In Search of Consistency: Ethics and Animals
Reviewed by: Edward Sandeman
In Search of Consistency: Ethics and Animals is a ‘giant book’ as Dr. Kemmerer herself once described it. It is indeed a big read and makes a very significant contribution to the field of Animals and Philosophy. Recent editions of publications like Philosophy Now reveal how far the debate has progressed concerning the moral dilemmas presented by the interactions between humans and other species. The book spans a wide spectrum of philosophical thought from the ancient Greeks to the work of the contemporary, popular philosopher Peter Singer; not only Philosophy, but Theology, Biology, Sociology and History.
Kemmerer’s purpose is to examine ‘the discrepancy . . . . . between treatment of human life, and treatment of all other life forms’ (Preface). All in all, this book will arm readers with sympathy for the plight of non-human animals, who fear for the further despoliation of natural habitats throughout the world, with a consistent narrative with which to combat prevailing standards of ethics as they apply to other species. These are standards that permit the horrors of factory farms, animal testing, habitat destruction and hunting within a dominant World Capitalist model of unsustainable continuous growth and exploitation in the name of wealth creation, with the accompanying scandals of ‘fat cats’ dipping their paws into company coffers to extract unearned millions of dollars.
The book is a journey, so it is fitting that it begins with one. The author on a car journey passes a cyclist surrounded by medics and police treating the skinned knees of a cyclist after a fall. Later on the same journey, she witnesses a female deer that after being struck by a motorist is left to die in agony by the side of the road. Other motorists speed by without a care; a stark reminder of the low level of human concern for other species in contrast with the much greater level of general human concern for other humans. To Kemmerer, this is graphic evidence of a great inconsistency that resides at the heart of contemporary human ethical frameworks. That is, that humans consider themselves generally as a species of inherent moral worth, but are either reluctant or refuse to recognise that the same is so for other species also. There is not merely a gap, she thinks, between human moral consideration for themselves and other species, but a whole gulf that leads to cruelty, abuse, exploitation and early death for huge numbers of individuals within non-human populations.
At the start of the book is a chapter on methods and terms, and this is invaluable for reference when reading later chapters in the book. I have adopted her term ‘anymal’ throughout this review, a new word for non-human animals. Among the methods is the lifeboat scenario, a useful test bed for the applied bio-ethics model adopted by the author. On Kemmerer’s life raft are five individuals; a naked mole rat, a spectacled elephant shrew, a hyrax, a needle-clawed bush baby and a human. Four of the animals on board, then are ‘anymals’, that is ‘refers to animals excluding Homo sapiens’ (p10). All five in the boat are animals, and Kemmerer is keen throughout the book to remind us that in spite of what we may have been told by religious leaders and teachers, our real place in the world is simply that of existing as another primate species, no more special than or to be exalted above any other. Sadly, if the life raft is to remain afloat, one of the animals on board must be sent overboard, or all will die by drowning. Which one should be saved? Should it automatically be the human?
After examination of the ideas of four leading authors in the protectionist field and the theological ideas from many different religious beliefs concerning human behaviour towards ‘anymals’, Kemmerer reveals her ideas on how the dilemma may be resolved. The four leading authors chosen are: Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University, perhaps best known as author of Animal Liberation for his utilitarian standpoint; Andrew Linzey, a Church of England theologian, for his ideas on whether current Christian practices reflect scripture in human interaction with other species; Tom Reagan for his views on animal rights, and Paul Taylor for his ideas on bio-protectionism. There is also an extensive chapter that looks at consistency across religious traditions. Dr. Kemmerer then leads us towards her own conclusions, including her own ‘Minimise Harm Maxim’ that she thinks we should use to determine the ethical approach to other species from now on. Finally, she outlines some contemporary moral dilemmas arising and points to the future. The fate of our motley crew may well be determined by applying the principles of the Minimise Harm Maxim. Or, is it too much to expect that even the most carefully thought out ethical approach can solve each and every dilemma?
Should Animals Have Rights?
