What clever animals do people eat

Richard David Precht on dealing with animals"Incompatible with our morals"

Richard David Precht, born in 1964, is a philosopher, publicist and author and one of the best-known intellectuals in the German-speaking world. He is honorary professor for philosophy in Lüneburg and for philosophy and aesthetics in Berlin. His books such as "Who am I - and if so, how many?", "Love. A messy feeling" or "The art of not being an egoist" have been translated into a total of more than 40 languages. Since 2012 he has moderated the philosophy program "Precht" on ZDF. His book will be published on October 17th, 2016: "Thinking Animals: About the Rights of Animals and Human Limits".

Susanne Fritz: Around 7.8 million vegetarians and around 900,000 vegans live in Germany. In addition to all health motives, an ethical obligation towards animals continues to play a major role. The vast majority of people in western countries eat more meat than ever. It works because many people suppress the misery in the animal factories and have never seen the inside of a slaughterhouse. But also because our relationship with animals is based on an ethic that does not make animals into creatures, but into things. How could this happen? Philosophy and religions have shaped the attitude of people towards animals. I talked to the philosopher Richard David Precht about this. He has written a book on animal ethics that was published today under the title "Thinking Animals - About the Rights of Animals and Human Limits". Mr. Precht, the relationship between humans and animals is grotesquely contradictory: on the one hand, we pamper our pets - whether dogs, cats or guinea pigs - and, on the other hand, we mercilessly exploit animals. But all of this has been known for a long time. What prompted you right now to take up the topic again and write a book about our dealings with animals?

Richard David Precht: I think the topic is up in the air much more urgently than it used to be - for the following reason: On the one hand, the number of vegetarians and vegans in Germany has risen rapidly. A lot of young people don't want to eat meat anymore. And on the other hand, factory farming is even more grotesque today than it was 20, 50 or 100 years ago.

Chickens in a hall on Todd Chapman's poultry farm in Clermont in the US state of Georgia (picture alliance / dpa / Erik S. Lesser)

That means: We are building huge animal factories, some of which are 300,000 animals. And this contradiction is huge, that is, the gap between what people in Germany consider ethically correct with regard to animals and what we actually do is widening and widening.

"In the Neolithic Age, man felt himself to be part of nature"

Fritz: If we now look into history, into the cultural history of man. How should one imagine the relationship between humans and animals in pre-Christian times?

Precht: We assume that, let's say the Stone Age hunters did not see themselves as something that did not belong to nature. As we say today, human culture on the one hand, nature on the other, but they lived in nature and understood themselves as part of nature and had a corresponding relationship with animals.

We have impressive evidence that a family was buried in the Neolithic and at the same time the dog was buried with it or cattle were placed in the burial chamber. This shows that somewhere in the broadest sense we still felt that we were soul mates and that people felt themselves to be part of nature.

"Livestock farming with dogs began 10,000 years ago"

Fritz: Why has the relationship between humans and animals as comrades-in-arms in the struggle for survival changed?

Precht: The big change comes from the systematic expansion of agriculture and animal husbandry, i.e. the so-called Neolithic Revolution. The moment animals become farm animals and their lives are completely in the hands of humans, the moment the relationship with animals becomes more objective. Of course, this is a process that did not take place in a day, but over the course of several thousand years.

So 10,000 years ago, livestock husbandry with dogs probably began at the very beginning, i.e. in search of a companion. At some point, the cattle and the chickens will join them. And in the course of this process, the relationship between humans and animals changes. That means: Animals are no longer perceived as a world around them, but rather as an environment, as something that can be exploited.

Fritz: Can it be said that mastering nature is accompanied by a process of alienation?

Precht: Yes, that's the weird thing overall. The stronger a person rules over nature, the more soulless that which is ruled appears to him. And the triumphant advance of technology and the triumphant advance of human culture mean that we no longer see the value of animals, that we no longer perceive them as animated living beings, but rather as something with which we can switch and control at our own discretion.

