comes in degrees, depending on the number of capacities that an entity possesses, and the degree to which they possess them. This would make human inherent value much greater than that of dogs. This strategy, however, would require that Regan abandon his claim that all subjects-of-lives have equal inherent value. Additionally, the prescription in the second lifeboat case would remain implausible, since the inherent value of the human being cannot be greater than the inherent value of one million dogs. An alternative strategy claims that the combined intrinsic value of dogs' experiences is not additive, on the grounds that the experiences lack variety. If this strategy succeeds, it might be possible to explain how the intrinsic value of a human being’s experiences is greater than the combined intrinsic value a million dogs experiences. This would explain his prescription in the second lifeboat case. It seems, however, that dog experiences are diverse enough, especially when they are possessed by different dogs, to continue to add intrinsic value to the whole of the intrinsic value of the experiences of dogs. Since these strategies fail, with no obvious alternative to justify Regan’s prescription in the second lifeboat case, I conclude that Regan’s prescription in this case is morally wrong. I conclude that while humans have significantly more inherent value than other entities, and while human experiences are significantly more intrinsically valuable, they are not immeasurably more valuable than other animals and their experiences.
Philosophy, Ethics, Applied Ethics, Animal Ethics, Environmental Ethics
Kary, D. A. (2018). Direct Moral Standing and Regan’s Lifeboat Cases (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from https://prism.ucalgary.ca. doi:10.11575/PRISM/32259