Letter: Is the hunt antique pageantry or sentimental sadism?

Click to follow
The Independent Online
ROGER SCRUTON's article contains many interesting arguments, but he saves the strongest until last. He claims that while he does not expect others to agree with him that fox-hunting is not immoral, he does expect them to tolerate his views. When there is substantial moral disagreement, so he argues, the law should not take sides. It should instead tolerate the different views. Scruton bolsters his argument by stressing the religious experience that he and others feel when taking part in a hunt. The implication is that fox-hunting should be allowed on grounds of religious toleration.

The problem with this argument is that there are of course limits to what the law should tolerate. The law should not refrain from taking sides in all moral disagreements. If some people thought murder and theft were permissable, it would not follow that the law should tolerate their views by refusing to make murder and theft illegal. Rather than refusing to interfere in all moral disagreements, the state should take sides only in those disputes where the conduct in question involves significant harm to others. Only where there is such harm may the state legitimately step in. (This was the principle argued for by John Stuart Mill, whom Scruton refers to for support in his article.)

From this principle, it follows that the law should not interfere with fox-hunting only if the "others" referred to do not include the foxes.

This means that Scruton only reaches his conclusion by simply assuming what is entirely at issue; that the interests of the foxes themselves are not morally relevant.


Balliol College, Oxford