Interspecific Justice and Intrinsic Value

Donald VanDeVeer

North Carolina State University

[1] Some sort of moral intuitionism 1 is tempting in view of the difficulties in responding to the hard questions that persist for any attractive ethical theory. Theories in environmental ethics typically, but not invariably, invoke a concept of intrinsic value. That concept is virtually always contrasted, rightly I believe, with the notion of instrumental value. It may or may not be also contrasted with some notion of inherent value. Conceptual- theoretical apparatus normally is of little interest unless it performs some useful function in helping one reason clearly about matters which directly involve questions about how we live or should live. If it could be shown that, were we to cease engaging in such "value talk," there would be no significant loss in our capacity to reason well concerning, for example, how we may permissibly treat non-human lives on this planet, we could dispense with such language. I will not explore that question here. 2 Barring such a showing, there are two dubious assumptions that seem to block the way to thinking reasonably about environmental issues in the context of axiological language (talk of "values"), as opposed to deontological language, i.e., that concerning what is a matter of duty or what it is permissible to do.

[2] The two assumptions are (a) Egalitarianism About Intrinsic Value, i.e., that whatever things possess intrinsic value must possess it equally, and (b) the Discounting of Instrumental Value, i.e., the assumption (often tacit) that whatever possesses intrinsic value is more valuable than something which possesses none or which has only instrumental value. I suggest reasons for rejecting these views and certain arguments which have been offered in their defense. I also identify how these assumptions may handcuff environmental decision-making. In Section 1, assumption (a) receives attention and (b) is discussed in Section 4.

Uneasy Bedfellows: Egalitarianism About Intrinsic Value and Differential Treatment of Persons and Mole Rats

[3] I am going to assume that, as a matter of definition, if something has intrinsic value or worth it has moral standing and that, hence, its well-being ought to be taken into account in a positive fashion by moral agents in their decision-making; at the least we have a prima facie duty, however weak, not to harm whatever has moral standing. Fearing that I might never return alive from the swamp of further analyzing the notion of "intrinsic value" or "inherent value," I assume here that there is some legitimate distinction between things valuable for their own sake and things valuable only because they are valued by others (usually humans). My beliefs about these matters are naive objectivist ones, i.e., that the properties in virtue of which something is intrinsically valuable are properties located in the thing and that there are intrinsically valuable entities outside of my skin (or any other human's) which may have been valuable before I existed and may be so after I exist. If so, intrinsically or inherently valuable things are thus valuable apart from any tendency to evoke in others (say, rational beings) certain sentiments. I shall not, however, try to spell out "metaphysical foundations" for intrinsic value; I assume there are such in the case of living beings. 3

[4] An egalitarian view about intrinsic value is especially tempting in view of the long history of unjust discriminations which have wreaked havoc on the earth, namely, various forms of racism, sexism, age-based and religion-based rejection and exploitation of persons. 4 Thus, it is understandable that one would approach so-called "inegalitarian" views with serious skepticism. 5 Sometimes the banner of "egalité" has been a rightful protest against the devaluing of individuals on irrational grounds.

[5] At some theoretical level, certain philosophers make a seemingly bold egalitarian assumption about the equal inherent worth or value of all entities within some chosen category. Paul Taylor does so, of course, with regard to "all living things" (construed individually). Tom Regan does so with regard to each "subject of a life" (for working purposes, he assumes that this category includes at least all mammals over one year of age). It is worth recalling that both Taylor and Regan (one could list Peter Singer, Baird Callicott, James Sterba, and others) make assumptions which foster their arriving at what may be called inegalitarian policy conclusions. To put the point cautiously, the conclusions assert the permissibility or moral necessity of giving many plants or nonhuman animals what we humans call the short end of the stick, i.e., allow, and sometimes require, the subordination of animal or plant interests to those of humans. 6 First, recall that except for biocentric views all other environmental ethics deny moral standing to the overwhelming majority of living organisms. For utilitarians, non-sentient beings lack any intrinsic worth whatsoever. In Regan's view there is no positive commitment to anything having inherent value which is not a subject of a life; admittedly, he leaves the possibility open. Something similar is to be observed with regard to any rights theory which ties rights to interests and construes interests as requiring the existence of desires in the one possessing interests.

