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Reducing Wild Animal Suffering

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Thank you all for being with us tonight. We'll be speaking about the topic of wild animal suffering, and about reducing wild animal suffering, more specifically, and I'd just like to jump in and start with the claim, or the conclusion that we want to argue for. It's this: We should (morally) try to do something about wild animal suffering, that is, we should try to help wild animals in nature. So, that's what we're about, that's the claim, or the conclusion that we wanna argue for. And here's the basic pro argument for that claim or conclusion: It has two premises, a first normative or ethical premise, and a second descriptive, factual, empirical one. The first premise says that "if there is a huge amount of suffering somewhere, then we should (morally) try to do something about it". That's the first premise to the argument. The second one is: "There is (in fact) a huge amount of wild animal suffering in nature", and, logically, it's quite trivial, if these two premises hold, then it follows, the claim and the conclusion follows, that, therefore, we should morally try to do something about wild animal suffering, that is, we should try to help wild animals in nature. So, that's the basic pro argument that we are gonna defend. Here is the more general structure of our talk. We've already talked about our claim or conclusion, and the two premises. We are now gonna defend, that will be the next step. We are gonna zoom in on the first normative premise, and then the second, descriptive premise. The second part or our talk will be about common objections that are raised against this argument, either attacking premise one or premise two... five common objections that we're gonna address and try to refute. So, here is the basic argument for our claim again. And lets zoom in on premise one. Many might find the first premise very intuitive. And in no further need of justification. But, of course, some might challenge that first premise, and then we'd like to be able to say something on its behalf, probably. So, one argument for the first premise, the ethical premise, could be that morality should, at least to some extent, be about making the world a better place. And the existence of suffering makes the world a worse place. So, to the extent that morality is about making the world a better place, about leaving it, in fact, a better place, it's very probable that it should also be about removing suffering, and that we should accept premise one. Now, what if we go further and challenge this argument: well, why should morality be about making the world a better place to any extent? (although I believe most people would accept this argument in one form or another)... We could, maybe, add that morality should, at least to some extent, be other-regarding... so about reasons for action that are non-selfish, that are other-regarding and impartial. This requirement of impartiality can be expressed with the question “How would you like to be treated?” “Would you want to be helped when suffering severely, in our context?” And the answer to that questions is probably “yes”. And if you then generalize this answer impartially, and considering the situation from this point of view of impartially, then it follows that morality should at least, to some extent, be about helping others, and making the world a better place. So, one might still hold that morality, encompasses many other things, many other principles or values... But, if one grants that, at least, to a non-trivial extent, it should people making the world a better place, about impartial other-regarding reasons for action, then, it seems that we'd be able to back up the first premise of our basic argument. Here it is again. And now let's zoom in on the second premise: There is in fact a huge amount of wild animal suffering in nature. And Ruairí is now gonna present the reasons for believing the second premise. Ruairí: Thank you. Ok, so obviously if nature was incredible idyllic, and all the animals there live very good lives, or at least quite good lives, we wouldn't have as much reason to intervene in nature to aid them. And so we need to look at what kind of lives are actually like in nature. So, what is life like in the wild? Well its often horrible. Things such as predation occur all the time, every day... as we are speaking now... This is a praying mantis eating a bee... And I don’t think any of us would probably like to swap places with either of these animals... Disease is very prevalent. This is a rabbit with a disease called myxomatosis, which causes many boils to grow on the rabbits, and eventually they die a lingering death. Thirst and starvation are common. This is a polar bear that starved to death. And injury, parasitism and many other forms of injury are extremely prevalent in the wild. And if we really imagine what this would be like, with no hospitals or treatment, say in the woods one day you break your leg, probably you just gonna lie there, and maybe starve to death in a few days, or probably be eaten by a predator. And this affect hundreds of billions of individuals animals every year. So we’re gonna show a video now. You might think of it sort of like the opposite of some nature documentaries... kind of some of the things they wouldn’t show you because they are quite disturbing. So if you think you might be affected by something like this, you really probably shouldn’t watch this... and should leave for a few minutes now. I can’t overstate how bad this is. Ok... So it’s good to see that you are all still here... I was a little bit worried. Ok. So... Anyway, hopefully that should explain visually some of the things that we might expect to happen all the time in the wild, but that we don’t usually associate with the wilderness, when instead we think about more idyllic and picturesque landscapes, and these kind of things. So, however, if these kind of things only happened at the end of a very long and happy life, then maybe we wouldn’t be justified in saying that life in the wild is really cruel and awful, because maybe the pleasures and the happiness during that life could outweigh the pain of dying at the end even if I was in a some very unpleasant fashion. So then we need to ask ourselves: What is the typical life? What is the average life in the wild like? In general for high all these animals living