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Virtue ethics and the moral significance of animals

Dissertation
Author: Garret Merriam
Abstract:
What does our treatment of animals say about our moral character? To ask this question is to think about the issue of animal ethics in terms of virtue and vice. It appears that no one writing on either animal ethics or on virtue theory has tried to address this question at length. The aim of this dissertation is to rectify this shortcoming and in so doing, develop a robust theory of the moral significance of animals from the perspective of virtue ethics. Before we can ask any questions about the moral significance of animals, however, or even about virtue itself, we first have to answer some questions about the foundations of the ethical framework to which we will be appealing. Hence, I begin by laying the groundwork, both metaethical and psychological, for virtue ethics as we will employ it in the subsequent chapters. The primary tool used to lay this groundwork is the moral significance of the emotions and their connection to rationality. I explore the emotions as they have been traditional construed in philosophy, and in ethics in particular, and argue that this traditional view is inadequate due to several considerations. Accordingly, I attempt to sketch a superior alterative view that accommodates these considerations. In the second chapter, I argue that our new understanding of the emotions fats naturally with several of the major themes of virtue ethics, including the moral significance of motives, moral education and the importance of the emotions themselves. In these first two chapters our strategy will not be so much to argue for virtue ethics as it is to outline the general framework in which I will be considering virtue ethics for the duration. Chapters 3 and 4 will expand on the details of virtue ethics as I understand it, and argue that a proper understanding of virtue entails considerable regard for the well-being of non-human animals. Chapter 5 and Appendix B will contrast the theory I develop in the prior chapters with the dominant views of animal ethics, namely utilitarianism and rights theory. Chapters 6 and 7 will apply the account I have developed to the practical moral issues of animal experimentation and eating meat.

4 Table of Contents Chapter 1) Why Ethics Needs To Make Room For The Emotions 1.1) Introduction 1.2.1) The Standard View of Emotions in Philosophy 1.2.2) The Entanglement of Emotion & Reason: Emotions as Perceptions 1.2.3) The Entanglement of Emotion & Reason: Emotions as Judgments 1.2.4) Which is it, Perceptions or Judgments? 1.2.5) The Entanglement of Emotion & Reason: Emotions as Motives 1.3.1) Rationalistic Ethics and Emotions 1.3.2) Emotivist Ethics and Reason 1.4.1) Reason and Emotion, Internalism and Externalism 1.4.2) The Arationalist 1.4.3) Amoralists in the Real World 1.4.4) An Alternative to the Internalist/Externalist Debate 1.5) Conclusion Chapter 2) The Emotions as a Metaethical Foundation for Virtue Ethics 2.1) What is Virtue Ethics? 2.2.1) Virtue Ethics, the Emotions and Moral Psychology 2.2.2) Virtue Ethics, Emotions and Motivations 2.2.3) Virtue Ethics and Emotions as Judgments and Perceptions 2.2.4) Virtue, Emotion and Moral Education 2.2.5) Facts About the Emotions and Moral Psychology That Moral Theories Need To Explain 2.3.1) Questions of Moral Relativity and Moral Objectivity 2.3.2) Cultural Relativism: Virtues and Emotions 2.3.3) Virtue, Emotion and Objectivity 2.3.4) Emotion and Reason; Subjectivity and Objectivity Chapter 3) Virtues. Vices and Animals 3.1) What Does Our Treatment of Animals Say About Our Moral Character? 3.1.2) Virtues Regarding Animals vs. Virtues towards Animals 3.1.3) Indirect Virtue Views: Indicator, Practicing Ground and Contractualist Views 3.1.4) Relevant Similarities and Differences 3.2.1) Animals as Moral Agents in Virtue Ethics 3.2.2) The Viciousness of Nonhuman Animals 3.3.1) List of Virtues and Vices 3.3.2) The Anti-Theory Objection 3.4) Conclusion

