A Philosopher's Blog


Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Running by Michael LaBossiere on August 5, 2013
English: A white-tailed deer

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I return to visit my home town in Maine, I run my favorite route. This year was no exception and the early morning found me running through the forests and fields of the University of Maine. Emerging from a section of the cool and shaded pine forest, I spotted a large buck standing, with a clear sense of the aesthetic, in an open area. He saw me almost immediately and our eyes met across the distance.

The deer and I are both the product of untold generations of natural selection (or, perhaps, the result of design) and we are both well equipped to do what it is that we do. Or, in more teleological terms, we possess attributes that enable us to fulfill our functions with a degree of excellence.

Both the deer and I are equipped with a decent array of senses, although the deer has something of an edge here. We are, interestingly enough, both well optimized for running. However, we are somewhat different sorts of runners. The deer is much faster than I, but I have an advantage in endurance. While I am not a tireless runner, I can (and have) run for hours. The deer can outrun me, but I can outlast the deer. So, a contest between us could come down to his speed against my endurance. I also have a special advantage—my species excels at handling heat. On this warm day, this gives me an edge over the deer.

While the deer is equipped with hooves and horns for offense, I would seem to be poorly equipped. As a human, I lack a proper set of killing teeth and my nails are stubs—shameful nubs when compared to the magnificent claws of a proper mammalian predator like a lion or beer.

However, I have hands and a pretty good brain. As such, I can make and use weapons. For example, the tree limbs I ran past could be easily converted into a club. I also have the ability to throw quite well, thanks to my eyes and arms—unlike any other animal I can hurl an object with force and accuracy over a fairly long distance. Even without weapons, my training allows me to use my hands, feet and grip lethally. In this regard, I am more than a match for the deer in unarmed combat. However, the deer is not helpless. Far from it—nature has blessed him with the tools he needs to survive against hunters like me and my four-legged brethren.

As I look at the deer, the remembered flavor of venison fills my mouth. Venison is my second favorite meat. My favorite is veal, which I gave up almost thirty years ago thanks to Singer’s book Animal Liberation. I also feel the runner’s desire to see if I can outrun someone else. I also have the mental traits that make me a suitable hunter: the aggression, courage and toughness needed to engage another living creature and inflict (and sustain) the damage needed to secure a meal. The deer also has his traits: caution, cunning and courage—I know that while he would endeavor to run, he would also fight for his survival.

The deer shifts slightly and seems to gaze more intently at me—as if he somehow knows that I am hearing the ancient call of the hunter. I can certainly feel the desire to pursue the deer, to face the challenge of the chase. I can see that the deer is getting ready to run. As I have been shaped by my hunter ancestors, he has been shaped by his ancestors—the hunted. We are, as I have said, both very good at what it is we do. We are, after all, what we are.

While I am well equipped for the hunt, I am also endowed with something else—the ability to engage in moral reasoning. While I am hungry (I am seven miles into a 14 mile run), I know that I have breakfast waiting for me. I have no need to kill the deer for food. I will not waste a life simply to gain a trophy, so I would certainly not rob the deer of his life merely in order to rob him of his antlers. While I would love to chase him for sport, I am sure he would not enjoy the game—he would not know it was a game and it would terrify him and waste his energy. As Kant said, cruelty for the sake of mere sport is not something that I, as a rational being, should be involved with. I will not play a game unless everyone involved knows it is just a game. At least, when I am at my moral best, that is what I will do—I do admit to the desire to yield to the call of the chase.

I turn away from the deer, running through the tall grass. The deer turns away as well, heading back into the woods. It is a beautiful day and we both have many miles to run.


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12 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on August 5, 2013 at 8:20 am

    Do you think you would have been able to take down the deer by yourself, or would it require a pack of like-minded philosophers?

    Also, maybe you should start taking a camera on your runs?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 6, 2013 at 5:04 pm

      A pack would make it easier-that is how our ancestors tended to hunt. But I could take a deer. 🙂

  2. WTP said, on August 5, 2013 at 10:34 am

    I know that while he would endeavor to run, he would also fight for his survival.

    Yes, the deer would endeavor to run. Deer are like that. Constantly endeavoring, striving to achieve various whatnots. Personally I endeavour. It gots that extra vowel in there and sounds much more frenchy and, consequetially, snootier than thou.

