Morality Matters


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If moral emotions akin to sympathy are indeed basic capabilities, this means that the individuals who possess them are entitled to lead lives in which the exercise of these capabilities remains possible for them. We are now at a point where we can start to see the full dimension of the ethical problems implicit in the example of Sustitia 2. As we saw, whenever an animal is treated in a way that thwarts one or several of her basic capabilities, she is being harmed. There are two ways in which this thwarting can occur: 1 an animal can be precluded from the possibility of exercising her capability, or 2 she can have her capability taken away from her.

Sustitia 2 still possesses sympathy, but she lacks the possibility of exercising it because of the existence of a physical barrier. Despite not being able to do it, she is still capable of caring for others. She still has her capability, but cannot exercise it. An example of 2 might occur if Sustitia 2 became habituated to the frequent presence of distress cues in her surroundings, to the point where she no longer felt concerned about her conspecifics.

She would have become incapable of caring for others. She would have lost her capability. In both cases, Sustitia 2 is being harmed by whoever has placed her in this situation, because her capability has been thwarted as a result. In the following section, we offer the reasons why the moral problems involved in the thwarting of her moral capability cannot be accounted for in terms of welfare alone. In this section, we offer four considerations that support the claim that the harm affecting Sustitia 2 cannot be fully captured in terms of experiential welfare.

Because we have not given a defence of the capabilities approach, what we will put forward cannot be considered a conclusive argument.

While they ultimately rely on intuitions, we hope to show that these reasons are powerful enough to cast serious doubts on the ability of welfarism to rise up to the challenge. In the case of Sustitia 2 , this treatment is also doing something else, namely, preventing her from exercising her moral capability. Sustitia 2 , like Sustitia 1 , is harmed because her welfare is being impaired, but she is also harmed because her moral capability is being thwarted. The harm involved in the thwarting of her moral capability adds to the harm involved in her loss of welfare.

Sustitia 2 is, so to speak, doubly harmed. Our claim is, rather, that if we were to only speak in terms of welfare, we would not capture this additional harm, and so we would only have a partial account of how Sustitia 2 is being wronged. It is simply different. A purely welfarist analysis would distract us from the fact that, under normal circumstances—i. If it does not, then arguably there is no real attachment. Under certain conditions, grief is the right thing to feel. Whether or not this means that grief is a constituent part of the attachment seems largely a matter of stipulation, but it does seem right to say that if you value the attachment, then you have to value the grief that comes with it.

This is what caring consists of for Sustitia 2. We cannot separate it from her distress.


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They are inextricably intertwined. But, of course, the fact that comforting another can constitute something valuable for a social animal has to be put into perspective, and the circumstances that give rise to this behaviour must be taken into account for a proper ethical assessment to be reached. A person who has had a life of misfortune, with very little opportunities, and rather little hope, may be more easily reconciled to deprivations than others reared in more fortunate and affluent circumstances.

The metric of happiness may, therefore, distort the extent of deprivation, in a specific and biased way. Sen , Anyone who considers sympathy and caringness to be intrinsically valuable character traits must conclude that the welfarist analysis of this example is misguided. The habituation process is not beneficial, even if it results in lesser suffering. The habituation process is a further harm that is inflicted upon Sustitia 2 , because an individual who would naturally be sympathetic and caring has become callous by way of the agency of another i.

This harm cannot be accounted for in terms of welfare. In contrast, the capabilities approach allows us to speak of harm, not only when a capability is prevented from being exercised, but also when it is taken away in its entirety. We can thus continue to speak of harm, even though she is no longer suffering. Welfarists were forced into a moral dilemma when a strain of blind chickens that displayed less signs of distress under crowded conditions was accidentally produced.

This sparked an on-going debate on whether we should deliberately disenhance farm animals by use of biotechnology in order to make them incapable of suffering. If harm depends solely on suffering, then producing animals that cannot suffer should appear as innocuous, even desirable. And yet, this seems highly counter-intuitive. Reflecting upon the moral capabilities of animals can shed light on at least part of the reason why the biotechnological disenhancement of farm animals would be wrong.

To see this, consider an individual we can call Sustitia 3. What distinguishes her from Sustitia 2 is that, when Sustitia 3 was an embryo, she was subjected to a process of genetic engineering aimed at depriving her of the capacity to feel distress. As a consequence of this process of disenhancement, Sustitia 3 cannot feel distress, and consequently, she cannot feel sympathy either, for the latter is dependent on the former. From a purely welfarist perspective, Sustitia 3 would not have been harmed by this disenhancement process, since she is, ex hypothesi , incapable of suffering.

The capabilities approach, however, allows us to specify at least part of the harm inflicted upon Sustitia 3 , by saying that this disenhancement has deprived her of the capability to care for others. Sustitia 3 has been forced into a life that contains one less type of good: a life in which she will never get to form attachments and care for others. Her life is poorer as a result, and so it is a worse life. In this section, as a last step in our argument, we will evaluate some of the human practices involving animals in light of the considerations we have made.

