Palmer, Ch 6

Past Harms and Special Obligations


1.      OVERVIEW

2.      Previous chapter argued

         a.      Normally do not have relations with wild animals generate obligations to assist

         b.      Do have special obligations to assist/provide for domesticated animals

                   i.       Created to be vulnerable/depended

                   ii.      Place in situations where their only option is to depend (wholly/partially) on human support

3.      This chapter argues for

         a.      Special obligations to animals constitutively wild (e.g., coyotes) that have been harmed (and there is ongoing negative effects on their lives)

                   i.       Vulnerability enhanced and self-sufficiency compromised

         b.      Duty of reparation (or related special obligations) to them

         c.      Can obligations to assist can be non-voluntarily acquired?

                   i.       Even if one is not directly responsible for the situation of the vulnerable animal

                            (1)    Not harmed it

                            (2)    Not created it (directly/indirectly)

                   ii.      Perhaps if one has benefitted from harm to it

         d.      Do group responsibilities exist?

                   i.       (Yes, perhaps via shared attitudes)

         e.      Can be different obligations to assist animals with similar capacities, in similar situations, if our relations to them relevantly different (baby kittens and baby rats)



5.      Nature of reparations

         a.      If some unjustly made much worse off while others have unjustly harmed them or have benefitted from unjust harm, moral case for reparation

         b.      Backward looking

         c.      Recognition of past harm; acceptance of responsibility for or relation to past harm

         d.      Acknowledgment of moral imperative to repair or make good the harm

         e.      Recognition of special obligation to those affected by harm (or their descendants)

         f.       If no reparation, then harm sits as a persistent debit in a moral ledger

6.      Who should make good (who should make the reparations)?

         a.      Perpetrators (=perps) of the harm (causal accounts)

                   i.       Those who committed the injustice liable for reparations

                   ii.      Appeals to our sense of desert

                   iii.     Problems: Perpetrators are multiple, pass out of existence, be transformed so claims not legitimate

         b.      Beneficiary of harm (may or may not be perpetrators)

                   i.       Those who benefit from some injustice responsible for reparations

                   ii.      Beneficiaries are enjoying unjust gain

                   iii.     W/o good reason their interests advance

                   iv.     Pragmatic argument for beneficiaries to make good: “Where perpetrators are plural or disappearing, while beneficiaries easy to identify, best placed to bring about the benefit and do so at relatively low cost, makes pragmatic sense for beneficiaries of injustice to be assigned responsibility to assist”

7.      Uncontroversial examples of moral need for reparation by perps and beneficiaries

         a.      I make tons of money by defrauding you in a Ponzi scheme

         b.      You and Gus are going to split a large inheritance. Clem kills Gus and as a result Gus’ children suffer (you got all the inheritance)

                   i.       Clem has a duty of reparation to Gus’ children

                   ii.      And perhaps you do too (as a beneficiary of an injustice), especially if Clem can’t be found

8.      Pogge’s beneficiary argument for affluent individuals’ special obligations to assist the poor

         a.      Affluent benefit from arrangements that impoverish others

                   i.       Examples? (Cheap oil prices? Coffee plantations put others out of work? Discrimination against woman/blacks. Our treatment of Native Americans)

         b.      Authorize institutions that produce such arrangements

                   i.       By voting for them or paying taxes to them

                   ii.      Or buying things from them

                   iii.     World Bank? American military

         c.      Do not take compensating actions

         d.      Benefits could be refused (but instead individuals eagerly accept them)

         e.      Systems could be opposed and victims protected (individuals don’t act to do so)

         f.       Some moral responsibility for these harms falls on affluent individuals who are beneficiaries

                   i.       They have an obligation to try to improve the circumstances of those whose interests have been unfairly set back

9.      (Skip?) What constitutes reparation?

         a.      Formal apology for past actions

         b.      Land transfers

         c.      Worry that if non-perpetrating beneficiaries who now depend on land lose the land, new set of wrongful harm claims could be triggered in trying to resolve existing claims

                   i.       Avoid this



11.    Palmer believes we have backward-looking, special obligations to assist animals we have harmed (a type of reparation)

         a.      Although weaker than comparable human claims to reparation

                   i.       Because of ways humans (but not animals) can be aware of nature of past unjust harms

