Pragmatism, Emotions, and Non-human Animals
This session (panel discussion) will provide a pragmatist perspective on some issues surrounding the topic of emotions and non-human animals. This topic is important to a full and critical understanding of American pragmatism; it touches on larger social, moral, and philosophical issues; and it is directly related to the conference theme of "Emotions and American Philosophy." American pragmatism is one of the few philosophies that makes room for emotions, yet its reputation as scientistic often masks this openness. It’s also one of the few philosophies that takes the concept of humans as animals (as part of nature and evolution) seriously, and yet its attitude toward nonhuman animals can make one believe that it is hostile to seeing humans on a continuum with the rest of the natural world. Correcting these misconceptions, and making pragmatism honestly face its own biases, is very important. Pragmatism could be a great asset to the current debates about nonhuman animal intelligence, language, culture, and emotions. It can also shake up the discussions of ethics. This panel discussion addresses these larger issues, though all three papers keep a focus on emotions. Examining the emotional lives of nonhuman animals is important both for achieving a more honest pragmatism and for challenging our view and treatment of nonhuman animals.
There are three confirmed participants. Here are the abstracts:
1) "Community, Communications, and Emotions: The Unique Contribution of Pragmatism to the Question of the Moral Standing of Non-human Animals:" Traditional approaches to the question of the moral standing of non-human animals have generally relied upon extension models of moral worth. An extension model identifies one or more traits as morally relevant and then assigns moral standing to a being based upon the extent to which it exhibits those traits. Such approaches are here called "extension models" because they view moral evolution as a process of extending moral standing to larger groups based upon new recognition of the presence of morally relevant characteristics. According to such accounts, although in the Western tradition, moral standing was initially limited to propertied free, white, males based upon the incorrect view that only such individual possess full rationality, for example, moral franchise was later extended to include non-propertied males, women, and non-whites.
One troublesome feature of the extension model is that it is possibly phallocentric, Eurocentric, and even anthropocentric insofar as white male humans are automatically assumed to have whatever features are deemed morally relevant, yet moral standing must be extended to other groups. In other words, when identifying morally relevant traits, by simply assuming that certain groups have moral standing based upon traits exhibited by those groups, it is possible – perhaps even likely – that we illegitimately "sneak in" the perspectives of those groups in setting up our moral frameworks. In the case of animals, in particular, the identification of features such as "intelligence" or "rationality" tends to be based upon a very human perspective. Moreover, in general, characteristics identified as morally relevant tend to be those considered uniquely or at least primarily human. If this is true, the question of the moral standing of animals is vitiated from the start from a sort of anthropocentrism.
The pragmatic approach to ethics is very different and avoids this difficulty. Pragmatism holds that ethics is a natural affair that has evolved as we have come to live together in communities. Ethics and communities co-evolved because it is not possible to have one with out the other. Additionally, as Dewey points out, the link between the words "community" and "communication" are not accidental. To communicate means to make something common and such commonality is the basis of all ethics. Thus, according to the pragmatic model, ethics is not based upon the extension of moral standing based upon an abstract set of characteristics but the recognition of the fact that we live together in common. Such recognition is an act of both discovery and creativity.
Given this insight, it becomes clear that efforts at and research into communication with non-human animals as well as ecology are critical to any attempt at inter-species ethics. The problem of ethics, for pragmatists is the identification and, in fact, the creation of commonalities, and this can be done only in the context of genuine communication.
To communicate genuinely means to open oneself to the other. What genuine communication does not mean is insisting that the transaction occur solely on one’s own terms. Unfortunately, most efforts at communication with non-human animals have been based upon very human notions of intelligence, rationality, and styles of work that are not particularly conducive to intra-species understanding. This appears to be yet another instance of the extension model wherein "humanity" is identified in or extended to other, non-human animals.
The alternative is a focus on less cognitivistic aspects of behavior, including play and the emotions. Just like any other relationship, learning to communicate genuinely with other members of the biotic community requires a venture on our part. As James pointed out, albeit in another context, such openness is not an irrational belief. In fact, it is required by the pragmatic principle of continuity, supplemented by recent evidence that emotion lies at the heart of all sensate activity. In response to the claim that the community-communication-emotions approach to the question of the moral standing of animals borders on blind sentimentalism, recent research in the areas of animal communication studies, evolutionary biology, and ecology increasingly lends support to this approach. Finally, pragmatic ethics contributes by developing the notion of community and reminding us of the role that interest plays in such inquiry.
2) "Mammalian Brains and Beyond: The Necessity of Emotions:" It has been very important to many scientists to believe that nonhuman animals don’t really suffer. This makes it possible for them to perform their experiments without much (if any) moral anguish. Even Dewey denied that nonhuman animals really suffer. In his essay "The Ethics of Animal Experimentation" he says, "There is . . . no ethical justification for the assumption that experimentation upon animals, even when it involves some pain or entails, as more common, death without pain,--since animals are still under the influence of anaesthetics,--is a species of cruelty." Here Dewey has both a naïve view of science and what sometimes goes on in animal experimentation and a very limited notion of the kinds of suffering with which nonhuman animals are afflicted. He makes no room for social and psychological suffering in nonhuman animals. These are reserved for humans.
However, we know that many animals live highly complex social lives, we have evidence of culture and tool use, we are gaining an appreciation for their intelligence, we are starting to recognize their own modes of communication while we simultaneously teach them to communicate with human devised systems as well. While all of this is highly debated, there are only a few holdouts who completely deny such capacities to at least the "higher" mammals. The emotional lives of animals are slower to gain recognition, though, since emotions are very hard to identify, quantify, isolate, or study. This is definitely a more controversial area. Putting Darwin (who believed animals do have emotions) aside, people who suggest that animals have emotions are accused of anthropomorphising and this is seen as a very serious and negative accusation.
