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Do sagging dorsal fins equal evil treatment?

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I recently watched the film "blackfish", which I found to be full of anecdotal evidence as opposed to facts and statistics, and riddled with biased conjecture. However it did spark quite a chasmed discussion with the people I was with.

 

I am all for capturing animals for human enjoyment. I enjoy the zoo and seaworld here in San Diego. My question is: barring deliberately cruel treatment of animals (i.e. physically hurting them), are there any concerns one should have morally with containing animals?

 

It seemed to me that the primary thrust of the movie's message was that the animals "belong" in the wild, and taking them out of nature makes them sad or angry....

 

This doesn't really convinced me of much. It seems that with an unlimited supply of food, a lack of predators, and generally a longer life than that of wild animals, these contained animals wouldn't have much to complain about if they could voice complaint. What do you think?

 

Oh, in regards to my topic title, orcas' dorsals fins sag in captivity, basically because they don't need to use it. This was supposed to make the viewer feel some kind of anger toward the captors, but in my opinion, if they no longer need to use the dorsal fin because they are safe in captivity, why does it matter if they can't use it?

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Regardless of your opinion re: animal capturing, animal abuse, and animal rights, you're making some pretty iffy arguments here.

 

 

It seemed to me that the primary thrust of the movie's message was that the animals "belong" in the wild, and taking them out of nature makes them sad or angry....

 

This doesn't really convinced me of much. It seems that with an unlimited supply of food, a lack of predators, and generally a longer life than that of wild animals, these contained animals wouldn't have much to complain about if they could voice complaint. What do you think?

 

None of the things you listed would make you happy were you captured. Assuming that the animal is capable of being depressed - which, in the case of dolphins and many other captive animals that are used for amusement is entirely true - then it's pretty safe to assume that none of the things you just listed would keep the animal happy. Many captive animals used for amusement are significantly smarter than cats or dogs, and you can pretty readily tell that dogs, at least, can get depressed when in too confined of a setting (this, of course, depends on the breed of dog - some, like my shih-tzu, couldn't be happier than if they have a comfy home and an occasional walk, while others desperately need to be outdoors to run around on a regular basis in order to be happy).

 

 

 

 

Oh, in regards to my topic title, orcas' dorsals fins sag in captivity, basically because they don't need to use it. This was supposed to make the viewer feel some kind of anger toward the captors, but in my opinion, if they no longer need to use the dorsal fin because they are safe in captivity, why does it matter if they can't use it?

 

Again, this is an entirely non-sensical argument. Assuming that the animal is capable of being depressed or unhappy, which we have already established that it is, one can pretty safely say that making an animal's body parts useless is not something that will make that animal happy. If you were put in captivity, given food and kept safe from predators, we could remove your arms and legs. You wouldn't need them, after all - you're fed, bathed, et cetera, by your caretakers, so there's no cause for concern. Right?

 

 

 

There is still argument to be had whether animals have rights or not. I'm at odds with most Objectivists on this point. But whether or not they do is pretty irrelevant to your specific arguments. Human brains are not, as we like to assume, so significantly more complex than the brains of other animals such that we can't find common ground. The common ground is actually pretty significant. Animals are capable of depression, they're capable of being happy or unhappy or a wide variety of other emotions, they're capable of basic reasoning, some animals, especially some larger mammals and some bird species, are capable of concept formation and basic abstract reasoning. They're not on the same level as humans, but much of the reasoning that applies to humans and human happiness also applies to animals and animal happiness. If you cause significant bodily harm to an animal, if you keep it pinned up in a space too small for it, if you keep it from exercising itself in the various ways that keep animals in the wild happy, it will, undoubtedly, become unhappy and depressed. That's not really hard to figure out. So yes, of course the animals you are referencing would have reason to voice complaint, if they could.

 

 

The only question is, do you give a shit whether or not the animals are suffering? Again, I'm at odds with most Objectivists on this point, so I won't voice my personal opinion here - but most Objectivists would likely say that the animals have no rights, so you do not, necessarily, have to give a shit that you're inflicting direct, intentional harm upon them.

Edited by Iudicious
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My question is: barring deliberately cruel treatment of animals (i.e. physically hurting them), are there any concerns one should have morally with containing animals?