[6] Turning to more specific principles, Regan's "Worse-Off Principle" would allow in certain imaginable trolley-type cases 7 (a la Judith Thompson) the sacrifice of a million pigs or a thousand dolphins or all the Siberian tigers on the planet rather than kill one normal human being. 8 The principle in question attends to the seriousness or magnitude of the harm inflicted on any one party but refuses to attend to the sum of the harms, or if one prefers, the number of parties harmed. Although the principle is admirably specific and does not finesse a difficult issue, I think we must give more weight to the numbers in any defensible environmental ethic, i.e., one which avoids such incredible conclusions.OC 9 I believe that it is possible for so-called "individualistic" views as well as "holist" views to fail to do this. In fact, how to do it right seems to be an important task for any environmental ethic with pretensions of affecting public policy. My main point here, however, is simply that all or virtually all environmental ethical theories allow or require differential treatment among the domain of living organisms, and thus, when push comes to shove, tend to subordinate the lives or well-being of nonhumans (I include plants and animals) in a wide range of cases. 10 I am not sure that anyone advocates (and no one should), in a case of choosing to save a normal human instead of a normal mouse (or any animal), that a coin be flipped to decide the issue. Someone might say "oh, of course not, but in a case which we must choose between a chimp and a human then we must flip a coin." This more tempting egalitarian view, however, would seem to suppose an evaluative distinction between the mouse and the chimp, i.e., some ground for valuing their lives differently. This last step is in the right direction. When it comes to substantive conflicts, most theories of environmental ethics in fact come up considerably short of commitment to strict "species equality," slogans and banners to the contrary. The serious question would seem to be what sorts of differential or inegalitarian treatment is permissible and why.

[7] In terms of empirical traits, the more alike the set of beings which are claimed to possess equal intrinsic value, the more plausible it is to assign them such equal value. Inegalitarian views have always been defended by appeal to empirical claims that members of the devalued group are empirically different in terms of the presence or absence of some allegedly relevant trait, e.g., lack of a soul, intelligence, a certain skin color, tool-making ability or some such trait. Those who believe that it is not only human beings which possess intrinsic value are committed to attributing intrinsic value or moral standing to a wider range of living creatures. Obviously, among the non-humans which may get included the sets of empirical traits to be found vary enormously, depending on the inclusiveness of one's criterion of moral standing. For example, the range of diversity is even greater given a biocentric criterion as opposed to a criterion of sentience. The greater such diversity, the more tempting it is to regard the set of beings possessing intrinsic value as possessing diverse amounts of intrinsic value. It is one thing perhaps to claim that a chimp and a human have equal intrinsic value -- though such a claim stretches the imagination and rubs against the moral intuition of most people. It strikes many as preposterous to maintain that, e.g., a paramecium, a mole rat, a congressperson, and the last panda all have the same intrinsic value. Thus, the more inclusive one's criterion of moral standing the more tempting it is to adopt some sort of inegalitarian view with the regard to possession of intrinsic value -- at least if amounts or degree of value have any important bearing, ceteris paribus, on respective (albeit presumptive) duties to such beings. I do indeed here suppose that the strength or urgency of our duties to such beings normally varies considerably. It is thus tempting to think that if we have a stronger duty not to kill a congressperson than we have to a paramecium, then we should not attribute the same amount of intrinsic value to both -- barring some special justification for differentially treating beings possessing the same amount of intrinsic value. To avoid this implication, one can adopt an expansive criterion of moral standing and an inegalitarian position about intrinsic value. This is the alternative I find most reasonable, and I return in Part 3 to a discussion of biocentric, stepped or graded egalitarianism.

[8] There is another possible reaction, although it is not a strategy for avoiding the mentioned implication. It is not such a strategy because the reaction is to insist that, in the final analysis, there is "no problem" about viewing a paramecium, a mole rat, a congressperson, and the last panda as all having the same amount of intrinsic value. One might hold this last view because one thinks "value talk" has little or no logical bearing on what we may permissibly do. If this were true, we practical minded people might choose to abandon such language, but such a view is radically at odds with common linguistic intuitions. One instead might agree that there is a puzzle but argue that an egalitarian view about intrinsic value, even when one adopts an expansive criterion of moral standing, does not necessarily commit one to an egalitarian position about the treatment of beings with moral standing which possess equal intrinsic value.

