Stalking the hunting debate : trophy hunting, integrity and ideology

Badenhorst, Charl F. (2003-12)

Thesis (MA (Philosophy))--University of Stellenbosch, 2003.

Thesis

Trophy hunting remains a highly contentious issue within environmental spheres of debate. Whether it is morally justifiable for humans to kill other living creatures for recreation, even if by doing so generates revenue in aid of their conservation, is a contested issue that will not easily rest and on which there is as yet no clear ground for consensus between opposing viewpoints. Within environmental philosophy, the topic of the morality of sport hunting has been extensively discussed, with the focus shifting constantly between various moral and ethical theories; while in an African context, big game trophy hunting continues to be a vital source of income for wildlife conservation and rural communities amidst the contested meaning of its role and place. The phrase "the hunting debate" refers to the ongoing discourses that surround the contested meaning and morality of recreational hunting, while the groups involved in the debate are polarised along the lines of preservationist and conservationist viewpoints. The lack of consensual ground between opposing viewpoints and the strength of the conviction of held beliefs and values result in a stalemate. In this thesis an attempt is made to map this stalemate by identifying the role players relevant to an African context, and the groups who stand in opposition to one another, namely those within the anti-hunting and pro-hunting communities. Points of contention are highlighted, and the various moral theories inherent in the debate are identified, with the crux of the stalemate being shown to be essentially between deontological moral assumptions regarding the wrongness of hunting, and utilitarian approaches that attempt to justify it morally according to an aggregation of benefits. The meaning of hunting for the Ethical Hunter is also clarified, as is the meaning of the hunting experience as a philosophical and historical symbolic construction. The political nature of the debate is also explored against the backdrop of a postmodern description of culture and communities, as is the way in which certain symbols are employed as ideological tools within the debate, and how they serve to influence public opinion regarding the morality of hunting. The hunting experience is discussed in detail as a historical construct, and certain hunting narratives are briefly identified in this regard, as are the symbolisms of indigenous hunter-gatherer hunting practices. This is in order to identify similarities or differences in meaning of the hunting experience, and so doing reach a position to say what hunting with integrity may mean. Integrity as a Virtue is promoted as the founding conceptual criterion around which discussions of trophy hunting may be based, and trophy hunting of the Big Five species in Africa is contextually explored with this notion in mind. While trophy hunting of the Big Five offers tangible and much needed instrumental benefits, it does not stand up well to a critique of "the hunting experience" as a historical construct and as a commodified package, as The Hunting Experience in this sense is seen to lack authenticity in terms of an idealised and primitivist notion of the meaning of Ethical Hunting. The paradox of Big Five trophy hunting is that it is very hard to justify, as it is seen to reinforce dualistic assumptions of nature, and objectify animals as a commodity; notwithstanding the moral uncertainty surrounding the act it can, however, be seen to offer benefits that are pragmatic and tangible, for ecosystems as well as humans. However, with the exception of strictly utilitarian approaches, the findings of this thesis suggest that instrumental economic benefits are not enough to justify trophy hunting of the Big Five in Africa from a moral philosophical perspective, although in keeping with the aims of the study no attempt is made to posit one moral position over another as to the morality of trophy hunting. In conclusion, it is suggested that trophy hunting be de-emphasised as an inevitable and singularly viable wildlife management tool, and instead be understood in terms of a short-term strategic compromise, as doing so allows more room for the growth of ideas that may offer an acceptable alternative. Based upon the findings of this study, it is acknowledged that such a compromise is essentially and theoretically also a compromise of integrity, which may nevertheless within certain contexts be necessary in the short-term.

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