Other-Consciousness and the Use of Animals as Illustrated in Medical Experiments
Journal of Applied Philosophy 2007 May; 24(2): 202-208
Ethicists such as Peter Singer argue that consciousness and self-consciousness are the principal considerations in discussing the use of animals by humans, such as in medical experiments. This paper raises an additional consideration to factor into this ethical discussion. Ethics deal with the intentional impact of subjects on each other. This assumes a meta-representational ability of subjects to represent states of mind of others, which may be termed other-consciousness. The moral weight of other-consciousness is manifest in the notion of responsibility, where humans lacking in other-consciousness (such as individuals with autism) may not be held responsible for their harmful actions towards others. As responsibility implies not only duties but also rights and more generally high moral status, it follows that other-consciousness grants high moral status, other things being equal ? recognizing that other factors grant moral status too. Other-consciousness also increases the capacity for suffering, both due to increased freedom (and consequently increased possibility of restriction of freedom) and to increased empathy (with suffering of others). Hence, the more an animal is other-conscious, the more it deserves high moral status and the more it can suffer, other things being equal, and consequently, the less it should be used for human purposes. Further study is required to elucidate to what extent animals used by humans, such as in medical experiments, particularly primates and other highly evolved mammals, are other-conscious.
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