  3. Nal said, on August 5, 2013 at 10:52 am

    The Philosophy of Anthropomorphism.

  4. WTP said, on August 5, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Democrats at work:

    Jason Furman, the new chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers…disputed the idea that the health care law will ever drive companies to favor part-timers over full-timers and says the notion makes even less sense now: “Why would they shift people to part-time for something that’s not going to happen until 2015?”

    Spoken like a man who has never run a real business…from wiki:

    Furman graduated from The Dalton School in 1988. In 1996, while he was a graduate student at Harvard, Furman was hired by economist Joseph Stiglitz to serve a one-year stint as Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy in the Clinton Administration and on staff of the Council of Economic Advisers. He later worked with Stiglitz at the World Bank. Furman was involved to varying degrees with the Presidential campaigns of Al Gore and General Wesley Clark, along with his wife, Eve Gerber, who also contributed as a speechwriter for Gen. Clark.[3] In 2004, he took a position as Director of Economic Policy for the John Kerry Presidential campaign.

    Furman received an MSc from the London School of Economics and a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University. His Ph.D. thesis advisor was N. Gregory Mankiw, who had once also served as Chairman of the CEA, during the administration of George W. Bush. Also at Harvard, Furman earned a bachelor’s in social studies and a master’s in government.

    In recent years, Furman labored as a budget expert at the Brookings Institution. There, he worked with former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and directed the Hamilton Project, an economic policy research group that develops policy proposals to achieve shared economic growth.[4]

    He was a Visiting Scholar at New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.[5] He has been a visiting lecturer at Columbia and Yale Universities.

    • T. J. Babson said, on August 5, 2013 at 12:06 pm

      What do those stupid businessmen know anyway.

    • Nal said, on August 5, 2013 at 4:14 pm

      If there are issues you want to discuss, get your own blog. Don’t threadjack Mike’s blog.

      • WTP said, on August 5, 2013 at 4:58 pm

        I think that’s Mike’s call. If you look back through the recent posts, the “Democrats at work” tag has become something of a theme lately. One that was not started by myself. In fact this may be the first I one I posted directly in that out-of-context context. But thanks for noticing.

        BTW, You might notice that brave Mikey, preserver of humanity, who has had so much to say about so much in the current events department has tapered off to the bland. Found it interesting that a guy who had much to say about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman a year ago before all the facts were in, went silent with GZ’s exoneration. Everyone has had something to say, but not Mike. Though I suppose in context, that’s the closest to an admission of being wrong that we’re likely to get from him. Same with the numerous Obama scandals, Fulner, etc., etc….nothing to be seen there. So much that he used to have opinions on, have faded away to observations about nothing much in particular. Must admit, the more I think about it now, the more I see it as progress. Though this has kinda been Mike’s MO all along. When the discussion starts to get to the meat of the matter, he bails or moves on to a new post. You might view these “Democrats at work” posts as simply continuations of subjects Mike has raised in the past but then abandoned when the going got tough.

        • Nal said, on August 5, 2013 at 5:52 pm

          I think that’s Mike’s call.

          Why haven’t you asked his permission? You have placed Mike in the position of having to make the call, when you should have asked his permission first. There is also a secondary call to be made by Mike’s audience, the other commentators.

          Philosophers will point out that commenting on threadjacking is itself a threadjack. So, from this point on, I will show self-restraint.

          • WTP said, on August 5, 2013 at 6:38 pm

            Well, given that Mike is above communicating with me, that would be rather difficult. As for Mike’s “audience”, the only regular commenters here anymore are TJ and myself. Without us, it’s like the Sahara here. As I said, I didn’t originate the practice. And again, in defense of the originator, when the discussion starts to get to the meat of the matter, Mike bails out and moves on to a new post, so one could make a viable argument for continuing to address unanswered questions out of the local context.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 6, 2013 at 5:06 pm

      I’ll create a post in a couple minutes so you can comment on Democrats at work as needed. While I’m all for freedom of expression, I also am for relevant comments.

  5. T. J. Babson said, on August 5, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    Mike was talking about killing a deer with his bare hands–surely he can handle a couple of wiseacres in the comment thread of his blog.

    Generally, when we veer off topic that is a hint for Mike that he hasn’t thrown us any red meat lately.

    Nal–since you are a cat–you should,like red meat too, right?

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