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Animal Beauty, Ethics, and Environmental Preservation Ned Hettinger College of Charleston.

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Presentation on theme: "Animal Beauty, Ethics, and Environmental Preservation Ned Hettinger College of Charleston."— Presentation transcript:

1 Animal Beauty, Ethics, and Environmental Preservation Ned Hettinger College of Charleston

2 Animal beauty is a paradigm of aesthetic value

3 What could be more graceful than a gazelle? Consider the beauty of birds The bright flash of a cardinal against the deep green leaves The charm of the male feeding his female companion The haunting call of the loon

4 Animal beauty is important for environmental preservation Aesthetic preservationism holds that natural beauty is a major justification for environmental protection If natural beauty amounts to anything, it includes the beauty of animals, wild and free, on the move If our world lacked its splendid animal beauty, the justification for protecting the environment would be significantly weaker This talk is a defense of the significance of animal beauty for environmental preservation

5 Two objections to animal aesthetic preservation Focus on animal beauty is superficial and morally objectionable As it is with people, aesthetic merit is a trivial and inappropriate basis on which to value or protect animals Predation is ugly Widespread suffering, death, and predation of animals is aesthetically negative and compromises animal beautys role in aesthetic protectionism Both are significant problems if one takes the moral status of animals seriously.

6 Is beauty an objectionable basis for treatment/valuing of humans & animals?

7 Physically attractive humans are treated better More successful in virtually every area of human life Jobs, friends, spouses, being elected...

8 Uncontroversial that some of this preferential treatment is problematic When we shower many rewards on people–models, movie stars–who are beautiful or who make themselves beautiful we should feel a little ashamed of it, thinking it a little silly and a waste of resources Things we do to maintain our own beauty are associated with disreputable traits like vanity (Rob Loftis 2003, PCW) Moral education is needed to correct for such biases (Robert Fudge, JAAC, 2001) A focus on human physical attractiveness is superficial:

9 Not easy to explain why aesthetic discrimination is problematic Given that beauty is paradigmatically valuable, why is human beauty not also uncontroversially valuable? And if human beauty is valuable, should it not count for something in our thinking and behavior? People often choose a spouse or friends based in part on their beauty and this does not seem morally objectionable or superficial

10 Does Aesthetic Discrimination Violate Moral Equality? One objection to using aesthetic merit to value and differentially treat people (and animals) is that it violates the ideal of moral equality E.g., Beauty queens should not get better medial treatment or fairer trials

11 Does the moral equality of animals prevent similar aesthetic discrimination? Endangered species discrimination? The policy of preserving attractive endangered species before less attractive ones seems to run afoul of the moral equality of animals

12 If a bird rescue operation chooses to rehabilitate hawks, eagles, and owls, but not vultures, and does so on aesthetic grounds, does it violate the requirement of equal consideration for all animals? Does choosing a pet at the pound based on aesthetics violate equal consideration of animals?

13 Moral equality not well understood The meaning and significance of moral equality in humans is problematic –Many argue for partiality as a moral ideal –If and when moral equality rules out meritocratic treatment (including aesthetic discrimination) is also up for grabs The meaning and significance of moral equality for animals is even less well understood

14 Leave implications of moral equality for aesthetic discrimination unresolved Moral considerations do not always outweigh aesthetic ones Boring life of Mr. Goody-two-shoes is not preferable to the life of a person whose life--though not perfectly moral--is highly aesthetically stimulating In the conflict between salmon and sea lions, even though salmon are less sentient and thus less morally considerable, salmon may get preference because of their spectacular life cycle (superior aesthetic merit)

15 Aesthetic Merit and Autonomy Another reason aesthetic discrimination is problematic is that much beauty is beyond the individuals control and thus: (1) It is unfair to base our treatment of others on such a feature, for we should base our treatment of others on characteristics for which they are responsible (2) Evaluating others on basis of uncontrollable features reduces their control over their lives (reduces autonomy)

16 Beauty not always uncontrollable Note that these arguments dont apply for the many dimensions of beauty that are controllable When an appearance that repulses others is chosen (e.g., dirty, smelly, gluttonous, etc) Differential treatment on this basis is neither unfair nor autonomy reducing

17 These considerations dont apply well to animals Is aesthetic discrimination toward animals unfair to them because we are failing to treat them on the basis of features for which they are responsible? No: Because animals are not (fully) morally responsible beings, no possibility of treating them only on the basis of features for which they are responsible

18 Does aesthetic discrimination reduce animal autonomy? Animals choices and ability to control their lives are sufficiently limited so that aesthetic discrimination does not seriously impair autonomy in animals Would we increase the autonomy of ugly pets in pounds if we choose them on the basis of their behavior rather than their looks? I dont think so.