The issue of whether anymals can have rights forms the first theory that is explored in the book, as seen through the ideas of Tom Reagan in The Case for Animal Rights. We learn that, amongst others, the great Mahatma Ghandi’s life inspired Reagan to his views, firstly to the acceptance of human rights. He then asked himself why other animals should not also have rights and his work attempts to promote the justification. Reagan uses the metaphor of a cup to describe a living being; his term being subject-of-a-life. He tries to argue what is inside the cup should not be a determinant of the moral consideration that a subject-of-a-lifemay be due. For him, therefore the qualities, such as intelligence, of a subject-of-a-life should not be weighed up to decide if it deserves moral consideration. For Regan, you cannot earn moral consideration through the possession of virtues or qualities. This leads to ‘perfectionism’, which he rejects. However, Regan’s definition of a subject-of-a-life does not include all those categories of life that Kemmerer considers as living entities, as defined in her chapter on terms and methods. A living entity includes all organisms including individual cells, but not viruses according to her definition. Reagan’s subjects-of-a-life are limited to normal mammals aged one year or more and only this group truly has welfare worth consideration. This seems to contradict his rejection of perfectionism. Kemmerer agrees with Regan when he rejects ‘speciesism’, (only humans can have rights) and ‘perfectionism’ (those with the best qualities are due most moral consideration; therefore most deserve to have rights). However, his definition of a subject-of-a-life looks perfectionist to her. He has extended the borders of moral inclusion to cover many more living creatures, but his reasoning for non-inclusion of many other creatures and entire species looks suspect to Kemmerer. He also assumes that humans have greater opportunities for ‘ satisfaction’ than, for instance, dogs. In a lifeboat scenario, he would, according to Kemmerer (p71), sacrifice four thousand dogs to save four humans. When he writes of welfare, he appears to be taking a part utilitarian view that Kemmerer discusses critically in the next chapter on Peter Singer’s work. Consideration for reasons of welfare requires us to measure the value of a particular welfare. But, how may we do this in a valid way across species? Kemmerer writes:
‘Comparing opportunities for satisfaction – particularly satisfaction across species – poses difficulties. Human beings cannot hibernate, soar with light feathers on gusting winds, enjoy the savoury taste of well rotted carrion, or dash up tree trunks. How much opportunity for satisfaction are we to ascribe to experiences that are completely alien to us? We cannot burrow through a log or participate in the mating rituals of the blue-footed boobie . . . . ‘(p72)
It is in the discussion of Reagan’s work that Kemmerer begins her attack on the idea that because animals are nearly always ‘ moral patients’, unable to distinguish between right and wrong or think about how they should conduct themselves ethically, they should not be accorded rights. A theme she comes back to time and time again in the book is that many humans can also be considered moral patients. These may those too young to be ‘moral agents’, or too ill or too old, yet few speak of taking away rights from this cross-section of the population. Throughout the book, she develops the theme that speciesism is as unacceptable as racism, since not so long ago in human history, we treated those with a different colour of skin badly for much the same reasons that we now treat anymals badly too.
The existence of human rights or not is presently a topical issue. Kemmerer implies that Regan has not really made the case for human rights. We can see in the discussion that rights, if they do exist, are certainly not granted to humans as long as they can accept responsibilities, a simplistic view propagated by many in the popular press and elsewhere. We do not expect, for instance, the newly-born to have responsibilities, but they do have the right, in our society, not to be harmed. Still, Regan has made a very good case to show that where rights do exist, they should be extended to include other species. However, there appear to be inconsistencies in the Regan view that need to be fixed, before it passes what for Kemmerer are very important tests; those of consistency, fairness and impartiality.
The Utilitarian Case for Animal Protection
Having explored the case for Animal Rights, we move on to see how Protectionism might be served from the Utilitarian standpoint. Peter Singer is the best known philosopher whose theories are explored by Kemmerer. A feature of Singer’s work is a certain populist appeal, but this might serve to hide that the context of his work can be set within a Utilitarian framework. Kemmerer acknowledges that Singer has made a tremendous contribution to the protectionist debate. His accessible style and the apparent simplicity of his arguments reach out to many who might otherwise feel excluded. Perhaps the evident great and genuine compassion for others apparent in his writing, that encompasses both anymals and humans, is also a great part of his appeal.
Classical Utilitarianism originated in the writings of J.S Mill and David Hume, and advocated an ethical approach that maximised pleasure at the expense of pain. It is often characterised by saying that the objective of Utilitarianism is to produce happiness for the greatest number, and therefore a selfless theory; appealing to many. We learn from Kemmerer, however, that there are other forms of Utilitarianism and that Singer is a ‘preference’ Utilitarian.