[9] This latter strategy is that of Paul Taylor. He maintains that five "priority principles" provide a basis for resolving conflict of interests cases; they include principles giving weight to considerations of self-defense, distributive justice, restitutive justice, and so on (see Taylor 1986: 263-306). Sometimes these principles would allow that a human should get favorable treatment over some non-human animal or plant but never on the ground that the human possesses greater inherent worth than the non-human. Taylor holds that all living beings have inherent value and have it equally; in spite of this, one may on his view, for example, choose to kill a mosquito or a rabid dog over a human if one is forced to choose. Hence, some possible implications that most would regard as a devastating reductio of Taylor's position can be avoided (e.g., that one must flip a coin to decide such a case). So he claims. Indeed both Taylor and Tom Regan adopt an egalitarian position about the possession of intrinsic or inherent value for a set of beings (all living ones in Taylor's case and all "subjects of a life" in Regan's) but then defend principles which allow and indeed require radically inegalitarian treatment of beings within their respective sets of beings with moral standing. They both take the path of being egalitarians about intrinsic value (or something similar, e.g., inherent value) and expend great ingenuity attempting to wriggle away from the seeming egalitarian implications of such a view with respect to the treatment of such beings. Some of the implications they wish their theories to avoid are indeed worth avoiding. One fundamental question is why anyone should make the noted egalitarian assumptions about possession of intrinsic values at the outset. After all, it is such assumptions which either entail or generate a presumption in favor of equal treatment. Further, the reasons for assuming that if some beings have intrinsic value they have it equally are, I maintain, slim indeed.

[10] Biocentrism -- the view that all living organisms have intrinsic value -- does not entail the view that all lives have equal intrinsic value, no more than "every person has a shape" entails "every person has the same shape." This claim is defended below. Second, biocentrism does not, I believe, commit one to the view that we have an urgent obligation to preserve all lives. This point receives examination in Section 3. Third, biocentrism does not commit one to the view that anything with intrinsic value is more valuable than anything with only instrumental value. This point is discussed in Section 4.

Two Arguments for Egalitarianism About Intrinsic Value

[11] Inherent value can, I believe, vary in degrees. Two arguments to the contrary stand in the way. Both are put forward by Tom Regan. I consider each in turn. The question of whether anything has moral standing remains, in my estimation, an all or nothing matter; either something has or it does not. Either a thing has inherent value or it does not. Regan takes this fact to be a reason to claim that "Inherent value is thus a categorical concept.... It does not come in degrees" (Regan 1983: 240-41). This view is, however, untenable. It seems to arise from a logical confusion between two distinct questions. The first is the question of whether an entity possesses a certain property, given a certain precision in the specification of the property. Either the entity will or it will not. The other question is whether the property when possessed can vary in magnitude or degree. Either a small organism shows up under an electron microscope or it does not. We do not, and should not, infer from that fact that we are precluded from asking how visible it is or how large it is. Similarly, either an item registers on a particular weight scale or it does not. If it does, we may ask how heavy it is. Either there is something of monetary value in my right pocket or there is not. If there is, we may ask how valuable it is. Such a question is not precluded by the nature of the concept of monetary value. I maintain that we also can sensibly inquire how intrinsically valuable is a living individual, and we may maintain that a life has inherent value even if its inherent value is not great. I know of no plausible analysis of "inherent value," "intrinsic value," or "inherent worth" such that these very concepts preclude judgments of varying levels of value or worth. 11

[12] Regan marshals a second argument. He claims that one "cannot suppose that moral agents have varying degrees of inherent value depending on the extent to which they possess some favored virtues... without paving the way for the unjust treatment of those who have less by those who have more..." (Regan 1983: 240). This admonition seems to allow the conceptual possibility of doing what he elsewhere claims is not logically possible. Given his assumption that "inherent value" is a "categorical concept," i.e., he urges here that we ought not make such distinctions ("to suppose...") because of the risk of doing so; it may lead or must lead to ("paving the way for...) unjust treatment. 12 Aside from the question of whether making such distinctions must so lead one (the usual question about slippery slope arguments) the argument appears to beg the question. If indeed beings may vary in inherent value, it may not only be compatible with justice but required as a matter of justice that, in cases in which there is not a win-win alternative, those of little inherent value should be sacrificed for those of greater value. In a trolley case in which we must choose between saving Magritte (the philosophical artist) and saving Socks, Bill's and Hillary's cat, the cat must die in the absence of other morally relevant considerations (even assuming, as I believe, that Socks possesses some inherent value). A not implausible, albeit crude, principle would be that in such situations one ought to preserve what has greater intrinsic value, or greatest value all things considered -- if other morally relevant considerations do not tip the balance the other way. In brief, I know of no persuasive argument which shows that beings cannot exhibit diverse degrees or levels of inherent value. Whether it can be argued that they do is a further question. I believe it can be but make only a start here.

