Turning Over New Leaf

Friday, December 3, 2010

On Animals

On Animals

Before I become bogged down with deep philosophical principles, let me state my purpose for this post. I am definitely not a PETA member. I probably attempt more than most to be "one with Nature," but I do swat mosquitos. I don't know if there is a Hell, but if there is, I don't believe you will go there for eating turkey on Thanksgiving Day (even though I am a vegetarian). I am simply perplexed by the notion of animal rights.

I have often posed the following questions to my university classes in a number of courses, and the outcome has inevitably been mixed. Not being tied down with textbook or grade considerations, bloggers tend to be more honest. So here is the dilemma in a nutshell:

Do animals have any rights? Do we have any moral obligations toward them?

Strictly speaking, the term animal rights implies that the interests of non-human animals should be afforded the same consideration as the similar interests of human beings. Many who argue against this insist that since animals cannot make moral decisions, they are not entitled to moral considerations.

Some people believe in animal welfare. This position maintains that there is nothing inherently wrong with using animals as resources, so long as the animals do not suffer.

Scholars tell us there are two major factors 21st century humans rely upon when they consider the ethical treatment of animals. First, there is the biblical argument of man's dominion over the animals. Second, animals lack rationality and language, and as such are worthy of less consideration than humans.

Consider some of the positions held by the world's greatest philosophers:

René Descartes - Mental reasoning and souls link humans to the mind of God. Therefore, since animals have neither, they are not conscious, and are unable to suffer or even to feel pain.

John Locke - Animals do have feelings, but the main reason we should not treat them cruelly is that they might adversely affect human beings by turning on us.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau - Animals are part of natural law, and have natural rights, because they are endowed with feeling and unstructured consciousness.

Immanuel Kant - He argued that humans have duties only toward other humans. Therefore, "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."

Jeremy Bentham - He was opposed to the concept of natural rights. However, he believed the ability to suffer, not the ability to reason should determine how we treat other beings. Therefore, if animals can suffer, they must be treated kindly.

There is a ton of more modern philosophical thought on the subject, but it only regurgitates the old stuff. I am sure you can see why I prefer to hear from bloggers.

For me, an animal lover, the moral considerations are complex, but easily negotiated. I follow certain principles, and they seem to work - at least for me. This list is not all-inclusive, but it does give you some insight into my head, which may or may not be comforting:

1. I try not to be judgmental. For example, I don't hunt. I believe the "culling the herd so the rest can live argument" is just crap that hunters created to justify shooting defenseless creatures. I suggest the herd can take care of itself. I know there are plenty of arguments in favor of hunting, so I am not judgmental toward hunters. However, I think reading Most Dangerous Game and The Birds should be a prerequisite for obtaining a hunting license.

2. I believe in a scientific hierarchy of species. I do not fear walking on grass, even though it lives. Disease carrying rats should be exterminated from residential rental dwellings. However, shooting buffalo from a train for sport feels wrong to me.

3. Animals do seem to sense I am not afraid of them, and I will not harm them. I respect them. In turn, they don't seem to harm me. What a simple rule!

4. Anyone who thinks animals do not feel pain should come down from his attic room at least once a year.

5. Animals are one with Nature. I do not set butterflies free and kill spiders because one is beautiful, while the other is ugly. Too often, humans apply that theory even to their own species.

6. I am convinced the human animal is the only one that kills without reason. A rattlesnake has a rattle for a reason. It does not wait for us silently in hopes of being threatened. Whistle in the woods, and the bears will be long gone. Try to take a cub, and mamma will have a word with you.

7. We experiment with mice in medical labs in hopes of curing terrible diseases. We also kill animals in labs to make perfume and nail polish. The latter seems wrong to me.

 Get the idea? I realize we must co-exist with the animal kingdom. However, victimizing animals for human pleasure does not square with me. I realize tigers eat gazelles, bears eat fish, and snakes devour frogs. I have never heard of a lioness torturing her prey. These are simply some of my scattered thoughts.

I repeat my original question: Do animals have any rights? Do we have any moral obligations toward them?


  1. Yes and Yes. Absolutely. I agree with all your thoughts. For me personally, the biggest moral dilemma that I've ever been faced with was having to decide whether my dog should continue living with constant pain because of illness and old age, or whether I should allow the vet to end it all with one injection.

