Traditional morality assumes that there is something morally special about being human. The fact that someone is a human being, rather than, say, a dog or a cow, makes a big difference in how he or she may be treated. Humans have full and equal moral worth or dignity and thus may not be killed, even if doing so would promote the greater good, whereas non-human animals have a lesser moral status and can be sacrificed for even the most trivial human pleasures.
This moral worldview fits well with the Aristotelian idea of a hierarchy of being, according to which each species is a static group of organisms with a distinct essence. The philosophical line that morally distinguishes humans from other animals corresponds to the empirical line that Aristotle thought distinguishes the human species from other animal species. Since the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859, however, we know that there is no such line on the empirical side of things. We now understand that all life is interrelated, and that biological characteristics come in degrees and continually evolve as a result of natural selection. As the principle of evolutionary continuity informs us, any differences between species are differences in degree, and not in kind. The real picture looks something like this:
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Should active enemies of freedom be allowed into free countries? In 2007, speaking at Columbia University in New York City, then-President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad memorably declared that there are no homosexuals in Iran, drawing derisive laughter from the audience. He also made similarly outrageous remarks about the Holocaust and women’s rights in Iran. Thousands protested, and the world saw him for what he is – an ignorant bigot who as president exhibited “all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator,” as the university’s president put it in his introduction. Untrue and immoral speech tends to discredit itself, especially under scrutiny, and that is precisely why it should not only be permitted but welcomed.
Secretary Mike Pompeo last week declared Paul Makonda and his wife, Mary Massenge, ineligible for entry into the United States. In a statement released by the U.S. State Department, Pompeo said he was banning Makonda “due to his involvement in gross violations of human rights, which include the flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.” He did not state which right violations specifically led to the decision. I say, let him come, and treat him to some good old American free speech. Continue reading “Let Paul Makonda come to America”→
Jaalia katika fikra zako kwamba: leo ni siku muruwa ya mwezi wa Septemba. Hakuna joto wala baridi, upepo mwanana unapepea na mawingu yanang’ara angani. Unachukua blanketi lako na kuelekea katika moja ya fukwe huru za jiji la Dar es salaam. Unajiandaa kwenda kujipumzisha ufukweni hapo na kufurahia machweo jua. Bali unapofika ufukweni mipango yako inatibuliwa bila ya kutegemea. Unaelezwa na afisa ulinzi kuwa serikali imeweka sheria mpya za matumizi ya fukwe. Unaambiwa kwamba huwezi kutumia ufukwe huo kwa vile wewe ni mtu mweusi. Watu wengine wowote wanaruhusiwa kutumia fukwe hizo isipokuwa watu weusi tu, na iwapo mtu mweusi yeyote angekaidi amri hiyo basi nguvu ingeweza kutumika. Continue reading “Ubaguzi mubashara: kadhia ya maadili dhidi ya uwepo wa mipaka”→
If you study engineering, medicine, law, or almost any of the other subjects taught at university, you learn this, and you learn that, and in the end you know some things that others do not. Philosophy is different, and rather unique in that regard. After studying it for many years, I feel like I know not more but less than when I started, and I suspect the feeling is common among philosophers. That is because philosophy is not so much about providing answers as it is about asking questions. A consequence, unfortunately, is that the value of studying philosophy is easily underestimated. After all, what use is an academic discipline that cannot provide definite answers? With so many mundane yet significant day-to-day problems, why waste time and resources on splitting hairs and pondering in abstract thought? The concern behind these questions might seem particularly relevant in Tanzania, where a large portion of the population still lives in poverty and there is an understandable longing for immediate practical results, and it might be part of the reason why the Department of Philosophy at Tanzania’s oldest public university, the University of Dar es Salaam, was finally established only five years ago, in 2013. Continue reading “Philosophy means business”→
Consider the following thought experiment: It is a pleasant day in September. It is not too hot, not too cold, and not too windy, and the sky is clear. You grab a blanket and head to one of Dar es Salaam’s public beaches, intent to make yourself comfortable by the seaside and enjoy the sunset. Once at the beach, however, your plans are rudely thwarted. You are informed by a law enforcement officer that the government has put a new policy in place. You are told that you may not access the beach – because you are black. Black people and only black people are no longer allowed on the beach. If necessary, that policy will be enforced by the use of physical force. Continue reading “Discrimination in plain sight: The moral case against borders”→
Horrified by the tragic loss of innocent human life in the then-ongoing Vietnam War, a young philosopher by the name of Tom Regan went to the university library and buried himself in books on war, violence, and human rights, determined to prove that the American involvement in the war was morally wrong. One day, he picked up Mohandas K. Gandhi’s autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Reading it with great care and interest, he must have come across the following lines:
The way we think about and treat non-human animals is deeply confused, and scholars are in a unique position to provide some clarity. The Bangladesh Journal of Bioethics hence decided to dedicate two special issues to the relationship between human beings and other animals, and asked me to be the guest editor.
