Tyler Cowen, Policing Nature, Env. Ethics (2003)


1.      Policing activities he argues for

         a.      Are modest: “Policing nature does not mean must put policeman in nature and stop animals from killing each other, though it may”

         b.      “We should consider cautious and humble attempts to shift the balance of power against nature’s carnivores”

         c.      Policing activities that are free or at a profit (e.g., hunting carnivores)

         d.      At least should minimize current subsidies to carnivores

         e.      Should count human policies (land clearing) that harm carnivores as benefits not costs

         f.       Eliminate current policies that subsidize propagation of carnivores (should invest fewer resources in saving endangered carnivores)

                   i.       Florida panther, wolf restoration, tiger preservation in India

         g.      Hunting regulations should differentiate between human carnivores and non-carnivores

                   i.       Worry: My intuitions are opposite of his conclusions: I believe it is worse to hunt carnivores (predators) than prey.

2.      One implication

         a.      Belief in animal rights does not automatically imply a ban on human hunting of carnivores


3.      Policing activity Cowen concerned with is checking the predatory activity of carnivores

         a.      Worries: Why only worry about carnivory?

                   i.       Ignores other ways nature causes suffering and death: e.g., starvation and disease

                   ii.      These too are good candidates for human involvement and/or interference with nature to alleviate animal death and suffering

                            (1)    Provide food and medical care for wild animals


4.      Basic argument

         a.      Animal welfare matters

         b.      Argument does not depend on animals mattering a lot

                   i.       Policing might still make sense even if animals matter a little, as there is “costless policing”

         c.      We have some duties to animals

                   i.       Might one deny we have any duties to wild animals?

         d.      Animals deserve some moral consideration

         e.      Painful death of an animal is a bad thing

                   i.       Can we deny this? (# 6 below)

         f.       If humans should regulate/restrict own behavior toward animals, why not restrict animals behavior toward each other?

         g.      If Roman placing of animals in bloody/painful fights to death was bad state of affairs, then it’s a bad state of affairs when nature does this


5.      Worry about our own harm to animals first?

         a.      Can we do more good for animals by policing our own poor treatment of them rather than their own poor treatment of each other?

         b.      Cowen might agree but claims that easy/costless measures to police nature should nonetheless be pursued


6.      Idea that animals killing each other is neither morally right or wrong

         a.      Agreed, but it might still not be valuationally neutral

         b.      Might be good or bad

         c.      As is hurricane killing people; not morally wrong, but bad



8.      Because some carnivore kill many more animals for each they sustain, they decrease utility

         a.      Eagle kills hundreds of other animals over its lifetime

9.      Objection that predators benefit prey

         a.      Keep down overpopulation

         b.      Encourage long run fitness of prey

         c.      Reply:

                   i.       Not all predators do this

                            (1)    Many animals flourish when predators absent and perish when they are introduced (e.g., on islands)

                   ii.      We might still want to intervene and provide greater support for predators

                            (1)    No reason to think nature maximizes welfare

10.    Objection: Incredibly high costs of policing nature

         a.      Reply: some kinds of nature policing an be performed at low or zero cost to humans

         b.      Hunting tigers (or fox hunting)is costless and even provides income

                   i.       Free policing of nature to let hunters kill predators



12.    If rights protect a protected sphere from bad treatment, then when carnivores appear to violate rights of victim

         a.      Regan reply: Only moral agents can violate rights; when a rock falls on a person the rock does not violate the person’s rights, though if it was pushed by someone then that someone did violate rights; Animals kill each other but do not thereby violate animal rights as arguable do humans when they kill animals.

13.    Good Samaritan issue: No positive duty to assist?

         a.      Even if animals rights are violated, it may be that moral agents have no duties to come to their assistance

         b.      Animals might have negative rights to not be interfered with (e.g., killed), but not positive rights to assistance

14.    Cowen argues in response that if we can stop a rights violation via zero cost we should (duty of assistance only if costs are negligible)


15.    Objection: Because animals doing the killing are not moral agents, they are innocent and we have no duty to stop them

         a.      But we are willing to stop and kill innocent human attackers

         b.      And we stop tornadoes from killing people even though they aren’t moral agents

         c.      We even provide animals with limited protection against natural disasters

                   i.       Wild animals in addition to domesticated ones?


16.    HOLISM

17.    Holism

         a.      Not concerned with individuals so much as with whole environment or ecosystems or good of whole

         b.      Suffering (utility) or rights of individual animal secondary to good env or nature as a whole

         c.      Evaluate nature in terms of a model (set of values) for how nature should be

                   i.       Leopold’s “Integrity, stability, beauty of the biotic community”

18.    Holism does not get rid of policing issue

         a.      Should simply police based on a holistic criteria

         b.      E.g., nature should be more kind, balanced, or complex

19.    Natural value problem: One holistic value for nature might be “naturalness” or wildness (that is, nature’s value is importantly increased by avoiding humanization, that is, human manipulation and control) and this directly rejects policing of nature



21.    Should not police nature because we can’t predict effects of human intervention in nature–might lead to ecological catastrophe

22.    Reply: Low cost, minimal policing of nature not likely too

23.    Reply: Wiping out European wolf did not lead to catastrophe

24.    Reply: many other things we do affect balance of power in nature (changing water levels, fertilizing soils, influence climate)

25.    Cowen thinks holism is noncommittal on policing issue



27.    He ignores that one possible key value of holism is leaving nature natural and this argues strongly against policing

28.    He inappropriately calls carnivores “vicious” and claims they “rape”


29.    Graded utilitarianism (smarter animals count more) doesn’t help because many carnivores kill animals equal to or smarter than themselves

30.    Objection: What about negative utility of humans who get upset about policing predators?

         a.      Their desires beg the question of what kind of attitude toward policing nature we should have