in the wild, are theirs lives good lives or generally bad lives? So, this is what we are going to argue that a typical life in the wild is like: you are born, you fight for very scarce resources such as food, and then you die a horrible death shortly after birth. So, now, why is that? To explain this, we're going to to explain a little bit about population dynamics and reproductive strategies. So, there are two reproductive strategies... well, there are many reproductive strategies that are followed in the wild, but we can very broadly categorize these as K-selection and r-selection, with many animals being somewhere in between the two strategies, of course. So, these letters K and r come from a mathematical formula that's used to predict the populations of animals in the wild... and K-selectors are animals which focus on increasing the “K” variable in the formula, and r-selectors are those that focus on increasing the “r” variable in the formula. So, K-selection consists of having just a few children, and then taking very very good care of these children, and the idea here is that you have just a few children, take good care of them, and then they pass your genes on to the next generation. On the other hand, r-selection consists of having an enormous number of offspring, often thousand or even millions, almost all of which die before they reach sexual maturity, but a few of which survive and then pass on the parents' genes to the next generation. So, examples of a K-selected species might be apes or humans, and then, an example of an r-selected species might be something like turtles, although there are other species which have even larger number of offspring than turtles, but a turtle mother would lay about a hundred eggs in one nest, and then might have up to eight nests per reproductive season. So that's just from two turtles, we'd have eight hundred offspring. So now I'll just give example of population dynamics and show why unfortunately almost all of these babies die. So for example cod, which is a species of fish, has more than two millions babies (that's just each reproductive season), so at time 1 we can say the two individuals exist, these are the parents; then at time 2 more than two million individuals exist; and finally, if we presume that the population is generally remaining constant, obviously populations vary to some extent, but we don't see populations of cod exploding one-million-fold, or anything like this. So, if we presume that on the average the population is remaining stable - and if there is a finite amount of resources in the area we expect it to reach this way eventually - then obviously, all these individuals in the middle here, something has happened to them... and obviously the answer is that they've died. So this is why almost all of the offspring of r-selected species who come into existence die very young before they reach sexual maturity. And r-selection is what is the norm in the wild. K-selection, where the children are taken better care of, is much less prevalent. But even for animals which might follow a mixture of these two strategies, so have a small number of offspring, maybe 10, not just only two and not a thousand or a million, life can still be extremely brutal. So if an animal has just ten children per breeding season, and survives for just two breeding seasons, so one might say there are being conservative here, there would be 20 children per mother animal. And if the population stays constant, this mean that only 2 children per mother will survive. Then 90% of these babies will die before they reach sexual maturity, which in general will be when they are very young. So, the next time you see some ducks like these, you can think to yourself that 9 out of 10 are probably gonna die shortly, and are unfortunately probably going to die in a way that's quite gruesome. One might object and say that these don't really look like wild ducks, walking around on some concrete, but unless they live in some very unusual ecosystem, or some kind of sanctuary or something, it seems that they'll be subject to the same population dynamics, and that things will happen in much the same way as we explained previously. So, to summarize the argument for population dynamics, for why there is a huge matter of suffering in nature, if a population remains stable, just one organism or animal per parent will survive to adulthood, the vast majority of animals are r-selected and they have an enormous number of children, therefore, most animals live struggling lives and die very gruesome deaths shortly after birth. And therefore, nature is full of suffering. So, just one more thing... Oh, sorry, this is just going back to our argument for the claim, and we were just arguing for the second point here, that there is a huge amount of suffering in nature. And just to get a scope of the sort of numbers we're talking about... these are some numbers that are only rough numbers, because not enough research has really been done into this area, but they're still, it seems like, they're probably reasonably accurate. So, 10 to the 10th is 10 billion, and that's the number of livestock that exist on the Earth at any one instant. So over the course of the year the number of animals that are slaughtered for human consumption is something like 60 billion land animals, but the number that actually exists at any one instant is about 10 billion, because chicken are slaughtered when they are very young, and so on. But then we can see the numbers below are the numbers of animals living in the wild, so we have 10 to the 10th, to 10 to the 11th birds alone... then 10 to the 11th, to 10 to the 12th for mammals, and than you can see going down, there are even more reptiles, amphibians, fish... and then the number of insects is simply astronomical. So, it's clear that the size of the problem is really absolutely enormous, and that these animals who are suffering are doing so in huge numbers. Thanks, Ruairí. So, that was the first part of our talk - justifying the two premises that together imply our claim - and now let's address five common objections, and start with 2.1: Speciesism, which is basically the view that animals don't count, or at any rate count for much less than humans. Speciesism is a term that was popularized by philosophers such as Peter Singer, for instance, and it broadly refers to the discrimination against non-humans beings, non-humans animals, based on their species membership; the