Is there a reason to treat animals ethically?

Is there a reason to treat animals ethically?
Werrick
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#51 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Apr 20, 2011 - 5:54 PM:

stew wrote:




To not treat animals as property means exactly the same thing to not treat humans as property, that is, they are not mere objects like your car or means to an end. The abolishment of human slavery is predicated on this very notion.

In the context of this discussion, think about the standing of animals, both morally and legally. Then think about how animals are treated given the two.

As a considered moral belief, we think we take the interests of animals seriously, but as an empirical matter of fact, the opposite is true.



At some point biology must be a consideration, and that includes the human role within the planet's eco-system. Animal husbandry is not intrinsically immoral, however the way in which we treat animals is critical to our own moral behaviour.

Keeping animals for the purposes of our own use, be it meat or leather or fur or whatever, is not immoral. What's immoral is the way we treat the animals while in our care. We should be aware that animals feel pain and discomfort. However there is no evidence whatsoever that they have the same cognitive or linguistic ability that we do. They are not capable of the same kind of slef-awareness that we possess, if modern science is any indication.

You'll find no greatera advocate against agri-business than yours truly, purely on grounds of the ethical treatment of animals. I'm not a fan of Peter Singer, but I think he has a point in his own reductionist style of utilitarianism where he argues against the reduction of suffering for animals in our care.
Philo1965
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#52 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Apr 20, 2011 - 11:10 PM:

Werrick wrote:
However there is no evidence whatsoever that they have the same cognitive or linguistic ability that we do. They are not capable of the same kind of slef-awareness that we possess, if modern science is any indication.


Why are these facts morally relevant?
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#53 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Apr 21, 2011 - 8:33 AM:

Philo1965 wrote:


Why are these facts morally relevant?


The way I see it, what we do with animals, in terms of husbandry and raising them specifically for food, could be considered (at the very minimum) slavery were we to do it with human beings.
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#54 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Apr 21, 2011 - 11:49 AM:

Werrick wrote:


The way I see it, what we do with animals, in terms of husbandry and raising them specifically for food, could be considered (at the very minimum) slavery were we to do it with human beings.

it makes you wonder though, if it's slavery to treat humans in such a way then animal husbandry could simply be animal slavery. Thus, it's possible that even with biological difference between human and animal we could still have no justification for our actions. If we were to say "slavery of humans is not immoral, it's how we treat the slaves that matters. As long as we aren't cruel slave masters, it's an ethical form of slavery." The problem with this is that slavery isn't morally wrong based on the treatment of slaves, it's the owning of a human being as property which we are against.

I'm not sure if biological difference matters either since a baby is "biologically different" than a full grown human but we would never consider that a baby shouldn't be considered human.
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Posted Apr 21, 2011 - 3:21 PM:

sheps wrote:
Too abstract; tell me what this would mean in practice. At the moment, I can only think of allowing them free reign and (in the light of what you say here) not killing them for meat.


If we are going to actually take the interests of animals seriously, the first step is to remove the property status of animals under the law. The next step is to afford basic and important rights of protection as we would other marginal cases. There are two reasons for this: (1) as property, animals are treated as any other form of moveable property, and thus are subject to the complete ownership and corresponding private property rights afforded to property owners; (2) as property, the interests of animals are always weighed less than the interests of the property owners, and this is no surprise given the significant amount of weight we attribute to property rights. So, if you look to case law (and I will provide some examples below), the balancing act of interests always favors the rights of the property owner over the interests of animals (whom has no rights, because they are just property remember).

sheps wrote:
When a cow is slaughtered for meat, as little pain as possible is inflicted, either through the compulsory use of stun-guns or more traditional blood-letting techniques.


If you have any understanding of the animal agriculture industry you should know then that regulations concerning the slaughter of animals are not only weak and poorly enforced, but they are dictated by the industry itself. If you think it is uncommon that a cow isn`t rendered unconscious before it is slaughtered or skinned alive, you need to do some research. Too many people talk about factory farming with no real comprehension of how factor farming is actually practiced.

sheps wrote:
I'm still not quite sure what you mean by your second sentence here. Are you implying that animals have moral and legal standing, but that we don't respect it?


