Metaphysical considerations on animal ethics

9780195371963

Μη τα πελωρια μετρα γαιης υπο σην φρενα βαλλου*

Ου γαρ αληθειης φυτον ενι χθονι

Direct not your attention to the immense measures of the earth; for the plant of truth is not in the Earth

 Πατηρ ου φοβον ενθρωσκει, πειθω δ επιχεει.

 The father did not hurl forth fear, but infused persuasion

The Chaldean Oracles

So many philosophers have contributed to enhance the study of animal ethics, but I will argue in this article that it does exist some questions that must be answered. The most important thing to me is that these thinkers don’t take on account the totality of things envolved, in another word, they ignore the whole world and the universe in which humans and animals live together. Without this, we hardly would get some answers why animal ethics does matter.

Animal ethics is generally despised by philosophers because they are much fond to rationality, to duties, to laws and institutions. Animals cannot be so easily accommodated to these areas. It’s so easier to study this area when you put these themes aside and glimpses problems that may not yet have been posed by traditional philosophers.

As humans, we should think about how much we are subject to the forces of nature and the psychological issues that often involve forces somewhat obscure for us. Should we reproduce this power of destruction over other beings and increase the burden they usually carry?

First, we must be remembered that we, as human beings, are put in this world together with other beings, and that many other animals, like the Dinosaurs, were extinct long before we raised as a distinct species. There’s an old fallacy, propagated by the Bible, that the animals were put on service of humans. The authors of the Bible ignored the existence of many species that existed before humans, and many others that disappeared without the humans had any benefit with their existence. The Bible is obsessed with the idea of dominance: God dominates man, and man inflicts terror on animals. Worst, as Schopenhauer noted, the God of Old Testament doesn’t have any notion of compassion because He didn’t give Adam any precept on how to deal with the other species that He created.

In the work of the Church Father Origen against the platonic philosopher Celsus, it is oddly how the later glimpsed the fact that in the beginning it was humans that was hunted by the wild animals, totally contrary to what the Bible told us. Likewise, to Origen, all the argument of Celsus about animals is nothing but idolatry and empty chat. Although the Church Father was influenced by some platonic ideas, the Realism of the Bible was stronger. To the Church, there was always a gulf separating humans and the other animals.

Therefore, there is a serious problem with the arguments of animal ethicists: if we ignore the long development of human conscience and civilization, it isn’t feasible to endorse some ethics and laws that protect the other animals. If we compare humans with other species, it is obvious that the former is in disadvantage. Humans, in the state of nature, is in a precarious situation. We don’t have the same weapons and corporeal protection that the other animals have. Humans have the intellect, group protection and organization, besides that is poorly equipped. There’s an important reflection to be made: if humans had any worries about animal ethics when it was in the dawning of civilization, was it possible to make any advances in science, technology and technique? Civilization implied that nature had to be subjugated because without that, man would be totally vulnerable to epidemics, beasts and another riskiness. Nowadays some ethicists could make some strange topics about bacteria (2014, p.39) having rights for example. Can we image such ideas when humanity didn’t have antibiotics?

Isn’t the development of civilization the starting point to any idea about animal ethics? This may be sound Hegelianism, but shouldn’t we accept the fact that the greatest cities and science implied the destruction of great areas of raw state, and the sacrifice of innocent beings (animals)?

I don’t think so. We do not know for sure how much this symbiosis was between humans and animals in prehistoric times in every detail. Apart from that, however, the human servant has a far more devastating weapon than any other living being can have, which is the union of an uncontrolled will with malice. This was original sin, but we must allow ourselves an analysis of what the world itself is.

The whole or totality of the world, which was so harmful along history to men, women and children, was seen so different, at the same time so similar, by two antagonist wisdom’s: the Christian/Gnostic and the ancient Greek.

Historically, there was so little attention paid by the Church about animals/nature. Somehow it is necessary to go back to the Pauline letters to comprehend this. Paul and the Gnostics had a low opinion of the cosmos. Nature and this world were one of men most powerful enemies. The earth was a dungeon, in which men and women struggled to survive. One must just read the obscure Corinthians 2:4 to see Paul’s thought. Strangely, is something very similar to the Hindu conception of Maya. What we see, and experience now is not the most perfect work of God, but something inferior that obscure men’s vision of the most Perfect. In Paul’s words:

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

 ἐν  οἷς    θεὸς  τοῦ  αἰῶνος  τούτου  ἐτύφλωσεν  τὰ  νοήματα  τῶν  ἀπίστων  εἰς  τὸ  μὴ  αὐγάσαι  τὸν  φωτισμὸν  τοῦ  εὐαγγελίου  τῆς  δόξης  τοῦ  Χριστοῦ,  ὅς  ἐστιν  εἰκὼν  τοῦ  Θεοῦ

