A Theory of Human Dignity, #21–Kindness to All Living Beings: Associate Membership in The Realm of Ends.
By Robert Hanna
TABLE OF CONTENTS
V.3.4 Kindness to Animals Revisited: Harming without Torture or Cruelty
V.3.5 Kindness to All Living Beings: Associate Membership in The Realm of Ends
VI. Enacting Human Dignity and The Mind-Body Politic
This installment contains section V.3.5.
But you can also download, read, and/or share a .pdf of the complete text of this essay HERE.
V.3.5 Kindness to All Living Beings: Associate Membership in The Realm of Ends
There’s one further basic element of The Concern For All Minded Animals view that I still need to explore. According to this view, as I noted in section above, under certain conditions — namely, the necessary and sufficient conditions governing the existence and specific character of a normative convention[i] — human or non-human non-persons can be temporarily or permanently treated as if they were real human persons falling under the protection of the Categorical Imperative, and thereby gain what I have called “an associate membership in The Realm of Ends.” As such, these conventionally-protected creatures are secondary subjects of dignity and secondary targets of respect, and, as extrinsically considered, they receive a temporary or permanent right-to-life, by which, as I said in sub-section V.3, I mean:
a subject’s unalienable moral demand against others to let her continue being alive, that is, the moral demand not to be impermissibly actively or passively killed by those others, which is not a forfeitable right of any sort, and not a strict right-not-to-be-killed.
Such an associate membership in The Realm of Ends has the following four individually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions. First, there must be an imaginative extension of the existing general and strict obligation to try to prevent or reduce dignity-violating harm to real persons, whether human or non-human (namely, the positive duty to prevent harm), to a pre-selected class of living organisms, whether non-minded, proto-sentient and simple minded, or sentient and fully minded, human or non-human non-persons, where this extension is normally motivated by moral feelings such as compassion, empathy, or sympathy. Second, there must be a collective rational disposition to provide moral arguments purporting to show that such an extension of specific moral character, aka moral status, is warranted. Third, there must be an implicit or explicit normative convention between like-minded higher-level or Kantian real persons, moral agents, to confer, defend, and heed this moral status. Fourth and finally, there must be a generally public, social-institutional recognition of this extension of moral status.
Is this extension of moral protection rationally well-justified? Kant says this about full membership in The Realm of Ends:
All rational beings stand under the law that each of them is to treat himself and all others never merely as means but always also always at the same time as ends in themselves. But from this there arises a systematic union of rational beings through common objective laws, that is, a realm (Reich), which can be called a realm of ends (admittedly only as ideal) because what these laws have as their purposes is just the relation of these beings to one another as ends and means. A rational being belongs as a member to a realm of ends when he gives universal laws in it but is also himself subject to these laws. (GMM 4: 433, emphasis in the original)
Now let’s juxtapose associate membership in The Realm of Ends and full membership. It makes eminently good rational sense that the temporary or permanent possession of a right-to-life by secondary subjects of dignity and secondary targets of respect be in sharp contrast to the possession of dignity by primary subjects of dignity and primary targets of respect — namely, all real persons, including all actualized rational human animals or actualized human real persons, and also all human neo-persons. Dignity, with its absolute, non-denumerably infinite, intrinsic, objective value, is an essential property of real persons. But the moral status of associate membership in The Realm of Ends is merely contingent and extrinsic, precisely because it’s conventional, although it remains normatively and morally binding to the extent that the primary subjects of dignity and primary targets of respect are prepared to stand behind it.
A necessary condition for something X’s being a secondary subject of dignity and a secondary target of respect is that X have a morally valuable life-of-its-own, which in turn implies that it must, at the very least, be an individual living organism, or collection of living organisms, for example, a Nature Conservation Zone. So Nero’s favorite horse qualifies, and (as it were) Nero’s favorite poisonous snake, and Nero’s favorite Venus Fly Trap, and so-on. But plastic (or papier-mâché, or rubber, or metallic, etc.) horses, poisonous snakes, or carnivorous plants don’t qualify. Nor do machines of any kind. This is because being an individual living organism is a constitutively necessary condition of being a subject of dignity and a target of respect. It’s true, as philosophers of art and philosophers of religion have noted, that aesthetic objects, artworks, and sacred objects can also be conventionally and/or intentionally — and for better or worse — assigned an “aura” that is in certain respects quite similar to what I’m calling associate membership in The Realm of Ends.[ii] But by contrast, the aura of aesthetic objects, artworks, and sacred objects implies at most a proto-dignity and not dignity per se.[iii] Nevertheless, there are some hybrid cases in which the conventional attribution of associate membership in the realm of ends, and the conventional attribution of the aura of the sacred, coincide, for example, sacred cows in Hindu countries.