5 Chapter 4) Relevant Similarities and Differences 4.1.1) Introduction 4.1.2) The Anthropocentric Objection 4.2.1) First Similarity: Pain and Pleasure 4.2.2) Second Similarity: Beliefs and Desires 4.2.3) Third Similarity: Emotions 4.2.4) Fourth Similarity: Social Relations 4.2.5) Leftovers and Crossovers 4.3.1) Alleged Morally Relevant Differences: Historical Arguments 4.3.2) Alleged Morally Relevant Differences: Contemporary Arguments 4.3.3) Alleged Morally Relevant Similarity: Life Itself 4.4) What about the Environment? 4.5) Conclusion Chapter 5 V Animals. Utility and Virtue 5.1) Introduction: Virtue Theory and Utilitarianism on The Moral Significance of Animals 5.2) Animals, Utility and Motives 5.3) Animals, Utility and Emotions 5.4) Animals, Utility and Moral Education 5.5) Animals, Utility and the Causal Impotence Objection Chapter 6) Virtue, Vice and Vivisection 6.1) Introduction 6.2) A Virtue Approach 6.3) Animals and Emotions 6.4) Animals, Dissection and Moral Education 6.5) Motives in the Laboratory 6.6) Circumstance and Scientific Judgment 6.7) Moral Judgment and Moral Complexity 6.8) Rules of Thumb, Imaginative Projection and Sage Advice Chapter 7) Virtue. Vice and Vegetarianism 7.1) Introduction 7.2.1) The Emotional Lives of Farm Animals 7.2.2) Emotions Down on the Factory Farm Animals 7.3.1) Cruelty and Compassion 7.3.2) Greed, Akrasia, Hypocrisy and Complacency 7.4.1) Virtue and Reasons 7.4.2) Virtue, Causal Impotence and Complicity 7.5.1) Virtue, Vice and Vegetarianism 7.5.2) Virtue, Vice and Pescetarianism 7.5.3) Virtue, Vice and 'Cruelty Free' Meat 7.5.4) Virtue, Vice and the'Meat of the Future' 7.5.5) Virtue, Vice and Veganism 7.6) Conclusion

6 Appendix A) Utilitarianism and Virtue Theory A. 1) Outline of Utilitarianism A.l) How Might a Utilitarian Object to Virtue Theory? Appendix B) Virtue Theory and Rights Theory on Animals B. 1) Outline of rights theory B.2) How might rights theory object to virtue theory? B.3) Rights, respect and moral psychology B.4) Rights, motives and emotions B.5.1) The causal impotence objection B. 5.2) The denial response B.5.3) The 'positive moral rights' response B.5.4) The overdetermination reply

7 Chapter 1) Why Ethics Needs To Make Room For The Emotions 1.1) Introduction 1.2.1) The Standard View of Emotions in Philosophy 1.2.2) The Entanglement of Emotion & Reason: Emotions as Perceptions 1.2.3) The Entanglement of Emotion & Reason: Emotions as Judgments 1.2.4) Which is it, Perceptions or Judgments? 1.2.5) The Entanglement of Emotion & Reason: Emotions as Motives 1.3.1) Rationalistic Ethics and Emotions 1.3.2) Emotiyist Ethics and Reason 1.4.1) Reason and Emotion, Internalism and Externalism 1.4.2) The Arationalist 1.4.3) Amoralists in the Real World 1.4.4) An Alternative to the Internalist/Externalist Debate 1.5) Conclusion 1.1) Introduction—-What does our treatment of animals say about our moral character? To ask this question is to think about the issue of animal ethics in terms of virtue and vice. It appears that no one writing on either animal ethics or on virtue theory has tried to address this question at length. The aim of this dissertation is to rectify this shortcoming and in so doing, develop a robust theory of the moral significance of animals from the perspective of virtue ethics. Before we can ask any questions about the moral significance of animals, however, or even about virtue itself, we first have to answer some questions about the foundations of the ethical framework to which we will be appealing. Hence, the purpose of this chapter is to lay the groundwork, both metaethical and psychological, for virtue ethics as we will employ it in the subsequent chapters. The primary tool we will use to lay this groundwork will be the moral significance of the emotions and their connection to rationality. In this chapter we will explore the emotions as they have been traditional construed in philosophy, and in ethics in particular. I will argue that this traditional view is inadequate due to several considerations, and attempt to sketch a superior alterative view that accommodates these considerations.

