The Struggle for Recognition : On Animal Rights — part five

‘If it is no longer easy to find new whole things, then we must go back to those already found, divide and analyse them further, and bring to light fresh aspects of thinghood in them. This restless, insatiable instinct can never run out of material; to discover a new genus of major importance, or even a new planet which, although an individual, possesses the nature of a universal, can be the lot of only a lucky few. But the line of demarcation of what is distinctive of, say, elephant, oak, gold, of what is genus and what species, passes through many stages into the endless particularization of the chaos of animals and plants, of rocks, or the metals, earths, etc. that only force and skill can bring to view. In this realm where the universal is undetermined, where particularization approximates again to singleness, and again, here and there, descends to it entirely, there is opened up an inexhaustible supply of material for observation and description. But here, at the boundary-line of the universal where an immense field is opened up for that instinct, it can have found not an immeasurable wealth, but instead merely the bounds of Nature and of its own activity. It can no longer know whether what appears to possess intrinsic being is not really something contingent. What bears in itself the impress of a confused or immature feeble structure, barely developing out of rudimentary indeterminateness, cannot claim even to he described’.

- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, (1770–1831), ‘Observing Reason: Observing Nature’, in the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’

In the previous part I was explaining how there have been endeavours to uphold Immanuel Kant’s. (1724–1804), point of view without undue reliance upon his moral theory, such as those undergone by John Rawls, (1921–2002), and Jürgen Habermas, (1929 — ), who in their different ways did not start off with an analysis of rationality as such but rather presupposed a community of humans and inquired after the rules of justice or morality that it would adopt under constraints requiring all of its members to respond reasonably to issues of justice and morality. Such theories as we saw are inclined to discount the rights of animals more or less entirely, at a cost of inner consistency it has to be said, for how can any reasonable theory of justice exclude the rights of sentient creatures other than sentient creatures of one particular kind, namely, us? I also explained how such objections have a history, in, for instance, Denis Diderot’s, (1713–1784), reflections upon the idea of a general will. I explained further about the contractarian approach of Jan Narveson, (1939 — ), and Peter Carruthers, (1952 -). You may be wondering with all this theorising much of which is rather abstract what about developing a theory of respect for animals grounded upon human feelings of compassion, an excellent means of evoking as well as supplementing the moral imperative that is derived from reason? Well, compassion is not something you can legislate for and it is a dismal fact but true nonetheless that without legislating for human rights the latter wouldn’t be respected much either. Furthermore were we desirous of something to stand alone as an independent grounding for equal respect for humans and other animals compassion will not serve for without a foundation in reason it will forever be missing a proper basis of due dispensation of fairness and equity. It is worth our while however to look in some detail into two quite prominent positions of this kind. Albert Schweitzer’s ethic of reverence for life already referred to in part two of this series and the feminist and eco-feminist ethic of care, finding moral significance in the fundamental elements of relationships and dependencies in human life, and in the life of other species too. And of course there is the issue of whether equal respect for animals can be attained by an appeal to religion.

‘Sonnet 29’

by William Shakespeare (1564–1616)

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,

I all alone beweep my outcast state,

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,

And look upon myself and curse my fate,

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,

Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least;

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

Haply I think on thee, and then my state,

(Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

…….

Troubling deaf heaven with my bootless cries ……………

‘Frenzy of Exultations’ (‘Szał uniesień’), 1893, Władysław Podkowiński

‘It is impossible to conceive anything at all in the world, or even out of it, which can be taken as good without qualification except a good will’, said Kant. See my articles On Kant’s ‘Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals’ parts one to three. And he went on to identify the good will with pure practical reason: ‘[Reason’s] true function is to produce a will which is good, not as a means to some further end, but in itself . . . Such a will need not on this account be the sole and complete good, but it must be the highest good and the condition of all the rest, even of all our demands for happiness’. The only thing having moral worth is action for the sake of law which is to say from duty: ‘To help others where one can is a duty, and besides this there are many spirits of so sympathetic a temper that, without any further motive of vanity or self-interest, they find an inner pleasure in spreading happiness around them and can take delight in the contentment of others as their own work. Yet I maintain that in such a case an action of this kind, however right and however amiable it may be, has still no genuinely moral worth. It stands on the same footing as other inclinations … [since] its maxim lacks moral content, namely, the performance of such actions, not from inclination, but from duty’.

