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Sympathy for animals.

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TheEgoist
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Something I've been concerned more about recently is the treatment of animals and how it relates to our ethical intuitions.

As Objectivists or those sympathetic with much of the philosophy, I think we can all agree that to some extent the suffering of animals is undesirable. It is normally stated that we should not support the needless suffering of animals. I think this is a position you must take as not only a rational person, but a person with in tact human faculties of empathy. To lack any sort of feeling of disgust when presented with the suffering of animals is considered a tell-tale sign of antisocial behavior. However, I think our ethical intuitions regarding the suffering of animals goes further than this. Beyond simple feelings of sympathy, empathy and disgust at the suffering of conscious beings, I think we need to admit that it is not just the needless suffering of animals that is to be appalled, but even the suffering of animals when we might need it.

So, my question is, when is the suffering of animals justified? Let me suggest two propositions that should be at the ends of this continuum:

1. The Suffering of Lab Rats in Human Medical Research

2. The Suffering of Calves In Processing Veal.

At one end, we have what most people consider a justifiable practice that involves the suffering of animals for human benefit and at the other end we have an unjustifiable, or at least much less justifiable case.

One exists for the long-term benefit of humans, who I think we can all agree on this forum have a privileged state of consciousness that ought to go into our ethical calculations. If a lab rat or even a Great Ape most suffer so that many human beings can prosper, this is justified.

The other exists as a short term benefit of our taste buds. As a person that has eaten veal on several occasions, I have to admit that I absolutely loved the taste. It made for a great (even if costly) meal. However, it is much more difficult for me to justify eating veal than it is for me to endorse the use of medicine that was tested on animals. But calves suffer greatly and with a wide array of experience during this process. It isn't that cows have a low-level experience for pain. They can experience pain in very much the same way we do. They even show signs of empathy with their calf brothers.

The torture calves endure is not like that of a slug who we salt on our basement floors. Both have some short term benefit, but one seems less severe. If we have the choice to salt a slug or torture a calf for years or even for a moment, I think we'd do well with salting the slug. Their pain sensations, if they even exist, are unlikely to be much more than an on/off switch.

So, if you agree that there is a difference between the production and consumption of animal tested medicine and the consumption of veal, wherein lies the difference? ANd how vast a continuum is it? Are there merely two nodes or is the difference between these two practices very large?

Should we as empathetic creatures stop supporting the veal industry, even protest it? What about farms that treat their cattle and other animals unnecessarily cruelly? Say what you will of PETA (And I'd say a bunch), they have compiled a lot of footage that displays unnecessarily cruel behavior on cows, pigs, chickens and all other form of livestock, who all show a high sensitivity for pain and emotional anguish. I'd say it is unethical to support the torture of animals when it can be reasonably avoided. Why should we allow farms that needlessly harm animals to continue, within a free market? Why give them our support if we agree that it's more than just psychotic, but unethical to treat animals in this way?

I find it concerning that many Objectivists will simply brush under the rug the concern we ought to have for the suffering of conscious creatures. Is it that Objectivism, libertarianism and various individualistic philosophies attract those with low levels of empathy? I've seen Objectivists that do have a great deal of concern for the suffering of animals, but more often I see it shrugged off as not important. And perhaps in terms of ethical concerns it can rate low, but I think it deserves more than a passing thought and an "Oh well, that's the state of the world" attitude.

I don't suggest one radically change their diet to cut out meat. I think there are ethical ways to eat meat and I think it's a necessary part of a good diet for most people. If it were the case that it were either veganism or the torturing of animals, I would suggest the torturing of animals. However, that isn't our only choice and I think we should stop acting as if it were.

Edited by TheEgoist
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Someone who's psychologically healthy will feel sympathy for a suffering animal, but the degree of sympathy will vary. This depends on the animal (mosquitos, cows, dogs?) and the reason why they're suffering.

