Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Predation Problem Part III

The third was one might argue against viewing predation in wildlife documentaries I call the The moral predation problem, which may be formulated as:

  1. Animals suffer when they are predated upon.
  2. All suffering is to be pitied and not to be a source of pleasure. To take pleasure in suffering is a morally deficient/sinful act.
  3. The only reason one might view animal predation is for enjoyment or pleasure in the act of predation.

    Therefore, viewing animal predation is morally wrong/sinful.
Both morally wrong and sinful are used because I think this argument is valid even if one is not a theist of any description. Without pity, taking positive delight in scenes of animal carnage, we show ourselves to be morally deficient. People who abuse animals as children do not usually grow up to be good citizens. More often than not they grow up to be violent towards other people. Why is this the case? It is because, as Raimond Gaita suggests in “The Philosopher’s Dog”, we know that some animals are conscious and can suffer something like we do, quite apart from the kinds of experiments that could conduct to prove they are conscious[i]. Indeed, such experiments can be accused of containing anthropomorphic views of animals, and yet it is almost impossible to not to do so. Consider our experience with dogs. Human beings and dogs have been together for some 14,000 years at least[ii]. They are the most socialised animals we know. Do we not ascribe feelings to them? Don’t many treat their dogs like they would a child? Why did Gaita’s father bury their dog Orloff so tenderly[iii]? It is because dogs participate in our lives and lay claim to our loyalty and affection, almost as if they were human.

It would be ironic if the evolution of human consciousness were so that we might enter the minds of our prey in order to hunt them, and then we deny the very thing that we have in our common sense way ascribed to them. This is not to elevate beast to man or lower man to beast. The image of God in humanity (Imago Dei) is not a matter merely of our cognitive skills or of our emotional capacity, as if such things did not exist in (the so-called) lower beasts. But my point is that a callous disregard for (some) animals typically leads to a callous disregard for our fellow humans because of the innate assumption that animals are (to some limited degree) knowers and feelers.

It should be noted that this is a form of the slippery slope argument[iv]. For example, I assert that violence towards animals early in life leads to violence towards other humans later in life. But this only follows due to our innate sense that animals feel and suffer. If I held (as Descartes did[v]) the view that animals are mere automata, it might not be the case that mistreating animals would imply that I would mistreat humans. However, I think it fair to claim, given the innate knowledge we do have, that there is often a strong correlation between violence towards animals and a similar disregard for some humans.

Would apathy towards animal violence in documentaries be similar evidence of moral deficiency? The moral predation problem argument stands only upon the success or failure of the assumption that the only reason for “forcing ourselves” to view predation is the pleasure we take from the act of violence per se, whether this be the violence that excites us or indeed relieves us, the “thank God it is it and not me in those jaws”. If there are reasons other than entertainment and pleasure per se for viewing predation, then the moral predation problem version of the argument takes on a softer form. That is, we replace a definite result with a possible result; that the viewing of predation is morally dubious when the reason for doing so is entertainment and pleasure per se.

At this point it is worthwhile considering what limits we might place on such arguments. Do I feel the same pity that I for my dog when he suffers for some arthritis as I do the wildebeest when it is having its intestines eaten? Yes, and more so. What about the paralysed insect that feeds the wasp larvae? Can I watch that without pity? One might counter that this is not the point at all. This is the boy pulling the wings off of the fly argument. In one sense, the subject and object of the violence are irrelevant. We must not take pleasure at violence, at all. There is no room for speciesist here! However, at another level it is important to recognise that the revulsion we feel is affected by our cute factor, the way in which we empathise with some creatures and not with others.

[i] For a discussion of such experiments, see Lesley Rogers’ Minds of Their Own, p23f.
[ii] See Jonica Newby’s The Animal Attraction.
[iii] Raimond Gaita, The Philosopher’s Dog, p85.
[iv] See the article Analogies, slippery slopes and the prohibition of Cannabis, by Robert Davies in the June/July 2005 issue of Philosophy Now.
[v] See for example the discussion in Rogers, p5.

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