The animal liberation movement is saying that where animals and humans have similar interests - we might take the interest in avoiding physical pain as an example, for it is an interest that humans clearly share with other animals - those interests are to be counted equally, with no automatic discount just because one of the beings is not human.
Typically, defenders of experiments on animals do not deny that animals suffer. They cannot deny the animals' suffering, because they need to stress the similarities between humans and other animals in order to claim that their experiments may have some relevance for human purposes. The experimenter who forces rats to choose between starvation and electric shock to see if they develop ulcers (which they do) does so because the rat has a nervous system very similar to a human being's, and presumably feels an electric shock in a similar way.
With the eventual acceptance of Darwin's theory we reach a modern understanding of nature, one which has since then changed in detail rather than in fundamentals. Only those who prefer religious faith to beliefs based on reasoning and evidence can still maintain that the human species is the special darling of the entire universe, or that other animals were created to provide us with food, or that we have divine authority over them, and divine permission to kill them.
It would be nonsense to say that it was not in the interests of a stone to be kicked along the road...A stone has no interests because it cannot suffer. The capacity for suffering and enjoyment is, however, not only necessary, but also sufficient for us to say that a being has interests - at an absolute minimum, an interest in not suffering. A mouse, for example, does have an interest in not being kicked along the road because it will suffer if it is.
We ought to consider the interests of animals because they have interests and it is unjustifiable to exclude them from the sphere of moral concern; to make this consideration depend on beneficial consequences for human beings is to accept the implication that the interests of animals do not warrant consideration for their own sakes.
Pain and suffering are in themselves bad and should be prevented or minimized, irrespective of the race, sex, or species of the being that suffers. How bad a pain is depends on how intense it is and how long it lasts, but pain of the same intensity and duration are equally bad, whether felt by humans or animals.
Sometimes we know the best thing to do, but fail to do it. New year's resolutions are often like that. We make resolutions because we know it would be better for us to lose weight, or get fit, or spend more time with our children. The problem is that a resolution is generally easier to break than it is to keep.
Unfortunately for ethical egoism, the claim that we will all be better off if every one of us does what is in his or her own interest is incorrect. This is shown by what are known as "prisoner's dilemma" situations, which are playing an increasingly important role in discussions of ethical theory... At least on the collective level, therefore, egoism is self-defeating - a conclusion well brought out by Parfit in his aforementioned Reasons and Persons.
<< previousnext >>