Morally speaking, I find it hard to doubt that animals are directly morally considerable. When someone lights a cat on fire, or saws a chicken`s beak off without any anesthetic, those actions are wrong because the animal itself is harmed. When we talk about preventing unnecessary pain and suffering to animals, we presuppose their direct interests are being violated.

Legally speaking, I`ve already mentioned the property status of animals and the uneven balance between property rights and interests of animals. Animal Welfare laws and anti cruelty statutes are also another matter, closely connected with the former point. I`ll get into these below.

First, both animal welfare laws (AWL) and anti cruelty statutes (ACS) impose that we have direct legal obligations to animals, even though animals themselves have no rights. The balance of interests therefore tips in favor of the property owner. Gary Francione, a professor of law at Rutgers, has done significant work relating to law and animals. He has aptly pointed out that AWL and ACS contain specific exemptions for seemingly cruel activities against animals, right off the bat. Dehorning of cattle and de beaking of chicken are exempt in many states, as are battery cages for chickens. Castration and branding are exempt in many states as well even though less pain full alternatives exist.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxV35EZ1px4

www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wy...6NFG-Y&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xg-m44zMV9k

Videos are not intended for shock value, but if we are going to talk about customary animal agriculture practices under the law, we should all know what is actually at hand.

Second, both AWL and ACS play second fiddle to the animal agriculture industry. As long as a practice is "customary" and meets a "reasonable standard of necessity", the law is unable to touch these practices. In other words, as long as animals in the food industry and the activities involving them are purposed towards food/animal by products, this trumps what we think often think as cruel and unnecessary. The practices in the videos are good examples, and only a few.

Third, in order to convict someone of criminal liability or negligibility, ACS require beyond a reasonable doubt that imposing pain and suffering on an animal was done so maliciously, willfully, knowingly, or recklessly. The problem however, is that if a practice is customary, or close to customary, it is difficult to prove any cruelty was committed. Regaldo v. United States and State of North Carolina v. Fowler are good examples of people who beat their dogs and did all sorts cruel things to them, yet argued that the alleged abuse was in fact "dog training". Unsurprisingly, they were not convicted.

sheps wrote:
we have certain laws regarding animals which reflect the moral position of the majority (that they can be killed for meat, but with as little pain as possible). If these laws are not followed, the public outcry is often loud, and there are any number of instances of people being brought to book for overt cruelty.


Your half right, and half wrong. The law does reflect important social norms, so your half right about the law reflecting the interests of the majority (or as I put it, the common good). But your wrong that the law merely reflects the will of the majority, and this is one reason why rights are so important. Rights protect the interests of the individual against that of the majority, or to put it another, to safe guard them from whatever the majority wants. This also why I think animal rights are important, if their interests ought to be taken seriously.

sheps wrote:
I reckon you're just saying that, in practice, we don't obey your moral beliefs as regards animals. I do think, though, that current legislation on animals reflects what the majority of people think. When more than 50% of the population are vegetarians, then a change in the law can be discussed.


These are not my moral beliefs, though I certainly do hold them. If you take interests seriously, then to outright dismiss the interests of animals is specieism, pure and simple. The fact of the matter is that even you assume animals count, and I bet you would strongly agree that the type of treatment featured in those videos (which are common everyday practices) are both unnecessary and cruel. Yet when push comes to shove, the interests at hand are afforded no weight or protection. Though I highly doubt most of you would do these actions yourselves, in any event, if you eat factory farmed meat, you pay someone else to do it for you. But where is the basic integrity in that?

