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Iatan Petru

Can legal punishment for animal cruelty be justified?

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Posted (edited)

Hello.

Before proceeding to the matter itself, I would like to specify that I am new to Objectivism and that the ideas and arguments I am about to bring forward come from the research I've done thus far and from how I've personally come to look at the issue of Government intervention regarding animal abuse from an Objectivist standpoint.

Also I've just made an account on this website and I have no previous experience with it, so I apologise if this topic should've fallen under a different category other than the one I have selected.

Alright, I shall get right into it. I would say that authorities should take action against people who display cruelty towards animals. By cruelty I mean unjistified torture, abuse, and arguably neglect. On short, generating pain just for the sake of it.

Here's how I've come to believe this :

It's already been concluded that animals have no rights, that one's pet is one's property and that animal abuse, while not directly violating anyone's rights, is immoral (since empathy towards sentient creatures is natural for psyhically healthy human beings, cruelty is irrational and disgust towards cruelty is rightly justified). I won't go into detail regarding these aspects, there are already materials out there addressing them.

Undeniably, there's a strong gut feeling that makes us want to be able to punish animal abusers, but how can we justify it? In order to understand why animal cruelty could be objectively considered punishable, I went ahead and looked for the Objectivist stance on punishment. To make it quick about it, when someone violates your rights he becomes indebted towards you, if he refuses to pay that debt Government's intervention and often use of physical force are objectively justified and the purpose of the punishment that person is given is to clear that debt. Sounds fair.

But then, what about murder? If I murder you, even though I violated your right, I cannot be considered indebted towards you, since you no longer exist (you're dead). So, while serving my legal punishment for murder, to whom am I paying the debt? Objectivism also addresses this issue, from what I've read, and the quick is answer is "to your fellow citizens". When you live in a society, you are on a sort of a social contract with everyone else, which, among other things, states that you shouldn't murder or commit any sin against someone that may prevent him from taking legal action against you, since if we were to be consistent with this idea, then that would mean you could commit the same sin towards anybody and that no one should be legally able to stop you. On short, people are objectively entitled to believe you are a physical threat to them,because you don't just resort to peacefully living by means of production and trade and therefore you are to be isolated from the rest of the society if you're a psychopath or suffer from a mental derangement, or to be legally sanctioned if you are irrationally evil.

That brings us finally to the issue of animal abuse. If someone unjustifiably kills or tortures sentient animals (dogs, cats, hens etc.), it could objectively be considered a sign of either mental derangement or evilness. In the first case, that person belongs in a mental institution, since if rights come from the existence of reason and that person's reason is altered, then he doesn't have certain rights that a sane person would have. He is a real threat to the other human beings.

What if the animal torturer is just irrationaly sadistic though? Can we objectively declare that by generating unjustified suffering in an animal without rights he becomes indebted to humans? I say yes, and here's why :
When you torture (for example) a dog, provided you're doing it out of sadism and not a mental illness, you don't :

Act like a human towards an animal,
Act like an animal towards an animal, or

Act like a human towards a human.

You act like a being that can generate pain and wants to generate pain towards a being that cannot generate pain (if you torture the dog, it is defenseless) and can feel pain. That is objectively how sadism works.

Therefore, since sentient beings can feel pain, by generating pain out of sadism you become indebted to the sentient beings that have rights : humans. People can objectively conclude that if you are capable of torturing a dog just because you like it, that you could the same to a human.

In conclusion, Government can initiate physical force and punish animal torturers, but not to make justice to the tortured animal (that would be absurd, since animals don't have rights), but to the people, who share with that animal the ability to feel pain.

Sorry for any philosophical flaws this article might display, because again, I am fairly new to the philosophy of Objectivism.

 

Edited by Iatan Petru

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First, welcome to the forum.

I think using the concept of "debt" distracts from your argument; speaking of "debt to your fellow citizens" and "social contract" adds still more levels of indirection. I think your argument is much more straightforward than that; but I my be misunderstanding what you're saying.

So, let me rephrase your argument in a shorter form and you tell me if I'm missing any essential point.

Your core argument is: People who are overly cruel to animals (e.g. actual irrational torture for no gain other than some sick emotion), are a potential threat to other human beings. Therefore, such cruelty is beyond being immoral: it should be criminal.

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Petru,

Welcome to this forum (I am NOT a moderator and I am not even a frequent poster here)!

