PHIL201 Humans and Other Animals (D. Jamieson)

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Question Description

For this assignment, please read the text uploaded to the resources folder titled "Humans and Other Animals (D. Jamieson)," and watch the video linked here. Then, answer the following questions over the moral issues that are discussed in these two resources.



Reading Questions over "Humans and Other Animals":

1. What is the main problem, pointed out by Jamieson, in thinking that only humans have moral value (in other words, what are the issues with being speciesist)?

2. Explain how the utilitarian and the deontologist view animals in terms of: what they have that is valuable, and what this means for the way we treat those animals (hint: the utilitarian will say that suffering is what matters, so sentient things have value...etc.).

3. What do the utilitarian and deontologist say about killing animals that can feel pain (i.e. dogs, sheep, primates and cows)?

4. Do you think that the overview of the moral value of animals provided in the reading provides a good reason to abstain from eating meat? If so, explain which reasons you think are good ones from the reading. If not, explain one of the reasons for being vegetarian or vegan and why you do not think it is a good reason to abstain from killing animals.

Questions over Years of Living Dangerously, "Collapse of the Oceans":

1. Identify three of the morally relevant impacts of climate change that are discussed in the episode, and be sure to explain why these are morally relevant (example not from episode: increased rainfall will lead to flooding in agricultural communities which will decrease food security and lead to human suffering and even death).

2. What communities will be harmed by the impacts of climate change on the ocean, and do you think there is an issue of injustice related to these harms (consider the communities impacted by climate change and the people responsible for climate change)?

3. What do you think the utilitarian and deontologist would say about one of the morally relevant impacts of climate change that you iden

4. Given what you have learned in the film about the impacts of climate change, do you think you have a moral obligation to decrease your carbon footprint and change your daily practice that make climate change worse (driving, eating meat, using energy, buying from certain companies, single use products, etc.)?