A Contrary View: Biocentric, Stepped Egalitarianism

[13] I have elsewhere expressed my commitment to a type of "stepped egalitarianism" about living creatures, one which maintains, roughly, that three broad sorts of considerations are morally substantive, namely, being alive, being sentient, and possessing rational autonomy (VanDeVeer 1979; also in Pierce and VanDeVeer 1994, Pierce and VanDeVeer 1995). This proposal receives some limited, intuitive support from the fact that we morally differentiate between irreversibly comatose humans, the merely sentient (e.g., newborn humans) and rational humans -- for certain purposes. I will not defend the point here, but the presence or absence of the latter two traits will affect, among living creatures, the degree of intrinsic or inherent value they possess.

[14] By way of elaborating biocentric, stepped egalitarianism (BSE), it is worth noting that acceptance of biocentrism, i.e., the view that all living creatures have moral standing, threatens to make things theoretically messier since some degree of simplicity is lost and the possible range of conflicts of morally relevant interests expands enormously (compared to regarding only humans as having moral standing or only sentient creatures as having moral standing). The number of species on the planet is often estimated to be somewhere between 3 and 30 million, not to mention the number of individuals. 13 On the view that the intrinsic value of the life of certain individuals is vanishingly small, the presumption in favor of not harming them is extremely weak. For example there normally is no strong presumption against killing a particular mosquito, a fruit fly, a mouse, or an azalea bush, ceteris paribus. 14 Hence, certain conflicts of interest are not deserving of worry by moral agents, e.g., over stepping on a roach. So even if we allow that all living organisms are within the moral pale, the assumption that a living organism is included has, by itself, strictly limited importance; it is only one relevant variable in the moral calculus.

[15] Occasionally there is a tendency to attach enormous importance to the question of whether an entity has moral standing to the extent that other relevant considerations have been, I believe, either ignored or unduly discounted. On a stepped egalitarian view (it is "inegalitarian" in the sense that it denies the view that all organisms have the same inherent value) developed here, the fact that something has intrinsic value or worth does not by itself entail that the duty not to harm it is urgent (or that it is not easily overridden by other relevant factors); the duty may or may not be urgent. The urgency or strength of a duty not to harm it is not settled by the fact in question.

[16] Tom Regan argues that all subjects of a life (his morally special category) are owed a duty of respect, a duty unpacked largely in terms of duties of non-interference or non-harm under certain conditions. 15 If we allow, as part of a biocentric view, that all living things are owed a duty of non-harm, then we will have to conclude that duties of different degrees of urgency are owed to different sorts of beings (or even to the same sorts of beings at different times depending on their capacities at the time; compare drunk, chronically depressed, or even comatose humans). 16

[17] It might be objected that the implication of assuming that all living organisms have moral standing is that the lives of moral agents would be absurdly burdened as a result; the "strains of commitment" of such a moral theory would be too great. I claim that this objection may hold against biocentric egalitarianism but not the biocentric, stepped egalitarianism I defend here. For reasons yet to be noted, the intrinsic value of a small insect may be close to zero and the cost (or instrumental disvalue) of not harming it may, I believe, easily outweigh it. We have, on the face of it, no stringent positive or negative duty to avoid harm to each ostensibly (virtually) valueless creature. Just as we might have a duty to avoid harming a small but extremely valuable (instrumentally) Fabergé egg, we have some duty to avoid harm to a small but very valuable (perhaps due to its relational properties) creature. If, though it be unlikely, I am informed that I am about to step on an escaped instance of nanaloricus mysticus, a creature about one hundredth of an inch long said to look like an "ambulatory pineapple," then I am about to step on a creature (discovered only in 1983) which is so unique that it has been placed in its own phylum (loricifera) no less (1992: 131). Lives as such are not in short supply, but certain kinds of lives are. My point is partly that we may have an urgent duty to not harm a little nonsentient creature, or we may not; it depends. For moral agents who can contemplate reasons for deciding one way or the other, the problem is often one of ignorance and not knowing the value of certain creatures. But moral agents cannot live as though every little creature is of great value (I speak here of their individual and not their collective value) any more than they can regularly agonize about whether a treasured wedding ring is in every bag of trash being thrown out. Until we learn otherwise (and we have some duty to learn), we have no urgent duty to avoid harming individual creatures whose lives are not of evidently non-trivial value. Only someone resembling the Judeo-Christian God might have a duty to prevent all avoidable harm and premature death to the nonhuman living beings on the planet. 17 The more demanding theoretical questions concern the appropriate criteria for differentially weighting the lives and well-being of different creatures. I will turn to that issue.