I have not (yet) a firm opinion about whether your conclusion – the government should have the right to take action against people who are cruel towards animals – is correct. I’ll wait to hear other participants’ arguments.

However, I don’t find your arguments convincing enough.

The key assumption of your line of argument seems to be the following: 

Quote

when someone violates your rights he becomes indebted towards you; if he refuses to pay that debt, Government's intervention and often use of physical force are objectively justified and the purpose of the punishment that person is given is to clear that debt.

What bothers me is the part “he becomes indebted towards you”. In fact, he is guilty of violating your rights and deserves punishment. Only in relatively few cases justice can be served just by a payment of damages. Moreover, even in such simple cases the intervention of the justice system is often required, for example when there is disagreement between the parties as to if and what right has been violated, and what exactly will “clear the debt”.

For these and other considerations, the introduction of the concept of a dept toward the concerned person is useless. It is also dangerous because being indebted towards someone may mean that in all cases the victim has to agree with the punishment, and this excludes any objective system of justice.

Să mergem mai departe. In case the victim is dead, you consider that the criminal is indebted toward the society (“your fellow citizens”). You even ascribe this view to Objectivism. This is certainly mistaken. The Objectivism’s view is that there is only one thing that a person owes apriori their fellow citizens: respecting their individual rights. The society is simply the ensemble of the individuals: it is not sentient, does not possess reason and therefore has no rights. While the idea that “the society” is a kind of super-organism to which individuals have obligation, or which has obligations toward individuals is prevalent, is has no basis in fact and logic.

Prin urmare: Since the idea of “indebtedness” is untenable in this context, its application to the cruelty towards animals is improper, and the conclusion - govt. intervention is justified - is without base (but not necessarily false).

(There are a few essays by Ayn Rand translated into Romanian – here http://ayn-ro.blogspot.ch/ . Traducerea este a mea, dar situl nu este al meu. De asemenea: au fost traduse în limba română Atlas Shrugged  “Revolta lui Atlas” şi Anthem – “Imn”). 

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Posted (edited)

Animals do not possess rights.

No one may initiate the use of force or fraud against an individual as that is a violation of that individual's rights.

Government's sole role is the protection of individual rights and it has more or less a monopoly on the retaliatory use of force in carrying out its role.

No law or action against an individual who harms an animal is valid unless it is justified in the context and in accordance with the above.

Thus, if the animal was rightfully property of any other or others or if others has some rights in the animal or the perpetrator broke an agreement with a person by virtue of the cruelty then Government would be able to justify use of retaliatory force.

The Government cannot initiate the use force against an individual who has done nothing to violate anyone else's rights.

Being cruel to animals does not as such pose any risk to people and is not equivalent to uttering threats or negligently putting others at risk of harm.  In such a case society can shun, shame, or avoid the person, as one might avoid a gibbering excrement covered psychotic, but until there is a real threat, force is not justified.

 

Edited by StrictlyLogical
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Posted (edited)

I can see that in two instances here the reason that contributes to your disagreement with my idea is the semantics. By 'debt' I mean what Ayn Rand meant in her approach to punishment. Again, the matter has already been adressed and there are enough materials on the internet regarding the Objectivist stance on punishment. If I violate your rights then I create a 'debt' towards you without your consent. It is therefore objectively justified by the Government to collect that debt from me without my consent. In the case of murder (the victim no longer exists so there's no debt to pay to him), the murderer shall be punishmed because he should be forced to face the negative consequences of his actions. I know this is a crudely simplified way of explaining, but again, this matter is set in stone and there's no need to further debate it.

Second, I know that society is not a being with rights, when I mean society I mean "all of the individuals who live under the same Government".

I found the following discussion on this forum :

There, an Admin says the following : "An indication of a general direction would be: it is in the self interest of rational individuals to remove from their midst those discovered to be irrational in order to maintain a rational culture, where irrationality is evaluated along the axis of respecting individual rights. "

If torture of an animal is without any other purpose than the infliction of pain, since human beings are also able to feel that kind of pain, it is common sense to believe the torturer is a danger to all sentient beings, including humans. Since arbitrarily deciding what is common sense and what isn't can easily lead to invalid conclusions, it is imperative to bring Psychology into the equation. And I think it's safe to say that Psychology would conclude that psychopaths are a danger to humans as well as animals, so legal action against them is justified and highly recommended.

