The Struggle for Recognition : On Animal Rights — part six
‘On the one hand, the differentiae enable cognition to distinguish one thing from another; but, on the other hand, it is not the unessential aspect of things that has to be known, but that characteristic whereby the things themselves break loose from the general continuity of being as such, separate themselves from others, and are explicitly for themselves. Differentiae are supposed, not merely to have an essential connection with cognition, but also to accord with the essential characteristics of things, and our artificial system is supposed to accord with Nature’s own system and to express only this. This follows necessarily from the Notion of Reason; and the instinct of Reason — for, in this observational activity, Reason operates only instinctively — has also in its systems achieved this unity, viz. its objects are themselves so constituted that they contain in themselves an essentiality or a being-for-self, and are not merely the accident of a particular moment or a particular place. The distinguishing marks of animals, e.g., are taken from their claws and teeth; for in point of fact it is not only cognition that thereby distinguishes one animal from another, but each animal itself separates itself from others thereby; by means of these weapons it maintains itself in its independence and in its detachment from the generality. The plant,on the other hand, does not attain to a being-for-self but merely touches the boundary-line of individuality’.
‘In those systems, therefore, which are characterized by a fixed, general selfsameness, this means that both the cognitive side and the things themselves remain selfsame. But this expansion of the self-identical determinatenesses, each of which describes the course of its progress unhindered and with scope for free play, leads of necessity equally to its opposite, to the confusion of these determinatenesses; for the differentia, the general characteristic, is the unity of opposites, of what is determinate and what is in itself universal; it must therefore split up into this antithesis’
‘So it is that observation which clings to passive, unbroken selfsameness of being, inevitably sees itself tormented just in its most general determinations — e,g. of what are the differentiae of an animal or a plant — by instances which rob it of every determination, invalidate the universality to which it had risen, and reduce it to an observation and description which is devoid of thought’.
- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, (1770–1831), ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’
One may reasonably suppose that the competitive struggle between human animals and other over the use of nature is a never ending story with the other animals perhaps always on the losing side or perhaps not, we may be to smart for our own god, after all the dinosaurs were around for 165 million years whereas homo sapiens, well, estimates vary, probably 200,000, 164,800,000 years to go for us to match the dinosaurs and it is not looking good. But if we do make ourselves extinct the Earth will keep on spinning and yet we will have taken many other species with us. Not all calamities can be laid at our door of course, there are many that are unavoidable with species becoming extinct through causes over which human beings have no control, with individual animals being killed or dying through starvation. Hunting by tribal peoples will in all likelihood carry on and yet when it comes to the displacement of animals for agriculture and for other human enterprises aside from environmental problems that may harm us as well as other animals one must ask: do we have here the posing of an ethical problem?
Language and thinking can be tired and careless here, human animals and other animals have a right to nature with each having a right independently of the other. Do they? Who or what has granted that right? Every species can persist in its own well-being in the absence of competition but what forms can competition take? Predators can be in competition with other predators over a limited amount of prey. But of course between humans and other animals conflicts inevitably arise between animals and humans which in the normal course of things may well be settled by force but ought the light of reason also to be arbitrator in such matters, ought understood particularly in a moral sense if this is an ethical matter? Furthermore the question concerning the use to which the environment is to be put is of especial significance here for however it is answered has implication with regard to the conflict of right if such it be between humans and other animals.
Let us imagine a plot of land legitimately acquired by a human animal upon which he is growing tomatoes most assuredly we will all concur he or she is within his or her rights to deter squirrels from invading his or her plot and eating or damaging his or her tomatoes, driving them off if need be but in a humane manner, of course we won’t approve of his or her killing or hurting the squirrels, a water sprinkler may suffice, or perhaps a fake owl, that might keep them away apart from the smart ones. Whatever human steps he or she takes in this matter we will put down to acting by right of self-defense. A right if ever there was one that every sentient being has, or even non sentient ones, (tomatoes have it too and I am not thinking of the movie ‘Attack of the Killer Tomatoes’, 1978, I refer to the sharp, pungent aroma that is released whenever the hair cells on the tomato’s leaves and stem are ruptured by any invader), whenever its life or its means of living is under attack. This seems straightforward enough.
But let us now transport ourselves back to the agricultural revolution, take your pick which one, I believer there have been at least three, agriculture, food production, rural land use, whereby humans switch from hunting and gathering for subsistence to that of agriculture and the domestication of animals. Humans are now having to expand their activities to unused land, unused by humans that is, for cultivation (and not for hunting or fur trapping, although sadly that would continue but thankfully moral progress believe it or not does occur upon occasion with enough public disapproval and the wearing of animal fur is now looked upon with displeasure and fox hunting is outlawed here in the UK as it should be), inevitably many animals are then driven out and many will die as a consequence. Have these animals been deprived of a right of use which was theirs by the rule of prior possession?
But we only have to reflect a little more deeply to see that there is no settlement in the distribution of right between humans and other animals in virtue of the fact that the use of land is not assigned by nature in advance to one species or another, between any two or more species nature belongs to no one, it is res nullius, ‘nobody’s thing’, from Roman law and the concept continues in modern civilian legal systems, whereby res (an object in the legal sense, anything that can be owned, even a slave, but not a subject in law such as a citizen, nor land) is not yet the object of rights of any specific subject, such items are considered ownerless property and are free to be acquired by means of occupatio. Instances of res nullius in the socio-economic sphere are wild animals, ferae naturae.
Behind the discourse upon the genesis of property rights in classical political thought lies a tacitly assumption that nature in its entirety belongs to the human species and the issue is solely one of how nature’s resources might be divided among humans equitably whereby other animals either as individuals or as species do not participate in any such agreement either with each other or with humans given that between humans and other animals there are simply two fundamental claims in competition with each other. In favour of the human claim in such a conflict it may be supposed, by us, that there is a presumption of a suitable rebuttal regardless of whether or not the quality of human life is better however that may be measured than that of a different kind of animal or whether human life is to be preferred every else being equal in virtue of it affording more opportunities for satisfaction, but simply because it would appears that human beings have an obligation of some description to favour the claim of their own species, which is not to presume that human individuals are always to be favoured in any conflict of right with animals as the decision will always depend upon the interest of the human species as a whole. well, a lot hangs upon what counts as exploitation, for we may insist that no human interest be it collective or individual can ever justify the exploitation of individuals belonging to another species and yet not every removal of animals from a newly entered region of human activity is a case of exploitation. The issue need not be framed in terms of the use of animals for human purposes and interests but rather in terms of whether or not the intended expansion of human activity will enhance or diminish the quality of human life quite apart from the exploitation of animals as means.
A principle point to ruminate upon whilst considering making such a determination is of course the impact upon the life of animals and the quality of the environment in general for respect for the integrity of nature and opposition to expansion of human numbers merely for the sake of it are incorporated into the criterion whereby limited displacement of animals always of course conducted humanely can be legitimate albeit the cost to animals is substantial. Tom Regan, (1938–2017), was of the view that the theory of animal rights points to a very different outcome on the environmental issue, his overall reflections upon how to resolve conflicts humans and other animals and to justify a qualified priority for humans in the environment as well as in other areas are certainly of interest. His fundamental qualification on animal rights follows from the reflections that death is a greater loss to humans than to other animals because a human life offers more possibilities of satisfaction, therefore in certain exceptional circumstances of conflict which he designates prevention cases’ the interest of human life should properly prevail and he imagines a situation in which a mixed group of humans and other animals fare looking at inevitable death were nothing to be done yet in which some individuals can be rescued if the rest are abandoned or sacrificed.
