The final paper draws from the readings, supplemental course material, and online discussions from the first fourteen weeks of the course. The goal is to demonstrate an understanding of two ethical theories (one Western and one non-Western) by analyzing a contemporary ethical issue.
Participants can choose from any of the twelve ethical issues covered in your textbook (chapters 8-19). The Final Paper should be 750-1,250 words, double-spaced, include parenthetical (in-text) citations, and adhere to APA style guidelines.
The Final Paper should be written in Calibri font size 12 with 1-inch margins and saved as a Word or PDF document (Lastname_firstname_Ethicsfinal).
Essays are graded based on the following criteria,
Final Paper is worth 15 points
Comprehension of the material (0 to 8 points)
□ Pick one Western ethical theory (utilitarian, Kantian, virtue, or feminist ethics)
□ Pick one Non-Western ethical theory (Hindu, Buddhist, or Confucian ethics)
□ Pick one ethical issue (‘Abortion’, ‘Altering Genes and Cloning Humans’, ‘Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide’, ‘Capital Punishment’, ‘Drug Use, Harm, and Personal Liberty’, ‘Sexual Morality’, ‘Same-Sex Marriage’, ‘Environmental Ethics’, ‘Animal Rights’, ‘Political Violence’, ‘Equality and Affirmative Action’, or ‘Global Economic Justice’)
Coherence and organization (0 to 3 points)
Grammar and style (0 to 2 point)
Citations (0 to 2 point)
Philosophers and theologians throughout history have attempted to conceive normative ethical theories to guide human behavior when relating with fellow humans and non-human subjects. The use of ethical theories as systematic inquiry models to comprehend the moral limits of humans is common. Consequently, philosophers and theologians provide different, sometimes contradictory, explanations to moral or ethical questions. For example, an act that appears ethical from one individual’s perspective could be completely unethical from another, depending on personal views and cultural underpinnings. Although many ideas of the ethics of animal rights have emerged in the history of morality, utilitarian (Western ethical theory) and Hinduism (Non-Western ethical theory) have provided some of the most interesting explanations.
Utilitarianism and Animal Rights
Utilitarianism focus on the best interests of humans in consequence of any action. Therefore, the theory suggests that the most ethical action is that which produces the highest level of happiness to a majority (Francione, 1997). The theory applies to animal rights from the perspective of human vs. animal interests. Human treatment of animals focuses on the difference between humans (who are considered persons) and non-humans (considered as things). Although some people argue that animals have “interests”, utilitarianism suggests that they are tradable and depend on human judgment (Bass, 2012). After all, humans cannot fight for or defend their interests and their interests depend on those of humans. Utilitarianism suggests that humans can use non-human things (including animals) to fulfil their interests even when they are more trivial. The core idea is to use them to achieve the greatest level of happiness for the majority (humans).
Utilitarianism denies the validity of animals rights because they find it permissible for humans to use animals to fulfil their interests, even as seemingly trivial as “entertainment”, such as circuses, pigeon shoots, and rodeos. After all, animals are not persons either under law or moral theory. They are considered property because their existence is a means to human ends (Bass, 2012). Persons are beings with untradeable interests and include individual humans and corporations, which are de jure persons, meaning that the law creates their personhood. As a result, humans can decide to use animals for their pleasure and amusement. For example, a person has the moral authority to domestic a lion for a circus. As long as the person fulfils his interests, and he desires for entertainment, the interests of the animal are insignificant. Therefore, utilitarianism, to a great extent, is unconcerned about human rights, especially if they ignore human interests.
Hinduism and Animal Rights
The Non-Western ethical theory differs from utilitarianism from the perspective of utmost respect for human rights. The ethical perspective focuses on the sacred nature of life, including those of animals. Hinduism uses the scripture that shows animals as divine, such as “Hanuman in the story of the Ramayana: “The human role is not separate from nature. All objects in the universe, beings and non-beings, are pervaded by the same spiritual power” (Hindu Declaration on Nature, Assisi 1986 cited in Oruka, 1996). Many Hindu gods and goddesses have animals as the tools through which they connect humanity to the divine. For example, a cow is a sacred animal according to Hindu beliefs (Lord Shiva is Nandi the bull) (Oruka, 1996). Therefore, all creatures, according to the ethical system, are significant and deserve to be respected by humans. The idea resonates with the need to respect animal rights.
Another dimension of animal rights from the Hindu perspective is reincarnation. The perspective differs from the Western ethical view because of the deep connection between humans and animals. According to Hinduism, the atman has many lives on Earth. Some of the lives, mainly the past ones) were lived in the form of animals through reincarnation. The perspective makes Hindus view animals has having the same status as humans and deserving equal respect. Therefore, in the same way, people respect the rights of others; they are also expected to respect those of animals. They also consider the ethical view from the karmic perspective. The karmic debt is accrued by any person who is unkind or violent to another person or non-human being. The principle of ahimsa is another focus of animal rights in Hindu, which states that no living thing (human or animal) should be harmed, which applies to humans and animals. According to Yajurveda, “No person should kill animals helpful to all. Rather, by serving them, one should attain happiness” (Yajurveda 13:47, cited in Scott, 2014). Generally, Hindu, unlike utilitarianism, has significant respect for animal rights.
Animal rights are one of the essential topics in ethics. Although various ethical views of animal rights exist, utilitarian (Western ethical theory) and Hinduism (Non-Western ethical theory) are some of the most interesting. They two schools of ethical thought provide divergent views of ethics in animal rights. A person who takes the utilitarianism stance might fail to respect animal rights as he or she pursues personal pleasure. On the other hand, a Hindu is most likely to respect all animals because of the sacredness of their lives, the connection to human life, and karma.
Bass, R. (2012). Lives in the balance: utilitarianism and animal research. The ethics of animal research. Exploring the controversy. The MIT Press, Cambridge, 81-105.
Francione, G. L. (1997). Animal rights theory and utilitarianism: Relative normative guidance. Animal L., 3, 75.
Oruka, O. (Ed.). (1996). Philosophy, humanity and ecology: Philosophy of nature and environmental ethics. DIANE Publishing.
Scott, J. B. (2014). Unsaintly Virtue: Swami Dayananda Saraswati and Modern Hindu Hagiography. The Journal of Hindu Studies, 7(3), 371-391.