The Place of Instrumental Value

[18] There has been some tendency to hold, since something possessing intrinsic value has a very special status compared to something which lacks intrinsic value, that in a choice situation in which a moral agent must preserve either what is of intrinsic value or what lacks such value, the entity possessing intrinsic value ought to be preserved. Since the magnitude of intrinsic value of some living things is so minuscule, and since the instrumental value of some intrinsically valueless things can be great, we may have a duty to sacrifice what is of intrinsic value. 18 For example the instrumental value of blowing up an old building and replacing it with a new structure may be so large and the intrinsic value of the building's inhabitants, the mice and the feral cats which hunt them (which by assumption cannot be gotten out ahead of time) is small. Thus, in the absence of other morally relevant considerations, one ought to go ahead and blow up the building. Something similar might have to be said about the justifiability of using cars, buses, planes, or just walking. Unless we conclude along these lines, more of what is valuable, genuinely valuable, in modern life may come to a halt sooner than we might initially think.

[19] So, instrumental value is significant value which deserves appropriate weight in our decision-making. 19 We need to consider the total value of an entity, a value which might be thought to be the sum of its intrinsic or inherent value, its instrumental value and any other relational value it possesses. 20 Weighing all the kinds of value has some bearing on properly valuing the lives of members of endangered species, keystone species, exotic species, and so on. I note in passing that even if we were clearer about how to value the lives of individuals it is not clear that we will have recognized all that is of value or all kinds of value; to consider the value of species or ecosystems may require us to go beyond what many label an "individualism" in recognizing and weighing values. 21

[20] I have sketched reasons for accepting a biocentric view and why possession of moral standing or intrinsic value is itself not a trivial matter but also not a factor which will automatically override other morally relevant considerations. I have said little about elaborating and defending a view of the diverse intrinsic value of living organisms except for mentioning a case or two in which I believe such a view will yield the most plausible moral implications. I turn to suggest some positive grounds for recognizing diverse magnitudes of intrinsic value and why such a view is comparatively attractive.

Just and Unjust Differential Treatment

[21] A compelling positive reason for recognizing diverse amounts of intrinsic value among living creatures is the assumption that the capacity for consciousness, the capacity to reason, to live an examined, goal-oriented existence and life are value conferring traits which make the lives of their possessors more valuable other things being equal. It is difficult to see how some moral convictions deeply entrenched in reflective common sense and in a variety of moral outlooks can be preserved if we give up these assumptions. One such conviction is that a normal human life is to be preferred to, and is more valuable than, one in a coma or in a persistent vegetative state. The "intuition," if one likes, that the life of a child is more valuable that the life of a grasshopper or a rabbit is another. The belief that the life of gorilla is more valuable that the life of a mouse is a third. For many of us the existing psychological complexity of a typical adult human compared to merely biological-physiological traits of a twenty week human fetus, its potentiality not denied, is what makes the adult human a life to be valued at many magnitudes beyond any value that might be assigned to the fetus -- and ultimately why it is absurd to regard the killing of a fetus as morally on a par with the killing of an adult person. 22 In short I am suggesting that in fact we do suppose widely diverse amounts of intrinsic value attach to different lives, even within the category of human beings and that the one obvious way to derive these judgments is to recognize that a few traits such as consciousness, the possession of sentience, the capacity to reason, and to act with deliberative purposiveness.

