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Animal Ethics, Empathy and Emotions a holistic framework

Norva Y. S. Lo ()1 and Andrew Brennan ()1


Philosophy Program, La Trobe University, Australia

Introduction
In the field of environmental philosophy, the moral status of individual animals, and the
question of their welfare, have been seen as problematic and sometimes argued to be
irrelevant. This is mainly because the goal of promoting animal welfare per se often does
not converge but instead conflicts with the promotion of environmental sustainability for
example, the flourishing of domestic animals, feral animals, or the so-called invasive
species can undermine the health and integrity of some ecosystems by endangering the
survival of certain indigenous species (Callicott 1980). Furthermore, while the welfare of
present and future generations of human beings is the focus of much environmental policy
and legislation, the welfare of individual animals is usually seen, at best, as of secondary
concern. It is a very common view in many societies across the world that moral obligations
towards people should take clear priority over any towards animals, even though people
and policy makers in those societies may agree that individual animals do have some level
of intrinsic worth or even rights. For example, while many countries have legislation against
serious forms of animal abuse, and some also have legislation to protect animals from the
effects of negligence by their owners and carers, no country in the world has legislated
against all killing of animals for food, or all deliberate injury to, or killing of, animals in
scientific and medical experimentation.
Long term changes in social attitudes depend on reflections and dialogues from within a
societys own cultural traditions. No social or cultural tradition is entirely unitary, whether
across or at any moment of its history. Within the broader currents of thought that swept
across Europe over the ages, for example, there were dissenting voices contributing to the
multiple dialogues taking place. In the case of animals, the thinkers who have been most
prominent in pleading for recognition of animal sentience, and advocating greater care for
animals, have as we argue in part 2 often themselves been sceptics, atheists or
agnostics (for example Michel de Montaigne, David Hume, Voltaire, Jeremy Bentham and
John Stuart Mill). Their challenge to the anthropocentric ethics embedded in the European
Christian tradition has therefore been much more than a request to attend to the
unheeded cry of suffering animals (Rollin 1990). It has been a radical challenge to the
core of the religious worldview at the heart of the European tradition, which underlies all its
social values and understanding of morality.
This paper has two objectives. The first part of the paper will put forward a holistic
framework for analyzing and understanding human-animal relations and for moving forward
debates concerning animal welfare and ethics. In particular, it articulates a conception of
autonomy as openness in the communication and development of emotional responses via
empathy, a fundamental psychological function that human beings share with members of
many other animal species.
The second part of the paper will trace and analyze the development of moral perspectives
on the status of animals and human treatment of animals in Europe from the
anthropocentric theistic perspective in the Middle Ages through to various nonanthropocentric views on animals in the Enlightenment and contemporary times. The paper
will also discuss the ecological feminist analysis that many forms of domination and
1 Norva Y.S. Lo is a senior lecturer at the Philosophy Program of La Trobe University in
Australia. Andrew Brennan is the Professor of Philosophy and Pro Vice Chancellor (Graduate
Research) at La Trobe University.
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discrimination (e.g., racism, sexism, classism, and speciesism) are interconnected and
mutually reinforcing, in that they are all ideologically founded on the same logic of
domination. In particular, the paper examines to what extent the liberations of the
respective groups (e.g., black slaves, women, workers, and animals) and the legislation on
the protection of their welfare and rights in recent times in Europe can be explained within
a holistic framework that gives empathic and emotional openness a foundational role in
communication and ethics.
1. From rational dialogue to empathic communication
Autonomy has been traditionally taken by Kantians as the hallmark of humanity. Influenced
by the hermeneutic approach, some philosophers from the analytic tradition in more recent
times conceptualize autonomy as the capacity for openness in dialogue and intellectual
reflection. For example:
[John] McDowell's appropriation of hermeneutics consists in part of a conciliatory reading of the
past, in particular, of Kant. This conciliation rests on a central component in Gadamer's attempt
to give a non-relativist view of a fully historicized reason, namely, a Hegel-inspired idea of
dialogue. Dialogue is the mode of progress of understanding, and dialogue, according to both
McDowell and Gadamer, presupposes a willingness to submit, at least temporarily, to the
claims of another. Submission here should not be taken to imply blind acceptance, rather it is a
matter of maintaining discursive openness by not insisting on the pre-eminence of ones own
ways of putting the subject at issue. Maintaining this openness of vocabulary, this
tentativeness of phrase and of re-phrasing, is from a hermeneutic perspective a guiding norm
of any genuine dialogue. The reason is that only in such openness are new truths able to
emerge, truths that are not simply a yielding of one position to another, but a genuine
preservation of the insight contained in either.2
A critical ingredient in McDowell's project [] is the idea of second nature. In virtue of their
natural capacities, creatures like us are potentially dialogical, that is, responsive to reason. []
McDowell focuses in particular on the dialectical, organic relation between tradition and the
subject who comes at the same to understand, to continue, and to renew that tradition. This
process can be regarded as an opening up of the space of reason. It is, simultaneously, a
realization of the subject's autonomy as a thinker and an affirmation of the authority and
openness of tradition. In McDowell's conception, it provides a tool for understanding sensitivity
to reason as a realization of a potential inherent in biological nature.3