Such an insistence upon rationality or duty for its own sake has provoked many commentators most notably Hegel to reject Kant’s moral theory as overly abstract and emptily formalistic, which it is, but those who think it is not would be inclined to take the line that to act from and for the moral imperative upon those all too few occasions when one does engenders a complex yet strong experience, an inner glow of rightness, strength, and justification and an outer sense of connection and unity with the immediate object of the will which at the same time extends outward without limitation. Which puts me in mind of Ernest Hemingway’s, (1899–1961), take on morality: ‘So far, about morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after’. I always like to bring up that quote whenever i hear anyone espousing a crude moral theory, by far the most crude being emotivism defended by A. J. Ayer, (1910–1989), undergirded by his belief in the distinction between fact and value. (So he had never read Hegel then. See my article On Immanuel Kant’s ‘Critique of Practical Reason’: Music at Midnight — part three where I explain how Hegel demolishes the is/ought gap). Given, Ayer thought, that there were no moral facts to be known there could be no verification of such facts and so moral utterances could have no cognitive significance. According to emotivism, to make a moral judgment is to express an emotion. So you see even philosophers can be shallow thinkers. I am sure my readers or reader can see a problem there straight away even if they or he or she has never studied moral philosophy. What is an emotion? Whatever it is is there not an element of making a judgement incorporated in it? If I get angry, as I might to hear someone espousing a theory of such crudity as emotivism am I not making a judgement that there is something here that ought not to be?

And recall that the Hemingway take on morality appears in his ‘Death in the Afternoon’ a celebration of bullfighting so if you wish to defend animal rights from a moral point of view you will need something considerably more sophisticated than emotivism, which just about every moral theory is as it happens, apart from utilitarianism. But when I eventually get around to presenting my Hegelian defence of animal rights (I anticipate two more parts to this series before I get around to it) you will see that it does not depend upon a theory of morality and is not vulnerable to the kinds of attacks I have been presenting here and in the previous parts). Anyway, to continue, the good will, it is said in Hemingwayian fashion, is a well-being felt within one’s self for following the law no matter what the occasion or the immediate object of the act and indeed no matter what the sacrifice, while conversely failure to follow it is felt as a deficiency within us and failure of others to follow it is felt by us as compassion for the victim of the failure and indignation directed against the individual or individuals who who shirked their duty.

Yes, well, we have seen how that kind of thing works out in practice. This is funny. David Attenborough, (1926 — ), should do a natural history on the human animal with appropriate commentary to try and explain such observed behaviour. Emotivism indeed. Ayer and the logical positivists really annoy me, though I acknowledge that it is perhaps not very rational of me.

‘Animals and their People’

by Paul Eluard (1895–1952)

The world laughs,

The world is happy and cheerful.

The mouth will open, the wings will open and fall again.

Young mouths fall,

Old mouths fall.

The animal also laughs.

His joy is stretched by grimace.

In all corners of the earth

The fur spins, the wool spins,

Birds are dropping feathers.

The animal also laughs.

He runs away from himself.

The world laughs,

The animal also laughs.

The animal escapes.

Horse

A lonely horse, a doomed horse,

Beaten by rain, covered with flies.

A lonely horse, an old horse.

On the festive paths of the gallop

He would have walked the earth,

She would have killed herself.

And the faithful ones,

A lonely horse waits for darkness,

To not have to

To see the road, to flee from death.

Chicken

Alas sis, biting chicken,

Not for the song,

Not for the song for the glory of the demolished eggs

A man is holding you.

Fish

Fishes, swimmers, ships

Changing the face of water.

The water is quiet, the water moves

Only for those who touch it.

The fish plunges into the water,

Like a finger in a glove,

The swimmer dances lazily,

And the sail sighs.

The water, the water moves.

For those who touch it,

For the fish, the swimmer, the ship,

She carries them

And he does.

Dog

Warm dog,

Why do you so eagerly catch the voice of the master,

Every gesture keeps him !

Take life as the wind,

Use your nose.

Calm down, dog !

Nonetheless attempts have been made to overcome and dispense with the moral imperative of reason by taking compassion as the ultimate foundation of morality. And what is compassion? It is the capacity to share in the suffering of others and to dream for and to desire its elimination or to share in the bliss and good comfort of others and to long for it to continue. And yet a basic condition for compassion as a moral principle would be a degree of innocence in the object of the compassionate act for we are suitably moved by the suffering of others merely insofar as they are innocent victims of misfortune or injustice and we share the joy of others only insofar as it is the consequence merit or good fortune. We can see the problem here with feelings and the motives behind them. When does compassion become pity? ‘Pity is a waste of feeling’, said Friedrich Nietzsche, (1844–1900), albeit in the ‘Will to Power’ which wasn’t meant for publication, ‘a moral parasite which is injurious to the health, ‘it cannot possibly be our duty to increase the evil in the world.’ If one does good merely out of pity, it is one’s self and not one’s neighbour that one is succouring. Pity does not depend upon maxims, but upon emotions. The suffering we see infects us; pity is an infection’. And thinking upon the human being in the abstract we may feel compassion for a murderer because of his or her being deprived or abused in childhood or because of the foul conditions of their imprisonment. Or then we might not, if we reflect upon the fact that a good deal of people have deprived childhoods and have suffered abuse and never go on to murder them, or if the murder victim was someone we love in which case imprisonment is too good for the murderer for they still have their lives.

