Ethics and Non-human World. Ethical Fundamentals for Rethinking the Human-Nature Relationship.
Project funded by the Romanian Academy, under the Grant Agreement: GAR-UM-2019-XII-3.1-9.
2019 - 2021
- Irina Frasin
- George Bodi
- Codrin Dinu Vasiliu
- Ionuț Bârliba
- Liviu Măgurianu
The project aims at expanding the available knowledge in Romania on a major issue for the philosophical thinking, namely the human relationship with the non-human animals and nature overall. The impact of human activities upon the natural environment has grown exponentially in the last decades and generated an increasingly alarming imbalance which exposes our vulnerability in relation with the untamed nature. This fact has determined us to seek solutions for developing a more appropriate relationship between us and the world we share with other creatures.
No other group of beings has suffered more from this tendency of dominating and exploiting the nature than the non-human animals. Most meetings between humans and animals have always ended to the absolute advantage of humans, according to an obvious anthropocentric logical thinking. Today we have come to realize that this process has been equally caused by a severe lack of respect towards any other life forms and ignorance fed by the pride, selfishness, or ideology in relation to the non-human world.
When we have gathered enough scientific data highlighting the complexity of animal life, and despite it, decided to overlook it, so we can carry on believing that our superiority (given by certain abilities) entitles us to have life and death prerogative on all other beings, it merely concerns pride and selfishness, and the consequences of this attitude have already turned against us. In a world of globalization is quite easy to lose track of the most vulnerable among us, and the non-human animals are definitely part of this category. To learn being human again involves taking into consideration this whole picture and leave no player, regardless how small or insignificant might appear, out of our interests. Our abusive attitude towards other animals has triggered the emergence of ethical theories supporting the inherent life value of all beings and movements endorsing the animal protection and their rights as well as contesting traditional values and theories which were accepted long ago. The project aims at researching extensively these theories and their consequences or/ and impact upon the way it is reconsidered the relation with the non-human world.
Project Context and Justification
Currently we are at the stage where it is becoming increasingly obvious that we can longer treat the world and natural environment as inexhaustible resources used for our own benefit. The ideologies favouring this type of approach (which justifies the continuous and irrational exploitation of the environment to the exclusive benefit of humankind) are dangerous precisely for generating and supporting behavioural types which are a direct threat to our survival as a specie due to the colossal damage they cause, Furthermore, they are harmful for disregarding and ignoring feelings and moral values. Nowadays, mainly due to the our past excesses, we are aware of the need for changing the way we refer/ connect to the non-human world.
In fact, we are witnessing a convergence of the new ethical and economic arguments based on the long-term interest of humankind. It is quite apparent that humans and ecosystems, animals and non-human world are in an interdependence network. Today we are aware of the fact that we share this world with a multitude of life forms whose complexity we are merely starting to truly see and comprehend. Previously ignored or merely exploited to the absolute benefit of humans, the non-human world appeals more and more to the scientific world. It mainly concerns the fields of social sciences and humanities which, not so far ago, were exclusively interested in the problems of our species (completely ignoring the non-human world as a field of interest addressing exclusively the natural sciences).
Traditionally, the study of animals and nature were regarded as falling within the competence of biology. Today, animals and non-human world have found their place in the fields of psychology, sociology, anthropology, culture philosophy, ethics, and other related domains. Thus, we have come to discover plenty of novel ideas, redefine, and reconsider numerous fundamental concepts. The way we theorize the animals and non-human world is essential to the manner in which we connect and relate to them. Thus, we understand that is not only possible, but also necessary to interpret our relationship with the other animals from various viewpoints, and acknowledge the part played the non-human animals throughout the history of humankind, societies, and cultures created by us.
The new domain of anthrozoology (which studies the human-animal relationships from the perspective of social sciences and humanities) is gaining further ground. Despite a long tradition of trivialization and marginalization, anthrozoology comes up with new ways of understanding the billions of life forms which live next to us. Such an effort of rethinking and re-theorizing is absolutely necessary if we wish to truly change the way we relate to the non-human world, the other inhabitants of the planet, regardless of their species.
This new scientific field, namely anthrozoology which studies the human relationships with the non-human animals and nature overall from the viewpoints of philosophy, ethics, political sciences, history and literature, is, according to our knowledge, a novel domain in Romania and the project purpose lies in promoting and encouraging research enterprises and studies of the sort in the Romanian academic environment.