discrimination against individuals that don't belong to the human species, which our moral intuition tends to privilege. So, if non-humans animals don't count, if that objection applies, if that they don't count morally, we can ignore wild animals in nature too, obviously. And this speciesist argument can take one of the three forms. The first form would be to say that non-humans animals don't count at all: literally zero, in moral terms. A more moderate form of the claim would be that they count for much less than human animals. And a third, and quite different form would be to hold that non-human animals are not relevantly conscious and cannot really suffer in a relevant way. Although if they were relevantly conscious and could really suffer, they would count, morally, and probably equally. But, claim (3) here has it that they are not conscious in a relevant way, which is a very different sort of objection, when we compared to (1) and (2). So, let’s run through these: Number (1). Is that plausible? It doesn’t seem like it, because it would imply, among other things, that we should probably abolish, we could or maybe should abolish all animal protection and anti-cruelty laws essentially... Because these laws impose certain restrictions to human beings, so they are negative for human beings, and if animals don’t count at all, then there is no benefit to having them, really. But if we accept that it’s a good and important thing, a morally important thing, to have these animal protection and anti-cruelty laws in place, then it seems that we already reject this first view, which claims that non-human animals don’t count at all. Let’s consider a particular case that would be considered cruelty: letting an animal, a pet for instance, starve to death. That would be considered a case of cruelty to animals. But now, is our situation with regard to wild animals, especially supposing that scientific and technological progress continues, and maybe at some point in the future, maybe decades, maybe even centuries down the line, we will have the technology to really help wild animals on a large scale... then, can we escape the notion that we really are, in a way, the stewards of this planet? And if we them let animals starve to death, that we could save, that we could take care of, would that really be so different to, you know, to the smaller scale case of letting a pet starve to death, which would clearly be classified as cruelty to animals? So, in a sense, if we are the stewards of this planet, and if our actual sphere of influence extends over the whole planet, then it seems we cannot, in a sense, avoid this notion. Then, I think we might have to accept morally that great power implies great responsibility, and that if we were to reject any duties to help in that case it would really be akin to letting a pet starve to death. Let’s now address the second form of this objection: Non-human animals count for much less for than human animals. Let’s consider the case of animal testing and of the laws that regulate it. Of course, animal testing could be used as a refutation of this first view as well, because the laws regulating animal testing say that there is a duty to use alternatives to animal testing, that are available and viable: there is a stringent legal duty, and there is also a duty that our state accepts, to put resources into developing and promoting them. So, if we didn’t care at all about non-human animals and their welfare, there would be no reason whatsoever for having these laws, presumably. But there's more here, because it seems that we are putting resources into helping animals, in this domain, that we could use to help humans directly. So, we’re taking resources that could be used to help humans and we’re trying to help animals in the longer run by developing alternatives to animal testing. And so, here it seems that we encounter a case where human interests don’t necessarily trump animal ones although, admittedly the law is very inconsistent at the moment in this regard, because using medical alternatives may in fact imply that some humans are gonna die. So, for instance, if you’re using an alternative to animal testing that’s viable but maybe not perfect, then you’re running a certain risk. Some humans may die because the research doesn’t progress as fast. And if you compare this to the current regulations of farming and of the “culinary domain”, as it were, then using culinary alternatives would just means a little less culinary pleasure, probably. So, if we compare these two cases, we have one case where a lot is at stake: it’s a matter of human life and death in medical research and medical treatment. And on the other hand, much less seems to be at stake, but in the first case we have much more stringent regulations: there is a duty to use existent alternatives and a state duty to develop further ones, whereas in the domain of food there’s no such thing, there’s no analog. So, we have existing plant-based nutritional alternatives, they're healthy, and good, but there is no particular duty for us to use these and to avoid harming animals, there's no analog to this duty that applies in the lab. And there's also no duty, of course, that the state accepts to further develop and promote these alternatives. So there seems to be an inconsistency here. And there's probably an argument for saying: “Ok, let's ignore the law and try to work out a more consistent overall view that would avoid such inconsistencies.” And here I think there's a fundamental question that we need to ask, namely: “Why should the equal suffering of non-human beings count for any less than the suffering of humans?” That directly confronts the claim of this second view. Why? Several reasons have been given for this view. Say, for instance, that well, you know... Pigs, for instance, they just have the wrong looks, maybe the wrong shape, the wrong number of legs, or the wrong genes... they don't belong to the "right" species... But, can we seriously mean that, in terms of an ethical argument? It seems that such justifications would be no better than justifications that one could give for racism or sexism, in fact. It seems that phenotypes or genotypes, as outward characteristics, should be totally irrelevant when it comes to morality or the moral status of a being. Another argument could say that, well, what crucially separates human animals from non-human ones is the fact that non-human animals are, for instance, unable to