31 January 2004

Animals in Winter

Here is an interesting essay from today's New York Times. By the way, I assume that regular readers of this blog have signed up for free New York Times stories. Once you have an account, you can click on the links I provide and go directly to the sign-in page (or to the essay itself).

30 January 2004

Edward O. Wilson on Biophilia

The critical stages in the acquisition of biophilia have been worked out by psychologists during studies of childhood mental development. Under the age of six, children tend to be egocentric, self-serving, and domineering in their responses to animals and nature. They are also most prone to be uncaring or fearful of the natural world and of all but a few familiar animals. Between six and nine, children become interested in wild creatures for the first time, and aware that animals can suffer pain and distress. From nine to twelve their knowledge and interest in the natural world rises sharply, and between thirteen and seventeen they readily acquire moral feeling toward animal welfare and species conservation.

(Edward O. Wilson, The Future of Life [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002], 137-8)

Reader Mail (Name Withheld by Request)

don't give me the lecture, but - i ate a steak last night. (i'm on that south beach diet.)

I LOVE animals ....... we have pet birds, and i cannot tell you how smart my cockatiel . . . is.

i can imagine that, in one sense, it IS irrational for me to eat meat, because of how much i love animals and i KNOW that at least animals like birds and dogs & cats DO have feelings & intelligence, etc. but - i still eat beef & pork & chicken.

i've read what you have written about vegetarianism........ but i don't think i will change. irrational, perhaps. but - i feel better eating some meat protein

29 January 2004

Barry Holstun Lopez on Winter Herons

One winter evening in New York he had had dinner with a classmate from Amherst, on 56th Street. When they emerged it was to find it had been snowing. They were dressed for it. They were full of food and wine and did not care to get away anywhere. They stood on the corner of 54th and Park and talked. The falling snow obliterated their footprints and left them standing in a field of white illuminated by a street lamp before the friend finally caught a cab uptown. He watched the cab until it was only red taillights. He did not want to hurry away. In the chilled air and falling snow was some universal forgiveness and he did not want to disturb it. He stepped slowly off the curb, headed south.

Overhead, above the surface of the pool of light cast by the street lamps, the canyon of the wide avenue disappeared into darkness. He had walked only a few blocks when he realized that birds were falling. Great blue herons were descending slowly against the braking of their wings, their ebony legs extended to test the depth of the snow which lay in a garden that divided the avenue. He stood transfixed as the birds settled. They folded their wings and began to mill in the gently falling snow and the pale light. They had landed as if on a prairie, and if they made any sound he did not hear. One pushed its long bill into the white ground. After a moment they were all still. They gazed at the front of a hotel, where someone had just gone through a revolving door. A cab slowed in front of him—he shook his head, no, no, and it went on. One or two of the birds flared their wings to lay off the snow and a flapping suddenly erupted among them and they were in the air again. Fifteen or twenty, flying past with heavy, hushing beats, north up the avenue for two or three blocks before they broke through the plane of light and disappeared.

(Barry Holstun Lopez, "Winter Herons," in his Winter Count [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1981], 15-25, at 23-4)

28 January 2004

Vegan Blog

Here is a blog that may be of interest to readers of Animal Ethics. I put a permanent link to it on the left side of the page.

27 January 2004

You Are What You Eat

Those of you who eat beef ought to read this. Enjoy that hamburger!

Lisa Mighetto on the Tension Between Hunting and Conservation

Theodore Roosevelt was the best-known proponent of wildlife conservation in his day. He was also the nation's most famous hunter. Today, many animal lovers would find that a strange and unappealing combination. Indeed, among environmentalists, it is becoming increasingly fashionable to be against hunting. Although sportsmen are included in such organizations as the Audubon Society, Sierra Club, and Earth First!, they are continually criticized by other members. One of the most aggressive groups to oppose hunting is The Fund for Animals. Its members actually meet sportsmen in the wild, in the hopes of convincing them to refrain from killing animals. This tension is not new; in the United States, organized protests against blood sports emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Hunting, however, is not antithetical to conservation. A hundred years ago, much of the groundwork for the protection of wildlife was laid by sportsmen. Their call for conservation was conveyed through a variety of hunting journals, including American Sportsman, Forest and Stream, Field and Stream, and American Angler—all of which were founded in the 1870s and 1880s. Some hunter-conservationists were particularly concerned about birds; the Audubon Society was founded by a sportsman.

