Exordium. Ethical treatment of animals and nature remains to be a controversial issue in the society nowadays. Take the case, for example, wherein a bunch of starlings build their nests in the attic of a family’s house, gaining access to the attic through a torn vent screen. Soon the eggs hatch, and every morning at sunrise the family is awakened by the sound of birds squawking and wings beating against the rafters, as the starlings fly in and out of the house to feed the hatchlings.
After losing considerable morning sleep, the family repairs the screen, and since the parent birds are unable to get in and out of the attic, they are unable to feed their young. Soon after, the birds die. In the given case, does this case reflect cruelty to animals? Did the family earn their right to kill the birds, so to speak, because they are the source of an unwanted event that, in this case, pertains to their lack of sleep?
Or did the family have no right to kill the birds because the reason why the birds entered the attic was because of an unwanted circumstance (i. e. , failure to fix the torn vent screen) that fell on the side of the family? Does the fact that the family lives and owns the particular place give them the right to say that they own the birds in their attic as well, and so they had the right to do what they want to with the birds? Therefore, was the act rightful or not? Narratio.
Philosophy and the ethical system revolves around the three fundamental elements of a complete ethical system, which are the following: first, it must provide a definition of good (and its opposite bad); second, it must provide a definition of what is right in terms of good; third and final, it must provide a statement of the moral principle in clear and uncertain terms (Acuna 287). The statement of value refers to “the moral philosophers’ estimate of the worth or value of an act, object, person, event, etc. ” (Acuna 287).
In order to estimate whether an act is right or wrong would be to estimate whether the act is good or bad. The moral concept of good, on the other hand, takes two angles: first, the intrinsic good, which is “pursued for their own sake” (288); and second, the instrumental good, which is used “as means for attaining some other good” (288). Because Aristotle proclaimed that the only intrinsic good that exists is ‘happiness’, then we should analyze whether or not the killing of the birds in the given case is an instrumental good used to attain the intrinsic good, which is happiness.
It should positively answer the three fundamental elements of a complete ethical system that were described above. From there, it will be evident whether or not what the family did (killing the birds) was good or bad, and if it is right or wrong. Propositio. In this paper, the writer proposes that what the family did (killing the birds) can be labeled as instrumentally good because it was done for the goal of being able to sleep more comfortably; in other words, it was done for the sake of happiness, which is the intrinsic good.
Therefore, the act is right. If, however, the killing of birds was done for the sake of killing the birds alone, and not for happiness’ sake, then the act may be labeled as good in the statement of value, although it will be rightfully wrong under the statement of obligation, which proposes what we should and should not do under the principle of duty (Acuna 288). Intrinsic good can also refer to a comfortable life, pleasure, or a sense of accomplishment.
What the family did was intrinsically and instrumentally right in the statement of value; but intrinsically and instrumentally wrong in the statement of obligation. Partitio. The remaining pages of this paper will consist of the following sub-categories: (1) the ‘confirmatio’, which are the writer’s arguments in favor of the proposition; (2) the ‘confutatio’, which is the writer’s arguments in refutation of the proposition; and, lastly, (3) the ‘peroratio’, which is the conclusion portion that sums up the arguments, calls for action, and leaves a strong, lasting impression.
Main Body Confirmatio. What the family did (killing the birds) can be labeled as instrumentally good because it was done for the sake of achieving the intrinsic good. It is also intrinsically good because it was done either for the sake of happiness, a comfortable life, pleasure, or a sense of accomplishment. Under the deontologist’s point of view, the rightness of an act is influenced by the act alone (Acuna 289); or that “the nature of the act alone is sufficient to determine whether the act is right or wrong” (294).
Because the consequences are not important, therefore, it is not important what happens if the family repairs the torn vent screen. The only thing important is that it leads to the intrinsic good, which is either happiness, a comfortable life, pleasure, or a sense of accomplishment. Especially that this connects with what the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 B. C. ) meant when he said: “When… we maintain that pleasure is the end, we do not mean the pleasures that profligate and those that consist in sensuality, … but freedom from pain in the body and trouble in the mind” (296).
This saying proclaims that, because what the family did when they ended up killing the birds was to bring “freedom from pain in the body and trouble in the mind” (296), then we can say that what they did was intrinsically, hedonistically good. Connecting this to the case, we can say that the act of repairing the torn vent screen is not cruelty to animals, since the act was done merely for the sake of the act alone. It is not cruelty to animals because consequences did not reflect anything important. The act was done, not for the sake of the consequences, but for the act itself (i. e.
, the fixing of the screen), which is done for the intrinsic good (i. e. , happiness, comfort, pleasure, or accomplishment). The death of the birds represents the consequence of the action, but it is not anymore important what the consequences were. The only thing important, in this case, is that they were able to achieve the intrinsic good by repairing the torn vent screen and achieving happiness, comfort, pleasure, and/or the sense of accomplishment. This is the ‘pure deontology’, which proclaims that the nature of the act is being confined to conformity to moral rules alone and not to its consequences (311).
