Fluttershy and Peter Singer: Equal Consideration of Animal Interests

Fluttershy and Singer

Everyone knows that Fluttershy loves animals taking care of them is her special talent after all. But does the episode Bats! suggests that she might have a lot in common with preference utilitarian Peter Singer? In this article I will attempt to argue that, like Peter Singer, Fluttershy is acting on the belief that animals deserve equal moral consideration when decisions have to be made.

Fluttershy’s love of animals has been one of the central features of her character since episode one when we met her training birds to sing at the Summer Sun Celebration. Since then we’ve seen her that her home is almost part shelter/animal sanctuary, and we also learned she received her cutie mark after being saved by a bunch of butterflies and learning about the wonders of the world on the ground. After falling thousands of feet to her otherwise guaranteed death.

Meh, totally worth it to find your life's purpose

Meh, totally worth it to find your life’s purpose

One of the more interesting ways in which Fluttershy’s love of animals manifests in the show, however, is that it seems that she is also responsible for serving as a mediator of sorts whenever there is a conflict occurring between the animals and local Ponyvillians. Or at the very least, she’s called up when the animals are in conflict with Applejack. This has happened at least two times in the show; Keep Calm and Flutter On, when she was mediating for Applejack and the beavers, and in Bats!, in which Applejack’s detesting of them for eating her apples was put up against Fluttershy’s concern for the bats.

Okay, going Dracula on your friends may have taken the argument a bit too far.

Okay, going Dracula on your friends may have taken the argument a bit too far.

The situation in the episode Bats! in particular brings up an interesting point of discussion as it was, in part, an environmental message in the show. It was during the musical number in the early part of the episode that the divide was made particularly strong. From the perspective of Applejack, the vampire fruit bats were pests that were damaging to her orchard, and her disdain for them wasn’t subtle as all she made sure to mention that “they’re big and ugly and mean as sin”.

Considering that Applejack is a farmer, however, her disdain and annoyance with them does come from a reasonable place in regards to her interests, and so talking about her anymore is kind of dull. Fluttershy’s position, though I won’t decide if it was well argued or not in the song, is the more philosophically interesting one. Specifically, the first appeal that Fluttershy makes in the song is that like ponies, vampire bats have interests that have to be respected, such as wanting to raise their young. Unfortunately for Fluttershy, Applejack’s concern for her orchard is strong enough she fails to accept the argument, instead opting to portray the bats as more akin to some kind of biblical plague determined to destroy her. Fluttershy’s more instrumental arguments also fail to appeal to Applejack.

The fact that the first argument that Fluttershy went to was one based on a recognition of the interests of the vampire fruit bats, however, I think can tell us a lot about the ethics of Fluttershy, at least in regards to animal rights. Specifically, I’m going to argue that Fluttershy seems to be agreement with the argument by utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer that we should give the interests of animals an equal consideration of interests.

Peter Singer, Preference Utilitarianism, and “Specie-ism”

Preference Utilitarian Peter Singer

Preference Utilitarian Peter Singer

Peter Singer is not the first utilitarian to argue that the interests of animals should be taken seriously Jeremy Bentham, for example, had a section detailing the question in his work Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. Peter Singer’s argument, however, has an interesting twist to it that stems from his base as being what is called a “preference utilitarian.”

Now, many of you may be familiar with hedonistic or classical utilitarianism, as it has been the primary way I’ve talked about it in all the other articles I’ve done about utilitarianism. For a refresher, hedonistic utilitarianism judges the ethics of actions on the basis of their creation of pleasure and/or pain. Preference utilitarianism, however, is a more contemporary form of utilitarianism that argues that what matters is that we promote actions that fulfill the interests of those involved. Preference utilitarians still argue that pleasure and pain are important factors; after all, most beings generally have a preference not suffering and prefer to have an enjoyable life. But by detaching moral requirements from inherently hedonistic means does allow for a wider range of goods to be valued when engaging in moral decision making, goods that may not necessarily be attached to pleasure/pain reasons.

So what does that have to do with animals? Well, as I just said a few sentences ago, most beings generally have an interest in avoiding suffering and generally living a pleasurable life. In fact, Peter Singer argues, the capacity for suffering and enjoyment is the basic prerequisite to be able to meaningful discussions about having interests at all. To quote him from his book Practical Ethics, where the case for equal consideration of animal interests is made:

“A stone does not have interests because it cannot suffer. Nothing that we can do to it could possibly make any difference to its welfare. A mouse, on the other hand, does have an interest in not being tormented, because it will suffer if it is.”

Although there are some that may object to claim rocks have no interests...