Edited by Iatan Petru

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Quote

… there are enough materials on the internet regarding the Objectivist stance on […]

Please note that under the label “Objectivism” you will find in internet, including on this forum, a lot of claims which in fact have nothing to do with it. As you are new to Objectivism, you still cannot judge about what is what, so be very careful. It is quite easy to misunderstand a philosophy…

Quote

By 'debt' I mean what Ayn Rand meant in her approach to punishment.

OK. And what did she mean? Do you have a reference? I mean a primary reference.

Quote

[…] Objectivist stance on punishment. If I violate your rights then I create a 'debt' towards you without your consent. It is therefore objectively justified by the Government to collect that debt from me without my consent.

As I explained –and you did not address it - the appeal to the concept of a dept toward the victim is useless for your purpose. It is also dangerous, as I have mentionned. So no, sorry, I still do not think this is the Objectivism stand… unless you have a reference.

PS: If you are interested, I can recommend you some sources, including in Bucharest. You may write me a Personal Message: put the cursor on my name, select "Message".

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Posted (edited)

As I said above, your argument is:  People who are overly cruel to animals (e.g. actual irrational torture for no gain other than some sick emotion), are a potential threat to other human beings. Therefore, such cruelty is beyond being immoral: it should be criminal.

I'm not troubled at any of the semantics or style of your argument, but I am troubled by your fact-lacking approach. Do you have evidence of your premise? My impression is that you have no evidence that such people are a real threat -- at least any more a threat than many others; instead, you're simply assuming this.

Frankly, without any evidence to back it up, it seems like you're purposely grasping at this assumption because it helps your argument, rather than because it is true.

If someone is very drunk, we have ample evidence that they lose control, and -- in the right context -- we have no problem using force to restrain them from some anticipated dangerous action. If someone is dangerously psychotic where they're having hallucinations and can act dangerously toward others, the law allows them to be held -- and, if the kinks could be removed from the system, it is fine in principle to do so. 

The point is this: if your premise is true, then you might be able to make a case. Imagine you have a neighbor who starves his pet, or kicks it, or abandons it is some area it will probably die... etc. do you actually live in fear this person will assault you? I don't ask this as an argument: I ask that you introspect about this.... make it real, and see what evidence you really have, and what fears you really and legitimately feel .. then, argue forward from that, to your conclusion.

Edited by softwareNerd
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Posted (edited)

Proud Father, that is why I said that Psychology should have a say in this.

"If someone is dangerously psychotic where they're having hallucinations and can act dangerously toward others, the law allows them to be held -- and, if the kinks could be removed from the system, it is fine in principle to do so. "

Like I said in the original post, that is one case and I didn't question it that it's imperative we should take action against them.

I was trying to say that we should also be able to make a case against people who aren't uncontrollable, but purely evil. To make it simple, sane psychopaths. If you can use Psychology to prove that :

a. They are sadists and want to make sentient beings suffer for fun, and

b. They are clearly acting on their sadism, seeing how they've already tortured animals

...then you can isolate them from the other people.

" Imagine you have a neighbor who starves his pet, or kicks it, or abandons it is some area it will probably die... etc. do you actually live in fear this person will assault you?"

I should make it clear that I don't think people should be punished just for this. Yes it is immoral due to a lack of empathy, but it shouldn't be illegal.

I was talking about the cases where the man purposely inflicts pain and does horrible things to the animal (not just neglect) for his own amusement. Again, if a psychiatrist can conclude they're a danger, it's only good that we should lock them up.

I don't really think we should punish someone just because he had a rough day at work and kicked a stray dog for barking at him, out of rage. Or that someone neglects his pet and lets it starve so that he could spend his money on other things he wants. I am talking about psychopathic sadists.

 

Edited by Iatan Petru

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11 hours ago, Iatan Petru said:

If you can use Psychology to prove that :

a. They are sadists and want to make sentient beings suffer for fun, and

b. They are clearly acting on their sadism, seeing how they've already tortured animals

...then you can isolate them from the other people.

No, you would still have to prove that they're going to hurt people. Which you obviously can't, because animal abuse isn't proof that someone is a danger to humans.

There was a study by Prof. Frank Ascione at the University of Denver and Prof. Arnold Arluke at Northeastern University, of 1433 children ages 6 to 12, who have been physically abused, that found that 60% had abused animals.

