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Speculative philosophy, the troubled middle, and ethics of animal experimentation.

Speculative Philosophy, the Troubled Middle, and the Ethics of Animal Experimentation

The human use of animals, particularly in scientific experimentation, is a highly contentious and vexed question. Passions run deep, and level-headed thinkers often lose their balance and good sense. This in itself is highly interesting. We seem confronted by ultimate issues about the meaning and significance of human and organic life for which we are ill-prepared. It is not just that extreme emotionalists refuse to listen to reason. The reasoners themselves, the philosophers, are deeply divided over how ethically to judge the use of animals. The "animal issue" exhibits a more fundamental and pervasive feature of philosophy, ethical theory, and social mores. On ultimate philosophic, ethical, and social matters there is no consensus.

The controversy over animal experimentation crucially hinges on the question of the relative value of animal and human life. At one extreme, there are steadfast champions of human welfare and scientific progress who claim that animals have no inherent value or worth and thus are not objects of ethical concern. All value accrues to man or God, and we can use animals as we will, as long as we do not endanger or violate our own humanity. At the other extreme, there are ardent and vocal advocates of animal rights, those broadly in the antivivisectionist tradition, who claim that at least certain animals, if not all life, have an ethical significance comparable to our own. We ought not to use or treat animals in ways that we would not treat human beings. In short, animals are in crucial respects our moral equals. The animal rightists point to undeniable instances of animal abuse and radically call into question the moral justification of animal experiments. They would significantly reduce, if not altogether eliminate, scientific research on animals irrespective of possible human benefits.

Then there are those in the troubled middle who find an inherent goodness in organic life and concrete values manifested in individual animals. But they also believe that the relatively superior goodness and value of human life, coupled with our vulnerable and "needy" status in the world, warrant the ethically judicious use of animals in scientific research. These middle ones recognize the legitimate and often conflicting needs and requirements of both human and animal welfare. In short, they wish to balance the undeniable benefits that result from scientific research with a genuine concern for the well-being of animals. With respect to experimentation, they are the ones most truly vexed by ethical questions of what and how many animals to use; of whether alternatives to animal use are scientifically efficacious and justified; of whether research protocols are sound and important enough to warrant the infliction of harm, suffering, or death; and of how to reduce animal suffering and harm without jeopardizing legitimate benefits that might accrue to both human and animal life.

These are questions that typically animate the more ethically concerned members of Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUCs). Under the Animal Welfare Act of 1966, as amended in 1985, The Health Research Extension Act of 1985 (National Institutes of Health), and the animal welfare policy of the Public Health Service (1985), IACUCs are mandated for all institutions receiving federal funds for research on animals. The committees, which have monitoring functions analogous to Institutional Review Boards for human experimentation, oversee the care of laboratory animals and review research protocols for their scientifically legitimate and humane treatment of animals. The general aim of IACICs is to encourage the best and most beneficial scientific research with the least possible animal use and suffering.

Yet all is not well with IACUCs. They are plagued by nagging practical and theoretical problems. Certain crucial difficulties reflect the consequences of the wider social contention over the scientific use of animals. Moreover, they reveal the Achilles' heel of the troubled middle. Relative to its more extreme and assertive rivals, it is philosophically inarticulate. The troubled middle's position lacks an adequate systematic development and thus an emphatic persuasive force.

Philosophic Difficulties of the

Troubled Middle

In addressing practical concerns for animal welfare, IACUCs face several bureaucratic, administrative, and regulative problems. There are real questions about the adequacy of federal regulations, specifically whether they are broad enough in scope. Rats and mice, a considerable majority of the animals used in scientific experimentation, are excluded from regulation, as is privately funded research, for example, that of biotechnology and large pharmaceutical companies. Animals used for instructional or educational purposes in high schools, colleges and universities are only voluntarily monitored, if at all. There are complaints from IACUCs in large universities and research centers, with multiple research sites, that they are overburdened by federally mandated semiannual inspections of laboratory and care facilities, while small institutions may be hard pressed to support their own IACUC.

