Posts tagged ‘Ramalingam on animal rights’

February 21, 2018

Justice for a Cow: Ramalingam On Animal Rights (1)


Krishna as Gopala, or Protector of Cows, And His Bovine and Human Friends

Unspeakable Cruelty and Slaughter in a Slaughterhouse!

Sadistic Spanish Festival

The Toro Jubilo, Madrid, 2014. The “Toro Jubilo” or Toro embolado in Soria, Medinaceli, Spain, is a festival associated with animal cruelty. During this festival, balls of pitch are attached to a bull’s horns and set on fire. The bull is then released into the streets and can do nothing but run around in pain, often smashing into walls in an attempt to douse the fire. These fiery balls can burn for hours, and they burn the bull’s horns, body, and eyes – all while spectators cheer and run around the victim. The animal rights group PACMA has described the fiesta as “a clear example of animal mistreatment”, and PETA calls it “a sadistic festival”. (Wikipedia)

Ramalingam’s radical and revolutionary ethic of compassion with its extraordinary emphasis on moral consideration for non-human living beings, including trees and plants, was expressed in a preliminary form in his early (1854) prose work on the legend of King Manu and his moral code (again, this is not the King Manu of Hindu mythology who was allegedly the creator of cruel caste divisions and codes which were the bane of Indian society) and developed in his mature, but incomplete essay on the Ethic of Compassion for Living Beings.

Ramalingam’s work The Moral Code of Manu is the story of King Manu’s moral dilemma in the face of the death of a calf beneath the wheels of the chariot driven by his only son Prince Veedhividangan. The mother of the calf comes to the gates of the royal palace and pulls the bell rope meant to communicate to the king that some person has faced injustice in his domain and that they need his intervention. As a paragon of justice, king Manu is shocked to hear the bell ring and on inquiry comes to know that the mother of the calf crushed beneath the wheels of the chariot driven by his only son and prince rang the bell asking for justice to be served in the case of the unnatural death or killing of her calf.

Contrary to the claims of his ministers that the death of the calf was an accident or due to its fate, and that the prince should be absolved of responsibility for its death, king Manu determines that his son, prince Veedhividangan, is guilty of negligently causing the death of the calf.

Refuting the arguments of his ministers that the calf is only an animal and inferior to humans in intelligence and that the just punishment for the prince is to undergo the rigors of performing rites prescribed by scriptures to atone for the sin of killing the calf of a cow, King Manu decides that his only son and prince deserves punishment by death for taking the innocent calf’s life.

His argument is based on the claim that there is equality of humans and animals concerning the right to life and that the death penalty is just punishment for the taking of life regardless of the fact that his prince is human and the victim a calf or animal.

The details of his argument are encapsulated in the following account of Ramalingam’s radical ethics of equal consideration of human and non-human life in the context of murder and/or suffering, an ethics first developed in 1854 in the work “The Moral Code of Manu” and expanded in his mature, but unfinished (1867) essay on “The Ethic of Compassion for Living Beings”.

In Ramalingam’s view, both human and non-human living beings are embodied souls with the same essential nature, i.e., sentient consciousness (Tamil: சித்து)  with its innate quality of intelligence (Tamil: அறிவு) and capacity to experience pleasure and pain.

He holds that the differences among living beings stem from their embodiment in different physical bodies, but that these differences in their physical bodies are irrelevant to the issue of moral consideration for them and that this consideration ought to be based only on their common essential nature, i.e., sentient consciousness with its innate quality of intelligence and capacity to experience pleasure and pain.

Since living beings have a common essential nature regardless of the differences in their corporeal or physical attributes, they also have common basic rights stemming from their common essential nature.

Ramalingam identifies two basic rights common to all living beings: the right to life and the right to freedom from pain or suffering.

How are these two basic rights derived from the common essential nature of living beings?

In his great incomplete essay on the Ethic of Compassion for Living Beings (composed in 1867 and first published in 1879), Ramalingam argues that a body (constituted of some form of substance) is needed for the soul to express and develop its innate attribute of intelligence.

It is an inherent tendency of  a soul to express and develop its innate quality of intelligence, to remove any obscuration or limitation in the expression and development of its intelligence when it becomes cognizant of it, as it invariably does after any temporary occlusion or obstruction of its intelligence.