Now let’s suppose that an associate membership in The Realm of Ends has been actually extended to some human or non-human non-person minded animals or to some other individual living but non-minded organisms. Then, other things being equal, harming those human or non-human minded or non-minded living organisms, for example, by arbitrarily killing them or destroying them, is conventionally morally impermissible. For example, it would be conventionally morally impermissible, other things being equal, arbitrarily to injure or kill your neighbor’s cat or dog; arbitrarily to injure or kill minded animals belonging to protected species; arbitrarily to injure or kill insects, bats, or snakes in public zoos; arbitrarily to injure or kill fish or other sea animals in public aquariums; arbitrarily to injure or kill sacred cows in Hindu countries; arbitrarily to injure or kill the bat-fetuses or cat-fetuses of someone’s pet bat or pet cat; arbitrarily to cut down or burn the grasses or trees in Nature Conservation Zones, and so-on. And there have, of course, been serious moral debates about extending the same sorts of moral protections to human stem cells or human embryos, on the grounds that they too have morally valuable lives-of-their-own.
Nevertheless, arbitrarily to damage, injure, kill or destroy human or non-human minded or non-minded living organisms in such cases would not be a violation of the dignity of that human or non-human non-person minded or non-minded living organism itself, simply because these non-persons do not possess dignity per se, but only at most proto-dignity.[iv] Instead — for example, in the case of arbitrarily injuring or killing your neighbor’s bat, cat, or dog, or arbitrarily cutting down or burning the grasses or trees in a Nature Conservation Zone — it would be at most indirectly violating the dignity of those higher-level or Kantian rational human members-in-good-standing of The Realm of Ends who stand behind the moral convention that constitutes this class of associate members of The Realm of Ends, and who jointly confer the status of being a secondary subject of dignity and a secondary target of respect upon those human or non-human minded or non-minded living organisms. Obviously, it would harm those organisms. But in this context, provided it’s not torture/cruelty, harming those living organisms would directly violate only the conventional moral office or moral role that is filled or played by those non-persons. Hence it would directly violate the dignity of no real person, whether human or non-human.
As I also noted above, the moral convention whereby secondary dignity and secondary respect, and thereby a temporary or permanent right-to-life, is ascribed to some non-person living organisms derives ultimately from our respect-based moral feelings such as compassion, empathy, or sympathy directed towards all those beings in our world that (i) share with us at least one constitutively necessary feature of real personhood — life, but that also (ii) are all non-persons because they lack even the strong potentiality to become real persons. Associate membership in The Realm of Ends and its corresponding conventional first-order substantive ceteris paribus objective moral principles thus result from coordinated acts of special moral concern and kindness towards minded animals of any species, or towards living organisms of any kind,by real persons like us. And in this way, associate membership in The Realm of Ends provides for what is, in effect, a fairly robust eco-ethical Noah’s Ark Principle that could be endorsed by even the most radical eco-ethicist, for example, Albert Schweizer. For even though Schweizer himself might disagree about its conventionalist metaphysical foundations, pragmatically speaking, associate membership in The Realm of Ends and Schweizer’s own ethical principles are morally equivalent.
Associate membership in The Realm of Ends is also in certain respects similar to Kant’s classical “indirect-duty” view, according to which all moral obligations towards non-human non-persons are ultimately obligations towards persons,[v] and not towards non-human non-persons themselves. One important difference, however, is that for Kant’s indirect-duty view, the moral obligation to consider and treat non-human non-persons in a certain way is strictly a duty to oneself; whereas, according to associate membership in The Realm of Ends, the moral obligation is a duty to others. In any case, the two standard objections to Kant’s indirect-duty view are (i) that it unacceptably implies that we should treat human or non-human non-person minded animals, and in particular all fetuses or infants, as mere means or mere things, and (ii) that it unacceptably implies that if by some psychological accident torturing/cruelly treating human or non-human non-person minded animals was not bad for me or even improved me (perhaps by releasing aggression), then it would be morally permissible for me to do so.[vi]
These standard objections can easily be rebutted by The Concern For All Minded Animals Theory, when it’s added to the notion of associate membership in The Realm of Ends. As we saw above, The Concern For All Minded Animals Theory directly entails that it is morally impermissible, other things being equal, to treat any experiencer or subject of moral value in any species either as a mere means or as a mere thing, and also that torturing/cruelly treating minded animals of any species is as generally and strictly morally impermissible as torturing rational minded animals or real persons, whether human or non-human. But at the same time, as the broadly Kantian nonideal dignitarian moral theory-driven solution to The What-Is-It-Like-To-Be-A-Bat-In-Pain? Problem showed, although torturing/cruelly treating minded animals of any species is as generally and strictly morally impermissible as torturing/cruelly treating real persons, whether human or non-human, it doesn’t follow that minded animals of any species must be treated equally with real human persons, that is, treated with equally sufficient respect. On the contrary, other things being equal, the suffering of real human persons morally overrides the experience of bodily pain, aka nociperception, in non-human non-person minded animals, assuming comparable levels of subjectively experienced emotional or bodily pain.