Further, there can be local problems of lack of institutional support, of low professional prestige for serving on IACUCs, of the active antagonism of human welfarist and scientific progressivist members of the faculty or administration, not to speak of the threats of militant animal rightists outsiders. But these are not the issues I wish to address. Even if we set aside these practical problems and the more extreme rivals and concentrate on the troubled middle members of IACUCs, we find fundamental difficulties. These difficulties, directly or indirectly, are finally rooted in unresolved philosophic issues.

Over the years, with respect to animal welfare, the troubled middle has made real progress. Principles have been evolved to minimize the use and suffering of animals--refinement of scientific procedures to minimize suffering, reduction of the number of animals used, and replacement of animals with other experimental "models" when feasible. Moreover, The Scientist's Center for Animal Welfare has developed a model document that correlates degrees of animal suffering and trauma with the kind of animals used and experimental procedures employed. The aim is to make the IACUC's review process more efficient--perfunctory review for experiments causing significant animal suffering, and the prohibition of experiments causing overburdening suffering, whatever the scientific merits.(1)

All this constitutes a definite advance. Yet lurking in the background is the specter of scientific and philosophic uncertainty. Central to the deliberations of IACUCs is the question of animal suffering. The amount of suffering caused, along with the number and kind of animals used, constitutes the "ethical cost" of an experiment, against which its scientific merits and potential human benefits must be weighed. However, suffering is a core phenomenon of animal life that scientists least understand and know how to measure. Seemingly pain and suffering are not the same thing. An injured athlete may play in pain, but does not suffer. A caged wild animal may be free from pain, yet no doubt suffers. This is not to mention the ethical weight that we ought to ascribe to pain or suffering. In short, the very nature, meaning and ethical significance of animal suffering is a radically open question. Moreover, this seems as much a philosophic as a scientific issue--a conceptual and speculative one depending on an ultimate view of the nature and significance of animate life, for example, whether it is essentially mechanistic and "materialistic" in character (suffering thus being reducible to physical pain) or ontologically involves something more than mere efficient or physical causation.

Closely allied with the cardinal issue of suffering is the problem of the moral status of animals vis-a-vis human beings-whether they have no status, an euqal status, or a status relative to human beings and to each other according to some objective standard culled from the nature of organic and animal life. But the moral status of animals is precisely the bone of contention in the larger social arena, and the troubled middle is hard pressed to say exactly what confers a moral status on animals that can be weighed against ethical obligations to human beings. Is it the capacity to suffer, to pursue an active and individual life within the world, to be significantly related to animate others?

Thanks crucially to such unresolved questions the troubled middle has no adequately articulated, coherent, and persuasive ethics of animal experimentation. IACUCs typically operate on a pragmatic and atheoretical basis or with a heap of ethical principles borrowed from the realm of human ethics--ranging from utilitarian or consequentialist ethics, through deontology, to natural law and virtue ethics. They argue in terms of costs, benefits, and the greatest good, or individual rights, or duties and obligations, with little confidence over which, if any, mode of argument is legitimately applicable or adequate.

This lack of a firm philosophic ground has decided practical consequences. There is a real difficulty in educating members of IACUCs to become sophisticated ethical analysts of animal use. In what ethics are they to be educated? Moreover, there is the problem of lay representation on IACUCs. Who and what are the nonscientist members supposed to represent? The animals, the human welfarists, the animal rightists, or the middle's troubled concern for both humans and animals? Can lay members avoid being co-opted by scientists on the one hand or being undue scientific obstructionists on the other? How can they adequately perform an even-handed and non-partisan function without there being clearly articulated ethical principles of experimentation? That there is no ready-made and philosophically adequate middle position invites the wider social contention into the internal functionings of IACUCs.

