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John Hadley does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment. Slavery is an evocative concept.
Treating someone as a slave is one of the worst things you can do to them.
They last week went to court, accusing Sea World of enslaving orcas used in one of its shows. In this view, when someone compares captive animals to slaves, they are misapplying the term slave: this is a term that ought to be reserved for persons only.
A person can be held morally responsible for their actions. The basic idea is that persons are authors of their own lives in a way that non-persons, like animals, are not. For proponents of this view, slavery is an evil because it amounts to taking over the authorship of a life, and animals cannot be slaves because they lack the necessary psychological capacities to self-consciously direct their lives.
But, setting aside disputes about the scope of personhood capacities in the natural world, should the meaning of slavery be restricted to persons only? I used to live in a country town not far from Sydney. On most evenings my wife and I would enjoy a stroll around the neighbourhood, breathing the fresh country air and enjoying the beautiful surrounds.
On occasion we would pass the house of a Jack Russell breeder who kept bitches in small wire enclosures in his garage. We know this because very occasionally the door to the garage would be open.
It also makes sense to me to say that keeping animals in this way, ostensibly for their reproductive use, is akin to slavery or a form of slavery. Similarly, not far from where I live now, a cockatoo is kept in a cage not much bigger than its body. We often hear this cockatoo screeching as we walk past. I personally find the sight of birds in cages distressing. My view is that there is something ignoble in the desire to look upon a caged creature that is built for flying through the sky as if it were a living figurine.
I think the world would be a better place if people could express their fascination or love for animals without confining them. People know perfectly well what I mean when I say this. I recall seeing a harrowing news feature about a female orangutan kept for sex by villagers in Indonesia.
An NGO had made many attempts to rescue the creature, but had been shot at by the villagers who considered the ape their property. It is very unlikely to come to an abrupt end because of some kind of conceptual confusion. What better evidence for correct application of a term can you have then successful communication between people? But not all that is wrong about slavery needs to apply to the keeping of animals in order for us to think that the term can be meaningfully applied across the species barrier. After all, slaves are the legal property of their owners; animals are legal property.
Slaves are subject to the absolute authority of their owners; are pets slaves are animals. Slave owners command obedience; obedience is a concept readily applied by owners to their animals. Be Curious — Leeds, Leeds. Edition: Available editions United Kingdom. John HadleyWestern Sydney University. Is the confinement of animals for human purposes akin to slavery? Are some animals slaves?
Philosophy Animal welfare.Are pets slaves
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The case against pets