It seems to be a widely held belief that we should not try to trap, kill, and eat any creature that can relate the story of its close call. While this turns out to be a good rule from the perspective of R. M. Hare’s version of utilitarianism, other intuitive-level rules about the proper treatment of sentient beings require revision, or so Gary Varner argues in his recent book Personhood, Ethics, and Animal Cognition. After defending Hare’s two-level utilitarianism in the first section, Varner turns to the question of the kinds of beings who worthy of kinds of concern, and in the final section he applies Hare’s theory to issues of animal agriculture. While Varner answers questions about whether we can eat some animals (maybe so) or factory farm any (probably not), significant work is done in the second section to defend claims about the cognitive and affective properties of animals. Varner argues that probably all vertebrates are conscious and hence are worthy of moral concern, though since no animals are persons with a narrative sense of self, they are not moral agents. Key to this section is the introduction of a middle category—near-persons. Near-persons occupy a middle ground in the moral hierarchy between the merely sentient and persons. Chimpanzees, dolphins, elephants and scrub jays qualify as near-persons, as might rats, monkeys and parrots—and these are the animals that we probably ought not make a regular meal of.
Andrews, K. (2014). Personhood, Ethics, and Animal Cognition: Situating Animals in Hare’s Two-Level Utilitarianism, by Gary E. Varner; The Philosophy of Animal Minds, edited by Robert W. Lurz. Mind, fzu128.