The idea of human beings as essentially rational and linguistic agents, and the notion of
autonomy as the capacity for engaging in open dialogue and intellectual reflection, are
indeed very useful in bringing out some salient features of human activities and
interactions among human beings, and for highlighting their distinctiveness from animal
behaviours and from the ways humans and animals interact. However, we argue that the
monistic focus on the human capacity for rationality, language and dialogue seriously
overlooks the core aspect of human beings also as empathic and social animals in ongoing
interactions, ethical or otherwise, with others, human or otherwise.
If reason is, as McDowell says, our second biological nature to be developed in the
process of open dialogue and communication of thoughts and insights, then empathy, we
argue, is at the core of our first biological nature to be nurtured and realized through
openness in the communication and development of emotions and sentiments. In
particular, for the purpose of animal ethics, the articulation and inclusion of such a notion of
empathic openness is necessary, in order to provide a richer, more balanced, and indeed
holistic understanding of human-animal relations, and also to explain and justify human
ethical concerns for animals. The need for a holistic framework for animal ethics which
gives empathic and emotional openness a foundational role in communication is grounded
on three premises.
2 Ramberg and Gjesdal (2005) emphases added.
3 Ibid. emphases added.
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First, a core function of ethics is to move forward debates and resolve conflicts among
competing viewpoints by analyzing existing motives behind them, developing better
communications between them and ultimately new motivations that will modify behaviours.
This meta-ethical understanding of ethics as a practical pursuit is shared also by the
Kantian and the hermeneutic traditions alike (see Remberg and Gjesdal 2005). Secondly,
we adopt David Humes philosophical thesis on motivation, according to which, reason
alone is inert and can never produce any motivation for action. Instead, we are motivated
to act ultimately by emotions and sentiments (or what Hume calls passions), which are
the key to changing human behaviours (Hume 1739-40, 1751, Lo 2006, 2009, Brennan and
Lo 2010). Thirdly, animals by and large are incapable of communicating with human beings
by linguistic means, where language is understood as a syntactic and semantic system
allowing its users to reflect on themselves and their world. But they do interact, and many
of them develop various kind of social relations, with human beings. Humes philosophy of
human nature provides good resources for arguing that the needs, desires and other basic
emotions of higher animals can be communicated to human beings via non-linguistic
means. For example, by observing animal behaviour, by examining their physiology, and by
making analogical inferences as well as abductive causal inferences comparing the
similarities in behaviour and physiology between humans and animals, Hume argues that
we are rationally justified to attribute to higher animals various kinds of mental states, such
as the experience of pain or pleasure, the emotion of fear or content, the feeling of joy or
distress. And such attributions are justified in similar way that we are justified to attribute
resembling mental states to other people when we observe their outward behaviours. More
importantly, Hume argues that not only can we rationally infer the existence of animal
emotions and experience, we are also capable of sharing their emotions in our own feelings
in just the same way that we are capable of partaking in the sentiments of other people
i.e., via the normal functioning of empathy, which is a core part of our human nature and is
at the heart of the foundation of human morality.
Based on the three foregoing premises, we argue that a holistic framework that gives
empathic and emotional openness a fundamental role in communication is justified not just
for animal ethics, which is the main subject of this paper, but also for ethics in general.
1.1. Hume on motivation, reason and passions
On Humes account of human cognition, there are two, and only two, types of reasoning.
They are deductive reasoning concerning conceptual relations (or what he calls relations of
ideas) on the one hand, and inductive reasoning concerning empirical existence (or what
he calls matters of fact) on the other.4 So, in order to show that reason alone can never
produce any motivation for action (which, as we have seen, is the second premise for our
holistic framework), he needs to show that neither deductive reasoning nor inductive
reasoning can by itself motivate behaviours.
Deductive reasoning, Hume agrees, is useful in almost every art and profession. For
example, given information from various banks on their mortgage packages, by deductive
reasoning I can work out which bank is offering the best deal overall. However, if I do not
desire (or, to use Humes term, do not have a passion for) a property, knowing where the
best deal is would not motivate me to sign a mortgage contract with any bank. There has to
be some existing passion in us for an object, Hume argues, in order for us to be motivated
to take action about it. The passion is the source of motivation. Or, we may say, the passion
is the motivation. Hence, abstract or deductive reasoning, concerning conceptual relations
(e.g., mathematical relations, as we have seen), can never by itself have any influence on
our actions or passions. At most it can direct us to choose an effective means (or course of
action) to achieve the already desired ends (or purpose). 5
4 See Hume (1739-40) 1.3.12, 7, and Hume (1751) 1.7-9.
5 Cf. Hume (1739-40) 2.3.3.2.
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What about inductive reasoning concerning empirical matters, such as causes and effects?
Can inductive reasoning by itself produce any motivation for action? Humes answer is
again negative. He provides his own example to argue for the point.
[W]hen we have the prospect of pain or pleasure from any object, we feel a consequent
emotion of aversion or propensity, and are carryd to avoid or embrace what will give us this
uneasiness or satisfaction. Tis also obvious, that this emotion rests not here, but making us
cast our view on every side, comprehends whatever objects are connected with its original one
by the relation of cause and effect. Here then [inductive] reasoning takes place to discover this
relation; and according as our reasoning varies, our actions receive a subsequent variation. But
tis evident in this case, that the impulse arises not from reason, but is only directed by it. Tis
from the prospect of pain or pleasure that the aversion or propensity arises towards any object:
And these emotions extend themselves to the causes and effects of that object, as they are
pointed out to us by reason and experience. It can never in the least concern us to know, that
such objects are causes, and such others effects, if both the causes and effects be indifferent
to us. Where the objects themselves do not affect us, their connexion can never give them any
influence.6

