Hello. Over the years friends in philosophy who work on animal relationships and related have been sending me and collecting photographs of cross species or same species moments of what appear to be compassion, friendship, meeting of mutual needs for companionship, curiosity, etc. I have posted some of those photos here, but an online YouTube video that is worth your time is also listed. There are many videos of pets becoming close, but what I particularly enjoy are the relationships you would never expect to see, such as the one here:
Thank you for posting these. They are indeed moving and intriguing examples. And I'll throw out yet another random example that came across my browser recently:
What these stories seem to me to show (philosophically speaking) is how narrow our conceptions of relations among nonhuman animals often are. We find these events surprising because they contradict our prejudices or preconceptions about the capabilities of animals and, perhaps more importantly, about the very nature of relationships among both human and nonhuman creatures.
Just as the Darwinian discovery of biological evolution, which seems so common-sensical to most of us today, challenged received ideas of the nature of humans and animals 150 years ago, so accounts of interactions, compassion and friendship among members of other animal species raise questions about our conception of personhood, emotions and relationships.
If we accept that members of other species have capacities which we believe endow humans with moral attributes or rights, then clearly we need to consider whether accepted views of the rights, ethical standing or proper treatment of members of those species are correct or justifiable.
Of course, the question arises whether the examples we are discussing truly reveal such significant capacities in nonhuman animals. Other interpretations are possible and are commonly made. But evidence is mounting both in anecdotes such as these and in biological and evolutionary science that make it more difficult to deny the conclusion that other species have many of our cherished human characteristics. Or perhaps we should turn that statement around and say that many of the traits that we think of as human are derived from our heritage as members of the wider realm of animals.
The implications of this line of thought are potentially profound, and the question arises how and in what areas common morality and philosophical theory need to change to respond to this. What rights, obligations and privileges are affected by greater recognition of animal consciousness, emotional life and relationships? And what legitimate distinctions remain and what are their foundations? These I think are the important questions for philosophers to consider.
Time Magazine recently ran an article on "The Science of Animal Friendships" (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2106488,00.html). It contains a number of anecdotes of what are described as friendships among members of the same species, such as baboons, chimpanzees and dolphins. It also discusses some of the recently well-known interspecies relationships that have been documented on YouTube. Beyond the anecdotes, the article raises the usual questions that arise in this area regarding the possible evolutionary origins of friendship and its contribution to survival, longevity and reproductive success.
What I think is notable from a philosophical point of view, however, is that the concept and definition of friendship itself are not critically examined. Along with the assumption that we can recognize a range of behaviors and relationships among nonhuman individuals that count as friendship, the idea that we understand the meaning of friendship among humans is never questioned. There are no references to the usual philosophical suspects on this topic, ancient or modern. No consideration of the question whether the human relationships and behaviors that we consider "friendship" actually constitute a single category or one that is consistent across cultures or history. Nor is the question, whether the human potential in this area is based on the same types of biological and evolutionary factors that are offered as possible explanations of friendship among members of other species, seriously raised.
This is not surprising in the context of the Time article which after all introduces an idea that may be challenging and even disturbing to some people in a popular forum. If we accept that other species are capable of a relationship that involves deep emotional and social capabilities then what are the moral implications for our treatment of other species in agricultural, industrial or household contexts? Are the behaviors and interactions that we consider expressions of unique and elevated human characteristics actually similar to those of other species to which we don't attribute such lofty capabilities? Does "friendship" only occur among members of the same species? And what, fundamentally, are the boundaries of relations in this category? How is friendship related to other similar concepts (hatred, love, generosity)? Are other species also capable of these? I begin to wonder whether I don't have many cultural assumptions that will need to be questioned.
Given the central role of language in human relationships, can we actually describe a relationship between members of a species that does not use language as friendship? Or alternatively, does the occurrence of such relations suggest that we place too much weight on language among humans? After all, psychoanalytical interpretations of human love and friendship emphasize nonconscious and inexplicit factors that may not be so different from those involved in relations among members of other species.
As we raise these questions we also see the vague, complex and internally contradictory nature of many of the concepts that we use to characterize human relations and feelings. While exposing problems in our understanding of this area, it also suggests that we need to incorporate a theory of nonhuman and interspecies relations into a full theory of friendship and human relationships.