Death of the Emperor

There has been a lot of news coverage over the shooting of the red deer stag known as the Emperor of Exmoor. I have been to Exmoor many times and have seen the hunters out with their guns and, I admit, they represent one aspect of humanity that I am none too impressed with (aside from anything else, they just look ridiculous). But I am curious over the outrage at this shooting which, incidentally, is perfectly legal. The anger is a moral one, and so I am wondering what the moral arguments are here. One newspaper argued that it is wrong because the Emperor is ‘wild and beautiful’, but is this a good reason to not shoot it? Lots of things are ‘wild’, and should we really base our preferences on whether we find something beautiful or not? There is certainly no shortage of red deer roaming around Exmoor. Perhaps the standard utilitarian response works here: the pleasure of seeing this animal roaming around alive (not to mention the pleasure of the Emperor itself?) is much greater than that priovided by its antlers danging from the wall of someone’s stately home?


Janie Hope says:

The (to me) arbitrary distinction between which animals it is okay to kill for 'sport' or for food has always been a mystery. Having said that, even before I became vegetarian 21 years ago I wouldn't have eaten a cat, for example. This I suppose is culturally determined. Still, while I don't understand killing for 'sport', I find it difficult to take the moral high ground as one who has not yet walked away from Omelas. That story haunts me.

Shelley says:

A part of the argument may come from the point of view of non-human rights, which may help decide the status of the deer. Being plentiful, then, is not a justification for sport, for this same argument cannot be overlaid onto human rights, i.e. we cannot suddenly cull groups of people for their numbers or racial significance (although sadly our history denies this simple human right). The consequentialist would carefully consider the most pleasant outcome for the most people, like the argument here for the manifold pleasure of shooting deer on the moor. The consequentialists also have the added practical bonus of feeling justified by culling an over-populated species which may not have sufficient food (and would then die anyhow) over a harsh winter. A starving deer population may also present a problem by migrating to built-up areas in search of food, thus becoming an urban ‘pest’. So maybe the consequentialists have a case. Deontologists may just decide that killing animals is wrong and seek to find other provision for a growing deer population. In a way a carefully worked-out consequentialist ideology does finally (or should) arrive at a universal principle (abstract rather than practical, rule-consequentialism for example). A consequentialist may finally say to herself that the political solution of over-population simply solved by culling is so chilling that there is finally no pleasure through its result. Also, Kant’s categorical imperative is driven by ‘a good will’ and those roots lie in Aristotlean ethics. The problem with ethical models is that under enough strain their boundaries merge into each other.

But in regards to the red deer on Exmoor, if I were to apply ‘a mean’ I think that there could be a deer-shooting season of a few weeks. If a hunter chose to hunt deer during that time then she would first have to earn a qualification for clean marks(wo)manship from a community college. She must specifically learn the art of killing without any undue suffering of the beast. Once she has been examined and seen fit to wield a bow and arrow she can join other fellow marks(wo)man scholars on the moor. She must also agree to remove the fallen deer, and with her accompanying award of butchery (a module on the marks(wo)manship course), must carve up and take home her kill. Any deviance from these restrictions will be punished with a hefty fine, like property, to be paid to local charities. Men can take the course too. Open to both genders. That’s only fair I think.

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