12.    Reparations to animals make sense even though they can’t understand reparation

         a.      Crazy to insist that those unjustly harmed must realize this for them to be owed reparations

         b.      Animals won’t understand that some offered good is reparation

                   i.       That humans can understand this means they get an extra psychological benefit from reparation

                   ii.      This might make case for human reparation stronger

13.    Harms need not be intended for reparations to be required

         a.      Duty of care: what one should have known

         b.      Human example: Parking car quickly w/o looking near playground with tons of little kids

         c.      Animal example:

                   i.       Wild areas are know to be frequented by sentient animals

                   ii.      Developing this area w/o trying to find out what animals are there and trying to protect/accommodate their vital interests (to some degree) is a breach of duty of care

         d.      Lack of intention to harm may weaken claim of assistance

14.    Is reparation appropriate with agricultural animals?

         a.      Why not?

         b.      Non-identity problem (Parfit’s problem); not clear made worse off

                   i.       We have created them in these harmful positions and so not clear the harm is making them worse off

                   ii.      Reparation is usually toward independently existing individuals

                   iii.     Made worse off by our harms

                   iv.     But ag animals would not exist w/o these harmful institutions (non-identity problem) and so it might be hard to claim made worse off by our harms

         c.      Harms to ag animals are ongoing

                   i.       In reparation cases harms have ended, negative effects linger, and trying to make up

                   ii.      With ongoing harm, an argument to stop harming has priority over argument for reparation

                            (1)    Strange to argue for reparation of harm that is still being committed when could stop the harm



16.    How we have harmed coyotes

         a.      Displaced from habitat by large residential developments

         b.      Lost access to much hunting and denning areas

         c.      Can’t move elsewhere as other coyotes live there

         d.      Setback their serious experiential interests in ways not otherwise occurred; now much worse off

         e.      Ongoing setback of interests; Continue to suffer in present from past setbacks

         f.       Made them more vulnerable with new hazards

                   i.       Road danger increased

                   ii.      New residents trying to trap or shoot them

         g.      Compromised their ability to provide for themselves

                   i.       By building on their habitat, fewer prey animals, denning areas destroyed

         h.      Coyotes interest have been totally ignored in all this

17.    Obligations to assist coyotes: If consider coyotes interest with moral seriousness, these harms generate backward-looking, special obligations to assist

         a.      Like human cases where land taken from existing inhabitants and displacing them to places where harder to live

18.    Issues

         a.      Claims weaker than in human case

         b.      Identity of perpetrators not clear

         c.      Disappearing perpetrators over time

         d.      Receding victims over time

         e.      Non-identity problems

         f.       Possibility of creating new offenses toward nonperpetrating beneficiaries

19.    Simplify by dealing only with “same-generation” cases

         a.      Reparations to the very same coyotes who were displaced and their immediate offspring

         b.      Avoids receding victims and non-identity issues

20.    Questions

         a.      Who should assist coyotes?

         b.      What would count as doing so?

21.    Problems with focusing on perpetrators

         a.      Many different individuals involved, former land owners, developers, architects, construction workers

         b.      How track them down? Moved, gone out of business

22.    Problems with focusing on beneficiaries

         a.      Main ongoing beneficiaries are new residents

         b.      But if they suffer substantial losses from reparations, we might be creating new harms that required reparations

                   i.       Not if the losses were less than the benefits gained.....

