Martha Nussbaum

“Facing Animal Complexity’



2.       All three elephants took interest in mirror

          a.       Walked back and forth inspecting their open mouths, apparently studying own oral cavities and poking their teeth

          b.       Elephants lose 4 sets of teeth and often in dental discomfort

          c.       Maxine used the mirror to put her trunk into her mouth to touch parts of teeth and mouth

                    i.        She later used trunk to pull her ear forward so inside ear could be seen in the mirror

          d.       All three elephants explored the back of the mirror to see if there was anything there

3.       Happy tried to remove X painted on side of head

          a.       Put an x on side of each elephant’s head

          b.       Other two were bored with the mirror

          c.       Happy studied her reflection, repeatedly scrubbed the mark with her trunk is if perfectly clear what she saw in the mirror were part of her own head and she wanted to wipe way the unusual mark


5.       Frans de Waal concluded that Asian elephants capable of forming conception of self

          a.     Earlier found only in apes and humans, and perhaps dolphins    

6.       Some argue that mirror test is evidence for self-awareness and being aware that others have mental states

          a.       “Mirror self-recognition is an indicator of self-awareness.”

          b.       “The ability to infer the existence of mental states in others (known as theory of mind, or mental state attribution) is a byproduct of being self-aware.”

          c.       For discussion click here      



8.       Elephants exhibit complex forms of social organization

          a.       Child care is shared among a group of cooperative females

          b.       Mourning dead

                    i.   Rituals of mourning when a child or adult of group dies     

                    ii.   Come upon elephant corpse, explore body or bones for signs of individual who has inhabited them    

                              (1)     Appear to feel grief


9.       Mice experiment showing possible moral emotions

          a.       Painful injection into mice to induce squealing and writhing

          b.       If non-pained mice were paired with mice with whom they had previously lived, they showed signs of being upset

          c.       If the non-pained mice had not previously lived with the pained mice, they did not show same signs of emotional distress

          d.       Lives of mice involve social complexity

          e.       Familiarity with particular other mice prepares way for emotional contagion that is at least the precursor to empathy (caring for others)



11.     Three features of utilitarianism

          a.       Consequentialism: Best choice promotes best overall consequences

          b.       Sum-ranking: Principle of aggregation adding up all the utilities of all creatures involved

          c.       Theory of the good: Pleasure (Bentham/Mill) or satisfaction of preferences (Singer)

12.     Utilitarian focus on animal suffering is valuable

          a.       Can’t exclude animals as they feel pleasure/pain and have preferences

          b.       Humans cause animals tremendous suffering and much of it not necessary for urgent human purposes

                    i.        Suffering caused to animals used for food, fur, sport (e.g., hunting), entertainment (circuses), work, research

          c.       Animals would suffer a great deal without human intervention (as well)

          d.       Problem of animal suffering in wild:

                    i.        Is a non-utilitarian concern for animals better because it does not have the problem of dealing with animal suffering in the wild?

                    ii.       Do Nussbaum’s views have this problem?


13.     Four problems with utilitarianism given animal complexity

14.     One: Pleasure and pain not the only things relevant to animal lives

          a.       Lives consist of complex forms of activity and many of the valuable things in those lives are not forms of pleasure

                    i.        Happy’s self-recognition in the mirror (not pleasure)

                    ii.       Mourning of elephants for their dead (not pleasure)

                              (1)     Mourning may be deeply painful, still valuable

          b.       Such meaningful elements in animal lives should be fostered, not eclipsed by raising animals in isolation w/o contact with group members and so are unable to do things like mourn

          c.       Animals want much more than pleasure and absence of pain

                    i.        Free movement, social interaction of many types, ability go grieve or love

                              (1)     She’s not committed to claiming animals grieve or love in the exact same way or extent as humans.....

          d.       By leaving out all this, utilitarians gives us a weak, dangerously incomplete way of assessing our ethical choices.

          e.       One might think this argument only applies to classical pleasure/pain (hedonistic) utilitarianism and not to Singer’s preference utilitarianism, for animals want to(have preference interests in) mourning their dead, interact with others of their species

                    i.        Nussbaum responds (in part) below

15.     Two: Utilitarianism can’t handle adaptive preferences for impoverished states

          a.       Animals, like humans, can adjust to what they know (adaptive preferences) and so not miss important things lacking in their lives

          b.       Women brought up to think that a good woman does not get much education may not feel deprived if they don’t get an education

                    i.        Utilitarian theory must conclude this is not valuable for them

          c.       So with animal preferences: Given a confined life w/o access to social networks characteristic of their species, they may not feel pain at the absence of something that they have not experienced (and they may not desire it)

                    i.        Just because no pain or no frustrated preferences, does not mean not an absence or that it should not be taken seriously

          d.       By refusing to recognize value where there is no pleasure or pain (or preferences), utilitarianism has a hard time criticizing bad ways of treating animals that so skew their possibilities that they don’t even hope for alternatives

16.     Three: Utilitarian way of aggregating consequences doesn’t treat each individual life as an end; it allows some lives to be used as mere means for the ends of others

          a.       If pleasures of humans who exploit animals for their use are great and numerous, this might possibly justify giving some animals very miserable lives

          b.       Is it clear that such “ends justify means arguments” are always wrongheaded?

