"The righteous know the needs of their animals, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel."
- Proverbs 12.10.In a recent post, I included a quote which alluded to the idea that non-human creatures might also in some sense be considered our neighbours, included within our moral community. Properly qualified, this idea has merit and a foundation in holy scripture (where the Law proscribes various forms of cruelty and includes animals in Sabbath rest and Jesus affirms that God cares for even the sparrows). Indeed, Christians were at the forefront of creating the world's first animal welfare charity, the RSPCA. I am not going to attempt those qualifications here (though I note that Jesus tells his listeners that they are worth more than many sparrows), but simply note that there ought to be nothing particularly contentious about the extension of (at least certain kinds of) moral concern to non-human creatures.
However, even the most hardened anthropocentrist, who, like Descartes, considers the brute beasts to be unfeeling automatons, is not thereby released from all ecological concern. The damage we are causing to the integrity of the living spaces of the planet is so severe that it is a threat not simply to biodiversity or unique ecosystems, but to the conditions under which human civilisation can flourish, perhaps even survive at all (certainly in anything like its current form, complexity and size). It is not just trees and frogs and sharks and tigers and phytoplankton under threat, it is also our very human neighbours who are increasingly suffering as a result of our failure to live with humility and prudence.
Image by CAC.