 

It depends on whether or not the particular species has a level of intelligence comparable to that of humans by the same standards which establish that humans have rights. And it is true that some species of animal, especially sea creatures, do have a high intelligence level. (Dolphins in particular are highly intelligent, and octopi have high ploblem-solving capacity, although I do not believe there is any evidence that octupi are intelligent enough to have a concept of morality.)

 

I think crows have also been observed practicing punishment, which would seem to indicate a sense of morality. However, I do not know if there is any evidence that crows are intelligent enough to make rational judgments about morality.

 

My view is that in order to have a rights, a species would have to be demonstrated to be both intelligent enough for individual members of the species to value their own lives in terms of pursuing something beyond basic survival, and have a capacity for moral reasoning which would enable them to respect the rights of members of their own species. I believe that humans and maybe dolphins are the only species which fit these criteria.

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I think crows have also been observed practicing punishment, which would seem to indicate a sense of morality. However, I do not know if there is any evidence that crows are intelligent enough to make rational judgments about morality.

 

Crows are one of the most interesting species in terms of intelligence, to me. Study after study has shown that they can learn within a single lifetime how to do manipulate tools and communicate basic ideas - and pass that knowledge on. They've been seen in nature to use and manipulate sticks and form hooks or other tools in order to retrieve food, and have even experimentally been seen to drop items into water filled tubes in order to raise the water level and get at food within the tube. Some species of crow use bait to capture fish. Crows have been shown to hide and store food for extended periods of time, have a memory system comparable to human memory (which is referred to as "episodic memory"), and have even been seen to participate in recreation and recognize facial features to distinguish between different animals of the same species, including humans.  They have a basic reasoning ability that rivals young humans. 

 

They're not the only animals to have achieved such feats of intelligence, which brings up a pretty huge question about what, exactly, gives humans "rights" and makes all other animals not have them, other than the fact that it's just convenient for us to think animals don't have rights and we do. 

 

 

 

My view is that in order to have a rights, a species would have to be demonstrated to be both intelligent enough for individual members of the species to value their own lives in terms of pursuing something beyond basic survival, and have a capacity for moral reasoning which would enable them to respect the rights of members of their own species. 

 

 

I think your latter criteria is a pretty huge point here. "Rights" are meaningless if no one uses them. I've heard of punishment and tribal "rules" among certain animals, which certainly indicates a basis of morality. The issue, of course, is how do we respond to that? Other animals have no great reason to respect human rights. Since we're in the position of power here, it brings up the question - even if animals have all the biological/neurological criteria necessary to have "rights", why should we as humans respect their rights if they aren't capable of respecting our's? We're capable of rudimentary communication with primates (sign language has been especially effective), but that's hardly enough to build a mutual philosophical system off of. 

 

Just food for thought.

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None of the things you listed would make you happy were you captured.

I also would not stay very healthy if I tried to live in a tank of water, eating nothing but fish.  The inference from what I would want, to what any given animal would want, is iffy at best.

 

most Objectivists would likely say that the animals have no rights, so you do not, necessarily, have to give a shit that you're inflicting direct, intentional harm upon them.

What???

  1. Animals are not people, for very specific reasons.  If you don't consider consciousness to be uniquely human (either by affirming it for everything else or denying it for humanity) then what in Galt's name do you even mean by "rights"?
  2. Even for human beings, with rights, you don't have to give a damn about anything or anyone.  Even if we had established that captive animals have rights which are being violated, I still wouldn't have to care except to the extent that it actually affects me.

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If someone goes out into the wild and slaughters baby seals, for no reason except to see them slaughtered, then I would consider that hugely immoral; it's a waste of that person's time and energy.

But if you can make a million dollars by keeping some dolphin in captivity and selling tickets to see it, then what argument against that could possibly bear even a passing resemblance to rational self-interest?

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See my above post with regards to what is and is not "uniquely human" biologically/neurologically. 

 

As I said before, I'm not really expressing an opinion here on animal rights. It's an interesting discussion, but one I'm not interested in having. I just responded to that person's specific arguments, and offered some knowledge that I've picked up in my biological education. Sorry.

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It seemed to me that the primary thrust of the movie's message was that the animals "belong" in the wild, and taking them out of nature makes them sad or angry....

If they really wanted to get down to it, you could hypothetically release any given animal (not into the actual wild, but beyond its fences and restraints) to see if it voluntarily returns.