Finally, and even more positively however, one important theoretical advantage of associate membership in The Realm of Ends — insofar as it’s a conventional moral mechanism for extending a secondary kind of temporary or permanent moral protection, under the Categorical Imperative, to pre-selected groups of non-human non-person, minded or non-minded living organisms of any kind — is that it thereby avoids the serious problem, for the unconstrained animal liberation theory, of highly implausibly overextending fundamental moral protection to all non-human non-person minded animals in the wild, and particularly in natural predation situations. Indeed, the highly plausible explicit or implicit moral belief that there is a basic asymmetry between the fundamental moral protections applying to real human persons on the one hand, and the moral protections extended to non-human non-person minded animals in the wild and in natural predation situations on the other, is shared by all parties to the debate about the morality of our treatment of non-human minded animals, including the most radical eco-ethicists, for example, Schweizer. Schweizer would have tried to protect any human real person who was being attacked by another, and would also have tried to prevent any such attacks, but he did not try to stop, nor did he urge us to prevent, natural predation among non-human, non-person animals. Schweizer’s moral belief entails that we don’t have a moral obligation, other things being equal, to prevent or reduce the experience of bodily pain in the wild and in natural predation situations, or to prevent animals arbitrarily killing one another in such situations, whereas we do have a general and strict moral obligation to try to prevent or reduce the degradation of human real persons, and to try to prevent human real persons arbitarily killing one another. In turn, this universally shared moral belief clearly supports The Concern For All Minded Animals Theory. And it also clearly supports the important sub-thesis of The Theory, which says that the commonplace inference from the fact of bodily nociperception in animals to their suffering — namely, The Bentham-Singer Fallacy — really is a fallacy. For not even the most radical eco-ethicist, not even Schweizer, would be rationally prepared to say that when, in the ordinary course of natural predation, a mountain lion kills and eats a deer, then that deer is thereby suffering in the precise and morally weighty sense of that term, so that, other things being equal, we are morally obligated to stop the mountain lion if we can, or to prevent that natural predation from occurring, including using lethal force if necessary, even though, obviously, that deer still is experiencing intense bodily pain.
[i] See, e.g., D. Lewis, Convention (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1969); and M. Rescorla, “Convention,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition), E.N. Zalta (ed.), available online at URL = < https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2017/entries/convention/>.
[ii] See, e.g., W. Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” available online at URL = <http://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/benjamin.pdf>; A. Danto, The Transfiguration of the Commonplace (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1981); R. Otto, The Idea of the Holy,trans. J.W. Harvey (2nd edn.; Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1958); and M. Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, trans. W.R. Trask (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987).
[iii] See R. Hanna, Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism: A Theological-Political Treatise (THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol.4) (New York: Nova Science, 2018), section 3.14.
[v] See Kant (LE 27: 458–460, 709–710) and (MM 6: 442–444). For three different contemporary Kantian ethical approaches to the treatment of non-human non-persons, see A. Wood and O. O’Neill, “Kant on Duties Regarding Nonrational Nature,” The Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume LXXII (Oxford: The Aristotelian Society, 1998), pp. 188–210, and 211–228; and and C. Korsgaard, Fellow Creatures: Our Duties to Other Animals (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2018). It seems to me that, leaving aside other non-trivial differences between the two theories, the broadly Kantian nonideal dignitarian moral theory of non-human animals’ associate membership in The Realm of Ends is in fact pragmatically equivalent to Korsgaard’s theory of our duties to animals.
[vi] See, e.g., Regan, The Case for Animal Rights (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 1983), pp. 174–185.
AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 618
Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Monday 20 December 2021
Please consider becoming a patron!