Virtue ethics and the moral significance of animals
Doctor of Philosophy
What does our treatment of animals say about our moral character? To ask this question is to think about the issue of animal ethics in terms of virtue and vice. It appears that no one writing on either animal ethics or on virtue theory has tried to address this question at length. The aim of this dissertation is to rectify this shortcoming and in so doing, develop a robust theory of the moral significance of animals from the perspective of virtue ethics. Before we can ask any questions about the moral significance of animals, however, or even about virtue itself, we first have to answer some questions about the foundations of the ethical framework to which we will be appealing. Hence, I begin by laying the groundwork, both metaethical and psychological, for virtue ethics as we will employ it in the subsequent chapters. The primary tool used to lay this groundwork is the moral significance of the emotions and their connection to rationality. I explore the emotions as they have been traditional construed in philosophy, and in ethics in particular, and argue that this traditional view is inadequate due to several considerations. Accordingly, I attempt to sketch a superior alterative view that accommodates these considerations. In the second chapter, I argue that our new understanding of the emotions fats naturally with several of the major themes of virtue ethics, including the moral significance of motives, moral education and the importance of the emotions themselves. In these first two chapters our strategy will not be so much to argue for virtue ethics as it is to outline the general framework in which I will be considering virtue ethics for the duration. Chapters 3 and 4 will expand on the details of virtue ethics as I understand it, and argue that a proper understanding of virtue entails considerable regard for the well-being of non-human animals. Chapter 5 and Appendix B will contrast the theory I develop in the prior chapters with the dominant views of animal ethics, namely utilitarianism and rights theory. Chapters 6 and 7 will apply the account I have developed to the practical moral issues of animal experimentation and eating meat.