Speculative Philosophy and the

Troubled Middle

In sum, IACUCs are adversely affected by the uneasy and unstable stand-off between the human welfarists, the animal rightists, and the troubled middle. We seem resigned to a contentious three-ring circus and to the impotence of philosophy to formulate an adequate and ethically persuasive resolution. Perhaps the best we can hope for is recourse to substantively neutral ethical methods and procedures--a strategy of (allegedly) skirting ethical pluralism by avoiding the hard issues surrounding our relative moral obligations to animals and humans. However, one philosophic voice has yet to be sufficiently heard. Perhaps the most promising and courageous course is the oldest of philosophic ploys: "Know thyself," the perennial endeavor to know ourselves and our status in the scheme of things. Here this means understanding our relation to the rest of animate and animal being. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on one's philosophic tastes, this requires asking ultimate questions and pursuing "first philosophy" or speculative metaphysics. This, of course, is to jump from one frying pan into another. There is no avoiding controversy.

Yet, intractable differences in human personality notwithstanding, it was arguably bad metaphysics that contributed to our philosophic and ethical disarray in the first place. The only way out of bad metaphysics is a better or more adequate metaphysics--a truer picture of reality, ourselves, and our place in the scheme of things.

Our present philosophic and ethical difficulties over the use of animals significantly originate in the seventeenth century amidst the rise of modern science. They come, in part, with Descartes's famous and fateful partition of worldly reality into res extensia and res cogitans, into physical bodies and spiritual minds. All value, purposes, and teleological activity were philosophically banished from nature into the human mind. Nature was left a dull, vacuous, and dead affair, the mere play of physical forces or efficient causation, "billiard balls in motion," just as the new mathematical science required. This is the origin of the modern materialist philosophy of nature. Biological or organic life was written out of this metaphysical scene altogether. Bodily organisms were conceptually reduced to mere natural, physical mechanisms. Gone were the dynamic and concrete individual integrity and teleological activity that essentially characterize the metabolic existence of animals. Animals, including ourselves, can only be by ever-becoming, by purposively striving to secure an ongoing organic and individual integrity amidst necessary physical and experiential relations to the world abroad, including animate others. In short, with Descartes's metaphysics and scientific materialism, we lost sight of the fundamental characteristics of organic and animal life. We human organisms no longer philosophically know ourselves or animal others.

The consequences of the Cartesian dualism and the evermore dominant materialist philosophy of nature--this decisive devaluation and deadening of nature--were indeed fateful. Here are the peculiarly modern philosophic underpinnings for the human welfarist's claim that animals have no intrinsic value and are inappropriate objects of ethical concern. How could they be? Nature is conceived as a thoroughly valueless and mechanical affair, and animals as wholely a part of nature. Descartes even denied that animals could suffer. They merely seem to suffer. Only minds or souls can suffer, and in this world only human beings have minds, which are fundamentally characterized by linguistic capacities, rationality, and will. We are enjoined not to commit the pathetic fallacy of ascribing to animals uniquely human capacities and characteristics.

Certain philosophers--for example, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Hegel on the continent, and Locke, Hume, and Bentham in England--were able to circumvent an unfeeling and dead nature. But those closely allied with the new science have always been haunted by this picture of animals as natural automata.

Beyond its "value free" and amoral philosophy of nature, the original Cartesian position seems importantly and correlatively to have skewed crucial developments of modern ethical theory, in particular as these pertain to a genuine concern for animals. If by metaphysical fiat nature has no value, then logically all values and valuations must be anthropocentric or theocentric. Any ethical concern for natural creatures cannot issue directly from themselves and their mode of being, but from what we ethically owe to man or God. This in fact was Kant's position.

