According to rule-consequentialism, we ought to follow the principles that would result in the best consequences if they were generally accepted. These principles constitute the ideal code. My aim is to make clear what the ideal code says about what we owe to animals. I argue that it accords moral status to them: the rule-consequentialist should acknowledge both general duties and special obligations to animals. However, in the ideal code there is no place for animal rights, conceived as deontological constraints. Within the animal rights debate, I conclude, rule-consequentialism is superior to some of the most prominent ethical theories in its agreement with widely shared moral intuitions. But some of its practical implications regarding the proper treatment of animals remain unclear. This point is illustrated by a discussion of what Jeff McMahan called ‘benign carnivorism’.
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