Therefore, every soul requires and seeks embodiment to overcome a state of ignorance and to express and develop its innate intelligence. This tendency takes the characteristic form of a need to know and to grow in knowledge.

Ramalingam’s point is reminiscent of Aristotle’s dictum that “All men by nature desire to know”. Of course, it includes women (and it is noteworthy that, even in 19th century rural Tamilnadu, Ramalingam included women in his proposal for universal spiritual education and explicitly forbade discrimination on grounds of the physical attribute of sex or gender), but what is significant in Ramalingam’s account is its implication, confirmed by  scientific studies of non-human life, that all living beings have the inclination to know, an expression of their innate intelligence.

Aristotle gave a reason for his claim: the evidence that men take delight in sensory perception, particularly visual perception. This is also evident in other species. Indeed, the curiosity of non-human living beings about their environment often sharply contrasts with the apathy or sensory dullness of many humans!

Given that every living being is a soul capable of experiencing pain and pleasure, the innate intelligence impels it to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Embodiment gives the opportunity to experience a variety of pleasures or joys (Tamil: இன்பம்). These experiences of pleasure or joy augment the expression and development of intelligence and prepare the soul for the enjoyment of the supreme bliss of Arutperunjothi or the Ultimate Divine Light.

But embodiment also makes every soul vulnerable to pain or suffering in its manifold forms of hunger, fear, disease, torture, etc. However, its innate intelligence, a function of the indwelling Supreme Divine Light of Grace, guides it to find ways to avoid, alleviate, or overcome these forms of pain or suffering since they are an obstruction to the development of intelligence and the attainment of bliss or happiness, mundane and transcendental.

The essay on the Ethic of Compassion for Living Beings describes how these forms of suffering suppress the expression and development of the innate intelligence of the soul. I will discuss this claim in subsequent posts, but would like to point out that Ramalingam’s claim is consistent with the fact that the prospect of undergoing some form of pain or suffering can stimulate the innate intelligence to find ways to prevent, alleviate, or eliminate it. His claim is about the immediate effects of these major forms of pain or suffering, e.,g., hunger, murder, torture, disease, poverty, etc.

For any soul, murder is the loss of a body by an unnatural and cruel means. It inflicts on a soul the pain or suffering of being forcibly expelled from its bodily habitation and to face terrible fear and perplexity in the process. It is also faced with the additional suffering of undergoing the process of rebirth or embodiment in another form.

Every living being or embodied soul, i.e., an individual sentient consciousness seeking to express and develop its intelligence and with the capacity to experience pleasure and pain, requires a body to express and develop its intelligence. Therefore, every living being has the basic right to life or the right to keep or preserve its present body.

Hence, it is morally wrong to deprive any living being of its body by killing it and inflicting on it the twin sufferings of loss of  its present body and future rebirth in another body.

And the fact that every living being avoids pain or suffering supports the claim that every living being has the basic right to freedom from pain or suffering.

Hence, it is morally wrong to inflict pain or suffering, particularly in the form of infliction of torture, or loss of limb or organ essential for survival and quality of life, or disease, on any living being.

It follows that we must give equal moral consideration, without any partiality based on species membership, to human and non-human living beings in the context of any actual or imminent violation of the two fundamental rights, the right to life and the right to freedom from pain or suffering.

To the misguided objection that moral prescriptions cannot be derived from facts or factual claims, the simple reply is as follows:

The objection is misguided because it assumes that the only acceptable model of “derivation” must be deductivist, i.e., that the derivation must be a logical deduction from the facts. Logical deduction is not the only form of rational inference. And logical deduction is actually uninformative, i.e., it does not tell us anything new, anything not already contained in the premises. For instance, by logically deducing that “Socrates is mortal” from the premises “All men are mortal” and “Socrates is a man”, we are not deducing or imparting any new information not contained in those premises taken together.

Ramalingam’s derivation of the two fundamental rights from the relevant factual claims is a rational inference on the basis of good grounds or reasons.

If a living being requires a body for the development and expression of its intelligence, and it also avoids pain or suffering in order to preserve itself and develop its intelligence, then, unless it is shown that it is reasonable to ignore these central facts in the context of moral consideration for the living being, they constitute eminently good reasons for holding that it has the right to life and the right to freedom from pain or suffering.