Moreover, with the increasing secularization of philosophy, ethical theory developed with essentially worldly man in view, that is, as dominantly anthropocentric. Crucial in these developments is the principle of ethical equality, an inheritance from the more theological past. Whether or not made in the image of God, each human individual is to count as one and only one. This is central to modern liberal theories of justice. The fundamental equality may issue from all sharing in universal moral reason, thereby all being "ends-in-themselves." Or it might issue from all sharing in the capacities of pleasure, pain, suffering, or preferential interests. Nevertheless, there it is. Within the city of man, all human beings share a fundamental equality and are of equal moral concern.

What for us is interesting is that when these modern systems of ethics, fashioned initially and primarily for life within the city's walls, are extended beyond its boundaries into the natural world, the principle of moral equality, originally meant for man, is exported into these further reaches. If animals, despite Descartes and the materialists, truly suffer, have pleasures, pains and preferential interests, or are self-aware "subjects of a life" like humans, then they decidedly command our moral concern and must be accorded equal ethical consideration. Justice demands it, if there are no morally relevant differences between men and at least the higher animals. And the claim is that there are none.(2) Here is the other extreme ring of our ethical circus.

Such extensions of ethical theory to cover legitimate issues of animal welfare are characteristically predicated on moving from the city outwards, on recognizing or claiming more or less obvious analogies of animal and human experience and existence. They do not centrally involve a radical and thorough revision of Cartesian metaphysics and the materialist philosophy of nature. There is little or no endeavor to make an animal organism's sufferings or purposive activities philosophically comprehensible. In our day, such systematic speculative philosophy is out of fashion, if not intellectually prohibited. The fundamental ontological character, significance, and value of organic existence, human and animal, are not directly reconsidered. The palpable goodness and requirements of organic existence, played out on various levels of animate being, are not explicitly identified and play little or no role in ethical judgment--in establishing what we ought and ought not to do. Most pointedly, the ethical implications of organisms' fundamental metabolic mode of existence are not considered. In the materialist's nature, uniform efficient causation reigns supreme. In the modern philosophic ethicist's universe, moral equality is a correlatively dominant and "leveling" force.

However, if we are to recognize and respond adequately to the relative value of the various forms of organic life and to balance justly our duties to human beings, other animals, and organic nature as a whole, it might be precisely this principle of moral equality that stands in our way. What might be legitimate and valid within the walls of the city might be inappropriate outside. In short, it might not only be the materialist's amoral philosophy of nature, but also the ethicist's principle of moral equality that importantly undermine an adequate approach to an "animal ethics." But if we abandon both the materialist's nature and the cardinal ethical principle of equality, what do we have left to stand on?

To find firm ground and to gain ethical moorings we must perhaps do what we have prohibited ourselves from doing. We must boldly, if nondogmatically, speculate and regain a philosophically concrete and substantive vision of nature, animals and ourselves. This means going back to the seventeenth century and beyond and thoroughly refashioning our metaphysics, this time looking organic life squarely in the eye and philosophically taking it seriously. This is a daunting task, though it has been more or less vigorously and systematically attempted in this century by Alfred North Whitehead and Hans Jonas, among others.(3)

I can only schematically and tentatively sketch out what such a systematic philosophy of organic life might mean for animal ethics and for the ethics of experimentation in particular. In such a philosophy of "nature alive", ethics is grounded in being or ontology, the way things fundamentally are. Ethical "oughts" are crucially determined by what concretely "is." The key to legitimizing this move, which is almost universally denied by modern philosophy with its characteristic and fundamental assumption of a valueless and dead nature, is to reintroduce inherent values, final goodness, and "ends-in-themselves" into nature. This places concrete values and goodness essentially beyond or independent of the conscious valuations or judgements of human individuals. (They are valuable, good, and intrinsically "worthwhile" themselves, irrespective of what we might think.) Thus they are "objective" and free from being swallowed up in an arbitrary or "conventional" subjectivity of man. The world of value no longer threatens to be balanced upon finite human thought. In short, naturally concrete values, goodness, and ends-in-themselves are not subjectively and arbitrarily conceived ex nihilo, free from all worldly trappings. They are recognized for what they are themselves, no matter how much thought may be required in their adequate recognition. If such objective, "naturally good" things come within the sphere of human action and under the influence of human power to affect them for better or for worse, the concrete nature of their worldly being importantly determines what we human moral agents ought or ought not to do.(4)

