Philosophical Analysis of Animal-Human Interactions
Both animal rights and ecocentrism discourage hunting, although for different reasons. Thesis: Animal rights philosophy views hunting from a moral perspective, as the unnecessary infliction of suffering on sentient beings, no less immoral than the persecution of human beings. Ecocentrism views hunting from a perspective of self-interest, as an activity with unforeseeable consequences which could threaten the ability of many life-forms to sustain themselves on planet Earth.
The Basis for Animal Rights
Animal Nature in the Age of Ancient Philosophy and Religion
The earliest comprehensive theories on animal nature come from ancient Indian philosophers. Vedic philosophy, the precursor to Hinduism, held that many non-human objects possess consciousness. Even plants and rocks have consciousness, though at a much lower level than humans. For these philosophers, all sentient beings have an individual soul, which they called "Atman." The purpose of existence was for the individual soul to be reunited with the universal soul, Brahman.
According to the Vedas, the individual soul would reincarnate through many life-forms until it developed into a vessel fit for the universal soul. Animals were classified as one of these life forms. Although humans were considered to possess higher consciousness than animals, animals were still considered to have atman, an individual soul.
Greek philosophy first developed its ideas on animal nature in the context of religion, as did Indian philosophy. Greek thought centered on the dichotomy of spirit and form. The Orphic religion taught that the immortal soul aspires to freedom while the body holds it prisoner, whether animal bodies or human bodies. This idea would later find its way to Pythagorean philosophy and Platonic philosophy, both of which believed in the transmigration of the soul into animals and humans.
Animal Nature in the Age of the Rational Intellect
The later Greek discussion of animal nature moved away from similarities in form and focused on the differences in intellect. Aristotle believed that animals have souls, but only a "sensitive" soul, capable only of sense perception, desire, and local motion. However, it is only humans, and not animals, that have a "rational" soul, which has the ability to grasp a priori knowledge and the grasping truths about the world.
Similarly, Alcmaeon believed that animals were capable of sense-perception but not understanding, whereas humans were capable of both.
Chrysippus believed that nature itself moved animals, implying that animal behavior was involuntary.
Other Greek philosophers judged the animal intellect on its capacity for self-preservation. Plutarch believed that animals were rational, sentient beings because they possessed purpose, care for their young, gratitude for benefits, hostitility for pain, and resourcefulness in procuring sustenance.
Porphry argued that animals possess prudence, such as knowing when to fight and when to flee.
Aelian argued for the animal intellect by pointing out similarities between animal behavior and human behavior when confronted with danger.
For these thinkers, the wit animals displayed in protecting themselves indicated a degree of intelligence and decision-making.
Animal Nature in the Age of Christianity
With the advent of Christianity, the discussion of animal nature returned to the religious context, while taking account of Classical Greek ideas. Augustine echoed Aristotle in the belief that animals had souls, but of a lower order than humans, who had rational souls, which were both immortal and capable of moral virtue. The significance of this belief, in the context of the Christian religion, was that animals could not be moral and could not ascend to heaven, as could humans.
Because humans could be moral and animals could not, most theologians believed that man was created superior to animals. In Genesis 1:26, then God said, let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let him rule over the fish, the birds, livestock, over the earth and over all creatures that move around the earth. God also permitted Noah to kill and eat animals. Moses, too, was given instructions on which animals he should offer as a sacrifice, and therefore, they believe that although they both have "Nephesh" (Hebrew for, breath of life), man has an advantage over animals.
Animal Nature in the Age of Science and Reason
Christian dogma dictating the superiority of humans to animals persisted even into the Enlightenment. Descartes thought it would be impious to imagine that animals have souls of the same order as man. Even after recognizing that human physiology and animal physiology were similarly mechanistic, controlled by habit or impulse, Descartes declined to acknowledge the essential similarities in their natures.
Descartes distinguished humans from animals by claiming that humans could act through something higher than mechanistic, natural impulse. Descartes separated the world into mind and matter, concluding that animals consisted of solely of matter. He called animals "automata," machines, whereas humans were "machines" with "minds." His strongest evidence for this belief was that animals could not "indicate either by voice or signs that which could be accounted for solely by thought and not by natural impulse." Machines committed actions out of natural impulse. Humans, on the other hand, used speech language, which was of evidence of higher thought, of a "mind."
Even far into the age of reason, Western thinkers were still influenced by Christian dogma regarding morality. Darwin recognized something resembling "consciousness" in dogs because they could express complex emotions such as shame, fear, modesty, and magnanimity.
However, Darwin was reluctant to compare dog consciousness with human consciousness because he thought that animals possessed an inferior sense of morality.
These attempts to preserve the feelings of human superiority are dangerous to humans. Such attempts have retarded human progress before, during the heyday of Christian dogma. In our own time, such attempts blind us to the valuable lessons that animals have to teach, especially about how to live within our environment in a sustainable manner.
The Cons of Hunting Animals
From the perspective of animal rights, hunting has virtually no benefits for animals and many major drawbacks. Hunting for sport causes unnecessary suffering for animals. Although hunting was, at one point, absolutely necessary for the survival of many humans, advances in agricultural technology and transportation have made food readily available to most of the industrialized world.
Ecocentrism demands a much more complex evaluation of hunting than that required by Animal Rights. This is because ecocentrism is not concerned exclusively with animals. Nor is it concerned exclusively with humans. Ecocentrism is concerned exclusively with Mother Nature as a unit. It proposes a nature-centered view of the world, as opposed to the traditional human-centered view of the world that has dominated rational thought for the past two millennia.
Although ecocentrism is not concerned animals or humans primarily, it is concerned with them secondarily. Animals and humans are important in ecocentrism because each are components of Mother Nature. The actions of these components are important because they can have adverse effects on the whole, which is Mother Nature itself.
Although ecocentrism often analyzes animals and humans as elements of risk to the environment, their total role is more subtle. One has to be careful not to treat animals or humans as units of study separate from Mother Earth, for it would not truly be Mother Earth without either. In philosophical terms, ecocentrism treats these components as both subject and object. They are not only the actors that need to be regulated, but also part of the treasure that needs to be protected.
As the primary goal of ecocentrism is to maintain a healthy ecological balance, hunting is valued insofar as it promotes this goal. Hunting is a major means by which ecological balance is maintained, not only the hunting of animals by humans but also the hunting of animals by other animals.
Hunting allows for the removal of species which are harming their environment, or species which become harmful after reaching a certain population or concentration. For example, human hunting of coyotes is eco-centrically beneficial because coyotes tend to kill domesticated roosters, which humans rely on for food.
As the primary goal of ecocentrism is to maintain a healthy ecological balance, hunting is admonished insofar as it disrupts ecological balance. The reduction or removal of certain species often set off a complex chain of events that eventually threaten the sustainability of life on Earth for many other species. For example, the hunting of sharks disrupts ecological balance by causing an overabundance of lobster-eating octopus, which sharks help to keep under control by eating them. The overabundance of lobster-eating octopus reduces the supply of lobsters than certain humans use for food, as well as the supply available to other sea species which feed on lobster.
A Conservative Approach
The ecocentric treatment of hunting is somewhat conflicted. This is because ecological balance is an extremely subtle affair. Every action affects the whole and certain actions, in great quantity, can set of a chain of disruptive changes. The reduction of even the most insignificant species can cause subtle, unforeseeable changes.
It is difficult to objectively determine which changes are ecocentrically acceptable and which are not. However, it has been…
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