In short, on Humes account, reason is the faculty in charge of the production of beliefs and
the evaluation of their probability or epistemic warrant. Reason functions to assist us to find
effective ways to satisfy our hopes and desires, and address our various other emotions.
That is in essence what Hume meant when he famously said that reason is and ought only
to be the slave of the passions.7
On the practicality of ethics (which, as we have seen, is the first premise for our holistic
framework) and the different roles played by reason and passions in the determination of
morals, Hume writes:
[M]orality is [...] supposed to influence our passions and actions [...] And this is confirm'd by
common experience, which informs us, that men are often govern'd by their duties, and are
deter'd from some actions by the opinion of injustice, and impell'd to others by that of
obligation. Since morals, therefore, have an influence on the actions and affections, it follows,
that they cannot be deriv'd from reason [alone]; [] because reason alone [...] can never have
any such influence. Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions. Reason of itself is
utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of our
reason. [] An active principle can never be founded on an inactive; and if reason be inactive
in itself, it must remain so in all its shapes and appearances. 8
The distinct boundaries and offices of reason and of taste [a term that Hume uses to refer to
the faculty in charge of passions] are easily ascertained. The former conveys the knowledge of
truth and falsehood: The latter gives the sentiment of beauty and deformity, vice and virtue.
[] Reason, being cool and disengaged, is no motive to action, and directs only the impulse
received from appetite or inclination, by showing us the means of attaining happiness or
avoiding misery: Taste, as it gives pleasure or pain, and thereby constitutes happiness or
misery, becomes a motive to action, and is the first spring or impulse to desire and volition. 9

Regarding moral motivations in particular, Hume argues that in large part they originate
from the emotions and sentiments communicated via the functioning of empathy (or what
he calls sympathy) a fundamental psychological function that is not just a core part of
human nature, but is also a capacity that members of many other animal species share
with us, although in a lesser degree of sophistication.
1.2. Hume on sympathy and morality
6
7
8
9