This goes straight to the heart of speculative philosophy and its relation to ethics. Speculative philosophy aims at gaining the most fundamental conceptions about reality, coherent among themselves and adequate to our various more primary experiences of ourselves and the world. Thus it cannot avoid the plethora of "what is" and controversial issues--such as the fundamental character of nature, organic liveliness, and selfhood. Given the finitude of human experience and thought, its formulations are always tentative and open to revision. Yet in its tentative conceptual grasp of what concretely "is," there are fundamental ideas about the goodness or value of reality and existence. Ethical activity is interpreted primarily as a creative response to this worldly good (or lack thereof), which manifestly includes ethical concern and activity as worldly "facts" themselves.

Human experience, both primordial and reflective, reveals, I would submit, the naturally good and intrinsically valuable to be the organic realm of life--individual biological organisms and the natural communities that they together fashion. We immediately face two cardinal and interrelated speculative questions. What is the fundamental or ontological nature of individual organisms and their communities? and what presents itself as the final value or goodness of organic being?

Nature Alive

These are no doubt ultimate and master questions, but being organic individuals ourselves, we are not totally in the dark. We are natively equipped at least seriously to address, if not definitively to answer them.

To repeat, living and especially animal organisms are concretely individual creatures that can only exist or be by ever-becoming, by purposively seeking a precarious bodily independence and individuality amidst an essential dependence on the world and animate others. Ultimately there is no considering individuals and communities apart from one another. They are essentially interconnected. Each requires the other in order to be.

Such individuals and communities, in differing ways, are "by nature" dynamic, temporal, mortal, and vulnerable. Neither organisms nor communities of life are ontologically assured their existence. Within ongoing communities, biological individuals arise, more or less flourish, and perish. The very ongoingness of the communities themselves essentially depends on their interconnected, passing individuals. This is the only way the organic realm of life, forever threatened with death or nonbeing, everlastingly or "immortally" carries on--by riding the crest of mortal, finite, and worldly inviduality. Nothing is absolute or fixed, but ever must be actively achieved or realized. Not eternal and unchanging Parmenidian Being, but the energetic flux of Heraclitian Becoming is the fundamental character of nature and organic life.

What then is the final ontological goodness of nature alive and its intrinsic or inherent value? Seemingly, it is precisely its characteristic dynamism and purposive activities--life's engendering the innumerable organic forms and individual, interrelated instances of itself, ever moving into the worldly future that life itself creates. The world-related, purposive activities of naturally evolved individuals, the present meeting of worldly necessities and opportunities in order organically or livingly to be, are the beginning and end of life and its goodness. Such self-affirming, self-constituting individuals, temporarily staving off death or nonbeing, are nature's concrete values. Here, with self-constituting and purposive activity, is where "value" and "the good" ontologically enter the real and set the stage for "naturally derived" oughts.(5)

There are substantive ethical lessons to be drawn from this speculative picture. Again, the subjectively immediate instances of life, individual organisms, are no doubt the ultimate concrete values of nature. But there is no isolating their particular value, importance, and goodness from the wider worldly communities to which they essentially belong and from the general ongoingness of the organic realm. For, due to the necessary demands of metabolic existence, there is no separating individual selves and the world in which they live. Organisms have significance or are concrete values for themselves, for organic others, and for the natural whole. These particular "individual values" mutually emerge out of their specific interactions with each other and the world. Thus if the concrete well-being of life and the animate realm as a whole is the final value and goodness, ethically there can be no sacrifice of the living world and its future for the sake of any one individual or group of individuals. There can be no such absolute rights to isolated and individual consideration. It is the ongoing community of interconnected, "passingly good" individuals that finally counts and takes priority of ethical concern. The ethical importance of any individual, human or other, is a strong but relative consideration. In sum, ethical practice ought ultimately to serve the fundamental ontological good, life's recurrently active being, which requires ongoing communities of organic individuals.

