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Tuesday 27th September

Seminar Room 1, Leeds Humanities Research Institute,

the University of Leeds, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, LS2 9TJ

09.15 –  09.50 Registration and tea and coffee

09.50 -  10.00 Welcome and opening remarks

10.00 –  10.45 - The Alleged Goodness of Death for Animals

                               Ricardo Miguel (Universidade de Lisboa)

10.45  -   11.30 - Mortality and Meaning in Animal Life

                              Joshua Thomas (University of Sheffield)

11.30  –   11.45 Coffee break

11.45   –  12.30  - Death, Termination and Biological Laws

                               Rina Michaela Tzinman (Bilkent University)

12.30  –  13.30 Lunch

13.30  –  14.15   - Domestication and Moral Responsibility

                               Daniele Lorenzini (University of Paris)

14.15   -   15.00 - Companion Animals and the Ethics of Euthanasia

                               Eva Meijer (University of Amsterdam)

15.00 –   15.15 Coffee break

15.15   –   16.00 - Predation Catch-22: Disentangling Rights of Prey, Predators, and Rescuers

                               Julius Kapembwa (University of Reading)

16.00 –   17.30  - Keynote: The Problem of Wild Animal Deaths

                                                Alasdair Cochrane (University of Sheffield)

17.30   -   17.35 Closing comments

19.00                Conference dinner


The Alleged Goodness of Death for Animals

 Ricardo Miguel (Universidade de Lisboa)

               Belshaw (2016: 43) argues that death is good for animals, “not only when there is pain now and more pain later, but also when there is pain now but pleasure later, and again when thereis pleasure now but pain later”. Most people will agree with him regarding the first and the last case, but will disagree about the case of “pain now but pleasure later”. The basis for this disagreement is that pleasure and pain are usually seen as counting (roughly) the same against each other so that, in a life-long evaluation, an animal’s future pleasure may compensate its present pain. Consequently, under such circumstances, most people believe that death may not be good. However, Belshaw is happy to oppose this by saying that animals, contrarily to (most) humans, are not connected to themselves throughout their lives in a way that allowssuch a compensation.

                My aim here is to argue that Belshaws’ reasoning in support of the controversial case of death’s being good for animals – pain now but pleasure later – also supports the falsity of death’s being good for animals in the widely agreed case of pleasure now but pain later. As it will be helpful to understand some of Belshaws’ points about the goodness of death, I start by outlining his view on its badness, especially concerning the role of desires and the importance of pain. A brief discussion of some cases will make clear the sense in which psychology matters for the badness and for the goodness of death. Despite some similarities, I suggest that there is here a rather unintuitive asymmetry: “a certain complex psychology” (Belshaw 2016:38) is necessary for the badness of death but not for its goodness.

               Yet, my main argument is related with the objection of animal lives as series of discrete lives, which Belshaw considers and replies. I examine his reply followed by my argument. In brief, if animals are disconnected beings and, therefore, future pleasure cannot compensate present pain, hence death is good, then future pain cannot count against present pleasure to dictate that death is good as well. Finally, two possible rejoinders are considered and dismissed. Firstly, Belshaw could let go the goodness of death in the more intuitive case, but loosing this seems too high a cost to pay for securing the controversial case of pain now but pleasure later. Secondly, despite the psychological disconnectedness, he may insist that death is good when there is future pain because, when the time comes, it will be worse for the animal than death. But I think that this comes down to death’s being good when there is present pain, not when there is present pleasure. I conclude that Belshaw made no compelling case for us to accept that death is good for animals when pain is only ahead of them, even supposing that their deaths are not bad.


Mortality and Meaning in Animal Life

Joshua Thomas (University of Sheffield)

            Death is often thought to harm human beings. One way it might potentially harm us is by undermining or reducing the meaningfulness of our lives. For instance, if a scientist succeeds in curing cancer after a lifetime's work, we might think that they have lived an especially meaningful life. However, if they die shortly before they would have discovered this cure, then the natural intuition is that their life is rendered less meaningful as a result. But can animals other than humans be harmed by death in this way?

                A prevailing attitude holds that (lower) animals are in fact incapable of living lives with any degree of meaning whatsoever. If this is true then death cannot harm an animal by damaging the meaningfulness of its life because there will be no such thing to damage. Nevertheless, the truth of this claim will rest on our preferred theory of what meaning in life actually is. If a meaningful life is just a life which generates a lot of value, then it seems like animals can have meaningful lives. However, I will argue this understanding of meaning is over-simplistic. A better conception of meaning in life relates it to an individual's 'life-story'. In brief, a person can be thought to have a meaningful life if the events, efforts, and achievements in their life come together to make a coherent narrative. Death might then harm a person, by harming the meaning of their life, when it serves as an interruption to this narrative.

