Russow begins the argument by separating humanitys obligations toward species from obligations to individual members of a species. This is to allow consistency with the disapproval of speciesism. Russow admits that by protecting individual animals we may, as a byproduct, protect some endangered species but members of the endangered species should be treated no differently than those of a flourishing one. She states that the concept of having interests, as it relates to determining value, cannot be applied to species but rather only to individual animals.
Russow then uses several test cases to draw some conclusions about humanitys confusion around what a species really is and what it is about certain species that we are trying to preserve or, in some cases, we do not care to preserve. Next, Russow provides objections to three traditional arguments for why species do matter. The first is the argument for stewardship which Russow dismisses due to its assumption that species are valuable. The second is the argument for extrinsic value of species regarding their contribution to big picture of life.
Russow objects to three different extrinsic value perspectives by 1) stating that we cannot use a species declination as a sign that humans are doing something wrong because that cannot account for unforeseen events, 2) stating that not every species is required for ecological stability, and 3) denying the evolutionary chain argument because extinction and development of species are both part of evolution. The third argument objected to by Russow is the argument for intrinsic value. Ironically, Russows main objection to this argument is the same objection that debunks her own argument.
What gives intrinsic value? How much intrinsic value does something have? Drilling into intrinsic value further, Russow objects the biodiversity view claiming if diversity is virtuous than we would be obligated to create as many new species as possible, however useless they may be. She also objects to the aesthetic value view of species in that other benefits, such as economic, may override aesthetic value of a species. However, Russow does believe that the aesthetic value view is correct but must be applied more granularly to individual members of species.
Russow argues that humans value the aesthetics presented by a single member of a species, not the species itself giving the example of valuing the beauty of a specific Bengal tiger we might encounter but not the species Panthera tigris. She also argues that we value the continued existence of individuals like that which sounds very similar to species. This is odd since the argument for aesthetic value related to species was previously objected by Russow. I argue that aesthetic value is a very subjective concept that is incapable of providing information that would be useful in determining the fate of some animals.
Furthermore, aesthetic value is not an appropriate measure for making any relative comparisons to other individuals aesthetic value or other worldly good things or benefits in order to make logical decisions concerning the individuals in question. Much like the case of inherent value, there is not a reliable method for determining what has aesthetic value or not. Russow uses the rarity of encountering a member of a species and the desire to see a member of a species again as possible qualifiers for assigning aesthetic value. Other factors include beauty, intriguing environmental adaptations, and awesomeness.
However, not all humans are going to consider these factors equally when determining aesthetic value of an animal. For instance, using Russows Case 1 as an example, one person may admire the survival techniques of the snail darter enough to protest the building of the dam while another person may not care at all about the snail darters existence because they are disgusting and unnecessary. One objection to my argument concerning the subjectivity of aesthetic value may be an appeal to the majority. Opponents may draw a comparison to the case of moral good and evil.
A heavy majority of people believe that murder is wrong. Society determines murderers are immoral and governs accordingly. Therefore, if many people find something to be beautiful that a minority finds ugly, the case might be made that the minority is incorrect or somehow lacks the proper aesthetic judgment to make a proper determination of the things value. To tackle this argument, I look no further than my own home. My wife is ophidiophobic, i. e. she has an irrational fear of snakes. I on the other hand greatly admire the beauty and intrigue of snakes.
If there were a vote to be made on whether to annihilate a rare species of snakes in order to develop the land which they reside, I would most likely vote against. Conversely, my wife would rally supporters and be first in line to vote for eradicating the snakes; simply for the fact the snakes would be gone. Even if it was known that these snakes ate some kind of potentially harmful insect that would not matter to her. A 2001 study from Gallup, Inc. suggests up to 50% of Americans may possess a fear of snakes so I feel she would not be alone in this decision.
We cannot determine who is right or wrong in this situation. I cant say my wife is wrong because no snake will ever have a drop of aesthetic value to her. Meanwhile, to argue against a case for preserving a snake population to aid in eliminating a harmful insect population doesnt seem correct either. This leads back to my original objection which is that there is simply too much subjectivity involved in determining aesthetic value for the idea to be relevant in decision making related to the protection of animals.