8 In the second chapter, I will argue that our new understanding of the emotions fits naturally with several of the major themes of virtue ethics, including the moral significance of motives, moral education and the importance of the emotions themselves. In these first two chapters our strategy will not be so much to argue for virtue ethics as it is to outline the general framework in which I will be considering virtue ethics for the duration. Chapters 3 and 4 will expand on the details of virtue ethics as I understand it, and argue that a proper understanding of virtue entails considerable regard for the well- being of non-human animals. Chapter 5 and Appendix B will contrast the theory I develop in the prior chapters with the dominant views of animal ethics, namely utilitarianism and rights theory. Chapters 6 and 7 will apply the account I have developed to the practical moral issues of animal experimentation and eating meat. 1.2.1) "The Standard View" of Emotions in Philosophy—The emotions have been castigated in moral philosophy since at least as far back as Plato. With a few notable exceptions, such as Aristotle, emotions have traditionally been seen as, at best a distraction from, and at worst corrosive of pure, cold, rational, deliberative moral reason. Good sound moral decision making, it is claimed, needs to be made dispassionately without the unreliable distractions of the emotions. This abasement of emotion is amplified by the mind/body dualism of Rene Descartes and reaches its apogee with the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant, in which emotion is the apotheosis of irrationality. Because of its historical prominence, I will call this take on the emotions "the standard view."

9 The contemporary resurgence of virtue ethics has coincided with (and perhaps partially inspired) some philosophers questioning the standard view.1 Recent arguments in feminist epistemology, for example, have drawn attention to the limits of an emotionless 'pure reason' approach to knowing. This questioning has correspond to, and been encouraged by arguments from other fields, such as neuropsychology, which have suggested that emotion is, in certain contexts at least, part and parcel of reason itself.3 In what follows I will suggest three ways in which emotion and reason are intertwined. The first is the way emotions focus our perceptions; the second is the way emotions guide our thoughts; the third is the way emotions motivate our behavior. Though each of these three aspects of emotion are closely related to each other I will do my best to distinguish them where possible and highlight their inexorability when necessary. After first outlining each of these three aspects I will show how they each, in their own way, relate reason to ethics. It is my thesis here that emotions serve as a bridge between rationality and value in the form of the Aristotelian concept of phronesis or moral wisdom. 1.2.2) The Entanglement of Emotion and Reason; Emotions as Perceptions— One part of wisdom, according to Aristotle, is to not demand more precision of a subject than it naturally admits. This advice is especially worthwhile with regard to thinking 1 Robert Solomon has characterized emotions as ordering our experiences and priorities, equating rationality and emotion. ("Emotions and Choice" in Explaining Emotions, Rorty, Amelie (ed) p.103-126. University of California Press, Berkley, CA. (1980)) Martha Nussbaum has suggested that emotions are perceptions of value, profound and powerful ways of knowing that cannot be captured adequately with words. (Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK (2001)) 2 See, for example, Jagger, Alison, "Love -Knowledge: Emotion in Feminist Epistemology", Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy, 32, (June, 1989.) 3 See, for example: Damasio, Antonio Descartes Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain, Penguin Putnam, New York, NY (1995). And: LeDoux, Joseph The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life, Simon and Schuster, New York, NY (1996)

