Animal Ethics in Context

Animal Ethics in Context

Clare Palmer
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Animal Ethics in Context
    Book Description:

    It is widely agreed that because animals feel pain we should not make them suffer gratuitously. Some ethical theories go even further: because of the capacities that they possess, animals have the right not to be harmed or killed. These views concern what not to do to animals, but we also face questions about when we should, and should not, assist animals that are hungry or distressed. Should we feed a starving stray kitten? And if so, does this commit us, if we are to be consistent, to feeding wild animals during a hard winter?

    In this controversial book, Clare Palmer advances a theory that claims, with respect to assisting animals, that what is owed to one is not necessarily owed to all, even if animals share similar psychological capacities. Context, history, and relation can be critical ethical factors. If animals live independently in the wild, their fate is not any of our moral business. Yet if humans create dependent animals, or destroy their habitats, we may have a responsibility to assist them. Such arguments are familiar in human cases-we think that parents have special obligations to their children, for example, or that some groups owe reparations to others. Palmer develops such relational concerns in the context of wild animals, domesticated animals, and urban scavengers, arguing that different contexts can create different moral relationships.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50302-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Every year, more than a million wildebeest migrate from the Serengeti Plain in Tanzania to Kenya in search of better grazing. To do so, they need to cross Kenya’s Mara River. The crossing is always dangerous, as the river has steep embankments, strong currents, and many predators, especially crocodiles. Wildebeest are frequently drowned, injured, or killed by predators while crossing. In 2007, migrating wildebeest tried to cross the river at a particularly treacherous location. Once in the water, the river embankments proved too steep. Some wildebeest were unable to climb out, and many were swept away. At least ten thousand...

  5. 1 Animals’ Capacities and Moral Status
    (pp. 9-24)

    This book depends, most basically, on the claim that we have some moral responsibilities toward animals. Although I will go on to argue that what is owed to different animals flows, in part, from their context and relations to us, that anything is owed to them at all depends on this basic claim. Since this claim is so fundamental, it needs some support. This chapter provides grounding for the view that we have moral responsibilities toward at least some animals. Drawing on recent research, I will argue that animals have the ability to feel pain and to undergo other positive...

  6. 2 Capacity-Oriented Accounts of Animal ethics
    (pp. 25-43)

    In chapter 1, I outlined a basic account of key capacities mammals and birds may reasonably be thought to possess, how these capacities might both underpin moral status and be relevant to their well-being, and what it might mean to harm and assist animals. However, the central claim in this book is that, important though coming to a view about animal capacities, moral status, and well-being is, we need more than this in order to work out our moral responsibilities toward animals in different contexts, in particular with respect to assisting them. What was outlined in chapter 1, I will...

  7. 3 Capacities, Contexts, and Relations
    (pp. 44-62)

    In the last chapter, I sketched the relevant aspects of three approaches to animal ethics: utilitarian, rights, and capabilities approaches. I maintained that all three were “capacity oriented” and that this committed them—in their current forms at least—to problematic positions with respect to assisting animals. Here, I will push this discussion a step further, discussing what I take “capacities” to be, acknowledging the important role that they should play in animal ethics, but suggesting that capacity orientation alone gives an incomplete picture of our ethical responsibilities toward animals. I will argue that, alongside capacities, we also need to...

  8. 4 Wildness, Domestication, and the Laissez-faire Intuition
    (pp. 63-76)

    This chapter begins a more systematic attempt to develop a relational approach to animal ethics. It assumes the account of animal well-being and what it is to harm and assist animals that I outlined in chapter 1. It assists in clarifying how the relational approach I am developing might relate to the capacity-oriented accounts in chapter 2, and begins to flesh out support for at least some of the important relational ideas in chapter 3. The main purpose of this chapter is to look closely at what I called, in the introduction, the laissez-faire intuition (LFI)—that is, roughly, the...

  9. 5 Developing a New, Relational Approach
    (pp. 77-95)

    In this chapter, I will further develop a cluster of arguments to support a relational approach to assisting animals, arguments that could underpin a form of the LFI. In the last chapter, I noted two potential problems with the LFI: one concerning the justification for distinguishing harming from not assisting, and the other concerning whether human relations with animals are relevant to requirements to assist them (or otherwise). I considered the first problem in chapter 4. Here I will (primarily) consider the second problem: how relations might generate or fail to generate duties to assist in the animal context. There...

  10. 6 Past Harms and Special Obligations
    (pp. 96-114)

    In chapter 5, I considered reasons why we do not (normally) have the kinds of relations with wild animals that generate obligations to assist and why we do have special obligations to assist and provide for domesticated animals that have either been created to be vulnerable and dependent or placed into situations where they have no other options but to depend wholly or partially on human support. In this chapter, I will consider another context that can also create special obligations toward animals: where there has been past infliction of harms that generate ongoing negative effects on their lives. While...

  11. 7 Some Problems and Questions
    (pp. 115-140)

    Here I will tackle some pressing problems and questions that might be thought to undermine this more relational, contextual approach to animal ethics. First, I will consider the possible claim that in defending any underpinning for the LFI, I am relying on a problematic human/nature dualism, a worry that may have emerged at various points in the argument. Second, I will turn to a potentially troubling implication of the No-contact LFI that arose in chapter 5: that it gives no moral reason to assist strange human beings with whom one has, as it were, had “no contact.” I will then...

  12. 8 Puzzling Through Some Cases
    (pp. 141-158)

    The relational approach to animal assistance that I have been developing in this book is not likely to deliver simple answers. Given the importance of context, different situations will throw up a variety of morally relevant factors, only some of which I have been able to explore so far. In this chapter, I will discuss several case studies, all of which raise questions about assistance in relation to wild suffering, humanoriginating harms, or created vulnerabilities or dependencies. These cases, however, raise or develop issues I have not previously explored in detail. In some of these cases, I will compare the...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 159-166)

    I began this book by outlining two contrasting cases: the mass drowning of migrating wild wildebeest in the Mara River and the Amersham horses whose owners allowed them to suffer and die of starvation and disease. Looking at these cases—and the public responses to them—together, I suggested, raised some puzzling questions. In both cases, there was considerable animal suffering. In both cases, people could have acted to reduce the suffering. But only in the case of the Amersham horses were there accusations of neglect and of cruelly allowing suffering that could have been relieved. What lay behind the...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 167-180)
    (pp. 181-194)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 195-203)