Less than two weeks after the first issue was published, the second special issues has now been published as well, and is available here. My editorial, which includes brief summaries of the articles, is available here, and this is the table of contents:
Bob Fischer (Texas State University, U.S.A.): Wild Fish and Expected Utility
Akande Michael Aina (Lagos State University, Nigeria) & Ofuasia Emmanuel (Olabisi Onabanjo University, Nigeria): The Chicken Fallacy and the Ethics of Cruelty to Non-Human Animals
Iván Ortega Rodríguez (Universidad Pontificia Comillas, Spain): Animal Citizenship, Phenomenology, and Ontology: Some reflections on Donaldson’s & Kymlicka’s Zoopolis
Rhyddhi Chakraborty (American University of Sovereign Nations, U.S.A.): Animal Ethics and India: Understanding the Connection through the Capabilities Approach
Robin Attfield (Cardiff University, U.K.) & Rebekah Humphreys (Trinity St. David’s University, U.K.): Justice and Non-Human Animals – Part 2
Last August, I accepted an invitation to edit a special issue of the Bangladesh Journal of Bioethics, devoted to animal ethics. The interest was so great that one issue became two, the first of which has just been published.
The first special issue is available here, my editorial, which includes brief summaries of the articles, is available here, and this is the table of contents:
Robin Attfield (Cardiff University, U.K.) & Rebekah Humphreys (Trinity St. David’s University, U.K.): Justice and Non-Human Animals – Part 1
Eric X. Qi (Rice University, U.S.A.): Special Relations, Special Obligations, and Speciesism
Yamikani Ndasauka & Grivas M. Kayange (University of Malawi, Malawi): Existence and Needs: A case for the equal moral considerability of non-human animals
This presentation by Professor Tom Regan (North Carolina State University, USA) was recorded at the University of Heidelberg in Germany on May 24, 2006. It is a great resource for the classroom and anybody with an interest in animal ethics.
Abstract. Philosopher Tom Regan begins by contrasting the fact that many people make a firm distinction between the animals they live with (cats and dogs, for example) and other animals. He explains how it is that Animal Rights Advocates (ARAs) extend the same sense of compassion and respect that they feel for companion animals, on the one hand, to the other animals who routinely are turned into food, clothing, and the like, on the other. Not all ARAs, he explains, arrive at this destination in the same way. In particular, some need to be convinced; some need a logical argument. Professor Regan accepts this challenge and invites others to consider the main factual and moral questions whose answers inform the conviction that animals have rights.
