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September 20, 2004

Comments

Brock

That animals are made to suffer isn't justification enough for banning acts that put them through suffering, however great the sentimental attachment we may have to particular species, as animals, being constitutionally incapable of shouldering responsibilities towards us, can be entitled to no rights in return.

Very small children are also constitutionally incapable of shouldering responsibilities towards us adults.

Abiola Lapite

No they're not: they may presently be incapable of shouldering responsibilities, but they're constitutionally capable of growing up to become adults who can - as they usually do, barring an untimely death. I chose the word "constitutionally" precisely to avoid this sort of sleight-of-hand.

Brock

So if a very small child had some dread disease that guaranteed that he would not ever become an adult, laws against cruelty to that child could not be justified soley on the basis of that child's suffering?

Your possible moves here are: (a) appealing to an Aristotelian essence that human beings have and non-human animals lack, which makes them and only them the proper subjects of legal protection; (b) maintaining that suffering alone would not justify such laws, but something else would; and (c) biting the bullet and maintaining that the laws would not be justified, but the acts they prohibit are nevertheless morally wrong (you might say the same thing about fox hunting).

Factory

"That animals are made to suffer isn't justification enough for banning acts that put them through suffering, ..."
No, but we can weigh up the the benefits that the suffering gives us and decide then that the suffering is not worth it.

Abiola Lapite

Brock,

"So if a very small child had some dread disease that guaranteed that he would not ever become an adult, laws against cruelty to that child could not be justified soley on the basis of that child's suffering?"

No, for the straightforward reason that the child is human, and barring the misfortune of suffering from said disease, would have grown up to become a responsible adult. I think it right that humans be given a blanket benefit of the doubt, just as we give a blanket benefit of the doubt to individuals who are being tried in court, or when we weigh votes in elections.

"a) appealing to an Aristotelian essence that human beings have and non-human animals lack, which makes them and only them the proper subjects of legal protection"

You say this as if it were something too far-fetched to take seriously: don't you recognize the existence of species?

"(b) maintaining that suffering alone would not justify such laws, but something else would"

Yes, the fact that those who are suffering are members of our own species.

"(c) biting the bullet and maintaining that the laws would not be justified, but the acts they prohibit are nevertheless morally wrong (you might say the same thing about fox hunting)."

No, such a law would be justified in the human case, for the reasons mentioned above.

As for fox hunting, man and fox never entered into any social contract with one another, nor would it be possible to do so even if the human party were so inclined. As such, talk of "morality" with respect to animals strikes me as utterly misplaced. "Sympathy" I can understand, even if it sometimes runs to silly extremes, but talk of "morality" with creatures that can't even understand such a concept?

People are entitled to their own feelings of horror and disgust at fox-hunting, just as I am entitled to feel revulsion at the consumption of frogs' legs, but in neither case should one's personal antipathy to a practice be allowed as reason enough for prohibiting it.


Factory,

"but we can weigh up the the benefits that the suffering gives us and decide then that the suffering is not worth it."

How exactly do we do such a thing, seeing as we can't even agree on a way to do so when we're talking about human beings?* Utilitarianism has enough problems as it is, without extending it to creatures of a totally different species who lack the capacity for language. As a Kantian, my support for the rights of my fellow human beings has never rested upon a utilitarian calculus, and I see no reason to admit the legitimacy of such a thing when foxes are at issue.

*Do a Google search for "interpersonal comparisons of utility."

jdsm

I find it remarkable that the author of this post questions Dsquared's reasoning given the tosh delivered here.

1)Is the author seriously questioning whether the pleasure derived from fox-hunting is sadistic? Surely, if the pleasure is not about killing the fox, they could modify their activity to not involving watching dogs rip a fox apart. If it really is about seeing the fox torn apart, which bit of it isn't sadistic?

2)His citing of the statistic that 70% are in favour of the ban was not to give it moral legitimacy but to point out that it wasn't class warfare. It would help if the author read the post.

3) That the author should chastise Dsquared for unfairly assuming the emotional satisfaction gained by the participants is sadistic, and then a few lines later presume to tell us what the ban is "really" about (the hidden motives of those anti the ban) is laughable. The ban has nothing to do with class as the 70% figure shows. That it has to do with loving animals is very true but I'm not quite sure how having some capacity for empathy with anything other than human beings is necessarily sentimental or loopy. Neither is it clear that for many people it is sentimental. Most people are happy to see animals killed but not for the hell of it, in a painful way and for pleasure. The author mentions rats but there would indeed be an outcry if people started killing rats for fun. Most grownups don't even like it when kids pull the wings of insects.

