Is Hunting Moral? A Philosopher Unpacks The Question

Discussion in 'Articles' started by riflepermits.com, Jan 5, 2017.

  1. riflepermits.com

    riflepermits.com SPONSOR Since 2015 AH Veteran

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    An interesting read. Just a matter of perspective.




    image-20161213-1620-rbh3fq.jpg
    Three generations of a Wisconsin family with a nine-point buck.

    Every year as daylight dwindles and trees go bare, debates arise over the morality of hunting. Hunters see the act of stalking and killing deer, ducks, moose and other quarry as humane, necessary and natural, and thus as ethical. Critics respond that hunting is a cruel and useless act that one should be ashamed to carry out.

    As a nonhunter, I cannot say anything about what it feels like to shoot or trap an animal. But as a student of philosophy and ethics, I think philosophy can help us clarify, systematize and evaluate the arguments on both sides. And a better sense of the arguments can help us talk to people with whom we disagree.

    Three rationales for hunting
    One central question is why people choose to hunt. Environmental philosopher Gary Varner identifies three types of hunting: therapeutic, subsistence and sport. Each type is distinguished by the purpose it is meant to serve.

    Therapeutic hunting involves intentionally killing wild animals in order to conserve another species or an entire ecosystem. In one example, Project Isabella, conservation groups hired marksmen to eradicate thousands of feral goats from several Galapagos islands between 1997 and 2006. The goats were overgrazing the islands, threatening the survival of endangered Galapagos tortoises and other species.

    Subsistence hunting is intentionally killing wild animals to supply nourishment and material resources for humans. Agreements that allow Native American tribes to hunt whales are justified, in part, by the subsistence value the animals have for the people who hunt them.

    image-20161213-1605-mq143m.jpg
    Crawford Patkotak, center, leads a prayer after his crew landed a bowhead whale near Barrow, Alaska. Both revered and hunted by the Inupiat, the bowhead whale serves a symbol of tradition, as well as a staple of food.

    In contrast, sport hunting refers to intentionally killing wild animals for enjoyment or fulfillment. Hunters who go after deer because they find the experience exhilarating, or because they want antlers to mount on the wall, are sport hunters.

    These categories are not mutually exclusive. A hunter who stalks deer because he or she enjoys the experience and wants decorative antlers may also intend to consume the meat, make pants from the hide and help control local deer populations. The distinctions matter because objections to hunting can change depending on the type of hunting.

    What bothers people about hunting: Harm, necessity and character
    Critics often argue that hunting is immoral because it requires intentionally inflicting harm on innocent creatures. Even people who are not comfortable extending legal rights to beasts should acknowledge that many animals are sentient – that is, they have the capacity to suffer. If it is wrong to inflict unwanted pain and death on a sentient being, then it is wrong to hunt. I call this position “the objection from harm.”

    If sound, the objection from harm would require advocates to oppose all three types of hunting, unless it can be shown that greater harm will befall the animal in question if it is not hunted – for example, if it will be doomed to slow winter starvation. Whether a hunter’s goal is a healthy ecosystem, a nutritious dinner or a personally fulfilling experience, the hunted animal experiences the same harm.

    But if inflicting unwanted harm is necessarily wrong, then the source of the harm is irrelevant. Logically, anyone who commits to this position should also oppose predation among animals. When a lion kills a gazelle, it causes as much unwanted harm to the gazelle as any hunter would – far more, in fact.


    image-20161213-1610-wkcg2l.jpg
    Lions attack a water buffalo in Tanzania.


    Few people are willing to go this far. Instead, many critics propose what I call the “objection from unnecessary harm”: it is bad when a hunter shoots a lion, but not when a lion mauls a gazelle, because the lion needs to kill to survive.

    Today it is hard to argue that human hunting is strictly necessary in the same way that hunting is necessary for animals. The objection from necessary harm holds that hunting is morally permissible only if it is necessary for the hunter’s survival. “Necessary” could refer to nutritional or ecological need, which would provide moral cover for subsistence and therapeutic hunting. But sport hunting, almost by definition, cannot be defended this way.

    Sport hunting also is vulnerable to another critique that I call “the objection from character.” This argument holds that an act is contemptible not only because of the harm it produces, but because of what it reveals about the actor. Many observers find the derivation of pleasure from hunting to be morally repugnant.

