Author Archives: Zoe Fowler

Alternative Solutions: What Warren Didn’t Consider

In “Difficulties with the Strong Animal Rights Position,” Mary Anne Warren offers a criticism of Tom Regan’s “The Case for Animal Rights.” The first major issue that Warren takes up is Regan’s “inherent value.” In the original article, Regan addresses the question of what determines if an organism has rights by offering his concept of inherent value. He states that “to say we have such [inherent] value is to say that we are something more than, something different from, mere receptacles” (Regan 185). Regan proposed the concept of this inherent value in opposition to the view that utilitarianism gives in response to the same question. Utilitarianism states that a being has rights if it has interests that can be satisfied or frustrated (Regan 184). It views both humans and non-human animals as, Regan states, “receptacles” for happiness or pain.While Warren does not necessarily condone the utilitarian solution, she poses many problems with Regan’s inherent value solution.

The first issue she points out is that Regan does not give a clear definition of what inherent value is. He only defines it in terms of utilitarianism— in terms of what it is not. She then goes on to ask, if the inherent value exists independently of the value of the being’s experiences, “why does the fact that it has certain sorts of experiences constitute evidence that it has inherent value?” (Warren 165). She asks why sentience cannot serve as the standard for inherent value and, by extension, rights. Warren then questions the assumed connection between inherent value and rights, saying that some things exist that seem valuable, but do not logically deserve rights (for example, mountains). Finally, Warren offers this thought: either inherent value is based on a natural trait, and that trait remains unidentified; or inherent value is not based on a natural trait, and there is no reason to believe that it is an appropriate measure for moral rights at all (Warren 165)

Warren gives us valid reason to doubt Regan’s inherent value theory. However, she does not address the other existing solutions. The first was offered by Kant. He proposed that non-human animals do not have inherent value or rights. Rather, “we have indirect duties to animals” (Gruen). These duties derive from the implications that our actions towards animals have for our actions towards humans. Kant stated “he must practice kindness towards animals, for he who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men” (Gruen). While this view certainly has its flaws, they are entirely distinct from the flaws of both the inherent value and the utilitarian solutions.

There is one final solution that I believe to be the most satisfactory and logical. This is offered by C. Korsgard. She, like Kant, acknowledges an important distinction between humans and animals. However, like Regan, she believes that both have rights. She offers the concept of “natural capacities.” These natural capacities are shared by both rational, sentient humans as well as all non-human animals. She states that “what we demand, when we demand … recognition, is that our natural concerns—the objects of our natural desires and interests and affections—be accorded the status of values” that others are morally obligated to respect (Gruen). Korsgard clarifies the origin of these values, saying “many of those natural concerns—the desire to avoid pain is an obvious example—spring from our animal nature, not from our rational nature,” meaning of course that all beings that share these animalistic concerns have the right to have those concerns respected (Gruen). This view seems to be the most logical offered. It avoids the confusion of the vague “inherent value” theory, the apparent worthlessness of life itself that utilitarianism demands, and the disregard for nonhuman animals of the Kantian view. What the natural capacities view gives us is a theory that demands we respect non-human animals, not doing with them just as we please, while maintaining the view that the rights of humans are not entirely equal to the rights of non-rational animals. This appears to be the most logical answer to the question of just what determines if non-human organisms have rights.


Works Cited

Gruen, Lori, “The Moral Status of Animals”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

Regan, Tom. “The Case for Animal Rights”. Berkeley: U of California, 1983. Print.

Warren, Mary Anne, “Difficulties With the Strong Animal Rights Position”, Between the Species (No. 4, Fall 1987). Nedlands, Australia.

Painless Killing for a Utilitarian

The question we are considering is if utilitarianism dubs painless killing to be morally impermissible. The simple answer is that no, there is no clear condemnation of painless killing by utilitarian standards. As we know, utilitarianism focuses on two things: the equal value of everyone’s happiness, and the goal of maximizing happiness and minimizing pain. This means that there are any number of extenuating circumstances that would cause a utilitarian to label painless killing as morally permissible or impermissible; for example, she would say it was wrong if the individual she killed had a family to look out for. On the other hand, she would say it was right if killing the individual would benefit many people, for example, killing a serial murderer. However, in the most stripped down example of an individual with virtually no identity, one with no family or friends, and one who does not intend to perform any particularly heroic or heinous actions in the future, utilitarianism provides no reason that killing this individual is wrong. This system of ethics places no particular value on life, independent of its ties to joy and pain. So once these emotions are removed from consideration, the life is worth little to nothing.

