A Theory of Human Dignity, #16–Non-Human Animals and Their Associate Membership in The Realm of Ends.
By Robert Hanna
TABLE OF CONTENTS
VI. Enacting Human Dignity and The Mind-Body Politic
This installment contains section V.3.
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V.3 Non-Human Animals and Their Associate Membership in The Realm of Ends
With regard to the animate but nonrational part of creation, violent and cruel treatment of animals is far more intimately opposed to a human being’s duty to himself [than a propensity to the destruction of what is beautiful in inanimate nature], and he has a duty to refrain from this; for it dulls sympathy in the human being for their pain and so weakens and gradually uproots a natural predisposition that is very serviceable to morality in one’s relations with other people. The human being is authorized to kill animals quickly (without pain) and to put them to work that does not strain them beyond their capacities (such work as himself must submit to). But agonizing physical experiments for the sake of mere speculation, when the end could be a achieved without these, are to be abhorred. –Even gratitude for the long service of an old horse or dog (just as if they were members of the household) belongs indirectly to a human being’s duty with regard to these animals; considered as a direct duty, however, it is always only a duty of the human being to himself. (MM 6: 443)
We describe bat sonar as a form of three-dimensional forward perception; we believe that bats feel some versions of pain, fear, hunger, and lust, and that they have other, more familiar types of perception besides sonar. But we believe that these experiences also have in each case a specific subjective character, which it is beyond our ability to conceive.[i]
The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been witholden from them but by the hand 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 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. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month old. But suppose it were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?[ii]
If a being suffers, there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into account… If a being is not capable of suffering, …, there is nothing to be taken into account.[iv]
How ought we to treat non-human minded animals? According to broadly Kantian nonideal dignitarian moral theory, the correct answer to this question flows ultimately from the nature of the subjective experience of pain in different types of minded animals — including minded animals not only as radically strange as bats or octopuses, but also as all-too-familiar as ourselves, namely, human real persons, alike. More specifically, however, the problem I’m focusing on here is whether non-human minded animals, like bats or cats, subjectively experience the same kind of pain as human real persons, or not, and what the moral implications of the answer to that question are for the broadly Kantian nonideal dignitarian moral theory of our treatment of non-human animals, whether sentient and fully minded (like bats or cats) or proto-sentient and “simple minded” (like cephalopods, fish, insects, or reptiles). Let’s call this The What-Is-It-Like-To-Be-A-Bat-In-Pain?Problem. In what follows in this sub-section, against the dual backdrop of the metaphysics of human dignity I spelled out and defended in section III and the broadly Kantian nonideal dignitarian moral theory I spelled out and defended in section IV, I grapple with the hard case provided by The What-Is-It-Like-To-Be-A-Bat-In-Pain? Problem, and propose a comprehensive solution to it.
This comprehensive solution is given by an explication and defense of the following six moral theses or first-order substantive ceteris paribus objective moral principles:
1. The Non-Speciesist Real Person Thesis. Some but not all human animals are real persons, and some but not all non-human animals are real persons.
2. The Bodily Pain vs. Suffering Thesis. All minded animals, whether human or non-human, are capable of experiencing bodily pain, or in other words, all minded animals are capable of what I call bodily nociperception (see sub-sub section V.3.1 below). But all and only real persons, including all rational human minded animals and also some rational but non-human minded animals, are capable of subjectively experiencing specifically emotional pain — that is, all and only real persons are capable of suffering.
3. The Pain-and-Suffering Principle. The suffering of any real person is always a primary target of serious moral concern for all higher-level or Kantian human real persons, aka human moral agents. Moreover, as human moral agents, we always have good reason to fear our own future suffering, other things being equal. Most importantly, however, other things being equal, every human moral agent is obligated never to treat any real person, whether human or non-human, in such a way as to cause them to suffer by violating their dignity, namely, to degrade them. Finally, the experience of pain by minded animals of any species is also always a target of serious moral concern for all human moral agents.
4. The Moral Comparison Thesis. There is compellingly good reason to believe that the suffering of any human or non-human minded animal that is a real person, including of course all human real persons, whether via bodily nociperception or without bodily nociperception, is substantially more morally significant than the bodily nociperception of any human or non-human minded animal that’s not a real person, assuming roughly comparable degrees of experienced intensity.
5. The Bodily-Pain-without-Torture-or-Cruelty Principle. Other things being equal, it’s morally permissible for higher-level or Kantian human real persons, aka human moral agents, to treat either human or non-human minded animals that are non-persons in such a way that it foreseeably causes some state of bodily nociperception in them, although it’s morally impermissible to torture them, or treat them with cruelty.
6. The Associate Membership Thesis. Higher-level or Kantian human persons, aka human moral agents, can create moral conventions and social institutions for treating selected groups of human or non-human, minded or non-minded non-persons temporarily or permanently as if they were human real persons falling under the protection of the Categorical Imperative, provided that those creatures are, at least, individual living organisms; and as a consequence, those human or non-human, minded or non-minded non-persons thereby gain an “associate membership in The Realm of Ends,” whereby they are secondary subjects of dignity and secondary targets of respect, and thereby receive a temporary or permanent right-to-life.