    In 2015, American dentist Walter Palmer found this out after his African trophy hunt resulted in the death of Cecil the lion. Killing Cecil did no significant ecological damage, and even without human intervention, only one in eight male lions survives to adulthood. It would seem that disgust with Palmer was at least as much a reaction to the person he was perceived to be – someone who pays money to kill majestic creatures – as to the harm he had done.


    The hunters I know don’t put much stock in “the objection from character.” First, they point out that one can kill without having hunted and hunt without having killed. Indeed, some unlucky hunters go season after season without taking an animal. Second, they tell me that when a kill does occur, they feel a somber union with and respect for the natural world, not pleasure. Nonetheless, on some level the sport hunter enjoys the experience, and this is the heart of the objection.

    Is hunting natural?
    In discussions about the morality of hunting, someone inevitably asserts that hunting is a natural activity since all preindustrial human societies engage in it to some degree, and therefore hunting can’t be immoral. But the concept of naturalness is unhelpful and ultimately irrelevant.

    A very old moral idea, dating back to the Stoics of ancient Greece, urges us to strive to live in accordance with nature and do that which is natural. Belief in a connection between goodness and naturalness persists today in our use of the word “natural” to market products and lifestyles – often in highly misleading ways. Things that are natural are supposed to be good for us, but also morally good.

    Setting aside the challenge of defining “nature” and “natural,” it is dangerous to assume that a thing is virtuous or morally permissible just because it is natural. HIV, earthquakes, Alzheimer’s disease and post-partum depression are all natural. And as The Onion has satirically noted, behaviors including rape, infanticide and the policy of might-makes-right are all present in the natural world.


    Hard conversations
    There are many other moral questions associated with hunting. Does it matter whether hunters use bullets, arrows or snares? Is preserving a cultural tradition enough to justify hunting? And is it possible to oppose hunting while still eating farm-raised meat?

    As a starting point, though, if you find yourself having one of these debates, first identify what kind of hunting you’re discussing. If your interlocutor objects to hunting, try to discover the basis for their objection. And I believe you should keep nature out of it.

    Finally, try to argue with someone who takes a fundamentally different view. Confirmation bias – the unintentional act of confirming the beliefs we already have – is hard to overcome. The only antidote I know of is rational discourse with people whose confirmation bias runs contrary to my own.



    Credit to: Joshua Duclos

    Source: thecoversation.com

     

  2. Red Leg

    Red Leg GOLD SUPPORTER AH Legend

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    Interesting. Thank you for posting.

    A moral element which he leaves out of his discussion is what I call "equivalency". If the anti-hunter consumes animal products, whether in the form clothing or food, then I am at a loss to grasp the moral difference between me personally killing and utilizing a game animal, and paying someone else to, let's say, put a nail through the brain of a steer. I would even argue, that killing an animal myself is far less morally contemptible, than being an accessory to the crime by paying someone else to do it out of sight and out of mind. And as for a trophy to remember the hideous deed, I am not sure I am sufficiently nuanced in my thinking to fully appreciate the difference between a set of antlers on the wall and a leather designer jacket hanging in the closet. I don't suspect that I have ever convinced an anti-hunter, but I have had a few shut up.
     
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  3. firehuntfish

    firehuntfish AH Fanatic

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    Henry,

    Please do not take offense,. This is not directed at you. I realize that you are merely conveying a message here. However, this "perspective" on the morality of hunting carries no credibility when the perspective is offered by a self-admitted non-hunter. That's like me telling Neil Armstrong what it must have been like to walk on the moon.

    So-called intellects have been over-thinking this forever. The author is quick to dismiss the naturalness of hunting as an argument, and this is a critical mistake. Every non or anti hunter I have ever know either forgets or denies that they we humans are first and foremost, animals and predators ourselves whether we care to acknowledge it or not. The "instinct" to hunt and gather is within all of us, and although it is far too repressed by many, it is completely denied by more still...

    Nonetheless, the human animal has been a hunter and killer far longer in the history of man's existence on this earth than the recent notion that he no longer needs to be.... Need has nothing to do with it. Embracing one's natural being to hunt or not to hunt is a God-given right. As Red Leg pointed out, it's a hypocrisy at its finest with this issue.
     
