A Theory of Human Dignity, #20–Kindness to Animals Revisited: Harming without Torture or Cruelty.
By Robert Hanna
TABLE OF CONTENTS
VI. Enacting Human Dignity and The Mind-Body Politic
This installment contains section V.3.4.
But you can also download, read, and/or share a .pdf of the complete text of this essay HERE.
V.3.4 Kindness to Animals Revisited: Harming without Torture or Cruelty
How ought we to treat non-human minded animals who aren’t real persons? I’ve just argued that we have compellingly good reason to believe that bodily nociperception in non-human non-person minded animals is substantially less morally significant than roughly comparable intensity-levels of suffering in real persons. I’ve also argued that, other things being equal, we aren’t generally or strictly morally obligated generally to try to reduce or prevent the suffering of rational animals or real persons, although we’re morally obligated never to cause suffering in them by violating their dignity, namely, to degrade them. Furthermore, other things being equal, we’re also not generally or strictly morally obligated to try to reduce or prevent the experience of bodily pain, or nociperception, in non-rational human or non-human minded animals. I’ve also argued that both proto-sentient, simple minded and also sentient, fully minded non-human non-person animals are still primary subjects of moral value and primary targets of our moral concern, and we’re therefore generally and strictly obligated, at the very least, to consider them fully, and to take them fully into account in our moral reasoning — which is what I mean by saying that we must treat them as “primary, serious targets” of our moral concern.
From all of this, it follows that, other things being equal, it’s morally permissible for real persons to treat either human or non-human non-person minded animals in such a way that it foreseeably causes some state of bodily nociperception in them. But at the same time, it’s generally and strictly morally impermissible to torture them, that is, treat them with cruelty, the diametric opposite of treating them with kindness. By “torture” and/or “treat with cruelty” I mean the following:
Conscious subject X tortures/treats with cruelty, some proto-sentient or conscious subject Y if and only if the choices or actions of X are either direct tryings to cause a very high level of bodily nociperception or suffering in Y, or, as insofar as X is trying to do something else, foreseeably will cause a very high level of bodily nociperception or suffering in Y, when it is also really possible to cause a significantly lower level of bodily nociperception or suffering in Y.
Therefore, I’m saying that it is morally permissible for real persons to treat human or non-human non-person minded animals in such a way that it foreseeably causes some state of bodily nociperception in them, although it’s never morally permissible either directly to try to cause any highly intense experience of bodily pain in any minded animal, or, insofar as one is trying to do something else, foreseeably will cause a highly intense experience of bodily pain in them when it is also really possible, insofar as that other thing is intended, to cause a significantly less intense experience of bodily pain in them.
Otherwise put, it’s a generally and strictly morally impermissible state of affairs whenever someone is trying to cause a highly intense experience of bodily pain in a primary subject of value, or is trying to cause something else and thereby foreseeably will cause a highly intense experience of bodily pain in that primary subject of value, when he could try to cause a significantly less intense experience of bodily pain in that minded creature. For example, when a veterinarian operates on a dog while benevolently trying to save that dog’s life, but also knows that even using anaesthetics, this will inevitably cause a highly intense experience of bodily pain in the dog, then that’s morally permissible and not torture or cruelty. But when a medical experimenter investigating the side-effects of a certain drug gives that drug to the very same dog, knowing that it will cause the very same highly intense experience of bodily pain in the dog, but could also choose either not to give the drug to the dog at all and achieve the same experimental end by not using non-human minded animals, or else to give the dog an anaesthetic that would adequately deaden the pain, then that is torture/treating with cruelty, and morally impermissible. Torture/cruel treatment, thus lies in the moral agent’s intention-in-act, or trying, not in the consequences of acting on that intention, since in the two hypothetical cases I’ve just described, the dog’s very high level of experienced pain is held fixed. In cases like the animal experimentation example, the primary subject of value is being treated either as a mere means, with only the instrumental value of satisfying the torturer’s need to hurt other creatures, or as a mere thing, without any sort of moral value, like a piece of garbage or offal, without any moral concern or moral consideration whatsoever, and despite the fact that this primary subject of value possesses at least a constitutively necessary, even if not sufficient, capacity of rational animality or real personhood in common with us. The torturer of non-human non-person minded animals is thereby choosing and acting with “cruelty to animals”; and conversely, anyone who treats non-human non-person minded animals with cruelty is a torturer, and these are equivalently generally and strictly impermissible. So that’s what our serious moral concern for non-human non-person minded animals will always morally prohibit, and “kindness to animals” fundamentally consists in heeding this moral prohibition.
