Skip to main content Accessibility help

On the Importance of Species for Rule-Consequentialism: A Reply to Galvão

  • EZE PAEZ (a1)


Pedro Galvão claims that, on the ideal rule-consequentialist code, all sentient humans have rights, whereas animals do not. Because agents are not impartial, total well-being would be lower if they were aware of a general disposition to harm in order to promote the good. Animals cannot be aware of that disposition, so it would be justified to harm them when that is best. Galvão also claims it is wrong to help an animal, even when optimific, if that harms another animal. I argue he is misguided. First, impartial agents would err in the moral calculus, causing falsely optimific harms. To compensate for that, all sentient individuals must have rights – though those protecting some humans may be stronger. Second, when helping is optimific, it is at least permitted. Moreover, since most sentient beings are wild animals with net negative lives, agents should be generally disposed to intervene in nature on their behalf.



Hide All

1 Galvão, P., ‘Rule-Consequentialism and the Significance of Species’, Utilitas 28.4 (2016), pp. 396414.

2 See Carruthers, P., The Animals Issue (Cambridge, 1992).

3 Galvão, ‘Rule-Consequentialism and the Significance of Species’, pp. 397–8.

4 See Singer, P., Animal Liberation (New York, 1975); de Lazari-Radek, K. and Singer, P., The Point of View of the Universe: Sidgwick and Contemporary Ethics (Oxford, 2014).

5 Galvão, ‘Rule-Consequentialism and the Significance of Species’, p. 397.

6 See Harsanyi, J. C., ‘Does Reason Tell Us What Moral Code to Follow, and, Indeed, to Follow any Moral Code at All?’, Ethics 96.1 (1985), pp. 4255, at 44–5 and 47–8; Hooker, B., Ideal Code, Real World (Oxford, 2000), pp. 95, 98, 136–41.

7 In fact, Regan claims that being a ‘subject-of-a-life’ (a sentient individual with complex psychological capacities) is a sufficient condition for having inherent value and, therefore, rights. See Regan, T., The Case for Animal Rights (Berkeley, 2004), p. 246. We can overlook this distinction, since Galvão's view implies that animals clearly qualifying as subjects-of-a-life do not have rights.

8 Galvão, ‘Rule-Consequentialism and the Significance of Species’, pp. 399 and 410.

9 Galvão, ‘Rule-Consequentialism and the Significance of Species’, pp. 406–7.

10 Galvão, ‘Rule-Consequentialism and the Significance of Species’, pp. 402–4.

11 See Cochrane, A., Animal Rights Without Liberation: Applied Ethics and Human Obligations (New York, 2012); Rowlands, M., Animal Rights: Moral, Theory and Practice, 2nd edn. (New York, 2009); Korsgaard, C., ‘Fellow Creatures: Kantian Ethics and Our Duties to Animals’, The Tanner Lectures on Human Values 25/26 (2005), pp. 77110.

12 See Hooker, Ideal Code, p. 135 and ‘Rule Consequentialism’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, <> (2008).

13 I am greatly indebted to Dale Miller and an anonymous reviewer's suggestions, which substantially improved the argument that follows.

14 For human reasoning as a device to justify pre-existing dispositions see Mercier, H. and Sperber, D., ‘Why Do Humans Reason? Arguments for an Argumentative Theory’, Behavioral and Brain Sciences 34 (2011), pp. 55111.

15 See Kuhse, H. and Singer, P., Should the Baby Live? The Problem of Handicapped Infants (Oxford, 1985), pp. 98117; Riddle, J. M., Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance (Cambridge, 1992), pp. 1011; Riddle, J. M., Eve's Herbs: A History of Contraception and Abortion in the West (Cambridge, 1997), p. 18.

16 So as to retain the disincentive, in lethal cases the benefit would be bestowed on an individual who would have otherwise been subjected to the procedure.

17 Suppose that affection for these infants remained so high that experimenting on them, rather than on animals, threatened social stability. This may justify a very limited way in which the code could differentiate on the basis of species-membership. Constraints protecting humans would be generally stronger than those protecting animals, although these infants would be protected by weaker constraints than other humans.

18 See Singer, P., ‘Ethics and Intuitions’, The Journal of Ethics 9 (2005), pp. 331–52.

19 See McMahan, J., ‘Moral Intuition’, The Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory, ed. LaFollete, H. and Persson, I. (Oxford, 2013), pp. 116–17; Parfit, D., On What Matters, vol. 3 (Oxford, 2017), p. 339.

20 Such as Cochrane's, Rowland's or Korsgaard's. See n. 11.

21 Galvão, ‘Rule-Consequentialism and the Significance of Species’, p. 404.

22 See C. Faria, ‘Animal Ethics Goes Wild: The Problem of Wild Animal Suffering and Intervention in Nature’ (PhD Dissertation, Barcelona, 2016), pp. 57–88.

23 Galvão, ‘Rule-Consequentialism and the Significance of Species’, p. 404.

24 Parfit, On What Matters, vol. 3, p. 369.

25 It is only recently that the problem of wild animal suffering has received widespread attention: Donaldson, S. and Kymlicka, W., Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights (Oxford, 2011); Horta, O., ‘Debunking the Idyllic View of Natural Processes: Population Dynamics and Suffering in the Wild’, Télos 17.1 (2010), pp. 7388; McMahan, J., ‘The Moral Problem of Predation’, Philosophy Comes to Dinner: Arguments on the Ethics of Eating, ed. Chignell, A., Cuneo, T. and Halteman, M. (London, 2013), pp. 268–94; Ng, Y.-K., ‘Towards Welfare Biology: Evolutionary Economics of Animal Consciousness and Suffering’, Biology and Philosophy 10.3 (1995), pp. 255–85; Nussbaum, M., Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (Cambridge, 2006); Tomasik, B., ‘The Importance of Wild Animal Suffering', Relations: Beyond Anthropocentrism 3.2 (2015), pp. 133–52.

26 There are, at least, 1 quintillion wild animals. See B. Tomasik, ‘How Many Wild Animals Are There?’, Essays on Reducing Suffering (2009), <>. Animals under human control amount to, at least, 1 trillion. See FAO, Statistics Division: Production, Live Animals, <>; A. Mood and P. Brooke, ‘Estimating the Number of Farmed Fish Killed in Global Aquaculture Each Year’, Fishcount (2012), <>. Humans constitute a mere 0.00000076 per cent of all sentient beings.

27 Hooker, Ideal Code, pp. 98–9 and 127–31.

28 Research funded by FCT scholarship SFRH/BPD/110642/2015. I thank Catia Faria, Oscar Horta and Daniela R. Waldhorn for their invaluable comments.

On the Importance of Species for Rule-Consequentialism: A Reply to Galvão

  • EZE PAEZ (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed