Cosmopolitans hold that morality is a matter of choice, a choosing of principles of actions. The key tenet of cosmopolitanism is that an individual is a citizen of the cosmos not the polis and the inherent source of value comes from universal principles applicable to everyone. Values are formed in a certain context, but ‘thin’ and ‘thick’ values can be distinguished (Appiah 2007). Cosmopolitanism is largely influenced by the Stoic philosophy and Kant’s peace theory. The point that cosmopolitans developed was that nation-states should not be the center of attention rather the world should have our primary allegiance. For cosmopolitans one of the main emphasis seem to be developing a reason of thought, which permeates the socio-political settings and recognizes the unconditional worth and equality of all human beings. Those who pertain such views quite often refer to human suffering as being perpetuated on unjustifiable grounds. Crimes against humanity, and human conflicts in general, are often seen as the product of self-interest and moral limitations.
Although, cosmopolitanism has primarily applied to human relations and the human status it has also been applied to human and non-human animal relations. This can be connected with the thought that the way one treats other species can affect the way one treats their own species, or at least one can find similarities underlying the treatment of humans and non-humans. This is also connected to the binary structures that have evolved during the history pertaining race, sex, nationality, ethnicity or identity. Historically, some forms of violence have been committed because certain statuses have been justified and affected by certain preconceptions, prejudice, lack of true knowledge (context specific) and other perceptions presented in the course literature (Vitoria; De Las Casas; Appiah; Nussbaum). More often than not, history has tended to disagree with violence committed upon such grounds as new considerations on moral inclusion are formed. Examples include, eradication of barbarians, subjugation of American Indians or slavery.
What happens when we take the Appiah’s concept of ‘strangers’ and ethics further to human- animal relations? The reason for this rhetorical question is that cosmopolitanism seeks to unify and universalize that which is inherent in and required by all of us. It seeks to create a consensus that we are all part of a moral community, as we live together on this planet.
However, our moral values are often obscured or modified by what we inherit from our cultures, or we simply disconnect ourselves from developing our own ethical standpoint when we think about moral issues such as animal rights. Living in this today’s era that we have treated some animals as objects and some as our fellow companions. Despite this, we sometimes justify our treatment of animals as «something that we just do» or interpret animals, as Aristotle would say, as ‘a lower sort’ (Appiah 2007; Vitoria 1991). This paper will examine how cosmopolitanism complements and perhaps contributes to animal rights theories and why it does so. By the examination of cosmopolitan’s core ideas about morality and ethical principles found in the course literature we will get an understanding why non-human animals could and should be included in the moral community. The question to be answered in this essay is following: How cosmopolitanism, in terms of moral consideration, can support the inclusion of non-humans as equals to humans?
Depiction of Non-Human Animals in the Cosmopolitan Literature
First I would like to illustrate how non-human animals are represented in the course literature and additional relevant literature in connection to a morality that applies to them. As a matter of fact there are multiple reasons given to why they could be counted in cosmopolitan ethics. Throughout the course literature we studied how binary structures between, for instance, colonizers and colonized, masters and slaves, civilized and barbarians, rational and irrational creatures have formed under specific historical circumstances that had the power to justify insidious actions by some superior moral conduct and a binary system. In Vitoria’s Political Writings (1991) he analyzed Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics where he evaluated the Divine Hierarchy. Non-human animals, barbarians and madmen were used as examples to emphasize the superiority of an intellectual man. Aristotle meant that irrational creatures cannot be victims of an injustice (iniuria), and therefore cannot possess legal rights. In other words, if one deprives a lion or a wolf of its prey, it is no injustice against that animal or the beast, in his words (Vitoria 1991, p. 248). According to Aristotle’s Divine Hierarchy, in which a man is superior to all other beings, wild animals do not have any rights, because they are irrational, and therefore, just as barbarians,
are natural slaves who cannot own dominion or govern their own body (dominium sui et rerum). Thereby, it is naturally just and lawful to «kill them with impunity, even for sport» (Vitoria 1991, p. 248). In this very sense, according to Aristotle, it is inappropriate to speak of animals as possessing rights because as irrational creatures they, unlike men, lack the ability to make moral choices.
However, Vitoria objects Aristotle’s argument about the natural slavery of certain men and claims that «such slavery is civil and legal condition to which no man can belong by nature» (Vitoria 1991, p. 251). Furthermore, Vitoria means that the natural superiority or intellect of some beings doesn’t make it legal to deprive in some way those who have natural deficiency (Vitoria 1991, p. 251). In other words, using intellect as a ground to justify actions such as depriving Indians of their true dominion is wrong (Vitoria 1991, p. 251). It gives way to understand that in nature, which is not something manmade such as civil and legal law there is no true slavery. Slavery is something that is created by humans and justified by creating binary logic, represented by the superior and the lesser. By this reasoning there is no cause for the exclusion of non-humans from the cosmopolitanist cosmos based on what humans consider «natural deficiencies» or lack of intelligence. Looking at the example of Spanish behaviour in South America towards indigenous populations, the Spaniards system could not be forcefully applied upon the different form of social and political conduct that the Indians had, inevitably resulting in the eradication of the Indian ways (Vitoria 1991; De Las Casas 2003). It connects with what Appiah (2007) claims about ‘thin’ and ‘thick’ values. In terms of the Spaniards and Indians it was a clash of ‘thin’ values, because if both have for instance a ‘thick value’ of taking care of their children then ‘thin’ value would be how one takes care of their children.
