Friday, September 16, 2016

The Intrinsic Value of an Animal Life

Classes start in 346 days.

I am nearing the end of my project of going through all of the Philosophy Bites podcasts - about 25 to go. I still think that I can make a contribution. I find philosophers saying things that I take to be mistaken.

Let's consider Christine Korsgaard on the Status of Animals.

Korsgaard holds a Kantian theory of value. This is an intrinsic value theory that holds that some acts or states of affairs are good in themselves - independent of desires.

She accepts the idea that all good is good for some conscious creature. It seems that she would deny that a waterfall in a mountain valley surrounded by forest vegetation, but devoid of animals, has any value. It would have value for any animals that lived there, so long as the environment was compatible with their living a long and healthy life. For Korsgaard, an animal living a healthy life has intrinsic value - it is a good that provides all people with a reason for action. Thus, it is morally permitted to act in a way that denies an animal a healthy life - to do something that is not good for the animal, such as to kill it and eat it.

In other words, using Kant's model, it is wrong to treat an animal as a means only and not, at the same time, as an end in itself. One must always consider what is good for that animal. In other words, it is wrong to kill an animal and eat it.

Korsgaard provided a useful analogy between her view and Peter Singer's preference utilitarianism. The usefulness of this analogy is found in the fact that people often compare and confuse the theory that I defend with Peter Singer's preference utilitarianism. I received a question on that issue just a few weeks ago.

Korsgaard reported that Peter Singer expressed the view that there would be no moral difference if one animal (one's pet dog) died and another animal stepped in to replace him. There would be just as much doggie desire satisfaction in the world, and that is what determines moral value.

The view I defend is different from both of these. Desires provide the only end-reasons for intentional action and, only then, they are reasons only for the being that have the desires. They are reasons to use tools such as praise and condemnation to mold the desires of others - thus giving others different reasons to act and, thereby, causing them to behave differently. The desires of the cat living in the scene described above gives the cat reasons to act in particular ways - even if the cat does not know this.

Against Korsgaard, no end-reason for intentional action can be found that is intrinsic to a state of affairs in which an animal is living a healthy life. Against Singer, no end-reason for intentional action can be found merely in the fact of a satisfied preference. The animal has reason to seek its own healthy life; in fact, a "healthy life" is simply a life in which one's physical and mental functioning is such as to fulfill the desires of the creature living it. Similarly, the animal's desires provide the animal with reasons to act so as to fulfill those desires. That is as far as it goes.

Intrinsic values do not exist. Korsgaard and Singer are "making things up" - the way that one may make up the commands of a god that does not exist in order to get people to do what this imaginary god requires them to do. This is not to say that they are being deceptive - they sincerely believe that these entities exist, just as many people sincerely believe that a god exists. The fact is, they do not.

One of the ways to see that these types of entities do not exist is to look at the relationship between an animal predator and prey. The antelope's long and healthy life does not create any type of intrinsic reason for the lion to refrain from hunting the antelope. Nor does the antelope's preference satisfaction create such a reason. The lion's reasons for action have to do entirely with the lion's hunger and other interests, such as feeding and caring for her young.

The main point of this illustration is to point out that there is no reason to believe that

The standard respose to this is that lions are not moral agents - but that response is not applicable here. We are talking about the existence of a reason. When we observe what is happening in nature with respect to the lion or the antelope, we see no reason to believe that an "intrinsic value property" (what J.L. Mackie calls and intrinsic "ought to be doneness" or "ought not to be doneness") is anywhere in the picture. We can understand everything that happens without inventing such an entity.

Animals do have reason to cause us to behave in ways that are compatible with their interests. Unfortunately, they do not know how to do this. Evolution takes care of this to some extent by making them "cute" to us, or useful to us, but these poorly track their interests at this point. However, animals lack the capacity to intentionally take actions for the purpose of molding our desires in such a way that will consider their interests. Only other humans have the capacity to do that.

Humans do have reasons to cause other humans to be concerned with the interests of others - including others who cannot defend themselves. We want other humans to be concerned with our interests and the interests of those we care about, even when those people cannot defend their own interests. We have reason to consider cruelty to animals to manifest itself also as a lack of interest in the harms that other people may suffer - which gives us reason to morally condemn those who display a lack of interest in the well-being of animals (or even an actual interest in harming animals). Animals have many and strong reasons to morally condemn us, but they lack the capacity to do so.

It would be a mistake to consider this merely an instrumental account of a concern for the welfare of animals. A purely instrumental account says that the only reason we have for promoting a concern for animals in others is because it will tend to cause people to behave in ways that benefit us (or avoid behaving in ways that harm us). This would deny that we have any reason to be concerned for the welfare of animals themselves.

What we would be promoting is an aversion to that which causes suffering in others. Once a person has such an aversion, that person has a reason to avoid anything which causes suffering in others for its own sake - not as a means to some other end, but as an end in itself. This aversion is justified on account of its instrumental value (in virtue of the fact that people generally have many and strong reasons to promote such an interest). However, once established, the aversion provides a reason for action - not the desires and aversions that give reason to create such an aversion.

The intrinsic reasons for intentional action that Korsgaard and Singer believe in simply do not exist. This is a metaphysical claim. It cannot be disproved by looking at our intuitions. Our intuitions will tell us what we wish to be true, not what is true in fact. We live in a universe that does not contain such entities and, to the degree that we want to live in the real world, these are the facts we have to live with. There is no intrinsic prescriptively dictating human behavior towards animals, there are only the reasons that people have in virtue of their desires, and the reasons they have reason to modify by promoting some desires and aversions and inhibiting others.

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