    I'm still not sure what the answer is. It feels wrong to have that much power over another life but is it worse to do nothing when you were given the ability to make a difference? Is my moral obligation towards that pet not exactly that - to end suffering that has no positive prognosis, in the best way possible?

    All I know is that I have four little creatures who depend on me for their every need right now. I hope that when the day comes when my 'moral obligation' towards them is to be tested, that I have more peace and clarity about that one very big decision. If the universe is kind, I won't be put in that position again.

    JJ - I love point no. 4!

  2. My thoughts pretty much mirror your own JJ. I think it's important that we all realise the important role that animals play in whole scheme of things & we should always promote ways to treat them humanely as possible because just like us they feel pain. Yep JJ .. I concur with all your thoughts on this!!
    Have a fabulous weekend :)

  3. emilene: I have been through your dog dilemma several times, and it is very painful. I have always lived with several dogs, and I have two now. They are family members. Thank you for your supportive comments.

    Katherine: It is funny how you begin to know people through the blogging experience. I was absolutely certain you would feel that way. Thank you for your comments.

  4. A great essay...makes us really think! I would wish no pain for any of my human counterparts nor for my animal friends. My dogs deserve the best life has to offer them and I make certain they do. When it was time to stop the pain for my beautiful 13 year old sheltie Carrie last June, I held her in my arms as she passed peacefully at our loving vet's office. My heart was breaking but it was the right thing to do. I simply believe that all animals deserve humane treatment. How can we respect ourselves if we don't provide this!
    Thanks for an exceptional piece!

  5. Coralie: What a fantastic line: How can we respect ourselves if we don't provide this!

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments.

  6. Thanks so much for visiting my Souper Saturday Blog Hop. I follow you already. Thanks for grabbing my button. Nice to meet you.

  7. Welcome To My Kitchen: Likewise. Thank you!

  8. I was just having a similar conversation with a friend at lunch. I was explaining that as time goes on, I find myself much more conscious of the judgments I have about animals. For example, I will carefully take spiders outside and release them, but I didn't hesitate to have the yellowjacket nest by the garage sprayed.

    I was eating fish for lunch, but I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable about eating other meats. Why am I willing, even eager, to eat pork (I love bacon!), but I wouldn't eat my beloved dog Sadie. And Sadie, although she would be a bit tough now at her advanced age, would have been a delicacy in her youth in some countries.

    I teach in a school known for its animal law program, so animal rights are often a topic of conversation. A recent debate focused on whether to put up screens on the huge windows that look out into a beautiful wooded park, to keep the birds from flying into the windows.

    Everyone regretted the risk to birds, but many were reluctant to compromise the view, and others balked at the cost of the screens. No decision has been reached, but the discussion certainly has made us think, not just individually but also institutionally, about our values.

    A very provocative post!

  9. Galen Pearl: I wouldn't mind so much if the animals were at least considered. So many times, these creatures are treated inhumanely. I hope there is no intelligent life on a planet named Taxidermy who will decide someday to mount human heads on their den walls.

  10. Thanks for stopping by http://www.Blogger

    I am following your blog. :-)

  11. hah! you have never heard of a lioness torturing her prey? have you heard of a lioness wounding prey so it cannot escape and then allowing the cubs to "practice?" I haven't studied the big cats but I believe this is one of the ways the do teach their young to hunt.

    No - I do not think animals wound without need. If you listen to true woodsmen they don't either. Some of the most ardent conservationists are hunters and fishers, they can see quite clearly what human waste is doing to the world.

    René Descartes is full of beans and must not have spent much time observing animals.

    I suppose I fall in the animal welfare group. I believe in treating as much of the earth as we can in a humane manner. I do 'catch and release' spiders. I see the value in having the black racer snake patrol my yard and garden though I walk noisily and brushing shrubs so as not to surprise it. I happily eat eggs, one child lives almost entirely on dairy products and I have noticed that my oldest child will get ill if she is not fed red meat once a week. But I believe that the eggs, milk and beef are healthier for us to consume if they were raised in a humane preferably grass grazing enviornment and our source uses a small business, local, certified humane, butcher.

    I don't compare beef to my dog. My dog loves beef. And he hunted down rabbit once- and yes, ate it. It appears that scientifically speaking, he was made to eat meat.

    Have you ever read "Eat Right 4 Your Blood Type"? Fascinating.