Due to space constraints, we can just give a rough idea of the relevance of our theoretical claims for the field of applied animal ethics and human—animal interactions. Moreover, we are only going to consider those animals that are under direct human care, even though Nussbaum hints at the possibility that the capabilities approach may give rise to certain duties towards wild animals see Nussbaum , ff.

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Throughout this section, we will often refer to certain practices that we consider ethically questionable as a whole like the raising of animals for food , but we will assess them only with respect to the noxious effect they may have upon the moral subjecthood of the animals involved. There are many further ethical concerns with respect to these practices that are well known and have been widely discussed in the literature, but we will proceed by bracketing them and focusing on the issue at hand. This is not meant as a way of lessening the importance of these ethical concerns. Rather, our ultimate aim is to contribute a new aspect to the ethical debate surrounding these practices and perhaps strengthen the case against certain ones.

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Until now, we have refrained from referring to real animals and instead used hypothetical constructs to illustrate our point. In what follows, we will refer to actual animal species whose moral capabilities have only recently begun to be studied if at all.

While we still lack the sort of evidence to confidently attribute moral capacities to them, we will proceed by assuming that they are moral subjects, in order to identify potential harms that we may be inadvertently inflicting on them. As we saw, an animal can have her moral capabilities thwarted 1 if she is precluded from the possibility of exercising them, or 2 if her moral capabilities are taken away from her. We shall now consider how these two forms of thwarting may occur in everyday human-animal interactions.

Even though Sustitia 2 was an imaginary example, her life conditions may not differ much from those of real animals who are raised for food. As we have already pointed out, painful and distressing procedures in farm animal husbandry are abundant, and indeed, ethical concerns with respect to the methods involved in breeding, raising, handling, transporting, and slaughtering farm animals have been raised for decades e. Rollin Due to the overcrowding that characterises intensive farming, these painful procedures will often take place while in the presence of conspecifics.

This, however, is an issue that has received comparatively little attention. Only rather recently has it begun to be systematically addressed as a research topic. As usual, the focus of these studies has been the welfare problems involved in these situations. As we have already explained, this might add a new dimension to the ways in which these animals are being harmed. Farm animals are not the only class of animals under human care that are often exposed to the distress of conspecifics.

Lab animals, too, will frequently find themselves in similar situations.

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The procedures involved in experimental set-ups include handling the subjects, collecting blood samples, performing orogastric gavage a technique used to administer nutrients directly to the stomach via an oral tube Balcombe et al. Other animals in the laboratory may have perceptual access to these processes and will most likely be prevented from interfering. We already have a significant amount of evidence suggesting that rodents undergo emotional contagion when in the presence of a conspecific in distress Knapska et al.

Therefore, in this context it is also important to consider whether the animals are having their moral capabilities thwarted. Many husbandry systems resort to the re-grouping, separation, or even isolation of animals, thus depriving them of this pre-condition, and potentially thwarting their moral capabilities. This sort of unstable social environment is very common in farms. Farm animals are grouped and re-grouped according to productivity and reproductive state. This could constitute a problem, for instance, for dairy cows, who are gregarious animals and develop complex social relationships, characterised by feeding and resting together, or by engaging in allogrooming.

Gutmann et al. They conclude that it is actually long-term familiarity that creates preferred social partners in dairy cows. But if farm animals are frequently re-grouped, the only social relationships possible, then, might be short-term relationships.

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They lose their preferred social partners, and this may hinder the flourishing of their moral capabilities, for evidence suggests that animals have a higher probability of engaging in caring and helping behaviour when they are familiar with the other subject Cronin ; Bartal et al. Several of the housing conditions found in factory farms, such as sow stalls and farrowing crates, have been severely criticised, amongst other things, because they result in an enforced isolation from conspecifics see e. Rollin , especially chapter The thwarting of the moral capabilities of these isolated animals adds a new dimension to the welfare problems that such housing methods cause.

Other animals under human care are also deprived of the stable social environment that would be a pre-condition for exercising their moral capabilities. Zoo animals are often separated from each other due to space constraints if families become too big , and rehoused to other zoos because of breeding programs.

Lab animals might be kept in sterile, single housing due to the requirements of a controlled experimental setting. And even if some legislation tries to put a stop to it, companion animals are often kept in isolation from conspecifics, even highly social animals, like parrots, which has been shown to have harming effects Aydinonat et al.

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Furthermore, companion animals kept in shelters, such as dogs, might very often experience the breaking up of social relationships when individuals of their group are rehomed. In this light, the common practice of rescuing dogs from the streets may not be as innocuous as is usually considered, as these animals lose their familiar environment and very likely all their well-known partners. They might be brought to a foster home with no other companion dog around them—a situation that could possibly mean fewer opportunities for their moral capabilities to be exercised.

In sum, if the animals in these different examples are subjects with complex social lives that include moral lives, then re-grouping, separating, and isolating them may disrupt or preclude the appearance of those bonds that are a pre-condition for the exercise of their moral capabilities.

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