- Equal consideration of interests
"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 term "equal consideration of interests" first appeared in Peter Singer's Practical Ethics. The idea is that individual rights are unimportant philosophically; what is instead much more relevant is the consideration of an individual's interests.
The principle thus opposes those theories that either exclude some interests from the moral calculus or weigh certain interests differently from others. Jeremy Bentham's 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 also underlies Peter Singer's views, who is a moral utilitarian that 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.
For example, 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 have the right to become pregnant. Clearly, an entire segment of the population (males) does not even have this capability, and so defining this as a right of all humans is wholly unimportant.
"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." (Practical Ethics, 2nd edition P21)
In the same way, Singer states that it is ludicrous to say that all animals should hold the same rights; whereas a democratic society might claim that all humans should have the right to vote, that same society would never say that all other animals should have that same right. To do so would be unnecessary, unimportant, and incorrect. But this does not mean that non-human animals should have no consideration given to their interests. Just because some individual animal should not have the right to vote does not mean that it should enjoy no rights at all. Instead, Singer argues, a consideration of the animal's interests should be equal to that of the consideration already given to human beings.
Certain philosophers (See Bonnie Steinbock and William Baxter) who speak on this subject do not agree with the concept of giving equal consideration. They do not contest the term consideration of interests; they merely argue that the consideration of rights given to individual beings is not only arbitrary, but should be arbitrary.
- ^ Bentham, Jeremy. Introduction to the Principles and Morals of Legislation, "Corollary 1" of Chapter 17. published 1823.
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