Ibid. 2.3.3.3
Ibid. 2.3.3.4.
Ibid. 3.1.1.5-7. Cf. Hume (1751) 1.7-9.
Hume (1751) App 1.21.
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Hume divides all perceptions (i.e., experiences) into two kinds: impressions and
ideas. Impressions are direct and immediate experiences. They are original perceptions of
the mind, which are vivid and lively in their feel. Ideas, however, are copies or faint
images of the original impressions. They have the same contents as the impressions from
which they are derived, but are usually less vivid and lively than the original impressions. 10
But as we shall see later, Humes theory allows that ideas, despite being copies, can
sometimes be enlivened so that they become just as vivid as their corresponding
impressions.
On Humes account, feelings and emotions are perceptions, and they can be generated via
empathy (or what he calls sympathy), which is a complex psychological mechanism
relying on the combined operation of three basic principles governing the human mind.
These include (a) the copy principle, (b) the principle of association of ideas by
resemblance, by contiguity in time or place, and by the constant conjunction of cause and
effect, and (c) the principle of more vivid perceptions enlivening less vivid associated
perceptions.11
An example will be helpful here to illustrate Humes account of the operation of empathy.
Suppose some time in the past I directly experienced (i.e., I had the impressions of) what it
is like to be sad and what it is like to cry. Firstly, by the copy principle, these direct
experiences got copied as correspondent ideas in my mind and stored in my memory.
Secondly, after repeated experiences of the same kinds, my mind established a pattern of
association between the idea of crying and the idea of sadness via the constant conjunction
of cause of effect. Suppose now I see a person crying in front of me. By the same principle
of association of ideas, my mind naturally moves or infers from what I observe to be the
outward behaviour of the person (crying) to the existence of an inner state of the person
(sadness) which I believe to have caused the persons behaviour. The observation or
thought of any other human being, Hume argues, naturally reminds us of ourselves due to
the fact we are fellow members of the same species. So, again, by association of ideas, but
this time via resemblance between myself and the person in that we are both human
beings, my mind naturally moves from the idea of the person to the idea of myself.
According to Hume, whenever one thinks about (i.e., have an idea of) oneself, one cannot
help but become intimately aware of ones various immediate and vivid experiences. He
also argues that to have an impression of oneself is nothing more than having a chain of
immediate and very vivid experiences. In other words, the idea of oneself always leads to
the impression of oneself, which Hume further argues, is always very vivid and lively, for it
is constituted by the various very vivid and lively immediate experiences (i.e., impressions).
In short, by observing the crying person in front of me, my mind is now entertaining two
perceptions: (i) the idea of sadness and (ii) the very vivid and lively impression of myself.
The two perceptions are now associated together in my mind via contiguity in time as I
am experiencing them in very close temporal proximity with each other.
Finally, the third basic mental principle underlying the operation of sympathy is the that of
more vivid perceptions enlivening less vivid associated perceptions. This principle says
that whenever a less vivid perception (i.e., an idea) happens to be associated in the mind
with a very vivid perception (i.e., an impression), the very vivid perception will enliven the
less vivid one to such an extent that the latter will become as vivid as the former and
therefore turn into a lively impression. After all, the main difference between an impression
and a correspondent idea, in Humes theory, consists mainly in their different degrees of
vividness. A very vividly experienced idea is qualitatively no different from a correspondent
impression. In short, by the principle of more vivid perceptions enlivening less vivid
10 Ibid. 2 and Hume (1739-40) 1.1.1-3.
11 See Lo (2006). For a fuller account on the various principles involved in the operation of
sympathy, also see Hume (1739-40) 1.1.1.1-7, 1.1.2-3, 1.1.4.1-2, 1.3.6.13, 1.3.8.2, 1.3.10.3,
1.3.14.28, 1.3.15.1-5, 1.4.6.4, 2.1.4.2, 2.1.11.4-8, 2.2.4.7, 3.3.1, 3.3.2.1-7.
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associated ones, an originally rather faint idea can become so enlivened and vivid and
forceful that it qualifies as an impression. Now, let us go back to the crying person in front
of me. As we have seen, due to the various operations of principle of association of ideas
when I am observing the person, my mind has associated together (i) the idea of sadness
and (ii) the very vivid impression of myself. Since the impression of myself, as we have
seen, is so vivid, it enlivens the associated idea of sadness so much so that the idea of
sadness is converted into an impression of sadness. In other words, I now actually
experience sadness myself directly. Or in Humes word, I partake of the crying persons
sadness by sympathy.
As we have seen, in Humes account of empathy, its operation in part relies on the
association of ideas via resemblance (e.g., when the idea of another person excites the
idea of myself due to the similarities that I believe to hold between the person and myself).
From this, Hume further argues that the greater the number of similar qualities (e.g.,
physical features, characters traits, temperaments, beliefs, values, sentiments, and
circumstances) and the greater the degree of resemblance that one believes another
person to share with oneself, the more strongly one would associate the idea of the person
with the idea of oneself, and therefore, other things being equal, the more one would
empathize with the person. What is often called analogical inference or analogical
reasoning is, for Hume, nothing more than the operation of the principle of association of
ideas via resemblance. As Hume puts it,
All our reasonings concerning matter of fact are founded on a species of Analogy. [] But
where the objects have not so exact a similarity, the analogy is less perfect, and the
inference is less conclusive; though still it has some force, in proportion to the degree of
similarity and resemblance.12

Given Humes account of empathy, one possible explanation for cases where a person fails
to empathize with others may be that the person does not perceive others as similar to
oneself. Such disassociation or hyper-separation 13 occurs, for example, when a Nazi failed
to sympathize with the Jews in a concentration camp before and during WWII, or when a
slave trader fails to sympathize with the slaves from selling whom he is profiting, or when a
patriarch fails to sympathize with his young daughter whom he is forcing into marriage, or
when a well off person living in a rich and peaceful country fails to sympathize with a
refugee seeking asylum. It is important, however, to note that the fact that one may
happen not to sympathize with others because one does not believe others to be similar to
oneself, this fact, does not by itself make it true that those others in question are not in
some important ways similar to oneself. Self interest, fear, contempt, hatred, for example,
can often cloud ones observation and judgement so that one fails to observe similarities
that in fact exist between oneself and other people. One may also suppress ones sympathy
by actively ignoring, by not reflecting harder on ways in which the others may be similar to
oneself for fear that the similarities, once recognized, would excite certain unpleasant
sentiments that one may not want to experience or share by empathy.
2. Hierarchy, logic and mutually reinforcing forms of dominations
In this section, we propose two theses. The first concerns Christianity and humancentredness. Much of European history can only be understood in terms of the history of
one religion, namely Christianity. Indeed, one eminent historian of Europe points out that it
was only in the sixteenth century that people began to think of Europe as a geo-political
entity. Before that, the continent was very much defined as the domain of Christianity

12 Hume (1751) 9.1.


13 For a very good account of how hyper-separation may occur, see Val Plumwood,
Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (Routledge 1993).
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Christendom. Only when the established churches split from each other, and new versions
of Christianity began to take form did Europe itself emerge into peoples thinking:
Until the 1530s, Christendom had been split into two halves Orthodox and Catholic. From the
1530s onwards it was split into three: Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant. And the Protestants
themselves were split into ever more rival factions. The scandal was so great, and the
fragmentation was so widespread, that people stopped talking about Christendom, and began
to talk instead about Europe.14

