Rabbits, Stoats and the Predator Problem: Why a Strong Animal Rights Position Need Not Call for Human Intervention to Protect Prey from Predators
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Animal rights positions face the ‘predator problem’: the suggestion that if the rights of nonhuman animals are to be protected, then we are obliged to interfere in natural ecosystems to protect prey from predators. Generally, rather than embracing this conclusion, animal ethicists have rejected it, basing this objection on a number of different arguments. This paper considers but challenges three such arguments, before defending a fourth possibility. Rejected are Peter Singer’s suggestion that interference will lead to more harm than good, Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka’s suggestion that respect for nonhuman sovereignty necessitates non-interference in normal circumstances, and Alasdair Cochrane’s solution based on the claim that predators cannot survive without killing prey. The possibility defended builds upon Tom Regan’s suggestion that predators, as moral patients but not moral agents, cannot violate the rights of their prey, and so the rights of the prey, while they do exist, do not call for intervention. This idea is developed by a consideration of how moral agents can be more or less responsible for a given event, and defended against criticisms offered by thinkers including Alasdair Cochrane and Dale Jamieson.
KeywordsAnimal ethics Animal rights Predator problem Environmental ethics Moral responsibility Justice
This paper was produced as part of a research project funded by the Department for Employment and Learning, Northern Ireland. Previous versions of the paper have been presented at the Association of Legal and Social Philosophy Annual Conference 2014 at Leeds University, the Queen’s University Belfast political theory workshop series and the Queen’s University Belfast philosophy society. My thanks to all who commented on these and other occasions, especially David Archard, Jeremy Watkins, Cillian McBride, Fabian Schuppert and Matteo Bonotti.
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