Do we really have the right to own our fellow creatures? Are there some animals that should never be kept as pets? Is it okay to declaw a cat, clip a bird’s wings, or dock a dog's tail? These are some of the questions we're asking on this week's show.
What Is It
Many of us, even the staunchest animal activists, usually take it for granted that keeping a pet is morally acceptable. But regardless of how well we treat our animal “companions,” by keeping pets we are declaring ownership and paternal authority over other living creatures, and confining them to our homes. Is there any good moral justification for the keeping of pets? What makes some, if any, animals suitable as pets but not others? Do we have a special obligation to animal companions that does not extend to other animals? The Philosophers fetch Gary Varner from Texas A&M University, author of Personhood, Ethics, and Animal Cognition.
Ray and Josh open the show with a brief discussion on owning and caring for pets. Ray, who owns a dog themselves, supports owning pets so long as they are properly handled and all their needs are met. Josh on the other hand questions this idea, raising concerns about autonomy and freedom that animals deserve as living beings.
Ray and Josh welcome the show’s guest, Gary Varner, a professor of philosophy at Texas A&M University. They begin with a discussion on the kinds of relationships we can build with pets and how this applies to the way we treat them or even breed new ones. On the topic of owning pets, Gary describes his personal experience raising a feral cat on the basis of firstly providing a better life for the animal and more broadly maximizing aggregate happiness.
In the last segment of the show, Gary shares one improvement he would make to the world of pet ownership, specifically regarding breeding dogs. Under this program, dogs will still have diversity in appearance and personality while nonetheless being highly suitable for human ownership. Finally, the hosts and guests end the show with some consideration on the topics of euthanasia, adoption, and autonomy.
- Roving Philosophical Report (3:24): Shereen Adel hears from several pet owners caring for animals ranging from guinea pigs to bearded dragons. They offer insight into the different needs and personalities of their pets. One interviewee, a zookeeper, highlights the importance of researching an animal before bringing it home, supporting the environment and its natural habitats, and understanding the responsibility of caring for a pet before adoption.
- Sixty-Second Philosopher (45:41): Ian Shoales reports on the vast, ever-increasing diversity of animals now kept as household pets and support animals. He also describes the ways humans have impacted animals – using them for entertainment, food, or friends – and vice versa – pets reflecting the personalities of those who own them.
Do we really have the right to own our fellow creatures?
Are there some animals that should never be kept as pets?
Is it okay to de-claw a cat or to clip a bird's wings?