Geoscience Reference
In-Depth Information
some orthodox ethical endeavours expressly declare that 'animals are effectively
things, owed no more duties of justice, charity or religion “as neither are sticks and
stones”'. Such views can be seen not as rare exceptions, but rather as reflecting the
normal position of non-humans. Singer (1993:79) indicates that in the highly
influential contractarian ethics of Rawls and Gauthier, animals are excluded from the
ethical sphere because it is a key element of these theories that 'the universalising
process should stop at the boundaries of our [human] community'.
Of course, such views of animals, other non-human others and 'nature' more
generally are now seen as central arenas of dispute within certain strands of
environmental philosophy and ethics which have arisen in response to the ecological
and ethical crises unfolding around us. In particular, attention has focused on the
rationalising and hardening of such views of nature within 'the scientific revolution
in Europe', which transformed views of nature and in so doing 'removed all ethical
and cognitive constraints against its violation and exploitation' (Shiva 1988: xv).
The role of key figures such as Descartes and Bacon in this separating off of nature,
and the development of reductionist, mechanistic systems of knowledge with a view
to mastering 'her', is charted by Pepper (1986, 1996), Plumwood (1993), Merchant
(1992) and many others.
As powerful as that story has become, and as marked as its consequences are, it
cannot be seen to be entirely monolithic. Midgley (1983:46) points out that the
rationalist tradition 'does not speak with a single voice' in relation to views of
nature. She shows how other thinkers, particularly Leibniz, tried to occupy the
'yawning gap' left by Decartes, and concludes that 'even seventeenth-century
rationalism…does not furnish us with a clear and unanimous licence to poison all
the pigeons in the park' (Midgley 1983:47). Attfield (1983) also warns against over-
simplistic readings of Descartes and Bacon themselves in this respect. So, although
animals and nature have been generally excluded from orthodox ethics, this does
not result in a complete negation of moral considerations relating to animals. Clark
(1977:5) points out that there has been at least 'nominal genuflection in the
direction of “avoiding unnecessary suffering”', and Midgley (1983) argues that in
the work of Kant, Schopenhauer and others genuine calls for compassion can be
found. In the end, though, she adds that the exclusion of animals from the central
contractual forms of morality means that they, and others outside of this centre, can
'glide unnoticed into the shadows and be forgotten' (Midgley 1983:64, emphasis
added). It is the tension between this general exclusion of non-human others and
vestiges of concern stemming from other sources which has led to the ethical
fragmentation of human—animal relations within these shadowy spaces, and has led
Clark (1977:13, emphasis added) to ask:
If some animals have some rights, even of this negative sort, to be spared
wanton ill-treatment, on what grounds do we deny them other rights, to life
and happiness within their kind? On what grounds can other animals be fair
Search WWH ::

Custom Search