about the emotions. Exactly what an emotion is has been a topic of much debate. Part of what makes them so hard to define is the fact that they are notoriously difficult to generalize over. What you can truly say about one set of emotions may not hold true for other sets of emotions. Nonetheless, some degree of generalization is necessary if we are to talk about emotions in anything other than a piecemeal fashion. In what follows we will often speak of 'the emotions' as if they were a homogenous class. This should be taken as shorthand for certain prominent classes of emotions, which will sometimes be specified and other times will not. Exceptions to the various generalizations should not be viewed as counterexamples, but rather as mere exceptions, instances falling outside the scope of the intended generalization. With this preliminary in mind, let's see what we can say about'the emotions'in general. It seems that practically everyone from Charles Darwin to Sigmund Freud have offered competing accounts of what emotions are. The account that I wish to use as a point of departure is that of William James. In his essay "What is an emotion?" James suggests that emotions are apprehensions of one's physiological state. "Our natural way of thinking about these standard emotions," says James "is that the mental perception of some fact excites the mental affection called the emotion... My thesis on the contrary is that the bodily changes follow directly the PERCEPTION of the exciting fact, and thai our feeling of the same changes as they occur IS the emotion."4 It is this notion of emotions as perceptions is the first of three aforementioned ways in which emotions are entangled with reason. 4 James, William, "What Is an Emotion?" Mind, 1884, 9, p. 189-190 (Emphasis from the original)

11 There is certainly something to what James is saying here, but it cannot be quite right as it stands. For one thing, as Jean-Paul Sartre pointed out5, emotions in many cases at least are intentional—that is to say, they are about something. If I am walking in the forest and a bear steps out from behind a tree (to use James' example), I naturally find myself afraid. Common sense suggests that what I am afraid of is the bear; that is, the subject of that fear is the bear itself. This intentionality, however, does not track with James' thesis. If my fear just is the perception of this physiological change in my body as I see the bear, then it seems that contrary to my assumption, the subject of my fear isn't the bear. In fact, my fear isn't really 'of anything at all, since physiological changes aren't really 'about' anything. Such changes may be caused by things (i.e.—my seeing the bear) but they don't have the proper intentional structure to be about something. The inability of James' theory to track the intentionality of emotions shows that his theory is flawed in regard to the identification of emotions with bodily changes, but not necessarily in regard to the general idea that emotions are a form of perception. Even Sartre agrees with James (to an extent) that "an emotion is a certain way of apprehending the world."6 James was simply mistaken about what part of the world is being perceived. My fear of the bear can indeed be construed as a perception, for example, the perception that I am in great danger. This is not a perception of my internal physiological state, but rather a perception of my relationship to my immediate surroundings. Of all of the objects in my visual field my fear is both caused by and focuses my attention on the single most important object, the bear. 5 Sartre, Jean Paul, "The Emotions: a Sketch of a Theory" in Calhoun, Cheshire & Solomon, Robert (eds.) What is an Emotion?'— Classical Readings in Philosophical Psychology, p. 244-250, Oxford University Press, New York/Oxford (1984.) 6 Ibid, p. 248

12 Someone who failed to react with fear upon seeing a bear, someone whose attention was hot focused in this way has a serious failing, a failure to appreciate an important part of the world. We can say that this is a failure of reason, but this might be misleading, confusing or controversial as many different conceptions of exactly what reason is may conflict here. I think it will be less controversial, however, to suggest that such a person has a failure of wisdom in a quasi-Aristotelian sense of that term. 'Wisdom' also has many different interpretations for our purposes here I hope it will hot be too contentious to stipulate that wisdom is the ability to see and understand what is truly worthwhile, truly important, truly advantageous in life. (What determines what is worthwhile, important and advantageous-specifically whether or not these are determined by the individual, society or some independent and absolute fashion—are issues we will address in (2.3).) The example of the bear illustrates the fact that emotions serve as a mode of perception oftheworld. To perceive well, that is, to perceive what is truly important, is one part of wisdom, since in order to understand we must first see. And the process of seeing, in the literal sense, is a process that is directed by emotion. Hence, the emotions are central for this aspect of wisdom, seeing what matters, what deserves our attention. This is not to say that wisdom is entirely about emotion. The understanding that is central to wisdom will clearly contain large rational elements as well. Indeed, the ultimate purpose of invoking wisdom here is to show that it operates as a sort hybrid between the rational and the emotional. In the same sense that the emotion of fear frames and directs my perception of the bear, the emotion of love will likewise frame and direct my perception of my beloved.