(Lisa Mighetto, Wild Animals and American Environmental Ethics [Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1991], 27)

26 January 2004

Animal Cognition

See here for a refutation of Descartes.

25 January 2004

Rosemary Rodd on the Original Position

The original position as described by [John] Rawls requires that the original contractors must be all moral agents (otherwise they could not make the decisions needed for the contract), and it is assumed that they will remain so in the real world. I am not sure that this second rule is essential for the idea of a social contract. By analogy with the idea of 'living wills', in which people leave directions about the way they want to be treated if they subsequently lose the ability to make rational decisions, it seems possible that moral agents in the original position might want to safeguard themselves against the possibility of becoming moral patients in the real world. If the contractors do not know whether they may be moral agents or patients later on, they cannot rationally be prepared either to deny the basic rights of moral patients or to commit moral agents to an intolerable burden of ceaseless labour for the welfare of the former. By definition moral patients are not capable of understanding the nature of moral duties so the contractors cannot reasonably decree that the right to basically fair treatment should depend upon acceptance of reciprocal obligation since this would mean giving up their own rights should they happen to be, or to become, moral patients.

(Rosemary Rodd, Biology, Ethics, and Animals [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992 (1990)], 241 [footnote omitted])

24 January 2004

Organic Eggs from Cage-Free (Uncaged) Hens

I found a good source of eggs the other day. See here.

23 January 2004

The Latest PETA Farce

A Tucson friend sent this link. Make of it what you will.

Reader Mail (Reprinted by Permission)

Dear Keith,

I enjoy your blog and find it very edifying—thanks, and keep up the great work. Some time soon I hope to start working through your suggested reading list for philosophy. One request: PLEASE syndicate your blog content in RSS or RDF if at all possible. I don't know if Blogspot offers that service, but if they do, I would greatly appreciate it and I'm sure there are others who would as well.

I want to take issue with the Tom Regan excerpt you posted on 1/6, arguing from the creation account that Christians should be vegans. The problem with Regan's argument is that he overlooks God's covenant with Noah (Gen. 9), in which God gives humans all creatures, both plants and animals, as food (Gen. 9:3).

I realize that you are a religious sceptic, that you see no need of resort to God or revelation in your thinking, and that you therefore won't find an appeal to scripture very convincing.

Nonetheless, I think that Regan creates at least two kinds of problem for his argument by using scripture selectively, citing God's dietary ordinances at creation but ignoring those proposed in his covenant with Noah.

First, he opens himself to the charge of cherry-picking scripture for those passages that support his position. Clearly, if all parts of scripture are equally authoritative, he is wrong to argue in this fashion, because his position requires that he deny authority to the Noahic covenant. Thus, he must deny that all parts of scripture are equally authoritative. In that case, we must ask why he considers the one passage authoritative and not the other.

The best account he can give of his use of scripture in support of his argument is: (1) he has good reason for considering one set of passages authoritative, but not the other; and (2) he has conformed his positions to the teachings found in the passages he does regard as authoritative.

If he can demonstrate (1), I'll take him on his word that he has done (2), though I'll still disagree with his handling of scripture. Note that it is problematic to cite the moral quality of the authoritative passages as criteria for (1) if he is in turn using these passages to support moral arguments: great care would be needed to avoid circularity (and in some cases it might even be impossible to do so).

Of course, if he is simply selecting those parts of scripture that support a position he already holds, he is undermining any claim that scripture has intrinsic authority. In that case, scripture contributes nothing to his argument. It is meaningless except as an appeal to sentiment in order to persuade the careless thinkers.