I’m now finally in a position to raise and answer the following very hard question:
Is it morally permissible, other things being equal, for us to kill, or cause states of bodily nociperception in, non-human non-person minded animals — including, for example, cephalopods, fish, insects, reptiles, and other proto-sentient or simple minded invertebrates, and also bats, bears, birds, cats, cows, dogs, horses, lions, mice, sheep, and wolves, and other sentient, fully minded non-human non-person animals — for the purposes of, for example, greater human convenience or safety, eating meat, producing other sorts of food, medical experimentation, scientific experimentation more generally, the manufacture of clothing, cosmetics, and furniture, or sport, animal-driven conveyance or transportation (for example, horseback riding, cart-pulling, dog sleds, etc.), or zoos, etc.?
The crucially qualified answer I am offering is Yes, provided that this isn’t torture/cruel treatment. That is: provided that this isn’t either directly to try to cause any highly intense experience of bodily pain in any minimally minded or conscious animal, or, insofar as one is trying to do something else, foreseeably will cause a highly intense experience of bodily pain in them when it is also possible, insofar as one is trying to do that other thing, to cause a significantly less intense experience of bodily pain in them. For example, these non-torturing/non-cruel-treatment conditions would strongly favor banning or seriously restricting, other things being equal, many current practices of scientific experimentation on non-human non-person minded animals, and many current practices of using them in meat production and other sorts of food production, in drug testing, in clothing production, and for display in private zoos, as well as the pointless slaughter of non-human minded animals in traditional sport fishing, big-game hunting, fox-hunting, deer hunting, bird-hunting, and so-on, other things being equal.
Nevertheless, however, these conditions would also morally permit, other things being equal, the non-torturing/non-cruel use of non-human non-person minded animals in scientific experimentation, meat production, other sorts of food production; the non-torturing/non-cruel use of them in animal sports; the non-torturing/non-cruel use of them as conveyance or transportation; public zoos; the non-torturing/non-cruel use of them as specially-trained companions for people with certain kinds of disabilities; and also the non-torturing/non-cruel use of them, via private ownership, as ordinary companions or pets. Correspondingly, these conditions would also morally permit your killing a bee, hornet, or mosquito that’s stinging you, or likely to sting you, and also morally permit your killing flies or other insects inside your house, when they are likely to be an annoyance or a health hazard. Nevertheless, they would still morally prevent your pulling the wings off flies, or simply killing them (or any other insect, cephalopod, fish, or reptile) slowly and painfully, “for our sport” — like King Lear’s cruel gods, or “wanton boys” — other things being equal.
This overall approach to the treatment of non-human minded animals, in turn, comports very coherently with the widely-held commonsense moral intuition, shared alike by animal liberationists and radical or vegan vegetarians on the one hand, and by non-animal-liberationists and non-radical non-vegetarians who still morally care about our treatment of non-human animals on the other hand, that torturing/cruelly treating non-human non-person minded animals is strictly morally impermissible, no matter what other views one may hold about animal ethics. Thus The Concern for All Minded Animals Theory also entails a general and strict moral obligation to try to prevent or reduce cruelty to all minded animals, including of course all non-human non-person minded animals, although it doesn’t also entail a general or strict moral obligation generally to prevent or reduce harm to them equal. That latter moral obligation — more specifically, the general and strict moral obligation to try to prevent or reduce dignity-violating harm, that is, harm which involves someone’s being treated as a mere means as a mere thing, without their actual or possible rational consent, and with cruelty — is specially reserved for our respectful treatment of real persons, whether human or non-human. Or in other words:
Generally and strictly, we’re morally obligated to try to prevent or reduce the degradation of all real persons, whether human or non-human; and our serious moral concern for the suffering of all human real persons morally overrides our serious moral concern for the experience of bodily pain in non-human non-person minded animals, assuming roughly comparable levels in the intensity of the experience of emotional or bodily pain, and provided that no minded animal is being tortured/treated with cruelty.
This, in a nutshell, is my broadly Kantian nonideal dignitarian moral theory-based solution to The What-Is-It-Like-To-Be-A-Bat-In-Pain? Problem.
AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 616
Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Monday 13 December 2021
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