The whole was seen by the Gnosticism of Paul the Apostle as evil, and the creation is nothing, but a work of vanity made by the Demiurge. This evil god is nothing but only Despotism (2003, p. 186). I think that Paul’s thought is shocking, but realistic. It considers the enormous amount of pain that both humanity and animals suffer to generate the “harmony” of the cosmos. Sadly, the Christian religion abandoned this kind of thought to join the most optimist vision of the Old Testament. Paul adds another great glimpse that inspire us:

 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed Romans 8: 18,19

 Λογίζομαι  γὰρ  ὅτι  οὐκ  ἄξια  τὰ  παθήματα  τοῦ  νῦν  καιροῦ  πρὸς  τὴν  μέλλουσαν  δόξαν  ἀποκαλυφθῆναι  εἰς  ἡμᾶς.     γὰρ  ἀποκαραδοκία  τῆς  κτίσεως  τὴν  ἀποκάλυψιν  τῶν  υἱῶν  τοῦ  Θεοῦ  ἀπεκδέχεται

There’s an extreme important thing on this passage, and that is Paul’s opinion that not only the humanity, but also nature, must be redeemed. And if nature should be redeemed, it is because something went wrong in Demiurge’s creation. This world is not the best of possible worlds that Leibniz most foolish asserted. This is simply obvious because if it wasn’t that, there would be no necessity of baptism, redemption, etc.

This is a truly Gnostic and pessimistic insight by Paul forgotten by the Church, that instead of remembering her crucified Savior, has chosen the realistic optimism of the Old Testament. The Gnostic view of human nature was only to be re-valuated by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. On his work The Basis of Morality, Schopenhauer thought that compassion was the only foundation of ethics. And why he imagined that? Just because he saw this world as an evil place, and only when each person abstracted his individuality, salvation would be possible.

Schopenhauer has harshly judged Kantian ethics for Kant have written that compassion and charity were mere results of reason. For the first time in philosophy’s history someone thought that. Kant is obviously wrong on this because his ethics does not include animals per se, but only when they are related to human beings; if so, why anyone aid a street dog or an injured bird that is not related to a human owner?

The Gnostic influence on Schopenhauer’s view of the world is the real foundation of his animal’s ethics. To him, both humans and animals share the same noumenon, in other words, Will, and all living things equally suffer. We are all subjected by the conditions not only of materially, but also of space and time. The only difference is the intellect’s gradation, but the most important thing that is only accessible when, as humans, we leave out our individuality and we recognize the real force that rules the world, and this is Will. This is not an act of reason but is truly intuition. Submitted to the conditions of space and time, all the living things of this world came to their respective bodies already equipped for their own survival. However, true liberty, as the Swiss naturalist Charles Bonnet beautifully thought (2011, p.76), when all the animals would be capable of forgive human beings for their cruelty behavior with them, it is only possible outside the phenomenal world.

In Buddhism that directly influenced Schopenhauer, there is also this “Will” that unites all living beings. It’s called Samsara. Every human being who has lived in this world bound to this Will without further reflection can have it as a reward. In Buddhism, each express in its present form a previous type of judgment. As in Schopenhauer, the world is the Last Judgment itself. One of these kingdoms in which we can be reborn is called tiracchānayoni, or the animal domain. As the animals live in an eternal fighting for food, in which the strongest devour the weakest, also the humanity imitates this irrational driving only putting some other motives on the scenario.

One of the most polemic topic on animal ethics is on the subject how intense is animal suffering. In the work The Oxford Handbook of Animal Ethics, chapter 17, Sahar Aktar addresses this issue. For her animal pain is worse than it’s for humans. However, I think that the example she gave is not the most fortunate one (2011, p.506). Yes, it’s true that if we knew that there’s a good reason for a doctor introduce a needle in our vein is better than be surprised by a friend doing the same thing when you are not already informed that this is to be done. She wrote this:

 

Without the belief that are good reasons to endure their pain- even if there are good reasons, such as a painful but necessary veterinarian procedure- animal pain would like to be more intense. There are other ways in which pain’s intensity might sometimes be more for animals than for us. Namely, intensity seems to require a certain focus our attention, and cognitive sophistication may decrease the extent to which one focuses on one’s pain. (The Oxford Handbook of Animal Ethics, p.506)

 

