30 November 2003

Fred Feldman on Argumentation

Thanks for the citation to Feldman, Nathan. I hadn't seen that essay. I've used Feldman's book Introductory Ethics (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1978) a few times and always wondered what he took himself to be doing. He gave argument after argument of the following form:
1. Theory T implies judgment J.
2. Not J.
3. Not T.
The arguer is saying that 1 and 2 entail 3, which is equivalent to saying that the following three propositions are inconsistent:
Theory T implies judgment J.
Not J.
Since the argument is valid (an instance of modus tollens), these three propositions are inconsistent. Therefore, at least one of them is false. But which one? Here there can be disagreement. Someone could reject the first proposition by saying that T, properly understood, doesn't imply J. Or someone could bite the bullet and reject the second proposition (i.e., affirm J). Or someone could reject the third proposition. This person has been persuaded by the argument.

Feldman seemed to ignore the first two possibilities, which always puzzled me. For readers who wonder about such things, here is a link to Feldman's essay.


Click here to see my birthday tribute to (and an image of) Sophie.

Something from My Personal Blog

A few weeks ago, I posted an entry on AnalPhilosopher about the disgraceful belittlement of vegetarians. For those who didn't see it there, here it is.

29 November 2003

Issues to Discuss

When I lecture on the moral status of nonhuman animals in my annual Ethics course (the students and I read Peter Singer's 1974 essay "All Animals Are Equal"), I get lots of questions. This tells me that people are curious about our moral obligations (if any) to animals. Here are some of the questions I get asked, and that I hope the other bloggers and I can address in this blog:

• What, if anything, is wrong with hunting? Is it acceptable to hunt deer (for example) in order to keep the herd from growing too large? Is it acceptable to hunt if the purpose of doing so is to provide food for humans—and all of the flesh is in fact consumed? Can it be wrong for some people but not others to hunt? If so, who can hunt and why?

• What's the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian? What's a demi-vegetarian? Why does consumption of eggs and dairy products raise a moral question, since no animals need be killed in the process of acquiring them?

• Is there a morally relevant difference between eating wild animals and eating domesticated animals? After all, wild animals are not confined. If they're killed painlessly and eaten, what's wrong with that? They're going to die anyway, perhaps violently.

• Suppose animals have moral rights. Does anything follow about whether they do, or should, have legal rights? If so, which legal rights do they have, and why? Would there be different legal rights for different species? Would apes, for example, have rights not possessed by chickens or snakes? What could possibly justify such disparate treatment? Is this what George Orwell meant when he said, in Animal Farm (1946), that "all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others"?

• Does Peter Singer's argument against meat-eating, as expressed in Animal Liberation (1975; 2d ed. 1990), presuppose utilitarianism? I find utilitarianism abhorrent.

• What's the difference (if there is one) between animal liberation, animal rights, and animal welfare?

• We speak of "euthanizing" strays and other unwanted animals. Is this really euthanasia? If not, why do we call it that?

• Why do some people refer to themselves as moral vegetarians? What other kinds of vegetarianism are there? Can one be a vegetarian for more than one reason? Are some reasons better than others?

• Are pets slaves? Is it wrong for me to have a pet dog, cat, bird, fish, hamster, or lizard?

• Can one be both a feminist and a moral vegetarian? Doesn't vegetarianism discriminate against women, given their special nutritional needs?

• Speaking of nutritional needs, I'm an athlete. Don't I need to eat meat in order to remain strong and fit? I don't want to wither away!

• Okay, you've convinced me that I don't need meat in order to be athletic. But surely meat-eating isn't detrimental to my health! Or is it? And by the way, what do you philosophers know about nutrition? Did you have a course in nutrition in graduate school? I didn't think so.

• Is vegetarianism healthy for children? What should a conscientious parent do?

• I was raised on meat. I love it. Do my taste preferences have any moral weight? If so, how much?

• Humans are at the top of the food chain. If animals eat each other, why can't humans eat them?

• Is PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) worthy of my support? Gary L. Francione is critical of the organization in his book Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996). What's his beef?

• The eggs I buy are in a carton that says, "From Free-Roaming Hens." What does this mean? Is there any moral problem in my buying and eating such eggs?

• Peter Singer and Tom Regan make many of the same judgments about our treatment of animals, but they have radically different bases for those judgments. What's the difference? Does it matter? Why should anyone care what the underlying theory is, if the various theories issue in the same judgments?

• Speaking of morality, why should I care about morality? Why should I be moral? Isn't morality just a silly game played by people with nothing better to do? And besides, I'm an atheist. If God is dead, then anything goes.

• Does morality come in degrees? Does it make sense to say, for example, that my diet is less wrong (or more right) than your diet, or that I'm doing better or worse, morally, than at some previous point in my life?

• Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is sometimes described as the greatest philosopher of all time. Certainly he's one of the greatest. But if I understand him correctly, he believed that humans have no direct duties to animals. Our only duties to them are indirect. What this means is that if I have a duty not to harm a particular dog, it is because (and only because) some human is interested in the dog's welfare. My duty is to the human, through the dog. I wrong the human, not the dog. The dog is a mere object, like an automobile. I'm not nearly as smart or learned as Kant. Wouldn't it be presumptuous of me, a philosophical novice, to question his judgment?

