WASM 5: sed contra

(See previous posts: 1|2|3|4)

In addition to the critique of Peter Singer, Linzey’s final chapter in Why Animal Suffering Matters contains replies to six objections:

1. The practices of hunting, fur farming, and sealing are relatively trivial and non-controversial compared to issues like animal testing. Linzey acknowledges that practices like animal testing and factory farming deserve as much critical scrutiny as those he has discussed. He points out, however, that hunting, fur farming, and sealing are institutionalized practices that routinize the infliction of animal suffering and therefore deserve sharp critique. Institutions tend to be self-perpetuating, and these ones reinforce the notion that animal suffering is no big deal. Even if the infliction of suffering could be justified occasionally by a utilitarian calculus, Linzey says, it would still be better to proscribe it institutionally, acknowledging that some hard cases may fall afoul of the general rule.

2. The morality of killing as distinct from causing suffering should be considered. Linzey agrees, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, that killing animals is a serious moral issue. He notes that if suffering were all that mattered, we could put an end to animal suffering by simply exterminating all animals! Obviously something is wrong with any position that leads to such a conclusion. Killing animals should never be “normal” or accepted; nevertheless, there are times when killing is acceptable (e.g., self-defense), as well as cases where the choice is between prolonged, unrelieved suffering and death. In such cases–where suffering has made life not worth living–death might be preferable. These circumstances are rare, however, and Linzey points out that “killing animals, like killing infants, should arouse a special kind of hesitation and reserve”:

Who are we, after all, to end their lives and make judgments about their ‘best interests’? If it weren’t for the fact that our very power over these beings necessitates a fundamental responsibility for their welfare, it is surely an area in which we would hardly wish to engage at all. (p. 159)

3. The arguments have not been based on the rights of animals. Linzey believes that animals have rights, as he’s argued in previous works. However, he’s less certain that any one language of morality (whether it be that of humanitarianism, welfare, justice, or compassion) can encompass all our moral experience. “Rights talk” is valuable in setting definite limits, connected to specific duties, that we may not trespass (at least not without very strong reasons). He notes that some Christians don’t like to speak of rights, but suggests that his concept of “theos-rights” (i.e., the right of God to have his creatures treated with respect) can be acceptable from a theological point of view. In any event, he insists, the “considerations at the heart of this book are complementary to a rights perspective” (p. 162). The duty not to inflict unnecessary suffering can be framed in a rights perspective.

4. The suffering of animals hasn’t been quantified or subjected to a cost-benefit analysis. Linzey denies that such a quantification or analysis is possible or useful. Utilitarians, he says, devise calculations to trade off suffering against benefits to others. But his position denies that it’s permissible to inflict suffering on one subject for the benefit of another. Practically speaking, there is no limit to the justifications that can be cooked up for inflicting suffering on animals (and other humans, as in the various justifications offered for water-boarding and other forms of torture). “Unfashionable as it may be in a culture that rejects any kind of impermeable moral line, the thesis of this book is that the line should be drawn at the intentional infliction of suffering on innocent and vulnerable subjects” (p. 163).

5. The argument is implicitly–sometimes explicitly–theological. Linzey pleads guilty to deploying theological arguments. What he calls “the “Christological heart” of the book is that “the crucified Christ is the most accurate picture of God the world has ever seen”:

The cross does not validate suffering, but the reverse; it is God’s identification with innocent suffering. … Moreover, it is not only an identification with innocent suffering, but also a vindication. For if the cross does provide us with a true picture of what God is like, it follows that God is a redeeming presence in all creaturely experiences of suffering. All innocent suffering will be transformed. (p. 164)

Even though the churches have often failed to grasp this implication of the gospel, those outside them often have: “the considerations set out in this book ought to commend themselves to those of no faith as well as those of faith, and even those who (often for good reason) are anti-faith. One doesn’t have to be religious to grasp the moral relevance of the considerations–such as consent, innocence, and vulnerability–which are at the core of this book” (p. 164).

6. Science increasingly shows that the differences between humans and animals aren’t as significant as once thought. Much of Linzey’s argument has been based on the idea that differences between humans and animals (specifically the latter’s inability to provide consent, their innocence, and their vulnerability) should motivate more–not less–moral concern. He agrees that the usual differences between humans and animals (intelligence, susceptibility to suffering, e.g.) are overstated and that new findings may reveal fewer differences in kind than we think. However, he points out that his goal in writing the book was to meet people where they are by showing that merely accepting the case for animal sentience (surely established beyond a reasonable doubt) commits one to moral concern for their suffering and “should result in major changes to the way we treat animals” (p. 165).

I have some concluding thoughts on the book, but in the interests of keeping posts short, I’ll save those for a separate one.

One thought on “WASM 5: sed contra

  1. Pingback: Press and web reports up to February 2010 | Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics

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