“His moral theory determines the best consequences of an action, via the satisfaction of preference rooted in interests.” (p104)
Singer agrees with the 18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham that it is not only humans that deserve moral consideration, but also non-human animals, that because of their ‘sentience’, require an ethical framework in which their interests are taken into account. ‘The question is . . . . Can they suffer?’ said Bentham (p105). Singer therefore rejects what he terms ‘speciesism’ as most of us would racism. To him, it is an extension of logic and consistency to include anymals within the boundaries of moral consideration. But having taken us so far, he then gets into trouble with Kemmerer as well as attracting some public controversy. Kemmerer minimises mention of the controversy, instead setting a test of practicality for Singer’s ideas. In Singer’s ethical framework, it is more logical for researchers to medically experiment on a brain damaged infant than for example, on a normal adult intelligent chimpanzee. The logic is inescapable for him, that less suffering would be caused. His detractors have unfairly portrayed him, from this, as one who advocates medical experimentation on children. Reading of his work reveals he does not say this, so for this he cannot be fairly accused of devaluing human life. Kemmerer agrees that Singer rather seeks to elevate the status of non-human life. In another attack, ‘ Opponents ask, “Where does sentience begin?” (p112). Kemmerer initially rejects the relevance of this attack as little more than a distraction in a world where there is clear, demonstrable cruelty on anymals that are clearly sentient. But later, she cannot resist criticising Singer for being ‘unable to establish a line at which sentience is no longer a concern.’ (p118).
It is ironic, then for the practical ethicist that it is in the practicalities of applying his theory in reality that Kemmerer finds most fault with Singer. She does not do this by unfairly criticising him for what some think he is saying. She notes, for instance, he does not demand equal treatment for ‘anymals’. But he does require ‘equal consideration of interests’, (p106), an entirely different thing. The interests of a shrew differ to those of a cat, but according to Singer, we should consider them equally along with our own. Rather, Kemmerer shows that ‘Applying Singer’s simple utilitarian equation to any given instance is by no means simple’ (p114). The ivory trade, she notes, is obviously harmful to the interests of elephants and walrus. But she argues it is extremely difficult to use ‘utilitarian scales’ to weigh up ‘ the pain, suffering, loss of life, and thwarted opportunities of an African elephant or Pacific walrus . . . against the incomes of assorted Africans or Inuit’’ (p114).
‘Will we be able to figure out a measurement for agony and benefits in order to be able to tell how much agony is justified for a particular quantity of benefit?’ (p117)
We noted earlier that Kemmerer rejected criticism of Singer when he was accused of devaluing human life. But, she agrees, however, that the theory might actually devalue life in general. This comes from the logic that if we attempt to always best serve all interests with equal consideration, it might be necessary to kill. Within his work there is what is referred to as a ‘replaceability argument’. This . . .
‘permits killing animals (human or otherwise) that have no conception of themselves as existing in the future, provided such individuals lead a pleasant life beforehand, are killed painlessly, and are replaced by beings that will have equally pleasant lives’ (p121)
Kemmerer refutes this and cites examples of how this might apply in reality. For instance, Michael Lockwood’s hypothetical company ‘Disposapup’ breeds pets for families, but takes them back and disposes of them painlessly when the family wish to go on holiday, or the dog has grown beyond cute and cuddly. What measure can we use to weigh up a ‘pleasant life?’ she asks. Singer appears to agree with Mill to some extent i.e. ‘It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied’ (p396 and elsewhere). For him, it appears a more complex brain function indicates a more valuable life. But, for Kemmerer there is more to the worth of any being than being smart. All in all, she notes that his ‘theory entails serious epistemological difficulties, and fails to protect individuals as such’ (p144), but concedes that his work ‘highlights the blindness of current moral standards that ignore morally relevant criteria that reach across the species, namely sentience.’ (p144)
Environmentalists and Protectionists
The bridge between the environmentalists and protectionists is explored in the review of Paul Taylor’s work, ‘Respect for Nature’. It may well be assumed that environmentalists and protectionists are one and the same, but we learn that environmentalists often, in their efforts to preserve the natural environments, are disinterested in the fates of individual creatures. Two examples are given to illustrate this from places where non-native animals were introduced some time ago that have gone on to destroy the habitats of the indigenous plant and animal species. The environmentalist solution to both problems is extermination. Goats on San Clemente are shot from a helicopter, while non-native pigs on Hawaii are shot, or trapped. Trapping causes great distress through the animal being snared and left to die of thirst or starvation.
Taylor accepts that non-human entities have legal rights, at least in the Western World, but does not go down the path of moral rights for animals, because he believes his own bio-centric ethic can achieve everything that is required without them. Moral rights may only be ascribed to ‘persons’, and when all is said and done, ‘persons’ are exclusively human. Taylor (through Kemmerer) says:
‘ I hold that, although it is not conceptually confused or logically absurd to ascribe moral rights in an extended sense to animals and plants, there are good reasons for not doing so. Everything which people hope to achieve by such an extension of the concept or rights can equally be accomplished by the means of the ides of respect for nature, and the inherent worth of living things, along with the structure of thought that supports and makes intelligible a person’s taking the attitude of respect and regarding living things as possessing inherent worth’ (Respect 225 – 26).
