restricted access 8. Electric Sheep and the New Argument from Nature
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177 8 Electric Sheep and the New Argument from Nature angus taylor During the past three decades, as part of the burgeoning field of environmental ethics, there has been a remarkable upsurge of interest among philosophers in the moral status of (nonhuman) animals. The dominant perception of animals as fundamentally other than humans has been strongly challenged by those who would admit many nonhumans into the moral community. Yet this project faces formidable obstacles. Philosophically, it is doubted by many that the individualistic orientation of animal liberation is compatible with the holistic orientation of much environmental thought. Practically, the capitalist mode of production militates against viewing the nonhuman world as anything other than a storehouse of exploitable resources. In their own ways, these obstacles reflect the idea that the project of animal liberation is contrary to the natural order of things. The movement for animal liberation involves the attempt to break down the traditional conceptual boundaries between human beings and animals , in order to include the latter within the moral community. But this breaking down of boundaries is a double-edged sword that is simultaneously being wielded by opponents of animal liberation to uphold the notion of human domination over other species. I want to use the fiction of Philip K. Dick—in particular the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?—as illustrative material for discussing what is probably the most influential grounds for rejecting animal liberation: what I call the new argument from nature. Like the teleological argument for the existence of God, the new argument from nature against animal liberation derives its 178 Angus Taylor force as much from intuition as from reason. That it is natural and therefore right that we dominate and exploit animals seems so obvious to many as hardly needing to be rationally defended. Bolstered by pre-reflective intuition , the argument from nature provides a neat way of side-stepping the rigorous philosophical arguments mounted on utilitarian, deontological and other grounds by Peter Singer, Tom Regan and all those who have followed in their wake. On inspection, however, it may be seen that the animating force of the new argument from nature is less science than ideology. I am not suggesting that at any given time there is only one way in which nature is invoked to explain and justify our interactions with animals . For their part, animal liberationists make their own appeal to nature in presenting their cases—typically arguing that humans and nonhumans have much in common. And as Rod Preece has shown, the overall history of Western thought about animals is complex and very far from the onesided denigration of animals that we may be tempted to assume it is.1 My focus is on particular ongoing positions within academic philosophy. Lest that focus seem too narrow, it should be pointed out that the arguments of philosophers from Aristotle to Descartes and beyond have not been without influence (as well as being influenced in turn by their times and cultures) and that, especially today, the role of professional philosophers in the public debate about animals is a significant one. Among the pronouncements that ushered in the modern age of science and industry was Descartes’s notorious claim that animals are literally and simply machines. Dogs and cats, parrots and sheep are “natural automata”—robots made by God. Cartesian dualism radically divided the realm of consciousness from the realm of matter and separated humans (allegedly the only earthly beings possessing minds) from all other living creatures. Out was the organic vision of the world as a unified hierarchy of beings, reflecting in varying degrees the perfection of God. Nature, according to the radical new view, was the realm of the mechanical. Already in the seventeenth century, Descartes presented us with a picture of human beings as minds temporarily encased in machine bodies. His consignment of animals to the purely mechanical was part of the project to make humans “masters and possessors of nature” and a portent of the industrial age. The changed view of nature may have been expressed in its starkest form in the mechanism of Descartes, but the absence of teleology and intrinsic value from the physical world was a foundational principle of the new science. Galileo proclaimed that the domain of science was restricted to what could be measured quantitatively, and excluded the “secondary” qualities (like colour and sound) experienced by the human mind. Newton , who believed that the gravitational attraction...


Subject Headings

  • Animal welfare.
  • Animal welfare -- Moral and ethical aspects.
  • Human-animal relationships.
  • Animal rights.
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