Facts and Morality: Tail Docking and Ear Cropping—is it Right?

Whether something is morally right or wrong depends on what you and I or anyone thinks, and it is not imposed on us by any scientific discovery. We need to distinguish between science and morality, between descriptive and normative statements.

Science is a collection of coherent, useful and educated predictions. All science is reductionist and visionary in a sense, but that does not mean that all reductionism is equally useful or that all visions are equally valuable or that one far-out idea is as acceptable as any other. Greedy reductionism is bound to fail because it attempts to explain too much with too little, classifying processes too crudely, overlooking relevant detail and missing pertinent evidence. Science sets up rational, reasonable, credible, useful and helpful explanations based on empirical evidence, which is not connected per se. The connections happen via our scientific models, ultimately allowing us to make reliable and educated predictions. A scientist needs to have an imaginative mind to think the unthinkable, discover the unknown and formulate initially far-fetched, but testable, hypotheses that may provide new and unique insights. As Kierkegaard writes, “This, then, is the ultimate paradox of thought: to want to discover something that thought itself cannot think.”

People Saving Animals

Whether something is morally right or wrong depends on what you and I or anyone thinks, and it is not imposed on us by any scientific discovery.

Morality and science are two separate disciplines. I may not like the conclusions and implications of some scientific studies, I may even find their application immoral; yet, my job as a scientist is to report my findings objectively. Stating a fact does not oblige me to adopt any particular moral stance. The way I feel about a fact is not constrained by what science tells me. It may influence me but, ultimately, my moral decision is independent of the scientific fact. Science tells me men and women are biologically different in some aspects, but it does not say whether or not they should be treated equally in the eyes of the law. Science tells me that evolution is a consequence of the algorithm “the survival of the fittest,” not whether or not I should help those that find it difficult to fit into their environment. Science informs me of the pros and cons of eating animal products, but it does not tell me whether it is right or wrong to be a vegetarian.

If you think that the safest is to base your moral stances on factual events, you are walking on moving sands (and, probably, committing a fallacious appeal to nature).

Say, someone asks you, “Why do you believe tail docking to be wrong?” If you answer, “Because it inhibits the dog to communicate adequately since dogs use their tails to communicate,” you are getting into trouble. Say again, the same person now asks you,  “Why do you believe ear cropping to be wrong?” You cannot answer, ‘‘Because it inhibits the dog to communicate adequately since dogs use their ears to communicate,” for upright ears allow the dogs to display more and easier detectable expressions than drop ears. That is the hidden danger we run when using matters of fact to validate our moral statements: we may easily run into inconsistent argumentation. Even though seemingly that does not bother some, it certainly bothers other fellow thinkers and me with a certain degree of intellectual integrity.

You could avoid this problem by answering, ”Because I don’t like to cut off parts of an animal.” That would do it because nobody can argue with what you like or don’t like. Even if you neuter your male dog (which means cutting off the testicles of the animal), you are still off the hook because you can say, “I did it, and I don’t like it.” There is no logical contradiction in doing something without liking it. It is only logically contradictory if you infer the premise “we only do what we like.” “I don’t like diets and I’m on a diet” is perfectly all right. You may have a goal, which requires you to do things you don’t like.

Another aspect of this hidden danger of basing your morality on facts is that if science uncovers some new fact relevant to your morality, you’ll be compelled to change it. One moment right, the nest wrong applies to scientific theory, but not necessarily to morality. For me, it is wrong to inflict any kind of unnecessary pain and distress to any living creature, independently of species, and I don’t care whether science discovers how much pain any particular animal’s nervous system can or cannot register. For me, it is, and it will be wrong to inflict unnecessary pain and distress to others. Period.

 

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I do enjoy being kind to other animals

raabulldog1

I do enjoy being kind to other animals, respecting them for what they are and interacting with them on equal terms (Picture by Lisa J. Bain).

I cannot argue with people who believe it right to bully others (including non-human animals) as, even though I can illustrate how bullying does not lead to harmony, I can’t make anyone choose harmony or define it in a particular way. I cannot argue with people who think it acceptable to hurt others in order to achieve their goals because such means are inadmissible to me. I cannot argue with people who deny or affirm a particular matter of fact as a means of justifying their moral conduct, because my mind rejects invalid, unsound arguments.

With time, the rational principles that govern my mind and the ethical principles that regulate my conduct may prove to be the fittest. Meanwhile, as a result of genetic pre-programming, social conditioning and evolutionary biology, I do enjoy being kind to other animals, respecting them for what they are and interacting with them on equal terms; I don’t believe it is right to subjugate them to my will, to control them, to change them; and I don’t need a rational justification as to why that’s right for me.

Animal Training My Way

Animal Training My Way—The Merging of Ethology and Behaviorism by Roger Abrantes.
This book is about making simple things simpler but not simpler than necessary. It’s about knowing what you want and what you need to get it. It’s about training animals, changing their behavior and creating harmonious relationships, but it’s foremost about training ourselves and changing our behavior.