Second, because his argument assumes that Creation is still in the state in which it was created, it is cogent only for a subset of people calling themselves Christians (and certainly not for me). Christianity as I (and orthodox Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Wesleyans, Calvinists, and others) understand it posits a Fall due to human sin. The Fall radically altered all aspects of Creation (Romans 8:22ff). It radically altered humanity's relationship with Creation (Gen. 3:16-24). It entails that the state of original human blessedness is now inaccessible to us, due to our sins. Indeed, within the creation account, God signifies the human need for redemption by making garments of leather for Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:21). Clearly, things have changed, and in his curses on Adam & Eve, God indicates that their existence will be very different than it has been up to that time. Those Christians who hold to the Fall and the Noahic covenant have to reject Regan's argument if they are consistent. That amounts to quite a few Christians for whom this argument lacks cogency.

I realize that I haven't stated my points as clearly as I might have, but it's way past my bedtime and I do want to get this email "onto the wire" tonight.

Thanks again for your blog, and please try to implement some kind of XML syndication of your content.

Best wishes,
Chuck Bearden

22 January 2004

John Benson on Peter Singer

For a reason that I do not understand Singer advocates giving up meat-eating but not the use of drugs whose development involves the use of experimental animals. He makes the good point that the meat industry needs not our approval but our money. 'So long as people are prepared to buy the products of intensive farming, the usual forms of protest and political action will never bring about a major reform.' The same point applies to the drug companies, but Singer's recommended forms of action do not include refusing to accept treatment that involves the use of their products. The heavy emphasis on how to make the personal change in way of life implied by giving up meat seems to be unbalanced. A less extreme anti-speciesist might say that as long as we do not use drugs to relieve slight discomforts but only in cases of serious illness we need not worry. But Singer's general position requires a more rigorous approach than that.

(John Benson, "Duty and the Beast," Philosophy 53 [October 1978]: 529-49, at 531-2 [footnote omitted])

21 January 2004

Sierra Club

A reader brought this to my attention.

20 January 2004

Cow Parts and Cow Wholes

Here is an interesting essay by New York Times columnist Verlyn Klinkenborg, whose writing I admire.

19 January 2004

From the Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed.

animal, n. and a.

A. n.

1. a. A living being; a member of the higher of the two series of organized beings, of which the typical forms are endowed with life, sensation, and voluntary motion, but of which the lowest forms are hardly distinguishable from the lowest vegetable forms by any more certain marks than their evident relationship to other animal forms, and thus to the animal series as a whole rather than to the vegetable series.

b. The living body or soft fleshy part of a mollusc, crustacean, etc., as distinguished from its shell or other hard part.

2. In common usage: one of the lower animals; a brute, or beast, as distinguished from man. (Often restricted by the uneducated to quadrupeds; and familiarly applied especially to such as are used by man, as a horse, ass, or dog.)

3. a. Contemptuously or humorously for: a human being who is no better than a brute, or whose animal nature has the ascendancy over his reason; a mere animal. (Cf. similar use of creature.)

b. With the. The animal nature in man: cf. beast n. 1c.

4. As in the slang phr. 'go the whole hog.'

5. ellipt. in pl. for animal spirits. Obs. rare.

6. colloq. A person, thing; esp. in phr. (there is) no such animal.

B. adj.

1. Connected with sensation, innervation, or will; sometimes = psychical. (Opposed to vital and natural; the animal functions being those of the brain and nervous system; the vital of the heart, lungs, etc.; and the natural those of nutrition and assimilation.) See animal spirits. Obs.

2. Animate, living, organized, as opposed to inanimate. Obs. rare.

3. Of or pertaining to the functions of animals; or of those parts of the nature of man which he shares with the inferior animals. (Thus opposed to intellectual and spiritual).

