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Programme: MA Anthrozoology

Module Title: Anthrozoology Residential
Module Code: ANTM107
Assignment: Residential Portfolio

Moral and ethical aspects of
Human-Animal Relations
Review of the Anthrozoology Residential 2015,
University of Exeter

Written by
Student No. 630061970
Date of Submission: 14 November 2015

Word count: 4163

ANTM107: Anthrozoology Residential

Student ID No. 630061970

Table of Contents

Introduction .................................................................................................................................................. 3

1. Morality of Animals ............................................................................................................................... 4

2. Ethical consideration of participant observation .............................................................................. 7

3. Animals as subjects of care ................................................................................................................ 10

Discussion and Conclusion ..................................................................................................................... 14

Bibliography ............................................................................................................................................... 16

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Introduction
Human-animal studies are a multidisciplinary field, in which a plurality of research methods
are employed and heterogeneous topics are explored (Lloyd/Mulcock 2006; Ogden/Hall/Tanita 2013; Shapiro/DeMello 2010). The speakers at the Anthrozoology Residential, held from 4.9. - 6.9.2015 at the University of Exeter, represent multiple perspectives on
human-animal studies and therefore mirror the complexity of the field. Topics ranged from
religious beliefs in a Hindu Ashram in West Wales, over wildlife management conflicts or
human-canine interaction in chronic illness to a discussion of dog and cat meat-eating practices in South Korea.
An element that pervaded the whole residential was that of morality. Therefore the talks of
Michael Hauskeller, Alexander Badman-King and Astrid Schrader will be reviewed in more
detail. The review is divided into three parts according to the following logic:
1. Morality in general (Michael Hauskeller): The guiding questions are: Do animals have
morality? and if so, to what extent?
2. Our moral relations to nonhuman animals (Alexander Badman-King): The guiding questions are: How do we interact with our nonhuman companions in a moral way? Which
perspective can the anthropological practice of participant observation offer?
3. Our moral relations to radically different animals (Astrid Schrader): How do we care
about animals with whom we do not share our lives? How can we rethink common morality in order to achieve a position that involves these animals?
The central questions of the paper can be divided into three sub-questions, which are related
to one another: Can animals be moral? Do they deserve moral treatment? What should that
moral treatment look like? The morality of and moral relations to animals and can only be
scratched on the surface. However, some pressing questions of the philosophical minefield of
debates on moral human-animal interactions should be briefly addressed.

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1. Morality of Animals
“Are animals moral subjects?” is the central question Michael Hauskeller asks in his talk. To
find an answer to this fundamental question, he first clarifies basic distinctions in moral philosophy, namely that between moral standing and moral status. While moral standing – the
ability to be moral (and therefore be morally considerable) – operates with a basic two-valued
distinction (something either has it or not), the moral status of a being is realised within gradual differences. To clarify the basic assumption behind this claim – that morality generates
moral standing – Hauskeller presents several (classic) arguments from moral philosophy. According to Kant, autonomy and self-government are prerequisites for morality. Autonomy is
for him an absolute value and, as such, an end in itself (cf. Kant 1997). Rationality though is a
prerequisite for autonomy and self-government.
To illustrate the discussion of morality in animals, Hauskeller gives examples of personal
experiences with several nonhuman animals. He describes the behaviour of his dog, Lottie,
with regard to the cats, Tommy and Percy, of his household: Lottie cares for Tommy, she
licks his wounds in order to relieve his pain; she is also generous with Percy and lets him eat
her food, things she would not do if Percy were an unknown ‘outsider’ cat. Can the actions of
Lottie be described in terms of morality? Hauskeller suggests that this is the case.
Sceptics may ask, as it does rhetorically Hauskeller himself, if the behaviour performed by
Lottie hints at a moral intent, i.e. is the seemingly moral behaviour of an animal like Lottie
‘really’ moral or is it only a simulation of such a behaviour, a mere illusion and is it therefore
making it unjustified to ascribe morality to animals?
One could shift from this metaphysical question to an epistemological and eventually methodological question, which transforms the question of the reality of morality into an assessment of the ways of knowing and making claims about morality in animals and the methods
used to generate this kind of knowledge.