reason, unable to talk, unable to reciprocate, and those are all phenomena, of course, that require intelligence. So, to put it briefly, they're not intelligent enough, they can't reciprocate, I cannot entry into a contract with a pig, a pig cannot be held morally responsible, we cannot ascribe moral or legal duties to a pig... and that's all true. But the question is: Is that really relevant to the argument? I mean if we were serious about such an argument, about the relevance of intelligence, then, wouldn’t that imply discriminating against many humans too? I mean, there are many humans, such as infants, or cognitively severely disabled people, that are equally unable to reason, talk or reciprocate, and still, of course, they are protected by basic rights under the law. And those criteria of intelligence they are quite strange, because, I mean, they raise many questions. So, are we then discriminating, as I said, against less intelligent humans? And do the most intelligent humans enjoy a privileged moral status? That all seems to lead us into absurdities. And once more, I think, if we admit that morality should, at least to some extent, be about other-regarding reasons for action that we develop from an impartial perspective, then the question is crucial: “How would you like to be treated?” "How would I like to be treated?" "Why do you count?" "Why does your suffering count?" I mean, does my suffering count, or is my suffering is bad? Because I also happen to be a being that's, probably, I hope so, able to reason and talk and reciprocate? It seems to me that the badness of my suffering has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that I'm also able to do maths, and calculations, and I'm able to use human language. The badness of my suffering seems to come from the intrinsic nature the suffering: It's a horrible experience that I wanna get out of, if I’m in it, and that I want to stop. This is where the badness my suffering comes from, and it seems to me that intelligence is totally irrelevant to this fact. Also, again, we can ask from an impartial point of view: How would we like to be treated if we had been born as a non-human animals? What sorts of guiding principles of decision-making would we then want to see in place? Some might object: “Well, isn't that an absurd question to ask?” "Because, well, I'm a human!" "I was born as a human." "What does it even mean to ask, you know, 'what if you had been born as an animal?' " But we should be prepared to reason hypothetically, when we're reasoning from an impartial moral perspective, because, if you say "these questions are invalid because they are hypothetical", then, historically, you would also... you would also have rejected arguments against racism or sexism of the form "Imagine if you were born as a black person", for instance. Or arguments against an ableism "Imagine if you had been born as a severely cognitively disable person... how would you like to be treated, in that case?" So it seems to me that this sort of hypothetical reasoning, which lies at the heart of at least a core aspect of morality, this is impartial perspective, is very relevant, and also relevant to the question that we're considering here. Last but not the least, there is this a third form that speciesism can take, and I think it's a much better form of argument. It's an empirical argument, and it could apply, in principle: "Non-human animals are not relevantly conscious and cannot suffer", that's the claim. And some might say that, if we examine the brains of non-human animals, we'll find that they lack the relevant structures that are required for suffering in the morally irrelevant sense, and so on. But that's scientifically very doubtful, to say the very least. To quote from The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, that was just recently published by a group of leading neuroscientists, such as Christof Koch, for instance, from Caltech, they declared that “The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.” But even if we were highly uncertain, I think that any responsible ethical theory will advise us to avoid unnecessary risks. So, if we're uncertain whether there is someone who will be saved by us doing X, as making a certain decision, performing a certain action, we should still do X just to be on the safe side. So, if there are moral risks, if we are not certain whether some decision would harm or help someone, and if we can easily avoid these risks, then I think any responsible ethical view would advise us to do so. Now, one might ask: “Well, but how in general are we to decide under uncertainty?” "What if we have opportunities costs?" Then I think we should basically apply expected value reasoning. So, say that the probability of these countless wild animal babies that Ruairí talked about, the probability of this animal suffering was, say, just 10%... Then, I think, we should weight the stakes by this probability. So, 10%, that would be a factor of 0.1... and then we should probably multiply this number by what's at stake. And the stakes seem to be really high, if we recall these numbers... so, even if the probability that we place, given our empirical evidence, even if the probability that we place on these creatures being sentient was very small, suppose we go further down to 1%, and with insects that’s a particularly controversial case, of course, and much more research is needed on that front, even if we say we only have 1% probability or 0.1% probability, even then, the expected value that’s at stake could be very high indeed. So, that was the first objection, speciesism in its three forms. Let’s now turn to the second one, the appeal to Nature, and the broad claim that Nature is good, and that we should therefore not intervene. Ruairí: Thank you. Ok. So, the appeal to Nature is basically a philosophical position which states that Nature is good, or morally valuable, and that it’s good to preserve Nature, or to preserve natural processes. So, if we accept this is the case, then we might have less reason, or indeed no reason, to intervene in the wild. It might be the case that preserving these natural processes, and not intervening, would be of higher moral value than intervening to prevent the suffering, even if we still agreed that it would be morally valuable and good to prevent this. So, what are some counter examples we could give to this claim that what's natural is good? Well we could think of something that’s