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Spring Speakers' Series:

Virtue Ethical Perspectives on Animals

Thanks to a generous grant from the Kirkpatrick Foundation, the ISHF is pleased to present our spring speakers' series on the topic "Virtue Ethical Perspectives on Animals." Please join us via zoom to learn from these internationally distinguished speakers.

Abstracts (where available) and other event information can be viewed by clicking the titles below. 

Dr. Raja Halwani

"Animals and Virtue Ethics"

January 31, 2022 | 12:00 - 1:00 PM CST

Zoom Link
Meeting ID: 927 9911 0049
Passcode: 01538689

Dr. Raja Halwani 

Professor of Philosophy
School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Presentation Abstract: Taking animals seriously has important repercussions for the way we philosophize and for our philosophical theories. In this essay, I demonstrate this claim in regard to the moral theory of neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics.

First, I argue that the variety of animals, our knowledge of them, and our relationship to them give rise to divergent virtuous outlooks on animals. For example, it is compatible with being virtuous to view animals as having their own lives to lead, in ways generally akin to human beings, but it is also compatible with being virtuous to consider animals as having a morally lesser status than human beings while also being compassionate and respectful towards them. For the first group, eating meat is intolerable except in very few circumstances, while for second group eating meat is tolerable in various circumstances. And within the second group, some would find meat-eating enjoyable while others do it while gritting their teeth. Moreover, for the first group, euthanizing animals on a regular basis would be anathema, while for the second group it would be in general acceptable, though regrettable. There can then be more than one virtuous outlook on animals and, in tow, different virtues can have differing priorities among virtuous agents in how they treat animals, especially when it comes to consuming and killing them.

Second, the divergent virtuous outlooks and their accompanying prioritized virtues is a fact that we can live with, despite its not being a unitary view of a virtuous outlook on animals. Moreover, it is a fact whose resolution is hard to imagine; that is, it seems that our non-moral knowledge of animals does not yield a determinate answer on the basis of which there is the proper virtuous outlook to adopt. This claim can support a form of virtue ethics that is partly agent-based. That is, although being virtuous requires the compassionate and fair treatment of animals, there remain agential motives and dispositions that are virtuous yet incompatible with each other, a fact that is explained not by the properties of the animals or the situations in which we find them, but by the properties of the motives and dispositions themselves, which is a form of agent-based virtue ethics, albeit a partial one.

It remains to be seen whether thinking about animals is unique (or almost unique) in having these implications for virtue ethics, or whether it is only one among many others.

About Dr. Raja Halwani: Raja Halwani is Professor of Philosophy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His major research interests are in philosophy of sex and love, queer philosophy, moral and political philosophy, animal ethics, and philosophy of art. In addition to authoring numerous essays, he is the author or editor of Virtuous Liaisons: Care, Love, Sex, and Virtue Ethics (2003), Sex and Ethics: Essays on Sexuality, Virtue, and the Good Life (2007), The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Philosophical Essays on Self-Determination, Terrorism, and the One-State Solution (2008, co-authored with Tomis Kapitan), Love, Sex, and Marriage: A Philosophical Introduction (2010; 2018 [2nd ed.]), Queer Philosophy: Presentations of the Society for Lesbian and Gay Philosophy, 1998-2008 (2012), and The Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary Readings (6th ed. [2013]; 7th ed. [2017] and the forthcoming 8th edition).

Dr. Christopher Bobier

"Is Life a Tragedy?
Virtuous Living in a Complex World"

February 14, 2022 | 12:00 - 1:00 PM CST

Zoom Link
Meeting ID: 926 1353 2336
Passcode: 04273490

Dr. Christopher Bobier

Assistant professor of philosophy
Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

Presentation Abstract: A common line of thought found in the virtue ethics literature on our treatment of animals is that it is relatively straightforward what the virtuous person would do. In food ethics, for example, we are told that the virtuous person in an affluent society would adopt a strict plant-based diet. Vegetarianism is, according to Rosalind Hursthouse, a “practice that the virtuous, as such, tend to go in for” (2011: 129).  Carlo Alvaro is more forthright: acquiring the virtues of compassion, justice, and temperance “will motivate ethical veganism” (2017: 779). In conservation biology, to take another example, we are told that the virtuously compassionate person would refrain from adopting lethal policies. Batavia et al. (2021) explain that the virtuous person recoils at the suggestion that it might be appropriate for conservationists “to kill or intentionally harm certain kinds of beings in certain ways to meet certain objectives”, while Mark Bekoff (2017) explains that “killing isn’t an option” for a compassionate conservationist.