23.    Focus instead on what kind of assistance is appropriate for coyotes?

         a.      What would really help them and begin to make good some of negative effects of ongoing harms

24.    Many dimension of human reparations not helpful/relevant in coyote case (so their claims weaker)

         a.      Could not benefit from an apology or memorialization

                   i.       They lack concept of justice, bear no grudges, seek no satisfaction from either perpetrators or beneficiaries

         b.      No reason (unlike in human case) to prefer reparation from perpetrators on account of satisfaction this would give to victims

25.    Since case weaker (“given the relatively weak nature of coyotes’ claims”), need not do obvious thing should do in human case:

         a.      Need not restore coyotes to their land by removing buildings and rewilding

26.    Should provide practical benefits make their lives better /closer to how were before

         a.      Can’t relocate as they don’t do well

         b.      Should make them less vulnerable and more self-sufficient where they are

27.    Given what coyotes need

         a.      Solves problem of who should help

         b.      Should be assisted by ongoing beneficiaries; those who live in housing developments built on former habitat

                   i.       They are the ones who can provide help

28.    Practical steps of “reparation”

         a.      Should not trap, hunt, cause suffering to coyotes

                   i.       A general duty all have not just residents

29.    Special duties of residents to these coyotes because residents are benefitting from past harm, ongoing vulnerability and constrained self-sufficiency of the coyotes

         a.      Don’t directly provide food as will harm in long run (lead to habituation, increase dependence and heighten vulnerability)

         b.      Tolerate them and live along side them allowing coyotes to make best life they can in reduced circumstances

         c.      Benefits of land should be shared with animals whose home this has been

                   i.       Messier land use (e.g.,? Leave wetlands if they need them for hunting, even if this increases mosquitoes)

                   ii.      Some restoration of coyote habitat

                            (1)    This is reparation proper

                   iii.     Fencing and traffic calming

                            (1)    Why is this not simply preventing new harms instead of reparation for past harms?

                   iv.     Increase irritation/inconvenience of humans

                            (1)    Monitor domestic animals

                            (2)    Teach children how to respond to coyote encounters

30.    Pragmatic reasons to ask residents to bear responsibility

         a.      “Where perpetrators are plural or disappearing while beneficiaries easy to identify, best placed to bring about the benefit and do so at relatively low cost, makes pragmatic sense for them to be assign responsibility to assist”

         b.      If special obligations were extremely costly, then original developers (if still exist) could be help responsible for “retrofitting” housing area for wild-animal habitat

                   i.       E.g., tunnels under the road for wildlife crossing



32.    Dumpster kittens/rats example and “unrelated? Peter”

         a.      Owner breeds her pedigree cat and kittens have breed imperfections, won’t sell so put week-old kittens in dumpster

         b.      Unrelated Peter passes by, should he assist kittens?

         c.      What if they were rats abandoned by their mother?

                   i.       Rats cloud the issue as

                            (1)    Saving them might have bad consequences (rats infest someone’s house)

                            (2)    Affective relations to them strongly negative

                            (3)    Consider baby rabbits

33.    Different views give different answers

         a.      Capacity approaches (utilitarianism, capability approach) say rescue both

         b.      On negative rights view that claims only negative duties and never positive duties to assist – no obligation to rescue either

         c.      On rights view that requires moral agents to assist in prior rights infringement (and on her relational view–back story kittens/rats different)

                   i.       Duty to assist kittens not rats

34.    Questions addressed

         a.      Can people have special obligations to which not explicitly consented?

         b.      Some group responsibility Peter can’t help but be part of?

         c.      How can individuals like Peter be related to harms committed by others?


35.    Broader responsibility for the kittens than simply the breeder

         a.      Breeder put them there, true, but breeder’s decision affected by institutional context

         b.      Breeder part of institution of domestication and pet ownership

                   i.       Deliberate human creation of breeds as companion animals

         c.      Kittens bred because they can be sold; people buy them, show them, produce the food to feed them

         d.      Responsibility for these kittens’ fate broader than individual breeder

         e.      Humans are responsible for existence of kittens and current suffering and ongoing vulnerability

         f.       Similarly, consider the way in which meat eater’s are partially responsible for the suffering of a cow killed inhumanely in a slaughterhouse

36.    Kitten’s plight responsibility of human action

         a.      Kittens victim of human’s unethical actions

         b.      Kittens are members of a breed/species from which humans derive benefits

                   i.       Possibly Peter himself benefitted from the breed

                   ii.      Gives Peter a weak moral reason to assist

         c.      Kittens created within a human-directed institution that brings gains to people by making vulnerable animals