The ‘lifeboat case’ is his illustration of this principle which anyone who is familiar with the the literature on animal rights will know about. Suppose there is an overloaded lifeboat on the verge of sinking and the occupants include four humans and a dog all of roughly equal weight and all five are destined to drown in the absence of anything being done. Four of them can be saved if one of them is thrown overboard, so what, asks Regan, would be the morally right decision? Should the four humans cast lots adding one lot for the dog or should they simply throw the dog overboard? That is to say, what is it to be, the dog or one of the humans? One would suppose that for most of us ordinary pre-reflective intuition would points to the sacrifice of the dog, and Regan, who remember is of the view all mammals of a year or more in age have equal inherent value, somewhat unexpectedly agrees. In an emergency where one must go if all are not to die he believes that some choice must be made thereby excluding the option of allowing all to drown.
If one of the five must thus be thrown overboard then alas the poor dog (well if it’s a little Shih Tzu it’s no great loss … I jest) is the appropriate victim because each human, Regan contends, has a greater amount to lose from the termination of his or her life than does the dog. A human life in ordinary circumstance has more opportunities for satisfaction than a dog’s and hence all things being equal a human life must be preferred in a ‘prevention case’ and yet both are still said to have equal inherent value. Regan explains:
‘All on board have equal inherent value and an equal prima facie right not to be harmed. Now, the harm that death is, is a function of the opportunities for satisfaction it forecloses, and no reasonable person would deny that the death of any of the four humans would be a greater prima facie loss, and thus a greater prima facie harm, than would be true in the case of the dog. Death for the dog, in short, though a harm, is not comparable to the harm that death would be for any of the humans’.
- ‘The Case for Animal Rights’
Needless to say commentators have pounced upon this as a quite evident contradiction in Regan’s overall position, particularly of utilitarian critics like Peter Singer, (1946 — ), well he’d have probably viewed the dog as a viable mating partner anyway, if it was female and the humans were male, and Dale Jamieson, (1947 — ), while some such as Steve Sapontzis, (1945 — ), and Evelyn Pluhar have a more sympathetic response to the scenario while not being so enthralled by the crudity of the argument. And even Gary L. Francione, (1954 — ), who is an especially sympathetic commentator was not best pleased with some of the consequences to which it led.
‘I confess to some difficulty in understanding the reasoning here. If Regan’s position were based on the principle of equal consideration of interests, he would be able to argue that the people have a greater interest in living than the dog, either because of the greater benefit that continued life will be to them, or because they, but not the dog, have plans, hopes, and desires for the future which will be thwarted if they do not continue to live. But Regan seeks to base his position on a principle of equal inherent value. How can he do this while still allowing us to add up the opportunities for satisfaction a life contains, and on the basis of this addition, judge a normal human life to be more valuable than a normal canine life? How can this be reconciled with the notion of equal inherent value as something distinct from the value of the experiences or satisfactions a being may have?’
- ‘Ten Years of Animal Liberation’
Singer does not question Regan’s notion of benefits in the lifeboat case for as a utilitarian he does not doubt that the satisfactions that individuals may feel can be compared in broadly quantitative terms and he readily concurs that the humans in the lifeboat case ought to have priority, his criticism in essence is rather what he finds to be a fundamental inconsistency in Regan’s overall position given that his comparison of satisfactions in the lifeboat case implies a utilitarian calculus, and yet the very point of Regan’s principle of inherent value was to rule out utilitarianism as a guide to moral choice and to replace it with a theory of rights. Singer the utilitarian would restore consistency by having Regan abandon the theory of rights, (such also is Dale Jamieson’s, (1947 — ), conclusion in ‘Rights, Justice, and Duties to Provide Assistance: A Critique of Regan’s Theory of Rights’)).
It may be objected that Singer has misunderstood the meaning of inherent value for Regan does not fully ground that concept as Singer alleges, but it does follow from a reflective moral intuition that mammals may not be used merely as means to human ends and this is indeed his meaning when he refers to ‘equal inherent value’ in all mammals of one year or more in age. But the phrase perhaps evokes unfortunate semantic nuances in that it can quite readily be taken to mean that there is some equal quantity of value in each such sentient being and that can be quite critically misleading implying some equal potential for pleasure or pain, whereas equal inherent value means simply that every mammal and for that matter every sentient being has an equal claim not to be treated merely as an instrument, so that all sentient beings are thereby morally equal and inherent value is not a thing to be measured empirically but follows directly from Regan’s fundamental intuition.
Instrumentalization, using humans or other animals as means to achieve ends, that is to say, to treat humans or other animals as objects to gain something, does this occur in Regan’s version of the lifeboat case. Evidently either the dog or one of the men must be sacrificed to save the others and whoever is chosen for that sacrifice will serve as a means to the others’ well-being, yet the sinking lifeboat did not arise from anyone’s deliberate act (at least in the scenario as described) and the option of having to sacrifice one individual is imposed upon the occupants lest all on board should die, it is merely in such a sense that the act is deliberate. Such rescue situations or prevention cases’ come in many forms and in all of them an exception must be made to the rule against knowingly harming to the innocent but the rule forbidding turning sentient and conscious beings into instruments remains intact, that the normal rights of some must be overridden if all are not to suffer is not a situation that the rescuer has purposively brought about.
And further, respect for inherent value also determines our choice of whom we should favour in a prevention situation and so even here Regan is not conceding anything to utilitarianism for he bypasses aggregating benefits and harms and his rule for prevention cases is to determine the magnitude of loss that each individual would suffer and to give priority to those who face the greatest harm. Where harms have to be compared it may well be that like injuries will not lead to like effects, death to a dog may be a lesser harm than death to a human, but this in spite of how it may appear does not violate the rule of equal respect for the inherent value of each individual for if we did not compare harms it would be possible for an individual whose loss was less to have priority which would violate the equal consideration required by the very recognition of inherent value and in this instance equal consideration is in need of an acknowledgement of differences in the loss that is threatened.
Regan presents two fundamental cases of prevention in order to illustrate his principle. In the first he hypothesizes a mine disaster whereby fifty-one survivors are trapped below ground and all of them will die unless they are rescued posthaste, but there are two mine shafts in one of which there are fifty survivors and in the other only one. Moreover, survivors cannot be removed from either shaft without blowing up the other and the harm done to each miner finally by death would be roughly speaking equivalent. Well, we can predict the responses of adherents of crude ethical theories such as utilitarianism that is why they are so tiresome, a utilitarian would merely tot up the utilities and opt without thinking about it, because not thinking is a positive advantage for a utilitarian, for the fifty. And Regan would arrive at the same conclusion albeit by a different route. In virtue of the loss to each individual by death being roughly equivalent then equal respect for each imposes upon us the requirement to take numbers into account. And to override the right of the many would be to override an equal right fifty times rather than just once and individuals among the fifty would thus be subject to discrimination. So in cases where the harms to be suffered are comparable as here moral choice in a prevention case is governed by what Regan designates the miniride principle:
‘Special considerations aside, when we must choose between overriding the rights of the many who are innocent or the rights of the few who are innocent, and when each affected individual will be harmed in a prima facie comparable way, then we ought to choose to override the rights of the few in preference to overriding the rights of the many’.