natural but bad, such as disease. What about malaria? Most people will probably agree that malaria is something that’s very bad, it causes a lot of suffering, but it’s perfectly natural for these diseases to exist. A second counter example would be something that’s both unnatural but good, such as medicine. Medicine helps to cure many people and prevent much of their suffering, and most people, I would imagine, would also agree that this is something that is very good, but clearly unnatural: we don’t see this happening in Nature, in the wild. So, we can consider a further example of perhaps a group of humans, maybe a tribe living in the jungle, who are perhaps affected by some disaster, an earthquake or something similar. And then we can ask... “Ok, these humans are living perhaps a perfectly natural life... should we just leave them be? ... as people might say we should do so with wild animals... or should we intervene to help them?" And... "if we agree that we should intervene to help these wild humans, then why isn’t this the same in the case of non-human animals?" So, you might object at this point and say “well, these humans can talk to us, they can tell us that they want to be helped.” This isn’t the case with wild animals, we don’t know if they would like our intervention or not. But then we could consider a further case, also with the case of a tribe living in the jungle, in which perhaps all of the adults from the tribe go off to forage for some food or something, and it's them that are unfortunately killed in some natural disaster, and it’s just babies left in the tribe. And we know that, well, they’re probably gonna starve to death, be eaten by predators, they can’t take care themselves, and they can’t tell us that they want to be taken care of, as is the case of wild animals as well. But most people would still probably agree in this case that we have a moral obligation to help these people, even though they’ve been living a perfect natural life, and that if we did help them, that perhaps, in a sense, we are disturbing something about a natural process. A third objection to the appeal to nature is that it's actually a very odd view to say that a natural process can trump morally someone’s actual interests, and someone’s actual experiences. Well, people might kind of like stare in awe at natural vistas, and think that it's very beautiful, it would be very strange, in reality, if we were to say: “Ok, we can prevent some suffering, or we can conserve some process that isn’t conscious or sentient, or experiencing anything in any way." I think most people would agree it would be very strange to want to conserve the latter, instead of preventing some suffering, or causing someone to have a good live, or something else that we would generally consider to be morally valuable. And we can ask again the question: “What if it was you?” "How would you want people to value if you were in this position?" ... To conserve something just because it was a natural process? Or, instead, to aid you and to enrich your life and to improve it? And finally, another point we can consider: So, many of us or hopefully many of us, are opposed to the suffering that happens in slaughterhouses. So, then, we can imagine a thought experiment in which, rather than slaughterhouses being caused by humans and maintained by humans, they simply grew in the wilderness. So, this might seem a bit bizarre, but then the analogy is that the suffering in both cases is quite similar. So, we can imagine that these slaughterhouses simply grew in the wild, and it wasn’t a fault of any human that they were there, but they simply were. Would we then, in that case, say “Well, it’s natural. We shouldn’t intervene”? Or would we say “No, this is clearly something that’s morally abhorrent and we should do what we can to prevent the suffering that occurs here"? Now Adriano is going to talk about predation and "policing Nature". Adriano: Thanks. Yeah... A related objection focuses on the issue of predation and "policing Nature", which might be an implication of our view, and it says that our view seems to imply that we should police nature, and that that's a reductio ad absurdum. So, isn’t that like just a totally absurd conclusion that you’ve reached here, that we should go out and police Nature, and if your view really has such absurd implications, then, you know, something just must be wrong with it. What to reply here? Again the human analogy seems to be very insightful. So we can consider what we would do, or should do, if humans were being preyed upon. Would we then say “Oh, it’s a natural process”? Probably not. I mean, probably we would and should morally try to do something about it. We should try and stop the predators, especially if their behavior causes a lot of suffering, and if there are lots of victims. We should try to stop the predators, in that case, of course as non violently as possible. But it seems that there would be a strong prima facie reason to try and do something about it. If we're focusing on a purely animal-related example that might be hypothetical or even real in some cases, what about the predator on the cow farm? The lion on the cow farm. Would we protect the cows or not? And would we be prepared to stop the lion if need be? Probably. Now one might say: “Ok, but we are only doing this because the cows are the property of some human and so on”, but, yeah, then that would be a different sort of reason, but to the extent that we would protect the cows for the sake of the cows themselves, it seems that we would also have a reason to protect “wild cows” against the predators, because, in a sense, nature is just a cow farm scaled up by huge factor. Further objections include the claim that lions cannot be held morally responsible, and that, therefore, it would be absurd to intervene in their predatory behavior. But no one is claiming that lion can or should held morally responsible, which would indeed be absurd. Lions are not moral agents, they aren't really aware of what they're doing, we cannot ascribe moral or legal duties to them. So, that's not the question. The question is whether we, *we* as moral agents, who *can* be held morally responsible, whether *we* have a duty to intervene in such cases. And, again, if we consider a human analogy, the answer seems to be “yes”, because there are also many humans that cannot be held morally responsible, such as small children, or cognitively disabled people, they