I would be interested in knowing how many would actually prefer the wild.

 

Because, for all of the environmentalist lamentations in the world, the fact is that it sucks to fight tooth and nail for a cold and muddy existence.  I would bet that sucks universally.

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I have seen Blackfish and have some reservations about the arguments presented in the documentary, but CptnChan is not describing the movie's point accurately.

 

Blackfish asserts that the biological and psychological nature of orcas is such that all forms of orca captivity are a form of physical and psychological torture. The wilting dorsal fin is one example of this presented in the film, other examples include:

 

- An orca mother and her child were captured and then separated in captivity. For months, the orca mother weeped inconsolably and cried out for her child with long range frequencies non-stop. She eventually gave up and became borderline-catatonic.

- Some scientists claim that the life spans of orcas in captivity are about a fifth of their life spans in the wild (Sea World and other scientists dispute this claim).

- The movie follows the life of Tilicum, an orca captured in the wild who would end up brutally murdering three of its trainers. The film argues that Tilicum was literally driven to insanity by his captivity.

 

Even if we are all on the same page that animals do not have rights and therefore orca captivity should be legal, that doesn't follow that we should ethically support animal torture for the sake of amusement.

Edited by Dormin111
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Animals are not people, for very specific reasons.  If you don't consider consciousness to be uniquely human (either by affirming it for everything else or denying it for humanity) then what in Galt's name do you even mean by "rights"?

 

Animals could be considered to have some rights, without being fully protected by the non-aggression principle. For instance, I would say that it's permissible to raise cattle to slaughter them, but that the cattle do have a right to be treated humanely by their captors. Animals have a right to be protected against torture and abuse by human captors, but humans also have a right to hold animals in captivity.

 

 

Even if we are all on the same page that animals do not have rights and therefore orca captivity should be legal, that doesn't follow that we should ethically support animal torture for the sake of amusement.

 

We are clearly right to condemn anything that remotely fits that description. The issue is whether or not it is appropriate to extend the protection of the law to creatures who are not part of human society.

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Eamon Arasbard said:
 

 

 

 For instance, I would say that it's permissible to raise cattle to slaughter them, but that the cattle do have a right to be treated humanely by their captors.

 

The issue being, from where does that right extend? If we can't draw a meaningful biological/neurological distinction, than it can't extend from there. If we define our rights as extending from the fact of living in a society with one another and necessarily having to deal with each other in a specific way, and from the fact that we ourselves are capable of respecting each others' rights, there's also no basis upon which to give an animal such rights. 

 

Do you think that it's immoral to treat an animal inhumanely? As Danneskjold pointed out, such a belief doesn't necessarily have to extend from a belief in any sort of right for animals. However, a belief in rights for animals necessarily implies at least some component of law, which you seem to be unsure of. 

 

 

Dormin11 said:

 

 

 

Even if we are all on the same page that animals do not have rights and therefore orca captivity should be legal, that doesn't follow that we should ethically support animal torture for the sake of amusement.

 

 

Put it another way: should we ethically condemn such treatment? If we don't assume that the animal has rights, then is it possible at all to ethically condemn such actions? Specifically, is it possible to ethically condemn such actions purely on the basis of those actions being unethical, and not on the basis of them not being worthwhile for an individual?

Edited by Iudicious
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Put it another way: should we ethically condemn such treatment? If we don't assume that the animal has rights, then is it possible at all to ethically condemn such actions? Specifically, is it possible to ethically condemn such actions purely on the basis of those actions being unethical, and not on the basis of them not being worthwhile for an individual?

 

 

There is no distinction between an action being "unethical" and "not being worthwhile for an individual." They are one in the same. In that vein, there are ethical reasons to torture animals, such as to perform experiments which yield valuable scientific information. 

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There is no distinction between an action being "unethical" and "not being worthwhile for an individual." They are one in the same. In that vein, there are ethical reasons to torture animals, such as to perform experiments which yield valuable scientific information. 

 

Eh, I feel there's a worthwhile distinction to be made. An action that is simply not worthwhile to a person could be made to be worthwhile with sufficient material incentive. But some ethical quandaries, such as the breaching of rights, cannot be made ethical just by increasing monetary compensation. This is why the distinction is important: are we simply condemning the action because there's no rational profit yet to be made in the torture, or is there a yet deeper ethical issue involved?

