The Requirements of Justice

horseby Faith Bjalobok, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy, Duquesne University, Fellow of Oxford Center for Animal Advocacy

There is much debate about the best way to deal with horses whose owners no longer seem to have any desire to care for them.  In terms of the solutions proposed by horse owners there are those who support slaughter and those who oppose it.

Group A who view horses are mere property much in the same way one views a farm tractor tend to be pro-slaughter. Group B who view their horses as a part of their extended family believe they have a moral obligation to care for them in their old age and oppose slaughter.

The proponents of horse slaughter employ numerous informal fallacies as the cornerstone of their position. In relying on the fallacy of hasty generalization, they label all anti-slaughter people as animal rights extremists. In employing the slippery slope fallacy, they would have you believe that banning horse slaughter will inevitable lead to the end of all agriculture in the United States. Pro-slaughter arguments also tend to rely heavily on the naturalistic fallacy (it is the case therefore it ought to be the case). The naturalistic fallacy brings me to the point of my argument.   My contention is that at least one argument against horse slaughter is the logical consequence of a genuine commitment to the pursuit of justice, not one of fanatical emotionalism, as the proponents of horse slaughter would have the public believe.

[Wyoming state Rep.] Sue Wallis and her supporters claim they are taking the moral high ground then proceed to employ the naturalistic fallacy to enable themselves to argue from the premise " it is the case that people slaughter horses"  to the logically false conclusion that "it out to be the case that people slaughter horses". They have erroneously confused descriptive and prescriptive statements. Descriptive statements are a statement of fact which can be verified. Prescriptive statements are statements of ethics what "ought" to be the case. Any first year philosophy student is aware of the naturalistic fallacy. My question to Wallis and her supporters is:  Based upon which ethical theory do you ground your claim that you are taking the moral high ground and horse slaughter is just?  As I professor of ethics I know of no accepted religious or secular theory of ethics whose principles would support your claim.

Because the United States is a diverse culture in terms of our religious beliefs and we hold to a doctrine of separation of church and state it is nearly impossible to come to an agreement on issues of morality, however our society does share a common ground in terms of our political beliefs.  It is my contention that an anti-slaughter position grounded in the principles that underlie the American political system supports my claim that horse slaughter is antithetical to a just society.

Americans prize liberty, autonomy, and the idea that the right to govern is derived from the consent of the governed. What is the source of those beliefs? Obviously in terms of human history democracy, with the exception of ancient Greeks, is a fairly new idea.  The beliefs and the principles that underlie our constitution are for the most part are the ideas of the 18th Century Enlightenment thinkers.

horseThat being the case, I maintain based on  the works of 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant we have indirect duties to horses that render the pro-slaughter position morally unacceptable from a justice perspective.

In order to argue for the above-mentioned proposition, it is necessary to first engage in a brief philosophical discussion of justice.  Justice is not something that occurs in a state of nature but rather it is a human construct that exists only in human society. While some societies actually place great value on justice others value justice only when its implementation is cost effective. Therefore, prior to discussing a theory of justice it is necessary to address the issue of why some people have a greater propensity to value justice than others. This discussion is not new and can first be found in Plato’s Republic.

In terms of the 18th century thinkers, Immanuel Kant addressed that very question in his Lectures on Ethics and in the Metaphysics of Morals. Kant did not believe that we have direct duties to animals because they are not, according to his definition of person as a rational being, part of the moral community. However, he believed that we have indirect duties to animals because Kant like Hogarth and many other thinkers believed that cruelty to animals undermines our own humanity and leads to cruelty to humans.

Kant argued:

"If he is not to stifle his human feelings, he must practice kindness towards animals, for he who is cruel to animals becomes hard in his dealings with men.  We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals" (p. 240).

Again in the Metaphysics of Morals Kant argues:

"With regard to the animate but nonrational part of creation, violent and cruel treatment of animals is far more intimately opposed to a human being’s duty to himself, and he has a duty to refrain from this, for it dulls his shared feelings of their suffering and so weakens and gradually uproots a natural predisposition that is very serviceable to morality in one’s relations with other men" (pp. 192-193).

It appears that Kant is arguing that a compassionate predisposition towards animals aids in the development of a compassionate disposition towards other human beings which is a necessary prerequisite of a just individual.

Of course empirical evidence of the link between animal cruelty and human cruelty is well established as is the link in increased violence in areas that open slaughter houses. Kant is the philosopher who initiated the idea of the intrinsic value of all humanity and argued for the necessity of human freedom but he also realized that none of this is possible without justice and to be committed to justice requires a certain predisposition whose development is hindered by engaging in cruelty to animals.

horse sent to slaughterThe final question that remains is horse slaughter cruel???  By their own admission proponents of horse slaughter admit it is in fact cruel because they keep telling us they are working to develop a humane method of horse slaughter. Of course that does not address the inherent cruelty of the fear and betrayal horses experience in the process of getting them to the slaughter house. Proponents of horse slaughter have stated that China desires to be a major investor in the construction of horse slaughter facilities.  That is not surprising given their human rights record. America is an original signer to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and we pride ourselves on being a just society. Based on Kant’s writings, the way we treat our horses is a reflection on our own humanity.

The humane treatment of America’s horses is a requirement of justice.