Review of Wild Justice

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Review of Wild Justice

Postby wolfhnd on December 26th, 2014, 8:37 pm 

Marc Bekoff;Jessica Pierce. Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals

I would have a hard time recommending this book.

I would admit to a degree of prejudice against animal rights activist. I would place both authors in this generalized category. While I'm also in favor of animal rights the prejudice I have is against activist. We are all activist who campaigns for some kind of social change at some level. Unfortunately activism has come to be associated with single causes and often without regard to how the cause in question affect other important social issues. The reader should simply keep in mind that I tried to not let my prejudice influence my review.

Over all the book is more about philosophy than science and does a good job of laying the foundation for a philosophical justification for accepting that the word morality applies to non human animals. The authors also dispel a lot of the concern for anthropomorphism that scientist have. Unfortunately I don't think that many scientist will be persuaded by even sound philosophical arguments. From the point of view of anyone reading the book the attempt to synthesize science and philosophy is well done but it isn't entertaining. Scientist will find it unconvincing philosophers will find it over simplified and the general population boring. The people it will appeal to is anyone wanting to review the attempt at synthesizing two disciplines and I would recommend it to that group of readers.

My problem with the book can be summed up by examining one quote from the book.

“Darwinian theory, which has sent us looking instead for competition and unfettered aggression.”

The quote is in relationship to the widespread or ever prevalence of examples of cooperative and other non competitive social behaviors.

I find their assertion to be unfair to Darwin. Darwin because of his education and the time he lived in wrote in a style that reflected a philosophical mind-set. He simply would not have made the mistake they are accusing him of. The only way that the authors statement could be true is to ignore the larger context and apply it to social animals out of relationship to the general theory of biological evolution. The authors repeatedly try to convince the reader that we our prejudiced by a conspiracy of history to believe that nature is “bloody tooth and claw”. This is a gross oversimplification of what bloody tooth and claw actually means. Competition should never be considered solely as the direct competition between life forms but within the context of limited resources. Only in a world in which resources were infinite could competition not be the fundamental defining aspect of the relationship between life forms and that is the Darwinian context. That cooperation is more common than competition within in social structures should come as no surprise to an Evolutionary Biologist.

Re: Review of Wild Justice

Postby wolfhnd on December 27th, 2014, 11:36 pm 

I have some additional comments.

One of the things stressed in Wild Justice was to frame our understanding of animal morality in reference to each species needs, mental capacity and social structure. Certain moral conditions may be universal such as empathy, altruism, cooperation and other nuisances but evolution has nested moral capacity in concentric rings in every increasing complexity leading to a state of situational morality. They are careful to point out that situational morality should not be confused with moral relativity. They assert that situational morality does not weakens the foundations of human morality but has already incorporated the concept into our legal system and theology by defining which humans are responsible for their actions. While I agree with the basic premise I think it opens a door on the question of extending rights to animals.

If morality is species specific it opens a door to the old argument that morality is exclusive to human relations. Proof that non human species have their own "morality" leaves humans to decide that they have no responsible to animals other than what is "practical" for humans. If there is no judgment of a wolf for killing a dear then there should be no moral judgment against a human killing a wolf it is in the humans "interests". The fact that they left the question of universal moral laws open-ended is a bit disappointing. I understand that they were risking their professional credibility to have even used the word moral in connection to non human animals. Once they wrote the book and open that door however it can't be shut simply by saying that their is much more to be learned and philosophy will develop to deal with it.

I think it is also clear that there may be some confusion over the question of how the morality of animals effect how humans should treat them. The authors I believe were mainly pointing out that what would be considered cruel for non social animals that have no moral expectations may be cruel for social animals. While I think that this is one of the best points the book makes and has broad implications on wildlife management and research animals I think some people will assume that other forms of cruelty are then justified.

If I had written the book I would have left a more broad definition of morality. One that encompasses the idea that we should extend rights to animals because we can afford to. The cost we already bear to consider ourselves “cultured” are enormous. We support art, and theoretical science not for “practical reasons” but because they enrich human lives. I don't think there is any doubt that extending rights to animals would enrich human lives. The question for philosophers is not if but how. Just because you are being scientific no longer should mean that you can't take a moral position. The people that will be confused are already confused.

Re: Review of Wild Justice

Postby wolfhnd on December 27th, 2014, 11:41 pm 

Here is a thread with other peoples thoughts


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