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However, Hauskeller does not do this. He refers to an argument of moral philosopher Christine Korsgaard. She asserts that animals1 lack an understanding of universality, reflection and
choice or control over their behaviour. She grounds her argument that animals are not moral
on the philosophy of Kant. For Kant, rationality is the mark of human distinction. It is “the
capacity for normative self-government. Rationality makes us capable of assessing and judging the principles that govern our beliefs and actions, and of regulating our beliefs and actions
in accordance with those judgments” (Korsgaard 2004: 11). This normative self-government
is the distinctive difference between human beings and other animals: “We cannot expect the
other animals to regulate their conduct in accordance with an assessment of their principles,
because they are not conscious of their principles” (Korsgaard 2004: 11). Korsgaard holds
that animals act on desires and instincts, while humans instead act on reasoning. ‘We’ humans
chose our goals, we are autonomous agents. Rationality and morality are tightly linked. Morality is “a function of the exercise of normative self-government” (Korsgaard 2015: 14). The
capacity for normative self-government is the defining distinction between humans and animals. Animal, therefore, cannot be moral.
To reject the arguments of Korsgaard (and Kant), Hauskeller borrows an argument from Rowlands. He admits that animals are incapable of reflecting, formulating principles and acting in
accordance to them. Although these claims might be true, Rowlands thinks that animals can,
nonetheless, act morally, namely on the basis of emotions with identifiable moral content.
Rowlands thesis is that animals “can be moral subjects in the sense that they can act on the
basis of moral reasons, where these reasons take the form of emotions with identifiable moral
content” (Rowlands 2012: 35). These include emotional states such as kindness, compassion
and sympathy, and also their negative counterparts such as anger, malice and indignation
(Rowlands 2015: 2).

1

Korsgaard makes no difference in animal species; cf. Derrida (2008) for a critique of this view.

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Although Rowlands makes a good point in clarifying the ability of animals to act morally, he
introduces another distinction, which seems unnecessary at first glance: that of moral subjects
and moral agents. He contends that solely moral agents can be held responsible for their actions.
Rowland wants to unpack the “the connection between moral motivation and moral responsibility” (Rowlands 2012: 37) underlying the claims that animals cannot be moral subjects. For
this purpose he criticises what the calls the ‘miracle of the meta’: “The idea that metacognition could explain the normative status of a motivation, via explaining a subject’s control over
that motivation” (Rowlands 2012: 178). The relation between reflection and control remains
unclear. Adding new orders of reflection results only in ‘infinite pro-gress’ without throwing
light on the connection between reflection and action. This gap reveals that the whole argument about control over our own actions is flawed. We therefore need another perspective on
the whole argument: emotions with moral content. And this is the basis for his argument that
animals are, nonetheless, moral subjects, although they are not responsible for their actions
and therefore are no moral agents, according to the definition of Rowlands.
Rowlands’s attempt to separate the close bond between morality and responsibility through
his separation of moral subjectivity and moral agency does not make much sense. Rowlands
does not need to use a notion of agency that is coupled with responsibility. Responsibility
could also emerge at another level, making moral agency a possibility for animals.
What Hauskeller does not refer to is the problem of language: how do we understand the behaviour of other animals? How do we know if an animal is moved by a moral emotion if we
cannot speak to her2? A theory of the interpretation of a behaviour as being moral is needed to
assess the underlying problem of moral actions.
The first indication of a possible answer to that question is provided by de Waal, who introduces the concept of cross-species animal empathy (de Waal 2006, 2009). In order to under2

Following Carol J. Adams, I refer to nonhuman animals with the female personal pronoun in order to avoid
the objectifying ‘it’ (cf. Adams 2010a).

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stand the actions of animals, we can try empathise with them. This is not a simple anthropomorphism, though it is scientifically proven that there exist so-called mirror-neurons, which
mirror in the brain of one animal the actions of another animal. To reject a possible understanding would be an ‘anthropodenial’ (de Waal 2009). On the other hand, we do not need
necessarily a human perspective, but only the own perspective, a subjective selfhood, to understand the other. Following Milton (2005) we could say that we ‘egomorphise’ animals. A
rejection of that would be an ‘egodenial’, the refusal of a subjective perspective of a being.

2. Ethical consideration of participant observation
Following the arguments of Rowlands (2012) and de Waal (2006, 2009) we can conclude that
animals can be moral or that they can act on ‘emotions with identifiable moral content.’ But
what does that mean for our interactions with animals? Does it mean that we have then to act
in a moral way towards them?
Even if we assume that animals are not moral beings, like Kant does, which has been criticized by Hauskeller following Rowlands, we can argue that animals deserve our moral engagement. Based on the growing corpus on animal rights, Korsgaard, for example, develops a
position that entails moral obligations towards animals although they are not moral beings
(Korsgaard 2004).
In opposition to that, many contemporary authors fall back into the inherited divide between
mind and body and between human and animal, grounding moral claims with certain cognitive abilities. Although this has been criticized on a political level (e.g. Donaldson/Kymlicka
2013), a discussion of what this means for ethnography has only begun. Therefore it is a logical development that Badman-King asks what this means for our current practice of ethnographic research and participant observation.

