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Reply to Velleman

It is not true that companion animals, at any rate, cannot conceive of themselves as persisting individuals in any way. Companion animals certainly act as if they understand themselves as persisting individuals. For example, my cat Nekko’s constant meowing at me starting at 2:00 p.m., following me from room to room, and trying to lead me into the kitchen, all suggest that she has an anticipation at least of a near future in which I feed her. Self-oriented behaviors such as Nekko’s, which are directed at eliciting actions from human beings or from other animals, indicate an ability to anticipate and even plan for events (involving the animal herself) that have not yet occurred.

These behaviors are evidence that companion animals understand themselves to persist. An animal’s sense of herself as a persisting being may be shorter in duration than that of adult human beings. But in that sense, it may not be too different from the sense of herself as a persisting being that my three-year-old grandson has. Nekko’s sense of the future may extend, perhaps, to an anticipation of the next few hours. But once there, her sense then extends for another few hours. And so on. She has a series of overlapping senses of herself as a persisting being. Thus, Nekko is connected to her own future, probably not so differently from how a human toddler is connected to his future, and to that extent, Nekko is able to accumulate good moments.1

But even if (contrary to what interactions with companion animals seem to suggest) nonhuman animals do not and cannot conceive of themselves as persisting individuals even in this limited way, it is not clear how that putative fact is supposed to mean that depriving an animal of a longer succession of good moments is not harmful to the animal. What matters is not whether companion animals have a far-reaching sense of their future or an ongoing sense of selfcontinuity, but rather, whether they have a future at all, and what sort of future it is. As Steven Luper puts it, “It seems entirely reasonable to say a life that contains years of pleasure which an animal cannot recall is better for that animal than a life that contains only a few minutes of pleasure which the animal can recall, just as your life and mine are better for the pleasures we have forgotten” (2009, 164). Moreover, as Krister Bykvist points out, Velleman’s view implies, most implausibly, that we cannot say that a future full of terrible suffering is worse for an animal than a future of great pleasure (2014, 320).

It is hard to see why an animal’s “caring about” extended life must be the criterion for the badness of death. Velleman seems to be saying that, in order for any being to be harmed by her own death, that being must be capable of a kind of meta-judgment about her own life. She must not only be capable of enjoying life; she must also care about enjoying life. If “caring about” is an extra evaluation of one’s life, in addition to simply enjoying a succession of momentary goods, the question is why this extra evaluation is necessary in order to make the succession of moments good for the animal.

Alistair Norcross shows that having a preference for future existence does not necessarily add much even to human beings’ global wellbeing. For example, a person who never considers the future is almost as much benefited by having preventive dental treatment as a person who does anticipate her future. Each will enjoy increased wellbeing by taking steps to avoid future pain from dental problems (Norcross 2013, 468-69). Norcross also asks that we imagine two animals, each of whom has many desires. One of them, Charles, but not the other,

Harold, also desires to continue to exist. Charles’s desire for continued existence does not necessarily make his death qualitatively worse than Harold’s death; it would really depend on the extent and strength of Harold’s desires (Norcross 2013, 469-70). As Frederike Kaldewaij asks, “[I]s someone who just enjoys life as it comes harmed much less by death than someone who has his life completely planned out already?” (2008, 60). Surely the answer is no.

Indeed, companion animals may often enjoy their temporary pleasures— extended or not—even more than many human beings do. Companion animals greet each day anew (Overall 2003, 146-47). By this I mean that provided they are reasonably healthy and able-bodied, they take pleasure, often exuberant pleasure, in the activities of their ordinary lives, appreciating simple activities and pleasures over and over again, as if experienced fresh each time. Unlike adult human beings (but like infant and toddler human beings), companion animals do not seem to have a sense of the middle or distant future, which can be feared or dreaded, or of the past, which can be regretted or longed for. They live very fully in the present and close future, and are able to enjoy the same or similar activities—eating, playing, cuddling, or running—over and over again. For this reason it could be said that, compared to adult human beings’ enjoyment, the pleasures of the moment are, for companion animals, unalloyed and pure, and arguably for that reason even more valuable than (many) humans’ present moments, which are often contaminated with worries and fears about the future, or regrets and nostalgia for the past.2

When companion animals enjoy such activities and have prospects for a future in which they will have additional enjoyments, their lives are worthwhile, and death—the termination of their lives—is bad for them.

 
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