Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Do animals deserve a better treatment? (post for comment)

This video is moving.  A Brazilian boy argues with her mother about eating meat. Animals shouldn't be killed. He expresses his reasons as a philosopher. What is he getting at? There is something to be said about this received notion that animals are simply there for us to produce and kill. At least we should examine the reasons from the philosophical standpoint.

Do you know what you eat? I mean your meat? Where does it come from? My question makes sense. If we rewind the tape back 50,000 years ago, you're hunting with other males for the meat you'll bring back to your community. You fight, risk your life, partake in the ritual of eviscerating the animal. That meat taste and feels different than the wrapped package of ribs you get at your supermarket. That's a section of the animal, already processed (fed, raised, killed, cleaned, cut into pieces, packaged, etc). What kind of treatment did that animal received? What's the ecological impact of the animal's byproducts? Is it better or worse for the economy that we farm animals in an industrially intense manner?  (click this link for a better understanding of the ecological implications of animal factory farming).

I'd like to point to three ways of looking at this problem:

1- Can animals be said to deserve better than merely taken as "food stuff?" Could we ever see animals as worthy of (deserving) certain rights? If so which? 2- Now, suppose you disagree with granting animals rights, while acknowledging that they certainly deserve a better treatment. 3- Could we make an ecological argument that is human-centered (that is, it works in our best interest, not necessarily in the animal's interest) and still advocates a better treatment for animals?     


Philosophical perspectives:

Trough the 18th and 19th Century philosophers like Rousseau, Kant, Bentham and Schopenhauer produced different arguments in favor of a different kind of approach. 

Rousseau writes:
It appears, in fact, that if I am bound to do no injury to my fellow-creatures, this is less because they are rational than because they are sentient beings: and this quality, being common both to men and beasts, ought to entitle the latter at least to the privilege of not being wantonly ill-treated by the former.
Kant's idea runs parallel to my post below, about animal cruelty. He believes that "cruelty to animals is contrary to man's duty to himself, because it deadens in him the feeling of sympathy for their sufferings, and thus a natural tendency that is very useful to morality in relation to other humans is weakened." It turns that Kant's point is being revised now as an psychological aspect linked to criminology.

But one thing is to say that they shouldn't be mistreated and another is to say that they should enjoy certain rights. What are the arguments in favor of animal rights?

Peter Singer defends animal rights from their ability feel pain. Since animals have no language, leading scientists argue that it is impossible to know when an animal is suffering. This situation may change as increasing numbers of chimps are taught sign language, although skeptics question whether their use of it portrays real understanding. Singer writes that, following the argument that language is needed to communicate pain, it would often be impossible to know when humans are in pain. All we can do is observe pain behavior, he writes, and make a calculated guess based on it. As Ludwig Wittgenstein argued, if someone is screaming, clutching a part of their body, moaning quietly, or apparently unable to function, especially when followed by an event that we believe would cause pain in ourselves, that is in large measure what it means to be in pain. Singer argues that there is no reason to suppose animal pain behavior would have a different meaning.

Tom Regan argues that animals are what he calls "subjects-of-a-life," and as such are bearers of rights. He argues that, because the moral rights of humans are based on their possession of certain cognitive abilities, and because these abilities are also possessed by at least some non-human animals, such animals must have the same moral rights as humans. Although only humans act as moral agents, both marginal-case humans, such as infants, and at least some non-humans must have the status of "moral patients." Moral patients are unable to formulate moral principles, and as such are unable to do right or wrong, even though what they do may be beneficial or harmful. Only moral agents are able to engage in moral action. Animals for Regan have "inherent value" as subjects-of-a-life, and cannot be regarded as a means to an end.

Some critics of Regan, like Roger Scruton, argue that rights also imply obligations, which animals cannot be forced to have (although Scruton disagrees with Regan over the issue of rights, he opposes factory farming).

On the other hand, professor Carl Cohen from the University of Michigan and the University of Michigan Medical School, opposes the idea granting personhood to animals, arguing that rights holders must be able to distinguish between their own interests and what is right. Cohen writes:
"The holders of rights must have the capacity to comprehend rules of duty governing all, including themselves. In applying such rules, [they] ... must recognize possible conflicts between what is in their own interest and what is just. Only in a community of beings capable of self-restricting moral judgments can the concept of a right be correctly invoked."
Against professor Cohen, one could argue that babes cannot understand the rights they enjoy. Surely, we consider them our offspring. Being humans, they are already granted with rights.


It falls within the framework of the rights-based approach, though it regards only one right as necessary: the right not to be owned. Abolitionists argue that the key to reducing animal suffering is to recognize that legal ownership of sentient beings is unjust and must be abolished.

The most prominent of the abolitionists is Gary Francione, professor of law and philosophy at Rutgers School of Law-Newark. He argues that focusing on animal welfare may actually worsen the position of animals, because it entrenches the view of them as property, and makes the public more comfortable about using them.

There is no doubt that we treat animals as a means to an end. And the justification seems pretty anthropocentric: Meat is good for our survival. But is it true? Is not meat-production and meat-eating ultimately worse in terms of the ecosystem and out health? Are we not being duped by our meat addiction when in fact the opposite is true?
In India, for example, there are no animal rights, but people don't eat meat. It's embedded in the culture.

Animal vs. Environment

In the discussion of animal rights few people ask what are the consequences of factory farming for the environment? Our present environmental crisis forces us to reexamine our concept of moral standing. Traditionally, it is claimed, only human beings were thought to matter, morally speaking; but the environmental crisis win not be resolved until we break with tradition and acknowledge that nonhuman nature also has moral standing.
If the crisis is defined anthropocentrically, i.e., in terms of a threat to human survival or well-being, then enlightened anthropocentrism requires us to resolve the environmental crisis. If, on the other hand, the crisis is defined non-anthropocentrically, in terms of a kind of human mistreatment of nonhuman animals, plants, and ecosystems, then in even saying that there is a crisis we are already assuming an answer to the question of whether nonhuman nature has moral standing, the very question the environmental crisis was invoked to motivate. A clearer way to proceed is by talking in terms of the extent to which an ethic provides philosophical support for goals commonly espoused in the environmental movement, goals such as:

1. preservation of species, wilderness, and special habitats such as wetlands, estuaries, rain forests, and deserts;
2. reintroduction of locally extinct species including large predators, removal of exotic species, and adaptation of agricultural and landscaping practices to the local biota;
3. substantial reduction of the global human population, and
4. reduced reliance on chemicals in agriculture and reduced air and water emissions.
But this belongs in a different post addressing animal consumption vis-a-vis environmental degradation, which will be analyzed in a future post.

What's your take? When you eat meat, do you think about any of these issues. Why or why not? 

(the minimum of words per comment = 150. no capital letters, no vulgar language. try to make an informed comment and give reasons. write the best way you can without being pedantic).