"Hardly a more animal-friendly religion than in ancient Egypt"

Fritz: The respect for nature and animals is being lost more and more, philosophical thought structures and the monotheistic religions finally justify the rule of humans over animals. But not all religions lose respect for animals. In the religious ideas in ancient Egypt 2,000 years before Christ, the animal has a great meaning. In what way?

"The ancient Egyptians had a convivial relationship with nature" (dpa / picture alliance / Friedel Gierth)

Precht: Yes, there is hardly a more animal-friendly religion than ancient Egypt. You just have to know that when we think of Egypt today, we think of the desert and 2,000, 3,000 years ago Egypt looked like the Serengeti today. There were elephants and there were sable antelopes and gazelles and hippos. Well, that was a similar biotope as we know it today in the African savannah.

The ancient Egyptians had, today one would say, a convivial relationship with nature: Well, you had the feeling of living in the midst of life. Nor did the Egyptians have the idea that there is a world, on one side an earth and on the other a sky. This is only an invention of the desert dwellers, but one had the feeling that one is subject to a cyclical life cycle, which in Egypt was closely connected to the cycle of the Nile floods.

This is a different relationship to nature than we know it today, and so it is not surprising that at least a third of the Egyptian heaven of gods is populated with animal-shaped beings, that there has been an animal cult, that animals have been embalmed and that one is in Saw animals exercise the spiritual powers of divine energies.

"Judaism objectifies animals"

Fritz: In the monotheistic religions, the animal cult is violently opposed and banned. The Christians in Egypt devastate the places of worship as soon as they can. The animal suffers a tremendous loss of meaning in all monotheistic religions. In these religions man is created to rule over nature alone. How exactly does Judaism now describe the relationship to the animal?

Precht: The difference to the Egyptians and Judaism can be seen very nicely in the creation myths. If you look at the creation story of Genesis, then God creates the world in six days and the whole point of this world is to create a suitable backdrop, a real habitat, in which one single animal species finds its way perfectly - namely humans . Even the stars are there so that he doesn't get lost in the dark.

This creates a completely anthropocentric view of the world. And in this anthropocentric view of the world, animals don't matter much. There is, of course, a somewhat older story of creation that is glued to this other one. The creation story of the Yahwist is the story of the Garden of Eden, is the story that before God creates women, he creates animals just so that Adam does not feel alone; but since that obviously doesn't work that well with the animals, the woman is still created. There we still find remnants of animistic religions, something that comes from the Canaanites. Something that got mixed up with the Jewish faith afterwards.

But overall one can say that Judaism objectifies animals, at some point it actually only knows them as farm animals, i.e. as oxen that work in the field, but no longer as fellow creatures or companions in a spiritual, religious cycle.

"Christianity only recognizes the human being as an animated being"

Fritz: Christianity adopts the Jewish Bible and canonized it in a somewhat different arrangement than the Old Testament. How does Christianity differ from Judaism in relation to animals?

Precht: We find in Judaism, if we look closely, at least some animal ethical maxims. That you should treat your livestock well. A famous sentence is that God requests man not to connect the ox that is threshing, so that he can breathe better and so that he can drink in between and much more. And that's a very animal-friendly regulation.

And Paul refers to it and says: "What it says there is not about oxen, it is only about people." It is only to be understood metaphorically. And he says the sentence "Does God take care of the oxen? Doesn't he talk about us everywhere?"

And you can see at this point that Christianity continues the development that began in Judaism, namely the objectification of the animal, and actually only recognizes humans as animated beings.

Fritz: In Christianity, too, there was the idea of ​​animals as fellow creatures, for example with Francis of Assisi in the 12th and 13th centuries. Century. How have his ideas influenced the teaching of the Catholic Church?

Precht: Yes, unfortunately very little. If one puts it a bit exaggerated, one can say: Very little remains of the social teaching of Jesus Christ in the power-political efforts of the Church in the Middle Ages and through the Renaissance and Baroque periods. And the same is actually true of Francis of Assisi as well.