Scholars admit exceptions for non-ordinary situations. A virtuous person may eat animal flesh when there is no alternative readily available and may adopt a conservation policy that involves animals in some intentional harm (e.g., castration) after careful scrutiny of relevant alternatives.  Still, it is maintained that exceptions will be rare, and that our treatment of animals is straightforward in most circumstances: the virtuous person will refrain from acting in ways that promote intentional animal harm, and thus, will refrain from eating animal flesh and from adopting lethal conservation policies.

In this talk, I critically assess the assumption that our treatment of animals is straightforward in most circumstances. Animals—human and non-human alike—are intertwined in profound, far-reaching ways, such that non-human animals are detrimentally affected by human actions that appear harmless at first sight. The virtuous person exercising prudence in her deliberations realizes that significant numbers of animals are harmed in arable agriculture and that the adoption of non-lethal policies may promote more overall animal suffering. Rather than straightforward, the virtuous person in an affluent society lives in a tragedy: non-human animals will be intentionally and unintentionally harmed no matter what policy or course of action she adopts. This complicates the picture of what the virtuous person would do, and suggests that the virtuous person may act in typically non-virtuous ways more often than has been assumed.

About Dr. Christopher Bobier: Dr. Christopher Bobier is an assistant professor of philosophy at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota. He teaches and writes on the history of ethics as well as on issues in present-day animal ethics and bioethics. He has published articles in Analysis, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, Food Ethics, Bioethics, and Journal of Medical Ethics, and is currently co-editing a book for Routledge Press on the “new omnivore” position in animal and food ethics. He lives in Winona, Minnesota with his wife and two daughters.

Dr. David Clough

"Christian Ethics and Farmed Animal Welfare"

March 28, 2022 | 12:00 - 1:00 PM CST

Zoom Link
Meeting ID: 955 8891 7790
Passcode: 20606527
Dr. Clough's Presentation (pptx)

Dr. David Clough

Professor in Theology and Applied Sciences
University of Aberdeen

Presentation Abstract: Humans are farming animals on an unprecedented scale. By 2000, the biomass of farmed animals had grown to exceed that of all wild land mammals by 24 times. This growth has been enabled by  industrialized animal agriculture, which has reshaped the bodies and living environments of farmed animals. In this lecture, David Clough asks what a Christian understanding of farmed animals as fellow creatures means for a Christian ethical evaluation of modern animal agriculture. He draws on the findings of the Christian Ethics of Farmed Animal Welfare (CEFAW) three-year research project in partnership with major UK churches. He argues that the key ethical question about the ethics of farming animals is whether they are able to flourish in their particular species-specific ways. Answering this question requires both careful attention to what a good life involves for different kinds of farmed animals and the extent to which such a life is possible with different farming systems.

About Dr. David Clough: David Clough is Professor in Theology and Applied Sciences at the University of Aberdeen. He has recently completed the landmark two-volume monograph On Animals (2012, 2019), on the place of animals in Christian theology and ethics. He is Principal Investigator for a three-year AHRC-funded project on the Christian Ethics of Farmed Animal Welfare in partnership with major UK churches. He is founder of the DefaultVeg project, which promotes a simple policy shift to a vegetarian/vegan default for events catering, and co-founder of CreatureKind, an organization engaging Christians with farmed animal welfare.

Dr. Liezl van Zyl

"Empathy and Wonder in Animal Virtue Ethics"

April 12, 2022 | 4:00 - 5:00 PM CST

Zoom Link
Meeting ID: 925 7696 3041
Passcode: 93059428

Dr. Liezl van Zyl

Associate Professor of Philosophy
University of Waikato, New Zealand

Presentation Abstract:  In this paper I explore the role of two basic moral capacities - empathy and wonder - in cultivating the virtues that are necessary for flourishing with other animals.  Empathy, understood as the imaginative capacity to see and experience the world from another's perspective, forms an essential part of many traditional (inter-personal) virtues, such as compassion, benevolence, generosity, and honesty. Thus, it seems obvious that in order to extend these virtues to non-human animals, we have to begin by extending our capacity to empathize with them, by imagining and sharing their feelings of fear, joy, frustration, and loneliness. Story-telling, for example in documentaries like My Octopus Teacher (2020), play an important role in this regard. However, empathy also has several shortcomings when perceived as a component of moral and intellectual virtues. We cannot really imagine what it is like to be an octopus, and our clumsy (though well-intentioned) attempts to do so often invite the charge of anthropomorphism. This can distort our understanding of animals and prevent us from acting in ways that are truly benevolent. The focus on empathy also supports a hierarchical view of the animal kingdom, one that favours species that are more like humans while devaluing creatures that are too different. I argue that these problems can be avoided by cultivating, alongside empathy, a capacity for wonder.  Unlike empathy, wonder is a response to difference, where the subject is captivated by, and comes to appreciate the uniqueness of another being. Rather than competing with empathy, wonder complements it. Together, these two capacities play a significant role in cultivating virtues such as compassion, benevolence, generosity, and respect for animals.

