Posts Tagged ‘sentience’

more on “The Vegetarian Myth”

October 27th, 2010 No comments

Another critique of Lierre Keith’s book from a new blog, Philosophical Overview … definitely worth a full read.  Here’s a bit that caught my attention …

Keith implies that her “animist ethic” is the same as the worldview of “indigenous cultures”. At one point she identifies it with the worldview of the ancient Mayans (5), which is strange as the Mayans are mainly famous for having founded a civilized, agricultural society in the New World. I doubt that her animism has much to do with the religious ideas and practices of Native American cultures, though. The sense of relatedness to plants and animals described in accounts of many indigenous American cultures has more to do with the totemism of tribal systems than an ethic of leaving a light ecological footprint. Some have theorized that the extinction of New World megafauna at the end of the last ice age was a result of the hunting practices of the newly arrived Clovis humans (although this theory remains controversial). Somewhat less controversial is evidence of hunting practices at buffalo jumps, which appears to upset the view that Native Americans only killed as many animals as they could use. Whatever the case may be, these archaeological observations would not imply any moral condemnation of Native Americans, who like all other people developed methods for surviving in their environments as best they could. It is absurd to consider such observations racist, as some have done, and one is not doing Native Americans any favours by romanticizing them to serve one’s own ends.

This angle of romanticizing The Native Americans™ is one that I’ve personally encountered.  The most thorough response to and analysis of this move is covered in one of my favorite Compassionate Cooks episodes – Honoring the Animals We Eat – Just Like the Native Americans – which is now added to the new Podcasts and Papers page here.  Make sure you listen all the way to the end where Colleen reads a short essay by a Native American woman about this very topic.  It’s beautifully written and gives much needed perspective on how we use Native Americans™ as punctuation in our own narratives rather than listening to them tell their own.

Like the Mayans … I’m pretty sure we don’t want to be doing things like the Mayans per se.

H/T  PaleoVeganology

Sabbath rest, 600 lb. gorillas, and absent referents

October 9th, 2010 No comments

So there’s a new NAS paper out about climate change, greenhouse gasses, and animal agriculture, here.  The claims of that particular paper are not what this post is about though.  I’ll need you to check out this short (less than 2 min.) video, based on that paper.  Notice the tag line at the end?  “Your heart and the earth will love you for it.”  That’s what this is about.

The idea of not just being the recipient of gratitude and affection, but earning gratitude and affection, is appealing and motivating to people. Generally speaking, it’s part of who we are as social creatures.  But that’s where this focus lies.  Neither the earth nor an internal organ can be said to actually ‘love’ you for anything.   I know it’s metaphor but  it’s the use of metaphor in this situation that I want you to take a closer look at.

Someone might say that we can surely speak of  things going better or worse for the earth and for our internal organs.  They can be subjects of sentences but they’re not actually subjects; they don’t, they can’t actually love you.  They can be effected, or merely changed, but not affectively changed by our behavior.  The only way in which we can say that is purely self-referential.  If things go better or worse for our environment or for our biological organs it is going better or worse, existentially, for ourselves.  What we really seem to mean when we say ‘the earth will love you’ or your ‘heart will love you’ is simply that it is in our own self-interest to do these things.  Saying the earth or your heart will love you is synonymous with saying your own behavior towards them isn’t somehow, in the end, detrimental to yourself.  It’s simply saying *you* will love you for it.   So to say something can go better or worse for the earth or for bits of our biology is to deal strictly in self-reflective metaphor.

To say those same things about the cow, a sentient being, is to speak literally and truthfully.

But we don’t speak of the real cow that could really suffer.  She is completely  erased.  Cows are subjects of their own lives and could actually appreciate differences in our behavior toward them.  But we don’t speak about them.  We talk around them.  I find that telling. We don’t speak of the only other part of the equation that could literally appreciate something going better or worse for itself.

By analogy, imagine overhearing Fred and Linda talking about whether or not it’s ok to burn children with hot irons.  Imagine if the conversation went like this …

Linda:  You know, scorched flesh really mucks up the soleplate.  And then, with the steam, yuck – that awful smell.

