Friday, September 6, 2019

"Comments on a Contested Comparison"

Alice Crary takes on the issue of comparing people to animals and our treatment of animals to the Holocaust in her paper "Comments on a Contested Comparison: Race and Animals." Encouraging the thought of certain people as less than fully human is certainly bad, but can we accept this truth while still properly valuing animals? For instance, can we understand, and help others to see, how terrible our treatment of animals often is without comparing industrial slaughter with the Holocaust (a comparison that echoes Nazi propaganda in likening its victims to animals)? Crary's answer is Yes. Much of what she says here builds on her argument in Inside Ethics, on which see this and this. Like Craig Taylor, Crary rejects Jeff McMahan's way of thinking about animals. She also rejects the idea that there can be a neutral metaphysic and instead takes the view, argued for in Inside Ethics, that we can observe the moral qualities of animals.

On her view:
animals of different kinds are taken to be beings who enter moral thought, not as creatures who are in a normative sense "below" humans, but as beings who matter just as the creatures they are. So there is no room for a normative ranking into "higher" and "lower" animals... (p. 250)
I agree, although I'm not sure about the "no room" part. No doubt her view does not include any such ranking, but is it really excluded as fully as the words "no room" suggest? Couldn't someone, that is, value animals and human beings "just as the creatures they are" but also, say, group them into types, and perhaps also consider some types "higher" (who knows what that would mean?) than others? Maybe not. Presumably one could prefer some species to others. Whether that means one could rank some as higher or lower than others would depend a lot on what "higher" and "lower" would mean in this context. So I'm not sure. But if this is a criticism at all, it is about as minor as can be.

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