Philosophers and animal suffering

When semantics traps meaning

The characteristic of philosophy is to take into account all the dimensions of human discernment. Being moved is part of it in the same way as reasoning. Contemporary philosophers are therefore moved without hesitation in the face of animal suffering. But in doing so, don’t they contradict the reason?

Philosophers of animal suffering have commonly operated a slide: they point out the intolerance that one must have to the suffering of one’s fellow man and transfer it without hesitation to the animal. The operation is then quickly concealed. Human and animal sensitivities are encapsulated together in “the” suffering.

Jeremy Bentham says of animals: “The question is not: ‘Can they reason?’ or ‘can they speak?’, but ‘can they suffer?’ No, dear Jeremy, you stopped on the way; the next question is: “Can they suffer like humans?”

Animal suffering in the classics

Kant, an unparalleled champion of reason, does not make this amalgam. He criticizes cruelty to animals because it endangers empathy for our own congeners. Kant is aware of these communicating vessels that are human and animal sensibilities, but he does not confuse them.

Prophyre even exacerbates the differences. “Putting plants and animals on the same footing is quite forced.” The latter feel, fear; the former have no sensations. Prophyre sees the gaps between the great classes of the living. But wouldn’t there be gaps between animals, or even between humans? Do animals feel injustice, moral damage? It is possible to doubt the universality of these feelings, since they are weak or absent in a significant part of humans, despite the fact that all are equipped with the same brain.

Both classics and contemporaries tend to generalize the animal as they wrongly generalize the human. The final question for Bentham is not just “Who is suffering?” but “Who makes you suffer?”

To inflict suffering is first and foremost to know it

Is the irresponsible human being only ignoring the possibility of animal suffering? He sins out of ignorance. But what do those who claim to know about it when they transfer it really know?

Does the rustic human model on the animal his own insensitivity to suffering? It proceeds in the same way as the tender modeling his hypersensitivity.

Does the neurotic human spread his bitterness by knowingly triggering animal suffering of which he is aware? Poor beast chosen as a substitute for the person responsible for neurosis, out of reach. Animal suffering is not really experienced by its author. The animal is chosified as an actor in the theater of this sick spirit.

Aren’t these scenarios terribly contrasted? Yet they are confused in a general statement such as: “Unnecessary animal suffering is preventable.” How to say the suffering in animals when it is already difficult to verbalize in humans? Should this difficulty push by default to make them similar? What is useful/unnecessary suffering? For whom? What to do in front of those who, far from avoiding it, intentionally provoke it? What if they exorcise worse cruelties towards their fellow human beings in this way?

Extend the complexity of suffering instead of reducing it

I am content here to raise the problem in the context of the Surimposium. It is a pyramid of levels of information that must be investigated independently. Some contemporary philosophers (Singer, Kymlicka, Donaldson) do exactly the opposite with an ideology that erases them. At home, a diktat surnage: “Let’s put an end to animal suffering because it is ours”. Gross blunder, especially because it presupposes that human suffering would be homogeneous. We are far from having made it that way. This ideology can only divert efforts to reduce the suffering that we are really able to understand: the human.


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