- ‘The Case for Animal Rights’
Although the conceptual differences are evident enough the outcome of the miniride procedure are very similar to aggregation but in Regan’s second illustration the harms borne are not equivalent, making clear the differences between his approach and utilitarian aggregation, for now all would be harmed but some few would fare worse than the others, and if all individuals are to be treated with equal respect it is the many who would suffer less who must undergo harm if a choice is unavoidable. We are morally obligated in accordance with Regan’s ‘worse-off’ principle to save the worse-off individuals with no regard for numbers, and hence in the lifeboat example the human animals face the greater harm and since the inherent value of the human animals and the canine animal have to be respected equally the worse-off principle requires us to opt in favour of the human animals, for were we to override the right of any of the human animals then the canine animal who would suffer the lesser harm would be accorded undue value.
In this situation then numbers count for nought. The individual who would be worse off retains priority over all the others as Regan explains:
‘“The lifeboat case would not be morally any different if we supposed that the choice had to be made, not between a single dog and the four humans, but between these humans and any number of dogs. Let the number of dogs be as large as one likes; suppose they number a million; and suppose the lifeboat will support only four survivors. Then the rights view still implies that, special considerations apart, the million dogs should be thrown overboard and the four humans saved’.
- ‘The Case for Animal Rights’
Singer retorts that in this second illustration which he correctly takes to be decisive Regan is merely exercising stubbornness in refusing to allow aggregation:
‘Suppose we had to choose between sacrificing a chimpanzee and a dog. Presumably Regan would allow us to argue, in the same manner that he has argued in the case of the human beings and the dog, that the life of the chimpanzee has greater opportunities for satisfaction, and hence it is the dog who should be sacrificed. Does it still follow that we should sacrifice a million dogs for one chimpanzee? Would the same point hold if it were a rhesus monkey rather than a chimpanzee? If so, is this not merely a stubborn refusal to allow numbers to count? If not, if numbers are allowed to count when we compare different non-human animals, why shouldn’t they count in cases involving human ones as well? Was Regan’s example perhaps trading on our (speciesist) intuition that no amount of canine satisfaction can add up to any amount of human satisfaction?’
- ‘Ten Years of Animal Liberation’
In a brief exchange with Singer, (‘The Dog in the Lifeboat’), Regan does not take up this objection but he might have responded that the gap between human animal and other animal possibilities is very much greater than that between two species of non-human mammals. The difference in possible satisfactions between the life of a dog and that of a chimpanzee is presumably not so great but where differences are relatively small Regan may with justification saying that chimpanzees and dogs caught upon an overloaded lifeboat would be facing comparable harm. So the numbers would have to count albeit not in the sense of aggregating utilities but simply to insure that all are treated equally, and the option concerning which individuals to rescue would thereby be covered by the rule that Regan applies to the mine disaster case and which he designates the miniride procedure.
Do Regan’s utilitarian adversaries do justice to the manner by which he applies the concept of inherent value to prevention cases? Consider this by Singer:
‘Even if Regan can show that his views about the lifeboat case are consistent with his principle of equal inherent value, he must still face an even more difficult task: to explain the discrepancy between his readiness to throw a million dogs out of a lifeboat in order to save one human being, and his refusal to allow even one dog to be used in a lethal — but painless — experiment to save one or more human beings. Regan is aware of the apparent inconsistency, and quite explicitly states that his rights-based theory does not allow the experiment. His explanation of the difference between killing the dog as an experiment and killing it by throwing it out of the lifeboat, is that when we perform such experiments we treat animals ‘as if their value were reducible merely to their possible utility relative to human interests. … ‘ But why should this be so? Why should we not say, as Regan said in the lifeboat case, that we must choose between the deaths of the people or the dog, and although we recognize that death is harmful to the dog, it is a lesser harm for the dog than it would be for the people?’
- ‘Ten Years of Animal Liberation’
There does appear to be a muddle here but Regan might retort that Singer is bypassing a point fundamental to his entire position for in Regan’s theory the lethal experiment and the lifeboat case are radically different situations given that in the first the dog is deliberately taken as an instrument for human purposes thereby violating the principle that the inherent value of all individuals is to be respected equally, and in the lifeboat case the choice is unavoidably imposed so here respect for inherent value commands that we opr for salvation those who face the greater harm. Hence the sacrifice in prevention cases of the one less harmed cannot be generalized, which is to say that the rule of the lifeboat case is not the normal rule. Regan reiterates several times in ‘The Case for Animal Rights’ that it is a clearly defined exception to the rule against the use of animals as instruments: ‘What the rights view implies should be done in exceptional cases — and prevention cases, including lifeboat cases, are exceptional cases — cannot be fairly generalized to unexceptional cases’.
In subsequent exchanges with Singer, (this is really not my kind of philosophy I don’t know how they can be bothered I am boring myself here writing about it but I want to get on to an important point about these kinds of scenarios that moral theorists like to dream up believing they can prove something with them), Regan reiterates the grounds of this distinction and spells it out in some detail by way of a response to this particular objection, although Singer appeared less than fully responsive to the issue (ok so even a utilitarian is getting bored .. that says a lot) and in his reply to Regan’s reply he apparently somewhat inadvertently conceded the entire point (it happens once you get bored):
‘He [Regan] now responds that the lifeboat case is different from animal experimentation, because the animals in the lifeboat have not been coerced into the situation in which they are at risk of harm. This difference, however, does not distinguish the lifeboat situation from all possible circumstances in which animals might be experimented upon. Suppose, for instance, that a new and fatal virus affects both dogs and humans. Scientists believe that the only way to save the lives of any of those affected is to carry out experiments on some of them. The subjects of the experiment will die, but the knowledge gained will mean that others affected by the disease will live. In this situation the dogs and the humans are in equal peril and the peril is not the result of coercion. If Regan thinks a dog should be thrown out of a lifeboat so that the humans in it can be saved, he cannot consistently deny that we should experiment on a diseased dog to save diseased humans’.
- ‘Ten Years of Animal Liberation’
Singer constructed a situation whereby Regan consistent with his principle would have to withdraw from the position of the ‘complete abolition of the harmful use of animals in science’ but in the construction of the case as Singer stipulated it the experiment would be permitted only on the extremely odd condition that the entire population of dogs and humans faces certain death from a plague which can surely be halted by the conduct of ‘experiments’ that are only now to be conducted. But this is simply to reproduce a prevention case in ‘science’ that has all the characteristics of Regan’s lifeboat situation and given these conditions Regan could readily agree to experiments on animals without any retreat from his basic position on inherent value. On the other hand the use of experiments in Singer’s example could not be generalized to any of the usual contemporary practices, hence Singer is still unable to demonstrate any inconsistency in Regan’s fundamental argument, he has gained a victory with regard to his point concerning lethal experiments on animals at the cost of implicitly accepting the distinction between lifeboat cases and all others.