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Objectivists have a unique view of self-interest, we have read and thought much about the fundamental alternative of life and death, what it means to flourish, that life's purpose and reward is happiness (in the full sense of the term) and that all of these things are tied with and defined by Man's nature... i.e. qua Man.

 

I believe any assessment of an animal, if it is to avoid anthropomorphizing the animal, must also be based on the animal's nature, i.e. qua particular animal.  What does it mean for that animal to flourish, what is it's natural qua animal life?  This obviously is not simple nor universally applicable and must be done in a way that makes sense to the animal's existence as that animal. 

 

For the aspect of captivity alone, this will depend on factors such as intelligence, normal range of activity/migration, how travel affects the animal physically and neurologically, etc etc.  I would assume keeping an eagle on the ground with its wings tied to its sides would not be conducive to the eagle flourishing qua eagle.  Restricting an earthworm to the ground, however, would lead to its flourishing just as well as enclosing it in a 500 foot tall enclosure with cliffs for it to crawl up to... which it never would.

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Have you read the Virtue of Selfishness?  Or the Fountainhead?  Or Philosophy: Who Needs It?  Or . . .  That stuff?

 

Yes. Some of them multiple times. Why is it relevant? May I not think outside of a few books I read? Did you read the rest of my post? 

 

Yes, an unethical thing to do is not worthwhile for a person to do. But things that are not worthwhile for a person to do can be made worthwhile, and thereby ethical, whereas some things can be unethical in such a way that they can never be made worthwhile simply by material/monetary compensation. That is the distinction I made, and yes, I do think it is a worthwhile distinction.

Edited by Iudicious
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Yes. Some of them multiple times. Why is it relevant? May I not think outside of a few books I read? Did you read the rest of my post? 

 

Yes, an unethical thing to do is not worthwhile for a person to do. But things that are not worthwhile for a person to do can be made worthwhile, and thereby ethical, whereas some things can be unethical in such a way that they can never be made worthwhile simply by material/monetary compensation. That is the distinction I made, and yes, I do think it is a worthwhile distinction.

 

What do you mean by "material/monetary"? Why is it put in a separate category from psychological, emotional, or spiritual? Ayn Rand subsumed all of these concepts under "value."

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Did you read the rest of my post?

Yes.  Trust me, those were not the extent of my thoughts on it, but they were the only ones which even approached productive discourse.

 

Why is it relevant? May I not think outside of a few books I read?

Of course; I'm not going to excommunicate you from the true-Objectivists for having your own thoughts.  It's just that usually, when people on this forum directly contradict Rand, they qualify it with some sort of disclaimer to indicate that they are already familiar with and have rejected her opinion on the matter. 

You didn't.  This made me wonder whether you had glossed over the entire field of Objectivist ethics, or had only heard of it yesterday, or what.

 

Why is it relevant?

It really isn't.  I'm sorry if I've wasted your time.

 

Live long and prosper.

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What do you mean by "material/monetary"? Why is it put in a separate category from psychological, emotional, or spiritual? Ayn Rand subsumed all of these concepts under "value."

 

It doesn't have to be, but referring to it as such made the question more clear in my mind. I was trying to ascertain specifically where the ethical issue of treating animals "inhumanely" arises from. 

 

Is it okay, broadly, to torture an animal for whatever reason suits you? If there is value to be gained from the torturing of an animal, is it then okay? The consensus seems, so far, to be that if there is no value to be gained from doing it, it's not self serving and therefore not ethical to do it. I was trying to ascertain whether the immorality of treating an animal "inhumanely" arises solely from the fact that nothing is gained from it (unless there is something to be gained from it, in which case it is moral), or if there is more to it than that.

 

The question arose at least partially from the assertion that has been made at least once in this thread (but I'm not sure if by you) that animals have a right to not be treated inhumanely, and I'm mostly probing for where exactly that right would arise from. 

 

 

 

It really isn't.  I'm sorry if I've wasted your time.

 

You haven't. I'm sorry that I came off confrontational in the way I responded. That was entirely my bad.

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Is it okay, broadly, to torture an animal for whatever reason suits you? If there is value to be gained from the torturing of an animal, is it then okay? 