Fred:  I know.  Sometimes it can damage the iron so much that you have to get a new one, and that’s what $50?  By not burning your child with your iron you could use that $50 for something else.

Linda:  Right. That settles it.  Stop burning your children with hot irons because the iron, and your pocket book will love you for it.

That’s what we’re doing when we frame our behavior towards animals strictly in terms of ourselves.   Cows are not humans but neither are they “earth” or “mere biology.”

There’s a difference.  That difference matters.

Ethical Implications of Animal Cognition

July 9th, 2009 No comments

If you care about the way these things get worked out in philosophical circles, and don’t have time to read a handful of books on the matter, you can get caught up to speed with this podcast, a talk by Robert Jones at Stanford University, that I just listened to over the weekend.  He touches on speciesism, current research in animal cognition (self-awareness, pain and suffering, theory of mind, etc.), ethics, etc.  it gets a little slow in the middle during a tangent on language but the rest moves along nicely.  this won’t teach you about animal ethics … it’s just a wee tiny exposure to how cognition and pain in animals might inform moral consideration in animal ethics.

I don’t know how to do a permalink to a podcast via iTunes so here’s the path …

iTunes -> iTunesU -> Stanford -> Arts and Humanities -> Philosophy -> “Rethinking the Ethical Implications of Animal Cognition”.

One of the thesis he’s defending is that

A consistent moral theory is one in which moral properties depend primarily or perhaps even solely upon sentience and intrinsic cognitive properties of individual organisms.

Definition of Terms:

Moral Considerability – Complex cognitive abilities can and do play a part in the amount of suffering and joy that a sentient organism can experience.  If this is true then it does seem that it’s reasonable that the answers to some questions regarding the moral considerability of certain organisms are dependent upon cognitive properties.  A being is morally considerable if the being’s well-being must, from a moral point of view, be taken into consideration regardless of whether any other being values the object or its well being.

Moral considerability is not a relational property, it’s intrinsic.

Tractors Do Not Bleed and Cry

May 5th, 2009 No comments


Here’s the whole quote from Shane Claiborne’s book “Irresistible Revolution”.  He’s talking about a group of farm workers who are gently revolting against their treatment in a section called “The Invisible People” (p 298-301).  

It was a sacred moment.  The executives tried to ignore them.  They issued a statement that “the tractors don’t come up to the farmer and tell him how to run the farm.”  With tears in their eyes, these workers with calloused hands and leather skin from long days in the sun-scorched fields cried out, as if to God,  “We are not tractors.  Tractors do not bleed and cry.  Tractors do not have families and children.  We are not machines; we are human beings.”

A few paragraphs later he summarizes the problem, 

The world of efficiency and anonymity dehumanizes us.  We see people as machines, as tractors, or as issues to protest.  We live in an age when machines act like people and people act like machines.  But machines cannot love.  

Like so much of what is good about Christianity, this is right on.  It just doesn’t go far enough.  There is always another layer that cries out, that bleeds, and suffers underneath human greed and indifference.  The animals we kill are not machines either.  They bleed and suffer and cry and love life and “tremble before violence”.  Have we not enough mercy to care for them as well; to care for them as if we are not machines

Machines cannot love.  


What Happens to Them Matters to Them

January 19th, 2009 No comments

Tom Regan summarizes the secular “animal rights” position.   He uses Darwinian language which you may or may not agree with, but the principles of compassion and mercy certainly don’t depend on Darwin and should resonate quite well with Christians … so don’t get hung up on that.  The Christian reasoning for vegetarianism won’t look exactly like this of course, but I hope this will at least help dispel the myth that all animal rights advocates are like Peter Singer (utilitarianism).  What would the Christian reasoning be?  Well, simply that Jesus will redeem all of creation from our sin.  The prophets tell us of a time when creation will again be at peace with itself, when they will not hurt nor destroy in all His holy mountain.  

One thing I would offer in comment is that in a way, I don’t agree with the language of ‘animal rights’.   When it comes right down to it, animals shouldn’t need rights to be protected from humans acting like beasts, neither should children, including the unborn.   Laws won’t fix the problem; there aren’t enough human laws in the universe to counteract all the ills of the human heart.  There’s only one way to do that, and it’s already been done … so what exactly are we waiting for?