The Pretext of "Necessary Suffering"
STEPHEN R. L. CLARK
Let us admit, then, that animals in
degrees feel pain and fear, and that we have no
general reason to think them less subject to these ills than we: if they have fewer forebodings,
if they do, then by the same token they are buoyed by fewer hopes. A burning cat is as
agonized as any burning baby. Even where we do have reason to impute a lesser pain, yet pain
is painful. It has been urged, in a last desperate throw, that animals, who lack any
consciousness of themselves, must find each pang of agony a new thing without past or future,
that they do not seem to themselves to suffer any long pain. Even if we grant the premises—
which I do not—yet even pangs of agony are ill to be borne.
To be distressed by something is to find it an evil. We are so constituted that we are inclined
to make others' distress our own, the more sincerely the closer these others touch us. Our
solidarity in suffering with other sentient life, so Ruland thought […], was enough to induce in
us a respect for the life and dignity of non-human animals.
He was too sanguine. But at least it
is very common now to pay lip-service to the thesis that it is wrong to cause unnecessary
suffering to an animal. Necessity, of course, is often defined in terms of human activities that
are simply unquestioned, so that (at most) such a rubric merely rules out technical
incompetence. Such incompetency, being a symptom of inefficiency, might be left to the
technicians' care were it not that a fundamental inattention to animals as beings to be taken
seriously so often blinds men even to their own profit[…].
The difficulty about this slogan (that animals be spared unnecessary pains), minimal as it is, is
that it already proves too much for the orthodox to stomach. I emphasized that it
principle, that it makes no mention of rights to life, and indeed allows "rights" only in the sense
that animals are not reckoned mere "stocks and stones." As a radical moralizer I would go much
further […]; but here for a moment I will take my stand, on the claim that one should not cause
unnecessary suffering to animals. Incompetence is to be ruled out, and so also are certain ends
which are merely specious, or immoral in themselves. Wanton torture, or torture to impress a