Do We Owe a Duty of Mercy to Animals  Term Paper

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Animal rights or animal-human relationship is as controversial a subject as abortion and genetic research. This is because despite endless debates, several philosophical theories, numerous viewpoints and research findings, there appears to be no end in sight for this issue. How should be treat animals? Do they deserve our love and mercy? Can they be used for human consumption and benefit? How legal or morally justified is the use of animals in medical and cosmetic research? These are just some of the questions that arise when we discuss the ever-controversial subject of animal rights. The emergence of animal rights movement in late twentieth century sparked a huge controversy about treatment of animals and whether or not they deserved to be treated with the same respect we assign a human being.

We condemn totally the infliction of suffering upon our brother animals, and the curtailment of their enjoyment, unless it be necessary for their own individual benefit. We declare our belief that all sentient creatures have rights to life, liberty, and the quest for happiness."('A Declaration Against Speciesism', Cambridge University, 1977) See Reference 1

Many philosophers and their writings were then discussed and their point-of-view on animals scanned carefully to reach some conclusive answer to the many important questions that this movement gave birth to. In this paper, we shall discuss some philosophical viewpoints and see how people have discussed the issue so far to understand why it is important to treat animals more humanely even if they are not granted the same rights as human beings.

It might sound strange to some, but few aggressive proponents of humane treatment of animals believe that human beings are also animals even if they fall higher on the specie ladder and therefore if they are treated with respect and kindness, non-human animals must also be accorded the same respect and must be treated with dignity. To say that animals should be given similar rights as human beings is a taking the discussion a little too far where it almost becomes unreasonable and impractical. So we need to establish some ground for this discussion. Before we start our discussion, let us make one thing absolutely clear. Men and animals are not similar where their thinking and reasoning faculties are concerned. Similarly human beings are also far ahead of animals with regard to their capabilities. Immanuel Kant was one of the few great philosophers to explain why men and animals couldn't be considered of same worth and value. He maintained that one of the most important reasons was personhood. While man possessed such a trait, animals did not and thus they could not be given the same rights as a 'person' deserved.

In the Lectures on Anthropology, Kant explained:

The fact that the human being can have the representation "I" raises him infinitely above all the other beings on earth. By this he is a person....that is, a being altogether different in rank and dignity from things, such as irrational animals, with which one may deal and dispose at one's discretion." (Kant, LA, 7, 127)

At another occasion, Kant called animals 'things' because they were not rational beings like man. In the Groundwork, he wrote:

every rational being, exists as an end in himself and not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will...Beings whose existence depends not on our will but on nature have, nevertheless, if they are not rational beings, only a relative value as means and are therefore called things. On the other hand, rational beings are called persons inasmuch as their nature already marks them out as ends in themselves. (Kant, 1785, 428)

This establishes that man and animal cannot be given same treatment. This doesn't mean we can be cruel to animals. Absolutely not- but it is still important to establish that while animals deserve humane treatment, they cannot be treated as human beings for several reasons. Once we accept this, our discussion on the issue becomes easier and we might reach some practical and reasonably conclusive answers.

So why do animals deserve kindness and mercy. This is the question we need to address when we have established that man and animals do not deserve similar rights or treatment. Jeremy Bentham solved this quandary a long time back in the 18th century when he presented his sentientist views on the issue. He maintained that since animals were capable of feeling pain, they deserve to be treated with kindness. This is the essential sentientist view that laid the foundation for some important moral and ethical groundwork on this issue. Guither (1998) explains what exactly sentientism is and how it helps in understanding the issue of animal rights. "Sentient beings are living beings that have the capacity to feel pain, suffer, and experience enjoyment. Under the new moral ethic, animals are considered sentient beings, like human beings. While some early philosophers disagreed with this concept, most people believe that mammals with a nervous system similar to humans do feel pain. This recognition underlies many of the moral and ethical principles of animal liberation and animal rights." (p. 14) This theory establishes that animals deserve mercy and kindness because they are capable of feeling pain. In his oft-quoted passage, Jeremy Bentham put forth the sentientist view on the issue when he said:

The French have already discovered that the blackness of skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may come one day to be recognized, that the number of legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or perhaps, the faculty for discourse?...the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? (Bentham 1781)

Animals, we know, can suffer. They feel pain like human beings do and thus exploiting them to fulfill some unnecessary needs of man is unethical. However consumption of animal meat doesn't equal exploitation in the eyes of most people. Philosophers maintain that while animals should be treated with mercy and kindness, they can be used for the benefit of mankind if it is important and necessary. Kindness towards animals means they must not be exploited for unnecessary purpose. For example it has been argued that researches that use animals for testing may not always come forth with accurate results because what suits an animal might not be beneficial for humans. Such researches only tend to exploit animals and hurt them unnecessarily. Kant believed animals were simply things but he made it clear that they should be treated with kindness because it helps in making a person more compassionate towards his fellow human beings. In Lectures on Ethics, he wrote:

If a man shoots his dog because the animal is no longer capable of service, he does not fail in his duty to the dog, for the dog cannot judge, but his act is inhuman and damages in himself that humanity which it is his duty to show towards mankind. If he is not to stifle his human feelings, he must practice kindness towards animals, for he who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. (Kant, LE, 240)

Among contemporary thinkers, the issue of animal rights is closely connected with similarities that exist between man and animals and not the differences. In other words, contemporary philosophers maintain that the reason we should treat animals with kindness should be grounded in the similarities that man shares with them. Tom Regan (1985) for example argues that animals have the right to enjoy the gift of life as much as human beings do. He maintains that all those who enjoy life "want and prefer things, believe and feel things, recall and expect things. And all these dimensions of our life, including our pleasure and pain, our enjoyment and suffering, our satisfaction and frustration, our continued existence or our untimely death -- all make a difference to the quality of our life as lived, as experienced, by us as individuals. As the same is true of... animals... they too must be viewed as the experiencing subjects of a life, with inherent value of their own." (Regan, 1985)

Krosgaard also advocates more kindness and mercy towards animals. Following Kantian and Bentham schools of thought writing, "it is a pain to be in pain. And that is not a trivial fact" (1996, 154). He further explains why animal cruelty should not be tolerated:

When you pity a suffering animal, it is because you are perceiving a reason.

An animal's cries express pain, and they mean that there is a reason, a reason to change its conditions. And you can no more hear the cries of an animal as mere noise than you can the words…

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