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Do ethical judgements have "objective validity" or are they used merely to express feelings and influence the behavior of others?

Taking Emotivism Seriously

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By Wayne Ferguson (March 14, 1994)

{}=end notes
     My demand upon the philosopher is known, that
     he take his stand beyond good and evil and
     leave the illusion of moral judgment beneath
     himself.  This demand follows from an insight
     which I was the first to formulate:  that
     there are altogether no moral facts.  Moral
     judgments agree with religious ones in
     believing in realities which are no realities
     (Nietzsche 501).

     This demand, expressed by Nietzsche in the 19th
century, was in large part satisfied, or at least
strongly reaffirmed, by the emotivists of our own
century.  As its title suggests, it is the purpose of
this paper to take emotivism seriously--not to defend it
in dogmatic fashion, but to consider seriously the
possibility that propositions which express moral
judgements may be accurately and exhaustively
characterized as statements which evince and evoke human
emotions.  First, I will give a brief exposition of the
basic emotivist position as articulated by A.J. Ayer and
C.L. Stevenson.  Second, I will present what I take to be
the most compelling evidence in favor this position:  1)
the apparent lack of any rational criteria for settling
ethical disputes in the absence of a shared affective
response to matters of fact, and 2) its consistency with
theories of biological and cultural evolution.  And,
third, I will consider the practical ramifications
emotivism if it is perceived to be true.
      In Language, Truth and Logic, A.J. Ayer departed
radically from the conventional analysis of ethical
propositions by arguing that ethical judgements have no
objective validity--that is, they are not genuine
propositions and, hence, do not come under the category
of truth and falsehood (108-109).  What they are, he
argues, are "pure expressions of feeling" which may or
may not reflect the actual emotion of the speaker, but
which are, in any case, not statements of fact (108,
109).  In addition to evincing emotion, Ayer admits that
ethical judgements may also be intended to "arouse
feeling, and so to stimulate action" (108).  What, then,
are we to say about the endless debates over "ethical"
issues?  Are they meaningless debates over something
which does not in fact exist?  Not exactly.  It is the
case, Ayer wants to say, that the meaning of ethical
judgements are exhausted by the emotions which they
evince and evoke.  Nevertheless, argument may still be
quite reasonable.  What we argue about, however, is not
whether or not our opponent has the right feeling towards
a particular situation, but whether or not he or she
understands the situation correctly:

     When someone disagrees with us about the moral
     value of a certain action or type of action,
     we do admittedly resort to argument in order
     to win him over to our way of thinking.  But
     we do not attempt to show by our arguments
     that he has the "wrong" ethical feeling
     towards a situation whose nature he has
     correctly apprehended.  What we attempt to
     show is that his is mistaken about the facts
     of the case (110-111).


From this standpoint, it would seem that we argue if (and
for as long as) we consider our opponent ignorant rather
than evil.  Ayer goes on to say that real argument is
impossible unless some system of value is presupposed:

     if our opponent happens to have undergone a
     different process of moral "conditioning" from
     ourselves, so that, even when he acknowledges all
     the facts, he still disagrees with us about the
     moral value of the actions under discussion, then
     we abandon the attempt to convince him by argument.
     . . . It is because argument fails us when we come
     to deal with pure questions of value, as distinct
     from questions of fact, that we finally resort to
     mere abuse (111).


Thus, from Ayer's perspective, given the variety of
economic, political, and religious environments in which
the values of individuals take shape, it is not
surprising that we find ethical disputes which seems to
elude rational mediation.
     Ayer's basic position is taken up and expanded by
C.L. Stevenson in an article that appeared the year after
Language, Truth and Logic.  In "The Emotive Meaning of
Ethical Terms," Stevenson outlines an "interest theory"
of the good in accordance with three requirements which
he thinks must be met by any analysis which is to capture
the "vital sense" of the good which traditional interest
theories failed to grasp.{1} Unlike Ayer, Stevenson does
seem to admit of a genuinely descriptive element in
ethical judgements, i.e. they indicate a person's
approval of an action or a type of action, and do not
merely evince emotion.{2}  In this respect, Stevenson
position is not so very different from that of
traditional interest theories.  He departs from such
theories, however, by taking into consideration the
dynamic as well as the descriptive use of language. 
Whereas Hobbes had said that "this is good" means "I
desire this," and Hume held that to recognize something
as good is simply to recognize that most people approve
of it, Stevenson argues that these positions ignore the
most important aspect of our use of the word good and,
indeed, of ethical judgements in general--viz. their
dynamic use--which is their power of suggestion:

     doubtless there is always some element of
     description in ethical judgments, but this is
     by no means all.  Their major use is not to
     indicate facts, but to create an influence.
     Instead of merely describing people's
     interests, they change or intensify them. 
     They recommend  an interest in an object,
     rather than state that the interest already
     exists (18).


Whereas Ayer had emphasized that ethical judgements
evince emotion, and acknowledged, almost as an
afterthought, that 

     it is worth mentioning that ethical terms do
     not serve only to express feeling.  They are
     calculated also to arouse feeling, and so to
     stimulate action (108),


Stevenson takes their persuasive aspect to be primary. 
Ethical judgements can be compared to an imperatives
insofar as they influence, or are intended to influence,
the actions and attitudes of others.  However, when
Stevenson translates the judgement "this is good" into "I
do like this; do so as well," he makes clear that
something is lost in the translation.  The explicit
imperative appeals to the conscious efforts of the
hearer, whereas the ethical judgement leads the listener
to the desired end by means of its power of suggestion
(25-26).{3}  This is the "magnetism" referred to in the
three requirements mentioned earlier.  If we demand that
someone approve of some act or attitude simply because we
approve of it, personally, we are more apt to meet with
resistance then if we simply praise it as right or
good.  If, however, the person in question disagrees
with our moral evaluation of the act or action under
consideration, how is the issue to be decided?  Stevenson
seems to agree with Ayer that such disputes cannot be
settled by argument unless some system of value--some
common interest--is presupposed.  This is consistent with
the third requirement that the good is "not discoverable
solely through scientific method."  If two opponents
share some common interest--some common conception of the
good--their (apparent) disagreement in interest is
actually rooted in a disagreement in belief.  Thus,
Stevenson says

     people who disagree in interest would often
     cease to do so if they knew the precise nature
     and consequences of the object of their
     interest.  To this extent disagreement in
     interest may be resolved by securing agreement
     in belief, which in turn may be secured
     empirically (28).


When, however, such disagreement is not rooted in a
disagreement in belief, there is no ground for a purely
rational resolution to the dispute.  Some how, a change
in temperament must be effected whereby one or both the
parties comes to see life through different eyes (29). 
At such times, the effectiveness of moral discourse is
more dependent on rhetoric than reason:

     It is persuasive, not empirical or rational;
     but that is no reason for neglecting it. 
     There is no reason to scorn it, either, for it
     is only by such means that our personalities
     are able to grow, through our contact with
     others (29).