Off the top of my head, I can think of a few cases where it's completely unjustifiable to harm animals: 1) Testing cosmetics on animals. Alternative options are available and are arguably more reliable, so there is no need for animals to continue dying over new shades of pink lipstick. 2) Needlessly torturing animals (cows, pigs, chickens, etc.) that are being slaughtered to provide food. They provide value to us, so they should be killed in the most humane way possible. 3) Animals being beaten/chained up/deprived of food and water by their owners.

Why should we allow farms that needlessly harm animals to continue, within a free market? Why give them our support if we agree that it's more than just psychotic, but unethical to treat animals in this way?

Isn't this exactly the kind of company that would crumble in a free market society? If it were made known which farms and distributors were supporting the needless tortue of animals, rational people would stop buying meat from them.

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Its not really a battle I want to engage in because almost all of my allies would be anti-human perverts who want to put in a knife in my throat and summons some eldritch abomination named gaia to destroy civilization.

The main issue I have is how are these rights going to be protected? Is it worth it to kill a man over his treatment of an animal? Does a society that would kill a man over his treatment of an animal really protect individual rights?

Are those animals even capable of respecing others rights? Dolphins and Chickens rape on another regularily. Plenty of groups of primates hunt other tribes of primates down and slaughter them for food. What can we do with irrational animals but control and enslave them for our own ends?

I would prefer it if cows were allowed to live their lives happily before they were slaughtered, however this is not really my call as I can't violate the rights of another person for the sake of a cow's livelyhood. A human stranger is automatically of more value to me and his right to life of more value to me than the cow's wellbeing.

The only thing I can offer is that grass fed, free range, animals tend to taste better. As a side effect, perhaps one day less cows will be industrially farmed .

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As Objectivists or those sympathetic with much of the philosophy, I think we can all agree that to some extent the suffering of animals is undesirable.

I don't desire the suffering of animals. If that is all that you mean by that sentence, then sure, we can agree. However, if you mean that we should agree to oppose the suffering of animals on principle, then you're on your own.

I have no reason to oppose or support what strangers do with their animals. It is not my concern.

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I don't desire the suffering of animals. If that is all that you mean by that sentence, then sure, we can agree. However, if you mean that we should agree to oppose the suffering of animals on principle, then you're on your own.

I have no reason to oppose or support what strangers do with their animals. It is not my concern.

So any cultural phenomena beyond the initiation of force is irrelevant to you?

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I don't desire the suffering of animals. If that is all that you mean by that sentence, then sure, we can agree. However, if you mean that we should agree to oppose the suffering of animals on principle, then you're on your own.

I have no reason to oppose or support what strangers do with their animals. It is not my concern.

This sounds like you treat the treatment of animals like it's picking a movie. "I don't desire seeing the movie Prometheus. If you mean that we should agree to seeing Prometheus on principle, then you're on your own. I have no reason to oppose or support what strangers see at a movie theater. It is not my concern". Otherwise, you would be making a moral evaluation the same way you don't desire resigning your life away in an unproductive stupor, which would mean it is your concern because there is no option - it would be non-optional and wrong, making it rationally your concern. Abusing an animal would be wrong, if a context is a dog owner. No, it's not a violation of rights, but it is a destruction of values of no particular reason than irrationality. If you were taking a walk outside, would you make an equal moral evaluation of someone kicking their lawnmower to get it to start and someone kicking their dog? Why or why not?

Edited by Eiuol
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If you were taking a walk outside, would you make an equal moral evaluation of someone kicking their lawnmower to get it to start and someone kicking their dog? Why or why not?

I am not talking about people kicking their dog, I am talking about the suffering of animals.

Animals most often suffer at the teeth and claws of other animals. Even animals that are the property of men most often suffer to fulfill an objective purpose.

If someone is concerned with the suffering of animals, then they should be first and foremost concerned with the suffering of buffaloes being eaten alive in the Serengeti, not with the occasional dog getting kicked. People who are only concerned with the latter but not the former aren't concerned about animal suffering, they are concerned about human behavior.

I am plenty concerned with human behavior, including a man kicking his dog. But it's human behavior I'm concerned about, not animal suffering.

