Argument for Marginal Cases

The argument for marginal cases (AMS) states that there is no way to separate animals from humans in a specific set of guidelines or criteria so it cannot logically, or reasonably, be thought that humans are above animals in a moral sense. The argument for marginal cases (AMS) has been a major obstacle to defending meat eating.  Different philosophers have their own perspective when it comes to the argument for marginal cases. Based on the ideas of various philosophers, the argument for marginal cases cannot be successfully rebutted which implies that humans cannot defend meat eating when it comes to human treatment of animals.

Peter Singer evaluates meat eating from a mainly utilitarian perspective without taking a position on the wrongness of killing animals. As a utilitarian, Peter Singer’s main concern was how to bring the maximum amount of pleasure into the world, whether that be vegetarianism or meat- eating. Singer explains that there are two ways to increase pleasure in the world. These two ways of increasing pleasure in the world are to increase pleasure in the lives of those who currently exist or to increase the number of lives of those who lead pleasant lives (Killing 147). To increase the number of those with pleasant lives being led, Singer proposes killing those without pleasure in their lives, resulting in a new average amount of pleasure that is greater than the last. This is called the average view. If this is the case, what if humans are beings with the least amount of pleasure in their lives? Since humans are the only species with beings capable of cognition and thinking about our place in the world, or the cosmos, humans understand the truth about their existence in the universe. Because of this, humans could very well be the beings with the least amount of pleasure in the world while animals are in blissful obliviousness about their place in the universe. Animals are not under the same pressures as humans and lead very simple lives. Animals are just concerned with material life, meaning that that they just eat, sleep, roam the land, mate, defend, and play, having a potentially more pleasurable life than humans. Animals are not inquisitive enough to contemplate their existence, who they are, and why they go through hardships such as disease, being born, dying, and aging. If this is true, then by killing all humans, from the utilitarian perspective, there may be more pleasure in the world overall. When it comes to the morality of killing, it does matter whether the beings are merely conscious or self- conscious, which, according to Peter Singer, is being capable of desiring to go on living (Killing 151). This is the distinction which Peter Singer makes as the difference between humans and animals. Desiring to go on living is a solely human capability according to Peter Singer, but how can we be sure that animals are not self-conscious and do not desire to continue on living? When an animal is being hunted and it runs away, this is a desire to go on living. When an animal is trapped and tries to escape, this does indicate the desire to go on living and to be free. Although in the footnotes, Singer explains that an animal’s struggle against capture only indicates that a situation is undesirable and not necessarily that there is a desire to continue living, the situation could be undesirable to the animal because the animal understands that their life is going to be taken away, therefore indicating a desire to live. Singer also says that it is a challenge to prove animals don’t have a desire to live, especially in the case of chickens. However, when it comes to infants and disabled humans, they may not be self- conscious yet or have the desire to go on living, but they are still given rights. According to Singer, this is because they have the potential to have the desire to go on living or to be self- conscious. However, there is a possibility that the reason why disabled humans or infants are not self- conscious and have rights is simply because they are human which would be speciesism, discrimination against beings since they aren’t of our same species. Singer’s goal was to extend the basic principle of equality to members of other species, meaning that he advocated for the same consideration, not necessarily the same exact treatment (All Animals 106). Singer believes that the principle of equality rests on the capacity to sentience, or the ability to suffer, to feel pain, and to feel pleasure. Singer concludes that all of us are speciesists because we all allow our own species’ interests to hold more importance over other species’ members’ interests due to prejudice and bias. Personally, I agree with view of how equality is a principle based on having feeling and being sentient as well as his assertion that humans are speciesists for putting our interests above the interests of other species.

Carl Cohen evaluates the moral basis of vegetarianism. His claims are that animals do not have rights; obligations to animals do not imply correlative rights (Cohen 155). The concept of rights applies only in the moral world of humans since the concept of rights was constructed by humans. Cohen believes that humans can bear rights because they are able to formulate moral principles unlike humans. However, looking at the argument for marginal cases, Cohen’s explanation doesn’t explain why humans who aren’t able to form moral principles have rights. Humans who cannot form moral principles and have rights include such infants, disabled people, comatose, senile, and the elderly. There are two possible reasons infants, disabled people, comatose, senile, and the elderly are an exception. The first reason proposed by Nathan Nobis is that infants bear rights, or principles of freedom, because infants have the potential to be a moral agent (Nobis 49). However, this would still not explain why disabled people are exceptions. The second reason is speciesism. Speciesism is thinking that your particular species is inherently better than other species, kind of like getting property by association which is Carl Cohen’s real principle, and Carl Cohen is definitely guilty of speciesism:

Objections of this kind arise from a misunderstanding of what it means to say that the moral world is a human world. Children, like elderly adults, have rights because they are human. Morality is an essential feature of human life; all humans are moral creatures, infants and the senile included. Rights are not doled out to this individual person or that one by somehow establishing the presence in them of some special capacity. This mistaken vision would result in the selective award of rights to some individuals but not others, and the cancelation of rights when capacities fail. On the contrary, rights are universally human, apply to humans generally (Cohen 163).