Thus, Stevenson seems to be a little more optimistic than
Ayer about the fruitfulness of ethical debate.  He denies
that ethics is psychology, since psychology doesn't
attempt to direct our interest (30).{5}
     Having briefly examined the basic emotivist
position, why should we take it seriously?  Why does
anyone take it seriously?  Remarking on the proliferation
of emotivists that seemed to follow the publication of
Language, Truth and Logic, Mary Warnock points out that
Ayer's book did not so much convert people to emotivism
as it provided suitable dogmatic expression for what had
already been their creed (Warnock 84-85).  But why was it
their creed?  I think there are two basic reasons that
emotivism seems intuitively true to many people:  1) the
apparent lack of any rational criteria for settling
ethical disputes in the absence of a shared affective
response to matters of fact, and 2) its consistency with
theories of biological and cultural evolution.  In what
follows, I do not pretend to demonstrate the truth these
positions.  I intend only to describe what I take to be
reasonable perspectives from which the emotivist's
position may seem more reasonable.  Insofar as either or
both of the perspectives described seem compelling, they
constitute evidence in favor of emotivism.
     Throughout the history of ethical thought,
philosophers have been unable to invest their ethical
reasoning with the force of demonstration.  Whether they
derived the sanction for their moral judgements from the
will of God, from reason, or from an appeal to
consequences, the certainty of their conclusions were--
and remain--open to question.  
     If we appeal to the will of God, how can we prove
that we have, indeed, apprehended God's will accurately?
How are we to persuade those who don't believe in God? 
What if someone else apprehends God's will differently? 
     Reason doesn't fend much better.  Many argue that
reason cannot determine action, but even if we grant
Kant's "categorical imperative," we can come to no
agreement on its practical application.  
     Finally, an appeal to consequences is equally
fruitless.  We can never know all the consequences of an
action; and even if we could calculate them to the nth
degree, we would still disagree about their value.  
     Considerations such as these led Sartre to the
conclusion that human beings are "condemned to be free"--
that we must bear the weight of our choices without the
consolation of God's approval and without the rational
certainty of having done our duty in any absolute sense:

     there disappears with [God] all possibility of
     finding values in an intelligible heaven. 
     There can no longer be any good a priori,
     since there is no infinite and perfect
     consciousness to think it (Sartre 398).
     

It seems the only thing we may know with certainty about
our ethical judgements is how we feel about them and
how we would like others to feel.  Thus, emotivism would
seem to hold some attraction for existentialists as well
as for moral skeptics in the analytic tradition.{6}
     Emotivism would seem also to hold some attraction
for many of a scientific bent insofar as it would seem to
be consistent with theories of biological and cultural
evolution.
     With the exception of human beings, we interpret the
whole spectrum of organic existence according to a
deterministic, biological model.  The growth and
development of physical organisms is the necessary result
of the interaction of particular genotypes with
particular physical environments.  The genotype of an
organism is the essence or form which governs its
development.  The phenotype of two organisms of
approximately the same genotype will necessarily be
similar or different according to the similarity or
difference of the environment in which they develop. 
Similarly, in the realm of spirit--i.e human existence-
-we know that differing physical and cultural conditions
at the very least strongly influence the physical and
psychological development of each individual.  We
hesitate, however, to go all the way and interpret human
behavior and existence in a manner consistent with the
model which we apply to other organisms.  This hesitation
puts us in the rather awkward position of drawing a line
of demarkation between human existence as the product of
human freedom and human existence as the product of
biological and cultural determinants.  This is a line
that has proven impossible (so far) to draw and many
thinkers find absolutely no justification for attempting
to draw it in the first place beyond our unwillingness to
sacrifice medieval notions of "human nature" and "moral
agency."  We are glad to attribute many of the
deficiencies of the vulgar to poverty and poor education,
but we are reluctant to give up our right to take credit
for our success and to lay blame upon those whose
behavior offends us (Cf. Skinner 265-266).  If, however,
we take the biological, deterministic model seriously,
and apply it to human beings as well as to other physical
organisms, then the emotivists approach to ethics begins
to seem very reasonable.  Rather than considering what is
good in itself, according to some objective standard,
we focus our attention on the evolutionary function of
the values held by various people(s) at various times--
values construed as subjective, affective responses to
matters of fact.
     According to many evolutionists, much of what we
refer to as morality is the result of genetic
predispositions to think and act in certain ways.  If one
argues that "the human ethical sense is a direct causal
function of evolution through natural selection," then
any account of morality in terms of some objective
standard seems superfluous (Ruse 31, 62).  What is
important would seem to be the intensity of our affective
response to matters of fact and the way in which that
response functions in the life of the individual and,
ultimately, the species.  Ruse argues that

     once we have been given the biological account
     of the origins of human morality, calls for
     justification (in the sense of foundations) is
     illicit. . . . We believe what we believe
     about morality because it is adaptively useful
     for us to have such beliefs -- that is all
     there is to it.  Morality has no ultimate
     ontological significance any more than does
     any other useful human adaptation, like the
     hand or the eye (42).