4. a. Carnal, fleshly, as opposed to moral, spiritual.

b. Characteristic of or resembling (that of) a lower animal. Also Comb., as animal-bodied adj.

5. Of or pertaining to animals, as opposed to vegetables. (Not separable from the n. used attrib.) Cf. animal pole below and vegetative a. 1d.)

C. Comb. and phrases. Here it is often impossible to separate the n. and adj. (see prec.)

1. attrib. or adj. animal-lover, -name, -ornament; animal black, that formed by the carbonization of animal substance (cf. bone-black, ivory-black); animal charcoal, that formed by charring animal substance; animal electricity, that developed in certain animals, as the torpedo and electric eel; animal food, animal substances used as food; animal flower, one of the actinozoa, as the sea-anemone; animal grab [grab n.2 5], a card game similar to 'snap'; animal heat, the constant temperature maintained within the bodies of living animals; animal kingdom, the whole species of animals viewed scientifically, as one of the three great divisions of natural objects; animal liberation, the act or process of freeing animals from exploitation (e.g. in laboratory experiments) by man; applied chiefly attrib. to groups dedicated to this, as Animal Liberation Front; hence animal liberationist; animal magnetism = mesmerism; animal magnetist, a mesmerist; animal myth, one founded upon the habits of animals; animal painter, a painter of animals as opposed to landscapes, portraits, or incidents of human action; so animal painting and animal piece; animal plant, a zoophyte or polype, as coral; animal pole Embryology (see quots. and cf. pole n.2 7); animal psychology, the study of the behaviour of animals; hence animal psychologist; animal rights [after human rights, etc.], the natural rights of animals to live free from exploitation, confinement, etc., by humans; esp. as the slogan of a movement seeking to achieve this end; animal size [size n.2], a size made from gelatine; animal tree, one cut into the outline of an animal; animal (tub)-sized, tub-sizing (see quot. 1937 and tub n. 10); animal world, the world of animals. Also animal spirits, q.v.

2. similative and synthetic deriv., as animal-minded.


animal, n. and a. Add: [C.] [1.] animal-free a., (esp. of diet or foodstuffs) not containing or using animal products.

18 January 2004

John Rawls (1921-2002) on the Moral Status of Animals

A final remark. Justice as fairness is not a complete contract theory. For it is clear that the contractarian idea can be extended to the choice of more or less an entire ethical system, that is, to a system including principles for all the virtues and not only for justice. Now for the most part I shall consider only principles of justice and others closely related to them; I make no attempt to discuss the virtues in a systematic way. Obviously if justice as fairness succeeds reasonably well, a next step would be to study the more general view suggested by the name "rightness as fairness." But even this wider theory fails to embrace all moral relationships, since it would seem to include only our relations with other persons and to leave out of account how we are to conduct ourselves toward animals and the rest of nature. I do not contend that the contract notion offers a way to approach these questions which are certainly of the first importance; and I shall have to put them aside. We must recognize the limited scope of justice as fairness and of the general type of view that it exemplifies. How far its conclusions must be revised once these other matters are understood cannot be decided in advance.

(John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, rev. ed. [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press, 1999], 15 [first edition published in 1971])

17 January 2004

Carl Cohen on Speciesism

I am a speciesist. Speciesism is not merely plausible; it is essential for right conduct, because those who will not make the morally relevant distinctions among species are almost certain, in consequence, to misapprehend their true obligations. The analogy between speciesism and racism is insidious. Every sensitive moral judgment requires that the differing natures of the beings to whom obligations are owed be considered. If all forms of animate life—or vertebrate animal life?—must be treated equally, and if therefore in evaluating a research program the pains of a rodent count equally with the pains of a human, we are forced to conclude (1) that neither humans nor rodents possess rights, or (2) that rodents possess all the rights that humans possess. Both alternatives are absurd. Yet one or the other must be swallowed if the moral equality of all species is to be defended.