 

 

In Objectivism, "value" is not usually used descriptively to refer to any thing which an individual pursues, but rather prescriptively to refer to what an individual rationally should pursue in accordance with his nature. In this case, we need to identify the rational values and costs pertaining to animal torture.

 

It can be ethical to torture animals if one is pursuing and gaining a rational value (wealth, research, etc.). However, I think the very act of hurting an animal should be considered a cost in and of itself, since no rational person would enjoy or be indifferent to the act of inflicting pain upon a creature. Thus the question is contextual and concerns pay offs. Is it rational to hurt an animal in this particular instance to attain a particular value? To give two extreme contextual examples:

 

- Would you electrocute a puppy for a week to receive a modest sum of money from a sadist?

- Would you administer a painful injection into a lab rat to attain scientific results which can be used to produce valuable pharmaceuticals?

 

If Blackfish's argument is true, then I would consider holding or watching captive orcas to be immoral since it consists of causing an animal a tremendous amount of pain for the sake of mere amusement. I would even go a step farther and add that amusement and pain are at odds with one another, and I don't think I could ever enjoy an activity which I knew was causing pain, even if the amusement was great and the pain was minor.

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Animals have a right to be treated humanely because they are capable of experiencing pain and pleasure. Animals do not have a right to life, because if we applied that consistently our conclusions would be incoherent. However, I would say that an animal could be considered to have rights if it is both intelligent enough to value its own life, and capable of respecting a moral code.

 

There are other ethical considerations as well which would apply differently to different species of animal. For instance, some animals have evolved to produce a small number of offspring which are raised and nurtured to survive as individuals, while other species produce a large number of disposable offspring. An animal in the latter category could not even remotely considered to have a right to life, because it is not biologically capable of valuing its own life.

 

An animal of a species capable of valuing individual members of the species could be considered to have a limited right to life, to the extent that this right would not infringe on the rights of humans to find happiness. For instance, it might be impermissible to murder a wolf (A species which does value individual members) in cold blood, but if there's a dairy farmer living near a pack of wolves who doesn't want his sheep getting eaten, I would say that he has a right to slaughter the wolves in order to protect his sheep.

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Animals have a right to be treated humanely because they are capable of experiencing pain and pleasure. Animals do not have a right to life, because if we applied that consistently our conclusions would be incoherent. However, I would say that an animal could be considered to have rights if it is both intelligent enough to value its own life, and capable of respecting a moral code.

 

There are other ethical considerations as well which would apply differently to different species of animal. For instance, some animals have evolved to produce a small number of offspring which are raised and nurtured to survive as individuals, while other species produce a large number of disposable offspring. An animal in the latter category could not even remotely considered to have a right to life, because it is not biologically capable of valuing its own life.

 

An animal of a species capable of valuing individual members of the species could be considered to have a limited right to life, to the extent that this right would not infringe on the rights of humans to find happiness. For instance, it might be impermissible to murder a wolf (A species which does value individual members) in cold blood, but if there's a dairy farmer living near a pack of wolves who doesn't want his sheep getting eaten, I would say that he has a right to slaughter the wolves in order to protect his sheep.

 

How does this square with Rand's theory of rights?

 

If I get the principle behind these statements, you are saying that if an animal has certain values qua its nature, then humans should be legally obligated to respect those rights. If we take that to its logical conclusion, shouldn't all animals have the right to life since all animals try to survive?

 

Furthermore, what about reciprocity? I could theoretically respect a wolf's right to life, but he sure as hell won't respect mine. I've always been partial to Murray Rothbard's statement (paraphrasing here), "we should give animals rights when they ask for them."

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Would you administer a painful injection into a lab rat to attain scientific results which can be used to produce valuable pharmaceuticals?

 

If that was the only possible way to obtain results, then yes. It would be immoral to sacrifice human lives for the sake of a lab rat. If there was an alternative method which would give just as good results, then I would consider it ethical to resort to that method instead, even if it cost more. (Since it is waying a consideration of financial benefit again a consideration of justice, and is thus equivalent to the "accepting money from a sadist scenario.)

 

On the other hand, it is also possible that a competitor might be able to drive me out by torturing an animal, so if that was a significant risk then I might make an exception. But I would prefer to appeal to the moral sentiments of my customers to encourage them to boycott my competitor.

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