It actually has more of an alibi function. The church, too, can come up with someone who has obviously been very animal-friendly, who has repaired a spider's web so as not to rob the poor spider of the livelihood and much more who has preached to the birds. But that didn't have a big impact on the Christian faith, it was always an outsider in the church. He was quickly made a saint so as not to have to take him seriously.

"Protestantism is characterized by a mandate to rule over nature"

Fritz: If we now look at the Protestant Church: Martin Luther was considered an animal lover. How did the Protestant churches see animals?

Precht: All in all, the Protestant church has a completely objective relationship to animals, at least and one has to distinguish between that, the official church, i.e. Lutheranism, for example. Luther himself made two statements about animals. One is that you know that as a young man he stood up against the songbird murder in Italy and, second, there is a very controversial passage in his speeches. A man is said to have come to him and asked him whether his dog would also go to heaven. Luther is said to have said: 'Of course. God will create a new golden sky. Also for all little dogs and little bellies. ' If one deals intensively with Martin Luther, one must assume that this is a mockery and not an animal-friendly statement.

Fritz: What about Calvin, for example?

Contemporary portrait of the reformer Johannes Calvin (picture alliance / dpa)

Precht: Protestantism is generally characterized by a mandate to rule over nature. Capitalism begins with Calvinism. This is where the idea begins that nature is only there for the purpose of being exploited by and being of service to man. Incidentally, this is a concept that we already know in antiquity, namely with the ancient Stoics.

"In the Koran, animals are there to be eaten"

Fritz: I would like to take another look at Islam. Islam also belongs to the monotheistic religions. What is the relationship between Muslims and animals like?

Precht: Not much different compared to Christianity. The Koran states that animals are either there to be eaten or to be used as a load carrier or for riding. There are a few sentences from Mohammed about animals, which are also quite animal-friendly. So in contrast to Jesus, Mohammed is more friendly towards animals. But overall the difference to Christianity is not very great.

"Many Hindus and Buddhists Eat Meat"

Fritz: The Hindu religion and Buddhism deal with animals somewhat differently from the monotheistic religions. To what extent do the doctrine of rebirth and the doctrine of transmigration of souls play a role in this?

Precht: A desert religion has a different relationship to animals than a jungle religion. And in very humid, very fertile India, a completely different way of dealing with animals has developed.

Not that we know many of the problems we know in Christianity from ancient Hinduism, but what is decisive is the doctrine of the migration of souls, which was developed around the same time in the Mediterranean area in 600 BC. arises and in the same time again in India. We don't exactly know the connections. It does not prevail in the Mediterranean region. So Plato is the last important philosopher who believes in transmigration of souls. But it is gaining ground in Asia. From India to China and the Himalayas.

And whoever believes in rebirth has a completely different relationship to animals than someone who does not believe it. With every animal, the soul encounters, as it were, of someone who could previously have been a person. That changes the way we deal with it fundamentally.

Fritz: Does this also have something to do with the commandment not to eat meat?

Precht: Yes, both the Hindus and the Buddhists know this commandment, but both religions are also domains of the exceptions to the rules. Because many Hindus also eat meat and many Buddhists also eat meat. So an apt example where you can then make this clear: When Buddhism spread in the Himalayas, it found a culture of people there who lived from yak breeding. And in winter, at an altitude of 3,000 or 4,000 meters, there is really nothing else to eat than yak meat. In this respect, exceptions had to be introduced. Of course, they were justified with a lot of fuss, but overall, meat consumption is lower in the Buddhist world. However, we are now talking about cultural history. We're not necessarily talking about the present. So if you go to a restaurant in Shanghai, then of course you get meat there and there are McDonald’s there as well as here.

Fritz: The Hindu religions or the Hindus do not renounce meat out of compassion for the creature. What is their reason?

