Wild Animal Ethics
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In the field of animal ethics, domesticated animals receive nearly all the attention. But the ethical questions about our treatment of non-domesticated animals are probably knottier. We’re responsible for the existence of domesticated animals and consequently it isn’t too difficult to establish that we bear some degree of moral responsibility for the quality of their lives. But what do we owe to animals whose procreation is out of our hands? The majority view is that life in nature is, in Hobbes’s memorable phrase, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”, but there is not yet an emerging consensus as to what, if anything, we should do about that. And when overpopulation and disease threaten animal populations, can hunting be an ethical answer? What about the reintroduction of predator species? The questions become perhaps even more complex when we focus our attention toward those animals who are (to borrow Donaldson and Kymlicka’s expression) liminal—i.e., those who live at the fringes of human civilization but aren’t domesticated: rats, foxes, pigeons, etc. May we demand certain behaviour from these animals and treat them as pests when they don’t comply? Do we incur new obligations to animals when we expand our settlements into their territory and thus render them involuntarily liminal?
Email Ben Sachs at [email protected]
* This conference will take place at the University of St. Andrews if it is safe to hold it in person. Regardless, we will make it possible for people to attend virtually.
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