• Is it ever permissible to experiment on an animal? If so, when and why? Isn't our health care as good as it is only because of animal experimentation? Won't we be stifling medical progress if we curb experimentation on animals?

• I'm skeptical that animals feel pain; and if they don't, then how can it matter what we humans do to them?

• Where do pets (animal companions) fit into things? Do we have moral obligations to them? If so, do those obligations have the same basis as our obligations to wild animals? Does it make sense to divide animals into three categories for moral analysis: (1) animal companions, such as cats, dogs, and horses; (2) domesticated animals used for food, such as pigs, sheep, cows, and chickens; and (3) wild animals, such as deer, snakes, and chimpanzees?

• Should vegetarians be critical of demi-vegetarians? Must one be a vegan in order to argue in behalf of animals?

• Is it wrong to wear leather? Is it hypocritical to wear leather while arguing for vegetarianism on moral grounds? What's hypocrisy, anyway?

• Does Peter Singer eat meat? Suppose he did. Would it affect his argument for vegetarianism?

• Is there any moral problem with feeding meat-based food to my dog or cat? Don't dogs and cats need meat? And isn't the meat used in dog food and cat food a by-product of other processes, such that my buying it doesn't send a signal to produce more of it?

• I worship celebrity. Name some celebrities who are vegetarians or vegans. Perhaps it will inspire me to change my ways.

• Suppose I abstain from meat for health reasons, and only for health reasons. How would you describe my action? Would you say that I'm acting wrongly, since my reason is self-regarding; that I'm acting rightly, but for the wrong reason; or that my act has no moral significance? Explain.

• Suppose I become a vegan right now and remain one for the rest of my life. Have I made a difference? Have I saved even one cow or pig? If not, what's the point?

• I'm a Christian. What's the Christian position on nonhuman animals? I seem to recall the Bible saying something about "man" having "dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." Doesn't this allow humans to use animals for whatever purpose they choose? What else could "dominion" mean?

• Are animal liberationists animal lovers? Must they be? What's the difference between love and respect, anyway? Between caring and justice? Between emotion and reason? Between affect and cognition?

• If I come to believe that meat-eating is wrong, must I judge those who are involved in producing meat, such as ranchers, as evil? They seem like decent, hard-working people. I can't believe they're evil and would have a hard time accepting any principle or theory that implies that they are.

• What's a factory farm? I keep hearing that expression. Don't the cows, pigs, and chickens whose flesh I eat have happy lives until they're killed, and isn't the killing done painlessly?

• What's the connection, if any, between environmentalism and animal liberationism? Are they compatible? What does "-ism" signify, anyway?

• If I have a moral obligation to nonhuman animals, must I prevent predation? This would be a bizarre requirement, because, if I prevent predation, I'm taking sides in the perennial war between species. Suppose I save a rabbit from a hawk. It's good for the rabbit, to be sure, but not for the hawk, who may starve. Shouldn't we leave predation alone? Shouldn't we respect natural processes? Isn't this what it means to be an environmentalist?

• Do you have any good vegetarian or vegan recipes? If so, please write them down for me. I'm not convinced that meatless diets are tasty, nutritious, or filling.

• I want to read more on the moral status of nonhuman animals. Will you give me a reading list?

• Okay, I'm convinced: It's wrong to use animals as a mere means to human ends. It's wrong to view or treat animals as resources for human consumption. What can I do in my personal life to make a difference? And by the way, my parents and friends think I'm crazy, or just going through a phase. What can I do or say to convince them that I'm serious?
This is just a sampling of the questions I get asked in my Ethics courses. I could easily teach an entire course on animal ethics, and may one day do so. My hope is that this blog serves as a forum for intelligent discussion of them. It is a blog by philosophers for (1) other philosophers, (2) students of philosophy, and (3) philosophically minded people everywhere. Please spread the word. I am working to get a comments section affixed to each post.

Welcome Aboard, Angus!

Angus Taylor, a Canadian scholar who has written a wonderful book about animal ethics (see the link to the left), has agreed to join the Animal Ethics blog. I'm delighted. We shall be inviting other philosophers soon. Stay tuned.

28 November 2003

Things Are Taking Shape

I have yet to hear from the people I invited; but then, it's been less than two hours. I must be patient. I hope that when they visit the site, they like the look. I've been tinkering with it to get it just right. I've already added a visitor counter and a comments section. If things go well (i.e., as hoped), this site will serve as a clearinghouse for information and arguments about animals. I envision undergraduate and graduate students (as well as their instructors) visiting the site regularly. I hope organizations such as PETA can be persuaded to link to it, which would increase our readership tremendously.

As someone who cares deeply about animals, wild and domesticated, I hope that the site persuades people to treat animals better—including no longer eating them! But as a philosopher, I hope the discussions are lively, challenging, and illuminating. As I am fond of saying, I'd rather not persuade at all than persuade illegitimately (by means of fallacious reasoning). The process is at least as important as the result. Let us do Socrates proud. Let us show our readers what it means to live an examined life.

Welcome to Animal Ethics!

Mylan Engel and I (Keith Burgess-Jackson) are starting a blog on animal ethics. We hope to bring other philosophers into it. The purpose of the blog is to provide a forum for philosophical discussion (not ranting!) of all aspects of the moral status of nonhuman animals, from metaethics to theoretical normative ethics to practical ethics. We hope you find the blog interesting—and that you spread the word throughout the blogosphere.