13 Emotions such as anger, sorrow and frustration will also frame and direct one's perceptions in their own particular ways. Without this framing and direction there would be no way of distinguishing what aspects of our perceptual field deserve our attention from those that are irrelevant. As Ronald de Sousa puts it, "emotions are among the mechanisms that control the crucial factor of salience among what would otherwise be an unmanageable plethora of objects of attention, interpretations, and strategies of inference and conduct... They frame, transform, and make sense of our perceptions, thoughts and activities."7 These three points (perceptions, thoughts and activities/motives) are precisely the venues in which I am claiming reason intertwines with emotion. 1.2.3) The Entan2lement of Emotions & Reason: Emotions as Judgments— Let's turn now to the second of the three venues in which the emotions are entangled with rationality, namely judgment. As I have already mentioned, the standard view on emotions pins them as corrosive of good judgment. Even if an adherent of the standard view were willing to grant the crucial role emotions play in focusing our perception, they may want to argue that once our attention is thus focused the emotions should be set aside so that cold, dispassionate reason can take over and make the necessary analysis, decisions and judgments. Emotions may be useful with regard to what we perceive, but with regard to how we perceive and how we process our perceptions they are fundamentally disruptive. When our judgments are based in emotion the associated acts are impulsive, capricious, motivated by bias and ignorance. The primal, almost elemental power of our emotions distorts and blinds our rational faculties to what would, in our more calm moments, be seen as more important values and reasons. In the spirit of Kant, such arguments suggest that inasmuch as emotions tend to incline us towards the right 7 De Sousa, Ronald, The Rationality of Emotion, (p. xv and p. 3) MIT Press, Cambridge, MA (1990).

14 decisions they do so purely by accident, or thanks to the underlying guidance of reason, in spite of the power of the emotions. Thus, my suggestion that emotions are part in parcel of good judgment must confront the standard view on this point before moving forward. It is doubtlessly true that emotions complicate otherwise simple situations. The argument being made here is not the claim that emotions are per se superior in all contexts to reason. Rather, the point is simply that we ought not to simply dismiss the emotions as being detrimental to good moral thinking. (As Alison Jagger puts the point, "although our emotions are epistemologically indispensible, they are not epistemologically indisputable. Like all our faculties, they may be misleading and their data, like all data, are always subject to reinterpretation and revision."8) Since the emotions have such a powerful effect on us they often distort and blind us to otherwise important values and reasons. But it should be noted that the 'otherwise important values and reasons' which strong emotions can blind us to are often (if not always) either themselves emotions, or have some emotional component to them. Our anger at a disobedient child, for example, can momentarily blind us to the love that we bear for them, even though this love is the foundation of our concern (and ergo our anger) in the first place. The standard view seems to suggest that if we really value these things towards which emotions incline us we should sideline our emotions and let reason pursue them. There is a tension here that, while far from preposterous, should give us pause. More to the point, the core problem with this objection is how broad it is. To paint all emotions with this wide of a brush is to ignore the variety and nuance that is 8 Jagger, Alison, "Love -Knowledge: Emotion in Feminist Epistemology", Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy, 32, (June, 1989.)

15 characteristic of the emotions in general. It is all too easy when thinking of emotions to only think of the extreme, the explosive, the dramatic, such as rage, despair and grief. I do not mean to write off these emotions, or concede to the standard view that they are nothing more than corruptors of good judgment; I merely wish to point out that many emotions are much more subtle than these, so much so that they frequently escape our notice, such as care, concern, interest, and boredom. These emotions, by in large do not blind us in the way the standard view has been suggesting. Quite to the contrary, it is these emotions that enable us to make judgments in the first place. In fact, as I will argue momentarily, without emotions, judgment of any kind would be impossible.9 Before we get to that, however, we should note that emotion is not the only faculty that is capable of blinding us to otherwise important values and reasons. Despite its much-lauded immaculate reputation, cold, dispassionate reason can also prevent us from making good judgments. Reason, like emotion, can seem to pull us in opposite directions or simply in the wrong direction, all things considered. Such a suggestion is inconceivable for Kant, but his apotheosizing of reason plays a key role in perhaps the best example of just how such a fanatical dedication to reason can lead one astray, the example of Adolf Eichmann. As the architect of Hitler's "final solution," Eichmann molded his moral philosophy on the reason-based, duty-centered model provided by Kant. As Hannah Arendt describes it, "He did his duty, as he told the police and the court over and over again, he not only obeyed orders, he also obeyed the law...he 9 This echoes what various existential philosophers, such as Kierkegaard and Heidegger have suggested: without care or concern nothing would be salient since we would not be able to 'parse' the world into comprehensible categories at all.