With the fragmentation of the institutionalized churches also came the start of the decline
of religious influence over politics, philosophy, ethics and intellectual life in general. A
largely theistic worldview, based on the idea that the earth and its inhabitants were created
by a supernatural being God gradually gave way to views in which thinkers expressed
doubts, uncertainty and fears that humans were not the special creation of a great
designer, but simply one animal species among others with which they share the plant.
As we have argued elsewhere (Brennan and Lo 2007, 2010), the worldview of Christianity is
anthropocentric in that it gives humans a special and central place in the world, despite the
key figure of the religion, God, being a supernatural being. Here we further argue that this
worldview changed over the centuries to one that became less human-centred as it became
more agnostic. How can a religion based on the idea of a supernatural creator give rise to a
philosophy of human-centredness and the view that humans are apart from and superior to
all other living things? This is because it inherits from an older Judaic or Abrahamic tradition
the notion that humans were intended by God to multiply, and have dominion over the fish
of the seas and over the fowl of the air and over every living thing that moveth upon the
earth (Genesis 1, 28, and see White 1967). Why should human beings have such
dominion? Because humans are special, at least as far as things that live on the Earth are
concerned. The basis for this special status is that humans are created in the image of God,
possessors of a divine and immortal soul, and so by association share Gods special, divine
status. The Renaissance thinker Pico della Mirandola, in his 1486 oration on the dignity of
man, gives the standard Christian doctrine of the time: humans can choose to rise above
animality for they have the divine spark, the capacity to be in part like God and the angels;
alternatively, they can follow their lower natures and be indistinguishable from the animals
(Cassirer et al. 1948, 224 5).
One of the earliest discussions of whether humans are really superior to animals was
medieval Disputation of the Donkey (1417). In this dialogue, it seems clear that its author
Anselm Turmeda strongly disapproved of cruelty towards animals and already had doubts
that humans were superior in dignity or merit to animals. This medieval text is one of the
earliest works to show the emergence of doubts about the special status of humans and
this more than a century before the great fragmentation of Christianity in the sixteenth
century Reformation. In the disputation, the animals and the humans debate over whether
humans are really more noble than the animals. The disputation depicts the animals as
picking the most miserable of their kind a donkey without a tail to present the case for
the nobility of animals against Friar Anselm. Even in entering the argument, the noble
animals are giving every advantage to the other side. The poor friar goes on to lose
eighteen of the nineteen arguments, only winning the debate by a final appeal to the claim
that God made humans in his own image thereby establishing the true superiority of
humans over the animals. To the contemporary eye, this seems like a desperate attempt to
save the idea that there is something special about humans that makes their pain and
suffering count for more than the pain and suffering of animals.
Turmeda was a friar in a religious order, but a century later, the question of whether
humans were superior to animals was tackled by a writer who was nominally a Catholic but

14 Davies (1997) pp. 494-6.


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devotedly sceptical. This is Michel de Montaigne whose 1588


strikingly modern reflections on our relations to animals:

On Cruelty contains

[T]here is a kind of respect and a duty in man as a genus which link us not merely to the
beasts, which have life and feelings, but even to trees and plants. We owe justice to men: and
to the other creatures who are able to receive them, we owe gentleness and kindness. Between
them and us there is some sort of intercourse and a degree of mutual obligation. I am not
afraid to admit that my nature is so childishly affectionate that I cannot easily refuse an
untimely gambol to my dog wherever it begs one (On Cruelty, Montaigne 1588).

Montaigne wonders if when he is playing with his cat, it may not be that she is amusing
herself more with him than he is with her. Montaigne reveals a perspective to his readers in
which cruelty to animals shocks him as much as cruelty to people, inviting others to see the
world from that viewpoint. Engaging with Montaigne reveals to the reader a new
perspective, one in which animals emerge as being in many ways superior to humans. Here
is a reversal of Turmedas appeal to the fact that humans are made in Gods image.
Montaigne will have none of this, for in his account of the matter
[A]ll proofs of the special dignity of man are deflated so that they also apply to the animal: it
has its speech, its reason, its soul, capable of joy and suffering, its society, its morality
(Friedrich 1991, 122).