Abiola Lapite

"1)Is the author seriously questioning whether the pleasure derived from fox-hunting is sadistic?"

Yes, I am.

"Surely, if the pleasure is not about killing the fox, they could modify their activity to not involving watching dogs rip a fox apart."

Why should they do so when pest control is the whole point of the exercise? And what exactly are you suggesting anyway, that they avert their eyes from the deed at the moment of the fox's death?

"His citing of the statistic that 70% are in favour of the ban was not to give it moral legitimacy but to point out that it wasn't class warfare."

Perhaps you ought to acquaint yourself with the meaning of the term "class": what percentage of the British populace do you suppose falls under the label "upper class?" Would you be willing to deny the existence of such a class because 95% of the population didn't fall into it?

"It would help if the author read the post."

I did. It would help if you ceased to make silly assumptions.

"then a few lines later presume to tell us what the ban is "really" about (the hidden motives of those anti the ban) is laughable."

What's presumptious about my saying what the motives behind it are when so many of those who advocate it have gone out of their way to publicize their reasons for doing so? There's nothing "hidden" about their motives, so there's no mind-reading involved in my repeating them.

"The ban has nothing to do with class as the 70% figure shows."

A sterling non-sequitur there: is this the sort of illogic one can expect from the rest of the "animal rights" gang? I suppose neither of the French and Russian revolutions had anything to do with class, then, seeing as on both occasions the hated group constituted perhaps 1% of society.

"The author mentions rats but there would indeed be an outcry if people started killing rats for fun."

Oh really? If there's ever been such an outcry, please point us to an example or two of it, otherwise this is simply an extrapolation from your own emotions to the rest of the world. Note that when I ask for examples I want more than just some incident where 100 Outraged of Stoke Newington types phoned the BBC to complain about something or other, but a bona fide instance of polled public opinion registering outrage at the killing of rats for pleasure.

"Most grownups don't even like it when kids pull the wings of insects."

Do you have any polling data to support this assertion, or is it another of those things that happen to be true in your own limited circle, and therefore "must" be true for the rest of humanity?

In any case, what is at issue here isn't what "most people" like or prefer, as the point of my post is that morality cannot be decided on the basis of majority vote (being black, I'm the last person on Earth you'll ever convince to buy that line of argument). Even if you could demonstrate that 99% of adults think hurting cute little fluffy foxes is a terrible thing, that would still constitute no excuse for banning the hunting of foxes.

dsquared

If there's ever been such an outcry, please point us to an example or two of it

Not so long ago, a pornographic film company made a series of short films featuring rats, frogs, snails and worms being crushed under the stiletto heels of women. There was a smallish outcry which stopped after the films were refused a certificate in the UK.

Also, bats aren't cute, but are protected to the most extraordinary degree.

Brock

>>appealing to an Aristotelian essence that human beings have and
>>non-human animals lack, which makes them and only them the proper
>>subjects of legal protection"

>You say this as if it were something too far-fetched to take
>seriously: don't you recognize the existence of species?

I recognize species as useful categories in the science of biology. I question their usefulness in ethics.

I can see capability of entering into a social contract as a vaguely plausible prerequisite for having "rights." (I'm a utilitarian, so I don't believe in rights per se, except as useful legal fictions.) But that founders on the counter-example of small children with terminal illnesses.

To meet the counter-example, you change the criterion to "being of the same species as something capable of entering into a social contract." But why "species"? Why not "being of the same biological family as something capable of entering into a social contract"? (That would justify laws against cruelty to other primates.) Or "being of the same biological class as something capable of entering into a social contract"? (That would justify laws against cruelty to mammals, including foxes.)

It seems quite arbitrary to pick "species" as the relevant biological classification with ethical import.

Brock

I'll also add that it's intellectually unfair to claim that Dsquared cannot possibly know that the pleasure gained from fox-hunting is sadistic pleasure, whereas you know that fox-hunting opponents are motivated merely by sentimental devotion to certain species and resentment of the rich.