Although there are some that may object the claim rocks have no interests…

So from a preference utilitarian standpoint, if a being is capable of suffering/enjoyment and therefore has meaningful interest, it would be morally unjust to refuse to take those interests into consideration when making decisions. For Peter Singer, this makes sentience the limit at which we should determine whether or not we are to take an interest seriously; all other limits that could be offered such as intelligence, rationality, skin color, or species is simply an arbitrary manner. In other words, when talking about weighing the preference of humans vs the preferences of animals, the fact that one is human does not give any kind of inherent moral weight to why one’s preferences should win out over an animal’s. To do such a thing, Peter Singer argues, would be what he dubbed “a specieist”.

Now, it should be noted of course that doesn’t always means animals win over humans, but simply that depending on the situation at hand their interests must be taken as seriously as a humans. In some situations, the interests of humans may win out as part of recognition that our superior mental powers does mean that we have more complex, future-oriented preferences. So, for example, a human dying of cancer may suffer more than a mouse dying of cancer on the basis that the human has the full power to recognize and contemplate their future death, causing great mental anguish. In the case of something such as factory farming, however, the minor interests of humans to eat meat does not justify the cruel treatment of animals in the conditions of factory farms that are done to produce said meat. Whether the meat eating is in of itself a failure to respect their interests involves ethical questions beyond the scope of this article.

Fluttershy and Peter Singer

Going to go ahead and make this clear; unlike the case of my Pinkie Pie and Ethical Hedonism articles, I’m not going to try and make the case that Fluttershy is a preference utilitarian. The limit of my argument is simply that in her position as mediator, Fluttershy generally seems to act on the principle that animals are to be given equal consideration of interests.

Returning to the initial confrontation between Applejack and Fluttershy, we can see by the language that Applejack used that she does not seem to be particularly concerned about the interests of the vampire fruit bats. She describes them as “monsters”, “pest and his vermin friends” and specifically denying that they have interests beyond being an annoyance to her by stating that “They don’t care about nada, not zilch, no, nothing’/’Cept bringin’ about an orchard’s destruction” and “These creatures have a one-track mind.”

Now of course this is not to say that Applejack’s interests and complaints aren’t legitimate; indeed, it does appear that if not contained in some manner that vampire fruit bats can cause serious problems. But applying the preference utilitarian system to solve this problem, while maybe a good miniarticle, is beyond the scope of this article. I’m just reaffirming that Applejack’s concerns are legitimate even if her language shows a lack of consideration of the interests of the vampire fruit bats.

Returning to Fluttershy, then, as I mentioned the impetus for this argument is that the first method by which she attempted to appeal to Applejack was through attempting to appeal to the interests that the vampire fruit bats have in regards to raising their children. The addition of “Just like we ponies do,” can also be seen as trying to address that, though animals, their concerns are also just as valuable as that of ponies, or at least is attempting to appeal to an understanding of a universal interest that all animals have. Furthermore, after the song, Fluttershy further attempts to defend the bats by recognizing that their reason for being in the orchard in the first place was due to hunger and that the problem could be resolved by a compromise of sorts, such as the development of a sanctuary.

In this case, then, Fluttershy seems to be attempting a possible preference-maximizing solution; the vampire bats obviously have an interest in feeding and basic survival that has to be met without destroying the whole orchard. Sectioning off part of the orchard as a dedicated sanctuary, at least Fluttershy would argue, allows for those needs to be met without destroying the whole orchard. Furthermore, there is even an aspect of mutual relationship involved as the seeds spitten out by the bats are (and I’ll admit I have no idea how) going to produce better trees in the long term.

Of course, one incident does not make a pattern make, but as Bats! was a season 4 episode, we do have a few other ones prior to this we can point to. For example, Fluttershy’s mediation between Applejack and the beavers also show that she was negotiating with and treating the beaver as an equal party in the discussion. Her birdnapping of Philomena might be kind of odd, but her desire to help him does seem to come from an obvious concern about the health of the animal regardless of ownership. After all, taking a princess’s bird is a pretty gutsy move, and would require putting a lot of concern into the interests of the bird to consider such an action the morally right thing to do. Even if it didn’t turn out all that good.

Conclusion

While I would not make the case that Fluttershy is a preference utilitarian, I am willing to argue that she is at least following a principle advocated by the preference utilitarian Peter Singer that the interests of animals should be given equal consideration when making moral decisions. Her general behavior towards animals demonstrates a level of respect and kindness, and her defense of the vampire fruit bats in Bats! shows a recognition for their interests even when in conflict with ponies. Regardless of how you believe the conflict of that episode should have been resolved, I think we should be able to agree that Fluttershy’s willingness to extend equal moral consideration to all living creatures is something worth admiring.

