Philospot

I should reiterate, I'm in broad agreement with the Bekoff and Pierce thesis that some non-human animals are moral beings in the sense explained the previous blog. Here, I'm going to try and anticipate some of the objections philosophers are going to raise. To make things a little more concrete, consider one of Bekoff's and Pierce's examples:

Yvette Watt, an artist an animal advocate in Hobart, Tasmania, told Marc the following story about two dogs. One is a well-fed and happy canine, the other a sad dog always tied to a rope. The happy dog's daily walk takes him by his unfortunate neighbor. One night, the happy dog eats his usual dinner, but saves his meaty bone. The next morning he carries the meaty bone on his walk, and delivers it to his tethered friend (60)

Some are skeptical of anecdotal evidence. But one of the great achievements of Bekoff and Pierce's book, I think, is to amass so much evidence of behavior of this and similar sorts that this evidence now constitutes data rather than anecdote. Bekoff and Pierce do not necessaruly endorse this as an example of moral behaviour. But I am going to use the example for illustrative purposes only. What I am interested in is why a moral philosopher might be skeptical of a certain way of interpreting the dog's behavior. Suppose we accept the following claims:

Happy Dog's action is (i) ostensibly kind, and (ii) is the result of him harbouring kindly feelings towards Sad Dog.

A skeptical moral philosopher might accept both (i) and (ii) but still deny both that Happy Dog exhibits moral behavior and that he is motivated by moral concerns. Bekoff and Pierce do gesture towards one of possible source of the philosopher's skepticism. The philosopher in question is Kant, ably represented in this instance by Christine Korsgaard:

‘[T]he capacity for normative self-government and the deeper level of intentional control that goes wiith it is probably unique to human beings. And it is in the proper use of this capacity - the ability to form and act on judgments of what we ought to do - that the essence of morality lies, not in altruism or the pursuit of the greater good (140).

Bekoff and Pierce counter this claim as follows:

Even if there are bona fide differences in kind, this does not mean that many aspects of morality aren't also shared, or that there aren't significant areas of continuity or overlap. We view each of these possibly unique capacities (language, judgment) as outer layers of the Russian Doll, relatively late evolutionary additions to the suite of moral behaviors. And although eac of these capacities may make human morality unique, they are all grounded in a much deeper, broader, and evolutionarily more ancient layer of moral behaviors that we share with other animals (140-1).

This, however, misses Korsgaard's point, and the point of the Kantian moral tradition she represents. Korsgaard claims that the ability to reflect on or form judgments about what we ought to do is the essence of morality. Any behavior that does not result from this sort of normative self-reflection is not moral behavior. If a creature is unable to reflect on what it does, and ask itself whether this is, in the circumstances, a morally good thing to, or ask itself whether what it feels in these circumstances is the morally right thing to feel is not a moral creature. Normative self-control is the essence of morality. Anything that is not subject to such control is not a moral phenomenon - appearances notwithstanding.

Bekoff and Pierce have, in effect, issued an invitation: why don't you think of morality in this way? Korsgaard and Kant are likely to respond with a firm ‘No thanks'. What would they say of Happy Dog? Is Happy Dog able to ask himself whether bringing the bone to Sad Dog is the right things to do in the circumstances? Is he able to ask himself whether the sympathy he feels for Sad Dog's plight is the right thing to feel in the circumstances? If the answer is to these questions is ‘no' - and Korsgaard and Kant presumably think that it is - then Happy Dog's action is not an example of a moral behavior, and his feelings towards Sad Dog are not examples of moral feelings.

I should emphasize that I do not endorse the Korsgaard/Kant position. Rather, I outline it as (i) an example of the sort of view or morality that needs to be undermined and note that (ii) as yet Bekoff and Pierce have not succeeded in undermining it.

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