The rights and wrongs of hunting!

The philosophy of hunting in terms of it being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

Anyone who comes here for more than a couple of visits will know that both Jean and I are opposed to hunting completely. Period!

That’s not surprising as there have been a number of posts over the years describing how we feed the wild deer. Here’s three more photographs that haven’t previously been shared with you.

p1140238oooo

p1160189oooo

p1150179But, of course, the opinions of Jean and me are not, and should not be, the rule for the wider population of this part of Oregon.

All I would ask is that there is a proper, mature discussion as to the pros and cons of hunting wild animals in this, the twenty-first century.

All of which leads me to a recent essay posted on The Conversation site and republished here within the terms of that site.

ooOOoo

Is hunting moral? A philosopher unpacks the question

January 4, 2017 8.37pm EST

by
Three generations of a Wisconsin family with a nine-point buck. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources/Flickr, CC BY-ND
Three generations of a Wisconsin family with a nine-point buck. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources/Flickr, CC BY-ND

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.

 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. AP Photo/Gregory Bull
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. AP Photo/Gregory Bull

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.

 Lions attack a water buffalo in Tanzania. Oliver Dodd/Wikipedia, CC BY
Lions attack a water buffalo in Tanzania. Oliver Dodd/Wikipedia, CC BY

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.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Alberta, Canada, commemorates a place where indigenous peoples of the North American Plains killed buffalo for more than 6,000 years by driving them over a cliff.

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.

ooOOoo

This is a very important essay from Joshua. Well done, that man!

I will just leave you all with this further image.

Two young stags keeping it together. (xxx)
Two young stags keeping it together. (Taken here at home in July, 2016.)

Best wishes to each of you; irrespective of your view on hunting!

20 thoughts on “The rights and wrongs of hunting!

  1. I am against hunting, but I believe the biggest problem today is industrialized meat packing. I feel that such industrialized practices are against morality, public health, nature and decency. I’m sure you are already aware of the suffering of animals in dairy farms and abattoirs, and of the environmental costs.

    Also, I would like to commend your compassion for animals. Great essay.

    1. Thank you so much. I totally agree with your opinion regarding the meat ‘industry’. Even thinking about it makes me feel sick. We do buy meat for the dogs but work hard to find free range meat but Jean and I are vegetarian. Once again, thank you.

  2. I share your feelings against hunting. Since owning my dog, my first in 60 years, I have even considered vegetarianism. Clearly, we share the planet with creatures who have some form of consciousness. On the other hand, I know people who I like and respect who also hunt. It certainly isn’t an easy question. Thanks for posting.

      1. Paul – Have you ever heard the story of the talking dog?

        A guy is driving around the back woods of Minnesota and he sees a sign in front of a broken down shanty-style house: ‘Talking Dog For Sale ‘. He rings the bell and the owner appears and tells him the dog is in the backyard.

        The guy goes into the backyard and sees a nice looking Labrador retriever sitting there.

        ‘You talk?’ he asks.

        ‘Yep,’ the Lab replies.

        After the guy recovers from the shock of hearing a dog talk, he says ‘So, what’s your story?’

        The Lab looks up and says, ‘Well, I discovered that I could talk when I was pretty young. I wanted to help the government, so I told the CIA.

        In no time at all they had me jetting from country to country, sitting in rooms with spies and world leaders, because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping.’

        ‘I was one of their most valuable agents for eight years running . . .

        But the jetting around really tired me out, and I knew I wasn’t getting any younger, so I decided to settle down. I signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security, wandering near suspicious characters and listening in.
        I uncovered some incredible dealings and was awarded a batch of medals.’

        ‘I got married, had a mess of puppies, and now I’m just retired.’

        The guy is amazed. He goes back in and asks the owner what he wants for the dog.

        ‘Ten dollars,’ the guy says.

        ‘Ten dollars? This dog is amazing! Why on earth are you selling him so cheap?’