‘The Human Abstract’

by William Blake (1757–1827)

Pity would be no more,

If we did not make somebody Poor:

And Mercy no more could be,

If all were as happy as we;

And mutual fear brings peace;

Till the selfish loves increase.

Then Cruelty knits a snare,

And spreads his baits with care.

He sits down with holy fears,

And waters the ground with tears:

Then Humility takes its root

Underneath his foot.

Soon spreads the dismal shade

Of Mystery over his head;

And the Caterpillar and Fly,

Feed on the Mystery.

And it bears the fruit of Deceit,

Ruddy and sweet to eat;

And the Raven his nest has made

In its thickest shade.

The Gods of the earth and sea,

Sought thro’ Nature to find this Tree

But their search was all in vain:

There grows one in the Human Brain.

‘The Frugal Meal’, 1847, John Frederick Herring

Nonetheless presumably we can agree that sharing in the joy of a fraudster having conned people out of their live savings would be somewhat improper and that qualified compassion does have its role in strengthening support of animal rights albeit it cannot serve as an independent and sufficient ground of rights for animals nor for the human animal either and all endeavours to take it as foundational will not succeed at a theoretical level in virtue of the fact that by their very nature such theories lack a principle for establishing the innocence of the objects to which compassion should apply. One well-known instance of this kind of theory is Albert Schweitzer’s appeal to ‘reverence for life’ whereby ethics is reverence for the will to live’ which is present in every sentient being:

‘[Just] as in my own will-to-live there is a longing for wider life and for the mysterious exaltation of the will-to-live which we call pleasure, with dread of annihilation and of the mysterious encroachment on the will-to-live which we call pain; so is it also in the will-to-live all around me, whether it can express itself before me, or remains dumb. Ethics consist, therefore, in my experiencing the compulsion to show to all will-to-live the same reverence as I do to my own. There we have given us that basic principle of the moral which is a necessity of thought: It is good to maintain and promote life; it is bad to destroy life or obstruct it’.

- ‘Civilization and Ethics’

Schweitzer did not believe that the natural world is or ever could be in a state of peace and harmony: ‘The world is a ghastly drama of will-to-live divided against itself. One existence makes its way at the cost of another; one destroys another’. But such cannot form the basis for inactive resignation given that there is a longing in humanity for the will-to-live ‘to arrive at unity with itself, to become universal’ and this aspiration to unity is avowedly mystical and quasi-religious, in Schweitzer’s view, which in itself does not diminish the force of his notion indeed in some respects it enhances it but the real quandary is that ‘reverence for life’ and its associated ethic is left without the possibility of rational articulation, it defies reduction to or limitation by a rule:

‘In ethical conflicts man can arrive only at subjective decisions. No one can lay down for him at what point, on each occasion, lies the extreme limit of possibility for his persistence in the preservation and promotion of life. He alone has to decide, by letting himself be guided by a feeling of the highest possible responsibility to other life’.

- ‘Civilization and Ethics’

I suppose there may be some who are stirred by an appeal to feeling as an ultimate test and yet it is of little assist in the matter of resolving difficult choices and does not facilitate in the arriving at consensus for two individuals replete with genuine compassion may well arrive at very opposed intuitions regarding what to do in a given situation. Which of two contending embodiments of the will to live should be granted their support? How much effort should be spent in coming to the aid of this one rather than that one? Hence rules of reason cannot simply be dispensed with when it comes to deciding conflicts and avoiding idiosyncratic applications of compassionate feelings.

The objection concerning the lack of a rule of reason to regulate compassion has also been levelled against the eco[feminist’s ‘ethic of care’ an approach that dispenses with any priority for justice and rights in making ethical choices, for such a modernist brand of feminism is scornful of the very notion of rights seeing it as an ideological illusion engendered in the Western tradition by a long history of male domination and it envisages a full and liberating replacement of that tradition by an ‘ethic of care’. Some of its proponents celebrate as forerunners several male philosophers including Anthony Ashley Cooper, the third Earl of Shaftesbury, (1671–1713), Max Ferdinand Scheler, (1874–1928), and Martin Buber, (1878–1965), among others. Yet such a new ethic it is supposed could not have blossomed in the absence of feminism in virtue of the fact that women have borne the burden of repression throughout history and it is feminists who are best placed to counter the logic of repression. See for instance Carol J. Adams, (1951 -), ‘Woman-Battering and Harm to Animals’, ‘The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory’, and ‘The Pornography of Meat’.

‘Study for the attack of the hussars’, (‘Studium do ataku husarii’), 1908, Stanisław Kaczor-Batowski

‘People with power have always eaten meat. The aristocracy of Europe consumed large courses filled with every kind of meat while the laborer consumed the complex carbohydrates. Dietary habits proclaim class distinctions, but they proclaim patriarchal distinctions as well. Women, second-class citizens, are more likely to eat what are considered to be second-class foods in a patriarchal culture: vegetables, fruits, and grains rather than meat. The sexism in meat eating recapitulates the class distinctions with an added twist: a mythology permeates all classes that meat is a masculine food and meat eating a male activity’.