About Dr. Liezl van Zyl: Liezl van Zyl is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Waikato, New Zealand.  She holds a PhD from the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa. Van Zyl is the author of Virtue Ethics: A Contemporary Introduction (Routledge, 2018) and Death and Compassion: A Virtue-based Approach to Euthanasia (Routledge, 2000), and co-author (with Ruth Walker) of Towards a Professional Model of Surrogate Motherhood (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).  She has published articles on topics in moral philosophy and applied ethics.

Dr. Glen Pettigrove

"Virtuous Dependence"

April 18, 2022 | 12:00 - 1:00 PM CST

Zoom Link
Meeting ID: 924 3228 0719
Passcode: 32523337

Dr. Glen Pettigrove

Chair of Moral Philosophy
University of Glasgow, Scotland

Presentation Abstract: How should a virtue ethicist approach the ethical treatment of animals?  Some environmental ethicists have proposed wonder as central to a virtuous orientation to nature (including to non-human animals).  And surely wonder is important.  But as a proposal for our fundamental ethical orientation to nature it has an important drawback.  Our propensity to wonder varies, in large part, on the basis of our knowledge.  How much we know about X affects our disposition to experience wonder in the presence of X.  Both knowing too little and knowing too much can adversely affect our capacity to wonder.

Other environmentalists have proposed love or compassion as the orientation that should guide our interactions with other living things.  An advantage of this approach is that it fits nicely within a broader ethical framework that takes love to be determinative of all our ethical relations, not just our relations with non-human animals.  A second advantage is that long acquaintance need not undermine love in the way it does wonder; indeed, it often strengthens it.  The challenge to taking love to be the fundamental ethical orientation for animal ethics is twofold.  First, we are more disposed to love cute animals than we are repulsive or poisonous ones.  Second, love characteristically takes particular others as its objects, as opposed to more general or abstract things like species or eco-systems.  But in many contexts, the proper focus of our ethical attention is on a collective (such as mayflies) rather than a particular member of that collective (this particular mayfly).  And it is important that our ethical orientation toward animals does not systematically exclude those that frighten or disgust us or unduly prioritise those we would like to cuddle.

I shall propose a third option, namely, virtuous dependence.  We can depend on others badly.  For example, we can take for granted the goods they provide us, we can rely on them in ways that impose undeserved burdens on them, or we can depend on them in ways that leave them worse off when it was in our power to do otherwise.  But we can also depend on others well.  We can acknowledge our own limits and others’ abilities, we can recognise and appreciate what another has provided, and we can reciprocate when the occasion permits.  The aim of this paper is to explore what distinguishes virtuous dependence from other forms and to showcase its attractions as a guide to our relations with other animals.  After all, our dependence is not limited to our relations with humans.  Shepherds depend on sheep dogs to help with herding.  Weavers depend on sheep for wool.  All humans depend on bees and other insects to pollinate flowers.  Sometimes we depend on these animals virtuously, but at least as often humans have depended on them viciously.

An approach to animal ethics that takes dependence to be the central concept has an advantage over one that begins with wonder, I shall argue, since virtuous dependence is not threatened by familiarity.  It also avoids the difficulties that beset love.  Virtuous dependence is not affected by whether its object has a cute face.  It extends as readily to eco-systems and species as it does to particular others.  Insofar as ecosystems of which we are a part depend even on species we might find dangerous – as we have learned in regard to wolves – a dependence-based approach is not limited to species we consider friendly.  And, like love, the framework proposed by virtuous dependence can apply to both human and non-human relationships.  So it does not invite us to think of animal ethics as an add-on or an aside; rather, it is of a piece with human ethics.

About Dr. Glen Pettigrove: Glen Pettigrove is the Chair of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow.  He is the editor of Neglected Virtues (Routledge 2021) and the author of Forgiveness and Love (Oxford University Press 2012) and numerous articles in academic journals, including Ethics, Nous, and Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.