        ‘Because he’s a Bullshitter. He’s never been out of the yard’

        Cheers,

        Tony

  3. What concerns me most is the pleasure and delight that these people get from stalking and then ‘bringing down’ an animal that was quietly going about its business of living and doing them no harm. It’s a sport to most of them, not a necessity. The photograph I’ve seen of Trump’s son in Africa with a dead cheetah that he and his friend had ‘bagged’ was sickening.
    Thank you so much Paul and Jeannie for being the compassionate people you are.

  4. Interesting post and summary of the cons to hunting. I am a hunter. And I’ve owned bird dogs for maybe 35 years. I hunt game birds. Sometimes with all four at once. Well trained? Yes. And well bred for this activity. I actually did yesterday. Hunting with a dog and the interplay between man, bird and dog is magic. Yes, magical. There is simply no way to describe the experience of this for either myself, my dogs and the life of a game bird. Much too complex.
    Is killing an essential part of this activity? No. And it does occur sometimes and actually less often than some suspect or dread.

    Maybe we could learn something here about this from Dogs.

    Also at University, I majored in Philosophy, emphasis in Ethics. Smiling…..I would be very reluctant to opine on your ethics, your personal ethics.
    I am an omnivore, my dogs are mostly carnivores and have been fed as such their entire lives with a raw diet. Do I know about industrial farming both meat and vegetables? Probably more than most adamant vegetarians for various reason. Eating mostly vegetables is a fine personal choice. However it is not morally neutral. Less harm, maybe.

    As most of Life’s difficult questions, this one, also is more than a little cpmplex.
    Yet we do know that Life and Death are inextricably connected. Cannot be experienced or discussed without each other

    Greg

    1. Greg, thank you so much for calling by and a very warm welcome to this place. I’m up to my neck with domestic challenges at present but would love to reply once I am settled and can read carefully what you have written. Once again, thank you!

  5. Good people. Before the end of the day I will reply to each of you. But just now we are being distracted by a short term forecast of 3 to 6 inches of snow arriving in the next few hours!

  6. Very well written post. You know of what you write. I am totally against hunting. Period. Always have been and always will be. My husband hunted just about any creature that was legal to hunt but he really enjoyed waterfowl hunting the most. He was known locally as the best duck caller around. Despite all this, my opinion has never changed. when our son was a tyke and old enough to endure the cold, my husband began taking him on the fall and winter hunts. Now my son is a bow hunter but for the past 3 years he has been unable to get a proper draw with his bow in order to make an instant kill. Never the less I hope that one day before I die that he will change over to hunting with a camera.

    I think men feel it’s a macho thing and in my state, deer hunting is extremely popular and it’s simply disgusting to me. My husband always knew how I detested the fact because I refused to cook any of the game. He gave lots of meat away and sometimes cooked the meat out doors. I never ate any of it. My thinking is that if you don’t need the meat to survive then there is no reason to hunt.

  7. I’m with you. While I understand there are people who hunt for food (as a vegetarian, I disagree with their rationale), in this day and age, it seems fairly impossible to have a conversation about it without screaming and deflecting personal attacks. Sadly our communication skills seem to devolve when there is a difference of opinion. *sigh*

  8. Once hunting was important for families to have food – even in my dad’s childhood. He hunted a little bit, but growing up, we always ate the deer – and he only took one. No need for more. Now there’s grocery stores and salaries to buy food.
    If you’ve been around range land in poor climate years/ herd allowed to get too big for their environment, you may have witness animals starving to death – it’s slow and brutal ( now if the predators like wolves, cougars, and such were allowed to exists as nature intended – a whole different story. We’re working on that…). Better to allow skilled permitted hunters with the meat going to shelters or food banks. Animals’ habitats have been fenced and diminished. If already manipulating their environment, you also have to responsibly manage the herds to prevent disease and keep animals healthy and genetically strong.
    Trophy hunting is simply something I don’t understand.
    If you don’t eat it, no need to kill it.