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5 Humans and other animals 5.1 Speciesism What makes humans different from other animals? This question has been at the center of philosophical discussion since at least the time of Socrates and classical Greek civilization.1 Indeed, anxiety about our relations to other animals figures in the Bible, as well as in the stories and myths of other ancient cultures. In some societies, animals were viewed as agents with whom one made agreements and in some cases even entered into conjugal relationships. They were worshiped and respected, but also hunted. They were a source of inspiration, but also of protein. Clearly, complex stories are required in order to make such a multiplicity of uses morally and psychologically palatable. This question of what makes humans different from other animals is more than merely ‘‘academic.” We would never do to humans much of what we do to animals. Not only do we eat them, but we cause them unspeakable suffering before slaughtering them. They are no longer sacrificed for religious purposes in most societies, but they are still routinely killed and made to suffer in scientific and medical research, as well as in the cause of producing new cosmetics and household products. As for wild animals, we like having them in our parks and sometimes even in our neighborhoods, but our patience quickly wears thin when there are ‘‘too many” of them or they do not behave ‘‘properly.”2 102 1 Passmore 1974. 2 Despite the fact that the 2004 German constitution specifically protects the rights of animals, in 2006 German officials killed Bruno, the only wild bear seen in Germany since 1835. An official in Bavaria’s environment ministry explained: ‘‘It’s not that we don’t welcome bears in Bavaria. It’s just that this one wasn’t behaving properly” (). Humans and other animals One way of explaining why we treat humans and animals in such different ways is to say that humans are members of the moral community while other animals are not. In the language of philosophers, members of the moral community have ‘‘moral standing”; they are ‘‘morally considerable,” while non-human animals are not.3 They have intrinsic value in the second sense which we distinguished in 3.5. However, as we saw in our discussion of Kant (in 4.4), it would be a mistake to suppose that it follows from the view that we owe duties only to humans that we have no duties regarding animals. For example, you may have a duty in regard to my dog (e.g. not to harm her) that is owed to me (e.g. she’s my property). In such cases Kant speaks of the duty as owed directly to a human and indirectly to an animal.4 Because some animals are within the scope of our indirect duties, they are treated to some extent as if they were members of the moral community. It is important to remember, however, that on this view, they are not. The President’s annual ritual of ‘‘pardoning” a Thanksgiving turkey illustrates how contingent the fate is of one who is not a member of the moral community.5 Out of the billions of turkeys slaughtered each year as part of the holiday celebration, the President spares one who would otherwise have ended up on his plate. He eats a different turkey instead, and the lucky survivor goes to a refuge to live out her life in peace. If someone were to kill the turkey whom the President has spared, they would be doing something wrong. But it is the President (or whoever now is the turkey’s legal owner) who would be directly wronged; the turkey would be wronged only indirectly (if at all). This view under consideration can be stated in a more formal way as holding that all and only humans are members of the moral community. 3 For an overview see Kuflik 1998. 4 There is an unresolved ambiguity in Kant as to whether the terms ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ modify the source of the duty or its object. If I owe an indirect duty to an animal, does this mean that I owe the animal a duty in virtue of duties that I owe a human? Or does it mean that my duties are only to the human but concern the animal? While the latter seems more in the spirit of Kant’s official view, it would seem to imply that I have indirect duties regarding all sorts of things over which you have rights, including all of your property. It seems strange to suppose that I have indirect duties regarding your accordion in exactly the same sense in which I have indirect duties regarding your dog. For discussion of this bizarre ritual see Fiskesjo 2003. It is especially odd that the turkey in question is ‘‘pardoned,” since she has committed no crime. 5 103 104 Ethics and the Environment This raises the following question: In virtue of what are all humans and no non-humans member of this community? An important strand in the western philosophical tradition views linguistic competence or self-consciousness as the crucial criterion.6 While these criteria are distinguishable, many philosophers have closely associated them (e.g. the seventeenth-century French philosopher, René Descartes, and the twentieth-century American philosopher, Donald Davidson). These criteria, on reflection, would appear both too demanding and not demanding enough to support the claim that all and only humans are members of the moral community. They are too demanding because not all humans are self-conscious: not newborns, the comatose, or those suffering from advanced dementia. Nor are newborns linguistically competent. These criteria are not demanding enough, since some non-human animals appear to be self-conscious: for example, our fellow Great Apes and perhaps some cetaceans (e.g. dolphins).7 Moreover, the idea that having language is an ‘‘all or nothing” capacity that sharply distinguishes humans from other animals is increasingly being called into question by experiments with other animals and work in historical linguistics. The classical scholar, Richard Sorabji (1993: 2), suggests a more sweeping criticism when he caricatures the linguistic criterion as holding that ‘‘they [animals] don’t have syntax, so we can eat them.” What Sorabji seems to be asking is why on earth we would think that linguistic competence should have anything to do with moral status? Other philosophers, rather than finding the criterion of moral considerability in linguistic competence or sophisticated cognitive or reflective states, have instead looked to sentience: the capacity for pleasure and pain. Such a criterion may succeed in catching