The compliance of the our theme (Ethics and Non-human World. Ethical Fundamentals for rethinking the Human-Animal Relationship) with the Section XII, 3.1: Re-learning how to be humane in the stage of society’s globalization is justified because, in light of the new arguments brought by the domains studying the human-animal relation today, on the long list of known forms of discrimination (racism, sexism, homophobia, social discrimination, age discrimination, etc.) it is necessary to add speciesism. The notion defined by philosopher Peter Singer, speciesism is about favouring individuals or their interests based on their species membership, in our case humans and their interests that have been prioritized for a long time. Our project aims at engaging in a thorough scientific research on the human-animal relationship from a philosophic perspective and for revealing the ethical fundamentals requesting a novel approach of this relationship. It is now obvious that using products obtained from the suffering of animals is in stark contrast with the values of a society which defends the rights of men, women, children, and oppressed minorities. It is difficult to understand how we can invoke values such as justice, equality, and freedom when we subjugate, exploit, and slaughter the “fellow” that does not belong to our species. We have come to realize that all life forms we live next to are our indeed “neighbours”. Starting from this assumption, our project also aims at underlining the part played by the act of rethinking our relationship with other animals in understanding and redefining our own humanity.
To achieve our objectives we have suggested the following activities: in-depth research of the proposed subjects conducted by the specialists involved in the project; argumentative debate and comparative analysis of the themes suggested for investigation by the team members via the workshop method (a total of three); organizing an international conference where the results of the research are to be introduced and discussed; making a collective book comprising representative scientific articles on the issue of the research project. All these activities are necessary for the purpose suggested, namely expanding the current available knowledge in Romania on this essential theme for the philosophical reflection: the relationship of humans with the non-human animals and nature overall.
It is important to highlight that the assumption, which has occupied, for a long time, the central position in the discourse on natural world, that animals would be deprived of rights, and the illusion according to which the way we treat them is morally insignificant, are examples of the Western cultural pride that regarded cruelty and barbarism belonging to foreign cultures only. The project seeks to address calling into question these issues, prejudices related to using animals and non-human world to the exclusive benefit of humans, and the research on the fundamentals of moral convictions in the relationship with nature.
Our project aims at conducting an in-depth research of the importance and role played by nature and non-human animals in the development of cultures, civilizations, and human world throughout the history. We have often overlooked (consequence of a choice or simply by habit) a significant part of the surrounding world and chosen to disregard the vital role played by animals and non-human world in the construction of the human world. Yet we cannot overlook the fact that the way we have seen and understood animals, respectively their relationships with them, has greatly impacted upon the way we have regarded and defined our own humanity, the privileged place occupied by humans in the whole existence.
The project aims at researching the discourse of various traditions related to the highly complex issue of interactions between the non-human world and the way in which human relationships with animals and, generally, nature were perceived. Thereby, we are trying to draw the attention on a history of human interactions with the other living beings, by starting with the domestication process, the manner in which was perceived and featured, and carrying on with other stages undergone by the relationships with the non-human world. The main purpose of this investigation lies in highlighting the vast diversity, variety, and complexity of our relationships with the non-human animals and the ways in which they have been represented and understood as well.
Another task involves investigating the possibilities and knowledge fundamentals of the other living beings: how can we assemble coherent pertinent points of view on the way in which other beings perceive the world. Should we complete this endeavour, we shall understand that animals have different personalities (not just general features on which species rely), are capable of complex emotions and reasoning. It is quite difficult to explore the subjective world of the “other”, even when it concerns another human being, all the more difficult when it involves non-human animals. That is why, in the case of these types of studies, the deindividualization or reification of the study object on behalf of scientific objectivity, no longer represents a viable option.
When we are facing the massive exploitation of animals nowadays (industrial farming, pharmaceutic industry, cosmetics, and other consumption goods, scientific education and research, zoos, circuses, sport hunting, extensive fishing, etc.), we cannot be but profoundly affected by the way in which our own species brings so much suffering and pain to the other species. Therefore, the key part of our research endeavour focuses on the moral status of the non-human animals and our obligations towards them. Before the 19th century, animal were generally regarded, both in theory and practice, as devoid of a moral status. The utilitarian theorists were the first who claimed that animals were capable of feeling suffering, and humans should have certain moral obligations towards them. The project aims at researching in-depth the main ethical theories concerning the non-human animals and their fundamental concepts (conceived by authors such as Peter Singer, Tom Regan, Robert Nozick, Mark Rowlands, Marti Kheel, Mary Midgley, Carol Adams, Lori Gruen, Deborah Slicer etc.).