Do you have special access to the thoughts of others that Dsquared does not have?

dsquared

Lord knows I often am guilty of "strange reasoning", but never, I think, anything as strange as this:

"If leftists like Dsquared think gay marriage and laws against state-based racial discrimination acceptable, it isn't out of any principled stance on behalf of the rights of individuals to make arrangements with each other as they please so long as they harm no one else, but because these particular practices meet their moral approval, and if their moral code were to change tomorrow for whatever reason, they'd be just as willing to see gays thrown in prison and blacks restricted from using "white" water fountains."

We have a proverb in my part of the North of England that runs "Yeah, and if my Aunt Sally had balls she'd be my Uncle Sally."

Abiola Lapite

"To meet the counter-example, you change the criterion to "being of the same species as something capable of entering into a social contract." But why "species"? Why not "being of the same biological family as something capable of entering into a social contract"? (That would justify laws against cruelty to other primates.) Or "being of the same biological class as something capable of entering into a social contract"? (That would justify laws against cruelty to mammals, including foxes.)"

Because they don't share a gene pool with me, and as such, are neither able to take up any societal obligations towards me in their own right, nor do they possess close relatives who might adopt such obligations on their behalf? Even from a utilitarian point of view, what utility is there in according "rights" to a gorilla or a chimp, when neither creature can ever be brought to acknowledge similar rights towards myself?

"Do you have special access to the thoughts of others that Dsquared does not have?"

No, but I don't need to, for reasons I've already laid out above: when people are writing pieces in the Times, the Guardian and the Independent laying out their reasons for wanting to have fox-hunting banned, and when they are willing to go on the record on Hansard for the same reasons, where does mind-reading come into it? Is it mind-reading to surmise that someone saying it's time the "toffs" were taught a lesson has other things on his mind than the welfare of foxes?

If Dsquared can show me similar evidence to support his view that fox-hunting is based on sadistic pleasure, I'll be more than willing to change my mind.

"We have a proverb in my part of the North of England that runs "Yeah, and if my Aunt Sally had balls she'd be my Uncle Sally."

So I take it you'll never again resort to Rawlsian veils of ignorance in your arguments, right? Saying "but I don't find homosexuality disgusting, so there" is hardly an argument upon which a universal moral code can be founded, is it?

Ben A

For what little it's worth.

Abiola, you are of course right that many opponents of fox hunting are primarily motivated by the desire to stick it to the gentry. D^2, and others, you guys are just silly to deny this.

Likewise, it's dubious that most fox hunters are motivated by sadism. Could the contact from a hounds jaws cause a fox to painlessly expire (or vanish in a puff of smoke, I feel certain the hunt would go on. It's the thrill of the chase, I expect. I note that neither side has sovled the problem of other minds to a degree necessary to resolve this issue, but let's be reasonable. So two points for Abiola out of the box.

That said, it's not like reducing the pain of animals (or not inflicting gratuitous pain on them), is a moral value from cloud cuckoo land. Abiola, I think you are being too dimissive here. One needn't go down the road of Singerian utilitarianism to believe this, either.

Cheers,

Ben A

dsquared

Could the contact from a hounds jaws cause a fox to painlessly expire (or vanish in a puff of smoke, I feel certain the hunt would go on. It's the thrill of the chase, I expect.

"The chase", as the Burns report established, is also highly distressing for the fox and causes significant suffering.

Note as well that "the chase" is not so thrilling that the hunt lobby is willing to even think about keeping their packs of dogs for the purpose of drag-hunting.

nick

After this staggering demonstration of 'garbage in, garbage out' in Abiola's ridiculous 'argument', I wonder: does he have a problem with the reckless disregard for individual property rights that invariably accompanies fox-hunting?

We might not get you on the sadistic pleasure, but you're going to have to admit defeat on the trespass and vandalism.

John Quiggin

"Why should they do so when pest control is the whole point of the exercise? "

At least in the 19th century, this was the opposite of the truth. Farmers were prevented from killing foxes by effective (and comparatively humane) methods, so that they would be available for hunting.

Here's Trollope, a keen foxhunter, on the topic.

Abiola Lapite

"does he have a problem with the reckless disregard for individual property rights that invariably accompanies fox-hunting?"

I think you're the one with the problem with individual property rights.

"We might not get you on the sadistic pleasure, but you're going to have to admit defeat on the trespass and vandalism."

I thought those things were already against the law: why would a law against fox-hunting be needed to prosecute them, eh?

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