domingo, 17 de mayo de 2009

"What a piece of work is man!" - Hamlet,

Hamlet's speech goes on:
"What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason!......the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!" .........(Act II, scene II).
- and some superior essence in humans - whatever it is that makes us "the paragon of animals" is just what's often cited as a justification for humans' behaviour to other species - we're cleverer, or capable of abstract thinking, or whatever.
To me it seems paradoxical that human technological superiority and intellectual powers always seem to end up (as far as non-human species are concerned) in the sort of behaviour which, if it were repeated within our own species, would be roundly condemned by all who hold themselves truly human.
"Noblesse Oblige" takes the view that the search for an ethical lifestyle is obligatory for human self respect and that we can take a giant step forward in behaving better just by treating non-human animals as beings with interests in their own lives, specific ways of conducting themselves and their own place in the world. In doing so, we might do something to earn the title of "the paragon of animals". Simply asserting one has a quality does not guarantee that one has it: one becomes brave by being brave, a champion runner by actually running. Humans cannot hope to take themselves seriously as ethical entities whilst crushing other inhabitants of the planet for mere caprices: this not a noble way to behave.
There are some hard cases; there are grey areas, but let us not mislead ourselves about the basics: if we wish to think of ourselves as ethical beings we must follow an ethical path - it's the price that has to be paid, but for us it is pure gain - who would not wish to be able to think better of themselves?