Joseph Jaworski, in his Jan. 12 letter, “The moral case against whaling?,” asks whether anyone opposed to whaling can explain precisely what principle makes killing whales morally wrong. A simple answer is not easy.
Principles can be considered guides to human interaction based on reciprocity. Killing another person, for example, is morally wrong because we value life and do not want to be killed ourselves. We protect the weak as we have the power to care while knowing that one day we might be powerless ourselves. These dualities of interest and constraint weave the fabric of our social contract.
Human interaction with animals is not based on reciprocity. Cows and whales do not, after all, threaten us and are unlikely to seek retribution if we kill them. However, largely as a result of the impact we have had on our planet and the recognition of the power we can wield to either protect or destroy, a principle has emerged: It is morally wrong to damage the environment and to harm wildlife. In one respect, this is simply expedient — dead ecosystems do not provide food. But in the absence of constraints on our actions (and the threat of avenging cows), a different form of reciprocity has to inform this principle, one that draws on our profound potential to respect and empathize.
We know that other animals suffer, and nothing sets us apart as a species like our immense ability either to knowingly cause suffering with impunity or to restrain ourselves to avoid unnecessary harm.
This principle, the basis of an environmental contract, turns Jaworski’s question on its head. The question is not what makes whaling morally wrong but, rather, is there a justification for the killing of these harmless sentient creatures that supersedes the moral imperative for their protection? If the answer is “research” as the Japanese government claims, how many academics seriously set out to kill the wildlife they are studying?
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
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