Carl Cohen explicitly states that children and elderly are exceptions because of their categorization in the human species. Otherwise, the rights of disabled people, infants, senile, and those who are comatose would be taken away if what gave a being rights was their ability to formulate moral principles. His logic is based on the premise that humans are an inherently better species than other species. Without having the basic premise of speciesism present in your logic or reasoning, there is no way to separate humans from animals completely and there is no way to say that humans are inherently better than animals. Because of how the argument for marginal cases disproves Carl Cohen’s claim that the ability to formulate moral principles gives a being rights, I do not agree with Cohen’s point of view that animals do not deserve rights.

            According to Donaldson and Kymlicka, all animals should have rights. Beings that are sentient and have feelings should bear inviolable rights, rights that cannot be taken away, like a protective shield (Donaldson and Kymlicka19). Because animals are capable of consciousness and are sentient, this means that according to Donaldson and Kymlicka, animals should also have rights. While killing a human for her organs in order to save five others is wrong, so it is also wrong to kill one baboon to save five humans. However, killing a baboon is often socially accepted and permissible (Donaldson and Kymlicka 20). This is described as utilitarianism for animals and Kantianism for people because humans’ rights are fully inviolable while animals’ rights are only partially inviolable or imposable (Donaldson and Kymlicka 20). I agree with Donaldson’s and Kymlicka’s view that animals should have rights and that the word human needs to be removed from the phrase ‘human rights’ as rights are applicable to not only humans.

One may argue that eating meat is a defendable treatment of animals based on the replaceability argument (Killing 149).  For the pleasure in the life of the animal a meat eater eliminates, a meat eater is also responsible for the breeding of more animals resulting in overall, more pleasure in the world than the original amount of pleasure brought in by the single animal which was eaten (Killing 149).

Singer points out two reasons why the replaceability argument doesn’t hold (Killing 149). The replaceability argument is based on the premise that animals are able to be replaced, but animals may not be replaceable. This whole argument depends on if a sentient being that is capable of feeling is replaceable, which we cannot prove. The second reason it doesn’t hold is because this argument assumes that creating life is good, meaning it is good for the world to have as many people in it as possible. In this case, more people can be supported in this world if plants are grown instead of raising animals on land (Killing 149).

Based on the readings of Carl Cohen, Peter Singer, Donaldson and Kymicka, and Nathan Nobis, there is no way to successfully rebuttal the argument for marginal cases. Because there is no way to successfully rebuttal the argument for marginal cases, there is an implication present that when it comes to humans’ treatment of animals, there is no way to defend eating meat. Whether it comes to Singer’s utilitarian view of what brings about the most total happiness in the world, Carl Cohen’s evaluation on the alleged moral basis of vegetarianism, Donaldson’s and Kymicka’s thoughts on sentience and rights, or Nobis’s ideas on the potentiality of infants to be moral agents, humans’ treatment of animals is not defendable when thinking logically, from a clear reasoning.

In each movement described in the writing by Singer, there were advocates for the cause who were standing up for themselves (All Animals 104). For the women's rights movement, women were their own advocates. For the African American rights movement, African Americans were their own advocates. What about animals? Who will be the advocates of animals? Because animals cannot be their own advocates due to their inability to communicate with us, do you think there will be a revolution for animals’ rights such as the women's rights movement or the civil war? And in the previously mentioned movements victims were able to tell perpetrators that they were being harmed by their actions and ways of thinking. However, since animals cannot tell their perpetrators that they are being harmed, why would humans want to change their way of thinking if no victim tells them that their actions are causing harm to them? Although based on logic and reasoning, there is no way to separate animals from humans so humans cannot be thought of as above animals in a moral sense, because animals are not able to communicate with us and express that they are being victimized, humans will most likely not take too seriously being more conscientious about their treatment of animals.














Works Cited

Cohen, Carl & Regan, Tom (2005). The Animal Rights Debate. Ethical Theory and Moral           Practice 83):325-327.


Donaldson, Sue & Kymlicka, Will (2011). Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights.            Oxford University Press.


Nobis, Nathan. “Carl Cohen's 'Kind' Arguments For Animal Rights and Against Human   Rights.” Journal of Applied Philosophy, vol. 21, no. 1, 2004, pp. 43–59. JSTOR,

Singer, Peter. “All Animals Are Equal.” Animal Rights, 2017, pp. 3–16.,    doi:10.4324/9781315262529-2.


Singer, Peter. “Killing Humans and Killing Animals.” Inquiry, vol. 22, no. 1-4, 1979, pp. 145      156., doi:10.1080/00201747908601869.













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