(Carl Cohen, "The Case for the Use of Animals in Biomedical Research," in Intervention and Reflection: Basic Issues in Medical Ethics, 6th ed., ed. Ronald Munson [Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2000], 538-44, at 541 [essay first published in 1986])

16 January 2004

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "Fear of Beef" (letter, Jan. 13): I am a meat eater! I eat meat four or five times a week. I eat roasts, steaks, chops, hamburger. Mad cow didn't really scare me, but after reading what they feed cows, I will stop eating meat. If the ranchers lose consumers like me, they are really in trouble.

New York, Jan. 13, 2004

15 January 2004

Abominable Advertising

I was horrified to visit this blog this morning and see the advertisements at the top of the page. They may or may not be there now, as you read this. Here's what I found:
Certified Angus Beef Filets, strips, prime rib and more delivered right to your door.

Great Steakhouse Steaks Allen Brothers - Since 1893 Serve/Give USDA Prime this holiday!
I'm pretty sure the ads are computer-generated. Software probably scans the blog to see what it's "about," then inserts ads it thinks are appropriate. Since beef has been mentioned on this blog many times, it probably thinks it's a beef-celebration site! I don't know what to do about this. I've been trying to upgrade both of my blogs (the other being AnalPhilosopher) to get rid of the advertising at the top, but Blogspot is not taking upgrade orders. As soon as it resumes taking orders, I will upgrade (for a fee) and get rid of the obnoxious and inappropriate advertising. I'm sorry if it ruined your day, as it did mine.

14 January 2004

R. G. Frey on Taking Morality Seriously

A presumption of those who urge the boycott of meat on moral grounds is that, if they can obtain our agreement that eating meat is wrong, we shall change our diet accordingly. They presume, that is, that we take morality seriously and so are concerned to behave according to our moral beliefs. For it is not merely a change in our views about meat-eating but also a change in our diet or eating practices which they seek.

The overwhelming majority of us not only eat meat but also very much enjoy it; if our present diet is to be changed, therefore, the case for changing it is going to have to be powerful enough to overcome our great love of meat dishes. This does not entail that the case in question will be a moral one; but unless we are in some way compelled to become vegetarians, it is difficult to think of a more powerful case than a moral one to effect the desired change, given that this case must breast the current of our enormous liking for meat. Obviously, the power of such a case, as I have said, depends upon our taking morality seriously, since only if we do so can moral claims hope to overcome our love of meat.

Importantly, the aim of those who urge the boycott of meat on moral grounds, of, that is, moral vegetarians, is not necessarily to rid us of our liking of meat (though doubtless they hope this will come in time) but to have us abstain from meat, even if we persist in liking it.

(R. G. Frey, Rights, Killing, and Suffering: Moral Vegetarianism and Applied Ethics [Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1983], 3-4)

13 January 2004

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

In "The Cow Jumped Over the U.S.D.A." (Op-Ed, Jan. 2), Eric Schlosser suggests that the United States Department of Agriculture promote beef while a new agency ensures safety.

That is a terrible idea. It is because of the agency's vigilance that the United States has avoided until recently a case of mad cow disease. And when the case arose, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman and the experts at her disposal were able to prevent wide distribution of the meat, as well as public hysteria. The U.S.D.A. took extraordinary precaution by issuing the recall of the meat and has begun putting further safeguards into effect.

Mr. Schlosser tries to scare people away from fast-food restaurants by saying they rely on dairy cattle, which are at highest risk for the disease. But as the author of "Fast Food Nation," he should know that chains like McDonald's and Wendy's do not buy beef from "downer" cattle.

American Farm Bureau Federation
Washington, Jan. 2, 2004

12 January 2004

Spam Haikus

Bluish can of steel
What promise do you hold?
Salty flesh so ripe

Can of metal, slick
Soft center, so cool, moistening
I yearn for your salt

Twist, pull the sharp lid
Jerks and cuts me deeply but
Spam, aah, my poultice

Silent former pig
One communal awareness
Myriad pink bricks

Clad in metal, proud
No mere salt curing for you
You are not bacon

And who dares mock Spam?
You? you? you are not worthy
Of one rich pink fleck

Like some spongy rock
A granite, my piece of Spam
Sunlight on my plate

Little slab of meat
In a wash of clear jelly
Now I heat the pan

Oh tin of pink meat
I ponder what you may be:
Sphincter, ear or snout?