- ‘Male Identification and Meat Eating’, in ‘The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-vegetarian Critical Theory.

‘The hearty meat eating that characterizes the diet of Americans and of the Western world is not only a symbol of male power, it is an index of racism. I do not mean racism in the sense that we are treating one class of animals, those that are not human beings, differently than we treat another, those that are, as Isaac Bashevis Singer uses the term in Enemies: A Love Story: ‘As often as Herman had witnessed the slaughter of animals and fish, he always had the same thought: in their behavior toward creatures, all men were Nazis. The smugness with which man could do with other species as he pleased exemplified the most extreme racist theories, the principle that might is right’. 1 mean racism as the requirement that power arrangements and customs that favor white people prevail, and that the acculturation of people of color to this standard includes the imposition of white habits of meat eating’.

‘Two parallel beliefs can be traced in the white Western world’s enactment of racism when the issue is meat eating. The first is that if the meat supply is limited, white people should get it; but if meat is plentiful all should eat it. This is a variation on the standard theme of the sexual politics of meat. The hierarchy of meat protein reinforces a hierarchy of race, class, and sex’.

- ‘The Racial Politics of Meat’, in ‘The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-vegetarian Critical Theory.

Thoughts? How likely is someone to win you over to their cause by calling you a sexist racist Nazi?

How the world looks through a pair of ideological glasses. Not to mention the small matter of confirmation bias, something we all have to be wary of, the tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values.

The idea is in eco-feminism generally that whatever the motives and however we mean well a strict morality of rights is poisoned by the ethos of domination which is latent in the very appeal to abstract rules of justice and a good human being should act instead only from loving attention to particular individuals in concrete contexts, to understand the other, to know what the other really is, depends upon sympathy and not abstract location in a class of objects for abstract intellectualization filters out sympathy and conceals oppression in one form or another. one can imagine the Kantian response to an ethics of care. All action to be truly moral has to come only from respect for the law and not be based on feeling, and that at least appears to rule sympathy and care out of ethics altogether. Tom Regan, (1938–2017) albeit an advocate for animal rights is regarded favourably though somewhat begrudgingly for his break with Kant’s disregard for animals while maintaining a rationalist taint as did Peter Singer, (1946 -), both in their own way proceeding from a purely abstract basis of respect for the needs of others (although in Singer’s case he demonstrates just where ‘rationalism’ in morality can lead, a defence of bestiality, I wonder if people with pets would ever think of inviting him to their homes?)

Contemporary animal rights theorists alas in their dependence upon theory that derives from the mechanistic premises of Enlightenment epistemology, that is, natural rights in the case of Regan, utilitarian calculation in the case of Singer (associating Singer with the word enlightenment is so bizarre but not so much with the Enlightenment, I will get around to doing an article on the dark side of the Enlightenment some day), and in their suppression and denial of emotional knowledge, (at least it is recognised, emotional knowledge that is, unlike with the emotivists), persist in employing Cartesian, (René Descartes, (1596–1650), or objectivist modes even whilst condemning the scientific practices made possible by them.

Let us look into the project of an ethics based upon compassion and sympathy further. I am reminded of a disturbing scene in Thomas Hardy’s, (1840–1928) ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’, more disturbing than Tess’s hanging because that at least takes place off-stage so to speak. While the abandoned Tess has found herself in dire straits with little income and irregular work and not even even enough money for lodgings she sleeps in a forest where she encounters wounded pheasants shot by hunters who have lost track of the injured creatures. She has compassion for them indeed, enough to forget about her own sufferings, but what she does to alleviate their suffering, well, I doubt if I could have done it, but then the birds would have died slowly and painfully. Thankfully I have never been in this situation:

‘Tess guessed at once the meaning of this. The birds had been driven down into this corner the day before by some shooting party; and while those that had dropped dead under the shot, or had died before nightfall, had been searched for and carried off, many badly wounded birds had escaped and hidden themselves away, or risen among the thick boughs, where they had maintained their position till they grew weaker with loss of blood in the night-time, when they had fallen one by one as she had heard them.

‘She had occasionally caught glimpses of these men in her girlhood, looking over hedges or peering through bushes and pointing their guns; strangely accoutred, a bloodthirsty light in their eyes. She had been told that, rough and brutal as they seemed just then, they were not like this all the year round, but were, in fact, quite civil persons; save during certain weeks of autumn and winter when, like the inhabitants of the Malay Peninsula, they ran amuck, and made it their purpose to destroy life — in this case harmless feathered creatures, brought into being by artificial means solely to gratify these propensities — at once so unmannerly and so unchivalrous towards their weaker fellows in nature’s teeming family’.

‘With the impulse of a soul who could feel for kindred sufferers as much as for herself, Tess’s first thought was to put the still living birds out of their torture, and to this end with her own hands she broke the necks of as many as she could find, leaving them to lie where she had found them till the gamekeepers should come, as they probably would come, to look for them a second time’.

