Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Why Animal Suffering Matters, by Andrew Linzey. Reviewed by Professor Henry Mark Holzer

Andrew Linzey is a warhorse of the animal rights movement, and one of its leading intellectuals. He is Director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics and a member of the Faculty of Theology at Oxford University in England.

Dr. Linzey’s newest book, of some twenty, is published by Oxford University Press and is important for at least four reasons.

First, in his own words, “[t]his book attempts to provide a clear, introductory text accessible for high school and university students. * * * This volume is also intended to meet the specific needs occasioned by the increasing number of university courses in animal welfare, animal rights, human-animal studies, animal ethics, animals and philosophy, animals and religion, animal law, and even animal theology at the university level in both Europe and the United States. This is in addition to the many pre-university, advanced-level, and high school courses in the United Kingdom and the United States in liberal arts, humanities, philosophy, religious studies, and ethics that now increasingly include normative questions about our treatment of animals within their fields of study.” Few tasks are more important than this for the animal protection movement, for it is the future generations that will be responsible for making another quantum leap in the understanding of the human-animal relationship, and the protection of the latter. In that respect, Dr. Linzey’s book is more than a welcome addition to the literature; it is an indispensable one.

Second, the structure of Why Animal Suffering Matters well serves the case it makes. Part I is entitled “Making the Rational Case,” and consists of two chapters. Of them, the first—“Why animal suffering matters morally” (Chapter 2 is entitled “How we minimize animal suffering and how we can change”—sets the tone for everything that follows. At the end of Chapter 1 Dr. Linzey provides a summary of its main points, a useful tool for his intended audience. Most important is his central point that whatever differences exist between humans and animals, they are not necessarily morally different. This emphasis on the moral, though not overly theological, aspects of human treatment of animals suffuses Dr. Linzey’s book in a welcome departure from some other works in this genre which minimize the moral case if they address it at all. The reason the book’s structure serves the case it makes is because Part I is an essential predicate to Part II, which examines “Three Practical Critiques”: hunting with dogs, fur farming and commercial sealing. In Dr. Linzey’s discussion of each of these topics omnipresent is always the moral calculus, the litmus test by which these, and other animal-destructive, activities must always be judged.

Third, is the content of the moral calculus itself, too important and serious to be facilely summarized here. Suffice to say that despite the author’s life-long association with theology, his moral case does not rest entirely by an appeal to a “higher being” which somehow bespeaks of the need for humans to be kind to animals. For example—one of many—Dr. Linzey makes the point that if the principle of medical informed consent “is morally sound, the absence of the capacity to give consent [by animals], informed or otherwise, must logically tell against [emphasis in original] the abuse of animals. It makes the infliction of injury not easier, but equally difficult, if not harder, to justify. At Tom Regan extols when weighing the relative risks and harms involved in experimentation: ‘Risks are not morally transferable to those who do not voluntarily choose to take them’.”

Fourth, in Why Animal Suffering Matters Dr. Linzey takes on Peter Singer, a utilitarian considered by many to be the father of the animal rights movement (which, by his own admission, he is not). Among other indefensible ideas, Singer believes it is permissible for “society,” which is nothing more than an aggregation of individuals, to murder disabled newborn babies up to a month old—a “logical” corollary of his view that even partial-birth abortion is morally acceptable, and should be legally as well. If for no other reason—and there are many—Andrew Linzey’s book should be read is because of his critique of Singer’s views, which, for whatever good they may have done years ago for the animal protection movement, have lately allowed our critics to point to his unsavory position on infanticide in an effort to discredit his defensible arguments for animal liberation.

In the end, the first paragraph of Dr. Linzey’s conclusion, sums up much of his book: “Concern for animal suffering, like concern for the suffering of young children, ought reasonably to arise from the following considerations: their inability to give or withhold their consent, their inability to verbalize or represent their interests, their inability to comprehend, their moral innocence or blamelessness, and, not least of all, their relative defencelessness and vulnerability. These considerations, and the sheer volume of animal suffering, are masked, minimized, or obfuscated by a range of powerful psychological and linguistic mechanisms that prevent us from directly confronting our treatment of animals as a moral issue” (emphasis supplied).

Dr. Linzey’s invoking the parallel between young children and animals comes at a coincidental time. On October 6, 2009, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral argument in the case of United States v. Stevens, which presented the question of whether the government can suppress the creation, possession and sale of depictions of cruelty to animals just as it has been held to possess the constitutional power to suppress depictions of child pornography (a copy of ISAR’s brief in that case can be viewed HERE). There is indeed a correlation, and in each situation the principle which binds the treatment of young children and animals and should protect both is morality.