There are some that have accepted Regan’s notion of inherent value while maintaining that he has employed it illegitimately in his solution of the lifeboat problem. Francione is more of the egalitarian than Regan and he is concerned by a solution to the lifeboat problem that is so deeply unfavourable to animals for the implication is clear enough that in any contest between human and animal interests the animals cannot win, (‘Comparable Harm and Equal Inherent Value’). Regan’s mistake he insists is his program of comparing harms which he in addition to other commentators believes is oversimplified. Sapontzis, with whom Francione sees eye to eye on the issues here, categorically denies that we have any right to believe as Regan does that the life of humans offers more opportunities for greater satisfaction than the lives of animals. We cannot know and so ‘cannot enjoy the life of a dog, a bird, a bat, or a dolphin. Consequently, we cannot appreciate the subtleties of smell, sight, sound, and touch that these animals can apparently appreciate’. And further, the satisfactions of animals albeit fewer than ours may perhaps be more intense and in any event the quality and strength of experiences will depend upon the character of the individual who feels it and not upon our imagination of it: ‘A life that looks as if it would be a hard and dull one for us to lead (e.g., the life of a beaver) may be experienced by the one who lives it to be enjoyable and fulfilling’.
Conflict of Rights and Environmentalism 99 Sapontzis concludes that we have no way of comparing the utility of lives as between animals and humans:
It follows that if we consider the lives of a dog and a human, for example, which are very different lives but which, let us presume, are both experienced by those living them as enjoyable and fulfilling, it is impossible to determine which life has the greater utilitarian value. The human life may have greater variety to it, and the human might feel frustrated if she or he were given the dog’s life to lead. But that is irrelevant to the question of whether its life is more or less enjoyable and fulfilling for the dog than the human life is enjoyable and fulfilling for the human. Since we cannot feel what the animal feels, we cannot determine whether a human gets more or less enjoyment and fulfillment from his enjoyable and fulfilling life than an animal gets from its enjoyable and fulfilling life. (221)
Well, upon that theme we should have a look at a rather more far-reaching approach to the matter as presented via some sceptical reflections by Thomas Nagel, (1937 — ), in his much discussed article ‘What Is It Like To Be a Bat?’
by Emily Dickinson (1830–1886)
The Bat is dun, with wrinkled Wings —
Like fallow Article —
And not a song pervade his Lips —
Or none perceptible.
His small Umbrella quaintly halved
Describing in the Air
An Arc alike inscrutable
Deputed from what Firmament —
Of what Astute Abode —
Empowered with what Malignity
Auspiciously withheld —
To his adroit Creator
Acribe no less the praise —
Beneficent, believe me,
His Eccentricities —
Can we say? Can we know what it’s like to be a bat? Nagel’s response is that we can’t say-we can’t know what it’s like for a bat to be a bat: ‘Bat sonar, though clearly a form of perception, is not similar in its operation to any sense that we possess, and there is no reason to suppose that it is subjectively like anything we can experience or imagine. This appears to create difficulties for the notion of what it is like to be a bat’. We might be able to say what it would be like for us to be a bat, but not what it is like for the bat to be a bat. ‘Even if I could by gradual degrees be transformed into a bat nothing in my present constitution enables me to imagine what the experiences of such a future stage of myself thus metamorphosed would be like’. In fact, Nagel suggests, while this would most certainly be true as well of any extraterrestrial life form we may meet it is also true of other human beings, we may not even be able to say what it’s like for another person to be that person (unless he or she is sufficiently similar to ourselves). What’s all this supposed to prove? I hear you ask. Nagel is investigating here the relation between mind and body, which is, he says, particularly difficult because of consciousness: ‘The fact that an organism has conscious experience at all means, basically, that there is something it is like to be that organism’. He calls that something the subjective character of experience. ‘What it’s like’ is accessible only from one point of view, the viewpoint of the subject.
Therefore, since the subjective experience can’t be accessed by anyone outside the subject, inferences from observable physical behavior (body) to mental states (mind) seem questionable. One might wonder, then, since we can’t know the nature of others’ experiences, can we at least know they have them? Can we at least know there’s a ‘they’-that there are other minds? Is Nagel correct? Can we never imagine something that is totally outside, totally beyond, our own experience? Can we describe the taste of chocolate to someone who has never tasted it? Now this opens up a can of worms does it not? The value of the experiences or satisfactions a being may have indeed … how can we know of a human animal’s experiences or satisfactions being any better than that of a canine animal when we can hardly say that those of a human animal are any better than that of another, in fact we can be sure that a human animal that reads poetry, enjoys classical music, studies philosophy, has a much richer subjective life than a football yob. If we imagine a philosopher and football yob in danger and only one can be rescued is that something to be brought into the decision making? The poetry loving philosopher has so much more to lose so really it is a no-brainer.
I don’t know if Regan or Singer or any of the others engaging in the debate on the lifeboat problem had ever read Cicero, (106 BC — 43 BC), but in fact that very problem is found in his writings, ah the importance of being well read in other philosophers so that we are not just repeating what has already been gone through or repeating mistakes that have already been made and corrected though here we are making them again and in this case such a long time ago:
‘The Sixth Book of Hecato’s treatise on Duties is full of such questions as these. ‘Ought a good man in a time of extreme dearth to continue to furnish food to his slaves?’ He discusses both sides of the question, yet at the last makes expediency rather than humanity the standard of duty. He asks, ‘If in a storm at sea something must be thrown overboard, shall it be a valuable horse, or a slave of no value?’ In this case interest inclines in one direction, humanity in the other. ‘If in case of shipwreck a fool gets possession of a plank, shall a wise man wrest it from him if he can?’ He answers in the negative, because it would be unjust. ‘What may the master of the ship do in such a case? May he not take possession of the plank as his own property?’ Not by any means. He has no more right to do this than to throw a passenger from the ship into the sea because the ship is his own. Until it arrives at the port to which passage has been taken, the ship belongs not to the master, but to the passengers’.
‘’What if there be but one plank for two shipwrecked passengers, both wise men? Shall they both try to get possession of it, or shall one yield to the other?’ One should give it up to the other; but let that other be the one whose life is the more valuable, either for his own sake or for that of the state. ‘What if their claims are equal?’ There must be no quarrel between them, but one must yield to the other, as if he had come off second-best in drawing lots or at odd and even’.
- Marcus Tullius Cicero, (106 BC — 43 BC), ‘On Moral Duties’, (De Officiis)
According to Cicero the Sceptics argued against the Stoic notion of justice, by asking us to imagine what would happen if after a shipwreck there were two survivors with just one plank that could only carry one person. The Stoics replied that, if the two men were really wise, and hence just, they would have decided to leave the plank to the one whose life most mattered for his own and for his city. The Sceptics, on the other hand, suggested that there are good reasons to believe that any person, not excluding the wise man, would naturally have tried to get hold of the plank for himself. Thus both the Stoics and the Sceptics were willing to imagine the same imaginary situation of two survivors after a shipwreck with just a single plank, but they disagreed as to how the survivors would behave in such a hypothetical state of affairs.
Note: Hecato of Rhodes (c. 100 BC), Greek Stoic philosopher. A question: The Birkenhead Drill: ‘Women and children first’, is a code of conduct dating from 1852, whereby the lives of women and children were to be saved first in a life-threatening situation, for instance abandoning ship, when survival resources such as lifeboats were limited. Why? Shouldn’t the wisest of men on board, the philosopher, be given priority?
Anyway, back to Nagel whose view has been much challenged, (his denial of our capacity to imagine the lives of other species is rejected by J. M. Coetzee, (1940 -), in his metafictional novel on animal rights ‘The Lives of Animals’), but I wrote go into all that here, seemingly rules out any comparison whatever but as sentient beings ourselves surely we do have some idea however imperfect it may be of what other beings’ feelings could be like, (Singer endeavours to demonstrate that it may be possible to compare the value of our own lives with those of animals in ‘Practical Ethics’). ‘Even if we cannot directly experience the pleasures of other life forms’, said Sapontzis, ‘we can, if we will make the effort to observe animals closely, come to understand which ways of life provide them more enjoyment and fulfillment’. Indeed to reject any merit insofar as our constructions about other minds is concerned points the way towards a damaging scepticism for just as we cannot fully know what it means to be a bat so we cannot fully know what it means to be another person.
Sapontzis’ cautioning over how we cannot be certain about the intensity and particular flavour so to speak of feelings when we compare human animal lives with other animal lives makes for a stronger objection in which view he is supported by Pluhar:
‘Our canine B might be considerably less intelligent than [our human] A, but his joie de vivre does not appear to be any less! The comparative richness of A’s and B’s experiences and interests is simply not relevant in this context: the degree of harm suffered [by death] is a function of how much what has been snatched away means to them. … If A and B both value living and are in the prime of life, they would be harmed equally by death, no matter how ‘dull’ B is in comparison to A’.
- ‘Beyond Prejudice’.
And yet Pluhar also believes that Regan’s solution to the lifeboat problem requires even more than the ability to compare the lives of individuals in the abstract, for the life of a particular individual in a given species will vary with its circumstances, and the possibilities of future expectations in a healthy youngster are greater than those of a sickly eighty year old. And further, let us suppose that the youngster is a canine animal and the oldster is a human animal, the objection forwarded by Pluhar has application across species lines as well as within. How might such objections be met? Might not such comparisons to which she objects be carried out albeit in a rough manner? Singer suggests (in ‘Practical Ethics’) with caution and tentativeness (not like him) that at least some comparisons are possible and he supposes that a human animal can assume or come close to achieving a neutral ‘third’ consciousness between, let us say, an equine animal and a human animal and then from the standpoint of that third consciousness make a choice between the two lives. The equine animal and the human animal are assumed to be as happy as any individual of that species can reasonably expect to be and the human animal then turns him or herself first into the equine animal (some of us are on the way there already as it happens it has been said of me I am like a horse) and then into the human animal, experiencing the lives of both. In a third and relatively neutral state of consciousness the human animal would remember the two lives it experienced and ‘would then be deciding, in effect, between the value of the life of a horse (to the horse) and the value of the life of a human (to the human)’.
Once the superiority (for want of a better word) of human lives in general is recognized a reply to Pluhar’s objection presents itself, that is to say, where many lives are at stake in an emergency we are expected to make choices about which to save that do not normally depend upon comparison of life expectancies, they are expectations rather than binding rules and need not be morally binding but they are loosely rooted in instinct, in the gradual development of tacit consensus, or in both operating in tandem and such conventions however they might be explained do not contradict what has been said concerning the equality of inherent value in all sentient creatures. A conventionally established duty to assist one human animal rather than another does not mean that any individual be it human animal or other type of animal may be treated as a simple means to human advantage in any normal set of circumstances.
In emergency situations involving a choice between human animals and other types of animals the rule of comparative inherent value is seemingly the one to follow but where the choice is between two human animals with different claims such as those envisaged by Pluhar are we bound to follow established conventions? Rules of emergency like women and children first on a sinking ship appear to have become widely endorsed and the principle might be different in different times and cultures but there will always be some rule that determines which choice will be considered proper (is this really how human animals operate, through following rules? What about instinct?). The rule for normal situations such as embarking upon a plane for instance is that we are all equal, rich and poor, philosopher and football yob. And yet decision made with regard to matters of priority may be warranted in certain sorts of emergencies, perhaps such considerations being applicable to the choice between saving a young dog and saving an aged human and conventionally grounded duties owed to members of our own species appears to carry over to species of mammals close to ours.
Would you sacrifice a dog before destroying a primate? Would I sacrifice a million dogs to save one primate? Would you sacrifice a million males to save one woman? (well I may do actually if she was very special and the males were all football yobs). Francione in reference to Regan’s position is concerned that the principles of the lifeboat case mean that all conflicts of interest between human animals and other types of animals will be decided in favour of the latter, he is sympathetic to Regan’s concept of inherent value albeit he prefers to say that other kinds of animals cannot be made into the property of human animals and he is clear about Regan’s distinction between routine subordination of other kinds of animal to human animal interests and the subordination of other kinds of animal interests in prevention cases. Furthermore he believes that the characteristics of prevention cases are clearly and unobjectionably defined and is thereby content that Regan has properly demonstrated that animals have rights and cannot be treated as mere property but he dissents with regard to Regan’s judgement in favour of the human animals where the otherwise legitimate rights of other kinds of animals animals and human animals are brought into conflict, and he argues that the judgement not only requires a quantitative comparison of harms but that it is an implicit lapse into ‘perfectionism’, into the notion, that is to say, that the human capacity for satisfactions is not only greater but better. As Francione explains:
‘Although Regan may be correct to argue that his resolution of the lifeboat example does not appeal explicitly to perfectionism as advocating the routine subordination of rightholders, his resolution does appeal to a supposed human ‘excellence’ (the ability to pursue opportunities for satisfaction). But to say that this virtue may be appealed to only in exceptional cases is nevertheless to say that in that class of cases, there is routine subordination based on a supposed virtue possessed by one class of rightholders’.
- ‘Comparable Harm and Equal Inherent Value’
Among animal lovers the charge of perfectionism is taken with seriousness, it is an approach to valuation that Regan and Francione reject, whereby the perfectionist idea of justice as it is found in Aristotle, (384–322 BC), and in Friedrich Nietzsche, (1844–1900), and in others, is as Regan explains: ‘what individuals are due, as a matter of justice, depends on the degree to which they possess a certain cluster of virtues or excellences, including intellectual and artistic talents and a character that expresses itself in performance of heroic or magnificent deeds’. Regan demurs in accepting perfectionism no matter what form it takes:
‘Perfectionist theories of justice are morally pernicious, providing, as they do, the foundation of the most objectionable forms of social, political, and legal discrimination — chattel slavery, rigid caste systems, and gross disparities in the quality of life available to citizens in the same state, for example. But perfectionist theories are objectionable at a deeper level. Whether individuals have the talent necessary to acquire the favored virtues (e.g., ability to do higher mathematics) is beyond their control. … Those who are born with intellectual or artistic gifts have not done anything to deserve preferred treatment’.
- ‘The Case for Animal Rights’
Such a characterization of perfectionism widespread in the literature of animal rights is one with which Francione basically agrees. What do you think of such a characterization bearing in mind my comments above on saving the philosopher? Doubtless Aristotle’s perfectionism is grounded upon a disputable notion of hierarchy in nature and Nietzsche’s doctrine is not so much a doctrine of morality but rather a critique of moral law as such, and yet for better or for worse Regan sticks with a strictly quantitative comparison of harms which is not perfectionist in principle and might well be qualified by convention, besides which Francione contends that the consequences of the lifeboat argument are more unfortunate for other kinds of animals than might seem to be the case from Regan’s exposition. The worse-off principle he asserts cannot be restricted to prevention cases involving dramatic choices of life and death and the exceptions to equal treatment of animals would have to extend to every conflict between animal and human interests:
‘The problem is that in light of Regan’s analysis of the lifeboat example, it would seem that he is committed to resolving virtually every human/animal conflict in favor of the human. This does not, as some have suggested, mean that he is on a slippery slope back to vivisection. On the contrary, Regan can claim that the respect principle is always violated in cases of institutionalized exploitation. But it does give nonhumans a somewhat pyrrhic victory. Animals may no longer be regarded as property, but their interests will nevertheless not prevail most of the time’.
- ‘Comparable Harm and Equal Inherent Value’
Francione therby arrives at the conclusion that Regan’s theory of animal rights works only for the ordinary cases of an institutional subordination, ranking, placing in lower or higher positions, for instance the general use of animals for food, yet he believes that Regan ought, and ought implies can remember, to have halted there and contends that ‘it was wholly unnecessary for Regan even to discuss the lifeboat example’ for he believes that at the present time we do not have and must still develop an effective approach to conflicts of rights between human animals and other types of animals, and Regan’s endeavours ate therefore premature and entail unacceptable results.It may be objected however that the rule that animals may not be used as instruments, treated as mere property, or routinely subordinated to human purposes is a positive gain for these other kinds of animals entailing as it does that they may not be eaten, may not be used for human entertainment and amusement, may not be taken as subjects for biomedical experiments and tests, and where they have been domesticated as with the case with pets for instance we are under a positive obligation to provide them with nurture and support.
And yet Francione is correct about all those other cases where there is direct and unavoidable competition between animal and human interests, where one or the other must be sacrificed or both will suffer, animal interests always losing but in the situations just outlined one may take the priority in favour of humans is clearly acceptable (a question: are we still talking about problems of morality here? It is so easy not to notice in moral discourse when the subject has moved on to something else other than ethical concerns). Once the basic rights of other kinds of animals are acknowledged the development and improvement of human society seemingly is of a higher priority than the maintenance of the animal population, thereby indicating an unavoidable tragic element in the relationship between the human animal and other kinds of animal howsoever reasonable or rational the account on offer might be. I would concur with Francione that the discussion of the lifeboat situation is unnecessary but for different reasons (see below) and the fundamental rights of other kinds of animals are difficult to affirm without also speaking of their general scope and limits. If the lifeboat situation is an exception to the basic rule of equal treatment then a consistent rationale must be advanced for choosing human animals over other kinds of animals but if, as Francione believes, no such rationale is available then the fundamental rule of complete equality must be universally and exceptionlessly applicable and therefore has to be one way or another and a theory of animal rights that evades the lifeboat issue would be incomplete and potentially incoherent (so it is alleged but see below).
The relevance of the lifeboat case to issues of environmentalism may thus be understood as follows. Environmentalism frequently requires a choice between the interests of human animals and those of other kinds of animals with regard to those uses of nature where one or the other interest must be sacrificed even though both are otherwise legitimate and one must put aside sentimentality (a common charge against defenders of animal rights but we will see once I present my Hegelian case for animal rights that it is not one that can be legitimately made there, sentimentality doesn’t come into it in the least) and through a proper understanding of the lifeboat case the lifeboat preference for human animals is required as the rule for choice. Regan also jettisons the lifeboat principle when he comes to the issue of environmentalism believing that one sentient being has as much right of access to nature as another,the limitations on survival imposed by nature are undeniable and other kinds of animals are destroyed by many natural causes though human intervention to preserve the ecology may also cause animals to be destroyed. Such an outcome is unjustified as Regan explains:
‘If, in a prevention situation, we had to choose between saving the last two members of an endangered species or saving another individual who belonged to a species that was plentiful but whose death would be a greater prima facie harm to that individual than the harm that death would be to the two, then the rights view requires that we save that individual’.
- ‘The Case for Animal Rights’
Hence Noah, (fl. 2300–2200 BC), as a conservationist was mistaken in saving animals by species and any form of holism in particular in the form of the land ethic of Aldo Leopold, (1887–1948), and his adherents is vehemently rejected:
‘The difficulties and implications of developing a rights-based environmental ethic … should be abundantly clear by now and deserve brief comment before moving on. The difficulties include reconciling the individualistic nature of moral rights with the more holistic view of nature emphasized by many of the leading environmental thinkers. Aldo Leopold is illustrative of this latter tendency. ‘A thing is right’, he states, ‘when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise’. The implications of this view include the clear prospect that the individual may be sacrificed to the greater biotic good, in the name of ‘the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community’. It is difficult to see how the notion of the rights of the individual could find a home within a view that, emotive connotations to the side, might be fairly dubbed ‘environmental fascism’.
- ‘The Case for Animal Rights’
Proponents of the land ethic have a hard task to support their position but a prominent proponent of it, J. Baird Callicott, (1941 — ), while accepting the charge happily grabs the bull by the horns if I may use such an analogy in this context arguing that insofar as possible we should shake off unhealthy constraints of civilization in our dealings with nature:
‘There is another approach. Rather than imposing our alienation from nature and natural processes and cycles of life on other animals, we human beings could reaffirm our participation in nature by accepting life as it is given without a sugar coating. Instead of imposing artificial legalities, rights, and so on on nature, we might take the opposite course and accept and affirm natural biological laws, principles, and limitations in the human personal and social spheres. Such appears to have been the posture toward life of tribal people in the past. The chase was relished with its dangers, rigors, and hardships as well as its rewards: animal flesh was respectfully consumed; a tolerance for pain was cultivated; virtue and magnanimity were prized; lithic, floral, and faunal spirits were worshipped; population was routinely optimized by sexual continency, abortion, infanticide, and stylized warfare; and other life forms, although certainly appropriated, were respected as fellow players in a magnificent and awesome, if not altogether idyllic, drama of life’.
- ‘Animal Liberation: A Triangular Affair’
Callicott is not delusional enough to suppose that we can return to such a pristine condition but he does suppose that we can learn from and be inspired by it: ‘The land ethic … requires a shrinkage, if at all possible, of the domestic sphere; it rejoices in a recrudescence of wilderness and a renaissance of tribal cultural experience’. In a later article oft cited by environmentalists he is more amenable to the animal rights idea, for having earlier dismissed domesticated animals as denatured artifacts he is now stirred impressed by Mary Midgley’s, (1919–2018), notion of a mixed community of domestic life in which humans have a limited but real responsibility for domesticated animals, a responsibility that has been worked out over the ages of human civilization. But he does not bring into it a fundamental change of doctrine in a way that is consistent with animal rights, for Midgley’s notion of a mixed community is not responsive to a full statement of the rights even of domesticated animals in virtue of the fact that it does not recognize their equal inherent rights, and furthermore, Callicott persists in interpreting environmentalism as a mandate to roll back civilization as far as possible:
‘Domestic animals are members of the mixed community and ought to enjoy, therefore, all the rights and privileges, whatever they may turn out to be, attendant upon that membership. Wild animals are, by definition, not members of the mixed community … Wild animals, rather, are members of the biotic community. The structure of the biotic community is described by ecology. The duties and obligations of a biotic community ethic or ‘land ethic’, as Leopold called it, may, accordingly, be derived from an ecological description of nature’.
- ‘Animal Liberation and Environmental Ethics: Back Together Again’
This and related passages indicate that the mixed community does not supersede the land ethic but must be integrated as one part of it, or if not, that is to say, if the mixed community and the land ethic simply co-exist without an overarching principle, then Callicott’s environmental theory is incoherent and Regan’s critique of environmentalism in this form as oppressive is not without its justification. And with the threat of incoherence hanging over Callicott he repudiates the accusation of eco-fascism in Regan and others and starts on working out a more complex system of priorities designed to find a compromise between environmental values and human ethics and firmly protests against a strict interpretation of Leopold’s land ethic:
‘I never actually endorsed such a position. It is obnoxious and untenable. And I now no longer think that misanthropic prescriptions can be deduced from the Leopold land ethic. … I certainly feel that we have duties and obligations to fellow humans (and to humanity as a whole) that supersede the land ethic as I have subsequently explained, although I have by no means abandoned the land ethic’.
- ‘Beyond the Land Ethic’
As for reconciling humanist and environmental values a solution has been presented by Christopher D. Stone, (1938–2021) which is a notion of moral pluralism wherein different moral principles are applied ad hoc to different situations and issues. Callicott dismisses moral pluralism as intellectually incoherent and offers an overarching and unifying principle contending that a reconciliation of the human and the ecological, he thinks can hence be realized in a hierarchy of principles rather than in, as with Stone, a simple multiplicity, and where we discover the primary values to be in conflict we are to invoke two second-order principles, the first of which is that obligations arising from membership ‘in more venerable and intimate communities [e.g., the human family] take precedence over those generated in more recently emerged and impersonal communities [i.e., most of our relationships to plants and animals]’ while the second second-order principle is the condition under which the first second-order principle is be bypassed whereby:
‘… stronger interests (for lack of a better word) generate duties that take precedence over duties generated by weaker interests. For example, while duties to one’s own children, all things being equal, properly take precedence over duties to unrelated children in one’s municipality, one would be ethically remiss to shower one’s own children with luxuries while unrelated children in one’s municipality lacked the bare necessities’.
- ‘Beyond the Land Ethic’
Applying such a rule to environmental issues one might contend cutting down trees for necessary purposes is allowed for the interests here are strong whereas it is unethical to cut down tall and beautiful trees merely to make a path in the woods since that cause is without weight and fleeting, and yet this solution albeit desirable as a rule of policy seemingly negates environmentalism. The first second-order principle now grants priority to the needs of the human community and it supposes that humanity as we understand it is the outcome of evolutionary processes that have favoured the dominance of a species capable of moral community. And such a bare fact does not establish the rightness of human primacy, besides which Callicott’s solution still effectively overrules the land ethic and the primacy of the biotic community taken as a whole and essential to the land ethic is discarded, such a primacy now being not much more than a first thought and the needs of the biotic community are subordinated and not the primacy of strong human interests. Either way humanity and humanity’s interests and not the biotic community have become the ultimate measures of environmental policy.
Primacy for human animals is just as it should be, you may be thinking, and is compatible with rights for other kinds of animals in virtue of the rule of the lifeboat case applying, and the primacy of human animals in the environment does not override their moral obligation never to treat any sentient beings as mere instruments, nonetheless that rule does not apply to conflicts of legitimate interest between human animals and other kinds of animals and in situations such as that the only obligation is self-restraint in pursuing the interests of humans, and so what Regan designates as ecological fascism may be proper and commendable policies based upon the lifeboat principle, for there is an evident difference between mindless exploitation of nature and intelligent as well as limited use and we have the right and the duty to insist upon protection of the environment as a basic interest of humanity itself, such an approach being discernible in Callicott’s later asseverations.
What it all amounts to is bringing back former notions of conservationism. Animal rights theorists frequently protest that conservationism is a form of speciesism in which nature exists solely for the pleasure of humanity and a lot of interventions having the backing of conservationists do appear indifferent to the fate of animals and to recognition of their inherent rights. Imagine for instance that one species of animals is plentiful while another is threatened with extinction and imagine in addition that human animals here face a ‘preservation case’ in which the numbers of both species cannot co-exist in the space available. Conservationist principles apparently dictate that members of the plentiful species be eliminated, a conclusion seemingly indifferent to the rights of the individual animals that are thus to be removed or destroyed. Consider the choice between deer and mere trees which are after all non-sentient (perhaps) faced by conservationists in Canada. Angus Taylor, (b. 1945 — ), writes:
‘A growing deer population had been eating the saplings of the shade-intolerant prized tree species in preference to maple and beech, thus threatening to alter radically the nature of the forest over time. Attempts to capture the deer and move them elsewhere met with little success. When the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources decided to kill many of the deer in order to protect the fragile forest ecosystem, the plan was opposed, for different reasons, by animal-rights activists, cottagers, aboriginal people, and even hunters’.
- ‘Magpies, Monkeys, and Morals’
This choice taken strictly from the standpoint of human interest in conserving the environment appears to be a somewhat speciesist (see the first part in this series) denial of inherent value in the deer but the decision of the Ontario ministry was based upon its interest in the forest not being to saw up the trees for terraced houses or to make space for a cinema showing non-stop blue movies laudable though those aims would have been but rather to preserve an aesthetic and scientific national gem thereby providing a legitimate exercise of human primacy without denying the inherent right of the deer not to be used as instruments.
Think of an imaginary line drawn between that part of the earth’s surface inhabited by human animals together with their domesticated animals and that part inhabited by animals in the wild (of course the wild and the humanized so fully interpenetrate but let us run with the thought, albeit wild beasts show up at times in garden and human animal dwellings and parks and other human animal endeavours to maintain environments in what used to be the wilderness now exist). At any historical moment the imaginary line may be taken as the frontier in a suspended state of war between humans and wild animals and both sides have been and will continue to be in potential competition for space and resources. No complete and blissful peace can reign over them in virtue of other kinds of animals being unable to make or to recognize a treaty, therefore the burden of justice or injustice in the conduct of the war and the duty of delimiting a frontier of truce falls entirely on the side of the human animal. Just conduct of the war by humans means that only as much land and resources are taken from other kinds of animal use as is necessary for the human species to have a comfortable material and moral life, this apparently follows from the comparison of inherent values in situations of unavoidable conflict, a comparison that in addition implicates some right on the part of human animals to expand the scope of settlement in order to accommodate a reasonable increase in the number of human animals who can be sustained at a comfortable level, such is what is normally regarded as reasonable conservationist policy.
However, the rights of animals do not go away upon this account for there is no justification for uses of nature not advancing the level of human existence, such is condemned in accordance with this principle of conservation and hence there is a right of other kinds of animals to unused nature and unjustified intrusion into their environment is a moral wrong done to the other kinds of animals affected in addition to other human beings for whom nature is an important value. And further, notwithstanding any presumption in favour of human animals, such right of animals is a serious restraint, a principle to be overridden by human animals only when doing so would enhance their quality of life. And explosions in population, and wasteful and needless development of housing, the conversion of wilderness into resort areas, all such things are an affront to the higher interests of human animals and for that very reason they are an unjust violations of the interests of other kinds of animals.
Yet even upon admitting a priority in the use of nature for human animals this does not in any way curtail the basic rights of other kinds of animals, they may not be used as instruments for human purposes, and concern for their inherent value must also apply to procedures for ejecting them when legitimate human interests are threatened. Consider again the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources whereby human animals were entitled to preserve the trees yet deer were entitled to be removed as humanely as possible and even at great cost before extreme measures were employed and to have met their treatment with indifference would be comparable to the attitude that accompanies using them as instruments.
Having scrubbed out the imaginary line and the co-existence of human animals and other kinds of animals in a given area is considered it is apparent that the rights of wild animals within a settled area are even more strictly limited by the priority for human interests, if a human settlement is legitimate to begin with then the presence of wildlife need be tolerated only if it is not destructive and a gardener in such a settlement need not put up with squirrels nor a householder with rats nor a dweller in the suburbs such as myself with a bear in the area outside my door not that we have many bears around here. Human animals it is said have an overriding right of self-defense in all such situations and the only restriction is that the removal of the intruders be done as humanely as possible, I say intruders because something as cute as a squirrel could never be a pest and rats are very intelligent and capable of giving rat love (I have seen the evidence on YouTube), but in certain situations the human animal has a right to be free of them.
Endangered species of course occupy a special status and we should be especially concerned when an existent species is endangered by the expansion of human animal society for extinction of a species is not simply a loss for science it is the loss of an ancestor and the impoverishment of our experience and if we are responsible for it it is a slap in the face for God. See Philip José Farmer’s, (1918–2009), story ‘King of the Beasts’ where a biologist was showing the distinguished visitor through a zoo and a laboratory and it ends thus:
‘The visitor stopped before the last of the tanks.
;Just one?’ he said. ‘What is it?’
‘Poor little thing’, said the biologist, now sad. ‘It will be so alone. But I shall give it all the love I have].
‘Is it so dangerous?’ said the visitor. ‘Worse than the elephants, tigers, and bears?’
‘I had to get special permission to grow this one’, said the biologist. Her voice shook.
The visitor stepped sharply back from the tank. She said, ‘Then it must be … But you wouldn’t dare!’
The biologist nodded.
‘Yes. It’s a human’.
- ‘King of the Beasts’
The thought that a species as a whole if not any given member of it has an inherent right to be preserved as far as possible even the human species but even here the force of the interest that moulds the policy could not be said to be absolute, albeit there is no principle that absolutely requires humans to preserve a threatened species. (But so what? I have explained elsewhere what I think about ‘principle’).
This article is too long but I cannot end without making an important point about the lifeboat case. It puts me in mind of the trolley problem, you know the deal, a thought experiment in moral philosophy about a fictional scenario in which an onlooker has the choice to save five people in danger of being hit by a trolley by diverting the trolley to kill just one person. How do you decide one person’s well being against five person’s well being, a pointless question typically exemplifying the kind of thought experiment found in moral philosophy that has nothing to do with real life for no one will ever be in such a situation as described in the trolley problem. Of course we are confronting moral dilemma all the time and the lifeboat scenario could happen but moral dilemmas are always concrete, always experienced under specific conditions in a specific context that is complex whereby we have specific means to make the decisions, and practically never are universal moral principles at all helpful in making that decision What the trolley problem and the lifeboat case are supposed to be about is finding a moral principle ultimately to decide a moral dilemma, but from an empirical point of view moral principles are never used to decide moral dilemmas, they are rather used after the fact to justify a decision, and this is a typical form of moral communication with an apparent though only apparent force given that in any concrete situation where I am in a moral dilemma or any kind of dilemma for that matter, being concrete there are so many factors at work, who are the people I am with? Is this my dog? Are the people I am with Nazis, not that I keep such company? Am I in a loving relationship with one of them while another is a rival for her affections? Am I drunk? But suppose I do throw the dog overboard, then, after the fact, I will appeal to a moral principle to justify my action. Every situation is super concrete and every situation is super complex whereas considering a problem in the abstract is to abstract from all the concrete factors we experience in everyday life hence it is entirely useless to apply to any moral dilemma precisely because it abstracts from all specific concrete elements that come together and that constitute any real moral dilemma. The trolley problem and the lifeboat case demonstrate how analytical moral philosophy that I have been discussing in these so far six articles is a complete waste of time,
Science fiction furnishes us with interesting thought experiments however. Tom Godwin’s, (1915–1980), story ‘The Cold Equations’, a title that puts me in mind of utilitarianism, takes place aboard an Emergency Dispatch Ship on its way to the frontier planet Woden loaded of desperately-needed medical supplies. The pilot, Barton, discovers a stowaway, an eighteen-year-old girl, by law EDS stowaways are to be jettisoned because EDS vessels carry no more fuel than is absolutely necessary to land safely at their destination. The girl Marilyn simply wanted to see her brother Gerry (in dramatised versions this changes, a radio adaptation for ‘Exploring Tomorrow’, 1958, has her wanting to see her husband to make amends for an affair … every situation is solidly concrete you see) and was not aware of the law and when boarding the EDS Marilyn noticed the ‘Unauthorized Personnel Keep Out! sign but thought she would at most have to pay a fine if she were caught (yes the scenario as imagined scenarios usually are is not without its holes) and Barton explains that her presence dooms the mission by exceeding the weight limit and the subsequent crash would kill both of them and doom the colonists awaiting the medical supplies. After contacting her brother for the last moments of her life, Marilyn willingly walks into the airlock and is ejected into space …
So where is the dilemma? Surely there is only one correct thing to do for anything other than that then everybody dies. Well, they knew each other for but an hour but human animals can form incredible bonds with each other in such a short time like they have been waiting for or known the other person all their lives so if I was the pilot I may well not want to live with the loss of a woman I have known for but an hour and I would say ‘Come, let us die together … ‘ Screw rationality and regulations and moral principles.
‘A Satyr Against Reason and Mankind’ (excerpt)
by John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (1647–1680)
Were I (who to my cost already am
One of those strange, prodigious creatures, man)
A spirit free to choose, for my own share
What case of flesh and blood I pleased to wear,
I’d be a dog, a monkey, or a bear,
Or anything but that vain animal,
Who is so proud of being rational.
The senses are too gross, and he’ll contrive
A sixth, to contradict the other five,
And before certain instinct, will prefer
Reason, which fifty times for one does err;
Reason, an ignis fatuus of the mind,
Which, leaving light of nature, sense, behind,
Pathless and dangerous wand’ring ways it takes
Through error’s fenny bogs and thorny brakes;
Whilst the misguided follower climbs with pain
Mountains of whimseys, heaped in his own brain;
Stumbling from thought to thought, falls headlong down
Into doubt’s boundless sea where, like to drown,
Books bear him up awhile, and make him try
To swim with bladders of philosophy;
In hopes still to o’ertake th’ escaping light;
The vapour dances in his dazzling sight
Till, spent, it leaves him to eternal night.
Then old age and experience, hand in hand,
Lead him to death, and make him understand,
After a search so painful and so long,
That all his life he has been in the wrong.
Huddled in dirt the reasoning engine lies,
Who was so proud, so witty, and so wise.
Pride drew him in, as cheats their bubbles catch,
And made him venture to be made a wretch.
His wisdom did his happiness destroy,
Aiming to know that world he should enjoy.
And wit was his vain, frivolous pretense
Of pleasing others at his own expense.
For wits are treated just like common whores:
First they’re enjoyed, and then kicked out of doors.
To be continued …