‘’Poor darlings — to suppose myself the most miserable being on earth in the sight o’ such misery as yours!’ she exclaimed, her tears running down as she killed the birds tenderly. ‘And not a twinge of bodily pain about me! I be not mangled, and I be not bleeding, and I have two hands to feed and clothe me’. She was ashamed of herself for her gloom of the night, based on nothing more tangible than a sense of condemnation under an arbitrary law of society which had no foundation in Nature.’

- ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’

Amok, or amuck, from the Malay word, meng-âmuk. According to Malay mythology, running amok was an involuntary behaviour caused by the hantu belian or evil tiger spirit entering a person’s body and compelling him or her (well usually him apparently) to behave violently without conscious awareness. British explorer Captain James Cook, who encountered amok firsthand in 1770 during a voyage around the world, describes the practice in his journals whereby individuals behaved in a reckless, violent manner, without cause and ‘indiscriminately killing and maiming villagers and animals in a frenzied attack’. It has been explained through linking amok with male honour for amok by women and children was virtually unknown). And running amok would hence be both a way of escaping the world since perpetrators were normally killed or committed suicide and re-establishing one’s reputation as a man to be feared and respected. Or maybe it was merely associated with opium use, Robert Southey, (1774–1843), in his ‘Naval History of England’, claimed that such drug use caused the Malays to run amuck. The kind of thing Carol J. Adams could have made use of anyway, male power and all that, unfortunately though not a manifestation of Western male power nor does it fit in very well with her white supremacy/ politics of racism narrative.

‘Horse Frightened by a Thunderstorm or White Horse Frightened by a Thunderstorm’, 1824, Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix

Anyway, to continue. With compassion and sympathy we are at least away from abstractions and dealing with the concrete but how is one to weigh sympathy for a victim against sympathy for perpetrator? This is the very sort of issue confronted by a compassionate and humane suburban gardener desirous of compassionately and humanely expelling a mouse or a rat or some other rodent (note the connotations of rodent) from a garden plot in which flowers are blooming, which of them is the more deserving of compassion? Does this not call for an abstract basis of comparison? Possibly we may do without legislating rules and merely deal with it case by case and yet evaluations alter with altering sensibilities and unless each caring choice that is made sets some kind of precedent for like situations in the future the outcome will certainly be disordered and every which way you choose. And if we begin each time like we were starting all over again from the beginning our decisions will depend only upon our psychic makeup and our passing whims and fancies and we could never evaluate or anticipate the decisions of a court of law in which everything, the determination of guilt or innocence and the sentence if there is one, depends totally upon the personality of the judge and how he or she feels after sympathetic reaction to each case taken by itself (although to be honest some of the court decisions I have been hearing about here in the UK I wonder if that isn’t the case anyway). In fact, the very notion of a case fades away upon there being no law in terms of which the issue can be framed.

Carol Gilligan, (1936 — ), feminist ethicist, illustrates the difficulties of such a situation with her hypothetical case of Heinz and the pharmacist. Heinz cannot pay for medicine desperately needed by his wife because the pharmacy price is beyond his means and the pharmacist is unyielding (well this is America an unhappier land than the UK and I have changed druggist to pharmacist) Jake an eleven year old boy rather quickly justifies theft of the drugs as a solution. Jake’s female counterpart Amy would of course eschew theft and instead suggest further discussion with the pharmacist, renewed attempts to borrow money, or discussions between Heinz and his wife as to how they might raise the money for the payment in some other way. Gilligan, adding further evidence and more data, concludes that this is typical of the difference in moral psychology between men and women whereby the male appeals to a higher law, to a more ultimate principle that overrides the right of property in order to save a life, while the female appeals to the ultimate connectedness of each of us with all:

‘Both children thus recognize the need for agreement but see it as mediated in different ways — he impersonally through systems of logic and law, she personally through communication in relationship’.

- ‘In a Different Voice’

Still, one would have thought the male in this scenario could have learnt from his mistakes with the benefit of Heinz sight (that is my joke by the way, as a feminist Gilligan probably doesn’t have a sense of humour).

Gilligan circumspectly refrains from valuing one point of view over the other (sure she does) yet she desires to do justice as it were to the ethic of care which has been so persistently overlooked in male-dominated societies and male-dominated theorizing about morality. The voice of equal justice should have its place: ‘Yet in the different voice of women lies the truth of an ethic of care, the tie between relationship and responsibility, and the origins of aggression in the failure of connection’. And further Gilligan refers to these as ‘two different modes’. Both are part of the larger human experience but they are ‘truths … carried by different modes of language and thought’.