Consistent with the emotivist account, evolutionary
ethics says that when we perform an act for the sake of
duty or judge a course of action to be good, it is
because we feel it to be right or good--not because it
is right or good in any absolute, metaphysical sense. 
And what human beings feel to be right or good varies
significantly from person to person, place to place, and
time to time.  Nevertheless, there does seem to be
certain fundamental predispositions that constitute the
very condition for the existence of human societies. 
These predispositions may be described as the capacity to
act according to certain principles which are deeply
rooted in the genetic make-up of the majority of human
beings.  Granted, a particular upbringing is required to
activate these capacities (Ruse 37); but if it were not
for the capacities themselves, society not only would not
endure, it could never have come into existence in the
first place.  Ruse, following Taylor, designates such
principles as "second order principles" which are
"higher-level moral norms which govern all societies at
all times" (52).{7}  Thus our tendency to respect the
life and property of others as well as our altruistic
tendencies might be accounted for biologically.  Ruse
writes,
     
     Putting the matter simply, working together
     with other organisms can frequently pay far
     greater dividends than trying to fight all
     comers.  There are various mechanisms which
     have been proposed to explain this
     cooperation, the best know of which are
     probably "kin selection" (Hamilton 1964a),
     where relatives aid each other because they
     thereby increase the prospects of their own
     reproductive ends, and "reciprocal, altruism"
     (Trivers 1971), where non-relatives cooperate
     because they can then expect favors in return
     (32).


     We need not look at "second order principles" alone
to find natural selection at work.  Indeed, even if we
take values to be primarily the result of nurture rather
than nature, we can still analyze them in terms of their
function.  Take, for example, the veneration of cattle by
Hindus.
     Marvin Harris describes in some detail how the
veneration of cattle by Hindus plays a vital role in the
Indian economy.{8}  He explains why westerners should not
look with wonder on the starving Hindu that refuses to
kill his oxen, indicating that the taboo against such
short term "rationality" developed through a process of
natural selection.  Those who killed their cattle during
periods of famine had no draft animals with which to till
the soil when the rains finally did come, no source of
transport for their produce, and no source of milk and
household fuel.  Thus, while those who observed the
prohibition against the slaughter of cattle risked
starving to death, those who failed to observe it starved
to death almost necessarily.  
     Countless other religious and moral imperatives
could be shown to have a similar survival function.  One
need not argue that every affective response associated
with such imperatives has such a value; or even that
those which do have such a value, generally speaking,
actually perform their positive function on every
occasion.  Nature requires only that they work much of
the time.  Furthermore, it seems reasonable to suppose
that some affective responses that are survival neutral
and even some which are, to some degree, of negative
value may have become habitual and been preserved by
virtue of their close relation, in the minds of those so
habituated, to other responses which were of positive
value.   And, of course, given a changing environment,
any particular affective response may outlive the
usefulness it once had.  The point is that sanction of
moral imperatives may be perfectly accounted for in terms
of emotions alone.
     We have seen, then, why emotivism might seem
intuitively true to people from a variety of
philosophical backgrounds.  If there is an objective
standard by which to judge what is right and wrong or
good and evil, we don't know it, and it therefore
does us little good.  When it comes to serious, concrete
ethical disputes, those who insist that they do apprehend
such a standard, albeit intuitively, tend to cut
themselves off from dialogue with others who they must
consider blind if not evil.  In the final analysis, it
can be argued, the intuitionist's insight is in fact her
own affective response to the matters of fact under
consideration.  Furthermore, if one considers the
function of human values in the "struggle for existence," 
it seems perfectly reasonable to construe them as
affective responses to matters of fact--responses for
which the individual is no more responsible than she is
for the color of her eyes.  Thus, even if we grant that
a person can to some degree control her emotions, it can
still be argued that such control must be rooted and
grounded in yet other emotions.  From this perspective,
moral discourse is the attempt of one emotional
perspective to influence another perspective by appealing
to more fundamental emotions which both perspectives
share.  If such shared emotions cannot be found on a
level underlying the point of contention, then it seems
ridiculous to insist that the person who feels the way
they do ought to feel otherwise.  Such insistence may
be of great rhetorical value, depending on the
circumstances, but its philosophical significance is
extremely questionable.
     Perhaps the biggest objection to emotivism is to
found in the practical ramification that are imagined
should the absolutist's position be abandoned.  Let us
consider, then, in conclusion, what the practical
ramifications would be if emotivism is believed to be
true.
     For the moral absolutist, taking the emotivist
position seriously is very disconcerting.  If a real
paradigm shift occurs, the (former) absolutist is apt to
become quite lost.  Having heretofore conducted herself
with more or less assurance of the rightness--or, for
that matter, the wrongness--of her actions, to suddenly
lose that consolation is almost maddening.  It matters
little whether the consolation was derived from an
awareness of God's will or the confidence that her
actions were determined by reason in itself, once she
grants the emotivist position, that consolation is gone,
leaving her with nothing to go on but her feelings.  Of
course, assuming that emotivism is true, that was all
that was there to begin with.  The difficulty is that
now--after the paradigm shift--some very significant and
powerful feelings are no longer available, viz. the
confidence that one is doing something because it is
objectively right or good--indeed, even the certainty
that one has done wrong is not without its consolation. 
In the absence of such confidence, the emotional
hierarchy which formerly prevailed in the psyche of the
(former) absolutist is apt to be disrupted and she may
well succumb to many destructive emotions.  Nietzsche's
Zarathustra describes the dangers which must be
confronted by those who become "free" of objective
morality:

     It tears my heart.  Better than your words
     tell it, your eyes tell me of all your
     dangers.  You are not yet free, you still
     search for freedom.  You are worn from your
     search and over-awake.  You aspire to the free
     heights, your soul thirst for the stars.  But
     your wicked instincts, too, thirst for
     freedom.  Your wild dogs want freedom; they
     bark with joy in their cellar when your spirit
     plans to open all prisons.  To me you are
     still a prisoner who is plotting his freedom: 
     alas, in such prisoners the soul becomes
     clever, but also deceitful and bad.  And even
     the liberated spirit must still purify himself
     (155-156).


In the end, however,--if a person has what Nietzsche
calls "the right to be free{9}--a new hierarchy of
emotions will emerge.  This hierarchy and the actions
generated by it will not necessarily differ greatly from
that of the former.  What is different is that the
(former) absolutist now recognizes her values as her own. 
She does what she does not because she ought to do so,
but because she wills to do so.  She is free from the
moral law and free for herself.  This is--especially at
first--a terrifying prospect:

     Free from what?  As if that mattered to
     Zarathustra!  But your eyes should tell me
     brightly:  free for what?  Can you give
     yourself your own evil and your own good and
     hang your own will over yourself as a law? 
     Can you be your own judge and avenger of your
     law?  Terrible it is to be alone with the
     judge and avenger of one's own law (175).{10}

Perhaps the terrifying aspect of such freedom is never
entirely dissipated, but in time, one grows more
accustomed to it. In spite of Nietzsche's rhetoric,
oneshould not imagine that such freedom implies that
people will become--as we say--immoral.  While it is
very possible that a convert to emotivism might have an
initial tendency to irresponsibility, analogous to a
young adult who has left home for the first time, such
irresponsibility is short lived.  We soon learn the real
value of traditional values and come to embrace many of
them again--this time as our own, rather than as a law to
be obeyed.  Ethical debates would continue, even if we
all become emotivists.  However, the realization that we
were arguing for our own values rather than that which is
objectively right or good, would likely make us less
dogmatic and more considerate of other perspectives.  In
any case, the real sanction for what we call moral
behavior would remain--viz. the affective response of a
well brought up individual to her environment.

