Where did Richard Dawkins go

The evolution of animal welfare

In fact, we now refer to this attitude as "Cartesian," and in this way we grant it an intellectual power which science teaches us that it does not deserve. In truth, this attitude is nothing more than religious nonsense, which science has now refuted - comparable to the story of creation. It only bears the name "Cartesian" because its best-known representative was Descartes.

As a result, the suffering inflicted on animals for many centuries falls under the umbrella term "speciesism": a concept devised by British psychologist Richard Ryder to identify those arbitrary prejudices relating to the physical or mental characteristics of other species. In their defense it should be said that the theologians and philosophers who believed that animals were soulless machines did not consider their own actions to be based on prejudice. Instead, they assumed that animals necessarily had the relevant trait of being "numb" and therefore unconscious, and therefore believed it was appropriate not to attach importance to them. Nonetheless, in order to uphold this belief, they arbitrarily ignored evidence - and that fits the definition of "prejudice".

Historically speaking, philosophers who were more devoted to reason, especially Immanuel Kant, found their way to soften what we would call "speciesism" today. He assumed that animals were unable to participate in morality due to a lack of common sense. His argument for treating animals well was based solely on the impact of our actions on how we treat other people. Such a view can implicitly accept today's scientific consensus that animals can experience suffering, yet postulate that this fact is only a helpful tool for the purpose of helping other members of our own species. Again, logical reasoning allows us to see the flaw in this line of reasoning that arises from the arbitrary and evolutionarily learned demarcation that separates us from those who resemble us.

The opposing side to Kant in the 18th century seemed to lack real rational integrity. Witty philosophers like Voltaire certainly sided with the animals, but had no academic backing. Today's thinkers have filled that void. Not only have people like Peter Singer, Tom Regan, and Gary Francione popularized the term speciesism since the 1970s (Singer and Regan), they also provided and disseminated much of the basic reasoning that thinkers like Voltaire were either unwilling or unable to do. They are all proponents of the concept of “speciesism”, although they come from very different philosophical backgrounds (Singer is a rationalist and utilitarian, Regan follows the Kantian tradition, and Francione is a law professor).

Taken individually, there are loopholes in every theory of these "anti-speciesism" philosophers today; At this point it is sufficient to point out that these loopholes are related to utilitarian dogma for Singer, and for Regan and Francione to unsubstantiated philosophical assumptions. But they all offer other theories for considering the idea of ​​speciesism as a valid concept, defeating the three major opposing theories: the Kantian, the Cartesian, and the religious theory.

The philosophical battle now leaves the various ivory towers; the concept of speciesism has started to seep into the public consciousness in the past hundred years. We have gradually overcome the strictly Cartesian or religious attitude towards animals that made us almost indebted to treat animals solely as a renewable resource, and moved to a more progressive version of Kantian philosophy. We now give the interests of animals a certain value; we believe that they are primarily our property and may be used by us, and yet we believe it is bad for us to senselessly damage this living, breathing property, and therefore act in accordance with this assumption by we give them some legal and social protection in their role as objects.
Just as our social migration from the Cartesian attitude towards animals to the Kantian approach took place some time after the academic migration, we are only now beginning to see the transition from the Kantian view to anti-speciesism - long after people like Singer started the movement with logic underpinned. Animal product producers are no longer focusing their marketing on taste alone, adding the reference to their animal welfare standards to reassure concerned consumers, while animal welfare groups like RSPCA and the Humane Society side by side with human-centered charities like Oxfam or Cancer Research have entered the mainstream. Also, academics in the spotlight such as Richard Dawkins often write about problems with “discontinuous” views such as speciesism; with Dawkins this was already done in the preface to his book "The Selfish Gene". The age of animal rights is just dawning and animal concerns are often only lip service, but a change in public opinion is underway; and the academic community is the spearhead of the attack.

Those of us who want to know where things are headed should concentrate on the ivory towers again: The interesting academic debate on animal ethics today apparently rarely revolves around the question "Are animals insensitive or completely unimportant?" But begins with that Planning the next logical change before we even make the current one. Peter Singer seems to be in favor of the approaching status quo; namely, that we can possibly breed animals humanely. Francione contradicts this on both economic and legal grounds, providing arguments and evidence against Singer's apparent "common sense" position.

The debate will continue and deepen as plans are made for our next step as a society, but those of you vigilant will note that speciesism is already a serious and entrenched expression in secular ethics. The current concerns of anti-speciesism have been limited to precisely this, as factories with clever marketing put up a facade and yet are only ready for cheap, industrial changes; the few organic farms are all too easy to confuse with the factories that they are supposed to improve. At least we could if we compared them in terms of real animal suffering and not in terms of how clean or well-lit the farms are. Unfortunately, on the other hand, those who refrain from buying animal products are labeled as overly sensitive freaks incapable of reason. The fate of anti-speciesism rests in the hands of its natural allies: those of us who promote reason. It may not be an easy task, but we are the intellectual ancestors of Darwin. Anti-speciesism is our evolution.

Robert Johnson is an applied ethicist and philosopher of science. He deals with the interface between reason and ethics and is the author of the book "Rational Morality: A Science of Right and Wrong". http://www.robertjohnson.org.uk/

Translation by: Daniela Bartl

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