In order to achieve his bio-centric ethic, Taylor sets out four rules, a ‘moral triage’ that prioritises the four rules, and then five principles. The rules are to be followed by ‘moral agents’, and the principles are based on respect for Nature, not only from a holistic view of Nature, but out of respect for individual entities within Nature because he postulates, echoing Regan and Singer that they can possess ‘moral worth’, but from a new standpoint.
‘Taylor’s theory ascribes inherent worth to wild teleological entities’ (p152)
Teleology ‘ guides organisms to fulfil biological needs so that they/we might succeed at the daunting task of survival (G. Williams 136)’ (p152) . It describes the purpose that guides an entity to make every effort to survive. Taylor is not primarily concerned with the wider concepts of teleology, such as those of the Universe as a whole, or indeed the ultimate purpose of God. However, Kemmerer is not sure that Taylor has come to a definition of what such an ‘entity’ is. Does it stop at slugs and snails, insects or viruses, and therefore narrow as we saw with Regan? From the premise that teleological entities have moral worth, Taylor sets out rules, a ‘moral triage’ and principles that should guide humans in their ethical interactions with other species. Respect for individual entities is shown by not knowingly harming, interfering or tricking them (e.g. snaring and trapping). Where harm is done, a person must hold themselves accountable and make restitution; and this should only be done by the principle of causing minimum wrong with a proportional view of the wrong caused. However, none of this applies to domestic or farm animals, as Taylor does not see these creatures as belonging to the truly wild. A significant omission for Kemmerer.
For Kemmerer, Taylor’s expansion of his ethic does not entirely pass the tests of logic or fairness, although there does seem to be a subtext of sympathy for his goals. She accepts that his ideas go in the right direction, but lead to some undesirable outcomes. There are some human interests that he would serve above those of the environment and other species. He would consider it permissible, for example, to build an art museum or library that would of necessity destroy the natural habitat or replace a native forest with a timber plantation. Kemmerer wonders then if Taylor is truly being true to his avowed rules and principles in giving human non-basic interests greater worth than the basic needs of other creatures. She quotes “Case” 108 from Callicot: ‘Taylor guarantees
‘that we human beings . . . can go on living the lives to which we have grown accustomed. He tries to make things come out right . . . .’ (p209)
To Kemmerer, Taylor fails to demonstrate a bio-centric ethic that is truly protectionist because of the bias towards preserving ‘non-essential’ human activity. However, she concedes that ‘ he offers a much needed bridge where environmentalists and protectionists might meet on common ground’. (p210)
Christian Theology and Views from Other World Religions
Dr Kemmerer holds Andrew Linzey as the ‘dominant scholar’ among Christian protectionists, devoting a whole chapter to discussion of his work. She is less than admiring of many practising Christians:
‘Today’s carnivorous Christian congregations, fattened on the flesh of factory-farmed calves and the eggs of deprived battery hens (soon to be slaughtered for chicken soup), turn the stomachs of more compassionate citizens. Flesh eating is a divisive and critical issue for contemporary Westerners’ (p264)
Within the beliefs of some Christians, there is an irony that central to the Christian Faith is compassion for the weak, the destitute and the innocent, revealed in the life of Jesus and ascribed to the very nature of God. Kemmerer quotes Buttrick, saying that love is
‘not merely an attribute of God but defines his nature . . . . love governs all its (the nature of God) aspects and expressions’ (p267)
Linzey and Kemmerer ask how an all loving compassionate God can be content with the behaviour of Christians who pursue a diet that cannot be sustained in the absence of considerable cruelty to other animals. It is a key question that Kemmerer explores throughout her discussion of Linzey. Looking inside the scriptures, Linzey in his work Animal Gospel demonstrates many passages and themes that appear to show that God’s original intention was that humans should pursue a vegan diet. Only after the Fall of Man was meat prescribed as permissible, but this could be interpreted as a reluctant concession while things remain not as God intended. Other passages in the Bible appear to reveal God’s eventual aim for the world as a peaceful place where ‘ the cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox’ (Isaiah 11: 6 – 9, p268).
Finally, there is the theme of love and compassion running through the New Testament, that might prompt us to ask ‘What would Jesus do?’ regarding matters of diet. In light of the likely answer, we might consider changing our diet to avoid the inevitable cruelty associated with traditional western food production. Earlier in her discussion of Linzey, Kemmerer also shows that the point at which Christian Western Civilization, through theological and philosophical debate, decided that animals were less important than people, had no souls and exist merely for us to do with what we wish, had as much to do with Greek philosophical thought e.g. Aristotelian classification, than theological inspiration divined through scriptural study. How different it all might have been, if St. Francis of Assisi had been the main influence on mediaeval Christian thought, rather than St. Thomas Aquinas; or Julian of Norwich; or Therese of Lisieux. The chapter on Christian Protectionism has interesting comment on all these Saints, and some inspiring quotations from their writings.
