The Argument from Existence, Blood-Sports, and ‘Sport-Slaves’

Abstract

The argument from existence is often used as an attempted justification for our use of animals in commercial practices, and is often put forward by lay-persons and philosophers alike. This paper provides an analysis of the argument from existence primarily within the context of blood-sports (applying the argument to the example of game-birding), and in doing so addresses interesting and related issues concerning the distinction between having a life and living, or worthwhile life and mere existence, as well as issues surrounding our responsibilities to prospective and actual beings. However, my analysis of the argument will go beyond the animal ethics context; it is important that it does so in order to reveal the troublesome implications of the argument and to highlight the sorts of unethical practices it supports. In particular, in applying the argument to a relevant example concerning human beings, I will discuss how the argument from existence could be used to justify the ownership of slaves who were reared for slavery. My objective is to show just how problematic the argument from existence is, with the aim of laying the argument to rest once and for all.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    See, for example, the first official inquiry by the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) (2008) into the rearing of game birds. See also Animal Aid’s, ‘The Trouble with Shooting’ (2010).

  2. 2.

    For a discussion of the ethics of shooting birds for sport and of the moral permissibility of game-birding, see Humphreys, Game birds: The ethics of shooting birds for sport. Sport, Ethics and Philosophy, 4(1), (2010). The current paper on the argument from existence is a development of a small section of the aforementioned paper; a paper which was primarily concerned with an ethical analysis of shooting birds for sport, but which provided a brief summary of the argument from existence. That brief summary has been incorporated into this paper (with permission from Taylor and Francis Ltd, http://tandfonline.com).

  3. 3.

    This argument has been used by philosophers for some time (and continues to be presented during the question period at conferences). See Leslie Stephen, Social Rights and Duties (1896), quoted by Henry Salt, ‘The Logic of the Larder’ (1976); D. G. Ritchie, ‘Why Animals Do Not Have Rights’ (1976); and Michael Leahy, Against Liberation: Putting Animals in Perspective (1991), p. 210.

  4. 4.

    Clark (1977, p. 59) argues that ‘if existence is not an advantage to the individual concerned it cannot compensate him for his manifold distresses’.

  5. 5.

    Clark (1977, p. 59) argues that if existence is an advantage to the creature concerned then ‘to strip a creature of existence is to injure him’. While existence as such is not a blessing or an advantage (see section above, i.e., ‘The first form of the argument from existence’), Clark could be interpreted here as meaning that where a creature’s existence has value then to kill that being is to injure it.

  6. 6.

    Smilansky (1995, pp. 42–53), however, argues that, in certain circumstances, some people could have responsibilities to have children.

References

  1. Animal Aid. (2010). The trouble with shooting. Kent: Animal Aid.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Attfield, R. (1995). Value, obligation, and meta-ethics, Value Inquiry Book Series, Vol. 30. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

  3. Attfield, R. (1998). Intrinsic value and transgenic animals. In A. Holland & A. Johnson (Eds.), Animal biotechnology and ethics (pp. 172–189). London: Chapman and Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Clark, S. R. L. (1977). The moral status of animals. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Farm Animal Welfare Council. (2008). Opinion on the welfare of game birds. London: FAWC.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Humphreys, R. (2010). Game birds: The ethics of shooting birds for sport. Sport, Ethics and Philosophy, 4(1), 52–65.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Hursthouse, R. (2000). Ethics, humans and other animals: An introduction with readings. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Hursthouse, R. (2006). Applying virtue ethics to our treatment of the other animals. In J. Welchman (Ed.), The practice of virtue: Classic and contemporary readings in virtue ethics (p. 2006). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Leahy, M. (1991). Against liberation: Putting animals in perspective. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Nagel, T. (1986). Death. In P. Singer (Ed.), Applied ethics (pp. 9–18). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Regan, T. (1998). Animal rights, human wrongs. In M. E. Zimmerman, et al. (Eds.), Environmental philosophy: From animal rights to radical ecology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Ritchie, D. G. (1976). Why animals do not have rights? In T. Regan & P. Singer (Eds.), Animal rights and human obligations (pp. 181–184). New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. [From Ritchie (1894). Natural rights. London: Allen & Unwin].

    Google Scholar 

  13. Salt, H. (1976). Logic of the Larder. Reprinted in Regan, T., & Singer, P. (Eds.), Animal rights and human obligations (pp. 185–89). New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. [From Salt (1914). The humanities of diet. Manchester: The Vegetarian Society].

  14. Shooting Times, 22 July 2009, cited by Animal Aid (2010). The trouble with shooting. Kent: Animal Aid.

  15. Singer, P. (1993). Practical ethics (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Singer, P. (1995). Animal liberation (2nd ed.). London: Pimlico Press.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Smilansky, S. (1995). Is there a moral obligation to have children? Journal of Applied Philosophy, 12(1), 42–53.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rebekah Humphreys.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Humphreys, R. The Argument from Existence, Blood-Sports, and ‘Sport-Slaves’. J Agric Environ Ethics 27, 331–345 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10806-013-9466-7

Download citation

Keywords

  • Existence
  • Obligations
  • Slavery
  • Blood-sports
  • Interests