After school was my favorite part of the day when I was younger, and for a reason you may not think of right away. Of course after school was a time to celebrate the freedom from being out of school for the day, but after school also brought the afternoon sunshine monarch butterflies flutter in. Naturally, when the temperature grew cooler, the monarch butterflies disappeared somewhere. I started to think to myself, wouldn’t it be nice if I could keep at least one of the monarch butterflies warm? Before long, I was sweeping my net through the air to catch the lucky monarch butterfly that was going to get to live with me in all the comforts of my warm home. Finally, I introduced a monarch butterfly to his new home.
Looking at the monarch butterfly through the case he inhabited, I said to him, “I am going to take the best care of you, I promise.”…
I have grown since I caught the monarch butterfly, and my views on ethical issues in the environment have grown through this course too. At first, I thought we were going to learn interesting facts about the environment. Then, I realized after the first several days, there are a lot of interesting facts in this course, but this course has little to do with the interesting facts. In fact, this course is really about observing both philosophers and classmates answering seemingly unanswerable questions. As a result, I took portions of the most interesting aspects of other people’s arguments, and addressed them specifically through several prompts.
Despite how I addressed specific arguments regarding animal liberation and ecological ethics, I still felt like I was not answering fundamental questions for myself: How should humans treat animals? and How should humans treat their ecosystem? Fortunately, I noticed a relationship between all 5 prompts I chose for my final post. Starting from the oldest prompt, and working my way up to the newest, I noticed the topic of the prompts formed a continuum. The continuum grew from animal liberation to ecological ethics, with an overlap of both in-between. In response the continuum I noticed, I set out to make clear connections between my prompts. Ultimately, I hoped to arrive at ecological ethics and be able to reflect on the clear connections that brought me there.
The earliest prompt I selected for this post was Prompt 5, in which I discussed two quintessential animal liberationists, Singer and Regan. While I knew Singer and Regan were both animal liberationists, I did not know Singer and Regan held such different viewpoints on why animals should be morally considered. Admittedly, I thought philosophers would be in such a minority to begin with by studying animal liberation, that they could not afford to hold such opposing viewpoints as Singer and Regan. However, I learned from Singer and Regan that a large sub-division of animal liberation is moral consideration.
The two different ways Singer and Regan go about ascribing moral consideration to animals, carries on through my writing toward ecological ethics. On one hand, Singer ascribes moral consideration to animals through sentience (the animal’s ability to feel pain). Regan disagrees with Singer that moral consideration to animals should be determined by the animals’ ability to feel pain. Therefore, he contends that animals should be ascribed moral consideration based on their intrinsic value. At the time of writing Prompt 5, I did not see the implications of sentience and intrinsic value. Furthermore, Prompt 5 did not reveal whether I supported Singer or Regan’s views.
Understandably, sentience and intrinsic value seemed like obscure topics, solely related to ideas Singer and Regan shared. Then I looked at my next prompt I selected for this post, and saw the word intrinsic value. Inevitably, Regan’s name showed up again, but this time in contrast with a new philosopher: Warren. Even though I would not have considered a philosopher to be an animal liberationist if the philosopher did not ascribe moral consideration to animals, Warren challenged my belief. In order to see if animals did not need moral consideration to live a peaceful life, I examined the structure of a wolf pack in Prompt 6.
When I held Warren’s argument that animals do not require moral consideration to live a peaceful life up to a wolf pack, Warren’s argument held. Wolves do not need moral consideration to live a peaceful life. However, I also mention that even though wolves do not need moral consideration to live a peaceful life, humans may affect their ability to do so. Furthermore, a recurrent theme throughout the course has been the affect humans have on animals. A thought provoking question arose for me in the progress of writing Prompt 6: “How do humans impose the strongest affect on animals?”
While keeping this question in the back of my mind, I reviewed Prompt 7. Up until this point, I was loosely considering supporting animal liberation. After all, animal liberation seemed like the only option to consider. However, the precedence of animal liberation in Prompt 5 and Prompt 6 also caused me to feel an “inspiring tension”. The inspiring tension I felt caused me to think that there is something bigger than human intellect affecting animals. At the time, I did not know what the something bigger affecting animals could be, but I was inspired to find out. Then, the foundation for ecological ethics was laid in Prompt 7.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the word community in Prompt 7 would lay the foundation for ecological ethics. When I wrote Prompt 7, I knew ecological ethics focused on the community, while animal liberation focused on the individual. Nevertheless, I hadn’t integrated the terms individual and community into the context of ecological ethics. As a result, Prompt 7 captures my growth best out of all five prompts I selected for this post. On one hand, I was frustrated that what was best for the community seemed indefinable. But on the other hand, my frustration over defining community led to motivation toward learning more about community.