Precht: Yes, it's about two things that are closely related. The doctrine of the transmigration of souls presupposes that every person strives to be born as a higher form as possible in the next life, with the final result that at some point not to be reborn at all, but to be redeemed. And to do that, you have to live a very ethical life.

A very ethical life is a life that largely renounces excessive indulgence in any form. And eating meat is such an extravagant, unnecessary indulgence. And since the point is to forego all of this as ascetically as possible, eating meat is problematic in two respects. First, because of rebirth and, second, because it is gluttony and illegitimate indulgence.

"At Heraclitus, people become something very exclusive"

Fritz: We had said that man in his cultural and historical development has alienated himself more and more from animals, thanks to his intelligence he will soon occupy a special position, especially in the monotheistic religions, man is the measure of all things. At some point, however, humans begin to deal with nature and their relationship to animals by means of reason. The Greek philosophers did this for the first time in antiquity. How did you see nature and humans in relation to animals?

Precht: The great turning point comes, we would say through Heraclitus, through the idea that there is a divine Logos that works somewhere beyond the world, but shines on the world and exclusively illuminates the human soul, if I am reasonable and clever enough. This makes people something very exclusive. And parts of this logos, one can say philosophy, one can also say religion, that is, this belief that man is something special because he participates in a world logo, in a world reason; he later immigrates into the soul doctrine of Christianity. And to this day it determines our conception of the exclusively human soul, which is something completely different and unmistakable from the start and has nothing to do with animals. For, as Thomas Aquinas said: "The animal's soul does not partake of immortality because it does not partake of reason."

Fritz: But with the discovery of reason, science also comes into consideration of nature.

Precht: Yes, it starts in the 16./17. Century, when one began to study nature more systematically. Aristotle had already done this in antiquity and then there is a very, very, very long hole and then it begins so slowly in the baroque period that one tries to classify nature.

The natural scientist Carl von Linné 1707-1778 (imago / Leemage)

At the beginning of the Enlightenment, Carl von Linné, the important Swedish natural scientist, was the first to create such an inventory list of nature and systematize everything accordingly. A question arose that Aristotle asked himself, namely that it may be that man has these wonderful logos and a rational soul, but that he looks very, very similar to the monkey. And now he is desperately looking for a distinguishing feature, because it is already strange. On the one hand, humans separate themselves completely from the animal world through the rational soul, but on the other hand they are incredibly similar to animals.

"In Protestant non-conformism, the animal becomes a fellow creature"

Fritz: Many natural scientists and philosophers of the 18th century were influenced by Christian theology, despite the Enlightenment. In this all development in nature is traced back to God's wise plan of creation; human consciousness is the culmination of divine creation; nevertheless, the relationship to animals changes with the enlightenment. The feeling of pity for the battered creature returns to the minds of people. How does it affect?

Precht: Yes, you can say a lot of criticism about the objectification of animals in Judaism and Christianity, but a word like fellow creature is also due to a religious context, namely Protestant nonconformism. We are now in the 17th century.

In the 17th century, Protestant sects like the Puritans, then later the Quakers and the Pietists, began to treat animals differently. They have a theological reason for this. They are convinced that Adam's original sin not only brought the suffering of hard work and drudgery over people, but also unjustifiably affected animals. Animals too have to die, animals also give birth in pain, i.e. everything that came as punishment for people after they were driven out of paradise. And that's why they perceive the animals as part of a community of fate.

All are affected by original sin - and that brings humans and animals closer to each other again and in this context the word fellow creature arises, i.e. the idea that we all have a common lot on earth from which we must be redeemed.

"Animal protection associations arise from a pietistic mentality"

Fritz: And with this thought of fellow creature, animal welfare ultimately arises.

Precht: Animal welfare actually comes from pietism and puritarianism. It was the first of the movement to emerge in England, but also in Germany in the early 19th century. And the animal welfare associations spring from precisely this pietistic mentality: animals as fellow creatures deserve our protection and their suffering must be reduced, we should not be too barbaric towards them. This is how animal welfare begins at the beginning of the 19th century.

