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Classical Indian Philosophy

Classical Indian Philosophy

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  • 1. Chapter One Man and Animal j harles Darwin and some biologists are of the view thatC morality is a result of evolution. According to this view, every species subjected to evolution has its own morality at some level. Human beings are not the only species with morality. Religions as widely adopted in the West,like Christianity, seem to have the opposite view with regard to thesubject of morality. In Christian teachings, man only possesses an abil-ity to think in terms of morality because man has a soul given by God.Animals have no soul, so they cannot think in terms of morality. Thisassumption is accepted by even great moralists like Kant. Kant says thatanimals do not have any moral status compared with human beings.The lack of moral status of animals leads to a moral conclusion aboutwhat man does to animals. When animals are treated badly by man,the person cannot be counted as immoral. He is just unkind. The per-son is said to be immoral only when he treats fellow human badly. In India, people also have a religion which says that God is the per-son who creates all things in the universe. In this sense, a theist religionof India like Hinduism seems to believe in God not differently fromChristianity. However, in Hinduism, when God creates man and ani-
  • 2. Classical Indian Philosophymal, the soul is given to both of them equally. There is no differencebetween a man’s soul and an animal’s soul. In atheist religions likeBuddhism and Jainism, the same belief can be clearly found too. Bud-dhism says that animals also have a mind similar to the one possessedby human beings. Jainism claims that animals have a soul similar to theone found in man. We can say that according to Indian religion thereis no difference between man and animal in terms of moral applicabil-ity. In modern philosophy’s applied ethics, the question concerning themoral status of animals has been regarded as one of the important phi-losophical questions. There are many philosophers who feel that whatwe have done to animals from the past to the present cannot be de-fended in terms of morality. We eat them. We use them in medicaland biological research. In short, we exploit them as a means to ourbenefit. This kind of treatment if applied to human beings is clearlyunacceptable. However, some philosophical thinkers attempt to arguethat man has some moral right to mistreat animals as a means. The fol-lowing seem to be the important arguments used by these thinkers. First, animals do not have self-consciousness and other related emotions.This claim says that having self-consciousness is required to make suchentity a person. A person only has moral status. In the case of beinghuman, we know: “Who am I,” and we know further: “It is me per-ceiving the world,” and we know more: “I have some objectives in liv-ing a life.” For these philosophers, animals do not have such things assaid. We may understand this line of argumentation more clearly ifrelate it to something like the robot. Imagine we have highly function-ing robots. They behave like human beings. They serve us as servantsin our home. We have programmed them to laugh, cry, and expressother emotions which are generally found in man. Even though theserobots are seen behaving like human beings, they are not persons. Theyhave no rights, no liberty, and so on. As Kant suggests, some people -16-
  • 3. Somparn Promtamay treat their robots badly. We can say that these people behave un-kindly to the robots. Unkindness in this context means simply: someman is unkind to his car if he drives it violently. The person who treatshis robot badly cannot be blamed and labeled as a bad person in termsof morality, like we cannot blame the man who drives his car violently.Animals are like the robots in the sense that both of them do not haveself-consciousness. The robots do not have consciousness: “Who am I,”and it is the same with animals. In short, a lack of self-consciousnessappears to make animals not have a moral status. People who treatanimal badly are not immoral persons. They are just technically badlike the man who drives the car violently. All are concerned with thistechnical matter only, and it’s not an issue of morality. It is so clearly that Indian philosophy does not accept this argument.In terms of religion, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism claim thatanimals have self-consciousness because they have the soul which is thesource of the self. The Buddhists believe that the enlightenment makesthe Buddha know the truths concerning animals which include a truththat animals have the mind and self-consciousness. The masters inHinduism and Jainism are claimed to know the truths like the Buddha.However, if we do not consider the matter from the religious view-points, merely observation is believed by Indian philosophers enoughto conclude that animals have self-consciousness. We shall take Buddhism as the example. In the West, the questionof “can the machine think like a human?” has been long explored.Some philosophers are of the view that the machine can think undersome required conditions. Alan Turing is well known for his imaginaryexperiment named the Turing Test. Imagine that we, the human be-ings, sit in a room with a computer as communicating device. Fromour computer, there are connection cables leading to other computersin other rooms. Some are used by other human beings and some arespecially programmed computers. We start a conversation with them. -17-