16 suddenly declared with great emphasis that he had lived his whole life according to Kant's moral precepts, and especially according to a Kantian definition of duty."10 It would be premature to simply accept Eichmann's own self-analysis at face value. It is reasonable to consider the possibility that Eichmann had merely acted from fear (of disobeying the Fuhrer, of being arrested for treason, as Heinrich Himmler had been, etc.) and his overtures to Kant at his trial were merely an ad hoc, self-serving attempt to defend his indefensible actions. But it would be equally premature to simply reject Eichmann's claim out of hand, as Arendt does (she calls it "outrageous on the face of it."11) The actual truth about Eichmann's psychology and motivation are, for our purposes, neither here nor there. Neither does it matter if Eichmann's reading and application of Kant's ideas is 'correct' in any sense of that term. It is sufficient to maintain that it is possible that Eichmann's claims are true, that a devotion to dispassionate reason in the Kantian vein was what guided his actions. If it is even merely possible that reason alone, Kantian or otherwise, could have been the basis for such genocidal judgments then no more needs to be said in defense of the claim that reason, like emotion, can also blind us. There are of course less horrifying, more quotidian examples of reason interfering with what we care about, but few examples are this stark. It is one thing to note that many subtle emotions do not blind us and that it is possible that reason itself may interfere with good judgment; it is quite another to give a 10 Arendt, Hannah Eichmann in Jerusalem, p. 135-136, Penguin Books New York, NY (1994). "This was outrageous on the face of it, and also incomprehensible, since Kant's moral philosophy is so closely bound up with man's faculty of judgment, which rules out blind obedience." It is also worth noting that at a certain point Eichmann himself also gave up the pretense of the Kantian-defense: "Upon further questioning, he added that he had read Kant's Critique of Practical Reason. He then proceeded to explain that from the moment he was charged with carrying out the final solution he had ceased to live according to Kantian principles, that he had known it, and that he had consoled himself with the thought that he no longer "was master of his own deeds," that he was unable "to change anything."" (Ibid, p. 136)

Full document contains 362 pages
Abstract: What does our treatment of animals say about our moral character? To ask this question is to think about the issue of animal ethics in terms of virtue and vice. It appears that no one writing on either animal ethics or on virtue theory has tried to address this question at length. The aim of this dissertation is to rectify this shortcoming and in so doing, develop a robust theory of the moral significance of animals from the perspective of virtue ethics. Before we can ask any questions about the moral significance of animals, however, or even about virtue itself, we first have to answer some questions about the foundations of the ethical framework to which we will be appealing. Hence, I begin by laying the groundwork, both metaethical and psychological, for virtue ethics as we will employ it in the subsequent chapters. The primary tool used to lay this groundwork is the moral significance of the emotions and their connection to rationality. I explore the emotions as they have been traditional construed in philosophy, and in ethics in particular, and argue that this traditional view is inadequate due to several considerations. Accordingly, I attempt to sketch a superior alterative view that accommodates these considerations. In the second chapter, I argue that our new understanding of the emotions fats naturally with several of the major themes of virtue ethics, including the moral significance of motives, moral education and the importance of the emotions themselves. In these first two chapters our strategy will not be so much to argue for virtue ethics as it is to outline the general framework in which I will be considering virtue ethics for the duration. Chapters 3 and 4 will expand on the details of virtue ethics as I understand it, and argue that a proper understanding of virtue entails considerable regard for the well-being of non-human animals. Chapter 5 and Appendix B will contrast the theory I develop in the prior chapters with the dominant views of animal ethics, namely utilitarianism and rights theory. Chapters 6 and 7 will apply the account I have developed to the practical moral issues of animal experimentation and eating meat.