However, most "ordinary people" believe that nonhuman animals have emotions and more and more often reputable scientists are venturing to suggest the same thing. The Smile of a Dolphin: Remarkable Accounts of Animal Emotions (2000), edited by Marc Bekoff is kind of a "coming out" book for many well-known scientists. Traditional analytic philosophical theories have been no help in this regard, however. They too tend to denigrate and dismiss the emotions right along with the body. Feminist theory has been an important reaction to this way of thinking. So has American pragmatism.
One of the strengths of pragmatism is that it recognizes that we are born, grow, and die. Being born less than fully developed creatures forces us to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity. These physical parameters force us to realize that we are embodied minds. There is a chemistry of the brain that we struggle to understand. It does seem that endorphins help to promote growth through play and love. Chemical rushes like adrenalin may help us deal with death by addressing pain and fear. While there is controversy over how similar human and non-human animal brains/minds are, most accept that at least mammalian brains share a very similar structure and chemistry. I will present various examples of non-human animal’s emotional lives through stories and video (if equipment is available). Happiness, love, depression, shame, embarrassment, anxiety, fear, and anger will be discussed. I hope to promote a discussion of both the emotional, and possibly moral, lives of non-human animals themselves and of our moral obligations to these feeling creatures.
3. "Dewey on Emotion and Imagination in Animals: Pragmatism, or Paleopragmatism?"
Animals, who we have made our slaves, we do not like
to regard as our equals.
"…distinctively human behavior, that, namely, which is influenced by emotion and desire in the framing of means and ends; for desire, having ends-in-view, and hence involving valuations, is the characteristic that marks off human from nonhuman behavior" (Theory of Valuation, LW 13:250).
"...because it is by instinct [the animal] goes ahead and operates; very much like a machine" (LW 17:258).
Dewey's denial of emotional life to other animals--there is no love, grief, or even genuine pain on the animal plane--is part of a systematic belittling of animals in his corpus. A careful reading reveals Dewey's naturalistic and functional parallel to the hierarchical great-chain-of-being (absent Aristotle's teleological anthropocentrism) as well as his perpetuation of the Cartesian mental-physical dualism, again along functional not ontological lines, in which animals are conceived as mindless automatons. Moreover, when it comes to demarcating the "human plane" from other animals, his picture strikingly parallels the realms of freedom and necessity in Kant's metaphysics of morals. Dewey uncritically follows suit with a functional distinction between separate fields of human freedom and animal necessity. In this respect he contributes to a philosophical orthodoxy that is as empirically obsolete as Ptolemaic astronomy or Aristotelian biology. The irony of this from the pen of the most anti-Cartesian and radically empirical of philosophers is itself a powerful reminder of the irreducibly encultured and historical nature of all inquiry.
Dewey denies what Peirce would call "thirdness," and even individuality, to all nonhumans. He asserts that we live alone on a third plateau (EN, LW 1:208), a field of interaction unique to humanity that includes all mental life (e.g., consciousness, social communication, intelligence, emotion, imagination & empathy, culture, consummatory experience) and all individuating factors. Of the second or "animal plane," a step above the "vegetative plane," he contends that hard-wired instinct "locks up, so to speak, their career and sets the bars which they cannot pass over" (LW 17:256). Since Dewey's time, the scientific situation has, as it were, become more determinate. Reconstructed in light of new evidence, Dewey's functional distinctions still offer much insight.
There is no indication that Dewey ever modified his view of animals or their emotional lives; in fact, the picture is remarkably consistent throughout his corpus as well as in the work of Peirce, James, and Mead. Insofar as this unreconstructed image of animals is uncritically perpetuated by contemporary American philosophers, who unlike the classical pragmatists are beneficiaries of decades of study of animal behavior, the result is paleopragmatism, not pragmatism. More generally, there is a pressing need to supplement and correct Dewey's neglect of the capacities and valuings of other species and to confront through democratic inquiry complex issues of how best to comport ourselves toward them. To pretend our needs simply outrank theirs is prejudice premised on a metaphysical or ethical caste system, not ethical reflection.
A focus on Dewey's theory of imagination is perhaps the best way to spotlight his model and to reveal what is redemptive in the model. Dewey was calling us to actualize our humanity, to establish social and material conditions that liberate us and our children from enslavement to mechanized habits, toward a life of critical inquiry, social responsiveness, emotional engagement, and artful consummations. By repeatedly casting animals (and "savages" and "unscientific peoples") in the role of unintelligent and unemotional brutes driven by the inertia of habit, which he took to be an empirical fact, he attempts to throw into relief the human potential: Aristotle's "rational animal" becomes Dewey's imaginative animal. This would be immeasurably more palpable for a contemporary audience if Dewey's own philosophy could itself be liberated from the misdirected inertia of socially habitual views of other animals (and civilizations). Indeed, unreconstructed, Dewey's philosophy is at serious risk of being overshadowed in proportion to our growing awareness that we are far from alone on the third plateau. Yet simultaneously, a reconstructed classical pragmatism offers perhaps the best hope for accomodating, criticizing, evaluating, and redirecting contemporary work on animal issues currently monopolized by utilitarianism and rights theories.
Phillip McReynolds, Gonzaga University
Erin McKenna, Pacific Lutheran University
Steven Fesmire, Siena College