Equal consideration of interests
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"Equal consideration of interests" is the name of a moral principle that states that one should both include all affected interests when calculating the rightness of an action and weigh those interests equally.
The principle therefore opposes theories that either exclude some interests from the moral calculus or weigh certain interests differently from others. Sir Jeremy Bentham's early 1800s dictum, "each to count for one, and none for more than one" can be considered a formulation of the principle of equal consideration of interests, and a basis for the broader philosophy of utilitarianism. The principle comes from, and underlies the views of Peter Singer, a moral utilitarian who has explicitly adopted it as the foundation of his ethical theory.
If all beings, not just human, are included as having interests that must be considered, then the principle of equal consideration of interests opposes not only racism and sexism, but also speciesism and some forms of nationalism.
When drafting up a list of rights that all human beings should have, it is both unnecessary and unimportant to say that all human beings should or should not have the right to give birth or to have an abortion. Clearly, an entire segment of the population (those born biologically male) cannot become pregnant in the first place, therefore it is ludicrous to argue that the right to give birth or have an abortion must include that segment. Singer applies the same logic to animals: for example, animals cannot comprehend a political candidate's platform then express a preference for one of the candidates, just as males cannot bear children, therefore in a democratic society, the only species that should have the right to vote are those species that have an ability to vote effectively, and even then, the children of those species, who are similar to other animals in their inability to comprehend the differences between political candidates, are not given the right to vote, just as animals are not -- yet this is no reason to deprive children and animals of other types of rights such as the right not to be molested or wantonly killed, as Singer argues; this is not the same as speciesism or ageism or (as in the example regarding the right to give birth) sexism, it is a mere concession to reality and the characteristics possessed by each species, biological sex, or age group. To allow animals to vote males to receive abortions would be unnecessary and illogical. But this does not mean that non-human animals, males, or children should have no consideration given to all of their interests. One must evaluate the characteristics of each sex, species, etc.: Where animals have an equal characteristic to humans, such as in the ability to feel, one must provide for an equal consideration of interests, but in areas where a species does not have an equal characteristic to humans, such as the ability to comprehend one political candidate's views versus another candidate and then the ability to express a preference for one of the candidates, then Singer argues that we do not need to apply equal consideration of interests in that particular realm of one's life. As Bentham put it:
The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor [see Louis XIV's Code Noir]... What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or, perhaps, the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?
and in doing so, pointed out that the relevant characteristic for a right not to be forced to suffer physically or mentally is the ability to feel physical or mental anguish—rather than arbitrarily and illogically appealing to a species' or age group's ability to reason or talk, which are irrelevant characteristics because they have nothing to do with physical/mental suffering. Likewise, just because it is sensible not to bother with addressing a male's right to receive an abortion, does not mean that only females should be protected from torture. Instead, Singer argues, a consideration of interests should be equal whenever the two individuals being compared share similar relevant characteristics.
Another principle is the consideration of how much one benefits versus how much the other suffers: "The essence of the principle of equal consideration of interests is that we give equal weight in our moral deliberations to the like interests of all those affected by our actions. This means that if only X and Y would be affected by a possible act, and if X stands to lose more than Y stands to gain, it is better not to do the act." Bentham and Singer both argue, for example, that to deprive an animal of its whole life is a greater loss to that sentient individual compared to the benefit of merely temporarily satisfying another sentient individual's senses, in this case the sense of taste which is but a desire or preference for a certain taste; a temporary sensory experience. Given that in many circumstances one does not live less years by becoming a vegetarian or vegan, in such circumstances, one benefits only in terms of the temporary sensory pleasure. Applying this to humans versus other humans, Singer argues that to deprive a man of the right not to be tortured would, similarly, be a great loss to most men when we ask ourselves how much they lose by not having that right, whereas a male losing a right to give birth or have an abortion is not considered to be any loss at all because he cannot get pregnant in the first place, therefore the right not to be tortured is obviously, Singer argues, a more important right for males than a nonsensical right for males to give birth or have abortions.
- Bentham, Jeremy. Introduction to the Principles and Morals of Legislation, "Corollary 1" of Chapter 17. published 1823.
- Practical Ethics, 2nd edition (pg. 21)