37.    Urban brown rats plight not responsibility of human action

         a.      Constitutively wild, living alongside humans despite deadly discouragement

         b.      Their populations have benefitted from humans, but humans not deliberately invited them in

         c.      These rats not harmed by any person

         d.      Humans have not deliberately created constitutive vulnerabilities

         e.      Peter has duty not to harm them but no duty to assist

                   i.       Permissible for him to assist, even supererogatory good


38.    Voluntarists: all special responsibilities must be based on consent or some other voluntary act

         a.      Some say that obligations (unlike duties) must be voluntarily assumed

         b.      Voluntarist:

                   i.       General duties (e.g., not to harm) had by all

                   ii.      Relational, special obligations for which consent needed

39.    Versions of voluntarism

         a.      Need explicit consent (e.g., promise making)

         b.      Role voluntarism: Entering relationship roles means one has consented to obligations go along with those rules

                   i.       Parenthood: by voluntarily taking on role of parent one assumes obligations to care for child

                   ii.      Or breeding or owning a companion animal

         c.      Voluntary acceptance of benefits that come from a relationship enough to create special duties

                   i.       Friendship: If voluntarily accept benefits of friendship, one accepts relation of friendship and special obligations to the friend that go along

40.    Not clear how Peter nor residents of housing estates get special obligations in these ways

         a.      One can’t just discover that one has these constraints/obligations

         b.      Consent required to assume them

41.    Palmer will argue that Peter/residents get special obligation by voluntarily accepting benefits


42.    Critique of voluntarism:

         a.      Palmer also questions thesis of voluntarism: why accept that all special obligations must be voluntarily assumed?

         b.      Siblings and children have special obligations to sister/brothers and parents –but these relations are not voluntarily entered

         c.      Parents can’t voluntarily exit role/obligations


43.    Palmer’s argument that voluntary accepting benefits of pet ownership in most people’s cases (including probably in Peter’s case) can ground the special obligations to assist kittens

44.    Pet breeding and ownership deeply rooted human institution

         a.      50% of U.S. households kept mammal or bird

         b.      Those who own pets get benefits, including health benefits

         c.      Even those who don’t keep pets benefit from institution

                   i.       Less health care costs for society

                   ii.      Reduction in social tensions

                   iii.     Increased social support networks

                   iv.     Creation of many jobs

45.    Most humans at sometime in their lives benefitted from pet institution

46.    Bottom line: By accepting benefits of pet institution, actively perpetuating it in one’s life, not disassociating onself from it or protesting against it, one acquires some share in moral responsibility for it and individuals produced by it

         a.      Dumpster kittens are extremely vulnerable, placed there by human who abandoned her duty not to harm, were created by institution from which every pet owner has benefitted

         b.      If Peter is benefitting or has benefitted from pet ownership, he has acquire obligation to assist

         c.      Not true of assisting the baby rats


47.    What about pet-free Peter?

         a.      If Peter ever owned pet, no support of pet institution

48.    Pet free Peter might have duty to assist because

         a.      Gained some small personal benefit

         b.      Shared attitude: Peter contributes to a shared group attitude toward animals that makes such treatment possible

49.    Peter has gained some small social or economic benefit from pet institution

         a.      Generates a weak obligation to assist the kittens (perhaps to alert animal rescue organization)

50.    But Peter is not saddled with this obligation with no exit from it

         a.      The benefits are non-excludable so he can’t escape them

         b.      If he protested the institution of pet ownership, he would be released of these obligations

                   i.       Supported policies that reduced # of companion animals or contributed to groups (like PETA) that oppose pet institution in principle

                   ii.      Notice if Peter cares so much about animals that he objects to pet ownership institution, he is likely to want to help kittens (like PETA would argue obligation to assist)