                For many animals, whose existence is a repetitive and unchanging pattern of eating, sleeping etc., the notion of their having a 'life-story' seems far fetched. But what about animals whose lives do better resemble stories, such as the famous (fictional) dog, Lassie? Does Lassie's life have meaning – a meaning that could have been damaged had she been hit by a car and killed while on her way to perform some good deed? Or is the fact that Lassie would not be able to fully comprehend or value her life-story (assuming she had one) incompatible with her life being meaningful? If so, are humans the only animals on Earth for whom mortality poses this kind of meaning-related threat? My talk will argue that this is indeed the case, although there are other ways which death might pose a threat to both humans and animals.

Death, Termination and Biological Laws

Rina Michaela Tzinman (Bilkent University)

                According to the Termination Thesis, organisms cease to exist at death. On this view, what appears to be a corpse is really one of the following: (a) particles arranged corpse-wise; (b) a new object that popped into existence when the organism died; (c) an object that was collocated with the living organism all along. According to the Anti-termination View, dead organisms exist and are identical to the living organisms they appear to result from. The debate between terminators and anti-terminators isn’t merely of narrow academic interest. Several weighty questions hang on it, such as the possibility of posthumous harm, the ethics of post-mortem organ procurement, the question of what the proper object of prudential concern is, and how we should understand animalism about personal identity (the view that persons just are human animals).

                   Most arguments for the Anti-termination View appeal to linguistic and common sense intuitions. In their place I propose a new argument, which relies on two notions that are new to the debate: the concept of naturalness, and law-like generalizations about organisms in biology. My argument goes as follows:


P1: Being an organism is a natural property.

P2: If things instantiate the natural property of being an organism after death, the simplest explanation of this fact is that dead organisms exist and are identical to the living organisms that they result from.

P3: There are things that instantiate the natural property of being an organism after death.

Conclusion: The simplest explanation of (P3) is that dead organisms exist and are identical to the living organisms that they result from.


                 I show (P1) by honing in on the notion relevant for the topic of organism persistence, namely the scientific notion of naturalness. I argue for (P2) by showing that some biological studies make law-like generalizations that quantify over dead organisms. I do so by examining studies about a certain parasitic fungus and its relation to its host, the carpenter ant. I then argue that the Anti- termination View makes for the simplest explanation of such biological generalizations.

                  The argument I shall present is not meant to be a knock-down argument against the Termination Thesis, but it does shift the burden of proof to the terminator. Given that the terminator agrees that being an organism is a natural property (P1), she must show why, despite appearances to the contrary, either dead organisms do not in fact instantiate the property, or why it is simpler to assume that dead organisms do not exist (or are not identical to the living organisms they appear to have resulted from).

                After presenting the argument, I will discuss one of its more interesting practical consequences. In a pair of recent papers, Hershenov and Delaney (2009, 2010) argue that consent is not needed for organ procurement, since the composite objects we call corpses do not exist and therefore there is no sense in which we become corpses. I will show that this argument presupposes the Termination Thesis, and so my defense of the anti-terminator view blocks it.

Domestication and Moral Responsibility

Daniele Lorenzini (University of Paris)

                 In this paper I discuss some of the crucial issues in contemporary debate on animal euthanasia and argue that, in order to know if and when it is right to ‘euthanize’ a (companion) animal, we should not only take into account its suffering, interests and/or preferences, but also the specific relations of domestication that bound its life to ours. These relations have indeed important moral consequences that the main arguments on animal euthanasia ignore.

             First of all, I ask if it is possible to find a philosophically acceptable justification for the use of the term ‘euthanasia’ when applied to non-human animals. Elaborating on Tom Beauchamp and Arnold Davidson’s famous definition of human euthanasia, I argue that it is possible to define satisfactorily animal euthanasia, but that such a definition imposes very strict limits on the use of this term. Indeed, the individual practicing (animal) euthanasia must be a human being capable of undertaking a moral reasoning (that is, he or she cannot be moved only by compassion or empathy, although compassion and empathy could be important aspects of his or her behaviour), and the individual whose life is at stake is normally a companion animal – we can coherently speak of euthanasia for other kinds of animals only exceptionally.

               Given these premises, I then ask if and when it is right to euthanize a companion animal and argue that the conditions for a morally legitimate animal euthanasia are very strict. Indeed, against Raymond G. Frey, I argue that companion animals have an interest in life that we should preserve and, against Peter Singer, that they are not replaceable. However, in order to do so, I show that we do not need to rely on Tom Regan’s strong thesis of an ‘inherent value’ of animals and thus of a series of ‘rights’ they possess. My argument is based on a weaker thesis, inspired to Clare Palmer’s work on (and critique of) a domesticated animal contract, a thesis whose implications, however, are strong enough to counter Frey and Singer’s conclusions. The fact that companion animals have an interest in life we are morally compelled to preserve is, I argue, a direct consequence of the complex network of relations that bound their lives to ours. Indeed, we could not make sense of the shape these relations take, nor of our own form of life as it involves relations with companion animals, without recognizing that the latter have an interest in life worth preserving and that this particular companion animal, whose life is bound to mine and which I am morally responsible for, is not replaceable in a utilitarian fashion.

