quarta-feira, 29 de julho de 2015

Human Competitions Involving Nonhuman Animals

by Nico Müller

Some recent interdisciplinary literature tries to get to grips with the question what makes (at least some) animal sports wrong, and so do I. I start with a brief survey of ethical and empirical research of competitive animal sports. I continue with an example of abuse in horse racing, and I ask what it is that makes horse races so problematic. I argue that in order to fully understand what makes sports such as horse racing so problematic, we need to look at them not merely as instances of sport, but also as instances of competition. This is my main topic: the competitions humans hold which involve sentient nonhuman animals ("CIAs") – what is there to say, ethically, about holding CIAs?
Quite a lot, in fact! First things first: What is a competition? I propose that competitions are activities which are guided by rules (formal or informal), which in turn fix both (i) what you are allowed to do in the competition (rules as side constraints) and (ii) what it takes to be successful in the competition (rules as determining success criteria). All the rules jointly give an incentive to competitors to behave in a certain way. Certain behaviors which competitions can incentivize involve inflicting harm on the animal, and these competitions can plausibly be said to be (extrinsically pro tanto) wrong. Now, among those CIAs who are harmincentivizing, I distinguish between two classes: They belong to the Harm-Requiring class if their side-constraints demand harm to animals (i.e. to be successful, or even to merely take part, you need to harm animals; think animal fights, sportive hunting). Given the assumption that inflicting harm is (pro tanto) wrong, the argument against competitions in this first class is straightforward. On the other hand, harm-incentivizing CIAs which do nevertheless not require harm belong to the second class, which I call the Merely-Harm-Incentivizing class. I identify three conditions that jointly suffice to make a CIA Merely-Harm-Incentivizing – the basic upshot is that in practice, success criteria which are indifferent to animal welfare will ultimately incentivize harmful competition behavior if their fulfillment is maximized in the scope of side-constraints that fail to be strictly welfare-ensuring. For example, it is first and foremost the sole striving for speed in horse racing, along with the insufficient side-constraints on competition, that make horse races as a whole incentivize harm to horses.
Since my argument against Harm-Incentivizing CIAs does not rest on a feature peculiar to sportive competition, my point generalizes: Wherever we find humanimposed competition of the kind that meets my conditions, we have a good reason to consider this competition (extrinsically pro tanto) wrong. And competitions of this kind are all about! Most forms of economic competition in animal trade fit my description, and so does a great deal of breeding of animals for human-imposed criteria. In conclusion, looking at sports involving nonhuman sentient animals provides a great starting point for recognizing the ethical significance of competitions involving animals in general, and this in turn proves fruitful as a basis for criticism of many problematic fields of human-nonhuman coexistence.

I am a last year MA student in philosophy and sociology at the University of Zurich (UZH), where I have been studying since 2009. My research interests include normative questions in epistemology and ethics, and especially animal ethics. I have been active as a teaching assistant at my university and at the ETH Zurich, as student assistant at the UZH's Center for Ethics, as student representative in Zurich's Philosophical Society, and as the leading organizer of three annual lecture series at the UZH (one on the topic of thought experiments and philosophical methodology, the other one on disagreement; another one is scheduled to be held in 2016 on the topic of pain). I am presently involved in the creation of a vegan campus group at the UZH and preparing for an MA thesis in animal ethics, perhaps on the topic of Kant's treatment of nonhuman animals in the Metaphysics of Morals.

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