I guess there’s an error in her thought, and a much common one. It’s the same thing that a person suffering from a mental disease must face: which one is the worst? Having a leg broken with an exposed fracture or suffer from depression? We can admit that the first case is so much worse at least in the immediate moment. It’s the same mistake that Schopenhauer has accused on the Hindu ethics. The pain caused by humans on a malaria mosquito is much smaller than this last one might cause in each one of us. Human beings also, metaphysically speaking according to Schopenhauer, must face the terrible fate of the principium individuationis. It’s like your noumenical existence, your essence, been trapped in a body that suffers all the consequences of the phenomenal world. The enormous amount of suicide cases that plagues human existence is a result of our capacity of our mind goes back to the past and project fears into the future. This principium individuationis causes more damages to human beings than for any animal because the means we have are far below our demands. The swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung on his Red Book defended the animals demonstrating that they are much better adapted to this world than we are; that they are well behaved citizens and do not do extravagances, and that we humans, unlike animals, do not respect law and order. (2013, p.303)

 True liberty does not exist on a material world. This kind of suffering is a distinctive characteristic of the human mind and cannot be captured by any machine. These degrees of pain can only be re-conciliated, at least on Schopenhauer’s thought, if we recognize that for mother nature there is a total indifference for the destine both by human destiny and by other beings. Their true and real inner being is not in the least disturb. (1958, p.474) Plato’s description of Khôra (χώρα) on the Timaeus is also emblematic. This receptacle gives life, but always remains intact, and the fate of all beings that passes through it does not really affect his existence.

Although we can conceive this, this cannot mean that history must be the same in the future. Humanity has in their hands the control of its History. Which departure point of future animal ethics may be? I think it must start with metaphysics. Not with one like “Darwinian metaphysics” (2015, p.37), which is the worst kind of the type. Darwin had a fascination with the word “habit”. It is repeated launched on the pages of his major work “Origen of Species”. It seems to us like Darwin had read many times the “Nicomachean Ethics” and picked up this word “habit” he liked so much.

The revolutionary consequences of Darwinism are very clear for animal ethics. There is no concept of value and moral concepts. Evolutionary pseudo-ethics was already unmasked by the German philosopher Leonard Nelson on his Kritik der praktischen Vernunft. He wrote

Ein Beispiel für den dritten Typus von Versuchen einer

induktiven Begründung der Ethik ist die, “evolutionistische”

Ethik. Die Biologie, meint man, lehrt uns eine Entwicklung

in der organischen Natur kennen, ein allmähliches Aufsteigen

von niederen Formen zu höheren, und wir brauchen daher nur

das Gesetz dieser Entwicklung zu kennen, um in ihm zugleich

die Richtschnur für unser eigenes Verhalten zu finden.

 

Das Bestechende solcher Argumentationen verschwindet, sobald man eine genauere Sprache anwendet. Was heißt nämlich “Entwicklung? In der Naturwissenschaft bedeutet Entwicklung die Aufeinanderfolge verschiedener Zustände eines Erstens aber kommt dieser Entwicklung, der Einheit der Richtung des organischen Geschehens, keine naturgesetzliche Notwendigkeit zu, wie das Vorkommen der organischen Rückbildungen beweist.

 

Und zweitens muß man den Begriff der Entwicklung noch von dem der Vervollkommnung unterscheiden Vervollkommnung ist nur eine solche Entwicklung, deren Richtung durch das Zunehmen des Wertes der aufeinander folgenden Zustände charakterisiert ist. Nur eine solche kann Entwicklung im ethischen Sinne genannt

werden.

 

Nur wenn man schon weiß, daß eine Entwicklung

eine Vervollkommnung ist, kann man sie zur ethischen. (1917, p. 35)

 

 (An example of the third type of experiment inductive reasoning of ethics is the “evolutionary” Ethics. Biology, we think, teaches us a development in organic nature, a gradual ascension from lower forms to higher ones, and therefore we only need to know the law of this evolution, to be in it at the same time to find the guideline for our own behavior.

 

The brash of such arguments disappears as soon as you apply a more precise language. What does development mean? In natural science, development means the succession of different states of a first, but this development, the unity of the direction of organic events, does not have any natural-law necessity, as the occurrence of organic regressions proves.

 

Secondly, one must distinguish the concept of development from that of perfection. Perfection is only such a development whose direction is characterized by the increase in the value of successive states. Only such a thing can be called development in the ethical sense become.

