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post #1 of 4 (permalink) Old 12-16-2006, 07:04 AM Thread Starter
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Talk to the animals

Animals and the Limits of Justice*

Paola Cavalieri


In the third century AD the Neo-Platonic philosopher Porphyry offered with his De abstinentia an impressive case for a radical change in the ethical treatment of nonhumans. In summarizing past debates and rebutting rationalizations for animal exploitation, Porphyry dealt with many traditional philosophical objections. Among them, one is particularly ambitious. Attributed by Porphyry to the Stoics, it is usually referred to as the Stoic objection concerning justice. The objection maintains that justice is destroyed - “confounded” - by any endeavour to extend it to nonhumans, since, for those who make such an attempt, no road of justice is left, “either broad or narrow”. I shall first consider the use of the notion of justice in this context. Then, I shall challenge the allegation in its own merits, connecting its elements with somewhat parallel contemporary arguments. Finally, I shall reverse its claim. In other words, what I shall argue is that justice is destroyed by its being confined to human beings.

The Text

Porphyry’s summary of the Stoic objection is very dense:

Our opponents therefore say, in the first place, that justice will be confounded, and things immoveable be moved, if we extend what is just, not only to the rational, but also to the irrational nature; conceiving that not only Gods and men pertain to us, but that there is likewise an alliance between us and brutes, who [in reality] have no conjunction with us....

For he who uses these as if they were men, sparing and not injuring them, thus endeavoring to adapt to justice that which it cannot bear, both destroys its power, and corrupts that which is appropriate, by the introduction of what is foreign. For it necessarily follows, either that we act unjustly by [not] sparing them, or if we spare, and do not employ them, that it will be impossible for us to live. We shall also, after a manner, live the life of brutes, if we reject the use of which they are capable of affording.... For it would be impossible to assign any work, any medicine, or any remedy for the want which is destructive of life, or that we can act justly, unless we preserve the ancient law illustrated by Hesiod, a law by which, distinguishing the natural kinds and giving each class its special domain,

“To fishes, savage beasts, and birds, devoid
Of justice, Jove to devour each other
Granted; but justice to mankind he gave.”

i.e., toward each other.

But it is not possible for us to act unjustly towards those who cannot be just towards us. Hence, for those who reject this reasoning, no other road of justice is left, either broad or narrow, into which they can enter. For, as we have already observed, our nature, not being sufficient to itself, but indigent of many things, would be entirely destroyed, and enclosed in a life involved in difficulties, inorganic, and deprived of necessaries, if excluded from the assistance derived from animals.1


What exactly is one referring to when one discusses justice and animals? In a recent discussion of the question, 2 Martha Nussbaum states that, under the capabilities approach she favors - an approach stressing that individuals have the basic right to be “all that they can be” with the support of internal and external conditions - nonhumans, as conscious and purposive agents, do have entitlements based upon justice. However, speaking of animals who are under human control, she does not advocate their enfranchisement, but merely laws banning cruel treatment. She also suggests that research that inflicts pain and premature death on nonhumans, thus violating their basic entitlements, should continue if it is really necessary for a major human capability. Thus, what Nussbaum refers to seems to be a quite limited form of protection - nothing more than some restraint to be imposed on our exploitive behavior. It seems that what we face here is a typically post-Cartesian perspective, characterized by a focus on animal suffering and a disregard for animal lives.3 Can this really be called justice?

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post #2 of 4 (permalink) Old 12-16-2006, 07:10 AM
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post #4 of 4 (permalink) Old 12-16-2006, 09:48 AM
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