Neither St. Julian, St. Francis nor St. Therese appear to take the same stance as St. Thomas Aquinas on the supremacy of ‘Man’. Dr. Kemmerer obviously admires many of Linzey’s ideas but she is unable to agree with him concerning the hierarchical importance he gives to humans. Linzey, if not altogether one with St. Thomas, still thinks the Biblical scriptures indicate that humans are top of the tree in God’s eyes. She works hard throughout the chapter with some success to dispel this idea. Much Christian writing and scripture, she shows, does indeed indicate that humans should lose their arrogance in favour of striving to become humble servants of the Creator, with no reason to think that humankind is any way favoured above the myriad of other wonderful birds, beasts and plants within God’s Creation.
For Kemmerer, Protectionism is not merely an aspect of philosophical study to be developed. In the new spirit of applied ethics, her work is not destined to gather dust on the shelves of academe, but to provide inspiration for those who feel strongly about the way humans treat their ‘anymal’ cousins. One reason that she provides us with two chapters giving us views from perspectives coming from religion is that she sees in scripture from all world religions the basis for a far greater respect for other creatures than happens in reality. She seeks to remind those of faith of the basis by which they are supposed to live their lives, and ally them to her cause. She admits that organisations such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) are small, and struggle for influence among the competing interest groups vying for government attention. Should the great religions of the world ever decide to use their influence, she reckons, the animal protection cause would be infinitely stronger.
Kemmerer finishes her exploration of religion in an all encompassing chapter, Consistency Across Religious Traditions. This gives insight into not only the scriptures and their interpretations, but also the practices, both historical and current. She destroys some myths, for example that ancient stone-age cultures with their respect for their natural surroundings and the wildlife existing within, were or are where they still co-exist with civilisation, protectionist in every sense. Cruel practices have always existed, such as ritual slaughter of buffalo in North America that condemned the animal to a slow, cruel and painful death. She also shows how greed for profit is every bit as corrupting for ancient cultures, such as the Makah people of Western Washington State, who colluded with the incoming Europeans to hunt and fish many more creatures than they would need for themselves. They fished the ocean, stripping it of fish, until the government had to curtail their activities. After this, they turned to logging ancient woodland.
Of course, followers of non-Christian religions are hardly exempt from practices that do not concur with the teachings of their faith. However, Kemmerer shows that all religions have teachings that are designed in one way or the other to respect the whole of Creation, whether in Muslim and Judaic scripture that has much in common with Christianity, the respect for Nature in Daoism or the Hindu and Buddhist strictures forbidding the infliction of suffering on fellow creatures. One of Kemmerer’s friends, Kim Woeste, remarked how unsurprised she was by Linzey’s interpretation of the Christian scriptures. It was no more than she would expect from her experience and knowledge of the faith, and as a church minister. Kemmerer concludes
‘Wouldn’t it surprise and disappoint even those who object to protectionism if they should go to church (temple, synagogue or the mosque) and find that their minister (priest, rabbi or imam)advocated the exploitation of the weak, the infliction of unnecessary harm, or the taking of life for no better reason than to satisfy paltry pleasures?’ (p360)
Such pleasures, as far as they refer to the taking in of food, may appear ‘paltry’ only to those with full stomachs, however.
The Minimise Harm Maxim
All the roads in this book do lead on to Kemmerer’s summation of how we ought to live. We have already seen that she agrees with other philosophers and theologians that she has reviewed in this book in that it is inconsistent to assume that only the human species deserves moral consideration. Moral agents, who are on the whole mature human beings ‘ those of us capable of acting either morally or immorally’ (p17), should include other species as deserving of moral consideration. She has found, however, that none of the theories explored stand up to the closest scrutiny in terms of consistency, impartiality, fairness or practicability. The Minimise Harm Maxim is her attempt to resolve the issues she has highlighted in her discussion of other existing theories. In summation, it has a rationale based on three premises, and these ‘ culminate in an ethical maxim followed by four sub-points.’ (p391)’
Premise One: All Living Entities Have Moral Standing
- Conatus, Spinoza and Theology – following the writings of Baruch Spinoza in his work Ethics, Kemmerer explores a term known as ‘ conatus’. According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, conatus is ‘ an innate inclination of a thing to continue to exist and enhance itself ’. More correctly, the ‘thing’ is living. The idea does not originate with Spinoza, but it is he who not only sees the desire to persist as innate and natural, but also divine. Kemmerer acknowledges that the concept of conatus is similar to that of ‘teleology’ explored in the discussion of Taylor; but where teleology implies a purpose, either from the self, from God or elsewhere, conatus is free from the complications that the consideration of ‘purpose’ or ‘will’ brings. It is no more and no less the desire to persist that is demonstrable in all living entities.