There are also studies that suggest that up to 5% of all American children have abused animals. I would think it's worse worldwide (since child abuse numbers are worse).

So, on a world wide scale, we are talking about tens of millions of such children. Are you saying that it's justified to "isolate" all of them, because one in a million will turn into serial killers?

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Posted (edited)

11 hours ago, Iatan Petru said:

I was talking about the cases where the man purposely inflicts pain and does horrible things to the animal (not just neglect) for his own amusement. Again, if a psychiatrist can conclude they're a danger, it's only good that we should lock them up.

A psychiatrist is not a judge. A psychiatrist wouldn't just have to "conclude" that there's a danger, he would have to actually prove it. And, again: he couldn't prove it, because animal abuse is NOT proof that someone will hurt people.

Let's take the most famous example: Michael Vick. He abused dogs in horrific ways, did it strictly for his own amusement. This was almost a decade ago, and he's yet to hurt any humans. There are many others, just like Michael Vick: proven animal abusers, who have never been "isolated" (they sometimes serve short prison sentences, but they serve them in general population, they're not isolated), and yet, have never hurt any humans.

Isn't that proof that animal abuse doesn't necessarily lead to violence against people?

Edited by Nicky

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11 hours ago, Iatan Petru said:

I don't really think we should punish someone just because he had a rough day at work and kicked a stray dog for barking at him, out of rage. Or that someone neglects his pet and lets it starve so that he could spend his money on other things he wants. I am talking about psychopathic sadists.

Any evaluation of a person's actual threat to others isn't going to be a matter of how distasteful an act is. You would look at what a person does that would be dangerous to others - harming animals isn't really proof that the person intends to harm other people or fails to understand that humans are a hard limit.

Is torturing an animal for pleasure really all that different than killing a cow for a great tasting burger? We don't go saying meat-eaters are more likely than vegans to kill and eat people. So, while there are reasons animal torture are immoral (depending on the reason and the animal), people harm animals for pleasure on a regular basis. 

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6 hours ago, Eiuol said:

Is torturing an animal for pleasure really all that different than killing a cow for a great tasting burger? 

There's a huge difference in the psychology of the person, even if there ought not to be a difference in legality. The OP is arguing that the psychology of the former poses an actionable danger to others.

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On 4/19/2017 at 11:28 PM, Nicky said:

A psychiatrist is not a judge. A psychiatrist wouldn't just have to "conclude" that there's a danger, he would have to actually prove it. And, again: he couldn't prove it, because animal abuse is NOT proof that someone will hurt people.

Let's take the most famous example: Michael Vick. He abused dogs in horrific ways, did it strictly for his own amusement. This was almost a decade ago, and he's yet to hurt any humans. There are many others, just like Michael Vick: proven animal abusers, who have never been "isolated" (they sometimes serve short prison sentences, but they serve them in general population, they're not isolated), and yet, have never hurt any humans.

Isn't that proof that animal abuse doesn't necessarily lead to violence against people?

Let's take another very famous example : The Dnepopetrovsk Maniacs. They tortured and killed countless dogs before moving on to human torture and murder. If you are familiar with the "Three guys one hammer" viral human torture video you'll know what I am talking about. Do some research on those guys and you'll find pictures of them standing near mutilated dog corpses, just days before moving on to a human target. And it is the perfect example of how psychopaths move on from animals to people.

I have to say I am not talking about children here. Kids do stupid stuff, they torture weaker animals as a subconscious desire to show their dominance so it doesn't really mean they'll be a danger when they grow up. I talk about adult psychos.

Just because not all drunks or junkies killed people that doesn't mean sane civilians shouldn't be protected against them (that was already debated on this site and people agreed potential threats can be removed from the other individuals). So why not take away unstable people who can be proven by psychology to be a potential threat to others?

71% of men who kill or beat animals have also beaten their wives, not sure whether in the U.S. or in the whole world. The source is here : http://www.mediapeta.com/peta/PDF/AnimalAbuseHumanAbuse.pdf

While reading it, please only focus on the statement regarding the study that's been done, as well as on the examples of real cases. Those are the parts of the article that cannot be denied and I understand why you require that I should bring proof before starting to label people, so there it is.

