Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Animal Rights in Essence: a New Information Sheet

Nonharming has long been a component of my philosophy, as the core of its practical driving force. Jainism, a religion of India that practices ahimsa, or nonharming, was articulating more than five thousand years ago. In 1983—that’s 28 years ago—philosopher Tom Regan had his The Case for Animal Rights published. He articulated “the harm principle” as a key to his views. It actually means avoiding harm and would be better called a nonharming principle. In any case, he was profoundly influenced by the civil rights movement, in which he participated. That was led by Martin Luther King, Jr., who was himself powerfully moved by Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi himself was indebted to the Jains. Even though Gandhi was a Hindu, he borrowed the Jain principle of ahimsa. Regan was also directly imprinted by Gandhi’s thought. Francione, years later, started talking about ahimsa too in the guise of "non-violence." There is a lot more to ethics than a simple principle of nonharming, as I illuminate in other writings. But the principle is extremely useful to emphasize when pressed with the task to come up with a


summarizing the core of animal rights. That is useful for activism, and I hope that my one-pager will be used to good effect by fellow activists. Actually, I have something of a history in relation to Jainism. The first animal rights group with which I worked, Canadian Vegans for Animal Rights, which no longer exists, had Bruce Costain as a member. He did a doctorate in Jain ethics at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. He hooked me up with the Jain Youth Group, which had some young adults, and Jains number among my good friends. I wrote the article on “Jainism” for the Encylopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare, and revised the article for the second edition recently as well. Jain philosophy of ahimsa has always been part of my animal rights history, then, and I perceive it to be fundamental to animal rights ethics. I think we need to give the Jains credit for radical nonharming too, since Western ethics did not originate or develop such a perspective in any outstanding way. That is starting to change though. My one-pager here hopefully will be relevatnt to animal rights activists, rather than only the audience of scholars. A leaflet to explain and justify animal rights will hopefully be of use in outreach efforts. After all, animal rights activists are trying to educate the public about animal rights, and that is primarily a philosophy, although there are many intersecting subjects on top of that.

Many readers may notice that this sheet says at the bottom that it is written at the level of normative ethics rather than meta-ethics. A normative ethics involves applying a moral principle, in this case being consistent about nonharming which one assumes as appropriate for oneself. We do assume these things in society. Meta-ethics though does not assume that any ethical theory is right or wrong, and critically evaluates different normative conceptions, carefully analyzing key terms. Many animal ethicists really just assume a normative ethic and reject other normative ethics for being incompatible with one’s own. In other words, they are doing normative ethics, showing the implications of their normative ethic, when they need to be doing meta-ethics, or justifying their stance in impartial terms. For example, Regan intuitively assumes “the respect principle” which entails “the harm principle,” and Francione intuits that we should not treat human beings as property. I am known to try to supply a rigorous justification at the meta-ethical level, which admittedly, most people never even think about. This sheet, however, is not concerned with meta-ethical justification. In my forthcoming book on animal rights ethics, I will show how nonharming can be rationally justified, and how competing ethical theories can be objected to successfully. An academic looking at this information sheet could say that I am begging the question, or assuming nonharming even as a norm for oneself, and that one should be consistent in treating others like oneself, both of which need to be justified. That is true, but only relevant if one is exploring at a meta-ethical level, which I do in other writing, not this short piece.

The only original idea in this information sheet, perhaps, is the idea of a license to harm, which I introduced in my academic article, "Can the Treatment of Nonhuman Animals Be Compared to the Holocaust?" I also have allusions to my idea of feeling cognition in stressing that pain feels bad, and to a meta-ethical concern with reasoning in speaking of how an idea of bad corresponds with reality. However, ahimsa, the comparison to mentally disabled humans, the alien landing scenario, are not uncommon ideas in animal ethics. The idea is to provide a common-sense defence of animal rights, and for most people, ahimsa is an unspoken part of their common-sense. My original contributions to animal ethics are to be developed in my forthcoming animal ethics theory book.

Peace be with you.

No comments:

Post a Comment