  9. The Great Spirit Was A Hunter, And Will Always Be A Hunter. Hunting For Ideas, Is Not Just A Metaphor, It’s Our Fate.

    Once, well above timber line, with the sun low on the horizon, an antelope came my way, running passed me. I was running the other way, and the creature rushed, close enough to touch. As I turned the corner, a couple of seconds later, full of wonder, I found myself face to face with an enormous wolf charging my way. We looked at each other…

    The essay tends to philosophy by enumeration, reminiscent of FOX News’ methodology. With a silly (anti-hunting) bias not so well hidden. However I agree in other ways, with what the author wrote, about the so-called “confirmation bias”. Let me explain by considering the conclusion of the author:
    “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.”

    I agree with the method proposed to deal with “confirmation bias” (= “intellectual fascism”, “group think”). However, the sentence “I believe you should keep nature out of it”, is downright silly. The author is part of nature, should he keep himself “out of it”? Whatever “out” is?

    I am both for and against hunting. It all depends upon who is hunting what, when, how, why? Hunting with arrows is one thing, wolves hunting their prey, another. To want wolves living somewhere free, but wolves who are not hunting, would be akin to wanting the biosphere, albeit, without biology.

    Let’s not forget civilization was founded by the genus Homo, fundamentally a hunting species, the greatest hunting genus of all times. Hunting is especially the genius of Homo Erectus and Homo Habilis. When Homo Erectus got to Georgia, two million years ago, it survived the cold winters, because it was dressed in animal furs.

    Fundamentally, hunting is about domination, and especially total domination of the better ideas. Predators tend to be smarter than prey (they tend to have bigger brains, overall: there has been a brain arm race between predator and prey, at least on land… with few exceptions, like crocodiles). Hence the mood fundamental to hunting (I am smarter than you, so I completely dominate and own you) is also the mood most conducive to civilization.

    Hunting has been so central to the evolution of our genus that to be rabidly against it, is to be rabidly against humanity, and even worse against the idea that there are better ideas which can own and dominate.

    The central idea is that nature needs hunting and nature is about hunting. Even human nature is about hunting and contemplating hunting means contemplating nature.

    Overall, one has to dominate the debate. The crux we presently face, is the preservation of the biosphere. Genuine hunters want this, so that they can hunt. Actually many species were saved by hunters who had established preserves for them. So do genuine preservationists want to preserve the biosphere. So they should cooperate.

    Hunting teaches a meta-morality about the animal conditions which pre-Neolithic people understood very well: hunting was part of the digestion of the Great Spirit, so to speak. It was a process consubstantial with the universe itself. This is entirely correct. Wanting to protect the universe from hunting is to try to build a god that would be like a dog, something mastered, with no supremacy of its own, but for blind love.

    Maybe we should grow up instead, and join the Great Spirit, in spirit? If we want the better spirit, we cannot just be prisoners of love. What we need, instead, to save the biosphere, is the greatest spirit. We won’t save the spirit if our only guide is to spare the pain. Quite the opposite.

    Anyway, nice essay, Paul, thanks, I will reblog it…

  10. Reblogged this on Patrice Ayme's Thoughts and commented:
    The Great Spirit Was A Hunter, And Will Always Be A Hunter. Hunting For Ideas, Is Not Just A Metaphor, Not Just Our Fate, But The Only Way To Have A Mind.

    Once, well above timber line, with the sun low on the horizon, an antelope came my way, running passed me. I was running the other way, and the creature rushed, close enough to touch. As I turned the corner, a couple of seconds later, full of wonder, I found myself face to face with an enormous wolf charging my way. We looked at each other, not even three meters away…

    The essay reproduced below was penned by a baby philosopher, and tends to philosophy by enumeration, a honorable method, reminiscent of FOX News’ approach to debate. With a silly (anti-hunting) bias not so well hidden. However I agree with it in some ways, with what the author wrote, about the so-called “confirmation bias”. Let me explain by considering the conclusion of the author:
    “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.”

