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Is Robert Burns' poem "To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Plough, November, 1785" one of the earliest writings on wild animal welfare?

Maybe he meant it mostly as a joke. (Poetry is a medium for fancy people, he's a not-fancy guy plowing a field, addressing an even-less fancy-being: a mouse.) But I kind of think he meant it? He also wrote about "poor people are good, actually," and I like that he was thinking about the even-less-powerful creature he'd just rendered homeless.

"I'm truly sorry man's dominion,
Has broken nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!"

Wikipedia provides an English translation for those of us who find the Scots difficult.

I really like that poem. For what it's worth, I think a number of older texts from China, India, and elsewhere have things that range from depictions of care towards animals to more directly philosophical writing on how to treat animals (sometimes as part of teaching yourself to be a better person). 

Some links: 

  • This short paper that I've skimmed, "Kindness to Animals in Ancient Tamil Nadu" (I haven't checked any of the quotes, and I think this is around 5th or 6th century CE)
    • "The King saw a peacock shivering in the rain. Being compassionate, he immediately removed his gold laced silk robe and wrapped it around the peacock"
    • And, from the beginning: "One day, Chibi - a Chola king - sat in the garden of his palace. Suddenly, a wounded dove fell on his lap. He handed over the dove to his servants and ordered them to give it proper treatment. A few minutes later, a hunter appeared on the scene searching for the dove which he had shot. He realized that the King was in possession of the dove. He requested the King to hand over the dove. But the king did not want to give up the dove. The hunter then told the King that the meat of the dove was his only food for that day. However, the King being compassionate wanted to save the life of the dove. He was also desirous of dissuading the hunter from his policy of hunting animals..." [content warning if you read on: kindness but also a disturbing action towards oneself on behalf of a human]
  • Mencius/Mengzi has a passage where a king takes pity on an ox (and this is seen as a good thing). From SEP
    • "In a much–discussed example (1A7), Mencius draws a ruler’s attention to the fact that he had shown compassion for an ox being led to slaughter by sparing it. [...] an individual’s sprout of compassion is manifested in cognition, emotion, and behavior. (In 1A7, C1 is the ox being led to slaughter. The king perceives that the ox is suffering, feels compassion for its suffering, and acts to spare it.)"
  • Humans helping animals and being rewarded for it is a whole motif in folklore, I think (apparently e.g. this index has it as "grateful animals"), from a bunch of different cultures/societies. E.g. of a link listing some examples. 

I added these examples to the LessWrong tag: 

Fun note that this is where the title of "Of Mice and Men" comes from:

But, Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!


But Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes of mice and men
Go oft awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

That's a nice example!

I mention a few other instances of early animal welfare concern in this post:

  • The parliament of Ireland passed one of the first known animal welfare laws in 1635. Massachusetts passed one in 1641.
  • Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673) "articulate[d] the idea of animal rights"; she wrote: "As for man, who hunts all animals to death [...] is he not more cruel and wild than any bird of prey?"
  • Anne Finch (1631-1679) argued against the mechanistic view of animal nature, writing that animals had "knowledge, sense, and love, and divers other faculties and properties of a spirit".
  • In 1751, the artist William Hogarth made four engravings that showed a boy torturing animals and gradually becoming a thief and a murderer of humans.
  • In 1776 Humphrey Primatt published A Dissertation on the Duty of Mercy and Sin of Cruelty to Brute Animals.
  • And then there's Jeremy Bentham's Principles of Morals and Legislation (1780).

Curiously, lots of them seem to come from the Anglo-Saxon sphere (though there's definitely selection bias since I looked mostly through English-speaking sources; also, we have older examples of concern for animals by e.g. Jains and Buddhists).

Oh, I love this. Are there more examples of beautiful poems with some sort of EA-connection?

Howl is often mentioned, of course, but I'd really love some moving lines on the far future or animals or whatnot.

I love The Mower by Philip Larkin - it captures a deep instinct for kindness, especially towards animals. 

Write roundup posts!

The posts I've made that I think yielded the most value for the amount of work I put in were essentially lists of other people's work.

EA Syllabi and teaching materials

Giving now vs. later: a summary

There are other formats that may make sense, like tags for material on this forum, or wikis. But the general principle is that you can do something really useful by making it easy for people to find existing material on a topic.

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