Animal Ethics
Johansson (Jens)
Source: Blatti & Snowdon - Animalism: New Essays on Persons, Animals, and Identity, 2016: Part III, Chapter 14, pp. 283-302
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. I am an animal. But don't misunderstand; I am not suggesting that I should be on a leash, served as dinner, or prevented from voting. Rather, I want to give a rough formulation of a certain view of personal identity, the doctrine often called "animalism1."
  2. While animalism2 is much more popular nowadays than it was until about twenty years ago (a development largely due to "Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal - Personal Identity Without Psychology", 1997; "Snowdon (Paul) - Persons, Animals, and Ourselves", 1990; "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Material Beings", 1990), most philosophers still reject it. One important reason to do so is that the theory has counter-intuitive ethical consequences — especially in cases where a person's psychology is transferred to another organism.
  3. In such a case, animalism3 seems to yield the odd result that I should have prudential concern about someone else's future and not about my own, and that I am morally responsible for what someone else has done but not for what I myself have done.
  4. In this chapter, I shall discuss this sort of objection against animalism4, with special attention to Eric Olson's responses ("Olson (Eric) - Why We Need Not Accept the Psychological Approach", 1997). While I find these somewhat wanting, I shall suggest at the end of the chapter another kind of animalist5 response. As I will note, it has some similarities with the most influential argument in favor of animalism6, the "thinking animal7" argument.

  1. Introduction
  2. Animalism8: What It Is, and Isn’t
  3. The Persistence of Animals
  4. Two Arguments from Prudential Concern
  5. The Problem Spreads
  6. Help from an Unexpected Source
  7. But Hardly Enough
  8. Two Arguments from Moral Responsibility
  9. A Continuous Copy?
  10. Mary’s Loss of Memory
  11. Don’t Forget the Animals
  12. Us and Them

Editors’ Introduction9
  1. Jens Johansson starts Chapter 14 by helpfully clarifying the animalist10 thesis. Having done that, the paper aims to analyse and evaluate some problems for animalism11 that arise out of our attitudes to prudential concern and moral responsibility. One can say, therefore, that Johansson's chapter belongs in the general category of considering issues about animalism12 that relate to value theory. In particular, Johansson engages with replies, suggested by "Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal - Personal Identity Without Psychology" (1997), to some possible arguments of this sort that are critical of animalism13. These issues arise from both the nature of what is called 'prudential concern' and from assumptions that we make about moral responsibility, though here we shall restrict the summary to the case of prudential concern. That is meant to be the special sort of concern that someone feels about something that is taken by them to be going to happen to them.
  2. The problem for animalism14 arises from two assumptions.
    1. The first assumption, which might appear truistic given the previous characterization, is that if, say, X is reasonably prudentially concerned about the future occurrence of E then E must be happening to X, i.e. X is the person to whom E will be happening. This links (reasonable) prudence to personal identity.
    2. The second, more controversial assumption, is that if looking ahead X knows that the person undergoing E will be linked psychologically to X in the way that a cerebrum transplant15 from X into some other object will bring about then it will be reasonable for X to be prudentially concerned about the occurrence of E. If that is granted then it implies that transplanting the cerebrum16 of X preserves and takes with it the person X, a proposition that is normally thought of as inconsistent with animalism17.
  3. Olson’s clever response to this line of thought is to deny the first and apparently truistic claim that proper prudential concern requires identity with the person undergoing E. Olson points out that Parfit18 and Shoemaker have already made a convincing case against this. Johansson agrees, but adds that Olson has not shown that there are no related principles about prudence that can be used to generate an anti-animalist conclusion.
  4. Johansson’s clever and novel move to break this logjam is to suggest that we focus on the entity that is agreed to be the animal present in the scenarios. Two things now seem true.
    1. First, we know (or we can assume) that the animal does not go with the cerebrum19 and whatever psychological connexions it generates.
    2. But if it is plausible to say that the person is reasonably prudentially concerned about the future occurrence of E it seems equally plausible to say that the animal is also reasonably prudentially concerned.
    If both things are granted then it turns out that the range of reasonable prudence does not conflict with animalism20. In this move Johansson is attempting to make progress, as he himself points out, in a way that animalists21 have done in other areas in the debate, which is to ask participants to think about what we should say about the animal which is agreed to be present. This provides, or appears to provide, a significant anchor to speculation about what should be said.
  5. The important question that now arises if there still is to be debate about these issues is whether Johansson's judgements about the animal are correct. But another important issue is whether someone trying to deny animalism22 and sustain the person/animal contrast can do that plausibly once we remember that both fall in the domain of practical reason. Has Johansson here provided us with a strengthening of the so-called 'two-lives' argument?

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 9: Taken from "Blatti (Stephan) & Snowdon (Paul), Eds - Animalism: Introduction".

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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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