                         End Notes

1.  "These, then, are the requirements with which the
'vital' sense of 'good' is expected to comply: (1)
goodness must be a topic for intelligent disagreement;
(2) it must be 'magnetic'; and (3) it must not be
discoverable solely through scientific method (Stevenson
18).

2.  Pepper, in his presentation of Stevenson's position,
says that "The descriptive component [of an ethical
judgment] includes a description of a psychological
attitude of favor or disfavor and of the object of that
attitude" (Pepper 296).  He considers this a significant
advance over Ayer.

3.  In his later work, Ethics and Language, Stevenson
provides two working models or patterns which he says
"preserve in rough form much that is essential to ethical
analysis" (Stevenson 21, from Pepper 289).  Three
variations of the first pattern are as follows:

     1. "This is wrong" means I disapprove of
     this; do so as well.

     2. "He ought to do this" means I disapprove
     of his leaving this undone; do so as well.

     3. "This is good" means I approve of this; do
     so as well.

4.  Stevenson does not use the word "apparent," but it is
implied by his analysis.

5.  It seems to me that even the successful direction of
someone's interest through persuasive rhetoric must
ultimately depend on an appeal to shared interests,
however remote they may be from the object of contention.

6.  The existentialist would probably not want to say
that moral judgments are just emotional responses or
that they merely evince emotion.  But most would say,
I think (speaking in the first person) that "moral
judgements evince my values" (not what is good or right
in itself) and that those values are felt more than
they are known.

7.   These are contrasted with "first order principles"
which are "those immediate rules of thumb which guide
people in any particular society.  They are specific to
a society and to a particular time, and could well change
very rapidly" (52).  What Taylor and Ruse refer to as
"secondary principles" are very similar to that which
Timothy Cooney refers to as "the primary code," which he
equates with morality, viz. the proscription of those
action which would destroy any society if even one person
engaged in them unrestrainedly (See Cooney 73-75).

8.  This material is found in "Mother Cow."  Cows, Pigs,
Wars, and Witches:  The Riddles of Culture (New York: 
Random House, 1974) 11-32.  My own abstract of the
chapter indicated is appended to this paper.

9.  "You call yourself free?  Your dominant thought I
want to hear, and not that you have escaped from a yoke. 
Are you one of those who had the right to escape from
a yoke?" (175). 

10.  Nietzsche makes the same point in a allegory
entitled "On the Three Metamorphoses" (137).  In that
allegory, he tells how the camel, who bears all that is
difficult (the burden of traditional religious and moral
imperatives), is transformed into a lion which slays the
dragon "thou shalt," and which is subsequently
transformed into the child "who wills his own will."  To
my mind, this bears a striking resemblance to the
Christian notion that "by the works of the law shall no
flesh be justified."  Those who are in Christ are free
from the letter of the law and fulfill naturally (or co-
naturally) the spirit of the law inasmuch as God has
written it on their hearts.  God's will and their will
coincide.

                      WORKS CITED

Ayer, Alfred Jules.  Language, Truth and Logic.  New
York:  Dover Publications, Inc., 1952.

Cooney, Timothy J.  Telling Right from Wrong.  Buffalo,
NY: Prometheus Books, 1985.

Nietzsche, Friedrich.  Thus Spoke Zarathustra.  The
Portable Nietzsche.  Trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York:
Penguin Books, 1982), 103-440.

__________.  Twilight of the Idols.  The Portable
Nietzsche. Trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Penguin
Books, 1982), 463-563.


Pepper, Stephen C.  Ethics.  New York:  Appleton-
Century-Crofts, Inc., 1960.

Ruse, Michael.  "Evolutionary Ethics:  Healthy Prospect
or Last Infirmity?"  Canadian Journal of Philosophy,
supl. vol. 14, (1987): 27-73.

