Week 7: Attitudes toward the Lives of Animals by Ryan Andre Magsino

Week 7: Attitudes toward the Lives of Animals by Ryan Andre Magsino

Given the ability to reason and conceptualize, humans claim themselves as cognitive beings with a conscious. However, what of non-human animals? Do non-human animals exhibit any sense of consciousness or cognitive thought? If so/not, how should they be treated? Should they have the same living rights as a human? All these questions have arisen from analysis of this past week’s topic, “Consciousness & Memory,” and an insightful talk by guest speaker Siddharth Ramakrishnan. He prompted us to consider the connection between consciousness and living organisms. Specifically, he contends the existence of cognitive thinking or consciousness in non-human animals. Ramakrishnan utilized examples such as a cephalopod’s ability to cloak itself depending on the circumstances and how an elephant could recognize its reflection in a mirror as a means to justify his point of view. Ramakrishnan’s perspective is not necessarily the correct one nor is it the only one.

There are multitudes of viewpoints which address these imposing, over-arching questions. One common viewpoint is the recognition of consciousness in non-human animals. However, they are considered to have a smaller cognitive capacity in relation to humans. Therefore, humans are dominant over them and thus reserve the right to control them to their liking or not (Man’s Dominion View). Another viewpoint, the Animal-machine view, contends that non-human animals are like machines without souls and are thereby unable to think cognitively. Thus, humans are again entitled to use them as instruments to fulfill their purposes – whether it be their meat for food, their coats for clothing or even their companionship as pets.

A dog may be exhibit cognitive thinking, but is it thinking equal to or greater than that of a human?

A dog may be exhibit cognitive thinking, but is it thinking equal to or greater than that of a human?

Some perspectives choose to stress proper treatment while disregarding whether a non-human animal is consciously aware or not. Such a pro-life view would consider all forms of life as sacred. Therefore, humans should never have control over animals’ lives. Such thought was actually implemented in 17th century Japan when the shogun at the time, Tsuna-yoshi Tokugawa, actually made it illegal to intentionally harm any other living animal. Similarly though not as extreme, an animal right’s viewpoint would advocate for equality in treatment. One possible reasoning is the immeasurability of the level of conscious thought. By acknowledging both humans and non-human animals retain some cognitive thought, they should be considered equals.

As for philosophically backed viewpoints, we could look at either the Utilitarian or Kantian train of thought. According to a Utilitarian outlook, the basis of morality is sympathy and consideration for someone’s suffering and pleasure. If anyone, whether they are human or non-human, is suffering or feeling pain, we should try to reduce their suffering or pain. As for animals who have almost equal or clearer self-consciousness  compared with human newborns such as dolphins and primates, it is cruel to make them suffer just as it is cruel to make human babies suffer. Taking this point further, our viewpoints determine the way we perceive things. The following is a video on how such behavior affects how we determine whether an a non-human animal is cute or not: The Science of Cute. As for a Kantian approach, we must recognize the bad effects mistreatment would have on the human psychology. By treating non-human animals nicely, we avoid inciting cruelty into our own consciousness which could lead to offensive behavior to fellow humans.

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