  12. I believe animals have rights. Humans are animals too you know.

  13. Fascinating post! I share your views pretty much completely on our co-existance with animals. Miriam@Meatless Meals For Meat Eaters

  14. CailinMarie: I guess you are correct about the lioness, but that's not the same as dog fighting. I do fish, and I believe hunters can be conservationists. Yes, Descartes probably needed a female friend. I think you are right about the dairy products, and about your dog. I have not read "Eat Right 4 Your Blood Type, " but I will. Thanks so much for your post!

  15. KB: I agree.

    Miriam: I figured you would. Some points could use a little more explanation, but basically I respect their right to co-exist in peace.

  16. ah, I would never defend dog fighting. or roosters (they put metal on their talons!)
    I'm not keen on horse racing even. Pure exploitation - killing rhinos for the horn and leaving the carcas to rot in the sun- torturing a baby elephant - is beyond my comprehension.
    But I find that those whose refuse to eat honey because it exploits bees difficult to understand - though as it isn't hurting anyone or anything - less worrisome than the dog fighters.

  17. CailinMarie: Absolutely! That's why I am not a member of PETA. To me, you sound normal. To others, we're probably both nuts.

  18. A great post JJ you got everybody thinking and thats great. I wont add the way i feel as you already know my views ( except to say everybody and everything has a right to live peacefully) ;-)) Take care Dee ;-)

  19. Yes, Dee. I especially wanted to let you know my love for animals. Be well.

  20. Animals need be respected by humans. We share this earth. We all have rights to what we need and share....

    Humans need to respectfully take what is needed for survival. Torture, not using all the resources once killing, etc. are NOT human rights. I love my cat Simon, and sometimes prefer his company over humans. =)

  21. A-M: I couldn't agree more!

  22. I am late coming to this discussion. Here is my philosophy on the subject.

    René Descartes-horse hockey! He should begin his sentences with "I think maybe" since he is neither an animal nor God he can only assume an animal has no soul and feels no pain. And some of us know that when one assumes something they can make an ass out of u and me. My dogs understand my commands, whether they are words or sounds. They also try like the dickens to tell me with their own sounds what they want. I have seen an animal cry. Heard an animal shreek in pain. Therefore I beleive they are conscious and feel pain and my heart tells me that any animal that can be loving and loyal whether to their own species or humans has a soul.

    Well I beleive in half of John Locke's statement. An animal will turn on you if mistreated. But what is the reason behind purposely mistreating an animal? None. Unless one has control issues and is a sick bastard and likes to torture the innocent, animal or human.

    Immanuel Kant- An antiquated philospher. The science and reason of today would change the way he has come to this conclusion.

    I agree with:
    #7 is disturbing to me. I really want to see a cure for AIDS and cancer. My husband has cancer. But killing a creature to do so, even my husband would cry over an animal being experimented on even if it was done to save his life. If a rat is dying and they want to experiemnt to try and save it, well I think that is different as long as there is no suffering. Suffering, in my own oppinion, is the equivalence of cruelty. Whether in animals or in humans. There is no reason for any human or any animal to suffer pain in this day and age.

    I live across the river from a Wildlife Sanctuary. Our community makes every conscious effort to relocate dangerous animals with out harm. We don't encroach on their habitat and we don't want them encroaching upon ours. There must be checks and balances in place for the safety of all animals and humans a like. We feel bad that a 9 foot alligator was destroyed because he enchroached upon our habitat. He journeyed so far to get here. I would have just as soon they relocated him again, but the Wildlife officers deemed him a dangerous nuisance. Nine foot alligators hide under trucks, they eat little dogs and house cats. Well you can see why one wouldn't want to share the neighborhood with him.

    I respect animals, but I eat meat, pork, poultry and fish ocassionally. However, I don't believe in cutting chickens beaks off so they can't peck each other to death while being crammed into an over crowded container or over crowded feed lots for cattle. It's cruel.
    Oh I could go on and on but I won't. I guess you get my drift. I lean towards the animal welfare group myself.
    Do animals have any rights? Yes, why else would God put them here? (My opinion). A rightous man regardeth the life of his beast, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel- Proverbs 12:10 or Kindness to birds- Deuteronomy 22:6
    Do we have any moral obligations toward them? Yes. (My opinion) We must protect them to ensure their species will survive us.

    Excellent post JJ. ~Ames


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.