Only if you already know that a development is an improvement, it can be considered ethical.) all translations mine

 

Darwinism is a monstrous induction result of the union of Aristotelianism with British empiricism as Leonard Nelson has demonstrated on his Socratic Method. It is mere experience and not real science. Animal ethics presupposes a difficulty in establishing a parameter of fair behavior between humans and other animals. Evolution ignores scales of value and values only the flow of matter in itself. If Evolution is good itself, and over the ages sacrificed and little cared for the sacrifice of species, destroying many without mercy, how to establish an ethic? There is no moral value and becoming becomes the only norm. Philosophers cannot appeal to reason, therefore, if they believe in Darwin because if chance could somehow succeed, human intelligence would have to be declared incapable of reflecting on nature and animals. It would have been better to declare an agnosticism about whether our intelligence in itself serves to formulate an ethic.

In Eastern thought, the harmony between humans and nature is something innate. However, we don’t need to go so very far to formulate an ethic for the future. In Occident, despite the Bible, luckily the Greek philosophers gave us a rich treasure of a vision of the whole that contemplates men and nature. The British neoplatonic philosopher Thomas Taylor made a harmony between Plato and Aristotle, therefore he can provide an alternative to the Bible shackles.

First, as we reach the Ancient Greek thought, two philosophers are important: Celsus, already mentioned above, and the neoplatonic Porphyry.

Celsus, in his book On the True Doctrine, argues in defense of animals against the Christian Father Origen. We must have in mind that Celsus thought is valid even today. Aristotle famously defended that all knowledge came from the senses; but every animal has more developed senses than any human, and nobody can say that a dog or a whale have more knowledge than Aristotle himself. Marxism have a strange bias on this topic. They argue that we are nothing but an animal that works. But any ant or bee works more than any workaholic. Marxism agrees with Darwin that we are more developed primates; but a gorilla and a chimpanzee are notorious lazy animals. This is the problem when you try to make science by induction and by an empiric method.

Celsus believes that some animals are even more divine than humans, as in the case of eagles; farther they also have the gift of prophecy.

Porphyry wrote an uncommon book in the history of philosophy. On Abstinence from Animal Food evokes some questions that are only to be understood when we present some metaphysical outlooks further. For now, is clear that the neoplatonic philosopher is not only worried with mere dietary aspects. His ethics are a mixture of hygienic and metaphysical questions, somewhat unrelated to the contemporary world. He and Schopenhauer agree when they say that human intellect is not essentially different from animal intellect, but only on a degree (p.124). Along with Celsus, Porphyry in the power of communication of animals which seem nothing more than an overflow of God’s goodness. To eat animal food is for him nothing but accommodating our soul to the irrational part and a separation from the intelligible. (p, 56) This intelligible principle is a very important thing to have on mind. Porphyry knew that animals have more ethical qualities than most humans. They take care of their puppies, many are more faithful to their partners and do not possess human malice.

Probably the best British philosopher that ever lived, Thomas Taylor will help us complete this picture of ancient thought for a better metaphysical understanding of ethics.

Plato and Aristotle, the latter purified by Neoplatonism, are for me the basis of a true ethical thinking. Both, for our fortune, ignored extravagances like Big Bang, creation ex nihilo, a god of law and a cult of History. Taylor presented their in-depth thought in this way

Hence, the world is called by Plato, in the Timaeus, a whole of

wholes as containing in itself the starry spheres, and the spheres of air, water, and earth, each of which is a whole comprehended in the great whole of the world.

 As the world too, considered as one great comprehending whole, is called by Plato a divine animal, so likewise every whole which it contains is a world, possessing a unity proceeding from the ineffable principle of things, a divine intellect, a divine soul, and a deified body.

These Greek philosophers did not think that nature was a result of a blind force. The Earth was a living animal always producing a perpetual renewal of species. Furthermore, every animal has a reason to be in this world. As Thomas Taylor puts

In the first book likewise of his Metaphysics, praising Anaxagoras, and prior to him Hermotimus, as not only assigning the material causes of the universe, but also beholding intellect as the producing and final cause, he thus  writes : ” He therefore who asserted, that as in animals, so also in nature, intellect is the cause both of the world, and of all order, will appear like one sober, when compared with those ancients that spoke rashly dissertation.

Aristotle also placed the intellect among the causes of the universe. He certainly followed his master Plato on this matter. And I call for an attention on one important thing: It was very natural for the God of Plato to have created the World. The God of the Bible is alien to this world, but the Highest Principle of Plato and Aristotle emanates as this

Life also is present with him: for the energy of intellect is life; and he is energy. But essential energy is his most excellent and eternal life; and we say that God is an animal eternal, and the most excellent: so that life and duration continued, and eternal are present with God. For God is this.