So what do you make of an ethic of care? Gilligan herself points out that there comes a point at which a decision has to be arrived at and Heinz’s quandary has to be ultimately resolved one way or another. Although the young Amy was unable fully to face the problem of ‘what if .. ‘ more mature women reluctantly conclude that Heinz might finally be forced to steal, and is not such a conclusion potentially and implicitly reducible to rules. If Heinz’s wife is on the point of death and cannot wait, if friends and colleagues and neighbours have refused to lend the necessary funds, if Heinz has pleaded with the pharmacist for mercy and the latter has remained adamant (maybe such a thing happens in America), if Heinz is willing to reimburse the pharmacist as soon as he can. In such circumstances roughly approximated,even the ethic of care would presumably support or approve of stealing. But, the categorical imperative, that commands a certain line of conduct directly without assuming or being conditional on any further goal to be reached …

‘Le Cheval de Labeur’ (‘The Horse of Labour’), 1983, Salvador Dali

And further, justice itself following from the rationalist ethics of equality and rights would indicate a similar kind of analysis, a court of law would we presume suspend Heinz’s sentence or may even declare him innocent, if he had responded properly to some or all of the above questions, and a moral philosopher, apart from a consistent Kantian moral philosopher, would find that what Heinz had done was right. Josephine Donovan, (1941 -). author of ‘The Aesthetics of Care. On the Literary Treatment of Animals’, would object here that the choices put to Jake and Amy arise only because our institutions force them upon us and the problem is neither Heinz nor the pharmacist but the political system given that as now constituted,the institutions even of a democracy are unfair to the poor because they do not guarantee an adequate level of medical care and pharmaceutical resources. What appears to be simply an ethical problem hence merges with the issue of political reform, (‘Attention to Suffering: Sympathy as a Basis for Ethical Treatment of Animals’). Let us imagine Heinz living in the best possible democratic welfare state wherein he asks and receives a prescription from a doctor on which the survival of his wife depends, but a bureaucrat has failed to transmit it, Heinz is still confronted with a dilemma. Should he break into the bureaucrat’s office or force the pharmacist to give him the medicine without a prescription? The kind of moral problem posed by Gilligan thus reappears and will not be expelled in any real world set of institutions no matter how desirable they may be.

Hence the moral imperative does not depend upon the ethic of care as an independent consideration and the pharmacist in Gilligan’s example is required to respect Heinz’s wife as an end and not to treat her only as a means to make a profit. Statutory law which follows from an implicit social contract based upon the moral imperative does not consider the right of property as an absolute and pays attention through all sorts of subsidiary regulations to the circumstances of its use. The ethics of care on the other hand cannot be similarly accommodating and all-embracing given that it has to take the starting point of its ethical considerations from outside itself, and in the Heinz dilemma this starting point is the basic right of private property. Gilligan does not postulate total communism which a pure ethics of care might justify, but rather she presupposes the law of private property as a given, hence while the moral imperative is autonomous, the ethic of care is not and he former must accordingly be primary.

Claudia Card. (1940–2015), adopted a broadly similar position in ‘Particular Justice and General Care’: ‘The view of justice as imposing scruples and of care as setting goals could account for a common view, to which Professor Held objects, that justice and care are compatible in the following way: once the requirements of justice are met, we are permitted to act on considerations of care. This view may seem to reduce care ethics to matters of personal preference, optional deeds. Yet, one could understand care as imposing requirements also, but requirements that do not come into play until general duties of justice are satisfied. This appears to be Kant’s understanding. His duty to help others is presented as ‘imperfect’. Imperfect duties, he says, must always yield to perfect ones in cases of conflict between them, and duties of justice are perfect’.

She is referring there to Virginia Held’s, (1929 — ), ‘Caring Relations and Principles of Justice’. The weakness of the ethic of care without an external framework also applies to respect for animals albeit its proponents strongly recommend concern for individuals of other species but in the absence of a moral imperative the ethic of care all too readily collapses into simple policies of welfare and it has to acquire its grounds from somewhere, (although I have spoken elsewhere of grounding in ethics and whether it is needed) and the reasons that it discovers as Gary Lawrence Francione, (1954 -), contends are all too frequently imported uncritically from existing cultural norms, hence animals continue to be treated as though they were property which implies that they seem to be things which can be owned yet they are to be treated humanely.

Donovan would resist such a criticism calling as she does for a ‘feminist reconstruction of the world’ (sounds wonderful I can’t wait) that incorporates nearly everything insisted upon by an uncompromising theory of rights (see Donovan’s ‘Attention to Suffering) and so one wonders why she criticizes Regan (well he is a man) on rights for his absolutist stance, an inconsistency regarding Regan’s stance that indicates the underlying conundrum, namely, in the absence of a critical theory of rights the eco-feminist stance is lacking in stable and reliable bearings for the eco-feminist all too readily slips into considerations of welfare, policies of a welfare state, which is highly praiseworthy but hardly a guarantee of giving animals their due which explains why Francione is so scathing of such a position:

‘Rights theory requires the abolition of the institutionalized exploitation of animals. Ecofeminism assumes the legitimacy of institutionalized exploitation as part of the normative context in which the ethic of care is to be applied. I concede that the rules often provide only indeterminate normative guidance and that other values (including the ethics of care) may be useful or necessary to decide particular situations. But the ethic of care is relevant to deciding whether we should eat this particular animal or use this particular animal in an experiment only if the institutional exploitation of animals in science is accepted as a general matter’.