The decision of whether or not this act of killing is impermissible depends on the killer. If the killer would suffer grief, guilt, or any emotional distress after performing this action, then it is, by utilitarian standards, morally impermissible. Killing this individual would benefit no one, and hurt the killer. Of course, this consideration is rather illogical, as no one would go through with it under these circumstances. However, on the other hand, if the killer is pathologically deviant, and derives some joy out of killing, then utilitarianism views it as morally permissible, if not obligatory. So for example, suppose I am some strange, sociopathic individual who finds killing for sport (and no other reason) to be enjoyable. If I am presented with a child, one who is orphaned and alone, with no earthly connections and no significant past, utilitarianism states that it is morally permissible for me to kill this child.

It is clear then that, in this specific circumstance, regarding an individual with no connections and no considerable future, utilitarianism states that painlessly killing an individual is morally permissible.

Utilitarianism In Nozick’s “The Experience Machine”

What is the meaning of life? It is a question that theologians and philosophers alike have tried to tackle. The proposed answers frequently relate to morality: “To help others” or “To make a difference.” If we follow in this line of thought, utilitarianism might say that the meaning of life is to maximize utility and minimize pain (Bennet 55). However, Robert Nozick calls this idea into question in “The Experience Machine,” proposing that maybe there is something more to life than happiness.

Many philosophers have long regarded happiness as the ultimate goal in life. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle describes happiness as “something complete and self-sufficient, it being an end of our actions” (Aristotle 12). Here Aristotle seems to state that happiness is the ultimate end to the means of living— the meaning of life, even. This is something that the hedonist would likely agree with. However Nozick seems to question the truth of that idea. In “The Experience Machine,” he proposes a hypothetical situation in which humans have the option to plug into a machine that would give you any experience you wanted. While in it, you would have no idea that what was happening wasn’t real. At the surface, this seems to be an ideal scenario. You can do, feel, and experience anything you want to; you can achieve a state of total bliss by handpicking the way your life will go. But Nozick argues that most people would not choose to plug into the machine. He states that there are more things that matter to us than just the way that we feel; if our internal emotional state is all that matters, why not plug in? Nozick says that we want to do things, and not just to experience doing them (Nozick 43). He says that what we are matters, not just what we do. And he argues that humans crave contact with a “deeper reality” (Nozick 43). All of these aspects of living are stripped away when you plug into the machine. And these parts of living seem to be ignored by utilitarianism, by just focusing on what causes you or others pleasure. Nozick states that “what we desire is to live ourselves, in contact with reality” (Nozick 45). This emphasis on wanting to stay in touch with reality implies that we want more than just the happiness that the machine would be able to supply. We crave the fabric of reality, including the hardships and the struggles that make happiness distinct. This mentality is echoed by other philosophers, such as Peter Singer. In his video “Let’s Talk About Your Hedonism,” he argues that we achieve meaning in our life through something deeper than just pursuing happiness. He says that “people that don’t aim at pleasure, but aim at something else, some activity that’s worthwhile in itself, and they get absorbed in the moment of doing what they’re doing… they actually get enjoyment and fulfillment out of it.” This idea directly supports Nozick’s argument that humans crave more than just pleasure in life, but something deeper and more personal.

While aiming to do what will make others happy is certainly noble, looking at it through the lens of Nozick’s article and supporting points of view, it just does not seem like enough to encompass all of it what is moral and all of what is important in life. Utilitarianism seems to miss out on a big part of life that Nozick seems to pick up on. What is just as important as happiness is the person, with the motivations and intentions that utilitarianism dubs as meaningless. What is important is a deeper reality that we can discover and get in touch with, which utilitarianism never addresses. What makes human life what it is is how we live in reality, with all of the different emotions beyond just happiness. All of these things are vital parts of the human experience, vital parts of the meaning of life.

While Nozick’s article never directly addresses utilitarianism, it seems to provide sufficient evidence to question the simplicity of the theory. He seems to argue that happiness is not all there is to be had. We cannot ignore the people we are, our motivations and intentions, or the importance of seeking a deeper reality than the surface on which hedonism and utilitarianism operate. The point of life, and the meaning of morality, are deeper and more complex than utilitarianism would suggest.


Works Cited

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2011. Print.

Bennett, Christopher. “Chapter 4: Utilitarianism.” What Is This Thing Called Ethics? London: Routledge, 2010. Print.

Nozick, Robert. “The Experience Machine.” Anarchy, State, and Utopia. New York: Basic Books, 1974. Print.

Let’s Talk About Your Hedonism. Prod. Big Think. Perf. Peter Singer. YouTube/Let’s Talk About Your Hedonism. Big Think, 16 Mar. 2009. Web. 3 Oct. 2014. <>.