Animal ethics

 Please post questions and comments, as comments below, about Harman, Belshaw, and the Indigenous work about hunting (to be announced what that will be).

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2 thoughts on “Animal ethics”

  1. I fail to understand why Harman thinks that it is wrong for human’s to kill animals in the prime of their lives. Humans are naturally omnivores; we have canine teeth for a reason. Mammals killing mammals is just a part of the cycle of life. Once the animal is killed humanely of course. And animals kill other animals all the time, for instance, a lioness will kill a gazelle for food. So why shouldn’t humans, as a fellow mammal be allowed to kill animals for sustenance as well? And if it is because we have a higher moral status than animals so we should know better, then why, if we are higher beings, are we not allowed to kill beings lower on the food chain? I would appreciate a clarification of her point here, thanks!

    1. I think these kinds of questions & arguments could use more discussion than we had time for in class, so thank you for bringing them up!

      Most of the arguments I’ve seen against claims that because other animals kill animals, we should be able to do so too, are of the kind I mentioned in class: (1) we shouldn’t base our behaviour on what other animals do because they don’t have moral requirements, and (2) many other animals must kill animals to survive while we do not.

      But (1) does need more unpacking. It includes the claim that we can’t hold animals morally responsible for what they do, because they don’t have moral responsibilities–those require the capacity both to know what is morally right and wrong and to choose to do things or not because of this knowledge. Then, the argument goes, no other animals but humans have this capacity (I don’t know enough about the state of empirical evidence about other animals to be able to say whether or not this is true, but I haven’t come across any such evidence myself). The statement in (1) also includes the idea that since we *can* choose to act morally or not, and animals can’t, then their behaviour isn’t an adequate model to base ours on. Just because other animals do something doesn’t mean it’s right for us to do that thing. For example, some animals may kill others in fights for dominance, but is that a good enough reason to say such things should be morally allowed for humans (to kill each other in order to become dominant in a group)? Some insects may eat their partners after mating, but few will say that’s a good reason to say humans should be morally allowed to do that. So overall, the claim about what other animals do isn’t usually accepted as a good enough reason to justify what we ought to be allowed to do morally.

      Your last question is interesting…I haven’t heard this way of considering the question before, and it is thought-provoking! I don’t know what Harman would say, but a possible response could focus on the question of power and dominance: does the fact of one being or group of beings having dominance over another justify any sort of action against those who are “lower”? One example: in some sense, adults are “higher” or “dominant” over children: most adults have better developed rational and moral capacities than children. But of course adults aren’t allowed to kill children just because of this dominance. Perhaps it depends on just what it means to say a group is “higher” than another group–on what basis would this have to be the case in order to justify the higher group killing the lower group? If it’s something like intelligence, or rational or moral capacity, one implication of such a claim could be that it would mean those adult humans who are higher in this regard than some mentally disabled humans would be justified in killing the latter…and of course, most would not agree to this conclusion!

      Those are my thoughts at the moment…happy to discuss further!

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