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  4. Clayton

    Clayton AH Fanatic

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    Hunting has NOTHING to do with morals. And as for philosophy, that's pretty much an imaginary realm any way.

    If we're going to engage this, I can't help believe that it's a waste of time.
     

  5. BRICKBURN

    BRICKBURN SUPER MODERATOR CONTRIBUTOR GOLD BENEFACTOR AH Ambassador

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    It is noted and I agree that these"categories" can not and indeed are not mutually exclusive in any circumstance. There will always be a Subsistence and Therapeutic portion to every hunt and enjoyment and pleasure are natural emotional responses to ones success at an activity.

    If the Subsistence Hunter or Therapeutic Hunter gain any enjoyment from the experience they will logically garner the same repugnance from the observer, so disposed, as the Trophy Hunter.

    The fact that the predisposed observers issuing forth there repugnance of someones else's actions without any consideration of the deleterious impact their own existence has on these sentient beings is the height of hypocrisy.
    An indirect slow extirpation and extinction imparts significantly more suffering on more sentient beings than the quick painful end provided by a hunter. Pollution, urban sprawl, and the unbridled human population explosion impart more destruction, suffering and pain on these sentient beings than the sum of hunting throughout the entire history of man.

    For all those repulsed soles in North America I await their emigration back to their home of origin in order that the poor suffering sentient creatures can regain their ancestral homes. Please help the end the suffering and leave.
     

  6. CAustin

    CAustin BRONZE SUPPORTER AH Ambassador

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    Interesting read
     

  7. Traditional Mozambique Safaris

    Traditional Mozambique Safaris SPONSOR Since 2015 AH Legend

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    That's one interesting looking water buffalo..
     
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  8. Shootist43

    Shootist43 GOLD SUPPORTER AH Legend

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    Henry, this is as you said an interesting read. The author at least did concede some points, I think a meaningful discussion could be had with him. Wherein "we" could present our differences of opinion or the umbrage we have with his premise resulting in a meaningful discussion. All to many of the antis have no logical basis or rationale for their positions. Talking to them is like beating your head against a wall.

    Thanks for sharing
     

  9. BRICKBURN

    BRICKBURN SUPER MODERATOR CONTRIBUTOR GOLD BENEFACTOR AH Ambassador

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    He swam all the way from Aus! :rolleyes:
    They'll have to stick to Philosophy class.
     

  10. Hank2211

    Hank2211 GOLD SUPPORTER AH Legend

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    There are so many views on this subject that it is difficult to do any of them - let alone all of them - justice in the space we have. But thanks to Mr. Duclos for setting forth his views.

    I Hunt for many reasons, but the principal one is that I simply enjoy it. Hunting speaks to me on some level, perhaps a more primitive one, but nonetheless the connection to the earth and to the way our ancestors put food on the table is important.

    I have given much thought over the years to the killing of animals involved in what I do, and I believe there is in fact a moral issue here. It is useful to think about this from time to time, if only to remind ourselves about the perspective we should take on animals.

    In my perspective, on the moral plane, there is a fundamental difference between mankind and animals. It is not OK to kill the former, while it is OK to kill the latter, in certain circumstances. This may perhaps be a Christian-center view (and I believe it is supportable from that perspective), but it is a moral view that says animals were put here for the use of mankind - food, clothing, etc. Our obligations to them are to treat them with respect, but in my moral universe, they do not have the same right to life that persons do.

    I could take a more utilitarian philosophical perspective on this and make all of the usual arguments about why hunting is good for the preservation of habitat, and species, the economic benefits of hunting, etc., etc., etc. All of those are valid arguments, but as I've said before, they are not why I hunt, nor how I justify my hunting to myself on those nights when I can't sleep.
     
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  11. Pheroze

    Pheroze SILVER SUPPORTER AH Legend

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    Thanks for posting! Unfortunately, when the author dismissed out of hand that there is a "necessity" for related ecological benefits he loaded the argument and missed an important point.
     

