“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” – George Orwell, Animal Farm.
In the last four posts we have seen some of the traditional thinking and philosophical arguments for and against a favored treatment of animals. In the search for a meaningful life via a path including a virtuous relationship with nature, the practical philosopher has come to a line which if crossed changes daily life dramatically with implications for diet, health, home, entertainment, and politics. Must we all become vegetarians, give up our pets, avoid attending zoos with our children and grandchildren, abandon horse racing, tolerate pests like mosquitos, flies, roaches, mice, and rats, and so on? Having blundered into this quagmire, we now urgently seek a path out and forward.
Let’s start with a foundation of the most objective axioms possible (in order of relative primacy):
- The trajectory of the universe is an increase in complexity.
- Life is the most compact complexity known by us.
- The value of individual parts of the universe is directly proportional to their contribution to the trajectory of the universe.
- Nature, not man, is the final guide of acceptable behavior.
- All things being equal, a larger number of species of animals is superior to a fewer number.
- In general (i.e. to the extent possible) all living things should be treated as ends not means.
- Natural ethics for humans is founded on a net benefit of good over evil in actions.
- Animals should not be treated differently based on mere human preference.
By labeling these statements axioms, I admit they can not be proven using logical argument. If our analysis goes awry, we may need to revisit them.
Next we repeat the process we did in the section on certainty – enumerate the most certain principles possible with respect to animals from which we can attempt a pragmatic strategy founded on our axioms that employs principles of higher certainty while mitigating for less certain ones. The list in decreasing order of certainty here looks like this:
- Animals are living things and part of Nature.
- Animals have consciousness.
- Animals have sensations and can suffer.
- Animals can survive only by eating other living things.
- Nonhuman animals cannot enter into ethical relationships.
- Existing animals are the results of nearly 4 billion years of evolution.
- Animals act instinctually and the greatest instinct is to survive and reproduce.
- Animals have emotions.
- Needless harm or killing of animals is evil (wrong).
- No nonhuman species protects members of another species.
- Some nonhuman animals use other animals for survival (e.g. ants enslave aphids, lions “herd” herbivores, barnacles live on whales, etc.).
Now we will juxtapose these highly certain statements with our axioms to formulate a program for us on the ethical treatment of other living creatures.
(to be continued)