For a duty towards an animal would have to be directed at someone, and if the lights are out and there’s no-one home, then any talk of duties or obligations is meaningless. To be sure, a magnanimous person, motivated by a disinterested ethic of reverence for all living things, might still wish to alleviate the feelings of pain occurring in animals, even while recognizing that these feelings belonged to no-one. But it would no longer be possible to maintain that animals are morally significant “others.” The most we could say is that insofar as they are organisms, animals have a biological “good of their own.” If we adopted this biocentric view, then we would deplore any wanton harm done to animals, just as we would the felling of a Californian redwood tree. But the notion that animals belong on a psychological or moral continuum with us would be forever shattered. For if animals have no “selves,” then they are not “they,” and their pain doesn’t warrant our pity.
VJ Torley has posted an interesting argument regarding animals’ ability to suffer and the ethical implications of various interpretations of animal consciousness. Although VJ has his own conclusions, his post seem to invite discussion rather than agreement or disagreement. He emphasizes the limits of science rather than simply attacking science. I would suggest he also demonstrates some limits to philosophy.
Mapou helpfully sets up the main line of discussion:
Why beat around the bush? Science cannot even prove that humans are conscious, let alone animals. There is no experiment that can directly detect consciousness. It is a subjective phenomenon. We may know that we are conscious but we can only assume that other humans are equally conscious.
Mapou goes on to say that he considers animals to be meat robots and outside of any consideration of their welfare. I would argue that we draw our lines of demarcation on some basis other than evidence or logic. I personally think this problem of demarcation cannot be solved by reason.
I think we as individuals draw the line between creatures that merit ethical consideration and those that don’t, and I think we do this for purely emotional reasons. Some of us see someone home behind the eyes of non-humans.