- ‘Ecofeminism and Animal Rights’

Of course care as understood as a sense of compassion is a powerful resource in the movement for animal rights and the law is often unbending and severe and with respect to animals infamously so and it is frequently in need of reform and the pursuit of reform is almost always stirred by compassion and yet compassion can also be arbitrary and inconsistent and counter-productive unless it is directed by rational considerations. The ultimate criterion for reform should hence be the moral imperative (I am just the messenger here I am not agreeing with much of this) and the case for an ethics of care it is alleged is unjust to reasoning in general and to Kant in particular. (See his ‘Metaphysics of Morals’, the section entitled ‘On the Duty of Love to Other Human Beings’). Throughout his work on ethics Kant warns against love, compassion, or respect for others as the ground or motive of action yet such feelings are not only appropriate but owed when they accompany rationally motivated acts of duty owed to others:

‘Love and respect are the feelings that accompany the carrying out of these duties. They can be considered separately (each by itself) and can also exist separately (one can love one’s neighbor though he might deserve but little respect, and can show him the respect necessary for every human being regardless of the fact that he would hardly be judged worthy of love). But they are basically always united by the [moral] law into one duty. . . . So we shall acknowledge that we are under obligation to help someone poor; but since the favor we do implies that his well-being depends on our generosity, and this humbles him, it is our duty to behave as if our help is merely what is due him or but a slight service of love, and to spare him humiliation and maintain his respect for himself’.

- ‘The Metaphysics of Morals’

This is the guy that argues in the same work argues that the killing of illegitimate children should not be thought of as murder:

‘A child that comes into the world apart from marriage is born outside the law (for the law is marriage) and therefore outside the protection of the law. It has, as it were, stolen into the commonwealth (like contraband merchandise), so that the commonwealth can ignore its existence (since it rightly should not have come to exist in this way), and can therefore also ignore its annihilation’.

- ‘The Metaphysics of Morals’

As with Singer so with Kant we learn that ‘rationalization’ in morals leads to some truly horrifying conclusions. We will see in my presentation of the Hegelian case for animal rights the benefits of leaving morality out of it. Yet it is still maintained that Kant may justly be faulted for failing to include animals as moral patients but not for disregarding feeling and feeling and sentiment are ruled out merely as the ultimate ground of morals generally. Regan also whose idea of rights is often rejected as overly abstract is, it is alleged, targeted unfairly by the eco-feminists for he did after all look forward to a coming generation of service, of giving, not taking, of commitment to principles not material possessions, of communal compassion not conspicuous consumption and if the defining question of the present generation is what can I get for me? the central question of this new generation is what can I do for thee? (‘The Thee Generation’.. the guy must go down as one of the worst prophets since Jesus, (c. 4 BC — AD 30 or 33), ‘Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom, (‘Matthew’ 16:28), or Karl Marx, (1818–1883), who predicted the collapse of capitalism under its own weight thereby triggering a proletariat revolution lead to socialism. The exact opposite has happened to what Regan predicted. This is the Me Generation if ever there was one).

‘The Horse and the Snake’, 1787, Benigne Gagneraux

Speaking of Jesus, what then are the possibilities in religion? Is there a religion that supplies an adequate alternative to a theory of animal rights grounded firmly upon a moral imperative of reason applicable even were the associated scientific and cosmological difficulties put to one side? Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all look forward to a transcendental community in which some, many, or all humans will be reconciled to God and to each other, but these faiths are traditionally resistant to the idea of salvation for other sentient species, a restriction at times dispute. In Judaism animals may be included in the age to come. ‘Psalm’ 36 states: ‘.. man and beast thou savest, O Lord. How precious is thy steadfast love’. ‘Proverbs’ 12:10 suggests there are two types of people: ‘A righteous man has regard for the life of his beast, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel’. There is even a suggestion that practicing conservation and compassion toward animals may ensure one of a long life. ‘Deuteronomy’, 22:6–7, written at a time of an agricultural society gathering all it can from nature, states that if a person chances upon a bird’s nest with the mother sitting upon the eggs or the young and takes the latter, the mother should be let go ‘that it may go well with’ that person and that he or she may live a long life.The prophet Isaiah describes how the animals will be included in the blessings of peace on Earth when that ideal state is achieved:

‘The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion. … They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the Earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord’.

- ‘Isaiah’, 11:6–9.

