What does a utilitarian approach to animal rights suggest?

The most dangerous form of malaria originated in gorillas…

And AIDS seems to have come from chimpanzees.

Add up the numbers and figure out the utilitarian-preferred policy.

That is one reason why I believe a pure utilitarian approach to animal (or human animal) welfare does not work, namely that it leads to morally horrible consequences.  This is one topic I wished I had brought up with Peter Singer.


“There’s a lot you can do with ape scat,”

Go ape... wit it

That's why you prepare early by repeating phrases like "just a pet" and "pets are for my enjoyment." Or, you freeze 'em. That is of course unless you are one of those selfish "loved ones are for my own self-flagellation" freaks.

one question i've had, which is only related to this in that it has to do with development and epidemiology, is whether development in poor, rural asia will impede the development of flu viruses like H1N1. i wonder that because they always seem to 'come from' these parts of the world, and the reason is always given as something like squalid conditions with animals and people living close together.

Ah. But our utilities could include preferences for human rights, no? And this is why apes are here to stay.

if you're implying that the utilitarian-preferred response to the (past) transmission of diseases from other primates to humans is to eliminate said primates, i would ask what utility we might derive from doing so - unless you had some evidence that future transmissions are likely. and even if you did, the utilitarian might prefer instead to restrict human contact with such animals. and of course all of this assumes that we're only interested in maximising utility for humans, singer (and others) would argue that some animals ought to be included as subjects in utility calculations. certainly many non-vegetarians would accept this claim with respect to primates.

Dealing with disparate populations and disease is currently mostly handled via quarantine which limits the infected group's freedom of mobility. It is a more percise action compared to simply fireboming the disease but they are still having their freedoms limited for the benefit of the societies to which they are connected.

Humans as a species can and usually do self-quarantine but animals in many cases are not even able to do so if they could since their movements are restricted by their human masters. With that option off the table, and a general desire to avoid genocide of any animal (human or otherwise) and deal only with those already infected, the available options become more limited.

A utilitarian model would ask what is the probability that, say seals, are going to introduce a incurable and deadly disease into our population and at what threshold should preventative measures be taken - up to and including extemination. Given that that we are looking at malaria/AIDS transmission events that occurred in the past unless you are going to simultaneously remove the human transmitters from the population even considering with the non-human sources would be a waste of resources with respect to dealing with these diseases.

christ, you already made him leave in a semi-huff, he might've launched himself at the screen (or out the window) if you'd challenged him on something else.

The problem isn't the non-humans - all the diseases co-evolve with their hosts. Any disease that is devastating to its hosts extinguishes itself, so a disease can't evolve faster than its host's ability to co-exist with it.

The problem is with humans, and more important, human civilization, which inherently results in globalization. While in recent decades we worry about a pandemic spreading in a matter of days all over the world, all the great epidemics were the result of globalization that has been inherent in human civilization for thousands of years.

Trade between Europe and the Middle East brought Europe the Black Death - the Crusades were merely a religious mission. Globalization brought death to the Americas with dozens if not hundreds of pandemics.

The solution is either terminating the prime driver: humans, or restricting the behavior of humans to prevent disease spread: ending global trade.

The utilitarian is forced to weigh the cost benefit ratio of global trade, and even civilization that creates communities of millions.

"The solution is either terminating the prime driver: humans, or restricting the behavior of humans to prevent disease spread: ending global trade."

Well said! There are probably unknown diseases of various animals that could at some point jump the species divide and turn virulent in humans. But we know that human-to-human transmission is vitally important for most human infectious diseases.

Ideally we should divide up into populations of about 10,000 to 100,000 individuals, and allow strictly limited communication among them. There could be some trade, particularly in things that aren't particularly good at carrying human pathogens. How much risk would there be in moving aluminum ingots over the borders? And we could have any amount of internet traffic worldwide.

But arrange it so that perhaps 1% of the people of one ward emigrated to some other ward, once in a lifetime....

We could probably do quite well that way, economically and socially. But there is no political will to get it established.

Eliminate the chimps? My first thought was to work on chimp vaccines instead.

Moby, it's a big deal to hunt down all the chimps and vaccinate them.

Probably better to use the approach we will at some point use with humans -- develop a virus that carries the desired antigens, and spread the infection. Currently we don't entertain that approach because we don't like the biowar implications, and to the extent the technologies work they are highly secret. Even the testing is kept secret, nobody wants to find out that their government has intentionally spread somewhat-harmless diseases on purpose.

But in time we will use those methods for peaceful purposes. It will be far, far cheaper and perhaps more effective to vaccinate populations by infection than doing it by hand to the people who show up to be stuck with needles.

You write that “a pure utilitarian approach to animal (or human animal) welfare does not work, [because] it leads to morally horrible consequences.” Two comments: (1) you should not rely so heavily on your moral “intuitions”—-you should not be so confident that utilitarianism’s consequences are really immoral; (2) it is far from clear what the implications of utilitarianism are for the treatment of animals—-utilitarianism is *extremely* abstract, very far removed from the practical level.
Moral theories are supposed to model human intuition, not vice-versa.


I also would prefer that moral theories should specify what we really ought to do so that I can get what I want.

But I think Neal has it in reality. Moral theories are normally designed after the fact to confirm things their supporters already believe.

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