by Julie Lineback
The University of West Georgia’s College of Arts and Humanities recently hosted the first lecture in its 2015 Ethics and Society Speaker Series. “Interspecies Ethics: Meditations on Cosmopolitan Peace” featured Dr. Cynthia Willett, author of Interspecies Ethics and a philosophy professor from Emory University.
Dr. Willett argued that ethics can exist among multiple species and can be grounded in ways other than through rationality. She drew upon the work of primatologists and anthropologists in addition to other animal theorists to make a compelling case for “communitarian cohabitation.”
“While humans are armed with a range of rational laws, it is not at all clear that these laws have raised us above other social animals in regard to fairness and the treatment of others,” she said.
Her talk explored animals' vast capacity for a range of emotions, including love. She used an alpha male chimpanzee named Freddy as an example. He adopted a three-year-old orphaned chimp, Oscar, who would’ve died without the protection of his mother. As Oscar searched frantically for his mother, he grew thinner and thinner. The females in the group were all busy with their own offspring, and Freddy took an interest in Oscar—sharing his food, letting him ride on his back, and allowing him to sleep in his arms.
“We humans have more than one trick up our ethical sleeves, and as it turns out, so do other animal species,” Dr. Willett explained. “Social carnivores such as wolves and intelligent birds, such as ravens or crows, and mammals such as dolphins, elephants, and even monkeys, display expectations, desires, intentions and some funny fetishes that not only sustain the groups they depend on to survive, but also generate some surprisingly expansive social interactions as well.”
The second lecture in the speaker series will be held on April 1. Dr. John Nolt, professor of philosophy from the University of Tennessee, will speak on “Counting the Moral Costs of Global Climate Change." The talk begins at 6:30 p.m. and will take place at the Neva Lomason Memorial Public Library in Carrollton.