Gary Varner, Professor and Head
PhD 1988, University of Wisconsin-Madison
MA 1983, University of Georgia
BA 1980, Arizona State University
- Hare’s two-level (or “Kantian”) utilitarianism
- animal welfare and animal rights philosophies (especially how empirical science informs their application)
- environmental ethics
Varner wrote one of the first dissertations on environmental ethics and has since published two books and over 50 articles, book reviews and encyclopedia entries on related topics.
His first book, In Nature's Interests? Interests, Animal Rights and Environmental Ethics (Oxford University Press, 1998), provides an original analysis of what it means to have morally significant interests and examines the alleged divide between animal rights views and sound environmental policy.
His published papers cover related topics in hunting, animal agriculture and human nutrition, medical research, cloning, and pet ownership, as well as philosophical issues associated with professional ethics, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the property takings debate.
He is currently finishing a long-term project on animals and the moral philosophy of R.M. Hare. The result is two books:
- Personhood, Ethics, and Animal Cognition: Situating Animals in the Two-Level Utilitarianism of R.M. Hare
This book was published by Oxford University Press in July 2012.
R.M. Hare was one of the most important ethical theorists in the second half of the 20th century, and one of his graduate students, Peter Singer, became famous for his writings on animals and personhood. Singer now says that he endorses Hare’s “two-level utilitarianism,” and he has invoked the theory’s distinction between “critical thinking” and thinking in terms of “intuitive level rules” in response to certain objections to his conclusions on several issues. For his part, however, Hare never published a systematic treatment of how his theory applies to issues in animal ethics, and he avoided talking about the concept of “personhood.”
The first volume in this pair defends the moral legitimacy of distinguishing among “persons,” “near-persons,” and “the merely sentient” within Harean two-level utilitarianism, illustrates the implications of this distinction by applying the resulting ethical system to some issues regarding our treatment of animals, and emphasizes how the results contrast with the more abolitionist conclusions reached by Singer on these same issues.
In the process, the book presents a new philosophical defense of two-level utilitarianism and its metaethical foundation (universal prescriptivism), and it significantly expands Hare’s account of how “intuitive level rules” function in moral thinking, based on recent empirical research. The book also draws heavily on empirical research on consciousness and cognition in non-human animals as a way of approaching the question of which animals, if any, are “persons,” or at least “near-persons.”
While written to be accessible to non-philosophers, the expected audience is primarily philosophers, both those interested in (i) utilitarianism in general or (ii) Hare in particular, and those interested in (iii) animal ethics or (iv) the debate over personhood.
- Sustaining Animals: Envisioning Humane, Sustainable Communities
This book is under contract with Oxford University Press, but don't expect to see it in print before 2015!
The second volume in this pair will provide a detailed application of Harean two-level utilitarianism to various areas of animal ethics. Written to be accessible to non-philosophers, the expected audience is intended to be both philosophers and non-philosophers interested in animal ethics.
Part one of this book will provide a Harean framework for assessing humane sustainability. The first chapter will introduce the project and the notion of “humane, sustainable communities.” The second and third chapters will review the expanded version of Hare’s theory that was developed in the first volume, in terms accessible to non-philosophers. These chapters will focus on summarizing the resulting theory and how to apply it, and readers wishing a more detailed, philosophical defense of the theory will be directed to the first volume.
Part two of this volume will extend the defense of the theory offered in the first volume by showing how it sheds considerable light on issues in agriculture, pet ownership and working animals, scientific research, and the place of animals in environmental ethics. For Harean, two-level utilitarianism incorporates aspects of both animal welfare and animal rights philosophies; it explains why societal attitudes towards animals ought to change along with background ecological, economic, technological and cultural conditions; it explains why and how the codes of ethics of animal-related professions should arise and change over time; and it explains why a variety of stakeholders would bring very different perspectives to the issues under discussion.
Varner is also under contract to co-author a textbook titled Environmental Ethics for Environmentalists for Cambridge University Press (for delivery in 2011). Co-authored with Jonathan Newman (an ecologist at the University of Guelph) and Stefan Linquist (a philosopher of biology at Guelph), the book will provide an overview of positions in environmental ethics, emphasizing the ways that current ecological science is relevant to various philosophical positions in the field.
Varner has been invited to speak on related topics by the European Society for Ecological Restoration, the Foundation for Luso-American Development, the Smithsonian Institution, the American Bar Association's National Judicial College, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Society for Range Management, the Society for Conservation Biology, the Wildlife Society, the Society for Marine Mammology, the North American Association for Environmental Education, the Columbus Zoo, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, the Aldo Leopold Foundation, and the American Alfalfa Processors' Association.
Here are: a complete vita and a list of downloadable publications.