Killing Compassion

In a rather recent podcast episode of Philosophy Bites, Harvard philosopher Christine Korsgaard defends a Kantian account of the status of animals. She rejects the traditional picture of Kant's ethics as a cold vision of the moral life which emphasises duty at the expense of love and value. Instead she views Kant's work as providing a resource for addressing not only the metaphysics of morals, but also for tackling practical questions about personal relations, politics, and everyday human interaction.

Kant derived a prohibition against cruelty to animals as a violation of a duty in relation to oneself. According to him, man has the imperfect duty to strengthen the feeling of compassion, since this feeling promotes morality in relation to other human beings. Since cruelty to animals deadens the feeling of compassion, man is obliged not to treat animals brutally.

Kant's Formula of Humanity states that all human-beings should be treated as ends-in-themselves. Korsgaard takes this one step further and argues that we should treat animals as ends in themselves and not as means. She still considers humans to be distinct from animals, in that they are rational beings (humans that is). However, according to Korsgaard human moral standards and nature are at odds when it comes to pests.

Personally, I find some comfort in that. I do not take killing animals (or plants for that matter) lightly, but when it comes to defending my garden against slugs I use all kinds of means, including various kinds of killing methods. I use beer traps, where they at least drown happy, and poison. If I come across a slug I cut it in half with my pruning shears. However, I also use passive defense systems like pallet rims with cloth (as suggested by Trädgårdstisdag) or roofing felt at the top, plastic bottles covering the small plants and toilet paper rolls to protect the stem when they grow larger. I've also tried spraying plants with oil mixed with garlic although apparently the sweet peas didn't like it either. I have removed the places where they like to sleep and breed, by digging up the yellow raspberries and lifting up the rhubarb leaves, putting wood chips all over the place. The grass is also kept short. By this I believe I send a clear message to the slugs: scram. They don't listen.
From Slug War 2015
It's not that the seeds cost that much and I don't need the vegetables in order to survive. It's about the work and care that goes into growing the small defenseless seedlings, having feelings of anticipation suddenly replaced by loss.

However, most of all I hate the thought of them munching on the plants my mother brought from her previous gardens. Some of them even originating from my grandmother's place. They are more than mere plants, they are containers of history and memories. For example, there's the peony that always blossoms on my mother's birthday. The rhubarb and I grew up in the same garden in Mölnlycke. We keep the dahlias in the basement all winter, and hope they survive. Also, the Nodding Avens were brought all the way from a meadow owned by good friends in Småland and the small blue flower called "snake eyes" in Swedish comes from my uncles place at the coast. And so on.

However, I must admit I'm a bit worried because I strongly sense that killing the slugs do diminish my capacity for compassion. I can just hope I had a vast amount to start with. Or that someone will get filthy rich by inventing a cure for slugs. I'm still not convinced that nematodes are the solution.

"Choice is our plight, our inescapable fate, as rational beings." Creating the Kingdom of Ends

From Slug War 2015

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