  • 4. Classical Indian PhilosophyTuring says that if we cannot notice a difference between the machinesand the persons behind the wall, we must conclude that the machinescan think like human beings. It should be noted that the definition of‘thinking’ used by Turing is determined from behaviors performed bythe machines. We can write it into a formula that: a non-human entitycan think if it behaves not differently from human. Buddhism is known to use this kind of definition as well. The Bud-dha says that man and animal share two basic instincts: the me-instinctand the mine-instinct. The me-instinct is called in Pali ‘ahamkara,’ andthe mine-instinct is ‘mamamkara.’ It should be noted that these twobasic instincts shared by man and animal are also found in Hinduismand Jainism. The me-instinct is given in a form of self-consciousness.The Buddha says that man and animal know that “It is me doing suchthings like walking, eating, or sleeping.” The mine-instinct is given in aform of possessive emotions. The words that carry a possessive mean-ing, like: my family, my country, my house, my friends, and so on, arecreated from this kind of instinct. Of these two things, the me-instinctis more basic. It is the basis of the mine-instinct. That is, before wehave a feeling like “it’s my car” we must have a feeling “it’s me” first.The me-instinct gives rise to two main emotions in man and animal:love and fear. Firstly, we love ourselves. Secondly, if we are threatenedwe fear. We fear because we love to live and do not want to die. Itshould be noted that what was said by the hedonist thinkers like Ben-tham and Mill share many commonalities with Buddhism. Benthamsays that man is placed under the governance of two masters which arehappiness and pain. The Buddha says there are two things that haveimportant influences on man and animal. They are happiness (sukha)and suffering (dukkha). Love and fear are related to these things respec-tively. That is, we love happiness and fear suffering. It is the same withanimal. The question is, “how we can observe the love and fear in ani-mals?” The answer is so clear. We can observe this everywhere. Biologi- -18-
  • 5. Somparn Promtacal research seems best to illustrate what happens to animals in terms oflove and fear. Even the frightening animals like snakes also have fear.In some animals such as bird and dog we can observe their love of theirchildren easily. So, it is not questionable that animals have self-consciousness and other related emotions like self-love and fear. In the Buddhist belief concerning rebirth, it is said that man can bereborn as an animal in a next life. Actually, there are a number of sto-ries of the Buddha’s rebirths which say that the Buddha himself used tobe born as various animals in his past lives before he becomes the Bud-dha. There is also this kind of belief in Jainism and Hinduism. Themasters of Jainism, such as Mahavira, were also said to be born as ani-mals in past lives like the Buddha. Considering this perspective, manand animal share the same world of morality. As this subject is alsoconcerned with the second argument posted by those who deny themoral status of animals, we shall consider it next. Second, animals do not have a moral consciousness. It seems that thereis a hidden assumption behind this argument. The assumption is “mo-rality can be considered as a kind of contract made between those whoshare an equal moral status.” In political philosophy, a political con-tract will be valid only if it is done between the persons with same po-litical status. This is why, in the social-contract theory, people in thecommunity are given the same status as the citizen. As citizens, it is notimportant who you are: poor, rich, male, or female. The sharing of citi-zenship enables you have equal rights and freedom to choose in termsof politics like any other. In the past, some societies had systems ofslavery. They argued that slaves did not have the same status as theowners, so they were treated unequally. The above argument concern-ing the moral status of animals is like the argument which says that theslave cannot have the moral status as said. They say that animals can becompared with the slaves, so they cannot be treated like human beings. At the outset, the main problem with this line of argument is: how -19-