- Living Entities and Conatus – the mainstay of Kemmerer’s argument. In Chapter 7: Six Medical Cases: The Value of Innocent Human Life, Kemmerer presents evidence of the sanctity of human life, based within Law in the United States and other western countries. She shows that human life is considered of such value that even individuals with no proper brain function unable to think or feel, and cannot recover and survive to any degree better than their current vegetative state, are protected, and even medically treated to eke out their survival. For all, left to natural events, without the aid of machines or other medical treatment, they would quickly die. It is not even allowed that their organs can be transplanted into otherwise viable living humans. What they do possess along with all other living entities is conatus, and that appears to be the sole reason they persist. And solely because they are human, they are given a huge level of protection in Western Law.
- Epistemological Problems and Mental Attributes – Singer and Reagan to some extent, argued that the higher the brain function within an individual entity, the more deserving it is of protection. Kemmerer, rather, argues that this idea is rooted in an anthropocentric view of the value of life, demonstrated earlier in the works of JS Mill, for example that, ‘ It is a better to be a human being satisfied than a pig dissatisfied’ (p396). How can we say, and how can we find out how to measure human versus pig satisfaction? The Minimize Harm Maxim does not recognise a higher mental function as adding to moral consideration of a being. Indeed, it does not recognise sentience at all. Kemmerer argues that this is consistent with the application of Western Law. The human beings in the cases she quotes no longer possessed any mental function, and were not sentient any more than is a turnip.
- Moral Standing – the Minimise Harm Maxim thus neatly circumvents the difficulties presented in the arguments of Singer, Reagan, Taylor and Linzey. Against Singer and Regan, there are no qualifications required as regards such as sentience, or the cocktail of qualities required for recognition (memory, feelings, welfare) as subjects-of-a-life. Against Taylor, conatus replaces teleology, and against Linzey, there is no duty to the divine required. Moral standing is recognised simply because living entities desire entirely naturally to persist. For religious people, this is may be a divine attribute, for the unreligious it is entirely natural. Note, however, that Kemmerer is attempting to remove the need for any Divine influence within her theory.
- Interests, Welfare, Sentience – Anencephalic infants are born without any major brain function, and in Chapter 7, Kemmerer noted that they are given full legal protection. Doctors must try to preserve their life and their organs may not be transplanted to other viable humans. They have no sentience, and cannot suffer pain or experience pleasure. But along with all other living entities, starting from the higher primates and down through cauliflower and bacteria, they have welfare and interests. In some cases the interests may be passive; a plant may not know it requires water, but its welfare and interests may only be served when water is available to it.
- Impartiality and Moral Expansion – Where are we going with the above? It comes down to that, if we are to be impartial in our assessment of which entities should be accorded moral standing, we should abandon attempts to view things from a human standpoint and look at things from an impartial standpoint. Kemmerer is clear that impartiality is a crucial element in any serious applied ethical framework. Christians and Muslims assert, as we have seen, that humans are special in God’s eyes. But we have also seen, from the Christian standpoint through Kemmerer’s discussion of Linzey's work, that this may be seen as true only from selected reading of the scriptures. From an impartial standpoint, all living entities have moral standing. It is no matter whether these living entities are of high intelligence, or exist as protozoa on the boundaries of life. There are those who will seize on the example of protozoa in attempt to ridicule the idea, whereas in reality, we are affected and can affect mostly those entities closest to ourselves i.e. those that can suffer or experience wants, needs, desires and pleasures. Earlier she had noted that Singer was unable to establish the boundaries of sentience. But now, she admits that it is difficult to establish the boundary between a living entity governed by conatus, and one not. However, such critics, she thinks, are merely seeking to cloud the issue to some extent. The entities that we can affect most are easily within our immediate realm of concern, and clearly do qualify as living entities governed within conatus. In any case, our laws already protect humans whose experience of existence is no better than that of the protozoa. Kemmerer argues that she has shown that it is logical to protect all living entities that possess conatus. The boundary between entities that are living and possess conatus and entities that do not is not clearly established. But this concern is rather like trying to fathom out how many angels can dance on a pin.
Premise Two: Death and Harm are Part of Life
The maxim is to minimize harm, because death and harm are part of life. Because of the natural laws, conatus will ensure an entity strives in some way to persist. By the same natural order of things, there are carnivores and bacteria that survive by harming others. The maxim begins, therefore, by giving direction to cause as little harm as we can.