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Posted (edited)

1 hour ago, Iatan Petru said:

Just because not all drunks or junkies killed people that doesn't mean sane civilians shouldn't be protected against them (that was already debated on this site and people agreed potential threats can be removed from the other individuals). So why not take away unstable people who can be proven by psychology to be a potential threat to others?

Whoever agreed with you that drunks and drug addicts should have their freedom restricted in any way is just as wrong as you are.

Quote

 

71% of men who kill or beat animals have also beaten their wives, not sure whether in the U.S. or in the whole world. The source is here : http://www.mediapeta.com/peta/PDF/AnimalAbuseHumanAbuse.pdf

While reading it, please only focus on the statement regarding the study that's been done, as well as on the examples of real cases. Those are the parts of the article that cannot be denied and I understand why you require that I should bring proof before starting to label people, so there it is.

 

PETA is a dishonest organization. I would never take any "study" they publish seriously.

If you wish to cite scientific studies, please first make sure that they are done by and peer reviewed by scientists.

Edited by Nicky

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Posted (edited)

3 hours ago, Iatan Petru said:

71% of men who kill or beat animals have also beaten their wives, not sure whether in the U.S. or in the whole world.

That doesn't mean 71% of animal torturers harm people.

Indeed, there are moral quandaries with animal torture, but it doesn't mean animal torturers are a threat to human lives.

EDIT: You misread the stat, it says 71% of domestic abusers harm animals too. It's not 71% of animal abusers are domestic abusers. That's why my post seemed odd at first.

Edited by Eiuol

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3 hours ago, Iatan Petru said:

71% of men who kill or beat animals have also beaten their wives, not sure whether in the U.S. or in the whole world.

Would you also incarcerate the 29% who pose no threat of violence to their wives or other humans? I hope you understand that individuals must be judged as individuals, rather than statistics and potential threats. Individuals can only be judged for their actions, not on the basis of some psychological profile, or other subjective evidence. If they are legitimately judged to be a threat to other humans, then of course, lock'em up. However, the sort of cruelty to animals as you describe, as loathsome as it may be, by its self, is not justification for denying the basic rights of freedom of any another human. I am not suggesting that a person should be free to do as he pleases, if it pleases him to crush the heads of kittens, but society has to deal with these sort of people in some other manner than the loss of their freedom. Perhaps there could be some sort of public record kept on such persons, and the animal shelters could do a background check, or something like that. Maybe you could work out the details. I think government locks up people for too many unjustifiable reasons, and that criminal record prevents them from ever re-establishing a productive life.

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And like I said, if a man is druk or under drug influence in public spaces, even though it doesn't automatically mean they are a threat to others, it highly suggests so. You can't wait for a crime to take place, you can also prevent it when it's justified to believe it will happen. Leonard Peikoff suggested we should be free to live without potentially harmful people among us, an admin here said the same thing (posted the link in an earler comment), I don't see how it contradicts Objectivist principles. Humans have a right to not live in fear, when that fear is objectively justified. Maybe potential threats shouldn't be locked up, I merely suggested separating dangerous individuals from the rest of the people. If necessary, by use of force. It's not their fault they are deranged but we shouldn't have to pay the price of living around them.

 

A good suggestion I've read somewhere would be to ask (not force, ask) animal traders to make a contract with those who buy them, making it an obligation that the owners should give their pets decent lives. I think that would also solve a big part of this issue.

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2 hours ago, Iatan Petru said:

 It's not their fault they are deranged but we shouldn't have to pay the price of living around them.

Whose fault is it?

2 hours ago, Iatan Petru said:

 You can't wait for a crime to take place, you can also prevent it when it's justified to believe it will happen. Leonard Peikoff suggested we should be free to live without potentially harmful people among us, an admin here said the same thing (posted the link in an earler comment), I don't see how it contradicts Objectivist principles.

If someone is a legitimate threat to anyone, that must be proven by objective standards. "To believe" that a threat exists may be brought on by your own emotional reaction to someone's behavior. Cruelty to animals is not objective evidence that a person poses a threat to people. It is a problem that should be dealt with by some method other than imprisonment. Taking away a person's freedom and designating that person as a criminal is much more serious than the life of an animal.

Iatan Petru, I can see that your interest in Objectivism is sincere. But you ought to research the Objectivist moral position on human freedom a bit more. Welcome to the forum.

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