  12. BRICKBURN

    BRICKBURN SUPER MODERATOR CONTRIBUTOR GOLD BENEFACTOR AH Ambassador

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    Had to follow his dismissive bent in my reply. :D
     
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  13. firehuntfish

    firehuntfish AH Fanatic

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    Well stated, and I would add that morality and religion notwithstanding, common sense and basic science supports this concept as well.
     
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  14. David Middleton

    David Middleton AH Senior Member

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    If you study human genes we have not appreciably changed for 40,000 years genetically. 40k years ago there was only hunting and gathering no farms or animal husbandry(that started around 12k years ago). So all genetic evolving up to the 40k year ago mark was fine tuning selection of genes that made humans better hunters and gathers. The gathering turned into farming and farming turned into cities and cities turned into philosophers and philosophers tell you it is immoral to hunt even though that is the primary training your genes have been working on since the first living cell appeared on the planet! Illogical!
     
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  15. Lrntolive

    Lrntolive AH Fanatic

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    I had to do a little research on the writer before I made any comments. It appears to me that this article is written by a person who has spent most of their life gleaning what is written in books, rather than actually going out in the world and experiencing things for themselves. He is an outsider basing his comparisons on other people's experience and trying to interpret their feelings or "justifications" for why they hunt. Also, as someone who spent most of their life in Eastern Europe and in large cities, it seems to me to have the classic view of wilderness and nature as a "novelty" rather than a sustainable resource. I clearly read "anti" undertones in his writing. Also, I will note that he references Gary Varner, who has a utilitarian environmentalist view. My take away from what little I found was that the philisophical writings border closely on "animal rights," which are a detriment to hunting and clearly put hunting in question as shown in the article.

    My overall view:
    There should be no justification needed for why a person hunts. And when I say this, I am speaking about hunting safely and responsibly within the limits of the law. There is no reason to "pholosiphize" or over think it. There is no "moral" question for it. Each person has their reason for doing it. Also, while my view of ethical works for me, it may not be the same ethical view someone else (or even another hunter) takes. Clearly, an anti does not have the same "ethical" view and will not be persuaded to share a hunters "ethical" view unless they are truly opened minded (maybe 1% of them).

    Lastly, humans do not have a symbiotic relationship with nature. Nothing humans do, except eat, sleep and defecate, are natural. Since the beginning of time, we've walked on two legs, made tools/weapons, made clothing, harnessed fire and so forth. Within the last 2000 or so years, we've begun to write and accelerated our domain across the earth through advances in technology. Within the last 100 years, we've come to realize (at least in the North American model of conservation) that we must balance nature with our ever increasing need for expansion.
     
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  16. rookhawk

    rookhawk AH Elite

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    I think we are being harsh to the original author. In essence, attacking the messenger. Many of the responses I agree with, but are not logical responses to the article's points.

    Don't take that personally or be offended, it's just not good rhetoric and debate methods.

    Morally, we should always be willing to reflect on our actions and philosophies as time has shown all cultures have been on the wrong side of morality out of nothing but familiar comfort and peer support in that era.

    Here is the crux: we need to be able to defend our position/values in the terms posited by the ethical debate. It can be done handily, but it must be done logically with support under the same points of logic.
     

  17. Pheroze

    Pheroze SILVER SUPPORTER AH Legend

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    I don't agree. This philosopher set out to discuss hunting from one point of view, that of a secular moralist. In doing so he limited the discussion by ignoring very important philosophical premises. He then compounded his error by using 'straw man' argument to eliminate ideas central to most concepts, that is necessity. The responses pointed out the logical flaws through secular relativism and religious concepts. In fact, the responses very quickly identified the weakness in this article through several logical points such as:

    1. The secular analysis of equivalence and moral relativism;
    2. Man's role as steward on the earth; this could be seen either as a secular analysis or as reflected in the Gathas, Zoroastrian texts that are some 3000 years old. Zoraster wrote about man's obligation to the animals he relied on;
    3. Man's role in nature: a concept reflected in indigenous and old druid philosophies. But also one that is a part of modern humanist philosphies; and
    4. Modern humanist concepts of rights and freedoms in a secular sense.

    We are allowed to be harsh when someone takes a hack job to a debate we hold vital to our sense of self. But also, when a weak argument is placed within the international debate on conservation, we can be as pointed as necessary in identifying why the author failed to understand the discussion he is trying to be a part of.
     
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