Moreover, if the purposive activities of interconnected organic individuals are the ontological good, there are further ethical implications. There are various individual and species-specific levels of purposive activity, world relation, and concrete individuality, from the relatively impoverished to the highly elaborate and complex. In virtue of these three fundamental and essentially interconnected characteristics (individuality, purposive activity, and relatedness to others), all levels of life harbor an inherent ontological goodness and objectively command ethical respect. But some levels involve a richer expression of life's goodness. Ontologically, it is true that "some animals are more equal than others." And, as played out within the context of organic life as a whole, this has decided ethical significance.

In the metabolic rigors of organic being, animal individuals sustain themselves and their bodily wholeness only by encroaching upon other forms of organic life. To this hard necessity we humans are no exception. We, along with all animal organisms, "by nature" harm others. This harm is ontologically justified. We must harm in order to be. Moreover, if we take our particular status in the intertwined "unequal" levels of nature seriously, our more or less extensive encroachment on organic others can be ethically justified. We seemingly are the most elaborate and complex performance of nature alive, of that goodness which evolves and runs through all living things. We are the most complexly integrated instance of purposive activity, emphatic relatedness to worldly others, and concrete individuality--the multicharactered goodness of organic being--known to us. Both our being and well-being, or "flourishing," are breathtakingly serious matters--if we take the goodness of animate being seriously. This seems objectively our duty, given our naturally evolved capacities of feeling, thought, and action to do so. The real potential for realizing or serving "the good" demands its actual exercise. In sum, thanks to our embedded status in nature alive, we have complex ethical obligations to ourselves, organic others, and the ongoing organic realm of life as a whole. Due to our evolved powers and their practical results, we have become entrusted, willingly or no, with the care of the goodness of animate being, which includes our very powers of human activity themselves. We have more and more become saddled with the task of ethically and judiciously sacrificing or harming life for the sake of the ongoing worldly reality and goodness of life. Here, if anywhere--with our status as importantly significant, yet needy ones--is the overall ethical justification for human experimentation on animals.

From the perspective of the speculative philosophy, with respect to the human use of animals we find ourselves squarely in the difficult and troubled middle, the center ring of the ethical circus. As against the human welfarist, we are objectively bound to respect the concrete and inherent value of animals. As against the animal rightist, in balancing the relative goodness of the various and "unequal" forms of biological life, human and other, we are not only ethically justified but, when necessary, objectively obligated to use other forms of animal, even mammalian, life. This intrinsically conflicted middle position is the mark of our finitude and the only way of ethically caring for the ongoing and vulnerable goodness of human life.

In short, we must learn to think coherently together the inherent value or goodness of organic individuals and necessary harm to animate others, and to think fundamentally in terms of the whole ongoing realm of organic lives. We are not isolated, immortal, and bodiless angels, but worldly human organisms. Essentially interconnected, finite individuals and communities, human and animal, are all caught within the metabolic throes of nature alive. In consequence, our final duty is to the overall goodness or well-being of organic life (its active and elaborate self-affirmations). The ultimate ethical principle is responsible respect for life's goodness. This means to balance judiciously the needs of organic individuals and ongoing communities and does not entail always sacrificing the interests of animal life to our own. Foremost, we are objectively obligated to protect the symbiotic balance of the organic realm and, where practically possible, the multiform diversity of animate being. (This diversity seems a natural and intrinsic good itself, an important value to the organic realm as a whole and most emphatically to our experience of the world.) Given the inherent goodness and the essential and complex interconnectedness of all life, we are enjoined to promote human well-being only amidst the ongoing well-being of the many forms of organic life.

