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.
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.
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”
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.”
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.
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