Edited by stew on Apr 21, 2011 - 3:27 PM
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#56 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Apr 22, 2011 - 5:35 AM:

stew wrote:
If we are going to actually take the interests of animals seriously, the first step is to remove the property status of animals under the law. The next step is to afford basic and important rights of protection as we would other marginal cases. There are two reasons for this: (1) as property, animals are treated as any other form of moveable property, and thus are subject to the complete ownership and corresponding private property rights afforded to property owners; (2) as property, the interests of animals are always weighed less than the interests of the property owners, and this is no surprise given the significant amount of weight we attribute to property rights. So, if you look to case law (and I will provide some examples below), the balancing act of interests always favors the rights of the property owner over the interests of animals (whom has no rights, because they are just property remember).


You've already said this. I'll ask again: what would be the effects of removing the property status of animals? Have you considered that the removal of property status for animals might technically make them "freer" than children?

If you have any understanding of the animal agriculture industry you should know then that regulations concerning the slaughter of animals are not only weak and poorly enforced, but they are dictated by the industry itself. If you think it is uncommon that a cow isn`t rendered unconscious before it is slaughtered or skinned alive, you need to do some research. Too many people talk about factory farming with no real comprehension of how factor farming is actually practiced.


Then this is a matter of law enforcement, not the law itself. I would like to see proper enforcement just as much as you - I don't, however, see much wrong with the legislation as it stands.

Second, both AWL and ACS play second fiddle to the animal agriculture industry. As long as a practice is "customary" and meets a "reasonable standard of necessity", the law is unable to touch these practices. In other words, as long as animals in the food industry and the activities involving them are purposed towards food/animal by products, this trumps what we think often think as cruel and unnecessary. The practices in the videos are good examples, and only a few.


This is the case in tort law, too: if a practice is widespread, I'm afraid it's pretty fruitless to try and combat it. It's the hard truth of the matter that the law often adapts itself to what is considered customary within a given industry - this is hardly unique to animal rights legislation.

Third, in order to convict someone of criminal liability or negligibility, ACS require beyond a reasonable doubt that imposing pain and suffering on an animal was done so maliciously, willfully, knowingly, or recklessly. The problem however, is that if a practice is customary, or close to customary, it is difficult to prove any cruelty was committed. Regaldo v. United States and State of North Carolina v. Fowler are good examples of people who beat their dogs and did all sorts cruel things to them, yet argued that the alleged abuse was in fact "dog training". Unsurprisingly, they were not convicted.


The law doesn't like to find people guilty (i.e. of a criminal offence) without a valid mens rea. However, they could conceivably be found negligent if animal rights associations took on the case of the beaten dog, and found the respondent liable for negligence in their duty as a dog owner. If animal rights legislation really currently requires "maliciousness" and a "will" to prove negligence, then this is contrary to the usual requirement for negligence, and thus needs to be brought up in line with other areas of law.

If things are how you say they are, then there's certainly problems. However, I still remain uncomfortable with potentially denying someone their liberty based on a crime where mens rea is difficult, if not impossible, to prove. Get 'em for negligence.

But your wrong that the law merely reflects the will of the majority, and this is one reason why rights are so important. Rights protect the interests of the individual against that of the majority, or to put it another, to safe guard them from whatever the majority wants. This also why I think animal rights are important, if their interests ought to be taken seriously.


I've never understood the liberal obsession with trying to prove that rights are somehow above and distinct from legislation. They aren't. I have certain human rights, but these rights were granted by statute and are subject to the same levels of judicial interpretation as any other piece of legislation.

However, to some extent I concur: the law is sometimes prescriptive, and the reification of rights has sometimes been successful in placing them above other laws. However, the "popular ethic" view of law is still persuasive, for me - judges make decisions based on what social norms consider "just", and vast swathes of civil law, sentencing guidlines and "objective man" tests (here, anyway) are determined by what the average, unbiased observer would consider "fair, just and reasonable".

Yet when push comes to shove, the interests at hand are afforded no weight or protection. Though I highly doubt most of you would do these actions yourselves, in any event, if you eat factory farmed meat, you pay someone else to do it for you. But where is the basic integrity in that?


