Monday, March 16, 2020

The Logico-Metaphysical Foundations of Animal Rights.

I think it is fairly clear that animal rights theory is in severe need of logico-metaphysical foundations. Too often, we see discussion of this or that ethical argument, but with very little in the way of decent basis for such arguments. If, as vegans, all we can do is advocate for certain ethical positions, but without being able to provide a sound basis for these positions, then it would appear that our efforts lack point entirely. It is with a view to this matter that I look to direct the following reflections.

The theoretical structure of current mainstream philosophizing; namely classical logic combined with the Reference Theory, is seriously inadequate as a basis for animal rights theory. For the primary point of concern in animal rights theory is duly respecting all those items that are the bearers of certain highly intensional mental states; such as preference, sentience, perception, belief, etc. All such phenomena will require worlds analysis for their semantical evaluation.

Classical logic, with its characteristic one-world semantical basis in the Reference Theory (i.e. all semantical evaluation is grounded in reference to existent items in a unique actual world) does not have the tools for such worlds-analysis. Indeed, the extensional and existential basis of classical logic can at best only provide a foundation for animal welfare theory. This is because animal welfare theory, and the hedonistic utilitarian ethic which underlies it, is concerned solely with the reduction of suffering, which can be fully evaluated without worlds-analysis; specifically through verificationist means.

But true animal rights theory, whether it be driven by a deontic or an ideal utilitarian ethic, requires cross-world evaluation. We cannot be satisfied with the crude extensional methods of the animal welfare movement.

It might be thought that a worlds theory such as modal realism might do the trick here. (modal realism, for those who are unaware, is the contemporary version of the atomistic, many worlds doctrine of Democritus and Leucippus). Now even though modal realism is to be much preferred to mainstream theorizing, it too is inadequate for our purposes. For modal realism allows only for a quite restricted class of worlds; namely consistent and complete possible worlds; with such worlds taken to be existent. But the characteristic mental states in animal rights theory are all highly intensional, meaning that the worlds required for semantic evaluation must extend far beyond the possible. Limiting ourselves to the resources of standard modal realism will erase crucial distinctions needed in semantical evaluations. Such distinctions can only be duly accounted for by appealing to inconsistent and incomplete worlds, in addition to radically anarchic open worlds.

So with all that being said, what are our options here? It would seem that there are 3 theories on offer which have the requisite structure to provide a sound foundation for animal rights theory. The first of these is extended modal realism (EMR). EMR is a worlds-theory which adds impossible worlds to the complete and consistent worlds of standard modal realism. And even though this is not really discussed by extended modal realists, one can also add open worlds to the theory as well.

Like standard modal realism, EMR takes these impossible worlds to be existent, democritean aggregates. But most important for our purposes, they have the requisite structure for semantical evaluation of the mental states at issue in animal rights theory. Thus we can indeed use these rather strange Democritean worlds to provide a metaphysical foundation for animal rights theory.

The second option is noneism. Readers of this blog will no doubt be quite aware of what noneism is, but to quickly recap, noneism in this context gives standing to all worlds (possible, impossible, open), but unlike EMR, worlds under noneism are not Democritean aggregates (rather, they are proper objects unto themselves) and they are not taken to be existing objects. Thus, for the noneist, all nonactual worlds are nonexistent.

The third option is trivialism. trivialism is a theory recently propounded by Paul Kabay, but which has roots in some of the pre-socratics, such as Anaxagoras. Trivialism quite simply is the theory that all propositions are true. This works as a foundation for animal rights theory because the trivialist automatically has all the needed worlds machinery at his disposal. Note also that trivialism is more expressive than EMR and noneism, indeed it includes these theories as proper parts (while also not including them at all, as expected).

So, when it comes to providing semantical evaluations for such mental states as preference, sentience, belief and the like, we can go with EMR, noneism, or trivialism. Any among these are certainly adequate for the job at hand. But, and this is the crucial point, determining which of the 3 is the best foundation will not be determined by ethical considerations. Rather, we will need to appeal to outside considerations (such as adequacy to the data, and the standard constraints on theory choice). It is no secret that I fall firmly within the camp of noneism. But those of us doing work in animal rights must make a choice either among these three theories, or something along the same lines. (Or indeed, if we are feeling particularly adventurous, we can try to formulate a completely new theory). But as should be clear, clinging on to mainstream classical theory or to insufficient worlds-theories like modal realism can only lead to failure in the end.

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