P.S. And, even as far as the human treatment of animals, I am only concerned to the extent the human action is immoral. And I am no more concerned about it than any other immoral action that doesn't involve the use of force. The reason why I can make that distinction is because I know exactly what my concern is: it's not the suffering of animals, it's the behavior of humans.

People who don't clarify their motivation usually end up in a schizophrenic state of caring about the pain of animals (and acting on that emotion) whenever a human is inflicting it (irrespective of his motives, obviously, since what they care about is the suffering of the animal, not the morality of the human behavior), but then suddenly becoming understanding and passive when it's a lion inflicting the pain.

Edited by Nicky
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No, because you cannot reason an animal out of ripping the throat out from another animal. It is an inevitable process that no amount of rational deliberation, disagreement, market boycott could ever change. Also, it's very rare that another animal actually tortures their prey. I am not concerned with the momentary suffering of cattle. As I stated, necessary steps to the consumption of meat are fine. However, I don't want the food I eat to have been beaten across the head and body with baseball bats. I don't want the food I eat to have been locked in a cage and not allowed to move for years. These are things I think we can do without.

As to where the torture of animals rates on a scale of morality, I would say the wanton abuse of someone's pets rates very highly in terms of moral disgust for me. I would not associate with any such person, ever. That's opposed to other behavior, which while I may frown upon, I can still overlook.

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Beyond simple feelings of sympathy, empathy and disgust at the suffering of conscious beings, I think we need to admit that it is not just the needless suffering of animals that is to be appalled, but even the suffering of animals when we might need it.

I believe the needs of intelligent consumers are best served by recognizing that life which flourishes is of better quality, as a resource, than ill treated life. The health and welfare of lab rats impacts the quality of whatever results are obtained by testing them. Likewise, happy cows yield better milk. As consumers of life, we ought to have respect for the lives we consume, because it's in our rational self-interest to do so. It has been my observation that those who treat their animals miserably tend to lead miserable lives.

"The fact that man knows right from wrong proves his intellectual superiority to the other creatures; but the fact that he can do wrong proves his moral inferiority to any creatures that cannot." ~ Mark Twain, What Is Man, 1906

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I believe the needs of intelligent consumers are best served by recognizing that life which flourishes is of better quality, as a resource, than ill treated life. The health and welfare of lab rats impacts the quality of whatever results are obtained by testing them. Likewise, happy cows yield better milk. As consumers of life, we ought to have respect for the lives we consume, because it's in our rational self-interest to do so. It has been my observation that those who treat their animals miserably tend to lead miserable lives.

"The fact that man knows right from wrong proves his intellectual superiority to the other creatures; but the fact that he can do wrong proves his moral inferiority to any creatures that cannot." ~ Mark Twain, What Is Man, 1906

Right, we should do more than just feel sad for the suffering of these animals. We need to proactively treat them well for our benefit, and for the fact that it is their existence that is allowing us to grow as we are.

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  • 4 weeks later...

What would happen re animal intelligence? The other apes, as well as some cetaceans, birds and even cephalopods display varying amounts of intelligence - should they be given any rights on this basis?

What would happen if it was ever proven that an animal possessed intelligence approaching that of humans?

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What would happen re animal intelligence? The other apes, as well as some cetaceans, birds and even cephalopods display varying amounts of intelligence - should they be given any rights on this basis?

Given? No. Allowed to take (affirm and live by) those rights in peace? Absolutely.

The key difference is that, for something to affirm and live by its rights, that would constitute proof that it is intelligent (because it takes intelligence to understand the concept, and act accordingly).

So, if I ever owned a dog which managed to somehow communicate to me that he wanted to be a free dog, I would no longer claim to own it.

Edited by Nicky
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Given? No. Allowed to take (affirm and live by) those rights in peace? Absolutely.

The key difference is that, for something to affirm and live by its rights, that would constitute proof that it is intelligent (because it takes intelligence to understand the concept, and act accordingly).