Some writers have argued that an ideal of stewardship rather than dominion is also present
in Christianity (Attfield, 1991). Stewards, it is said, can be good guardians of animals and
nature, even while admitting that animals lack the special something that only humans
possess. Adopting a line that is the opposite of our position, Robin Attfield points out that
the Christian tradition contains many examples of believers who deplored cruelty to
animals. Yet in citing examples of such writers, Attfield quotes those like Alexander Pope,
who in 1713 identified animals as the inferior creation (Attfield 1991, 43). In comparison
to Pope, and to many contemporary views, Montaignes radical view that animals are not an
inferior creation is doubly challenging: it advocates humane treatment for animals, and
also challenges the conventional Christian wisdom that humans are special, set apart from
the rest of the animal world, and intended however humanely to rule over it. Turmedas
and Montaignes works reveal an early scepticism about the tradition of dominion and
stewardship, a tradition that was to unravel over the following centuries.
While Montaigne often drew his examples from anecdotes, the 18 th century Scottish
philosopher, David Hume, developed a much more highly systematic account of the way
animals can be seen as similar to human beings. His account, given a century before
Darwin, is a serious challenge to the idea that humans are specially distinct from animals
either in their bodies or in their minds. On our hypothesis, it is no coincidence that Hume is
the first great champion of agnosticism, if not full-blown atheism, in philosophy. Science
and observation provide Humes evidence for his claims, not the authority of religion. As far
as bodies are concerned, Hume regarded the science of anatomy as revealing that: where
the structure of parts in brutes is the same as in men, and the operation of these parts also
the same, the causes of that operation cannot be different, and that whatever we discover
to be true of the one species, may be concluded without hesitation to be certain of the
other (Hume 1739-40 2.1.12.2). Hume went further when it came to comparing animal
and human minds:
[N]o truth appears to me more evident, than that beasts are endowd with thought and reason
as well as men. [] When therefore we see other creatures, in millions of instances, perform
like actions, and direct them to like ends, all our principles of [inductive] reason and probability
carry us with an invincible force to believe the existence of a like cause. [] Tis from the
resemblance of the external actions of animals to those we ourselves perform, that we judge
their internal likewise to resemble ours (Hume 1739-40, 1.3.16.1-3)

Like us animals are able to infer about causes and effects, and learn cunning and sagacity
as they get older, yet animals do not share in what Hume calls demonstrative reason
(that is, the making of deductive inferences). Nor does he think their capacities in inductive
reasoning are much better than those of a child. Here then is a new twist on the notion of
inferiority: the difference between humans and animals is to some extent one of degree,
not of kind. Animals do not engage in logical, or mathematical reasoning but even as
Hume acknowledges this, he quickly points out that neither do children nor the generality
of mankind, in their ordinary actions and conclusions. If animals are our inferiors in some
capabilities, it is only in some fairly specific ways, and the similarities between humans and
some animals outweigh the relatively minor differences.
This conception of great similarity enables Hume to depict animals as creatures who
experience desires and emotions (or the passions as he calls them). He argues that the
very same mechanism that underlies the communication of emotions in humans is thus
likely to be present in animals too:
Tis evident, that sympathy [or what we now call empathy], or the communication of
passions, takes place among animals, no less than among men. Fear, anger, courage and other
affections are frequently communicated from one animal to another, without their knowledge
of that cause, which producd the original passion. Grief likewise is receivd by sympathy; and
produces almost all the same consequences, and excites the same emotions as in our species.
The howlings and lamentations of a dog produce a sensible concern in his fellows. And tis
remarkable, that tho almost all animals use in play the same member, and nearly the same
action as in fighting; a lion, a tyger, a cat their paws; an ox his horns; a dog his teeth; a horse
his heels: Yet they most carefully avoid harming their companion, even tho they have nothing
to fear from his resentment; which is an evident proof of the sense brutes have of each others
pain and pleasure (Hume 1739-40, 2.2.12.6)

Humes account of animals, their anatomy, behaviour, cognition, and their capacity for
communicating emotions, raises a profound and challenging question: if even animals with
inferior understanding are capable of empathizing with members of other animal species,
then are not human beings, also be capable of empathizing with animals? Empathy, as
already explained, operates partly by the principle of association of idea via resemblance.
We empathize with those who we believe to be similar with us. Through the empathy
mechanism, emotions and passions of others communicate to us in so lively a manner that
we come to share and experience those emotions and passions ourselves. Given Humes
account of similarities between humans and animals, his account of empathy, and his
account of the human understanding (which is superior to that in animals and therefore
much better in discovering the resemblance between humans and animals), the answer to
the question is clear: humans are indeed equipped with the capacities both necessary and
sufficient for developing and having empathy with nonhuman animals.
When we fail to empathize with an animal in pain or in distress, for example, this failure, on
Humes account, is of the same kind as the failure to empathize with a fellow human being.
Both can be explained in terms of factors (e.g., self-interest, feeling of superiority, general
insensitivity due to upbringing or the lack of it, conditions such as autism spectrum
disorders, and so on) that may block the operations of the various mental principles on
which the operation of empathy relies. And, hopefully, in many cases both could be mended
by the better use of human understanding which should enable us to see not just the
differences, but also the similarities, between ourselves and other people as well as other
sentient animals.
Turmeda, Montaigne and Hume are just three of the examples of thinkers who participated
in dislodging the anthropocentric-theistic Christian view from its pre-eminence. On our
account, the weakening of anthropocentrism is itself linked to increasing doubts about the
revelations of religion. After Hume, things started to change very quickly, and from the late
18th century an increasing number of writers, including the famously irreligious and radical
9