  • 6. Classical Indian Philosophydo we know that animals do not have a moral consciousness like hu-man beings? Next, even though we can rationally prove that animals donot have this consciousness, the problem is: can we use this to begrounds to deny the moral capabilities of animals. Indian philosophynever uses the unequal status between things to be the ground for de-nying the moral status of beings in lower positions. For example, somepeople in the world are wise and some are foolish. This is a natural dif-ference. The wise person uses his intellectual ability to treat the foolishperson as he wishes. As he is wise, so he can do this without the resis-tance of the fool. When being asked, “How you use your fellow humanas a tool like this?” he says the man whom he uses is fully willing, sothere is no wrong in doing so. We see that it does not matter if thefoolish person is willing. The point is the wise man treats him as if hewere not a human being. The wise person cannot use the lower posi-tion of the foolish person as the ground for arguing that he can treatothers like that. The moral relation between man and animal in Indian philosophy isbidirectional. The moral relation between the wise and the fool is alsobidirectional. We shall find this kind of relationship between husbandand wife, parents and children, master and slave, teacher and student,and so on in Buddhist teaching. Buddhism accepts that difference be-tween things or people in the world is natural. And this thing cannotbe used as the ground for discrimination. So, bidirectional relationshipsbetween things or persons in a Buddhist perspective do not depend ontheir difference in the sense that if we can prove that a thing at one sideof the relation is lower that can be used as the ground to treat it as ameans. The wise can never use the fool as a means. A person can neveruse his fellow human as a slave. In the same way, man can never useanimal as a means. The lower position of animal can never be used asthe ground to treat them as we wish. This view is generally acceptedamong Indian religions. -20-
  • 7. Somparn Promta Turn back to the point “animals do not have moral consciousness”again. We have considered above that even though it may be true thatanimals do not have moral consciousness, this cannot be used asground to exploit animals for the whims of humanity. Or we can saythat the moral status of animals still exists even if we can prove thatthey do not have moral consciousness. However, even the view con-cerning the lack of moral consciousness in animals can be questioned ifit is correct. Normally those, who argue that animals have no moralconsciousness, usually point out that when animals commit what we callevil, such as killing, they never feel guilty. This is an example of the factssuggesting a lack of moral consciousness in animals. It should be notedthat a claim that animals do not have moral consciousness is a verystrange thing according to Indian philosophy. In Zen Buddhist litera-ture, there is a saying which claims that animals can be enlightened. Inearly Buddhism, even though there is no statement claiming the poten-tial of the enlightenment of animals, it is generally known that animalscan behave in terms of morality. It is said that one time the Buddhaused to be born as a wild rabbit. He sees a Brahmin who is hungry asthere is no food around there. He thinks the Brahmin is a holy personwho can benefit the world more than him. So, the life of the Brahminis of more importance than him in terms of utility for the world. Therabbit decides to jump into fire to be food for the Brahmin. This storyis religious fiction, but it represents the general position of Buddhismtowards animals in terms of the potential to behave morally. It is truethat the potential to act morally in man is more explicit than animal.But we have modern research in the field of zoology and related disci-plines which present that animals behave in terms of morality not dif-ferently from humans. The view that animals also have morality can be traced back to Dar-win. In his books, The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man, Dar-win promotes the idea that the morality possessed by man is not one -21-
  • 8. Classical Indian Philosophykind while the one possessed by animals is another; actually, they arethe same as a result of enduring evolution of the species. Darwin him-self had many dogs at his home and he said these dogs gave him manylessons towards understanding the moral behavior of animals. Recently,an experiment undertaken by scientist has shown that rats express em-pathy towards their fellow rats. In this experiment, two rats are placedin a box. Inside the box, one rat is tied to a device which will generate electricity when a bar inside the box is pressed. Another rat is free. The free rat has learned that when the bar is pressed, the food is released. At first, he presses the bar to receive food two or three times. But later he has noticed that when- ever he presses the bar his fellow will be shockedby electricity. So he has understood that the pressing of the bar pro-vides two things. Firstly, he