We have seen that considering the interests of those in our professional circle requires us to take into account the interests of people outside the group, because the professions exist to serve all of society. But how much farther does the moral circle extend? If we adopt a consequentialist theory and understand the good to be happiness or the satisfaction of categorical interests, then it seems the ethically right act will always be the one that maximizes these things. But who has these things? Who can be happy? Who has categorical interests? Surely our dogs and cats are capable of pain and pleasure, and they certainly seem capable of being happy or sad. Should our actions take their interests into account? If adopting a policy, P, could make a few people very happy but at the expense of making many animals suffer helplessly, should we adopt P? How would we decide?

Utilitarians hold that the interests of all sentient beings must be taken into account in our moral calculations. Furthermore, to the extent that such individuals will exist in the future, their interests must also be considered. We should look not only beyond our own group to all humans. We should also expand our horizons to include other species and future generations.

Author: Gary Comstock
Maintained By: Gary Comstock
Last Updated: 2008-08-12