In the more physical and consequence-centered sense, however, the family earned their right to kill the birds (if this can be called killing the birds) because of three fundamental reasons: first, because the birds are the source of an unwanted event, which pertain to the family’s lack of sleep; second, because the family carries the right to kill the birds because they legally and logically own the property and, therefore, the birds; third, because the birds could lead to an unwanted event in the future, such as accidents, bad health, or low scores in the exam, which would lead to greater, worse consequences than the value of the birds alone. Thus, to prevent this from happening, the family should think of a strategy that would prevent these possible future consequences from happening, such as repairing the screen and killing the birds… hitting two birds with one stone! Confutatio. What the family did (killing the birds) cannot be labeled as intrinsically and instrumentally good because, under the statement of obligation, the principle of duty reflects that to kill birds or other animals is an act that displaces moral obligation. John Locke (1632-1704) declared that “children should be brought up to show kindness to animals” (Armstrong and Botzler 3).
He, together with Kant, said that those that are cruel to animals would have a greater tendency to be cruel to human beings as well. It is, therefore, a moral obligation to treat animals, such as birds, with kindness and not with cruelty. However, animal abuse does not directly mean there is the presence of human abuse. Taking the said case, for example, the very reason why the birds were allowed to die was because of an unwanted circumstance (i. e. , lack of sleep) that largely affects the health as well as the mental and psychological qualities of the family. It is morally wrong to state that animals and human beings are logically equal. As Singer has said,
[T]he case for equality between men and women cannot validly be extended to nonhuman animals. Women have a right to vote, for instance, because they are just as capable of making rational decisions as men are; dogs, on the other hand, are incapable of understanding the significance of voting, so they cannot have the right to vote. There are many other obvious ways in which men and women resemble each other closely, while humans and other animals differ greatly. (Singer 148-49) More so, before it becomes clear whether or not fixing the vent screen, which killed the birds, does pertain to cruelty to animals, it is significant that we first know what ‘cruelty’ is all about. According to Tom Regan,
Historically, to prohibit cruelty to animals has amounted to prohibiting the infliction of unnecessary pain, or unjustified pain, especially when the pain is substantial and the human agent has acted wantonly or maliciously, and with intent. (Regan 43) Therefore, when we say cruelty to animals, it refers to actions that prohibit an unnecessary pain or an unjustified pain that is severe and done with the intention of nothing else but to act with malice and cruelty to the creatures. Taking the said case, it is very evident that what the family had done does not agree with what cruelty is actually all about. The act of repairing the torn screen did not bring upon an unjustified pain on the side of the creatures.
Even if there would have a problem when it comes to unnecessary pain, since it was not necessary that the birds die in the house’s attic because they were trapped… even though, the process of death was not caused by such ‘pain’ but starvation and lack of nutrition. All of these state that the act of repairing the torn screen was not an act of cruelty to the birds; it was not a case of equality (between animals and human beings); and it was not done wantonly, maliciously, with no proof that it was done intentionally. The said act, therefore, reflects one that is morally right under the statement of value; but morally wrong under the statement of obligation. It was more an act of negligence than of cruelty. Conclusion Peroratio.
Going over the three fundamental elements of a complete ethical system surrounding the case, the following can be defined: (1) under the first element that provides a definition of good (or bad), the act in itself is good because it was intrinsically and instrumentally good; (2) under the second element that provides a definition of what is right in terms of good, the act is morally right because it leads to the intrinsic good, which is happiness, a comfortable life, pleasure, and/or a sense of accomplishment; (3) under the third element that it must provide a statement of the moral principle in clear and uncertain terms, the act is good and, at the same time, right because the act does not signify cruelty but more on negligence, and it would be utterly wrong to think of human beings and animals as equal. Under the statement of value, therefore, the act is morally right. Nevertheless, it would have been better if the family took out the birds first before fixing the torn screen of the vent. Because human beings are more mentally capable of being rational and mindful of the future events because of the circumstances, the family should have reflected over what should happen to the birds if they are left trapped in the attic of their house.
Negligence is an act of abandonment, which is not kind at all. They could have cared both for themselves and for the creatures by releasing the birds first before repairing the screen. Still, the act does not fall under cruelty because there are no acts of wantonly and maliciously abusing the animals. To value the animals does not always mean to sacrifice the value of human beings all at the same time. There is always a way to do both. Ethical treatment to animals and nature remains to be a controversial issue in the society nowadays. The moral concept of good reveal that the act was done for the sake of achieving happiness and pleasure, which are both intrinsic good.
To be intrinsically and instrumentally right in the statements of both value and obligation, consequences have to be measured well and on time. Other consequences are far worse than having to kill birds.
Acuna, Andresito E. “Unit V: Analysis of Ethical Systems. ” Philosophical Analysis (4th ed. ). Quezon City, Philippines: U. P. Department of Philosophy Press, 1998. Armstrong, Susan, and Richard G. Botzler. The Animal Ethics Reader. New York, NY: Routledge, 2003. Regan, Tom. “Rights Across Species. ” Applied Ethics in a Troubled World. New York, NY: Springer, 1998. Singer, Peter. “All Animals Are Equal. ” Animal Rights and Human Obligations. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1989. 148-162.