Montaigne (1993) displayed that even though the ‘barbarians’ were cruel and cannibals, they teach us a lot about of ourselves and reflect how ‘barbarous’ the Europeans have been. He pointed out that the Spaniards were insufficient in understanding the motives behind the Indians conduct, and the limits to their perception provided by their Christian lens. As he said «our eyes are bigger than our bellies and our curiosity more than we can stomach» and that «we grasp everything but clasp nothing but wind» (Montaigne 1993, p. 80). Moreover, anyone who is not accustomed to other cultures or other traditions may think that such are ‘barbarous’. Montaigne says that these people are wild in the same way as we call fruits wild. (Montaigne 1993, p. 83) He didn’t talk explicitly about animal rights, or animals in relation to human beings, but what he shows is that ‘civilized’ manners can often destroy the simplicity and purity of nature and damage or devalue individuals who do not have the knowledge of, or comply with, a certain set of rules or laws.
As such it must be held that while we might not perceive or classify entities as civilized, intelligent or simply do not understand them that does not mean that they are lesser than our ourselves, regardless of species. Due to this, we should view exploitation, torture and slavery of these beings as if it was committed upon humans, or any other member of the cosmopolitan cosmos.
Moral Relevance of Non-human Animals in Ethics
The second argument would be that just as national boundaries are morally irrelevant so are the differences between humans and non-human animals morally irrelevant, considering social contract theory (John Rawls) and that going ‘beyond compassion and humanity’ is something that Nussbaum has sought for. Nussbaum claims that compassion is rooted in our biological heritage and that altruistic behavior can be seen in primates (Nussbaum 2003, p. ). She also states that a morally valuable emotion can be found in the psychological link between our self-interest and the reality of another person’s good or ill, but sometimes people fail to link people at a distance to own possibilities or underestimates the seriousness of the bad. In that way moral concern could stops at the national boundaries, or, as I argue here in accordance with Nussbaum’s capabilities, approach that it stops at the human boundary, because we fail to link our own possibilities and capabilities to that of other species.
The notion of Divine Hierarchy by Aristotle as presented earlier can be a prerogative to act morally right, however partially, and it excludes the power of universalism, the natural equality of all sentient beings and morality found by acting upon the consequences and from impartiality. Therefore, Aristotle’s is limited in understanding the issue of animal rights and their inclusion in a common ethical community. Regarding inclusion, Nussbaum states that «we should regard our deliberations about human problems of people not problems growing out of a national identity» (Nussbaum 2003, p. 7). The same goes with animal issues and that we should regard problems growing out of our earthly co-existence not by various features of species. In other words, we can stretch our concern from the narrowest personal toward the need others, or strangers, and put ourselves into the position of others (Bok 2003, p.40). In the narrower view Bok agrees with Sidwick that depending on our relationship the obligations to help others differ, but he means that from a broader perspective and universalist view «another’s greater good is to be preferred to one’s own lesser good» (Bok 2003, p.40). It is a form of a «Golden Rule» that is embedded in most religious and cultural communities. A form of a ‘just respect’ reflected upon all living beings as long as they’re peaceful, one might add. Just as differences, physiological or psychological, between men and women so to species should not account for a different moral treatment nor justify deviating actions on the account of such differences.
When Nussbaum (2003) talks about concentric circles where the core is the Self, then family, the neighbours, the community and finally humanity as the largest, then I additionally see something that permeates through all of these circles and is in fact omnipresent/Universal and that is the Nature. Therefore as Nussbaum implies that one should concern him/herself with the problems of humanity first and foremost and a citizen of the world one draws circles somehow toward the center (Nussbaum 2003, p.9). I agree with that view, because we are in many ways interconnected nonetheless with other humans, but as well as with our fellow non-human animals. Often we have at least some association and even psychological connection with them, but also an ecological linkage. One might as such reason that compassion should be extended to other species just as it is to ‘strangers’.
Changing our perception, strengthening our imaginations of the different, extending our compassion are all sought for the cosmopolitan ideal. Nevertheless, the way we perceive certain humans or non-humans change our ethics toward them. We saw by examining differences in Vitoria and De Las Casas that a certain depiction will do a lot toward these people or animals, it will either lowers their status or it will heighten it. Throughout the history there has been many examples of how a certain depiction of someone or some group has affected a certain ethical treatment of them. The same goes for animals, if we see them as objects and not individuals that they are then we almost automatically lower their status and our moral consideration of them deteriorates. Even if one would accept the idea that humans are superior beings, on account of our ability to act based on morals, it should also be accepted that we have a moral responsibility towards any perceived «lesser» beings. Superiority is not an acceptable ground for unethical or immoral acts.
Interestingly, we grant some non-humans higher status than others, for instance, cats and rats, or dogs and pigs. We set moral boundaries and limit our ethical evolvement. Based on the considerations of this essay, I believe that there is room to include non-humans in the cosmos of cosmopolitanism, or at the very least that such an inclusion is not prohibited by core theory. To see non-humans for who they are, as individuals, although different in some respects, we come closer to the cosmopolitan ideal and we regard differences both within species and across species as morally irrelevant and extend boundaries for a peaceful co-existence.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony (2007) Cosmopolitanism. Ethics in a World of Strangers. New York: W.W. Norton.
- Bok, Sissela (2003) «From Part To Whole» in Nussbaum et al. For Love of Country? Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 38-45.
- De Las Casas, Bartolome (2003) An Account, Much Abbreviated, of the «Destruction of the Indies» with Related Texts, ed. Knight. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.
- Montaigne (1993) «On the Cannibals» in The Essays: A Selection, ed. Screech. London: Penguin Classics, 79-92.
- Nussbaum, Martha et. al. (2003) For Love of Country? Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
- Vitoria, Francesco de (1991) «On the American Indians» in Pagden and Lawrence (eds) Political Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 233-292.