Premise Three: Hierarchies of Moral Standing are Indefensible
- Empirical Evidence – whereas it may be natural for human beings to imagine that humanity is in some way special within the universe, there really is no empirical evidence to support this. Rather, within the vastness of the cosmos, it is more likely that humanity is as insignificant as any other species or living entity type.
- Innate Human Bias – the various theories within ethics tend to make the assumption that humans, for one reason or the other, some of which we have already explored, are more worthy of moral consideration than other living entities. Kemmerer argues that this is because of innate human bias, and that there is no other reason to suppose humans have more moral standing than other species or life forms.
- Consistency and Impartiality – any maxim on ethical conduct is required to be consistent and impartial. We have touched on impartiality above. And, as ‘ there is, as yet, no morally relevant distinction that has been drawn between anencephalic infants and a guanaco, or between a brain dead human being and a glass lizard’ (p417), any logical and consistent theory will include other species and life forms within.
- Moral Ideals – Kemmerer in this section and elsewhere admits that her maxim is a utopian ideal, but reiterates that within a fair, logical, consistent and impartial system, there must be no hierarchies of moral standing. Again and again, she comes back to the point that if we are to afford such great protection to those with no viable brain function, then being consistent and impartial, we must afford the same level of protection to all other living entities.
Maxim: Minimise Harm
Sub-point One: Minimise Interference
- Toward Other Entities – Kemmerer exposes the harm done by hunting and game management programs. She rejects the arguments by pro-hunting groups that hunting and associated management programs that preserve a species so that it may be hunted are good for the species. Kemmerer believes that wildlife prey should be allowed exist naturally alongside the predators that largely feed on the sick and aged prey. She believes a diet of flesh is unnecessary, and thus the pursuit of other animals for the purposes of eating them unnecessary, as well as morally wrong. Another aspect of this is an example where if you, say, accidentally harm an animal while gardening, you should make effort to get it treatment.
- Habitat – A Reversal of Value – habitat is any area that living creatures inhabit. We should make every effort to minimise our impact upon it, to preserve the space required by other species to live out their lives without interference.
- Non-encroachment: No Growth, Reduce and Reuse – ‘humans are the bane of the earth and capitalism a primary vice because of its dependency on unlimited, unsustainable growth (p432).’ As a species we should now stop our wholesale population growth and cease to encroach on any more wild space.
- Harm Low on the Food Chain – appears at first as an interesting diversion on cannibalism and when it may be permitted. Most people know about the 1972 incident where a Chilean plane went down in the Andes Mountains from the movie, ‘Alive.’ The survivors did not perish because they ate others who had died, thus breaking one of our society’s greatest taboos. Kemmerer argues this demonstrates that this shows the only legitimate reason for the consumption of flesh is ‘if one is starving, and if the animal is already dead ‘(p435).
Sub-point Two: We May Use Other Life-forms Only With Consent
Just as we cannot abuse other members of our own species under current laws in the West, so it should be for us with other species. Kemmerer makes it clear that because humans are always the species in power, and animals that we interact with always dependent therefore, gaining their consent is difficult, if not impossible.
Sub-point Three: Intentions Matter
The Minimise Harm Maxim requires each one of us to behave with good intent to one another, and towards anymals in equal measure. Kemmerer draws a distinction between negligence and culpability. Negligence is less bad, because it was unintended, although if the resulting lesson is not learned and applied, culpability may ensue. Culpability is not the same as criminality. We applaud the legend Robin Hood for robbing from the rich to give to the poor. Although committing criminal offences, his intentions in saving the poor were honourable and therefore good. Accidentally stepping on a beetle is not the same as deliberately seeking it out and crushing it.
Sub-point Four: Self-Defence Is Morally Permissible
- Minimise Conflict – where a threat to our personal safety from another being occurs, we have the right to do harm for our own self preservation. However, we should not seek conflict for its own sake or deliberately provoke it.
- Exceptions – where living in a prosperous society that is governed by western style laws, we are not entitled to cause harm to others except in life threatening situations. Crimes are dealt with by trained professionals. However, other species should come under the same umbrella of protection.
- Relative Proportion – where harm must be caused, an annoying animal should be dealt with in the same way as an annoying person. Swatting to death an annoying fly is not in proportion, but this treatment may be meted out to disease carrying mosquito.
With all the sub-points above in mind, Kemmerer tells us we can reduce the Maxim as follows: minimise harm, minimise interference. It is always immoral to harm another living entity intentionally. Contrary to the Minimise Harm Maxim is an attempt to use Utilitarian type scales to measure harm across species. This is for similar reasons that we have already seen when discussing Singer’s utilitarian protectionist ideas, where the attempt to measure moral worth is largely an impossible task.