all humans in its net: newborn babies and many other humans who are not self-conscious or linguistically competent can experience pain and pleasure, and therefore would count as members of the moral community on this criterion. However, this criterion would be 6 7 For Kant (as we saw in section 4.4), self-consciousness is what separates humans from other animals. For much of the Greek philosophical tradition, it was the ability to speak that mattered (Heath 2005, Sorabji 1993). It may sound odd to speak of ‘‘our fellow Great Apes,” but as a sober matter of biological classification, Homo sapiens is a member of the subfamily, Hominae, which also includes chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans. For a good start on self-consciousness in non-humans visit . Humans and other animals satisfied by many non-human animals as well. Indeed, most of the animals that we commonly use for food and research are clearly sentient: cows, pigs, chickens, dogs, fish, cats, rats, monkeys, and so on. The eighteenth-century English philosopher Jeremy Bentham saw this point clearly, and drew some startling implications, when he wrote: The day may come when the rest of animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been witholden from them but by the hands of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day come to be recognized that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate.8 One way of stating what is at issue between these two families of criteria is whether being a moral agent is a necessary condition for being a moral ‘‘patient.” A moral agent is someone who has moral obligations; a moral patient is someone to whom obligations are owed.9 We do not normally attend to this distinction because reciprocal duties are so much at the heart of our everyday morality. For example, the wrongness of my lying to you is related to the wrongness of your lying to me. This has led some to suppose that there is a necessary connection between being a moral agent and being a moral patient. On this view, only creatures who themselves have moral obligations can be owed moral obligations. But this goes too far. Newborn infants and severely brain-damaged humans are moral patients (we owe them obligations), but they are not moral agents (they do not owe obligations to others because they are not capable of fulfilling them). If we accept the idea that there are human patients who are not moral agents, then why should we not accept the idea that there are non-human patients who are not moral agents? While much more can be (and has been) said about these matters, it would appear that there is no morally significant criterion for membership in the moral community that is satisfied by all and only humans.10 If the criterion is demanding enough (e.g. language), it is likely to exclude some 8 9 10 As quoted in Singer 1990: 7. This distinction was introduced into the contemporary discussion by Warnock 1971. For further discussion, see Singer 1990 and Dombrowsky 1997. 105 106 Ethics and the Environment humans. If it is permissive enough to include all humans (e.g. sentience), it is likely to include many non-humans. In response, some philosophers would say that the correct criterion has been under our noses all along. Think about the idea of universal human rights. We believe in this idea, not because we think that there is some further, morally relevant property shared by all and only humans, but rather because we believe that simply in virtue of being human there are rights that all humans have. As the late English philosopher, Bernard Williams, wrote, ‘‘we afford special consideration to human beings because they are human beings.”11 When it comes to clashes between fundamental human and nonhuman interests, there is, according to Williams, ‘‘only one question left to ask: Which side are you on?”12 Much of what Williams says is probably true by way of explaining our attitudes. But explaining our attitudes is not the same as justifying them. There is still a question about whether an appeal to our common humanity is sufficient justification for dividing the moral world along the lines of species membership. What we want to know is not only whether the following view is widely accepted, but whether it can be defended: that all and only members of the species, Homo sapiens, are members of the moral community.13 This view is not exactly new, and it has been subjected to grueling criticism. In 1970 the British psychologist, Richard Ryder, coined the term ‘speciesism’ to refer to the prejudice that allows us to treat animals in ways in which we would never treat humans.14 In his 1975 book, Animal Liberation, Peter Singer popularized this term, defining it as ‘‘a prejudice or attitude of bias in favor of the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of other species.”15 11 Williams 2006: 150. 13 12 However, it is important to note that our question is not exactly that of Williams. For he explicitly denies that being human is equivalent to being a member of the species Homo sapiens (he says that a human embryo ‘‘belongs to the species,” but that it is not a human being in the sense in which human beings have a right to life (Williams 2006: 143). This invites the question: In virtue of what (if not species membership) is something a human being in the sense in which humans have a right to life? The search Williams 2006: 152. for an answer to this question seems to return us to the hunt for some ‘‘other set of criteria” for membership in the moral community. On another point, it is not entirely clear that Williams excludes all non-human animals from the moral community. 14 See Ryder 1975 for discussion. 15 Singer 1990: 6. The term ‘speciesism’ has now entered the Oxford English Dictionary. For more on the concept, see Pluhar 1995. Humans and other animals The basic idea is that speciesism, like sexism and racism, is a prejudice involving a preference for one’s own kind, based on a shared characteristic that in itself has no moral relevance. Speciesism serves various interests and beliefs, but, according to Singer, in large part it is the vestigial remains of traditional theological dogma about the importance and dignity of human beings. According to the middle-eastern religions most influential in shaping western culture, humans are the crown of creation. They have a special role in God’s plan, and their value far exceeds that of the rest of the created world. These views are echoed in the philosophical tradition in such writers as Descartes and Kant.16 But if we reject the religious dogma which lurks in the background and instead embrace the naturalistic worldview of modern science, it is difficult to see how we can continue to defend this prejudice in favor of our own kind. Indeed, what we learn from Darwin and contemporary biology is that rather than being the crown of creation, we are one branch (of a branch) of evolution’s tree, a small part of the story of life on earth. From this perspective what is striking is how much we share with other animals, not what distinguishes us from them. Our claim of moral superiority is nothing more than a transparent case of special pleading. In my opinion, a series of thought-experiments counts decisively against the view that membership in a favored species is alone necessary and sufficient for membership in the moral community. Imagine that the space program gets going again, and we succeed in visiting the outer reaches of the galaxy. On one planet (call it ‘‘Trafalmadore” in homage to the writer, Kurt Vonnegut), we encounter a highly sensitive and intelligent form of life. By any normal standards, Trafalmadoreans are superior to us in every way. They are more intelligent, knowledgeable, compassionate, sensitive, and so forth. However, they suffer from one ‘‘defect”: evolution has followed its own course on Trafalmadore, and they are not members of our species. Would we think that we were therefore justified in gratuitously destroying their civilization (which is in every way superior to ours) and causing them great suffering (more intense than we can imagine), simply because they are not human? Consider another example closer to home. As a matter of fact, anthropologists have recently claimed to have discovered a hominid species that 16 The denigration of non-human consciousness has historically been one important strategy in the defense of speciesism. For discussion, see Jamieson 2002. 107 108 Ethics and the Environment lived as recently as 18,000 years ago on the Indonesian island of Flores.17 Like Homo sapiens of the same period, Homo floresiensis used tools and fire for cooking. Although they were quite small compared to Homo sapiens (they stood a little over 3 feet [1 metre] tall and have been nicknamed ‘‘hobbits”), the brain region which is associated with self-awareness is about the same size in Homo floresiensis as in modern humans.18 Suppose that a remnant population of Homo floresiensis were discovered today, living on this large, rugged island. (There are anecdotal reports of Homo floresiensis surviving into the nineteenth century.) What would be the appropriate attitude for us to take towards them? Should we regard this as another rare hunting opportunity for Texas oil millionaires and Arab sheiks, or should we regard them as creatures to whom we owe moral respect? Even closer to home, suppose that some remnant Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) survived in remote regions of the world, slowly assimilating themselves to human culture and society. Despite the fact that they mingle with humans, they remain a reproductively isolated, distinct species.19 They can recognize each other (perhaps by a secret handshake), but we cannot normally distinguish them from ourselves. Now suppose that somehow you discover that your roommate or the person whom you are dating is a member of this species. Do their moral claims on you suddenly vanish? Instead of taking your date to the movies, can you now take her to the local medical school to be used for vivisection? I take it that most of us will agree in our answers to these questions. Trafalmadoreans, Homo floresiensis, and Neanderthals, as I have described them, all matter morally. The fact that they are not human is not sufficient for excluding them from from moral protection. However, if this is not enough to persuade you, consider the fact that there are at least two distinct forms of speciesism. The version that we have been discussing, call it ‘‘Homo sapiens-centric speciesism,” holds that 17 This discovery was first reported by Brown et al. (2004) and Morwood et al. (2004). The claim that this constitutes a new species was challenged by Martin et al. (2006). The controversy continues, but it is unimportant for the purposes of our thought-experiment. 18 Region 10 of the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, for those who like to keep track of such things. Recent research suggests that Neanderthals may actually have hybridized with Homo sapiens (Evans et al. 2006). Whether or not this is true, it is clear that the differences between Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis have often been exaggerated. 19 Humans and other animals all and only members of the species, Homo sapiens, are members of the moral community. A second version, call it ‘‘indexical speciesism,” holds that members of each species should hold that all and only members of their species are members of the moral community. The former principle would imply that Trafalmadoreans (for example) have a duty to sacrifice even their most fundamental interests for the trivial interests of human beings, while the latter principle would hold that Trafalmadoreans should hold that all and only Trafalmadoreans are members of the moral community. The former view seems preposterous. Why should Trafalmadoreans, who are superior to us in every way, hold that only members of some inferior species (Homo sapiens) matter morally? Surely the latter view, indexical speciesism, is more plausible. But on this view if Trafalmadoreans, Homo floresiensis, or Neanderthals were to cause utterly gratuitous, horrific suffering to humans, this would not be morally objectionable. We would be within our rights to resist them, but there would be no place for moral denunciation.20 Some philosophers would respond that while these thought-experiments may show that being human is not a necessary condition for membership in the moral community, nevertheless it still has some moral relevance.21 They would distinguish ‘‘absolute speciesism,” the view that holds that in virtue of being human, all and only humans are members of the moral community, from ‘‘moderate speciesism,” which holds that in virtue of being human, humans are morally more important than non-humans. Moderate speciesism, it would be said, is consistent with our common responses to the thought-ex ...
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