21 July 2004

With Friends Like This, PETA Doesn’t Need Enemies

Yesterday, as you may have noticed, I posted a New York Times story about PETA on both AnalPhilosopher and Animal Ethics. Someone who is too cowardly to identify him- or herself posted a comment: a quotation from my blog. Some time back, I had written that, “With friends like PETA, animals don’t need enemies.” Since nothing else was said, I’m left to speculate about the meaning of the comment.

My guess is that the writer thinks I contradicted myself. But how exactly is that? Suppose I believed that PETA did well in exposing cruelty in chicken-processing plants. Would it follow that PETA does well by animals, all things considered and in the long run? Of course not. Even bad organizations can act rightly, just as broken clocks are right twice a day. Even Hitler and Stalin, who were bad to the bone, acted rightly from time to time. Nobody, with the possible exception of Paul Krugman, is omnimalevolent.

What this incident shows, if anything, is PETA’s unscrupulousness. PETA’s operatives will do anything to achieve its goals. They have little or no respect for persons, property, or privacy. The animal-liberation movement must disavow such tactics. Ultimately, only rational persuasion will benefit animals. PETA resorts to force, coercion, and manipulation to achieve its ends. Certainly no self-respecting philosopher can endorse these methods.

Philosophers care at least as much about how one changes the world as that one changes it. A philosopher would rather not change the world at all than change it by using force, coercion, or manipulation. Philosophers, as such, are deontologists, not consequentialists. That is why they devote so much time and energy to identifying and classifying fallacies. A fallacy is an argument that, while psychologically appealing, is logically defective. A fallacy is a bad argument masquerading as a good one.

The larger point is this. My posting news items, editorial opinions, and letters to the editor does not constitute an endorsement of the views they express. Anyone who reads my blog regularly should know this. Perhaps the coward isn’t a regular reader.

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