Kemmerer goes on to show how the application of the Minimise Harm Maxim can be applied to what she calls ‘ contemporary moral dilemmas’ in chapter nine. Much of the detail in some of the discussion will be well known to most readers, as they appear in contemporary recurring news articles. Using animals without consent is contrary to the Maxim, so zoos and circuses should be closed. Sanctuaries may exist that provide for the wild needs of an anymal only if there is no other alternative. She provides a harrowing commentary on the abuse, torture and killing of anymals so they may be used to clothe us. This does not only include the much vilified fur ‘industry’, but the use of animal hides and wool. It causes less harm, she concludes, to make use of plants for clothing material.
Some of the least comfortable reading in her book comes in her discussion of diet. To follow the Minimise Harm Maxim best, we would eat only fruit; eating nuts is slightly more morally reprehensible, and then next come vegans. There is then a huge gulf to be met before we encounter vegetarians, and then worst of all; flesh eaters. For those who have made the huge effort in their lives not to eat animal flesh, and become vegetarians, there is little comfort to be found in this chapter. There is slight acknowledgement that factory farmed milk, eggs and cheese are less preferable than ‘free-range’ produce, although many would argue there is a whole world of difference. However, it is true to say that Kemmerer’s main wrath is aimed at factory farming that either condemns chickens, pigs or cattle to lives of almost indescribable cruelty and suffering and/or a painful protracted death. As to her accompanying arguments surrounding the health and environmental benefits to be gained by us individually and the world as a whole, there are, as I am sure she is aware many who disagree with her profoundly. Nonetheless the Minimise Harm Maxim encourages us to reduce our dependence on animal ‘products’ and encourage the growth of wild, natural habitat.
Like other protectionist authors, Kemmerer too is appalled at the cruelty of using animals in the name of science, whether this for industries such as making cosmetic products or in the name of disease prevention. Experimentation, she concludes on humans or other animals that cannot give consent ‘is never justified’ (p 474). The Minimise Harm Maxim also does not permit the keeping of pet animals. This is painful for those who genuinely love our pets, and will be especially so for those abandoned by friends and family who find their only companion is the dog or the cat.
Conclusions and the Fate of Those on the Life-raft
Readers may recall near the beginning of this review of the naked mole rat, spectacled elephant shrew, hyrax, needle-clawed bush baby and human aboard the life raft. Kemmerer has presented us with an exhaustive study of protectionist ideas and given us her own conclusion on the logical outcome of protectionist deliberation. To be fair, consistent and impartial we must abide by the Minimise Harm Maxim. Abiding by the Minimise Harm Maxim allows us to draw no moral distinction between the five creatures aboard the raft. It does not allow us to measure qualities within the five such as sentience, moral worth or any such distinction, because these cannot be fairly measured. She also rejects the triage used by medics to decide who may be most usefully given medical treatment in various disaster scenarios. Kemmerer leaves us with an impasse. Her deliberations leave us with no basis on which to toss any one of the creatures overboard. Provided that they do not kill one another, we abandon our crew to their fate. They must sink or swim.
Kemmerer is careful to remind us at various points in the book that her ideas are intended to be ideals, to be implemented in order to make a perfect utopian world. She argues that it is the job of moral philosophy to provide the best ethical framework possible to give us a model of something which we can strive to attain, although we know in the end that we can never fully achieve such perfection. She sees the inclusion of other species within our codes of morality as a natural progression. We have abolished slavery within humankind and accepted that feminists and anti-racists are right. She detects that the understanding of the many is beginning to see other creatures as beings in their own right that must not be abused or exploited. Finally, she gives thanks to all those who have contributed to the protectionist cause, from all the different disciplines, especially to the four distinguished authors she has discussed in this book. She finishes confidently in the assertion that:
‘Dominant Western ethics with regard to the moral standing of anymals are not only unacceptable because they are inconsistent, but also because they disregard our biological affiliation with anymals; exemplify a lack of appreciation for the majesty, complexity, and wonder of life; and reveal a lack of understanding for the fleeting nature of our personal physical existence.’ (p507)
In this, she is surely right and she has shown it to be true in relentless pursuit of the truth throughout the book. She realises her solution will be seen by many as difficult to implement because it is so all encompassing of the living entities brought within moral consideration. For this she is unrepentant, arguing that it is the level of protection given to humans, even those who cannot think or feel is what should be under scrutiny. She quotes Singer who asserts when most of us say life is sacrosanct, we really mean human life. The book is an enquiry into why this should be so, and concludes it should be otherwise. From a logical, impartial and fair standpoint, either all life is sacrosanct or it is not, even though we as humans may instinctively feel, guided by our own moral intuition or religious beliefs, that humans deserve special consideration in the natural order of things.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *