Forum to explore animal ethics

November 8, 2018
Dr. Yi Tong
Dr. Shane Drefcinski

How should we treat other (non-human) animals? Do animals’ interests matter? How much weight should we assign to them in our ethical considerations, if at all?

These questions and more will be discussed at a faculty forum, “Animal Ethics and the Point of View of the Universe: Against the Utilitarian Response to Speciesism,” hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s College of Liberal Arts and Education on Thursday, Dec. 6 in Room 136 Doudna Hall from 5-6:30 p.m.

At the forum, Dr. Yi Tong, lecturer of philosophy at UW-Platteville, will introduce and criticize the influential utilitarian approach to animal ethics, as represented by the work of Peter Singer, an Australian ethical and political philosopher known for his work in bioethics and animal rights.

“The questions of how we should treat other non-human animals, if animals’ interests matter, and how much weight we should assign to them in our ethical considerations, if at all, are increasingly becoming part of our ethical awareness,” said Tong. “The ethical theory called utilitarianism has provided an influential set of responses to these questions. It argues, as its starting point, that since animals can suffer, we should give their interests equal consideration, equal to those of human beings. This line of thinking has been popular in recent years, both in philosophical community as well as in public discourses. Further, it has been argued that speciesism, the prejudice that bases preferences on species membership, is the last form of human prejudice to be identified (after racism and sexism), and we are on our way to eradicate this prejudice and make further moral progress.”

Drawing on philosopher Bernard Williams’s work, Tong will argue that Singer’s position is grounded in a model of thinking that takes the point of a view of an Impartial Observer who is detached from all human peculiarities yet evaluates “how well the universe goes.” He believes that it is “a point of view of the universe,” from which the only thing that matters is how much suffering the universe contains. However, the utilitarian attempt to build an argument from that point of view is leaving human life altogether.

Based on that analysis, Tong will go on to present the main tenets of utilitarian animal ethics, criticize its fundamental assumptions and raise questions about the coherence of utilitarian ethical theory, the nature of ethical dispositions and the possibility of grounding animal ethics in a human point of view. The purpose of his talk is not to propose a new animal ethics, but to show that a popular argument for animal welfare is philosophically unsound.

Following Tong’s discussion, Dr. Shane Drefcinski, professor of philosophy and chair of the Department of Humanities at UW-Platteville, will build upon Tong’s argument by sketching how a virtue-based ethical theory can promote care for animals.

Tong earned a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2016. He is currently working on a book manuscript based on his doctoral dissertation, titled “Conceptual Analysis in Jurisprudence: An Essay in Methodology.” Tong’s research interests include philosophy of law, philosophy of language, ethics as well as the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Drefcinski earned a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 1996 and began teaching at UW-Platteville in 1997. His research interests include ancient philosophy, ethics and the history of philosophy. He has published in “Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy,” “International Philosophical Quarterly,” “Apeiron,” “Logos” and Macmillan Publishers’ “Encyclopedia of Science, Technology and Ethics.”

The forum is free and open to university students, faculty, staff and community members. Refreshments will be served.

The LAE Faculty Forum Series, a program instituted in the fall of 2004, is sponsored by UW-Platteville’s College of LAE. The purpose of the forum is to allow faculty to present information in their research areas. Presenters tailor their presentations to a general audience.


Written by: Laurie A. Hamer, University Relations Specialist, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191,


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