Wild Animal Suffering is Intractable
Most people believe that suffering is intrinsically bad. In conjunction with facts about our world and plausible moral principles, this yields a pro tanto obligation to reduce suffering. This is the intuitive starting point for the moral argument in favor of interventions to prevent wild animal suffering (WAS). If we accept the moral principle that we ought, pro tanto, to reduce the suffering of all sentient creatures, and we recognize the prevalence of suffering in the wild, then we seem committed to the existence of such a pro tanto obligation. Of course, competing values such as the aesthetic, scientific or moral values of species, biodiversity, naturalness or wildness, might be relevant to the all-things-considered case for or against intervention. Still, many argue that, even if we were to give some weight to such values, no plausible theory could resist the conclusion that WAS is overridingly important. This article is concerned with large-scale interventions to prevent WAS and their tractability and the deep epistemic problem they raise. We concede that suffering gives us a reason to prevent it where it occurs, but we argue that the nature of ecosystems leaves us with no reason to predict that interventions would reduce, rather than exacerbate, suffering. We consider two interventions, based on gene editing technology, proposed as holding promise to prevent WAS; raise epistemic concerns about them; discuss their potential moral costs; and conclude by proposing a way forward: to justify interventions to prevent WAS, we need to develop models that predict the effects of interventions on biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, and animals’ well-being.
KeywordsEcology Welfare Animal suffering Genetic engineering Ecosystem management
This article benefitted from fruitful early discussions with Dale Jamieson, detailed comments from Kyle Johannsen, Glen Miller, and two anonymous referees, and feedback from audiences at the Bovay Workshop on Engineering and Animal Ethics at Texas A&M and the CRE/GREA Conference on Animal and Environmental Ethics at McGill University in Montreal. We also thank Clare Palmer and Gary Varner for their encouragement and suggestions.
- Barbault, R., & Mou, Y. P. (1988). Population dynamics of the common wall lizard, Podarcis muralis, in southwestern France. Herpetologica, 44, 38–47.Google Scholar
- Bennett, J. (1995). The act itself. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Donaldson, S., & Kymlicka, W. (2011). Zoopolis: A political theory of animal rights. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Esvelt, K., Church, G., & Lunshof, J. (2014b). ‘Gene Drives’ and CRISPR could revolutionize ecosystem management. Scientific American, July 17, 2014. Published online. https://www.scientificamerican.com/author/kevin-esvelt-george-church-and-jeantine-lunshof/. Accessed December 15, 2017.
- Everett, J. (2001). Environmental ethics, animal welfarism, and the problem of predation: A Bambi lover’s respect for nature. Ethics and the Environment, 6(1), 42–67.Google Scholar
- Foot, P. (1967). The problem of abortion and the doctrine of double effect. Oxford Review, 5, 5–15.Google Scholar
- Horta, O. (2010). Debunking the idyllic view of natural processes: Population dynamics and suffering in the wild. Telos: Critical Theory of the Contemporary, 17(1), 73–90.Google Scholar
- Horta, O. (2013). Zoopolis, intervention, and the state of nature. Law, Ethics, and Philosophy, 1, 113–125.Google Scholar
- Hourdequin, M. (2017). The ethics of ecosystem management. In A. Thompson & S. Gardiner (Eds.), Oxford handbook of environmental ethics (pp. 449–462). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Jamieson, D. (2002). Discourse and moral responsibility in biotechnical communication. Morality’s progress (pp. 308–320). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Kagan, S. (1989). The limits of morality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Katz, E. (2000). The big lie. In W. Throop (Ed.), Environmental restoration (pp. 83–93). Amherst, NY: Humanity.Google Scholar
- Lashley, M. A., Jordan, H. R., Tomberlin, J. K., & Barton, B. T. (2018). Indirect effects of larvae dispersal following mass mortality events. Ecology, 99(2), 491–493. https://doi.org/10.1002/ecy.2027.
- Levins, R. (1966). The strategy of model building in population biology. American Scientist, 54(4), 421–431.Google Scholar
- MacArthur, R. H., & Wilson, E. O. (1967). The theory of island biogeography. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- McMahan, J. (2010). The meat eaters. New York Times: The Opinionator. September 19, 2010.Google Scholar
- McMahan, J. (2015). The moral problem of predation. In A. Chignell, T. Cuneo, & M. Halteman (Eds.), Philosophy comes to dinner: Arguments about the ethics of eating (pp. 268–294). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Naeem, S., Bunker, D., Hector, A., Loreau, M., & Perrings, C. (2009). Introduction: The ecological and social implications of changing biodiversity. An overview of a decade of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning research. In S. Naeem, D. Bunker, A. Hector, M. Loreau, & C. Perrings (Eds.), Biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, and human wellbeing: An ecological and economic perspective (pp. 1–13). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Ng, Y.-K. (2016). How welfare biology and commonsense may help to reduce animal suffering. Animal Sentience, 7(1). http://animalstudiesrepository.org/animsent/vol1/iss7/1/. Accessed June 1, 2017.
- Noble, C., Adlam, B., Church, G., Esvelt, K., & Nowak, M. (2017) Current CRISPR gene drive systems are likely to be highly invasive in wild populations. bioRxiv 219022. https://doi.org/10.1101/219022.
- Nussbaum, M. (2006). Frontiers of justice: Disability, nationality, species membership. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press.Google Scholar
- Oye, K. A., Esvelt, K., Appleton, E., Catteruccia, F., Church, G., Kuiken, T., et al. (2014). Regulating gene drives. Science Policy Forum. Published Online July 17, 2014. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1254287.
- Palmer, C. (2010). Animal ethics in context. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
- Parfit, D. (1976). On doing the best for our children. In M. D. Bayles (Ed.), Ethics and population (pp. 100–115). Cambridge, MA: Schenkman Publishing Company Inc.Google Scholar
- Parfit, D. (1984). Reasons and persons. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Pearce, D. (2009). Reprogramming predators. Published Online. https://www.hedweb.com/abolitionist-project/reprogramming-predators.html. Last updated 2015. Accessed February 15, 2017.
- Pearce, D. (2016). Compassionate biology. How CRISPR-based “gene drives” could cheaply, rapidly and sustainably reduce suffering throughout the living world. Published Online. https://www.hedweb.com/gene-drives/index.html. Accessed February 15, 2017.
- Regan, T. (2004). The case for animal rights , Second Edition updated with a new preface. Berkeley: The University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Rolston, H. (1988). Environmental ethics: Duties to and values in the natural world. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
- Rolston, H. (1989). Duties to endangered species. Philosophy gone wild (pp. 206–222). Amherst, NY: Prometheus.Google Scholar
- Sapontzis, S. F. (1987). Morals, reason, and animals. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
- Savulescu, J., & Persson, I. (2012). Unfit for the future: The need for moral enhancement. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Singer, P. (1975). Animal liberation. New York: Avon Books.Google Scholar
- Slovic, P. (2007). ‘If I look at the mass I will never act’: Psychic numbing and genocide. Judgment and Decision Making, 2(2), 79–95.Google Scholar
- Tomasik, B. (2017). Habitat loss, not preservation, generally reduces wild-animal suffering. Manuscript available at Essays on Reducing Suffering. http://reducing-suffering.org/habitat-loss-not-preservation-generally-reduces-wild-animal-suffering/. Accessed October 17, 2017.
- Vitt, L. J., & Caldwell, J. P. (2009). Herpetology: An introductory biology of amphibians and reptiles (3rd ed.). Burlington: Academic Press.Google Scholar
- Walker, B., & Salt, D. A. (2006). Resilience thinking: Sustaining ecosystems and people in a changing world. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.Google Scholar