19 Does aesthetic discrimination focus on a trivial value? Beauty is only skin deep –It ignores more important behavioral and character traits Thus differentially valuing and treating people based on aesthetic merit is a shallow and superficial approach to their value So too with animals

20 Physical beauty is not a trivial value But so is ignoring the appearance of human bodies Humans, like animals, have bodies and what those bodies are like matters Must guard against the inappropriate downgrading of the importance of the physical in human life An overly narrow focus on human physical beauty is clearly problematic

21 Belief in the triviality of beauty based on an overly narrow conception of aesthetic merit Notion that beauty is only skin deep is like the formalist idea that beauty consists solely in forms, lines and colors and that the sensuous surface of things exhausts their aesthetic content

22 Beauty involves much more than physical appearance In country, as in people, a plain exterior often conceals hidden riches (Aldo Leopold, 1949) Not all beauty is the easy beauty of the beauty queen, a panda bear or a scenic overlook There are wonderful people in whom we delight and whose behavior and compelling personalities move us greatly, though they many not be particularly pretty to look at The beauty queen, in contrast, may be boring, humorless and no fun at all.

23 Deeper beauty in humans and animals depends on Behavior and personality –Cant properly appreciate a salmon without knowing its life cycle History, context, and what they represent –A grizzly bear symbolizes wild nature beyond human control –A cow represents human domination of nature

24 Beauty counts more in animals than in people Animal beauty in general (and their physical beauty in particular) should count more in terms of how we value and treat animals than human beauty should count with people Animals lack the depth of psychological inner beauty present in the character of people Aesthetic dimensions of human personalitiesbeing compelling, boring, humorless, or fascinatingare only present in radically diminished forms in animal personalities Thus a sole focus on animals physical appearance misses less of their beauty than does such a focus in people In human value, beauty has many more competitors than it does in animal value For example, moral virtue is central to the assessment of human value, but is barely present in animals, if at all

25 A sole focus on animal bodies is not demeaning, as it is with people National park visitors who focus on the physical appearance of animals are not like college men who stare at womens bodies Wildlife calendars are not like Playboy magazines While a single-minded concern with the look of animals ignores aesthetic features of their ecology and behavior, it is not demeaning to the animals but is a praiseworthy celebration of their value

26 Conclusion about aesthetic discrimination for humans and animals Aesthetic merit is a substantial value, not a mere tie breaker, and this is especially true with animals Aesthetic discrimination is permissible with animals, even though it is often not with humans Beautiful animals should be more highly valued and get more protection than less beautiful ones Aesthetic merit plays a legitimate role in assessing the value and treatment of animals that it doesnt with humans

27 Conclusions about the use of animals aesthetic merit for preservationism The notion that beauty is only skin deep relies on an overly narrow formalist idea that the sensuous surface of things exhausts their aesthetic content –It ignores aesthetic merit found in behavior, personality, history, context, and representation Aesthetic merit is a substantial value, not a mere tie breaker Moral considerations do not rule out differential treatment based on aesthetics and this is especially true with animals –Because animals are not morally responsible beings and have relatively limited autonomy, the arguments against aesthetic discrimination with humans do not apply well to animals –Further, a sole focus on the physical appearance of animals is not demeaning as is a sole focus on the physical appearance of humans Because animals lack the depth of inner psychological beauty present in humans and lack some important competitors to beauty in the assessment of individual value (viz., moral virtue) Aesthetic merit plays a larger legitimate role in assessing the value and treatment of animals that it does with humans Thus using animals beauty to defend environmental preservation is not morally objectionable, nor does it rely on a trivial value

28 2 nd Challenge to Aesthetic Preservationism Animal ugliness, particularly the suffering and death in predation, undermines the use of animal beauty for aesthetic protectionism

29 Are there ugly animals? Human growth hormone enhanced Beltsville pigs who had deformed skulls, swollen legs, and crossed eyes Naturally deformed animals One account of animal beauty locates it in their displaying fitness for function (Glenn Parsons, 2007) and possessing parts with natural functions they are well suited to perform (Malcolm Budd, 2002) This explains the ugliness of:

30 Many ugly animals? Consider the list suggested--though not endorsed--by Yuriko Saito: –Some things in nature are so repulsive, annoying, or unattractive that we cannot bring ourselves to appreciate the positive aesthetic value of their story telling. Fleas, flies cockroaches and mosquitoes, no matter how interesting their anatomical structures and ecological roles may be, are simply pesky... Bats, snakes, slugs, worms, centipedes and spiders simply give us the creeps and cause us to shudder... Our negative reaction to these things outweighs their positive aesthetic value of embodying their interesting life story (1998).

31 Do all animals have significant dimensions of ugliness? The critic will complain against admirers of wildlife that they overlook as much as they see. The bison are shaggy, shedding, and dirty. That hawk has lost several flight feathers; that marmot is diseased and scarred. The elk look like the tag end of a rough winter. A half dozen juvenile eagles starve for every one that reaches maturity. Every wild life is marred by the rips and tears of time and eventually destroyed by them (Holmes Rolston, III 1987).

