"Animals and Virtue Ethics"
January 31, 2022 | 12:00 - 1:00 PM CST
Meeting ID: 927 9911 0049
Dr. Raja Halwani
Professor of Philosophy
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Presentation Abstract: Taking animals seriously has important repercussions for the way we philosophize and for our philosophical theories. In this essay, I demonstrate this claim in regard to the moral theory of neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics.
First, I argue that the variety of animals, our knowledge of them, and our relationship to them give rise to divergent virtuous outlooks on animals. For example, it is compatible with being virtuous to view animals as having their own lives to lead, in ways generally akin to human beings, but it is also compatible with being virtuous to consider animals as having a morally lesser status than human beings while also being compassionate and respectful towards them. For the first group, eating meat is intolerable except in very few circumstances, while for second group eating meat is tolerable in various circumstances. And within the second group, some would find meat-eating enjoyable while others do it while gritting their teeth. Moreover, for the first group, euthanizing animals on a regular basis would be anathema, while for the second group it would be in general acceptable, though regrettable. There can then be more than one virtuous outlook on animals and, in tow, different virtues can have differing priorities among virtuous agents in how they treat animals, especially when it comes to consuming and killing them.
Second, the divergent virtuous outlooks and their accompanying prioritized virtues is a fact that we can live with, despite its not being a unitary view of a virtuous outlook on animals. Moreover, it is a fact whose resolution is hard to imagine; that is, it seems that our non-moral knowledge of animals does not yield a determinate answer on the basis of which there is the proper virtuous outlook to adopt. This claim can support a form of virtue ethics that is partly agent-based. That is, although being virtuous requires the compassionate and fair treatment of animals, there remain agential motives and dispositions that are virtuous yet incompatible with each other, a fact that is explained not by the properties of the animals or the situations in which we find them, but by the properties of the motives and dispositions themselves, which is a form of agent-based virtue ethics, albeit a partial one.
It remains to be seen whether thinking about animals is unique (or almost unique) in having these implications for virtue ethics, or whether it is only one among many others.
About Dr. Raja Halwani: Raja Halwani is Professor of Philosophy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His major research interests are in philosophy of sex and love, queer philosophy, moral and political philosophy, animal ethics, and philosophy of art. In addition to authoring numerous essays, he is the author or editor of Virtuous Liaisons: Care, Love, Sex, and Virtue Ethics (2003), Sex and Ethics: Essays on Sexuality, Virtue, and the Good Life (2007), The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Philosophical Essays on Self-Determination, Terrorism, and the One-State Solution (2008, co-authored with Tomis Kapitan), Love, Sex, and Marriage: A Philosophical Introduction (2010; 2018 [2nd ed.]), Queer Philosophy: Presentations of the Society for Lesbian and Gay Philosophy, 1998-2008 (2012), and The Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary Readings (6th ed. ; 7th ed.  and the forthcoming 8th edition).