Given the necessities and obligations of our human mode of being, we naturally harmful and troubled middle ones owe to organic, animal others to use them judiciously. We must carefully contrast and ethically balance the interests and well-being of animals and ourselves. A vigorously active and purposive life shared by communal members, played out according to species potentialities and stages of the life cycle, is the sign of the well-being of communities and their interlocked individuals. Given the ontological necessity of harming animate others, we should aim as an ethical ideal at as maximum a well-being of human beings and their communities as is commensurate with a minimum of harm to animals and their communities. We should serve the truly fundamental and humanly important interests of ourselves with the least sacrifice of significant animal individuality. Thus in experimentation we ought to be particularly ethically sensitive to the use of higher mammalian life and to the suffering of all animals--a harm and evil in itself and in relation to active and purposive individuality.

In practical terms this means to try to understand and reduce the harm and suffering we cause animals; to insure that scientific protocols are genuinely important and well-conceived; to use lower forms of life in preference to complex organic individuals and no animals at all when feasible; and to provide good care of laboratory animals, respecting their various forms of organic and social being, even if this violates good marketplace economics. We must ethically decide when and how to use higher forms of active, feeling, mammalian life--only for the most important reasons and benefits, leaving our humanly more secondary interests to alternative forms of experimentation and testing, when and if they arise.

Further, a speculative philosophy of organic life, adequately developed, could help to face the two crucial issues confronting practical animal ethics and IACICs--the moral status of particular animals vis-a-vis one another and human beings, and the nature and significance of animal suffering. As we have seen, the final goodness of organic being arises from the lively, purposive, world-related activities enjoyed by individual organisms. This is the ontological ground of their moral status and their silent claim to be respected. Most fundamentally, life's purposive activities have to do with the recurrent constitution of the organism's concrete integrity or individuality within the world, its metabolic mandate. As organic individuals become more emphatically centered and more complexly active and related to worldly others--that is, become relatively more unique and irreplaceable communal individuals in the scheme of things--the greater is their moral status and the greater the moral stakes. Animal individuals that characteristically are elaborately purposive and significantly related to animate others--for example, in the prolonged care and nurturing of their young and in performing more or less unique social functions--objectively command the highest ethical respect and should cause the greatest concern over their use. This follows directly from the goodness of their worldly being, beyond any claim to an abstract ethical right. That such animals are typically the most conscious or self-aware goes without saying. Yet ontologically it makes better sense to claim that they are more conscious and self-aware because they are more complexly active and related to worldly others than that they are complexly active and world-related because they are conscious and self-aware. Emphatic and explicit awareness arises out of organic, worldly activity, not worldly activity out of "spiritual" consciousness. This is only to remind ourselves that consciousness, awareness, and sensitivity--let alone human rationality--are not themselves the ultimate root of ethical significance.

This leads directly into the question of the meaning and ethical importance of animal suffering. It is not suffering, utilitarians notwithstanding, that ultimately lends moral status to animals. Rather, it is the goodness of organic being, individual worldly activity. Thus suffering is not only an evil because it hurts, but more importantly because it hampers individual purposive activity and relatedness to worldly others. Further, an organism's purposive activities and its sufferings seem essentially or "internally" related. Thanks to the finitude and mortality of metabolic existence, individual organisms are necessarily or by nature "sufferers" (in the philosophic sense of the term). To act within the world means concommitantly to suffer or undergo the world. This is at the bottom of all animal experience.(6) Activity-passivity is the ontological mode of an animal's existence and, as such, is essentially bound up with its individual being or selfhood, that which is the primary and concrete locus of ethical interest. Moreover, to understand speculatively the particular nature of an animal self--its centeredness, drive to concrete integrity and concern over its own being; its essential relation to the organic body and the worldly other; its greater or lesser sense of past, present, and future (temporality); its individually entertained projects; and its form of ideation or mental awareness--is to understand the peculiar nature of its sufferings. In short, lively activity and individual suffering are strictly correlative for "animal, worldly selves." To take the young from mammalian mothers is to cause both to suffer, as is to cage a wild animal or bird. To leave a trout in its stream minus its fry presumably makes little individual difference. An active concern and relation to its young is not a part of trout "selfhood."

