I've noticed that several people have found my blog while searching for Save Toby or savetoby.com
or something similar. Let me first say that I do not know if that guy is really going to kill Toby. I don't think that anyone knows if he's going to kill Toby.
As mentioned earlier, my ethics class at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana
discussed the issues raised by savetoby.com
and how they tie in to the general ethics of killing animals non-human animals.
Practical Ethics, by Peter Singer is the text that we've used throughout the course and it speaks a great deal about the issue of killing non-human animals.
"There is no single answer to the question: 'Is it normally wrong to take the life of an animal?' The term 'animal' -- even in the restricted sense of 'non-human animal' -- covers too diverse a range of lives for one principle to apply to all of them.
"... our discussion has raised a very large question mark of the justifiability of a great deal of killing of animals carried out by humans, even when this killing takes place painlessly and without causing suffering to other members of the animal community.
"So although there are situations in which it is not wrong to kill animals, these situations are special ones, and do not cover very many of the billions of premature deaths humans inflict, year after year, on animals.
"In any case, at the level of practical moral principles, it would be better to reject altogether the killing of animals for food, unless one must do so to survive. Killing animals for food makes us think of them as objects that we can use as we please. Their lives count for little when weighed against our mere wants."
Clearly Singer would find savetoby.com to be unethical (which is different than immoral) but the question is: 'Why?' Savetoby.com defends its actions by saying
"... it will be a painless death at the hand of a butcher.
"... yes, I am threatening Tobys life, but Toby is MY property. There is no law against threatening your own property. Would it be illegal for me to tell someone Im going to bash my car windshield in if they dont give me 50 bucks? Nope.
"In fact, I am trying to give him the best life of any rabbit in the world.
"Toby has not been tortured or abused in anyway."
Does this justify his actions? Does this even address all relevant ethical issues?
One might question whether or not savetoby.com OWNS Toby. On the spectrum of animals we could have humans on one side and bacteria on the other. Where is the line drawn as to which animals one can own and which animals one cannot? Clearly the ownership of humans is forbidden but the ownership of bacteria is not. The question could be more simply stated: 'What is it about humans that makes them ineligible to be owned that the rabbit lacks?'
Initially one might respond: 'Humans are equals and therefore cannot own one another whereas a rabbit is not our equal and can be owned', or 'Humans are self-aware, rabbits are not.' The first response is somewhat similar to arguments for slavery from a hundred and fifty years ago. Why make the criterion membership of a species; why not make it blue eyes, or white skin, or high IQ? These are just as arbitrary, just as non-relevant to equality, and just as morally reprehensible. Being human, having blue eyes, having white skin, and/or having a high IQ have nothing to do with whether or not someone should become property of someone else. The argument that humans are self-aware fair a little better, but does not prove the right to ownership. It is true that rabbits are not self-aware, but it is also true that newborn babies are not self-aware. In addition, there are mentally handicapped people who are not self-aware. Could I own a baby? Could I own a mentally handicapped person? No, clearly not. Therefore it must not be possible to own a rabbit. Am I saying that pet stores are temples of moral wrong? No, because they are not selling ownership. Pet stores sell rights to be the guardian of an animal. I could be the guardian of a baby. I could be the guardian of a mentally handicapped person.
As an additional point, savetoby.com says that he could smash his windshield with out moral ambiguity because it is his property. He could have used in the place of a windshield and other of his personal, non-animate, belongings. However, he could not have said that he was going to smash his rabbit. This is because of animal anti-cruelty laws. Therefore his animal is not a simple possession, but something more. In fact, if savetoby.com were to hurt Toby, he could be charged with animal cruelty and have his right to be the guardian of Toby taken away. This happens with other pets often. It seems that the law does not provide for savetoby.com to have ownership of Toby, but guardianship.
Alright, savetoby.com is the guardian of Toby. So what? Well, if I were the guardian of a baby, could I kill it? Could I hold it for ransom? No. That would be morally wrong.
A more pertinent reason for savetoby.com not to fall into the realm of the moral right is a simple weighing of interests. Does the irk felt by savetoby.com of not receiving $50,000 by June 15 outweigh Toby's desire to continue living? Does the action of savetoby.com getting $50,000 give more good to the world than the death of Toby? How little is Toby's life worth?
So, what's wrong with savetoby.com? Well, it objectifies the life of animals, it claims that Toby has little or no interest in staying alive, it claims that Toby can be owned in a similar way that one could own a windshield. Morally, these things are wrong. The conclusion in my ethics class was that savetoby.com is wrong, but it was then unclear as to why. We all felt that the amount of money plays a role, but shouldn't on a moral scale. We all felt that this trivialized life. We all felt that it would be very foolish to give savetoby.com any money whatsoever.
If you have any questions, comments, rants, raves, doubts, or would like clarification on a point of mine or of Singer's please leave a comment or email me. This is not the end of this topic. It is still rich for discussion and I am very open to that.