Judaism indeed has strict laws forbidding cruelty to animals, an entire code of laws, tsa’ar ba’alei hayim, the requirement ‘to prevent the suffering of living creatures’ mandates that animals be treated with compassion. Jews are not permitted to pass by an animal in distress or animals being mistreated even on the Sabbath. According to the ‘Encyclopedia Judaica’: ‘In rabbinic literature … great prominence is given to demonstrating God’s mercy to animals, and to the importance of not causing them pain … Moral and legal rules concerning the treatment of animals are based on the principle that animals are part of God’s creation toward which man bears responsibility. … The Bible … makes it clear not only that cruelty to animals is forbidden but also that compassion and mercy to them are demanded of man by God. … The principle of kindness to animals … is as though God’s treatment of man will be according to his treatment of animals’. And the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia observes that ‘[t]he Jewish attitude toward animals has always been governed by the consideration that that they, too, are God’s creatures … [and] the obligation to respect and consider the feelings and needs of lower creatures. … The non-canonical … writings strongly urge kindness towards animals, declaring that one who harms an animal harms his own soul’.

In Christianity there is a minority position that embraces the resurrection and redemption not only of all humans, but of all higher animals as well, such expectations looking back to Isaiah, and restated for modern Judaism by Abraham Kook, (1865–1935) in ‘The Lights of Penitence’. In Christianity the idea of animal resurrection appears at least as early as Irenaeus, (c. 130 — c. 202 AD), ‘Against Heresies’, and developed in this contemporary age by Andrew Linzey, (1952 — ) in ‘Animal Theology’, and Stephen H. Webb, (1961–2016), in ‘On God and Dogs’. Most although not all theologians of this persuasion are also proponents of animal rights as well.

In Islam also there are strong indications of animal resurrection although that appears not to have been developed by Muslim theologians into a theory of animal rights. Such a prophecy is expressed in the Qur’an, Surah 6:38:

There is not an animal

(That lives) on the earth,

Nor a being that flies

On its wings, but (forms

Part of) communities like you.

Nothing have we omitted

From the Book, and they (all)

Shall be gathered to their Lord

In the end.

The theological mainstream in Judaism and Christianity may stop short of full acknowledgment of animal rights but Judaism has a noble tradition of concern for the welfare of animals. In the book of ‘Genesis’ God would have not only humans but even animals be vegetarians, and vegetarianism, after all, or especially veganism, is one chief aspect of full commitment to animal rights, although in ‘Genesis’ 9:2–4 God grants Noah and all humanity express and permanent permission to eat meat and animal sacrifice is a requisite accepted by orthodox Jews in principle albeit avoided the practice upon various pretext. Christianity has given up animal sacrifice (well, I won’t go into how it is grounded upon a human sacrifice not being one given to stirring up controversy) but the synoptic Gospels depict Jesus eating fish and do not rule out his eating meat and the practice of animal sacrifice as well as the consumption of meat continues in Islam.

Such positions are rooted in the Bible and the Qur’an and whatever the endeavours of animal rights theologians and whatsoever their contentions such limitations on animal rights are here to stay without elimination or alteration of essential sections of the sacred texts of monotheistic religions. Not that I am knowledgeable enough in this area to comment upon the exegetical and textual issues involved. There have been early vegetarian Jewish Christian sects such as the Ebionites (ebionim, ‘the poor’, for whom poverty was a blessing). And there are natural theologies or metaphysical systems supportive of animal rights, for Daniel A. Dombrowski’s, (1953 — ), endeavour to develop the idea of respect for animals from the holism of Charles Hartshorne, (1897–2000), and Alfred North Whitehead, (1861–1947), in ‘Hartshorne and the Metaphysics of Animal Rights’.

Perhaps religio-metaphysical systems of the East can offer a workable alternative in virtue of their commitment at least in principle to respect for animals, and for the most part they require their adherents and in particular their elite or their monks to practice universal compassion toward all sentient beings as a condition for achieving nirvana. But we can detect such compassion being subject to whims, inconstancy and extremism. The goal of these religions, nirvana, is the final extinction of the self and yet the self must first go through a cycle of reincarnation from lower to higher existences, and descent in the scale of being is also possible. Animals, therefore, as well as humans, can commit sins for which they are punished in a future incarnation hence the extraordinary tales of heroic and ideal self-sacrifice by humans for the sake of an animal. Such for instance is the Buddhist legend of the prince who allows himself to be eaten by a hungry tigress lest she commit the sin of devouring her cubs. There are several such stories, that one is to be found in ‘Transcendence and Negation: A Study of Buddhist Compassion and Christian Love’ by Moti Lai Pandit.

Well, a rationalist perspective would put such extremism out of the question (apart from an adherent of Kant or Singer who don’t seem to rule out anything that their ‘rationalist perspective’ takes them to.

Animals cannot commit a sin because they do not act by recognition of a law.

Apart from snakes.

‘Horses of Tragedy’, 1935, Giorgio de Chirico

To be continued …

--

--

David Proud is a British philosopher currently pursuing a PhD at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, on Hegel and James Joyce.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
David Proud

David Proud

20 Followers

David Proud is a British philosopher currently pursuing a PhD at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, on Hegel and James Joyce.