cannot be held morally responsible either, but there are some cases where they're posing a danger to other people, and in that case we're intervening too, in order to protect the rights and the interests of the potential victims. Another claim and a probably better argument is that lions are killing out of existential necessity... so, "they couldn't survive without killing". Now, as we've seen in the video, that's not necessarily the case. Lions, for instance, are also known to regularly kill the offspring of rivals, and so on. Among chimpanzees we also observe behavior that can probably be described as something like murder. There's like group aggression against (certain chimpanzees)... cases have been documented where groups of chimpanzees, of beta chimpanzees, have killed an alpha male that was sleeping, and so on... So... not all inter or intra species violence is out of existential necessity. But, yeah, let's go with the assumptions of that argument... and, yeah, the argument states a valid reason, I think... because, if a creature is killing, is harming others out of existential necessity, that means that a lot is at stake for this creature too. And clearly, if humans, for instance, if humans could only survive by eating other animals, then the moral evaluation, the moral analysis of that behavior, of these decisions, should be different than it is now, where we don't have any existential necessity to eat other animals. So, I think there's a valid point here, but the question is what its scope is, because, again, if we consider the human analogy... An analogy would be, for instance: Suppose I can only survive if I get new organs. So, I need an organ transplantation, or maybe several organs transplantations... say, five of my organs are failing and there are no donors around. And so, suppose the only way for me to survive would be to go around and kill some strangers, and take their organs and put them into my body. In a sense that's analogous to meat eating, right...? ... to existential meat eating. You can only survive by taking the body parts of others and put them into your body. But, would that be legitimate? ... especially if there were multiple victims? I mean, would it be morally permissible for me to kill a few people in order for me to survive, if I need new organs? Probably not. Probably you'd be justified in stopping me in order to protect these potential victims. So, that argument seems doubtful as well, although, there is an important point to it. I think it expresses that there is a lot at stake for the creature that's killing out of existential necessity. And of course, the interests and the suffering of the creatures that are killing out of necessity count too. So, of course, they should be considered as well, but it's not clear that these interests should necessarily trump (the interests of the victims), especially if there are multiple victims and if they are suffering equally. Last but not least, it might be enlightening to ask the question, what we would or should do if we ourselves, homo sapiens, were obligate carnivores, which we fortunately are not. I mean, if we were obligate carnivores, then we'd probably have even stronger biases against antispeciesism and against plant based diets, and... yeah, our whole task would be much more difficult. So, thank God, or thank random evolution, for the fact that we're not obligate carnivores, but suppose we were, and... Ruairí already talked about this thought experiment of the wild slaughterhouse... I think this sort of thought experiments are especially interesting for people that already accept that maybe we should close down slaughterhouses, and maybe we should switch to plant based diets... and this thought experiment is very interesting for these people and these views as well... So, what if we were obligate carnivores? What should we do then? Would you then say... “Oh, now... you know, by nature we are obligate carnivores, so there's no reason whatsoever for us to try and do something about our killing of other animals”? Probably not. I mean, if your reason for preferring plant based diets is that we wanna avoid causing suffering to other animals, then you'd still have the very same reason to try and do something about the problem. The problem would just be technically more complex. But still, we could then, for instance, try to research and promote in vitro meat, lab meat, in order to be able to survive without killing others, without inflicting pain on others... and maybe we could also try and develop the biotechnology that's necessary in order to, for instance, tweak your genes, and tweak the genes of your children... of course that would require a lot of research and careful procedure... but maybe there would be biotechnological ways of evolving into herbivores. So I think these options, if we're serious about avoiding animal suffering, if we were obligate carnivores, then I think it's not so contra-intuitive to think that these options should at least be on the option table. But then why would they be totally absurd in the case of non-human animals? If we accept that there cannot be such a huge difference between human animals and other animals, then why would such proposals... (you know, at this stage we're just brainstorming essentially... ... and of course, before we’re going out there and doing anything practical we would need decades of research, probably...) ... but why should this be dismissed as absurd a priori? That’s the fourth objection: Pessimism. The pessimistic view, which essentially says “you know, all these arguments might basically be valid, but there’s just nothing we can do about the problem except mess up more”. Thank you. Ruairí: Ok, so... let’s go on to this. So the pessimistic view states that anything to do to help wild animals will either be ineffective or counterproductive. So either it’ll don’t work, or in fact it will even make the situation of wild animals worse. But we can see that this is empirically untrue... There are examples of humans helping wild animals, such as animals rescued from natural disasters. This is a kitten that was caught up in hurricane Katrina, I think. Then also on a wider scale we can consider things such as vaccination programs. This is just a page from a report on vaccination of foxes against rabies in Europe. And this is something that’s been very successful. The vaccine was put into some biscuits, they’re scattered in the area where the foxes live, the foxes