52.    Palmer defends group obligations based on shared attitudes

53.    Group obligations are problematic for voluntarists

         a.      Because some in the group get saddled with responsibilities for things that they didn’t do but others in the group did

         b.      Responsibilities may be diminished but still present

         c.      And possibility of exit exists

54.    Held’s example of ethnic group hostility contributing to violence by some in the group against different ethnic group

         a.      Group A members think group B members are inferior, stupid, criminal and Group A members have attitudes of denigration and hostility toward Group B

         b.      These shared attitudes increase likelihood of harm to group B

         c.      All in group A responsible for climate of hostility and so share in responsibility (though unequally) for harms caused

         d.      Exit possible by disassociating oneself from attitudes of group and this reduces responsibility that flows from membership in a group

55.    Human group responsibility based on shared attitudes towards animals leads to animal harms

         a.      Groups of humans create “attitudinal climate” were harm to animals likely to occur

         b.      Which attitudes?

                   i.       Animals can’t feel pain

                   ii.      Who cares about animal pain

                   iii.     Deliberate ignorance about animal pain

                   iv.     Human superiority and idea of animals as tools

                   v.      Humans are so much more important

                   vi.     Enjoyment of animal pain (bull fights, dog fights, enjoy predation)

         c.      “This altitudinal climate creates situation where although only some are directly responsible for harm to individual animals, many others create the world in which harms institutionalized (meat industry), encouraged, or tolerated”

56.    Shared attitude application to “pet-free Peter”

         a.      Even though Peter did not dump the kittens, he likely shares in attitudes toward animals which leads to production and discarding of unwanted pets

         b.      So he shares in moral responsibility of this group

         c.      Gives him a weak responsibility to assist dumped kittens

         d.      If Peter does not share in this attitudinal climate and disassociated himself from it, protested, withdrawn and refused support, he does not share in the moral responsibility for harms the attitude supports

57.    Conclusion

         a.      Preexisting human caused harms can provide reasons to assist

         b.      Special obligations can be generated by

                   i.       Causing the harm

                   ii.      Benefitting from the harm

                   iii.     Sharing in attitudes that indirectly contribute to harm

Questions on Palmer, Ch 6: Past Harms and Special Obligations


1.         What is a reparation? Who are the two groups that Palmer thinks might have a duty of reparation (to make good the injustice)? Why might it be hard to have the perpetrators fulfil the duty of reparation?

2.         Using an non-animal and then an animal example, explain how the beneficiaries of an injustice who did not perpetrate it might have obligations of reparation.

3.         Do reparations require that harm be intended or that reparations be understood by the recipient to be reparations of an injustice?

4.         What are the two reasons Palmer gives for thinking reparations to agricultural animals are not appropriate.

5.         Explain Palmer’s Coyote/subdivision case. Who does she suggest provide reparations and why? What activities does she think might be suitable reparations in this case? Does it include removing buildings? What problem does she see with this suggestion?

6.         Explain the dumpster kittens/dumpster rats example.

7.         How do the capacity approach, the negative rights view, Palmer’s view differ on the kittens/rats case?

8.         Explain why she thinks the plight of the kittens is the responsibility of a much broader group than the breeder who put them there. Do you agree?

9.         Explain the “voluntarist” view of special responsibilities like duty to assist. Distinguish between explicit consent versions, role voluntarism, acceptance of benefits voluntarism.

10.       Palmer gives some examples of people with special obligations that are not voluntarily assumed. What are they?

11.       Explain why Palmer thinks most humans have benefitted from the pet institution.  Do you think she is right? Do you think this gives us duties to assist the kittens in the dumpster?

12.       Explain how Palmer thinks a “shared attitudinal climate” can lead to a group’s responsibility for harm done by some of the groups members. Apply this argument to both a human and an animal case. Describe the “shared attitudinal climate” toward animals that she thinks encourages or tolerates institutional harm towards animals.

13.       Palmer thinks benefitting from an injustice –even when the benefits are non-excludable so that one can’t avoid receiving them–give one some obligation to assist the victims of that injustice. Although one is “saddled” with this obligation, what does she think one can do to exit from this obligation?