For more information, please check out the following:

Equality for Animals? – Peter Singer

Fluttershy, Trees, and Windigos: Environmental Ethics in Equestria – By Nightsphere the Gnostic

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7 Comments

Filed under Character Discussion

7 responses to “Fluttershy and Peter Singer: Equal Consideration of Animal Interests

  1. Luna The Tide Ruler.

    Here is the thing: the animals in Equestria, or at least those who live on the edge of the Everfree Forest can say “I think, therefor I am”. Also, Angel Bunny has a personalty. Only some apes/monkey’s and “maybe” dolphins can say the same. They can talk but we don’t know what their saying.

    However, chicken’s should not be cruelly hurt to feed us. But too few folks care and that how its always been…

    The sad truth is that until we rule our unconscious mental subsystems and remake our own social constructs so that we can choose our own biases and falsie we will never have anything close to true free will.

    On a lighter note, how might Luna’s shape shifting affect her gender identity and sexually? Could she change “her” gender or sexually with every phase of the moon? I have a fic that touches on this idea but I need some help with it…

    Also, does she have some control over the tides or be able to use a water wimp?

    • Well, the argument Singer makes stands regardless of the level of cognitive ability of the animals. If anything, that makes it stronger because the higher the cognitive ability the more complex their interests are going to be and therefore ignoring their interests would become increasingly more unjust the higher the cognitive ability of the animals. The main gist of the article is that basically species-status is not a relevant moral concern when we have to make moral choices.

      As for your other two suggestions, unfortunately I don’t think there would be enough to draw from the show in order to say anything about that. Sadly exploration of gender and sexuality is something that isn’t probably going to be touched on…except I guess in episodes like Simple Ways and Hearts and Hooves Day.

      So that basically means you’re free to explore that in your fic in whatever way you want. My gut instinct would suggest that either you could portray Luna as maybe either agender or maybe genderfluid if you were to have her have shapeshifting power go to that level. Or maybe she’s just identifies herself as female who just happens to turn into a dude sometimes because why not. Gender identity and sexuality is a pretty wide open field after all so you really can’t go wrong with how you approach it. Absent, of course, of falling to blatant and problematic stereotypes or something like that.

      As for tides, I would guess she could indirectly have control over them through control of the moon, but it’s a delicate enough system you probably wouldn’t want to mess with them. Water whipping or hydrokinesis could probably be cool, but it wouldn’t really have to be something unique to Luna (get good enough at telekinesis in general, for example, and it might be doable).

  2. Luna The Tide Ruler.

    Good ideas. Telekinesis (Mind-motion) is not the right term here, “Goēskinesis” (Magic-motion) works better.

  3. Raincloudboom

    I’ve always felt like Fluttershy was in the wrong here. Applejack grows apple trees, harvests the apples and sells the fruit to the ponies of Ponyville to make a living. She keeps pests that would steal or destroy her crop out of the orchard, and protects the fruit, by placing scarecrows, fences, and, in the case of the parasprite swarm, barricades and bug spray/pesticide. Only the farmers themselves, and paying customers are entitled to any fruit grown in that orchard, and certainly only the farmers are entitled to the trees.

    Now a swarm of vampire bats has descended upon the orchard, destroying both the crop, and the trees. Applejack has asked for help to remove them from her property, upon which they are trespassing, stealing, and destroying property. It is utterly irrelevant if they care for their young, or are loyal to their family, they have no right to steal the apple crop. They are not entitled to a single fruit from the orchard. Saying they’re only eating the fruit because they are hungry is like saying Applejack should let all creatures onto her farm so they can eat free apples. The vampire bats have no more right to the fruit than a rabbit or a crow, yet she keeps the other two off her farm. Why should the bats get special treatment? Why should they get a sanctuary where they can eat to their hearts content, when all other pests are kept off?
    Twilight’s plan was wrong, but that doesn’t mean that Fluttershy must have been right

    • Like I said, Applejack’s reasons for disliking them are valid and are also to be respected. The exact outcome of measuring out the preferences could still end up with the bats being kicked out based on how you argue it. All that Peter Singer would be pointing out is just that you still need to take the bat’s interest into consideration with equal moral weight, which Applejack didn’t seem inclined to do based on the language she used to describe them.

      So if you want to, you could argue Applejack letting the sanctuary exist is a supererogatory act. In other words, it’s going above and beyond what she is morally obligated to do in this case, which might be to just remove the animals from her farm in the least violent manner possible.

  4. Pingback: Nightly Roundup #956 | EQD Development

  5. Pingback: “It Ain’t Easy Maximizing Utility”: Fluttershy, Breezies, and Rational Benevolence | Analysis is Magic

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