“Animal Lover”: Emotionalism vs. Objectivity in Animal Rights
February 21, 2012 5 Comments
A day after writing about the importance of seeking animal rights through the emotional love we have for animals (previous post), I came across this passage by the Oxford theologian Andrew Linzey, a pre-eminent supporter of moral rights for animals:
Rights talk moves the discussion away from feelings and sympathy to what is objectively owed to animals as a matter of justice. This represents an improvement on previous appeals to care based purely on emotion, which is typified in the expression “animal lover.” (Why Animal Suffering Matters, 161)
I love Linzey’s work. But I think the theologian errs in this commentary: first, he unjustifiably separates thought and emotion; second, he forgets that there are multiple paths to social change. Humans do not connect with ideas in a vacuum. We’re drawn to “objective” criteria through the vagaries of our emotional lives. Linzey’s fear here is legitimate, to be sure. He’s worried about the cat lover who just adores her cat–and thus all cats–but cannot seem to extend this emotional fetish to all animals in general. As Linzey sees the matter, emotionalism obscures the transcendent principle of animal rights. This is a fair concern, but–given that, on some level, we all negotiate the world of ideas through our emotions–I think it would be more productive to spin our innate love for animals in a more optimistic direction.
Specifically, I see nothing standing in the way of abstracting from an emotional attachment. In other words, loving a particular animal or species strikes me as a useful, and readily accessible, starting point towards an appreciation of objective animal rights. I love the dogs I live with (well, most of the time) and, although I’ve never spent significant time with pigs, I can certainly imagine loving pigs much as I do dogs. That’s a leap–but a pretty realistic one. Once that leap is made, the groundwork is laid for an objective, rights based approach to conceptualizing animals. To think this journey can be emotionless is to defuse the passion that drives our connection to the non-human animal world. I have no problem admitting that my “objective” right-based stance on animals has its roots in a sentiment for dogs dripping with the sap of emotion.