32 Animal ugliness as rampant in nature These dimensions of animals lives present a real worry for the view that the aesthetics of animals is positive on balance and thus they threaten the contribution animal beauty can make to aesthetic preservationism Once as a college youth I killed an opossum that seemed sluggish and then did an autopsy. He was infested with a hundred worms! Grisly and pitiful, he seemed a sign of the whole wilderness,... too alien to value (Rolston, 1986) Wildness is a gigantic food pyramid, and this sets value in a grim death bound jungle. All is a slaughter- house, with life a miasma rising over the stench. (Rolston, 1986)

33 I focus on the possibly negative aesthetics of predation It is arguable that the suffering, killing, and death involved in predation are something we should not appreciate and further that the phenomenon is aesthetically negative If so, we have a rationale for condemning the wide-spread practice of aesthetically appreciating predation and an argument against the environmental goal of predator restoration (viz., we should not add ugliness to the world) Further, given the centrality of predation in animal lives, if predation is aesthetically negative, this seriously hinders using animal beauty for aesthetic preservationism

34 Environmental aestheticians on nature-caused suffering Yuriko Saito denies that everything in nature is positively appreciable (i.e., positive aesthetics) Because it conflicts with a moral obligation not to appreciate events that cause great human suffering The same moral considerations that question the appropriateness of our aesthetic appreciation of the [atomic bomb] mushroom cloud, I believe, are also applicable to the possible aesthetic experience of natural disasters which cause people to suffer... our human-oriented moral sentiments do dictate that we not derive pleasure (including aesthetic pleasure) from other humans misery, even if it is caused by nature taking its course... (1998)

35 Saito side steps animal suffering While Saito wonders if there is: – Any difference between the suffering and death of an elk and the suffering and death of people who are victims of some natural disaster (1998) She leaves animals out of her conclusion about the moral inappropriateness of aesthetically appreciating natural disasters that cause suffering Because animals are not insulated from forces of nature as are humans, the problem of animal suffering and death in nature is a more formidable challenge to positive aesthetics than is nature-caused human suffering

36 Allen Carlson on nature-caused animal suffering Carlson (2007) dismisses Saitos critique of positive aesthetics due to nature-caused human suffering by noting that positive aesthetics applies only to pristine nature (in which humans are not involved) He also dismisses concerns about the aesthetic implications of animal suffering in nature: –(1) By arguing that nature is not morally assessable This ignores that it is non-morally assessable –Predation might be evil or ugly, even though it cant be wrong Also ignores moral questions about possible obligations to alleviate such suffering –(2) And by suggesting that even if it were true that one ought not to aesthetically appreciate animal suffering in nature, this is a moral ought and that leaves the aesthetic value of these events untouched This ignores possible interaction between non-aesthetic and aesthetic values

37 Three relationships between aesthetic and other values Aesthetic apartheid Autonomism Integrationism/interactionism

38 (1) Aesthetic Apartheid Non-aesthetic (e.g., moral) evaluation is not appropriately applied to aesthetic objects or responses –There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well or badly written. That is all. (Oscar Wilde, 1891) Apartheid in the aesthetics of predation: –The negative evaluation of the preys pain is not relevant to predation as an aesthetic object, nor does it legitimize moral assessment of the aesthetic appreciation of predation Aesthetic apartheid is mistaken: –Aesthetic objects and activities are not immune from non-aesthetic evaluation –Any human act can be morally evaluated, including acts of aesthetic appreciation E.g., display & admiration of photography of the bombing of Nagasaki might grievously offendmoral questioning not out of place

39 (2) Autonomism Non-aesthetic (e.g., moral) evaluation of aesthetic objects and responses are appropriate, but irrelevant to the aesthetic merits of the object A moral defect is not an aesthetic defect Immoral but great art: –Although Leni Riefenstahls powerful cinematography glorifying Hitler is morally depraved and we (morally) ought not appreciate it, this does not affect its superior aesthetic merit

40 Autonomism applied to nature: Evil but aesthetically valuable nature A positive aesthetic response to Hurricane Katrina and to predation are morally wrong because they fail to take the disvalue of the suffering and death of humans and animals seriously But these moral mistakes, need not be aesthetic ones Katrina and predation might still have great aesthetic value

41 (3) Interactionism/integrationism Refuses to compartmentalize values Aesthetic and non-aesthetic values (including moral values) can influence each other A moral defect can be an aesthetic defect Examples: –An author must get the reader to feel sympathy for a character if the story is to succeed; But, contrary to the authors view, the character is terribly evil, and this prevents a sympathetic response Here a moral flaw in the work cause it to fail aesthetically –Racist jokes are not funny (and this is because they are morally wrong) We may declare pointedly that it is not funny–precisely because its message is offensive. To laugh at it, we may feel, would amount to endorsing its message, so we refuse to laugh. Even judging it to be funny may feel like expressing agreement (Kendall Walton, 2002).