Fritz: In the 20th century, animal welfare is becoming an increasingly important argument. More and more animal protection associations are emerging, but there are also voices calling for not only protection, but rights for animals. Factory farming, animal experiments, fur farms, zoos and hunting should be abolished today in the opinion of the animal rights movement. How do the animal rights activists argue?

Precht: Today animal rights activists argue with arguments that we find in part as early as the end of the 18th century and in the 19th century. The crucial question now will be, is it about whether animals can think or is it not about the fact that they can feel the same way or similarly as we do?

The idea of ​​animal rights is based on this and is then updated above all in Peter Singer's book "Animal Liberation", we are now in the 1970s. His decisive thought is that everything that is capable of suffering and that is also capable of consciousness to a certain extent must be considered ethically. It cannot be that a chimpanzee, which is more conscious and possibly more capable of suffering than a newborn baby, is not included in the ethics, while the baby is.

"I advocate an ethic of ignorance"

Fritz: In your opinion, what could be the criteria for modern animal ethics?

Precht: In the classic animal rights philosophy, there are two arguments for respecting animals. One is because they are capable of suffering and the other is because they have a consciousness that is in many ways similar to humans.

Protests by the animal welfare organization PETA in London on the occasion of the international day of veganism. (Imago / Landmark media)

Both arguments have some treacherous points. So, if I were to breed animals now, breed chickens that have no pain sensation, then battery cells should actually be perfectly fine. I don't think that's what animal rights activists are getting at, but it shows that the argument is fragile.

The second argument is to be as similar as possible to humans. That means: chimpanzees belong in animal ethics, and we are not so sure about chickens. We are measuring again on a human scale. We are making ourselves the yardstick again in a completely anthropocentric way. And that is also problematic. And I advocate an ethic of ignorance. I do not advocate saying with wood-chopping certainty who has how much awareness and how capable of suffering, but rather to be very, very careful and really consider what we believe wherever we can suspect complex forms of the ability to suffer and of consciousness. to be able to expect ourselves and the animals.

"Extending the reach of our compassion to include animals"

Fritz: Despite all the arguments in favor of such a modern animal ethic, the species egoism of humans and the lack of lobby of the animals speak against it. What chances do you see of implementing modern animal ethics in socio-political terms in the foreseeable future?

Precht: I see the chances very well. I don't believe in human kind-egoism. I think that's a strange invention, I think it goes back to Richard Dawkins, the British zoologist and popular science writer. There is certainly no such thing as Art Eoism. Because if there were, we wouldn't have a war in Syria now. So there is no kind of egoism in humans, there is only something like a near horizon, where living beings are more important to me than outside.

Many people love their own German Shepherd more than strangers. This shows that the limit is not the type, but the question of what we do in part with our own world. What do we feel responsible for? And where we feel responsibility for, we respect that more than what happens somewhere far out there and elsewhere. I think that's the limit.

The boundary is not at all between animals and humans. And the question is, how far can we socially extend the reach of our compassion to animals? And we have found over the past 200 years that we have continuously expanded the scope of our compassion. So white men have expanded the scope of their compassion to include, in large part, that they believe slavery is wrong. They have extended the range of their compassion to women, which has been very, very difficult for them and which has taken thousands of years of struggle.

"I am very optimistic that we will continue to make progress"

Fritz: But not entirely without pressure, you have to say.

Precht: Well, fine, but they would have had the power to prevent it. But the range of compassion grew. The pressure got stronger and stronger - and that's exactly the same with the animals. So, the women's movement did not prevail because committed women fought for it, but it prevailed because it was simply no longer compatible with the ideas of a liberal, ethical society. And I believe that a lot of what we do with animals today is simply no longer compatible with our ideas of morality, liberality, society and sensitivity. And that's why I'm very optimistic that we can make further progress.

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