‘And who is my neighbor?’: reading animal ethics through the lens of the Good Samaritan
Miller, Daniel Kyle
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In this thesis I argue that the major philosophical arguments in the field of animal ethics, as it has developed in the twentieth century, are inadequate without a robust theological foundation. While these arguments for greater moral respect for animals have acquired some cultural purchase in relation to systematic abuses of animals in factory farming and some forms of hunting, they lack the resources for articulating the many complexities inherent in human relationships with other animals. These positions, expounded most prominently by Peter Singer and Tom Regan, seek to extend to animals the moral frames of earlier Enlightenment thinkers and are thus bound by the same concerns and constraints; they therefore do not sufficiently problematise the modern distinction between humans and other animals that has advanced the modern mistreatment of animals to a degree of systematic cruelty unknown in human history. I argue that the Christian tradition has richer resources for articulating human moral relationships with other animals – and for problematising the modern framing of the human-animal distinction – than these secular theories possess on their own. This is by no means the first theological foray into the field of animal ethics. Previous theological accounts, however, still work predominantly within the confines set by secular philosophers. For example, Andrew Linzey clearly articulates his concept of “Theos-rights” for animals from within the conceptual framework of deontological categories. I will argue instead that a richer theological account of human relationships with other animals can be made by embracing the foundational love ethic found in Christianity. The Christian category of neighborly love represents a normative moral position in its own right rather than a simple addition to or reinterpretation of earlier consequentialist or deontological accounts. Using the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), I outline a theologically informed animal ethic in which animals are seen as potential neighbors. My argument proceeds in two stages. The first and largest section identifies and explores three themes key to interpreting the parable with a view toward animal ethics. First, I explore the theme of responsibility and employ the thought of Emil Brunner and Karl Barth in asking to what degree humans, as imago Dei, are responsible for their relationships with animals. Second, I argue for the importance of caring in human moral encounters with animals. Here, I explore the similarities and deficiencies of feminist theory in relation to the Christian concept of neighborly love. Third, I consider the moral relevance of nearness, or proximity, in human relationships with animals. Here, I outline the different responsibilities inherent in human relationships with wild, domestic working, and pet animals. After expounding these three themes, the second stage of my thesis employs them in critiquing two specific theological issues. I first compare the Christian concept of dominion over animals found in Genesis 1:28 with competing claims from Christian stewardship ethics and environmental land ethics. Then, primarily in conversation with Barth, I conclude with a discussion of the theological arguments for and against Christian vegetarianism.