Jeremy Bentham joined the debate on the animals question. The contributions of several of
these writers have been discussed already by Yang Tongjin (see Yang 2007, 292 7) and so
it is not necessary for us to detail their work here. These philosophical and ethical
reflections on animals and our responsibilities towards them were perhaps a trigger for a
swathe of legislation passed in various European countries about animals from the 19 th
century onwards (also described in Yang 2007). And over the same century, legislation was
introduced against the trade in slaves, to protect young children from exploitation in
factories, to introduce some protection for workers in the form of limited working hours and
provision of weekly days free from work, and somewhat later laws to ensure the
extension of votes to women. Could the weakening of theistic anthropocentrism be related
in any way to these other social and legal changes?
For the second thesis of the present section, we examine the idea that Christianity like
most other traditional religions is patriarchal, that is, the religion itself takes the male as
the paradigm case of the human, and depicts the female as inferior to, and morally
subordinate to, the male. We suggest that standard depictions of patriarchy tell only part
of the story of what is involved in its logic of domination (Warren 1990). If the feminist
critique of patriarchy were to be accepted, would it make sense of the changes that took
place from the late 18th century onwards, especially the legislation about slaves, workers,
children and women? In her classic work on feminism and ecology, Val Plumwood argued
that western cultures have been conditioned to accept a dualism that legitimizes at the
same time the oppression of women and the oppression of nature (including animals). The
roots of this dualism go back according to her all the way to the classic thinkers of
ancient Greece, particularly to Platos assessment of the mind as superior to the body,
reason superior to feeling. Once one item is rated as superior to another, it is easy to start
grouping other things as also superior to a supposedly inferior other thing. If animals have
no consciousness, and no mind, then the human, with a mind, is superior to the mindless
animal (a view like this is often attributed to Rn Descartes). If humans are thus also
superior to a mindless nature, then it is all right for us to use nature mainly as a resource. If
women are associated more particularly with nature, then they are very different from men:
they will be inferior to the person of higher mind and culture (the male). Traditional religions
often emphasize the need for the wife to submit to the husband, hence giving a prominence
to this feature of the dualism. So even if Christianity did not invent the dualistic separations
of male and female, mind and body, reason and emotion, culture and nature it added
endorsement to them, and helped to institutionalize them in a church which proclaimed
God, the creator, to be male, originally permitted only males to be priests, and taught that
women should honour and obey their husbands.
With this brief summary of patriarchy in mind, it might seem that a feminist analysis of the
logic of domination might reveal connections between things as diverse as sexual
discrimination, racial prejudice, the exploitation of one class by another and the domination
of nature and animals by human beings. Here is how the argument might go: suppose there
are several conceptual, rhetorical and argumentative devices used in one case to justify the
oppression of one group by another. For example, it might be argued that humans, as
opposed to animals, have the capacity to deliberately and consciously change their
environment. Moreover, suppose that what has the capacity to deliberately and consciously
change its environment is superior to what cannot. Then it follows from these premises
that humans are superior to animals (see Davion 1994). We now add the premise that when
one thing is superior to another thing, then the first is morally justified in subordinating the
second. This argument delivers the conclusion that humans are justified in subordinating
animals, but an exactly parallel argument would be able to deliver the conclusion that one
race is justified in subordinating another race, or that capitalists are justified in
subordinating workers, or that men are justified in subordinating women. In each case, we
just need to find a positive feature or capacity that the first (dominating) element can claim
to have that the second (dominated) element either lacks, or has in a lesser degree. And we
have already seen some examples: reason versus emotion, mind versus nature, free-will
10

versus natural necessity, activity versus passivity, civilized versus primitive and so on.
Sometimes these features, once exposed, are clearly inadequate to support the argument.
For example, skin colour, or nationality, cannot be a feature that would support a claim of
superiority of one race or nation over another. In these cases, racists and nationalists look
for other features that they can claim give a grounding of an apparently more plausible kind
for the inferiorization for example, higher intelligence, cleanliness, purity and a range of
other candidate qualities.
The kind of dualistic thinking and rhetoric that feminists claim is typical of patriarchy is
clearly hierarchical, always aiming to put one side in a position of moral superiority over the
other side. Yet to talk of a logic of domination underpinning such hierarchies is puzzling.
Just what is the logical connection between sexism, racism, speciesism and the other forms
of domination associated with patriarchy? It is possible, after all, to be racially oppressive
and at the same time protective of nature. This is precisely the accusation made against
Nazi Germany, where a racist programme of genocide against Jews was carried out by a
regime that also passed nature protection legislation and attempted to reduce air pollution
(see Brggemeier et al. 2007). Being racist does not seem to entail being unkind to
animals, nor being damaging to the wider natural environment. In short, logic and reason
alone do not seem to explain the connections between the different -isms that feminists
identify correctly, in our view as being all connected within the structure of patriarchal
thought. So just what is the missing connection?
To answer this question, it helps to remember that reason itself gets an extra endorsement
from the anthropocentric Christian tradition: people are asked to follow the word of God
because of Gods special moral authority on what is good or bad for us. To the extent that
we have a divine spark, we share the rationality of God. But the appeal to rationality is
limited in its explanatory power with respect to what Hume called the passions. In fact the
idea of empathic and emotional openness introduced in the first part of the paper holds the
key to explaining the links between the various -isms that feminists have identified, and
also to explaining the swathe of legislation in many countries during the 19 th century aimed
at abolishing slavery, protecting children in the factories, workers protection and so on. In
fact, legislation did not follow the order of liberation often described by the so-called
expanding circles theory (Singer 1981). One anthropocentric way of thinking about how
our ethics might expand would be to regard a certain sort of person say adult males as
paradigm cases of human beings, since in the Christian tradition they are closest to God
(since God is male). If there is an order of liberation then this might involve recognizing the
claims of women and slaves, then children, then animals. In each case, since the rationalist
perspective takes the capacity for reason as the hallmark of what really matters, then the
moral liberation of the more rational should take precedence over the liberation of the less
rational. Animal liberation then comes last in the order to be deferred until human
liberation has occurred.
That would be the logical order implied by rationalist
anthropocentrism.
When we look at the pattern that actually occurred in legislation during the nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries, the order of liberation is strikingly different. The first animal
protection legislation in the United Kingdom was for the protection of some domestic
animals, namely to prevent the cruel and improper Treatment of Horses, Mares, Geldings,
Mules, Asses, Cows, Heifers, Steers, Oxen, Sheep, and other Cattle (Statute 1822). Notice
that pigs and dogs both highly intelligent are missing from the list of animals. This order
of legislation and liberation does not match the idea that as the rationalist would have it
we should attend to human pains before animal ones. The 1822 act protecting cattle was
passed before the act to abolish slavery (1833). Likewise, the first comprehensive Cruelty
to Animals Act in the United Kingdom was passed in 1849 (modified in 1876), at a time
when no women had voting rights, and limited voting rights were only extended to women
at the end of the First World War in 1918.