will have the food; secondly, his fellow suf-fers. This is a moral dilemma—how to choose between these two sides.The experiment has found that the rats finally decide to let the foodaway. They do not press the bar. For those who are acquainted with animals this kind of experimentmight be interesting. In daily life we can see animal behavior that canbe said be morally motivated. As Darwin points out, social instinctmight be the beginning stage of morality as we have defined today. InIndia, religion has a close relation with animals as gods and animals aregiven equal places. We know that Ganesha has a rat as his vehicle. InHindu temples where people worship Ganesha, we usually find a largenumber of rats and sometimes they are close friends with human be-ings. The following is a picture of a person said to be a Hindu priestwith his fellow rats. The picture is taken from a Hindu temple in Indiawhere the worshiped god is Ganesha. Even though the feeling and ac-tion towards animals in Indian religion is largely derived from belief,meaning that sometimes an adherent of religion treats animals like that -22-
  • 9. Somparn Promtanot because of his personal feeling, but through religious reasons; westill see that ultimately there must be really some thought that viewsanimals in such a positive way—the thought of the masters in religion. Friendship between man and animalmay be considered as a kind of socialinstinct, but this understanding cannotdestroy its beauty. It does not matter ifthis feeling of friendship originatesfrom whatever. The point is, if we havefound it both in man and animal, weshould conclude that since this thingfound in man is called a moral behav-ior we must call it the same in animals,to be fair. The dog that devotes his lifeto protect his master’s life should beviewed not differently from the same action done by a human servant. The third and the last argument to be explored is the one which saysthat we have no moral obligation to treat animals in the same way that wetreat our fellow humans because animals are not human. In my view, thisseems to be the worst argument. One time in the not so distant past, aphilosopher said that abortion is not wrong since the fetus is not yet ahuman. It is just a cluster of human cells. The same philosopher alsosaid that a tree and its fruit are not the same thing. The fetus can becompared to a fruit while the woman can be compared to a tree. Abor-tion is not the killing of a human being, like destroying a fruit cannotbe compared with the destroying of the tree. It should be noted that inthe case of a human fetus, a person could argue that ‘he’ is human be-cause his genes are of human beings. So, we would find that even inthe case that is more possible to argue for, some philosophers still argueagainst the humanization of the fetus. It is thus not strange to hear theabove argument against the moral aptitude of animals. Even inside the -23-
  • 10. Classical Indian Philosophydomain of human beings themselves, some of them such as the fetusare subjected to analysis as being excluded from the domain. How doanimals become of lesser importance in the view of this kind of phi-losopher? The circle of ethical studies these days has raised a question concern-ing the moral belief and practice of human beings: are we free when wethink about morality especially when concerning animals? Some phi-losophers are of the view that actually we are not free. When we think,we think from our brain. And the brain of a species cannot be freefrom its long history of biological accumulation. The Darwinian biolo-gists such as Dawkins believe that the brain of human beings and otherspecies is the place where important biological data is recorded. Thisbiological data in the brain can be transferred to the next generationand plays a role behind the species’ behaviors especially the ones thatare related to the struggle for existence. Our ancestors in the distantpast had to struggle with extreme conditions to live and preserve theirlife. They did not know why. Dawkins postulates that the genes insidehuman beings and other species on the earth play a quiet role behindthe struggle for existence. They do not talk, but send mysterious signalsto our brain; and this genetic programming is all about why we andour ancestors in the past never stop struggling for existence. Competition between species is a normal phenomenon according tothe Darwinian biologists. They also say that in competition there couldbe some that are defeated. In this case, such species become extinctfrom the earth. The genes know that if we are defeated, that meansgreat danger, so they must be selfish. Morality, as set up by man, shouldbe viewed as something invented within this fact—a fact which sug-gests that the genes inside us and other species are selfish. When thebrain receives signals sent from the selfish gene, it cannot do thingsother than serve the selfishness of the species. Some philosophers ofthis century say that human morality cannot be free from a thing they -24-