ISP 2013 Abstract

“The Amoral Status of Humane and Humanitarian Law” (Co-written with Aaron Bell)

This paper examines the function of ‘humane’ and ‘humanitarian’ law from the perspective of both treatment of other animals, as well as treatment of soldiers and civilians in armed conflict. While law surrounding both acts of soldiers in war, and the ‘proper’ treatment of other animals (for example, in industrial slaughter houses) utilize morally loaded language; we argue that the function that law surrounding ‘humane’ treatment is in fact not intended to develop some kind of moral progress. Rather, this law is intended to authorize immoral acts as the ‘humane’ thing to do, thus providing an alleviation of moral responsibility with regard to violence against persons and other animals. This alleviation of moral responsibility, in fact, is the function of the law, for the purpose of maintaining social efficiency.

Against those who read the institutionalization of anti-cruelty and humane treatment laws as evidence of moral progress, I will argue that they function to alleviate moral responsibility and moderate the efficiency of industrial animal exploitation without challenging the fundamental assumption of human sovereignty. Rather, anti-cruelty and humane treatment laws regulate the efficiency of the individual both in her role as a worker and a socialized subject. Humane treatment prescribes normalized human conduct in the act of owning and killing other animals as property, while cruelty describes a deviant form of human behavior that must be regulated and prohibited in order to avoid anti-social subjects. The driving force in each case is not a recognition of what should not be done to other animals—it is a recognition of what humans cannot efficiently be asked or allowed to do.

We will also argue that the codification, or recognition of customary law, concerning war crimes and humanitarian law represents an effort to ensure that soldiers are both relieved of moral responsibility for violent acts, as well as able to be successfully re-integrated into society without being anti-social. In this case, while the laws of conduct in war do prescribe prohibitions on various sorts of combat, and weapons in combat, thus resulting in the protections of civilians in conflict zones from chemical weapons, biological weapons, rape, and violence if it is not in service to a greater military objective. The real function of this law is not to protect civilians, but to protect society against the re-integration of soldiers who have inflicted various harms on persons. Thus in her role as soldier, she must be forbidden to act in certain ways so as not to exemplify anti-social, or socially inefficient, behavior upon her return from armed combat.


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