[22] There is one obvious, serious worry about adopting a biocentric inegalitarian view; it is one I have noted on earlier occasions. 23 Must assigning different amounts of intrinsic value to different beings on the basis of traits such as those I have noted entail a commitment to unjust discrimination? It is difficult to see why it must, although it is crucial that we ascertain just what are the right assignments. For certain purposes, differences among, say, humans will be irrelevant. For example, differences of intelligence levels, personal attractiveness, musical or philosophical abilities will have zero bearing on the question of whether the humans in question have a right to form their own opinions or have a right not to be caused to suffer, and so on. In short, the right view will suppose that beings surpassing a certain threshold or intrinsic or inherent value will, in the absence of other morally relevant considerations, deserve equality of consideration and, perhaps, equality of treatment. Differences among humans may be entirely irrelevant for certain purposes but relevant for others; a deaf person need not be hired to test recordings for acoustic quality; a blind person need not be hired as an interior decorator. More accurately, it is not unjustly discriminatory to differentiate and treat differently a blind person and a sighted person for this last purpose. What counts as relevant difference and for what purposes is a question of great import; the debates over racism, sexism, sexual preference, age-based discrimination, and speciesism reflect this fact.

[23] The often healthy reaction against unjust discrimination has sometimes resulted in indefensible views which deny the relevance of any differences for most any purpose. It is sometimes said that differentiating among persons on grounds of their comparative personal attractiveness, what is called "lookism," is morally reprehensible. Here much would seem to depend on the purposes for which one differentiates. Surely it is permissible to choose a lover partly on the basis of attractiveness, even if such differences ought not to play any role in one's choice of mechanics or waiters.

[24] We have had over the course of human history much difficulty not only in doing the right thing but in figuring our what is permissible, in particular what sorts of differential treatment or discrimination within our species is permissible and why; things are simply more complicated when we try to extend justice across species and generations. I have not touched on many remaining, difficult matters. I have tried to characterize the basic features or structure of what I believe is the most rationally defensible "environmental ethic."

[25] Such an ethic will be complex; it should accommodate a variety of moral presumptions, e.g., that a human life is normally more valuable than the life of a cat, that all lives have some value, that some degree and kind of biodiversity is valuable, that the well-being of future generations of all living things is significant and hence that we ought to adopt ways of life which are sustainable, that in a wide variety of cases the number of lives at stake is morally significant, that rarity and abundance are often relevant, and that replaceability (or lack of it) of lives of a certain kind is often or always morally relevant and that an ancient genetic lineage is normally something of great value. A great barrier to further work on these matters and receptivity to existing work is the widespread empirical ignorance about the extent of the vast human induced extinction on this planet, its horrific long term consequences, and the rationalizing, dominating doctrine of anthropocentrism.

Received January 20th, 1995.


Fieser, James (1983). "Callicott and the Metaphysical Basis of Ecocentric Morality." Environmental Ethics, 15: 171-80.  

Pierce, Christine and Donald VanDeVeer (eds.) (1995). People, Penguins, and Plastic Trees: Basic Issues in Environmental Ethics. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company.  

---- (eds.) (1994). The Environmental Ethics and Policy Book. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company.  

Rachels, James (1992). "Darwin, Species, and Morality." The Monist, 70: 98-113.  

Regan, Tom (1983). The Case for Animal Rights. Berkeley: University of California Press.  

Taylor, Paul (1987). "Inherent Value and Moral Rights." The Monist, 70: 15-30.  

---- (1986). Respect for Nature. Princeton: Princeton University Press.  

VanDeVeer, Donald (1979). "Interspecific Justice." Inquiry. Vol. 22, No. I-2: 55-70.  

Wilson, E. O. (1992). The Diversity of Life. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University.


1 By "moral intuitionism" I mean roughly the view that humans can somehow discern what is right or permissible without having to engage in conscious reasoning on the basis of moral principles. Return.

 2 There is some discussion of this matter in (Fieser 1983). Return.

 3 I also leave open the question of whether collections or other complex entities can have intrinsic or inherent value. Return.

 4 Racism and sexism are familiar enough. Also I have in mind discrimination toward the very young, "the old," and regarding religion, views that it is all right to kill infidels, to hang people for blasphemy or atheism, or the the view of European "settlers" to America (my ancestors) that since "Indians" lacked souls one could kill them as permissibly as one could kill animals. Return.

 5 In this essay I simply assume that species boundaries as such are not morally relevant. So I assume that anthropocentrism, defined here as the view that all and only members of our species have intrinsic value or worth, is an indefensible view. Return.

 6 I have in mind the implications in certain contexts of applying Taylor's "priority principles," the implications of the application of Regan's "Worse-Off" principle, Singer's acknowledgement about who should die in certain life raft cases, Callicott's endorsement of killing certain animals for food, and James Sterba's appeal to defending or preferring our kind in certain cases of human and animal conflict. Return.

