Date of Thesis



The primary objective of this thesis is to demonstrate the pernicious impact that moral hierarchies have on our perception and subsequent treatment of non-human animals. Moral hierarchies in general are characterized by a dynamic in which one group is considered to be fundamentally superior to a lesser group. This thesis focuses specifically on the moral hierarchies that arise when humans are assumed to be superior to non-human animals in virtue of their advanced mental capabilities. The operative hypothesis of this thesis is essentially that moral hierarchies thwart the provision of justice to non-human animals in that they function as a justification for otherwise impermissible actions. When humans are assumed to be fundamentally superior to non-human animals then it becomes morally permissible for humans to kill non-human animals and utilize them as mere instrumentalities. This thesis is driven primarily by an in-depth analysis of the approaches to animal rights that are provided by Peter Singer, Tom Regan, and Gary Francione. Each of these thinkers claim that they overcome anthropocentrism and provide approaches that preclude the establishment of a moral hierarchy. One of the major findings of this thesis, however, is that Singer and Regan offer approaches that remain highly anthropocentric despite the fact that each thinker claims that they have overcome anthropocentrism. The anthropocentrism persists in these respective approaches in that each thinkers gives humans Regan and Singer have different conceptions of the criteria that are required to afford a being moral worth, but they both give preference to beings that have the cognitive ability to form desires regarding the future.. As a result, a moral hierarchy emerges in which humans are regarded to be fundamentally superior. Francione, however, provides an approach that does not foster a moral hierarchy. Francione creates such an approach by applying the principle of equal consideration of interests in a consistent manner. Moreover, Francione argues that mere sentience is both a necessary and sufficient condition for being eligible and subsequently receiving moral consideration. The upshot of this thesis is essentially that the moral treatment of animals is not compatible with the presence of a moral hierarchy. As a result, this thesis demonstrates that future approaches to animal rights must avoid the establishment of moral hierarchies. The research and analysis within this thesis demonstrates that this is not a possibility, however, unless all theories of justice that are to accommodate animals abandon the notion that cognition matters morally.


Non-human Animals, Cognition, Capacities, Moral Status, and Moral Hierarchies.

Access Type

Honors Thesis (Bucknell Access Only)

Degree Type

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Gary Steiner