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Who Loves Mosquitoes? Care Ethics, Theory of Obligation and Endangered Species

Abstract

The focus of this paper is on normative ethical theories and endangered species. To be exact, I examine two theories: the theory of obligation and care ethics, and ask which is better-suited in the case of endangered species. I argue that the aretic, feminist-inspired ethics of care is well-suited in the case of companion animals, but ill-suited in the case of endangered species, especially in the case of “unlovable” species. My argument presupposes that (1) we now live an era where human disturbances to planetary ecosystems are triggering a sixth mass species extinction, and (2) widespread interventions will be needed to save many species from extinction.

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Notes

  1. At the risk of misinterpretation it should be pointed out that “Anthropocene” refers to the scope of human modification of the planet, of which species extinctions are only one consequence (with thanks to Roman Altshuler). It should also be pointed out that social scientists are in the mists of a heated debate involving the terms “Anthropocene” and “Capitalocene” with many convincing arguments to be found for each term (with thanks to Laurie Adkin). The fact that the International Commission on Stratigraphy has not yet voted on the matter of the “Anthropocene” will only prolong this debate (with thanks to Molly Gardner).

  2. With thanks to the anonymous referee.

  3. I would like to thank the anonymous referee for bringing this to my attention.

  4. With thanks to the anonymous referee for pointing out this interpretation.

  5. See also Dorado (2015, pp. 219–238) for an annotated bibliography.

  6. Overall Nussbaum remains vague about wild animals but if her stance is similar to those of domesticated animals, hers would be in favour of humane treatment.

  7. The words “sympathy”, “compassion” are used interchangeably in this paper. This is because I find myself in agreement with Goetz et al. (2010) who also group together these emotions. In addition, I add “empathy” to the same group.

  8. At the risk of misinterpreting this author it should be pointed out that Robinson offers a feminist critique of right-based approaches advocating instead for care ethics in the arena of human rights.

  9. Space limitations and the risk of a tangent prevent me from delving deeper into more recent studies that suggest that fear of spiders might have cultural rather than evolutionary origins. For those interested in this debate see Gerdes, Antje BM, Gabriele Uhl, and Georg W. Alpers. 2009. “Spiders are Special: Fear and Disgust Evoked by Pictures of Arthropods." Evolution and Human Behavior 30 (1): 66–73.

  10. According to these authors compassion evolved in a tripartite context whereby: “compassion evolved as part of a caregiving response to vulnerable offspring, that compassionate individuals were preferred in mate selection processes, and that compassion emerged as a desirable trait in cooperative relations between non-kin” (Goetz et al. 2010, p. 371).

  11. O’Neil traces the theory of obligation to none other than Immanuel Kant whose theory, according to her, is “frequently and misleading assimilated to theories of human rights” when, in reality, it is a “theory of human obligations” and hence much “wider in scope than a theory of human rights” (1998, 2000, p. 131).

  12. This term is not without objections, especially in regard to uneven internal distributions. By way of illustration, Mohanty (2003) argues that we should be using the term “one-thirds world” to describe “the global North” and “two-thirds world” to describe “the global South.” According to the same author this taxonomy captures the wealth distribution more accurately and also helps to capture the reality that some communities in so-called “first world” or “developed” countries live in “third world” conditions (e.g., Indigenous people). Living in third (or “fourth”) world conditions usually entails a smaller carbon footprint and hence smaller levels of obligation. That being stated, I have to admit perplexity considering the complexity and/or the practicality of this issue. With thanks to the following people for their feedback on this question: James Lenman, Daniel Kapust, Chris Brooke, Trevor Griffey, Jonathan Kramnick, Ian Werkheiser, Loren King, Sharif Youssef, Daniel Sherer, Mark Walker, Margaret Betz, Richard Ashcroft, Kristof Nyiri, Mark Norris Lance, Syd Johnson, Bradley Jensen Murg, Tracy Issacs, Michael McNeal, Davide Panagia, Leofranc Holford-Strevens, David Clingingsmith, Deborah Boucoyiannis, Jason Stanley, Katy Arnold, Casiano Hacker-Cordon and Rob Loftis.

  13. In the interest of critical analysis it should be noted that Brazil exports their beef products to OECD countries, which adds a multifaceted dimension to the issue at hand.

  14. Interestingly enough and not without a hint of irony, Milligan (2015) cites the same authors as exemplifying this so-called “political turn” in the field of critical animal studies.

  15. Ibid, 1. Equally fascinating is emerging work on the “political turn” within the framework of ancient texts such as Plato (Dolgert 2015).

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Panagiotarakou, E. Who Loves Mosquitoes? Care Ethics, Theory of Obligation and Endangered Species. J Agric Environ Ethics 29, 1057–1070 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10806-016-9648-1

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Keywords

  • Ethics of care
  • Endangered species
  • Conservation interventions
  • Sixth mass extinction
  • Theory of obligation