                To conclude, I combine my definition of animal euthanasia, inspired to Tom Beauchamp and Arnold Davidson’s definition of human euthanasia, with Tom Regan’s idea of a ‘preference-respecting euthanasia’ and with Martha Nussbaum’s ‘capability approach’ in order to clearly establish the conditions that not only can justify, but that – in some cases – make it also morally necessary to practice euthanasia on a companion animal.

Companion Animals and the Ethics of Euthanasia

Eva Meijer (University of Amsterdam)


                 Living with nonhuman animal companions means learning about love and loss. It also means sometimes having to make decisions for them (at least within current power structures), with regard to where to live, what to eat, and with regard to their medical treatment, including making decisions about their death or continued life. In my presentation I will investigate the relevance of a relational approach to animal ethics for thinking about nonhuman animal euthanasia. I start from the premise that nonhuman animals should be part of our moral communities. I also agree with Donaldson and Kymlicka when they argue that relations with other animals are unavoidable and that good relations are possible. While on the macro scale we should aim for enlarging the freedom of both domesticated and nondomesticated nonhuman animals, there are many interactions that cannot, and/or should not, have to be avoided. Humans sometimes have a duty of care towards other animals, which raises the question if, and under which circumstances, we can, or must, decide for them to die, for example when nonhuman companions are in great pain and have no chance of getting better. Instead of solely focusing on suffering or trying to determine the harm of death in relation to reason, I argue that we should also further develop interspecies communication, learn about nonhuman animal emotional and cognitive capacities, and increase empathy on the side of humans. The question of nonhuman animal death is inextricably linked to the question of how to live with them.

                   In the presentation I first compare the harm of death of human and nonhuman animals, and argue that differences are of degree and not kind. I here draw on insights from utilitarianism and poststructuralism that challenge human exceptionalism and speciesism, and recent insights in ethology on nonhuman animal mourning and even understanding of death. Second, I discuss the relation between human euthanasia and rationality in the context of the Dutch debate on euthanasia in the case of humans who suffer from dementia. I then compare this to existing views about nonhuman animal euthanasia. In the third part of the paper I argue that ideas about suffering and decisions about ending life always have to be supplemented with knowledge about nonhuman animal inner lives, and, drawing on insights derived from care ethics, informed by interactions and relations with them. Other animals are individuals with their own views on life, and have ways of expressing these. In order to do justice to their lives, we need to take this into account, especially when thinking about death.

Predation Catch-22: Disentangling Rights of Prey, Predators, and Rescuers

Julius Kapembwa (University of Reading)


                  The fact that some animals hunt and kill other animals for food is a genuine problem for moral philosophy and for wildlife governance. Several solutions have been offered including two diametric ones: that it is morally permissible or required for humans to intervene to prevent predation, and that it is morally impermissible or prohibited to intervene to prevent predation. This paper offers a somewhat new solution to the problem of predation by deploying a Hohfeldian rights schema that aims at pinpointing the rights at stake (or not) for the prey, predator, and rescuer. The Hohfeldian rights framework helps to systematically work through the problem of predation whether the prey is a wild animal, a domestic animal, or a human animal and whether the predator is a wild animal, a domestic animal, or a human animal. Although this paper is motivated by predation as it pertains to wildlife governance, it also deals with the other forms of predation since seemingly justified human intervention in these other forms (that is, the forms not involving only wild animals) is used to fortress the argument for intervening on behalf of prey in the wild. The paper has, among others, the following conclusions: (1) In wildlife-only predation, humans ought to not intervene; (2) However, where humans are responsible for additional vulnerability of prey, they may proportionally intervene to sufficiently reinstate the status quo; (3) Where prey are members of a critically endangered keystone species, there are prima facie reasons for wildlife managers to intervene to prevent predation; (4) Where innocent human animals or their pets are prey, self- and other- defense is permissible and sometimes required to prevent predation.



Keynote: The Problem of Wild Animal Deaths

Alasdair Cochrane (University of Sheffield)


                     Peter Singer famously argued that 'all animals are equal' some forty years ago.  But while much has been written about what moral duties follow from this principle of 'equal consideration of interests', relatively little has been written on what it means for our political institutions.  I argue that the principle entails a fundamental moral duty to create and maintain institutions which protect three basic 'sentient rights': the right to have one's interests considered equally; the right not to be made to suffer; and the right to life. But if all sentient creatures have a right to life, this has profound implications for our relations with wild animals: it seems as though we have far-reaching obligations to protect wild animals from death.  This talk looks at four objections to the existence of such positive duties of assistance - that we lack the relations with wild animals to ground such duties; that such duties will cause more harm than good; that other values such as preserving ecosystems take priority; and that such duties would be too burdensome - and finds all of them wanting.  The lecture concludes by sketching some of the ways in which political institutions need to be transformed so as to address our duties in relation to wild animal deaths.






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