Still, you're talking about enforcement. Personally, I find little wrong with the current legislation on how to treat animals: I would merely like to see it better enforced. The fact that even the fairly moderate current legislation is so difficult to see properly carried out suggests that an out and out ban on the slaughter of animals (which it's pretty clear is what you want) would be completely impracticable. I'm all for good laws, but let's make sure that they're workable laws. People, I'm afraid, like to eat meat: this is the reason why the practice hasn't been outlawed. If the pro-meat industry is so powerful, it's because ... people like eating meat. wink
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#57 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Apr 22, 2011 - 10:04 AM:

Werrick wrote:
The way I see it, what we do with animals, in terms of husbandry and raising them specifically for food, could be considered (at the very minimum) slavery were we to do it with human beings.


I don't understand how your response answers my question. Suppose it is true that nonhuman animals do not have the same cognitive or linguistic abilities that we have, and that they are not capable of the same kind of self-awareness that we possess. How does their not having these capacities bear on the issue of how we should treat them?
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#58 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Apr 22, 2011 - 10:33 AM:

Philo1965 wrote:


I don't understand how your response answers my question. Suppose it is true that nonhuman animals do not have the same cognitive or linguistic abilities that we have, and that they are not capable of the same kind of self-awareness that we possess. How does their not having these capacities bear on the issue of how we should treat them?


I'm not saying it's an absolute, we still have to respect the fact that they feel fear, pain, hunger, etc... My argument is that because they dont' have these facilities they don't know they're property in terms of husbandry. That being said, I'm no fan of the way we treat animals in Western society and I'm a fairly shrill critic of agri-business, for instance, as well as the unnecessary use of animals in lab experiments.

A possible objection to that is to suggest that simply because the victim of an immoral act isnt' aware that they are victimized by the person committing it doesnt' make it any less immoral. I'm not sure how I would respond to that. It rings a bell in the cognitive dissonance portion of my brain, but I can't quite parse it yet, so you could probably stomp me on that one at the moment. I can, however, point out that we've been collecting animals for meat and clothing since before we had written language. In fact, it's considered an important part of our evolution, going from paleolithic to neolithic. It's part of our nature.
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#59 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Apr 22, 2011 - 3:22 PM:

sheps wrote:


You've already said this. I'll ask again: what would be the effects of removing the property status of animals? Have you considered that the removal of property status for animals might technically make them "freer" than children?



Well think about it. If animals obtain standing under the law, that is, they no longer are considered property, then the humane treatment principles which guide animal welfare laws and anti cruelty statutes would have to take into account much more seriously the interests of animals. The obvious implications or effects would no doubt involve abolishing practices such as factory farming, entertainment, and much of vivisection.

Your second appeal to the weight of rights is another common objection, and a mistake to make. To attribute animals rights is not to de value the rights of others. If by justice we mean justice for all, then conferring rights to animals means that animal interests ought to be taken seriously, hence the benefits and protections of rights.

<span>sheps</span> wrote:

Then this is a matter of law enforcement, not the law itself. I would like to see proper enforcement just as much as you - I don&#39;t, however, see much wrong with the legislation as it stands.


Then you are obviously missing the point, or argue that it is somehow OK to abuse and cruelly treat animals. The law, as it stands, does not afford proper protection to animals. If you have done research in law and animals, that much would be blatantly clear. But then again, perhaps you do not view animals as nothing more than property, and that their interests are not morally considerable. If you do, however, I would like to hear a good defense of that position.

<span>sheps</span> wrote:


This is the case in tort law, too: if a practice is widespread, I&#39;m afraid it&#39;s pretty fruitless to try and combat it. It&#39;s the hard truth of the matter that the law often adapts itself to what is considered customary within a given industry - this is hardly unique to animal rights legislation.



So what do you do? Give up? Does the pursuit of justice stop because it can be a difficult goal to achieve? Furthermore, just because practices or the law may be difficult to change, it still doesn&#39;t make them right. Should we give up on abolishing racism and sexism too, just because it is difficult to do so? That makes no sense.

<span>sheps</span> wrote:

If things are how you say they are, then there&#39;s certainly problems. However, I still remain uncomfortable with potentially denying someone their liberty based on a crime where mens rea is difficult, if not impossible, to prove. Get &#39;em for negligence.



But to prove negligence or criminal liability due to malicious intent (or the other factors I have mentioned), mens rea is necessary in cases involving alleged cruelty to animals. You can&#39;t get em for negligence without it, and as I have already said, a criminal state of mind is extremely difficult considering the property status of animals in combination with customary practice. So how can justice be served if the law itself fails?

<span><span>sheps</span></span> wrote:

I&#39;ve never understood the liberal obsession with trying to prove that rights are somehow above and distinct from legislation. They aren&#39;t. I have certain human rights, but these rights were granted by statute and are subject to the same levels of judicial interpretation as any other piece of legislation.


I&#39;m not quite sure what your point is here. I&#39;m talking about what grounds or justifies rights, and clearly that justification/grounding can be enacted through legislation or constitutional interpretation. I didn&#39;t argue that rights were somehow completely distinct from legislation, but if there is a moral constituent to rights, looking to the letter of the law will not always suffice. Moral principles guide the content of the law, so to speak. All I said is that rights protect individuals against the majority, in situations where interests conflict. You can think of classical objections from justice against utiltarianism here.


<span><span>sheps</span></span> wrote:

Still, you&#39;re talking about enforcement. Personally, I find little wrong with the current legislation on how to treat animals: I would merely like to see it better enforced. The fact that even the fairly moderate current legislation is so difficult to see properly carried out suggests that an out and out ban on the slaughter of animals (which it&#39;s pretty clear is what you want) would be completely impracticable. I&#39;m all for good laws, but let&#39;s make sure that they&#39;re workable laws. People, I&#39;m afraid, like to eat meat: this is the reason why the practice hasn&#39;t been outlawed. If the pro-meat industry is so powerful, it&#39;s because ... people like eating meat. wink


Here is the thing, even before you have started, you have pre supposed that using animals for food is permissible. When you talk about practicality, really, you are making a self serving appeal to whatever is the most "convenient" for you, like taste and cheap meat. But that doesn&#39;t make it right. You are trading the most important and basic interests of animals simply because you can. It&#39;s no different than might makes right. Guaranteed, if you put yourself in an animals shoes raised in a factory farm, you would no doubt appreciate the basic and important interests you currently enjoy. Maybe you shouldn&#39;t&#39;t take them for granted, and realize that animals have exactly these same interests that you do.



In any event, you haven&#39;t repudiated the logic or consistency of my argument at all. It has been a nice discussion, but all you have done is appeal to the status quo because it&#39;s what you prefer, and this comes at the expense of animals. But that is not a morally justifiable position. I used to eat meat as well, and enjoyed it quite a bit, until my conscience and reason got the better of me.
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#60 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Apr 22, 2011 - 3:57 PM:

stew wrote:
In any event, you haven't repudiated the logic or consistency of my argument at all. It has been a nice discussion, but all you have done is appeal to the status quo because it's what you prefer, and this comes at the expense of animals. But that is not a morally justifiable position. I used to eat meat as well, and enjoyed it quite a bit, until my conscience and reason got the better of me.


Fair enough, then. You think eating meat is wrong; I don't. Turns out the majority of people are on my side - if and when that changes (and if legislation is practical), then I'll gladly alter my actions. Until then I see no problem with supporting a set of laws which seek to ensure that killing animals for meat is done in the most humane way possible. Any thorny moral debate comes down to a mere difference of opinion; my response is usually to say "Quid Juris", and move on.

It has been a nice discussion, by the way. Mulling these things over in one's mind uses up the day quite nicely. smiling face
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