17.     Four: Utilitarian theory is vulnerable in respect to the numbers

          a.       If goal is to maximize largest total pleasure/satisfaction, then it will be justified (according to utilitarianism) to bring into existence large numbers of animals whose lives are extremely miserable (barely livable) and way below what would be a rich life for an animal of that sort, just so long as the life is barely above the level of not being worth living at all

                    i.        A totalizing utilitarianism has this problem but not a maximize the average welfare version of utilitarianism...

          b.       This is often an argument for raising animals for food; without food production many fewer food animals would exist; and thus less pleasure in the world

          c.       Replacement argument: Kill one animal but replace it with another equally happy, no net loss of pleasure, not bad from utilitarian’s perspective

                    i.        This is exactly what the food industry does (if assume food animal lives are worth living.....)



          a.       Utilitarianism’s problems show need a theoretical approach that does two things

19.     One: Have a Kantian element

          a.       Fundamental ethical starting point that we must respect each individual creature as end in itself, not a mere means to the ends of others

                    i.        Each creature has intrinsic, not just instrumental value    

20.     Two: Needs a neo-Aristotelian element

          a.       Need ability to recognize and accommodate a wide range of different forms of life with their complicated activities

          b.       Each creature has a characteristic set of capabilities, capacities for functioning, distinctive of that species

21.     Combine the two:

          a.       Kantian: We owe respect to each sentient creature considered as an end

                    i.        Why just sentient creature? Why not also owe respect to insentient creatures or other natural objects?

                    ii.       Christine Korsgaard’s reply:

                              (1)     When Kant isolated the idea of an end-in-itself as the only possible source of value in the world of facts, I believe that he was exactly right. The reason there is such a thing as value in the world is that there are in the world beings who matter to themselves: who experience and pursue their own good. Were there no such beings, there would be no such thing as value. Were there no such beings, nothing would matter. But we are not the only such beings. We are the beings who create the order of moral values, the beings who choose to ratify and endorse the natural concern that all animals have for themselves. But what we ratify and endorse is a condition shared by the other animals. So we are not the only beings who matter. We are the only beings who on behalf of all animals can shake our fists at the uncaring universe, and declare that in spite of everything we matter.

          b.       What we owe to each animal is support in its efforts to live a characteristic life as a member of its species

                    i.        Possible problems applying to wild animals

                              (1)     Does this have implications for out treatment of wild animals?

                              (2)     Does it entail that we not protect deer from predators or starvation, for this is their characteristic life

                              (3)     Does this justify treating animals in human captivity on the model of how nature treats them?

                              (4)     Does it suggest we must help prevent the death of creatures in the wild “so that they can led characteristic lives as member of its species?”



23.     Highly endangered elephants

          a.       Eat 200 pounds of vegetation per day need to cover lots of territory

          b.       South Asia and Africa where most elephants live have rapidly growing human populations, and less space for elephants

          c.       When elephants get close to human things go badly, especially with young males (mix badly with human villages)

          d.       Poaching for ivory kills hundreds of elephants per year, despite this being illegal

          e.       Elephant pop (1930) 5-10 million African elephants down to 600,000; 1 million Asian elephants down to 35-40,000 today

24.     Utilitarians might think all have to do is not inflict pain on elephants

          a.       Many zoos manage something like this

25.     But Nussbaum’s view is we should support a whole form of life that includes love, grief, self-recognition and much more

          a.       Task much harder

          b.       Must think much harder about habitat of elephants in wild, trying to protect large tracts of land indefinitely for that purpose

26.     If permit elephants to be confined in zoos

          a.       She is not totally against this

                    i.        Are some excellent zoos, such as Bronx, St. Louis, San Diego

                    ii.       Do very good job with breeding and habitat

                    iii.      Bronx Zoo: “One of most humane American zoos as provides large animals with rich diverse natural habitat and wide range social interactions”

          b.       Need to think about needs of elephants in confinement include wide space, motion and complex social networks characteristic of elephant life


27.     Same holds across board with animals


28.     Rejects higher/lower division

          a.       Level of complexity of sentient creature does not make one species higher and one species lower

29.     Each form of life demands respect

          a.       And don’t respect lives simply because they look somehow like our own

30.     Level of complexity does affect what can be a damage for a creature

          a.       For a mouse not to have freedom of religion is not a damage for a mouse, as it is for a human

          b.       But regarding mice as simply sites for pleasure/pain (as Utilitarian would) is incomplete

          c.       Social bonds and ability to recognize individuals play a role in their lives too

          d.       Need to consider that when we think about how we should treat them



32.     Each type of anim has own complexity

33.     Each has a story, including at least some emotions or preparations for emotions

          a.       Some forms of social bonding (often very complex)

          b.       Complex forms of activity

34.     We need to learn much more about these complexities and test our ethical views to see if they are adequate to them

35.     Should try to imagine ways of human life that respect these many complex forms of animal activity and support those lives

36.     All of which are currently being damaged, almost beyond rescue, by our interference and our greed.



38.     Can things animals do be undignified?

39.     History of vegetarianism

          a.       Many Greeks and Romans opposed cruel practices toward animals

          b.       Buddhist emperor in 3rd century BC trying to live completely veggie life

          c.       50% of residents of India are vegetarian

          d.       Europeans and North Americans lag behind as we have lost vivid awareness of complexity of animal lives and have weak and inconsistent ethical sensibility in this area

40.     Founders of utilitarianism Bentham and Mill opposed much human treatment of animals in their day

          a.       Thought that it was a strong argument in favor of utilitarianism that it gave the answer that we must change our treatment of animals.