The conjunction of these six theses or principles is what I’ll call The Concern For All Minded Animals Theory of the morality of our treatment of non-human minded animals, since it entails not only that (i) some non-human minded animals, as real persons, inherently are subjects of dignity and targets of respect, but also that (ii) all non-human minded animals inherently are experiencers of moral value and targets of moral concern, and also that (iii) all non-human minded animals, whether sentient and fully minded (like bats or cats) or proto-sentient and “simple minded” (like cephalopods, fish, insects, or reptiles), or even non-human, non-minded individual living organisms (like early-stage bat-fetuses or cat-fetuses), extrinsically considered, are possible targets of moral concern in relation to possible associate membership in The Realm of Ends.
It should be particularly noted that The Concern For All Minded Animals Theory cuts sharply across the familiar division — often assumed to be exhaustive — between the anthropocentric (aka “speciesist”)[iv] and anti-anthropocentric (aka “anti-speciesist”)[v] normative ethical positions. Anthropocentrism or speciesism says that biological species membership is the sole or at least the primary determinant of moral distinctions between creatures; and anti-anthropocentrism or anti-speciesism says that species membership is wholly irrelevant to moral distinctions between creatures. In turn, the famous or notorious Animal Liberation view defended in different ways by Tom Regan, Peter Singer, and Christine Korsgaard,[vi] which says that all sentient non-human animals deserve equality of moral consideration and/or treatment with human real persons, is a sub-species of anti-speciesism. Nevertheless, it’s fully consistent to reject speciesism while still holding that species membership partially determines moral distinctions between creatures, or at the very least that species membership is significantly relevant to moral distinctions between creatures. So The Concern For All Minded Animals Theory is neither anthropocentrist nor anti-anthropocentrist, and in turn, neither speciesist nor anti-speciesist. More precisely, according to The Concern For All Minded Animals Theory, (i) real persons are subjects of dignity and targets of sufficient respect, no matter what species they belong to, (ii) some but not all human animals are subjects of dignity and targets of sufficient respect, (iii) some but not all non-human minded animals are subjects of dignity and targets of sufficient respect, (iv) all minded animals of any species are experiencers of moral value and targets of human moral agents’ moral concern, and (v) other things being equal, the morally permissible treatment of any minded animal of any species is determined by the kind of pain it can experience, which in turn is partially determined by the neurobiology of the species that it belongs to. In this way, according to The Concern For All Minded Animals Theory, the morality of our treatment of non-human minded animals neither strictly tracks differences between biological species, nor does it favor humans, nor does it wholly ignore species differences.
It’s claim (v), perhaps, that will be most surprising, since this is the one that directly expresses a non-speciesist moral appeal to species differences, via the concept of the experience of pain in minded animals. This appeal is captured in theses or principles 1 to 6. In sub — sub sections V.3.1 to V.3.4, I will argue for each of these theses or principles in turn. Then in sub-sub-section V.3.5, I’ll argue for The Associate Membership Thesis, which again directly expresses a non-speciesist moral appeal to species differences, but in a sharply different way, in that it captures the special moral concern or kindness that higher-level or Kantian real human persons, aka human moral agents, can actively express for any kind of minded animal whatsoever, whether belonging to its own species or any other species, or indeed for any kind of any living organism.
[i] T. Nagel, “What Is It Like To Be A Bat?,” in T. Nagel, Mortal Questions (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1979), pp. 165–180, at pp. 169–170.
[ii] J. Bentham, Principles of Morals and Legislation (New York: Hafner, 1948), p. 311.
[iii] P. Singer, “All Animals are Equal,” in P. Singer, Unsanctifying Human Life (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002), pp. 80–94, at p. 84.
[iv] See, e.g., P. Carruthers, The Animals Issue (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992).
[v] See, e.g., Singer, “All Animals are Equal.”
[vi] See T. Regan, The Case for Animal Rights (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 1983); Singer, “All Animals are Equal”; Singer, Practical Ethics, ch. 5; and C. Korsgaard, Fellow Creatures: Our Duties to Other Animals (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2018).
[vii] Actually this needs refinement in the case of Singer, whose considered view (often not known, or noted, or accepted, by Singer’s own supporters) is in fact that although all sentient animals deserve equality of moral consideration with persons from the initial standpoint of act utilitarian deliberation, nevertheless persons lexically rank more highly than non-persons in calculating overall utility. See P. Singer, “Killing Humans and Killing Animals” in Singer, Unsanctifying Human Life, pp. 112–122. This in turn enables Singer to avoid an absurd answer to the notorious “lifeboat” puzzle, which runs as follows: If there is one human person and one large dog (or cat, or bunny, etc.) in a lifeboat far out at sea, and only enough food for one of the two creatures to survive, which creature goes into the water? Regan’s view and Korsgaard’s view each implausibly entails that the human real person should flip a coin, and sacrifice themselves if they lose. By contrast, Singer’s view plausibly entails that the dog (or cat, or bunny, etc.) should go. The Concern for All Minded Animals Theory converges with Singer’s view here.
AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 597
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