42 Pollution sunsets not beautiful Integrationist approach: Proper sensitivity to harms of pollution diminish or negate the sunsets aesthetic value Aesthetic appreciation should go beyond sensuous surface and involve: Conception: What is being experience are harmful particles that damage lungs, send people to the hospital and acidify lakes Imagination: Picture dead fish, hear the wheezing of vulnerable people trying to breathe Emotion: Feel angry at industry executives who profit by externalizing their costs onto others The aesthetic delight and peaceful feelings sunsets normally deliver are absent

43 Integrationism and Predation –The suffering and death involved in predation may give it a negative aesthetic value This would be trouble for a positive assessment of the beauty of the lives of the animals involved Because I believe that non-aesthetic and aesthetic values can interact (integrationism) I worry not only about it being morally wrong to aesthetically appreciate predation But also that it might be aesthetically inappropriate (an aesthetic mistake)

44 Is predation in nature aesthetically negative? It was a spotted hyena, the kind people think of when they hear the word hyena–a dirty, matted creature, dripping with blood. It must have made a good kill. The prey must have been large enough for the hyena to thrust its whole head in, up to the block like shoulders. This must be why the hyena has such a snake of a neck–so it can delve deep into a dying animal and eat the best parts...I saw other hyenas...They were all dipped in blood...One could see which animal had gnawed at a leg, cheek pressed to bloody flank, or which had held a piece to its chest and embraced it there as it chewed. (Joanna Greenfield, New Yorker 1996)

45 Coyote: An ugly killer?

46 Unless we dismiss the moral status of animals and claim their lives and pain dont count for much We must acknowledge there is disvalue here and ugliness that goes along with it.

47 Is aesthetic appreciation of predation depraved? If there is any aesthetic value in predation, perhaps we have a moral obligation not to appreciate it Like aesthetically appreciating a cougar attacking a human child? Because predation expresses violence and involves suffering and death It is arguable that those with proper emotional sympathies for animals will not find it aesthetically alluring

48 The case for the aesthetic value of predation Acknowledge the disvalues of predation Animal death: –Not a trivial disvalue –But not comparable to human death Animal suffering: –A disvalue more serious than death –Requires a sympathetic response

49 Positive values of predation Animal life Death for the prey is life for the predator There is not value lost, so much as value capture (Rolston, 1992) Production and display of admirable animal traits Predation selects for muscle, power, intelligence and (sometimes) cooperative behavior of predators Also selects for alertness and fleet-footedness of prey Without predation, our world may well have lacked these valuable traits Promotes functioning of healthy ecosystems Predation regulates prey population and protects ecosystems

50 Predation contextualized and understood Disvalue and ugliness are intermingled with and productive of value and beauty The aesthetic response to predation must come to terms not only with the suffering and death involved, but with the significant positive values that emerge as well

51 Does a duty to prevent predation undermine a positive aesthetic response to it? Given integration, it is problematic to aesthetically appreciate an event we have a duty to prevent Although we could lessen suffering and death in nature using contraception, such major human involvement would so compromise natures wild integrity, that we should not do it –Explains why a positive aesthetic response to a wolf attacking an elk is radically different from a positive aesthetic response to a cougar attacking a human child –Only in the human case is there a duty to intervene Because we have no duty to rescue the prey, there can be no conflict between such a duty and a positive response to predation

52 A positive aesthetic response to predation is appropriate, but must include sympathy A sympathetic emotional response to the preys suffering and loss of life must color our appreciation of predation But it should not wash out the positive aesthetic response And it may even deepen it

53 Predation: A sad, terrible beauty There is beauty in predation, but it is not an easy or pleasurable beauty, such as the delight in pretty scenery or from seeing a cardinal at the feeder Rather it is a sad, terrible beauty, involving taxing emotions like sympathy and pity: With terrible beauty attention is arrested by elements that strain the heart and yet they induce us to linger over them and savor them in all their heartache and woe (Carolyn Korsmeyer, 2005) In predation, the disvalues to the prey heighten our affective absorption as we experience this fundamental way that much life functions on our planet These disvalues, rather than diminishing it, may increase the aesthetic value of predation

54 Conclusions Animal beauty contributes importantly to the aesthetic justification for environmental preservation It is neither morally objectionable nor superficial to use animals beauty in our valuing and acting towards them –There are sufficient differences between humans and animals to disarm the worry that the problems with aesthetic discrimination toward humans applies straightforwardly to animals Although it involves suffering and death, predation does not constitute ugliness in animals lives that undermines using animal beauty for environmental preservation

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