 7 For those unfamiliar with "trolley cases," these are hypothetical choice situations in which one must choose between two alternatives both of which seem presumptively wrong because, e.g., each may involve killing or injuring someone, typically innocent parties. Thus, one might have to steer a runaway trolley on one of two tracks in which, for reasons one might imagine, individuals, animals or humans, cannot escape. The parallel is with certain real life choices of a win-lose variety in which some innocent party will be seriously worse off whichever option one chooses, e.g., giving Mandelbaum the one kidney dialysis machine instead of O'Leary. Return.

 8 The Worse-Off Principle is: "Special considerations aside, when we must decide to override the rights of the many or the rights of the few who are innocent, and when the harm faced by the few would make them worse-off than any of the many would be if any other option were chosen, then we ought to override the rights of the many." See (Regan 1983: 308). See also his earlier note regarding "special considerations." Return.

 9 There is, ultimately, only one right ethic, I assume, and talk of an "environmental ethic" is not, in my view, a commitment to "two ethics" or two distinct ethical theories. Duties toward, or rights of, non-human entities are simply part of the right, comprehensive ethical theory. Return.

 10 Tom Regan rightly observes that his Worse-Off principle also allows overriding the interests of humans, and not especially nonhumans. On the point at hand he may be correct about the implication of his principle; still, in cases of animal versus human conflicts the Worse-Off Principle will almost always dictate that the animal gets the short end of the stick except in cases in which the human is unhealthy in certain respects. In the absence of any endorsement by him of the moral standing of nonhumans who are not subjects of a life, a subset of the 4000 or so mammalian species (I assume) out of the 3 to 30 million species of plants and animals on the planet I stand by my initial characterization. However, I want to express here my gratitude for his probing comments on earlier versions of this essay. Return.

 11 It is of interest that Paul Taylor, in spite of his egalitarianism, does not accept Regan's claim about the "very concept of intrinsic value." See (Taylor 1987: 17). Return.

 12 In a set of remarks Tom Regan delivered at Brooklyn College, which he shared with me, Regan criticizes Paul Taylor's view at the point at which an inference is made from the assumption that all living beings are equally teleological centers of life, each with a good of its own; he asserts " does not follow that all living beings are equal when it comes to how much inherent worth they have...." I take it that examining Taylor's apparent inference for validity is an interesting project only if the conclusion might be true. But the supposition that the conclusion may be true is just what his "logical argument" elsewhere (the one insisting that inherent value cannot come in degrees since "inherent worth" is a categorical concept) purports to deny. Return.

 13 In fact E. O. Wilson speculates that the numbers may be somewhere between 10 and 100 million. See (Wilson 1992: 346). Return.

 14 I am assuming that in these cases the entities lack notable instrumental value and no one has any duties regarding them. Return.

 15 Again Regan includes without question as subjects of a life only normal mammals over one year of age. This fact means that on his theory only a subset of the 4000 or so species of animals out of 3 to 30 million species of plants and animals on the planet must fall within the moral pale. Second, his practical policy conclusions to the effect that all experimentation on animals, and so on, strictly should be qualified to say "we must halt experimentation on all normal mammals over one year of age." At best, no stronger conclusion strictly follows from his theory. It is a theory, strictly, defending the existence of "post-pubescent mammal rights." This of course is no mean task and since I agree that such animals have moral standing, those rights cannot be dismissed, and since I am myself a post-pubescent mammal, I do not discount the theory on the ground that its scope is notably limited, but it is. Indeed, the expression "theory of animal rights" can be misleading when applied to his theory. These points are compatible with his insistence that nothing in his theory logically precludes recognizing moral standing in all living individuals or even ecosystems. I am urging that his theory's construal of the domain of entities possessing moral standing should be broadened in fact and that its ostensive rigorous egalitarianism about the possession of inherent worth should be dropped. In my view the insistence on such strict egalitarianism in, say, Regan's view and in Taylor's tends to thwart dialogue with anthropocentrists who think they must choose between their own beliefs to this point and "environmentalist" or "liberationist" views which require them to recognize mice and humans as, in some sense, equally valuable. They rightly turn away without having encountered the still challenging but intuitively more palatable, non-anthropocentric, alternatives. Hence, an upshot is that cooperative efforts to preserve non-human life are set back. This would seem to be one possibly rare situation in which, in my view, having the right ethic can foster the right sort of dialogue with those who disagree initially and not impede practical cooperation in policy matters. Return.