Sartre, Jean-Paul.  "Existentialism Is a Humanism." 
Morality and the Good Life:  An Introduction to Ethics
Through Classical Sources.  Robert C. Solomon, Ed. (New
York:  McGraw-Hill, 1984)    394 - 400.

Skinner, B.F.  "Science and Human Behavior." 
Philosophy:  A Literary and Conceptual Approach. 
Burton F. Porter, Ed.  (San Diego:  Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich, Inc., 1980) 265-278.  

Stevenson, Charles Leslie.  "The Emotive Meaning of
Ethical Terms,"  Mind, Vol. XLVI, 14-31.

Warnock, Mary.  Ethics Since 1900.  London:  Oxford
University Press, 1960.
                           

               Works Consulted

Ruse, Michael.  "Evolutionary Ethics: A Phoenix Arisen." 
Zygon, 21 (1986) 95-112.

__________.  "Darwinism and Determinism."  Zygon, 22
(1987) 419- 441.

Tomm, Winnifred A.  "Autonomy and Interrelatedness:
Spinoza, Hume, and Vasubandhu."  Zygon, 22 (1987) 459-
478).

__________.  "Ethics and Self-Knowing: The Satisfaction
of Desire."  Explorations in Feminist Ethics: Theory and
Practice.  Eve Browning Cole, et al, ed. (Bloomington:
Indiana Univ. Pr., 1992)    101-110.


                       APPENDIX

     Popular prejudice and expert opinion persists in the
belief that the veneration of cattle by Hindus is the
main reason for hunger in India.  Though, taken at face
value, several studies do indicate that the taboo against
killing cattle results in a surplus of useless or
inefficient animals, careful analysis shows cow worship
to be a mechanism of survival for an extremely poor
nation living in a delicately balanced economy. 
     There are 126 million adult cattle in India.  Only
a nominal amount of their food consumption comes from
crops or pasture set aside for that purpose.  For the
most part, these cattle are scavengers that convert the
grass and garbage found on marginal lands along highways
and railroads into extremely useful products.  The
average Zebu cow produces 500 pounds of milk per year. 
Though this is only 1/10 the average annual production of
American cows, it is still of substantial importance to
a poverty stricken farmer, especially considering the
small amount he invests in feed.  In addition to milk,
India's cattle produce 700 million tons of "recoverable
manure" annually, part of which is used as household
flooring material, about 1/2  as fertilizer, and the
balance as fuel for cooking.  The manure burned by
housewives provides the energy equivalent to 27 million
tons of kerosene, 35 million tons of coal, or 68 million
tons of wood.  Perhaps most importantly, the 54 million
cows constitute the only source o draft animals for
peasant farmers, whose livelihood depends on the
availability of oxen to plow fields and pull oxcarts. 
Furthermore, not only do living cattle constitute a
mainstay of the rural Indian economy, but dead animals,
too, have their place in this scheme of things.  The
lower caste "untouchables", who haul away the corpses,
eat a substantial number of the 20 million cattle that
die each year.  This provides a substantial food source
to the lowest strata of Indian society, as well as raw
material for a large leathercraft industry. 
     Thus, one should not judge this "low energy
ecosystem" as wasteful.  Nor should one imagine that
modernization of farming methods would solve India's
problems.  The development of American style agribusiness
in India would only further aggravate the already severe
unemployment and hopelessness in urban areas, displacing
a quarter of a billion peasants currently engaged in
small scale farming.  Considering, then, the essential
role that living and dying cattle play in the Indian
economy, westerners need not look with wonder on the
starving Hindu that refuses to kill his oxen.  The taboo
against such short term "rationality" developed through
a process of natural selection.  Those who killed their
cattle during periods of famine had no draft animals with
which to till the soil when the rains finally did come,
no source of transport  for their produce, and no source
of milk and household fuel.  Thus, while those who
observed the prohibition against the slaughter of cattle
risked starving to death, those who failed to observe it
starved to death necessarily (Abstract of Harris 11-32).


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