So, if I ever owned a dog which managed to somehow communicate to me that he wanted to be a free dog, I would no longer claim to own it.

Yes, having an ability to negotiate and abide by agreement is a necessary threshold. Similar to the emancipation of your dog, cows can remove themselves from the menu by staging a revolt.

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What would happen re animal intelligence? The other apes, as well as some cetaceans, birds and even cephalopods display varying amounts of intelligence - should they be given any rights on this basis?

What would happen if it was ever proven that an animal possessed intelligence approaching that of humans?

The threshold would be conceptual thinking, a mind that can reason and evaluate by building complex concepts. Animals do not have this nor can it be proven, at least in their current form, because there is absolutely no proof of conceptual thinking outside of humans. I always laugh when someone talks about how smart a dolphin (or insert animal here) is when the truth is they might be a little more cunning than a house pet but unless they build a complex language, hospitals, highways, or flipper starts giving lectures on nuclear physics they are not that smart. Cute, yes, but not a reason based animal. We have rights because we are reason based animals that must act on our minds to survive.

Now, will an animal ever evolve to the state and gain a conceptual faculty? I don’t see why not since humans did. At this point it would gain individual rights as well.

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I think undue sympathy for animals is a bigger problem and can often be a sign of antisocial behavior.

I've heard even Objectivist "animal lovers" proclaim at least the urge to violently violate the rights of those who treat animals badly.

The amount of psychopaths who start out on small animals is in my opinion insignificant compared to the masses pushing for animal rights and the loony vegans who subject their children to malnutrition.

Only when an animal can be classified as "cute" do I ever start to feel any sort of empathy, most of the time I prefer plants.

Intrusive insects I outright hate and hostile microscopic live doesn't even get far enough trough my filters to even register for feelings of animosity.

And then there's the exception for vermin regardless of their cute status.

Really whenever I think about feelings of empathy for animals its only either companion animals or useful ones that where I can agree with the idea.

And as I've already excluded whole genera, animals may be to broad a term, maybe "large mammals" would be better.

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Something I've been concerned more about recently is the treatment of animals and how it relates to our ethical intuitions.

Ethical intuitions? What?

Those who invented and perfected the process of raising lambs for veal must have had different ethical intuitions. I'm not sure how one would argue that one set of ethical intuitions is superior to another set of ethical intuitions.

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Dolphins are amazingly intelligent and have shown the ability to create new behaviors that are purely artistic.

I am not sure how the fact that dolphins rape and kill each other as well as humans make them subhuman. Humans gang-rape other humans and kill dolphins.

My life can be saved by a dolphin if I'm struggling to survive in the water. The dolphin can choose to ignore me, or I can be swimming minding my own business and a dolphin can kill me for no reason apparent to me. None of these behaviors are unique to dolphins. Humans push dolphins back into the sea when they beach themselves. Some humans also kill dolphins for fun.

In terms of rights, I am not sure what mentally differentiates humans from dolphins other than a language barrier.

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Decades of research failed to prove that dolphins have a language or any type of conceptual thinking even on the level of human toddler. Note that there is a huge difference between intelligence and abstract thinking. Intelligence is an ability to acquire, retain and apply knowledge. From this point of view many animals are highly intelligent. However the ability to form concepts from concretes is altogether different issue. It is an exclusive human quality. Language is not mere tool of communication, like dolphins clicks . Words designate concepts and without concept formation no true language is possible.

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How has it been proven dolphins don't have concepts? I am failing to see how the hypothesis that a species possesses conceptual thinking is falsifiable.

In other words, what would an Objectivist experiment to test the claim look like?

When you consider the evidence available for a species that possesses conceptual thinking, what is present that is noticeably absent from all other species.

From fireside discussions to the development of dictionaries and symbolic notation to accommodate ever increasing vocabularies, from domesticating the horse to developing the automobile and placing man on the moon, there is evidence that accompanies and supports the identification that man is a conceptual being.

Is there similar evidence to support that other forms of conscious animals possess the same ability? What does evidence for falsification look like anyway?

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