eat them, and them it’s not possible for the foxes to contract rabies. And this is something that really can be done, and there's a lot of evidence about it, and it clearly works very well. Thirdly: Feeding programs Although these are often carried out in the interests of hunters who want there to be a lot of game around, so they can shot them, (and, obviously, this is a negative thing that causes a lot of suffering), but still, if we just look at the feeding programs in isolation, we can see that this is probably a very good thing, instead of the animals having to fight over such scarce resources, and there being a lot of competition, there's more food, and it’s possible for more animals to get food. However, one might then say... “Well then we're gonna have a population explosion, there's gonna be a lot of suffering and death after that, as the population returns to a sustainable size". So, instead, then, perhaps what we need to think about along side feeding programs would be something like contraceptive techniques, which have also been shown to be useful and plausible in several species, and can also be used instead of brutal culling or hunting. Many of you have probably heard of the badger culls in Britain, and… how contraceptive or in that case vaccination measures are a very plausible alternative to this. So, now we're just gonna consider a few, maybe, more... farther-reaching things that can be done to help wild animals. So if it were possible, and it may become possible or even be possible now, to decrease the number of r-selected animals, then... it seems like that would be a very positive thing. If we had few r-selected populations, there wouldn’t be so many animals having enormous numbers of offspring, and then those offspring wouldn’t be dying in enormous numbers, and having very gruesome deaths and suffering greatly. Another thing we might consider is if there were fewer predators, and instead more large herbivores, then perhaps this would lead to fewer animals, again less r-selection, and again less suffering. So if there are more big herbivores, then they eat more plants in the area, and then the ecosystem will have less carrying capacity for small r-selected animals. But we think that probably we shouldn’t be trying many, or any, perhaps, interventions right now, because simply the state of our knowledge is so low. So, instead, things that we could be doing are spreading these ideas into the future to cause bigger and better interventions when it’s technologically possible. So, the idea is that when these technologies come about, we don’t want people simply to say: “well, there's lots of useful things we can use these for” and not to consider how we can aid wild animals. So, instead, if we spread these ideas and these values into the future, when it becomes possible to aid wild animals in a real significant way, people will want to do so. People often bring up risks of large-scale intervention. So, we might think, “Ok, we are doing something like altering ecosystem, this seems quite dangerous, couldn't this lead to an even worse situation, could we do something wrong and make things very bad”. So, we need to weight these things up properly though. Are we really gonna make this situation that much worse, when there’s already a situation which almost a 100% of these individuals are dying really awful deaths? I mean, we have to really mess things up to somehow make it worse than this, like, maybe, increasing a population of r-selected animals, that would probably be a negative thing. So, when we talk about risks of intervention we also must balance this against what’s currently happening, which is that there is a catastrophe going on all the time and non-intervention just allows this to continue... and we need to get past our “status quo bias”, and our thinking that non-intervention is somehow safe... simply because it’s what we’ve been doing for a long time. So, yeah, simply when we consider the risks of large-scale intervention in nature, we also need to consider the status quo, what’s currently going on, and how this is already currently a catastrophe. Do you wanna take this? Ok. Adriano: Thanks. A related objection says that “even if we do have, or will have the means of intervening on a large-scale, and helping wild animals on a large-scale, inevitably this will lead to us harming some wild animals. And then the question is raised... “Are we morally allowed to harm when helping? ... or to harm in order to help?" And some people raise this challenge because they believe that’s not the case. But... what then about humanitarian intervention? I mean, yeah, that's a possible moral view to take, but it seems that it would imply that humanitarian intervention in the human case would be impermissible basically under any circumstance. Because under any circumstance, if you carried out humanitarian intervention there will be inevitably a risk, and inevitably some collateral damage. And if we are not of the opinion that humanitarian intervention is strictly impermissible, then it seems that it would be a very implausible view to take, to say that large-scale intervention, humanitarian intervention, indeed in the wild would be strictly impermissible too, given the size of the catastrophe that’s currently going on. More generally speaking, as I said, everything we do, so, consider road construction, for instance, runs the risks of harming some and will inevitably harm some. But that doesn’t seem to be a sufficient reason for opposing such actions and decisions. It seems that if the expected harm is smaller than the harm that will be prevented, in expectation, then the intervention is the lesser evil. And it will be the greater evil, the greater expected harm that would result if we didn’t intervene. Let’s turn now to the last objection, which says that: “Well, I accept all these arguments, they are all basically valid... I’m on board, but it’s still quite irrelevant for our practical decision-making, because we should have very different priorities.” And so, if that objection applies, then, in a sense, it would be true that we would be wasting your time here, because, although we’d be speaking the truth, basically, with the arguments presented, they’d be totally irrelevant or almost totally irrelevant to current practice and decision-making. But, if we claim that there are bigger problems, or more urgent, more pressing moral issues than wild animal suffering that we should address, and that therefore we don't have a duty to help wild animals, at least at the moment, then of course that presupposes a notion of what makes for a big, or pressing, or urgent moral problem, and so, we should analyze that notion, and see whether it’s plausible or not. And I think if we try to construct a notion of what makes for a pressing moral problem, and if we try to avoid our... the biases that our intuition may suggest, and if we try to do this from scratch, from an impartial point of view, then I think a plausible view or conclusion would be the following: (1) What makes for a pressing moral problems is its size, and its size is probably a function of "how many individuals are concerned?", and "how much are they suffering?"