11

Since matters of ethics are not just a question of logic and reasoning, but also involve
empathic openness, the association of emotions in different cases explains how feelings
aroused in one situation can readily be transferred to another. The operation of such
emotional transfer does not follow a pattern that shows the kind of sensitivity to reason
described by writers like McDowell (see part 1 above). We do not want to deny the
importance of reason and the norms of reason to the hermeneutic project, the way human
beings (through their responsiveness to reason) have possibilities of living in a world,
belonging to a larger tradition of which they are part and through which they discover
themselves. This provides an important insight into the nature of humans as social and
empathic beings. Therefore the picture that theorists like McDowell paint must be
augmented to include the human capacity for empathy and emotion.
A Humean account explains how the emotions in one case can be borrowed, and easily
transferred to another case with similar features. One night there were two programs on
television that we both watched. In one case, villagers in Malaysia were being forced out of
their traditional homes and ways of life because of a new dam being built. Next to no plans
were in place to look after the villagers welfare, or to keep their community together. The
film dwelt on the plight of the villagers, showing interviews with them and their protests
again the dam project. The villagers were clearly distressed and some of them angry. Some
time later the same evening, another program on television showed that property
developers in Queensland, Australia, with government approval, were clearing areas of
natural forest for building new houses and roads. That forest was home to one of Australias
most iconic species the koala bear and the result of habitat destruction was significant
loss of a the koala population in the area. The film showed the suffering of koalas, often
severely injured or killed by cars as they tried to cross new roads in order to move from
areas of cleared land to areas where some trees were left standing. In one striking scene, a
koala was filmed clinging to the branches of a tree being pushed over by a bulldozer.
Seeing the two programs in close proximity, it was relatively easy for the emotions felt
towards the village case outrage, pity, sorrow, grief to be transferred to the similar case
of the villagers being forced out of their traditional homes by business interests. As we have
just seen, Humes account of empathy gives a plausible explanation of the mechanism of
how emotions such as these can readily be transferred from one person to another, from
one animal to another, and across species as well. The account can also explain how
empathy can be suppressed, by not attending fully to situations, or by hiding certain
information, or not allowing our imagination full scope when thinking about a situation.
Empathic openness, or emotional responsiveness, is an important explanatory factor in the
development of ethical concerns and motivations for behavioural changes. But as we have
seen, this fundamental fact is at the same time usually overlooked in dominant
philosophical accounts that emphasize reason over passion, logic over feeling. A Humean
account of the kind given in this paper offers a corrective and balance to the monistic
reliance on rationality and reason in the story of what ethics is about and how moral
judgments are formed, justified and acted upon. It explains interconnections of the kind
feminists have observed among the various forms of discrimination against, as well as
liberation of, people of colour, women, animals and nature. It also explains the way that at
certain relatively short periods in history (such as Europe of the nineteenth century), there
can be a sudden focus on a range of social and ethical questions connected not so much by
strict logic as by the associated emotions and passions. Other intellectual, historical and
cultural traditions such as those in China have a different focus and structure from the
ones found in Europe. A different story or analysis will need to be told about the way the
philosophical theories and ideas influence the imagination of those who lead public opinion
and the forces that lead to one rather than another focus being adopted on social policy.
That is a story for another time, but we expect that accounts of reason and rationality in
ethics would also leave much of that story untold, and that fuller insight would and could be
gained only from using a framework for ethics that assigns a foundational role to empathic
openness and emotional responsiveness.
12

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