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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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”→
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.
University of Nairobi’s Reginald M. J. Oduor talks to Anteneh Roba and Rainer Ebert:
Q: Could you please introduce yourself and describe your academic career?
Dr. Oduor: I am a Kenyan, born in 1963 in Eldoret, a town in the Rift Valley. However, my ancestral home is Ugenya, a part of the former Nyanza Province, now part of Siaya County. As I had total visual disability from the age of one, I studied at the Thika School for the Blind up to O-level. I then undertook my A-level studies at Thika High School, a regular boys’ school, where we were only two boys with visual disabilities; yet, the two of us came out top in a class of ninety-five boys. Continue reading “Interview: African Philosophy, and non-human animals”→