... "how great and important are the preferences that are being violated?" So, for instance, it seems like if there’s a genocide going on, for instance, or if there’s some natural disaster that causes vast suffering, then that would be a bigger problem than, for instance, social problems that we might have in a first world country. And, likely, it would be morally more urgent to work in that problem, rather than on improving our social system, for instance. But size doesn’t seem to be the only factor entering into the equation here. Improvability seems to be the other important factor. Because even if a problem were extremely big and vast, if the improvability is zero then it can’t be urgent or pressing. So, those seem to be the two determining factors of the urgency of a moral problem: size and improvability. Now, one might accept that in terms of the size, the problem that we’ve been talking about is really huge. So, if you consider again the facts on population dynamics that Ruairí presented, and the absolutely quantity of wild animals that exist in nature, then there seems to be a very strong argument for a really really big and vast size of this problem. But what about the improvability? Ruairí has talked about some smaller scaled interventions that have already been carried out, but they can only solve so much, of course. What about larger-scale improvability? I think it would be implausible to hold that this issue should at least be a potential priority if there was no realistic prospect of large-scale improvability. But, I think there is, and... let me quote Oscar Horta here, a philosopher and ethicist who has published a lot on this problem... and he says that “Our job now is to prepare the ground for forthcoming generations to take action where we may be currently unable to act.” And that's actually a very common conclusion that you reach when you think about bigger-picture ethical problems. Looking into the far future often you realize “Hey, today we are in no position to take direct action, but we can take action to prepare the ground and make it more likely for future generations to take direct action.” And that's an impact that we can have today by improving our decision making. So, what would that imply for the problem of wild animal suffering in terms of action points? Possible action points today could be, as Ruairí already said, spreading ideas, spreading awareness of the fact that this seems to be or that there are at least plausible arguments that suggest that we are dealing with a huge moral problem here. And the point of spreading awareness and these ideas would of course be improving future decision-making. Because if, at some point in the future, we reached a level of power that would enable us to really do something about the problem, but if then we had't thought about the problem yet, or we're being confused by certain objections that are in fact invalid (if our arguments are correct, of course), then that could lead to a moral catastrophe, in that a big moral problem wouldn't be addressed, although it could be. Second, it might be instrumentally, that is, strategically smart to maintain focus on farm animal suffering at this point. Because one might argue that “if society doesn't even accept that maybe we shouldn't cause animal suffering on a large-scale - it's about sixty billion animals that we slaughter each year for our consumption - if we don't even get the point that this poses a moral problem, then it will be very hard to convince anyone to take the reduction of wild animal suffering seriously", so it might be instrumentally useful to focus on farm animal suffering while combining farm animal outreach with spreading awareness about wild animal suffering. Those two things I think can be combined because, as I've tried to argue, the reasons that lead many of us to reject slaughterhouses are the reasons that should also lead us to question whether we shouldn't also address, in the end, wild animal suffering in Nature. And last but not the least, of course, we should try and focus on science. Because if we are gonna do something about this problem at some point at the future, we will, of course, need, very likely, decades of research. So, what we need, in the end, would be something like a Wild Animal “Moon Landing” Project, as it were, and likely more... and so, this is like a huge project, a project that's looking far into the future, although, maybe, you know, in a cosmic scale, it's not looking that far into the future, but it seems that our ethical intuitions are not really accustomed to thinking in terms of the far future perspective. But if we think decades or maybe centuries ahead, it seems that we could start now spreading awareness of wild animal suffering, specially in the sciences , in order to see whether we can start building this research. Because up until now, it's only been few individuals, very few researchers worldwide that have considered the issue, that have tried to gather data and then draw conclusions, so that's also an action point for us today. I'd like to end on that note, and with a message, as I've already said, that when we think about the bigger picture, when we try to think about prioritization, about what makes for a big and pressing moral issue, we often reach the conclusion that we today are unable to take direct action, or only able to take indirect action by preparing the ground for the direct action of future generations to come. Thanks for your attention.

Video Details

Duration: 1 hour, 6 minutes and 58 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Views: 445
Posted by: sergiotarrero on May 16, 2014

Talk by Adriano Mannino and Ruairí Donnelly

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