Each one of us encounters animals every day, if only as a piece of meat on a plate, and yet most of us hardly spare a thought for them. Shafayat Nazam Rasul must hence be commended for his Tuesday op-ed, in which he drew our attention to the complicated relationship between humans and other animals, and started a conversation that I think is very important. In the course of doing so, he mentioned a number of common objections to the idea that non-human animals are our moral equals and have rights. It is unfortunate, however, that these objections remained unanswered, as readers might have gotten the impression that animal rights advocates “spew an extreme,” as the author rather uncharitably stated, and do not have good arguments. By responding to some of the objections, I want to show that the philosophy of animal rights is in fact a well-thought-out moral theory worthy of our serious attention. Continue reading “Animal Rights: Objections, Myths, and Misconceptions”→
Last year, a Pew Research Center survey found that Americans have a significantly less favorable view of atheists than of Jews, Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus. Only Muslims were rated more negatively than atheists. That is consistent with another survey conducted by the same institute in the same year, which found that about every second American would not be happy with a family member marrying an atheist. In a 2012 Gallup poll among Americans, 43 percent of respondents said that they would not vote for a presidential candidate who is an atheist. Simply put, Americans do not like atheists. As everybody knows who knows anything about Bangladesh, neither do Bangladeshis. Continue reading “Atheists ain’t bad people; neither are theists”→
Founded around 387 BCE, Plato’s Academy continued throughout the Hellenistic period until the death of its last head, Philo of Larissa, in 84/83 BCE. The most famous student during that time was Aristotle, who after studying at the Academy for almost twenty years went on to tutor Alexander the Great in 343 BCE, and then started to teach at the Lyceum in 335/334 BCE. A group of Neoplatonist philosophers revived the Academy at the beginning of the fifth century CE, and it again flourished until 529 CE, when an edict of the Emperor Justinian I. brought about the closing of all institutes of higher learning in Athens. The Academy was one of the earliest such institutes in the Western world. Besides what we now call philosophy, the subjects taught likely included physics, mathematics, and astronomy. Today, the archaeological site of Plato’s Academy is in a sad state of neglect: trash, eroding walls, rusty fences or no protection at all, and only very few informational sign boards. Given the current financial crisis in Greece, this is unlikely to change anytime soon. Continue reading “The archaeological site of Plato’s Academy in Athens”→
আপনি কয়জন বাঙালীকে চেনেন যে শর্ষে ইলিশ ভালবাসে না? কাচ্চি বিরিয়ানি অথবা গরুর রেজালা ছাড়া কোন বাংলাদেশী বিয়ে কল্পনা করতে পারেন? অনুমান করতে পারি আপনার উত্তর হবে খুব বেশি না অথবা একেবারেই না। যদিও বাংলাদেশ সম্পর্কে আমার জ্ঞান সীমিত, আমি এটুকু জানি, বাঙালী মাংস ভালবাসে, মুসলমানেরা হিন্দুদের থেকে বেশি, আর সব বাঙালী মাছ ভালবাসে। সেজন্য মনে হতে পারে বাংলাদেশে প্রাণীদের অধিকার নিয়ে কথা বলা বাতুলতা। কিন্তু আমার অভিজ্ঞতা সম্পূর্ণ বিপরীত। Continue reading “নিরামিষ খাবার নিয়ে দু’টি কথা”→
How many Bengalis do you know who do not like shorshe ilish? Can you imagine a Bengali wedding without kacchi biryani, or beef rezala? If I had to guess, I would say that your answers are “not many,” and “hardly.” Even though my knowledge of Bengal is rather limited, I think this I know: Bengalis love meat, Muslims probably a bit more so than Hindus, and virtually every Bengali loves fish. One might think that makes lecturing about animal rights in Bangladesh a quixotic exercise. I found that the opposite is the case. Continue reading “Eating animals”→
The Department of Philosophy at Hindu College in New Delhi just published the first issue of the first edition of its new magazine, Falsafa. Congratulations to the students who worked hard to put it together, and to their dedicated teachers, particularly my friend Dr. Krishna M. Pathak! I wish the magazine and its team of editors all success, and I hope it will continue to contribute to the free exchange of ideas at Hindu College for a very long time. Continue reading “First issue of Falsafa published”→