    I agree with the method proposed to deal with “confirmation bias” (= “intellectual fascism”, “group think”). However, the sentence “I believe you should keep nature out of it”, is downright silly. The author is part of nature, should he keep himself “out of it”? Whatever “out” is?

    I am both for and against hunting. It all depends upon who is hunting what, when, how, why? Hunting with stones, or arrows is one thing, wolves hunting their prey, another. To want wolves living somewhere free, but wolves who are not hunting, but devouring protein pills, would be akin to wanting the biosphere, albeit, without biology.

    Let’s not forget civilization was founded by the genus Homo, fundamentally a hunting species, the greatest hunting genus of all times. Hunting is especially the genius of Homo Erectus and Homo Habilis. When Homo Erectus got to Georgia, two million years ago, it survived the cold winters, because it was dressed in animal furs.

    Fundamentally, hunting is about domination, and especially total domination of the better ideas. Predators tend to be smarter than prey (they tend to have bigger brains, overall: there has been a brain arm race between predator and prey, at least on land… with few exceptions, like crocodiles). Hence the mood fundamental to hunting (I am smarter than you, so I completely dominate and own you) is also the mood most conducive to civilization.

    Hunting has been so central to the evolution of our genus that to be rabidly against it, is to be rabidly against humanity, and even worse against the idea that there are better ideas which can own and dominate.

    The central idea is that nature needs hunting and nature is about hunting. Even human nature is about hunting and contemplating hunting means contemplating nature.

    Overall, one has to dominate the debate. The crux we presently face, is the preservation of the biosphere. Genuine hunters want this, so that they can hunt. Actually many species were saved by hunters who had established preserves for them. So genuine preservationists want to preserve the biosphere. So they should cooperate.

    Hunting teaches a meta-morality about the animal conditions which pre-Neolithic people understood very well: hunting was part of the digestion of the Great Spirit, so to speak. Hunting was a process consubstantial with the universe itself. This viewpoint, no doubt held for millions of years, is entirely correct.

    By contrast, denying that hunting is central to the universe is in not just unreal, it violates the very idea of having a spirit. Wanting to protect the universe from hunting is to try to build a god that would be like a dog, something mastered, with no supremacy of its own, but for blind love.

    Maybe we should grow up instead, and join the Great Spirit, in its full spirit? If we want the better spirit, we cannot just be prisoners of love. What we need, instead, to save the biosphere, is the greatest spirit. We won’t save the spirit if our only guide is to spare the pain. Quite the opposite.

  11. Such a good article Paul, and follow up conversations. Its a discussion worth noting and having. I am less concerned about hunting per se, than the inhuman treatment of animals.

    1. Val, this has been a bit of a week and I had every intention of replying to each person who took the time and effort to leave a response. But, in the end, circumstances got the better of me!

      The point you make, Val, is so, so important. However one feels about hunting it doesn’t come close to what most would feel if they were fully aware of the price our animals pay to give us meat, eggs and milk. That goes for me as well and I’m conscious of not really wanting to know the truth; just hiding behind my vegetarian status!

  12. A great post Paul.. generating much thought..
    While I could jump in and say point blank I disagree with hunting.. I also see why in some instances why hunting is for some a need to survive..
    There in is the difference.. I oppose hunting for trophies and pleasure.. Yet totally understand why some hunt to provide food for the table..
    I was brought up in a large poorish family where by meat was expensive and my dad would provide many a wild rabbit for the table.. And we would often eat game which was shot to pieces which the game keepers of the local Dukes grounds would pass along.. Knowing the right people in the right places kept food on our table..

    In nature animals all kill to eat.. Even birds kill insects and worms.. its the food chain..
    Its the cruelty to animals that I abhor.. they way they are often trapped, killed and kept for the chase..
    We kill millions of animals each day to eat, steak, chicken and fish..
    Are we any better for demanding to eat meat?.. it opens up many questions..
    And I just kicked away my soap box.. LOL

    🙂 great post again Paul

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s