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To unpack what is wrong with reasoning that connects rationality with moral claims, thus
dividing humans from animals, and that has consequences for anthropological theory and
practice, he refers to his daily experiences with the animals he interacts with, especially the
pigs he feeds every morning.
Badman-King tells us that the pigs change their behaviour when he approaches them: their
vocalisations are directed towards him, thus showing a “mutual recognition of personhood
between me and the pigs” (Badman-King 2015). What is striking here is the notion of personhood, which Badman-King attributes to the pigs. He contests a tradition of philosophy, in
which “persons are typically thought of as being self-conscious, as having self-concern, second-order desires, moral conscience, first-person perspective or other epistemic and practical,
conscious or unconscious ways of relating to their attitudes, emotions and actions, and to
themselves as their subjects” (Ikäheimo & Laitinen, 2007: 10). He also attributes the pigs with
subjectivity. Instead of grounding this subjectivity on scientific evidence of porcine cognitive
abilities, he criticises a position that adopts this attitude, drawing on the work of Cockburn
(2013).
He is critical about the “wonders of science giving us evidence of the psychological complexities and agency of non-human animals” (ibid.). He links the denial of cognitive abilities
in animals to colonial assumptions about the cognitive abilities of ‘inferior’ peoples; speciesism and colonialism are linked3.
As we have seen above, in ethics it is often the case that moral standing/status are linked to
cognitive abilities and language. In this tradition, it seems only reasonable to search for evidence of animal cognition to back the call to a (higher) moral status of animals.
Research on the Theory of Mind (ToM) of animals is often paradoxically structured according
to a logic, where the animal has to ‘read the mind’ of the experimenter: the animal has to understand what the researcher expects in order to exhibit certain cognitive skills. A ToM means
3

See for example Mullin (1999) for an analysis of animality and the colonial origins of anthropology.

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“the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and others” (Call 2012: 3316). Although current research highlights the importance “to address concerns about the setup and interpretation
of specific experiments” (van der Vaart/Hemelrijk 2014: 335), many studies only address the
limited scope of animal-ToM.
While research on the ToM of people with autism has gained insight into the ‘mind-blindness’
of these patients, meaning that they “are impaired in their ability to attribute mental states
(such as beliefs, knowledge states, etc.) to themselves and other people” (Baron-Cohen 1990:
81), this has not been transferred to the perspective of the researcher.
Badman-King asserts that such experiments, which try to analyse the mental states of animals,
are ill-conceived and become circuitous when applied to human beings. Because that is “not
how we tell whether a person is a person, nor what sort of life they live, we just live with
them” (Badman-King 2015). ‘Only humans have minds’ is a collective solipsism, which
could be cured by the practice of participant observation. Badman-Kings defines participant
observation as “the process of learning about other people and their ways of life and thinking
by living with them and reflecting upon that life” (ibid.).
With reference to Wittgenstein (1979, 2009), Badman-King highlights his central point that
“the necessary constituents of meaningful or intelligible conversation are not vocabulary but
common points of reference, common ways of life” (ibid.). The (later) Wittgenstein indicates
the importance of a shared world, of common points of reference in order to understand what
people are saying (1979, 2009). A shared world, shared practices, is what enables the understanding of another person. The next state in the reaction to a shared life-world with ‘others’
is a state of correspondence (according to Ingold 2014), in which a reflective way of living
together attentionally leads to a state of evenness. Living attentionally with another being is
the condition that allows for the possibility of understanding that being. Sharing life-worlds
can overcome the language barrier between humans and animals, in which they are, per definition, unknowable.
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The basic ethical question behind all anthropology – how we should live our lives, how we
should live together and who we are – is connected to a critique of modern science, of
knowledge production and the underpinnings of knowledge production, namely the epistemological presuppositions, which are not questioned but which have an impact on experiments.
When denying animals cognitive abilities, which are necessary for ‘personhood’, leads eventually to a denial of moral standing, then criticising this practice becomes deeply ethical. 4
The difference, for which Badman-Kind opts, is a relationship in which someone sees another
in the fullness of that being, in all their ‘colours’, to avoid a ‘monochrome existence’. He opts
for a narrative approach, in which telling stories is the result of a reflective coexistence, the
sharing of lives with others (“sharing is educational and mutual beneficial”).
Badman-King is an advocate of the position of self-improvement: becoming a better person
through self-reflection is the moral goal. Becoming a better person is also, in his view, the
goal of anthropology itself, through the self-exposure to other worldviews and practices. Anthropology is therefore deeply ethical. Transferred to human-animal interactions, such a perspective would entail the self-exposure to numerous animal communities and learning through
this self-exposure more about the world, becoming a better human animal.