 

The blind force of Evolution would be considered only irrationality by Plato and Aristotle, just as it was for Schopenhauer. On his Will on Nature he tried to demonstrate that in the world of Lamarck and Darwin, whose freedom of the world of phaenomena is absolutely impossible, could only generate living beings that would be long dead before they could bring up a new body that they thought would fit them up. Let’s read an explanation

but, how can things be casual which have a natural subsistence? If this, therefore, be the case, and an infinite number of men, horses, and many univocals, are generated in an infinite time, there must be a unity of infinite power presiding over each of these species, according to which the individuals of these species are infinitely generated in the universe in a definite manner. Further still: all animals in generation, or the sublunary region, are changed from that which is in Capacity, or feed, into that which is in energy.

 

The Will of a thing will express his phenomenal appearance, and not his appearance will latter define his Will. Plato told us in the Sophist that you cannot say that a ting is evolving if you don’t justify what is the perfection of the whole before. This is real science, and not just an empirical play:

 

For animals do not see in order that they may have fight; but they have fight in order that they may fee. In like manner, men possess the capacity of building that they may build, and of contemplating that they may contemplate; but they do not contemplate that they may possess the power of contemplating, except those who meditate. These, however, do not perfectly contemplate; but they either contemplate in a certain respect, or they have no occasion for contemplation.

 

Further still: matter is in capacity, because it may arrive at form. But when it is in energy, then it is in form; and a similar reasoning takes place in other things, and of which the end is motion.

 

So, we read the Gnostic, Buddhist, Greek and Schopenhauerian ideas. Outwardly it may seem that the Greek view is more optimistic than the others. However, Plato long recognized that there are so many horrible things in this world. Already in the Republic (362a), Plato presented us the rightful man that is blinded and crucified (ἐκκαυθήσεται τὠφθαλμώ, τελευτῶν πάντα κακὰ παθὼν ἀνασχινδυλευθήσεταικαὶ γνώσεται ὅτι οὐκ εἶναι δίκαιον ἀλλὰ δοκεῖν δεῖ ἐθέλειν).

However, in the case of the suffering of other living beings, was Plato also worried about them? The answer is yes. In the Timaeus Plato the Soul of the World is suspended on a X, as if carried within the sufferings of all things. In the Timaeus all beings enter into this world by a virgin womb Khôra (χώρα), the Soul of the World is crucified, and the world itself is the Last Judgment. After all we need to be also redeemed and, if possible, escape from this world (Theaetetus) Strangely beautiful and mysterious.

Conclusion

Animal ethics can only exist because humanity already causes a huge misery to itself. Human responsibility to other beings is caused by the difference of means that separate them. We can’t have ethics if this world is the best of possible worlds, or “all real is rational,” or if God saw that all He created was good”. From top to bottom there is a lot of injustice and I think there is perhaps a human need to redeem this world and the other beings. Perhaps this ethic of compassion taught by Schopenhauer is the only one that truly captured the Platonic noesis. He saw the mystery of the world in its essence, Will, which is related to many beliefs of Buddhism, for each being expressed in the phenomenon its eternal essence. In addition, Plato and Aristotle understood an intelligence that governs the world, but that, as it is put in the Timaeus dialogue, the Soul of the world already is crucified, carrying within itself this suffering that unites us men and animals. Paul himself writes in the Epistle to the Galatians in this crucifixion that the Cosmos suffers for him and him for the Cosmos

(ἐμοὶ  δὲ  μὴ  γένοιτο  καυχᾶσθαι  εἰ  μὴ  ἐν  τῷ  σταυρῷ  τοῦ  Κυρίου  ἡμῶν  Ἰησοῦ  Χριστοῦ,  δι’  οὗ  ἐμοὶ  κόσμος  ἐσταύρωται  κἀγὼ  κόσμῳ).

This symbol of the cross is archetypal. If the evil Demiurge is a despotic being, all creation is already born under this sign of the cross, in which we are redeemed. He is god of law, obsessed with laws and commands, and from such thinking no ethics will be possible because there is no autonomy.

In the Greek philosophers we have studied there is certainly a belief in a powerful cosmic intelligence, but never an evolutionary sense. And there is the belief of a load of evil and suffering that the world carries.

A true ethic presupposes a rejection of evolution, which is irrationality and optimistic, and the acceptance of suffering in the world; that the human being, recognizing this mystery, set the power of his spirit to ameliorate this suffering, not adding more misery; recognizing that all living beings have space in this cosmos, but wondering and wondering why some facts of this world could not have been softened by a greater intelligence.

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