 16 And if we choose, as I would, to speak of respect for life rather than reverence for life (perhaps we should revere life itself, but not, however, all lives) we must note that the notion of respect which has its natural home in talk of respect for more or less autonomous choices must mean something quite different if we speak of respect for an amoebae, a fungus, a naked mole rat, a redwood tree or the human immunodeficiency virus. Return.

 17 Given the nature of things, one must conclude that were there such a divine being he/she built harm and premature death into the system as an unavoidable dimension. Return.

 18 This point was made in (Pierce and VanDeVeer 1995). I have also seen it made vigorously in a recent paper by Tal Scriven entitled "Disposing of Ecocentrism." Return.

 19 The fact that it is all right to kill something does not entail that it lacks intrinsic value; when there is justified killing of humans in certain cases of self-defense surely this is a relevant instance. Also if something lacks intrinsic value, it does not follow that it is all right to destroy it. Indeed there is, I presume, a prima facie duty not to destroy anything of instrumental value and the strength of this duty varies in proportion to the magnitude of the instrumental value, ceteris paribus. If being alive is a necessary condition of possessing intrinsic value, then a Klimt painting lacks intrinsic value, but since the painting is of considerable instrumental value there is a prima facie duty not to destroy it. Evidently many people do not regard being alive, however, as a necessary condition of possessing intrinsic value. Return.

 20 Perhaps one should say: its instrumental value in so far as that value is not realizable only in immoral uses; e.g., perhaps an unjust assassin has intrinsic value but his or her instrumental value as a competent unjust assassin gets no positive weight. Return.

 21 The term `individualism' remains ill-defined. I am an individualist in the sense that I do not believe that certain individuals should be sacrificed to promote certain collective goods, whether one is focusing on individual animals or individual humans. But who would deny this form of individualism? That assumption is at least part of the truth of the individualist views, a good reason to worry, as Tom Regan has, about "ecological fascism," and it is why it would be wrong to start culling our rampant human population. One might compare Edward Abbey's "I'd rather kill a man than a snake," a possible proposal for "ecological cleansing" with recent Serbian efforts at "ethnic cleansing."

The biocentric view that I endorse holds that all individual organisms have morally relevant interests, even if they sometimes cannot be deemed morally significant for moral agents to take into account. James Rachels subscribes to what he calls "moral individualism" and part of that thesis is the negative claim that membership by an individual in a group is morally irrelevant to how he, she, or it should be treated. This principle is one to which there seem to be many obvious objections even if only humans had moral standing. Further it denies the relevance of the fact that an individual animal is a member of an endangered species. This is a form of individualism which, I believe, cannot be correct. On this issue, see (Rachels 1992: 98-113). Tom Regan also says that "All animals are equal, both the plentiful and the rare." He may mean that all subjects of a life are equal in inherent value, but I would argue for possible differences at that level and also in terms of total value (which incorporates derivative relational values such as rarity of sorts). See (Regan 1983: 395). Regan's two key practical principles are open ended in having a "special considerations aside" clause built into them. I may misread him, but unless these are specified completely, his principle winds up being indeterminate and is one invulnerable to "refutation by counterexample." Although I share his desire to be very cautious about these difficult matters, when he allows, as he has (at least in conversation), that the extinction of a species may count as a special consideration if its extinction is due in part to human injustice, then the difference between his position and those who wish to assign serious weight to relational properties is harder to discern. One is tempted to think that among the animals which are "all equal" we should, on his view, sometimes preserve some over others because of values derived from their relational properties, but that of course is what I maintain here. Return.

 22 Evidently many so-called "pro-life" groups suppose that human fetuses are to be valued on a par with adult humans or neonatal humans. To do so is to deny the value generating nature of the traits I have listed. Further it is a view which is one step away from the view I have criticized, "biocentric egalitarianism," since it is only a speciesist presupposition which separates such groups from commitment to biocentric egalitarianism. Conversely, the biocentric egalitarians are, in one sense, non-speciesist "pro-lifers." Return.

 23 There is some discussion of this matter in (VanDeVeer 1979). Return.

©1995 Donald VanDeVeer
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The Electronic Journal of Analytic Philosophy, 3 (Spring 1995)