3. Animals as subjects of care
Coming into intimate, intense contact with another being and becoming familiar to its habits
entails the sharing of worldviews and thus the opening up for new experiences to expand
knowledge. Badman-King argues that the methodology of participant observation is connected to “those with whom we live” our lives. Reflective co-existence is a cure to the “failure to
recognise persons as such”. Living our lives with animals makes us better people.

4

See also Dombrowski (1997) for a discussion of human ‘marginal cases’, like children or the mentally disabled, and the denial of personhood for these groups.

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Badman-King poses the animals inside the realm of human concern. Although his stance is an
advancement on the often circular reasoning behind the analysis of animal morality, a gap
remains: in participant observation we can only relate to mammals or to some ‘higher’ vertebrates with whom we can share our lives. Nonetheless, a plethora of animals exist, with which
we do not share our lives directly, but to whom we are connected in other ways. These animals are what Schrader (2015) turns to with her provocative question: “How do we care about
leaf bugs, for example?”.
Lori Gruen asserts, like many others do, that her connection to bugs is thin. She is “not moved
to act for their sakes if there are other conflicting values in play” (Gruen 2012: 227). There is
“a deep, dead space without reciprocity, recognition or redemption” (Raffles 2010: 44) between humans and bugs. However, this ‘deep, dead space’ does not exist for Cornelia HesseHonegger, a scientist, artist and activist. During her intense biological research, she discovered the habits of the insects and cultivated a sensitivity to the insects’ senses. After a while,
she began to understand the character of the bugs. During her field visits she feels a connection, a deep bond with the bugs. The intimacy with the bugs, which she feels after years of
research in the field, made her sensitive to the deformations of bugs, caused by radioactive
contamination near nuclear power plants: “I was shocked. It was as if someone had drawn
back the curtain” (Raffles 2010: 21). After this experience, she began to paint individual deformed bugs that have been exposed to radiation. “Each painting is a portrait, and each insect
is a subject, a specific individual” (Raffles 2010: 29). Through her art she achieves a multidimensional knowledge of the subject, “a way to see it in its biological, phenomenological, and
political fullness [original emphasis]” (ibid.: 19). Seeing is, for Hesse-Honegger, not a mere
physiological act, but connected to a philosophy of gaining insight. The insight she gains
through her paintings creates an intimate knowledge of the bugs.
Schrader discusses this intimacy, which bridges the abyss between human and insect. This
kind of intimacy, she calls ‘abyssal intimacy’, following a notion of Derrida (2008). “Abyssal
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intimacy is about the reconfiguration of time and space such that new experiences of compassion become possible, simultaneously articulating a relation to the other and a mode of attention in scientific knowledge production” (Schrader 2015: 669).
Shared vulnerabilities become the cornerstone of a commonality between mortal beings, between humans and other animals. The vulnerability then allows for unlimited compassion,
that is “bottomless or groundless (infinite and without ground or beginning)” (ibid.: 673). For
Schrader, Hesse-Honeggers paintings of the bugs are able to “depict an abyssal intimacy or an
intimacy without necessary relations or filiations, neither genealogical nor oppositional”
(ibid.: 683).
By introducing the difference between caring for and caring about, Schrader attempts to rethink care outside the frame of empathy and identification. Care becomes connected to the
‘bottomless and groundless’ intimacy and no longer needs to be tied to humans only. Then the
question “Do ‘even insects’ deserve our care”, which is part of reasoning that Adams (2010)
described as dangerous and deadly, becomes groundless itself. Caring is connected to other
beings that matter – matter in the sense Butler (2004) described, as coming to matter in a material sense and being part of our deepest concerns.
Through her research and painting, Hesse-Honegger unfolds different ways of becoming intimate. On the one hand, she becomes intimate during her fieldwork, in the sense of knowing
the behaviour, the ‘habits’ of the insects, where she feels a deep bond; on the other hand, she
becomes intimate with the bug’s bodies, their surface, their shape, a “coalescence of form,
color, and angle” (Raffles 2010: 30) – which becomes an “expression of pure [aesthetical]
logic” (ibid.: 31) in her paintings. To facilitate this expression through her paintings, scientific
preparations are implemented and a rupture emerges: “the individual insect – the one she
found […], captured […], killed with chloroform […], pinned, labeled, added to the thousands
already in her collection, and finally came to know so intimately through microscope and

