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MONDAY, JULY 04, 2011
 
When treating animals ethically, society tends to rely on scientific data to justify it's basis. For example, the news has reported of a few cases where if wildlife location were to be urbanized, protesters would argue that a certain endangered species would become extinct if the urbanization didn't stop.The protesters are usually countered with the argument that specie extinctions occur often anyway and the argument deflates into the idea of how 'scientifically' important an animal is. My question is, what if protesters were not to use a scientific argument as their basis but an aesthetic argument?

Consider the panther. The term panther usually refers to any black cat regardless of whether it is of the leopard species or the jaguar species (if a tiger were all black, they could be considered a ‘panther’ too). The categorization of a panther is not considered a ‘scientific’ category because it only provides the colour of a cat’s fur and not much else. To a scientist, a panther’s species is the same as any non-black leopard under the species, onca, or any non-black jaguar under the separate species pardus, or any non-black cougar, under the species concolor. Even though oncas, pardus and concolors are categorized as different species, if their fur is black they are labelled as ‘panthers.’

Now consider how these very similar black cats compare when categorized ‘scientifically’ rather than non-scientifically. To a scientist, all three types of cats are separate species and therefore separate categories. Therefore, the standard is not based on the black coat of a panther, nor spots of a jaguar, nor golden fur of a cougar. Instead, it is on the internal structure of the species which defines it. Therefore, the colours would count as mere ‘variables’ to a scientist. However, to those who admire the spots of a leopard individually or the stealth black fur of a panther, the standard ought to be placed on the fur. That is because words such as ‘Panther, ‘Leopard,’ and ‘Mountain Lion’ are non-scientific categorizations by those who merely enjoy the beauty of these cat’s appearance. The categories are not scientific by any means, and would be rejected by scientists. Instead, scientists categorize them by less obvious standards such as their location. Thus, the aesthetic appeal within the category of panthers by non-scientists would have to be removed or void if the categorization were left up to scientists. That is, the most obvious non-aesthetic quality, the black fur (which could also qualify as the Gestalt of the animal), would be replaced with the least obvious non-aesthetic: Geography. The geography itself adds little aesthetic value since all of three are similar in their sunny landscapes, and the three species even overlap in some areas.
Suppose that it were the case that non-striped zebras began to out-survive their more commonly striped members. Both striped zebras and non-striped zebras fall under the exact same scientific categorization, and nature would have one survive the other. A scientist may argue that the zebra species’ structure is the standard itself and the stripes are merely a variable; Either they have it or they don’t. However, to those who enjoy the elegant stripes of the zebra, would the existence of the stipes themselves be the standard of the zebra? If so, how the stripes are placed ought to be the variable. Aesthetically, a solid-coloured zebra is very similar to a horse. Although, knowing that a zebra’s ‘scientific’ categorization does not account for its stripes could add to our knowledge and may allow us to distinguish it from some horses but the aesthetic beauty of the stripes would be lost regardless of such knowledge.

Ethical treatment towards nature may also be a direct result of aesthetics rather than proper categorization. For example, Lily-Marlene Russow in “Why do Species Matter” uses the case of zebras without stripes as an example where aesthetics can determine ethical treatment (163). She argues that the aesthetic pleasure a zebra provides by its stripes is reason in itself to protect it from extinction. Using her argument, suppose zebras and giraffes were considered part of a horse species. Then if the long neck of a giraffe and the stripes of a zebra were facing extinction, and generic horse features were surviving, then the long neck and stripes would not be worth protecting to the scientist since the horse itself would be surviving as a species. However, the aesthetic appeal of the long neck and the stripes of a zebra are what drive humans to protect the animals on their own. Regardless of what their categorization may be.
Comments

Hogan

Hogan

A typo in the title? Come on, man.
REPLIES: Alamir

Alamir

ALAMIR

Replying to Hogan:
It's just a typo, they happen. And I know you know of the "Suggestions" link.

Ryan_Sauve

Ryan_Sauve

This article is pointing in the right direction. Aesthetics and morals are bound together.
REPLIES: Hogan

Hogan

Hogan

Replying to Ryan_Sauve:
There's a bit of a paradox here: We traditionally think of science as being objective, and therefore necessarily not moral, that is, amoral. Yet aesthetics is not necessarily a good guiding force for a sensible morality. On the contrary, as the article suggests: aesthetics, although probably inseparable from morality, can lead us morally astray, as well as scientifically astray. Or you might take it further and say aesthetics leads us astray morally precisely when it is also leading us astray scientifically.

Rather than strip away all aesthetics from science, keeping them totally separate, we can filter out aesthetics from our morality to better see the moral dimension in otherwise amoral science. That is, critically examine the aesthetic and emotion appeals in moral claims so we can better line up morality with science, which is actually in constant need of ethical input. Pretending that science is completely amoral is just as silly as regulating morality with a fuzzy emotivism. As a good friend of mine said, "It is very dangerous to assume that only the emotions can stampede the mind." And isn't reason really a slave to the passions anyway?
REPLIES: Alamir

Alamir

ALAMIR

Replying to Hogan:
I'm not really following you here. Do you think I'm saying aesthetics clouds are morality?

I'm speaking of ethics, not morality directly. The difference is ethics is a social approach to 'right' and 'wrong' rather than a personal individual approach; It's a subtle but important difference.

I'm also stating that aesthetics may help us in treating animals ethically. I'm not saying science should be removed, that'd be impossible, and I'm not speaking about removing aesthetics and emotions from science. I'm focusing on one particular aspect of science, taxonomy/categorization of animals, and suggesting that an aesthetic approach can be more ethical than simply using a scientific approach.

Ultimately the question is:
If you saw that short-necked giraffes were taking over long-necked giraffes, would you feel like we ought to protect the long-necked giraffes? Or a zebra for its stripes, or a caribou for it's antlers? Or pick your favourite animal and deprive it from it's beauty, would you feel like we ought to protect it? If so, then you believe aesthetics are important to your own morals (and thus we can take an ethical approach to animal ethics). Because science would give us no reason to protect it.

Jackson

Jackson

Is gestalt your new pet word?



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