Although I was committed to the best for the community, two factors confused my train of thought: My grandfather and the woodchuck. Since my grandfather is a part of the community, and so is the woodchuck, how is there supposed to be a best outcome for both? I set out to answer this question throughout Prompt 7, suggesting that maybe the preservation of woodchuck life is better for the overall community. Then, I was quickly swayed in the other direction by concern for my grandfather’s sustenance. Ultimately, I was left with the question of whether to favor my grandfather or the woodchuck, and why?
Interestingly enough, the second to last prompt I selected for this post, Prompt 8, suggested how to view the woodchuck I discussed in comparison to my grandfather. In contrast to intrinsic value, which I introduced in Prompt 5, Prompt 8 introduces extrinsic value, which does not ultimately give me an answer to whether to favor my grandfather or the woodchuck, and why, but does offer a different point of view that has helped me clarify the ways humans interact with the biotic community.
As an example, Russow discusses species preservation as species preservation is related to extrinsic value. In short, species are preserved for their possible future extrinsic value to humans. Similarly, Russow might argue for the woodchuck to be preserved for possible future extrinsic value to humans. On a larger scale, Russow is focused on human obligation toward other species. Even though two new terms were introduced in Prompt 8, biotic community, and extrinsic value, I still sounded like I was describing something I didn’t know the name of.
Then, a term was introduced in Prompt 11 that holds the answers to all the most valuable points and questions I have been discussing. In addition, the term also satisfies my “inspiring tension”. Recall my inspiring tension, and how I felt like there is something bigger than human intellect affecting animals. Prompt 11 eased my inspiring tension by introducing the term, ecological ethics. While ecological ethics and animal liberation are both governed by moral principles, animal liberation focuses on the individual, while ecological ethics focuses on the community.
One of the most valuable points I made was that I had yet to integrate my view of the individual and community into ecological ethics. I believe that defining the individual and community role in ecological ethics is essential to the foundation of my ecological ethic. Finally arriving at Prompt 11, I illustrated the role of individual and community with a powerful example. There are billions of microorganisms that live naturally on human skin and help humans by warding off other harmful microorganisms. However, the same microorganisms that help humans can also cause disease if grown too rapidly. Therefore, humans need to kill some billions of the microorganisms by cleansing on a regular basis.
In order to effectively integrate my view of the individual and community into ecological ethics, I will compare how both the individual and community may be viewed in regard to the previous example about microorganisms on human skin. On one hand, let’s take an animal liberationist that extends moral consideration to the microorganisms. Being concerned with the individual welfare of life forms that an animal liberationist is, this particular animal liberationist would be appalled at each and every of the billions of lives the human is destroying to maintain the benefits of the microorganisms, at the microorganisms expense.
On the other hand, the average ecological ethicist would have no problem with the way the human and microorganisms are living and dying. Hence, the ecological ethicist is concerned with the overall welfare of the biotic community, while the animal liberationist is concerned with the life of each individual in the biotic community. In other words, the animal liberation sounds like a good idea. After all, no one gets hurt, right? Wrong. As this animal liberationist would quickly find out if he went as far as to stop bathing to save the microorganisms, life requires a careful balance between life and death to support life.
Moreover, I would like to ask an animal liberationist just what they think qualifies them to know what is best for the overall biotic community, when animal liberation focuses on individuals? In other words, animal liberationists are posing what is best for the individuals they consider. However, individuals make up populations, while populations make up communities. Therefore, animal liberationists are taking responsibility for the entire biotic community, even though they don’t have an interest outside the individual level. Hence, I see animal liberationists as missing the big picture.
To put it another way, life has been on earth for 8.5 billion years, while humans have been on earth for half a million years. Therefore, I have drawn the conclusion that our ecosystem is far better suited to sustain itself than by following an animal liberationist’s guidelines that is removed from the dynamics of how an ecosystem even works.
Even though I side with ecological ethics, I will dedicate the rest of my story to animal liberation.
…While I picked up the case the monarch butterfly inhabited, I smiled; happy that the monarch butterfly I was carrying would not be cold tonight. As promised, I also shared the comforts of my warm home with the monarch butterfly. However, I placed several of my favorite goodies to eat in the case, and the monarch butterfly did not eat any of them. Therefore, I concluded he must have been eating invisible food. Closing the day, I said goodnight to the monarch butterfly and headed off to bed. When I rose in the morning to greet the monarch butterfly, he was limp at the bottom of the case.
I would have done anything to save the monarch butterfly’s life, but sadly, I didn’t know what would save the monarch butterfly’s life. Similarly, I believe there are a lot of animal liberationists that believe they will save animals one by one if they try hard enough. However, like myself when I was younger, animal liberationists fail to recognize that there is something about the ecosystem that provides animals what we cannot. Inevitably, death is involved in the preservation of the biotic community that makes up our ecosystem. Thus, death is the price we pay for life.