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brushes – seems again and again to be overlooked, to become lost [my emphasis]” (Raffles
2010: 30).
Hesse-Honegger kills the individual deformed insects before she paints them. But why does
she have to do that? The active killing of the insects seems to destroy the becoming-intimate
with the behaviour of the individual, the intimate relation to the living being. The scientific
ritual of killing and collecting is at the bottom of an intimacy that destroys living relations and
living care.
Can a notion of care still be applied to such a relationship? Is ‘intimacy’ really the right term
to apply to such an activity? Although the scientific practice entails an intimate knowledge, it
is paradoxical to apply intimacy to a practice that needs to kill the insect in order to show its
individuality. Caring about, albeit in contrast to caring for as an activity, which results in direct helping action, nonetheless seems to require the negativity of not harming. Killing is opposite to that – it goes beyond the shared vulnerability, the shared victimhood and exploits the
vulnerability of the bugs, which seems even higher with regard to their embodied relations
towards humans and their being affected by low doses of radiation near nuclear power plants.
Becoming intimate means, deriving from Latin interior, becoming close, being familiar,
knowing from the inside. ‘Intimate killing’ then is also a killing of a part of oneself, which has
become familiar with the inside of another. Intimacy, in this sense, is something different than
an understanding of the bodily surface, the shapes and colours, the morphology of another
being.
Although the question ‘How do I, in general, determine the scope of my responsibility?’ (Butler 2009: 35) might be transformed to ‘How do we become affected?’ by Schrader, the affective relation to the bugs nonetheless requires an affirmation of their vitality and need not
dwell on the terminal relation of death. The argument could be turned around from shared
mortality to a shared vitality, from the terminal relation of killing to the natality of beginnings,
which enfold with every being-affected to the lives of other beings. Although humans and
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insects inhabit radically different ecological spheres (von Uexküll 2010), we can “address the
insensible, immaterial, and untimely dimensions of matter and relations” (Yusoff 2013: 208).
An artist could then express these relations, even if detached in the ‘pure logic’ of colours and
forms, and hold on living with contradictions in careful knowledge production. The abyss of
experiencing the world between insect and human, transformed by aesthetic expression, might
then narrow down from an infinite otherness to a groundless proximity.

Discussion and Conclusion
Different notions of morality have been discussed here: While Hauskeller opens up the debate
around morality of animals and offers a reading of Rowlands, which tries to propose a new
interpretation of morality as oriented towards emotions, Badman-King criticises the assessment of the prerequisites of the moral status of animals, might they be based on cognitive
abilities or intentional states like emotions. Schrader (2015) scrutinizes the realm of shared
experiences and discusses what it means to broaden this realm for living beings, which are
radically different than us – leaf bugs, for example – thus going beyond methodologies in
anthropology such as participant observation.
Drawing on the work of Ingold, these different approaches could themselves be put in relation
to another. Ingold differentiates between two perspectives on the environment: it can be
viewed as part of the human lifeworld or from the outside, from a global perspective (2000:
209). Taking this distinction as a starting point, humans can be viewed as either being part of
nature or being outside of nature. The same applies, vice versa, to animals, who can be part of
the human/political realm or outside this realm. Taking this inside/outside logic of humans/nature and animals/political sphere, we can further distinguish what the debate around
morality is all about. Humans inside the realm of nature are often put in a continuum with
other animals, drawing on evolutionary theory. Morality then is part of a ‘cross-species ani-

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mal empathy’, which has been described by de Waal. The exhibition of embodied moral emotions can also be put on this side, when they are shared by humans and animal alike. Hauskeller, to some extent, could be localised here. To the contrary, humans are often depicted as
being outside of the natural realm, showing a distinct human nature. Kant is the classical proponent of such a view, with thinkers like Korsgaard as their contemporary representatives. On
the second level, classical contractualists can be situated, thinking of animals as being outside
the human realm: the realm of political ‘contracts’ is entirely human, animals have no place
inside, even if they share their life with humans. The last position situates the animals inside
the realm of human concern. This reflects the view of Badman-King and Schrader, since they
try to rethink the boundaries of the human community and what it means to share our lives
with animals.
The three different interventions discussed here show new perspectives on morality of humananimal interactions. They point to directions for future research between empirical and “hard
to digest” (Shapiro/DeMello 2010: 313) studies inspired by continental philosophy.

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