From this speculative perspective, suffering is understood as the realized or perceived threat to characteristic, worldly related activities and thus is by the same token the realized or perceived threat to the self's integrity or individuality. For an organic self is essentially a worldly actor. Therefore anxiety, rather than physical pain, seems the more universal mark of suffering. Moreover, there is neurochemical and neurophysiological evidence that all or most vertebrate animals suffer anxiety, as inferred from the presence in them of receptors for the antianxiety agent, benzodiazopine. Anxious, "suffering selves" reign extensively throughout the animal kingdom.

No doubt an animal's suffering is more of an ethical issue the more keenly it is felt, and this is presumably the case for the more conscious and self-aware animals, those that have a fuller range of purposive activities and emphatic relations to intimate worldly others. Thus there appears to be a strict correlation between the higher animals and the potentially greater sufferers, with human beings presumably leading the pack. Nevertheless, the harm or evil of suffering is not so much the intensity of feeling, as the decided effects on the ongoing animal self. An immediate, intense pain that leaves the animal self intact, or with the capacity for a vital regeneration, seems less of an evil or harm than a less acutely felt suffering that permanently maims or diminishes the self as a worldly actor. For example, to confine a young wild animal in the best of "domestic" settings and thus to undermine its capacities for living an independent existence in nature is a greater harm than to inflict on a laboratory animal a moderately painful experiment from which it can quickly recover.

Beyond these questions of the suffering and moral status of individual animals, a speculative philosphy of organism migh further serve particular ethical quandries. The shift to the organic realm of life and to the interrelated features of purposive activity, individuality, and world-relatedness as the loci of primary ethical concern suggests specific principles of ethical practice. Most directly and obviously, individuals of "lower" animal species ought to be used in experimentation, whenever possible, in preference to individuals of higher species. More complex and ethically interesting are the possible clashes of the interests of two or more communities, species, or forms of life, and the conflicts of individuals and communities on different levels of life. Here specific ethical principles need to be developed.(7)

In sum, if we attend both to the fundamental requirements of the interlocked species of animal being and the ongoing realm of organic life as a whole and to the ontological and ethical significance of nature alive (the goodness of purposive activity, individuality and world-relatedness), we perhaps could more adequately guide ourselves through the inherently conflicted tragic choices that we are obliged by worldly existence to make. We may learn when it is ethically permissible to harm individuals for the sake of individuals, individuals for the sake of communities, and communities for the sake of communities. Yet such specific and substantive principles of animal ethics, adequately articulated and justified, would required a more systematically formulated and fleshed-out philosphy of organic life. References (1)Barbara F. Orlands, "Research Protocol Review for Animal Welfare," Investigative Radiology 22:3 (1987), 253-58. (2)Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983). Peter Singer, Animal Liberation (New York: A New York Review Book, 1975). (3)Hans Jonas, The Phenomenon of Life (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1984); Philosophical Essays (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1974); The Imperative of Responsibility (Chicago; The University of Chicago Press, 1984); Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (new York: The Free Press, 1967); Adventures of Ideas (New York: The Free Press, 1967); Process and Reality (New York: The Free Press, 1978). (4)Jonas, The Imperative of Responsibility. (5)Jonas, The Imperative of Responsibility. (6)Jonas, The Phenomenon of Life; Philosophical Essays. (7)Strachan Donnelley, "The Heart of the Matter," Hastings Center Report 19:1 (1989), 26-27.
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Author:Donnelley, Strachan
Publication:The Hastings Center Report
Date:Mar 1, 1989
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