In the cool morning
I fry up a slab of Spam
A dog barks next door

Pink tender morsel
Glistening with salty gel
What the hell is it?

Ears, snouts and innards
A homogeneous mass
Pass another slice

Old man seeks doctor
"I eat Spam daily," he says.

Hardly natural
Tortured shape, elastic food
A small pink coffin

Pink beefy temptress
I can no longer remain

Ambrose Bierce

Dog, n. A kind of additional or subsidiary Deity designed to catch the overflow and surplus of the world's worship. This Divine Being in some of his smaller and silkier incarnations, takes, in the affection of Woman, the place to which there is no human male aspirant. The Dog is a survival—an anachronism. He toils not, neither does he spin, yet Solomon in all his glory never lay upon a door-mat all day long, sun-soaked and fly-fed and fat, while his master worked for the means wherewith to purchase an idle wag of the Solomonic tail, seasoned with a look of tolerant recognition.

(Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, c. 1911)

11 January 2004

The Beef Industry

This story accompanied the survey reported below.

From Today's New York Times Magazine

Are you eating less beef since the mad-cow scare?
Yes: 72%
No: 28%
This informal survey and its results are not scientific and reflect the opinions of only those who have chosen to participate.

10 January 2004

Ambrose Bierce

Man, n. An animal so lost in rapturous contemplation of what he thinks he is as to overlook what he indubitably ought to be. His chief occupation is extermination of other animals and his own species, which, however, multiplies with such insistent rapidity as to infest the whole habitable earth and Canada.

(Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, c. 1911)

Jack Turner on Preferring the Wild

I am on the side of the grizzly sow and her two cubs in the south fork of Snowshoe Canyon; the mountain lion who tracked my favorite Escalante hollow; the raven cooing at me while I shave on my porch; the ticks that cling to me each spring when I climb Blacktail Butte; the Glover's silk moth fighting the window pane; the pack rat that lives in my sleeping cave on the saddle between the Grand and Middle Tetons and scurries across my sleeping bag at night; the wind roaring in the mountains; the persistent virus that knocked me down this winter; the crystalline light that greets me when I step outdoors; the starry sky. I see no need to apologize for my preferences any more than those who prefer modern urban culture apologize for their preferences. As Thoreau said, there are enough champions of civilization. What we need now is a culture that deeply loves the wild earth.

(Jack Turner, The Abstract Wild [Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1996], xvii)

09 January 2004

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

"Where the Cows Come Home: Sanctuary Farm Applauds Ban on Butchering of Sick Animals" (news article, Jan. 2):

I applaud the Farm Sanctuary for educating the public on the cruelty of factory farming. It is sad that it takes human beings' getting sick for us to see the madness of farm animal abuse.

As a vegan, I feel secure that I won't develop mad cow disease. But the real reason I don't eat meat is the torture of these gentle animals their entire lives. I just can't stomach that.

Encinitas, Calif., Jan. 3, 2004

08 January 2004

Do Fish Feel Pain?

I received the following letter:
While I admire Richard Swinburne a great deal as a philosopher, he probably needs a fact checker when he speaks outside his discipline. Fish brains are like human brains only in the most basic of senses. For Swinburne to say that fish feel pain is simply not something that is strongly supported by science. This year's study by the Roslin Institute and the University of Edinburgh is the first I know of to even suggest that fish may feel pain. Yet this study follows on the heels of one by James D Rose, a professor of zoology and physiology at the University of Wyoming, published in the American journal Reviews of Fisheries Science, which concluded that awareness of pain depends on functions of specific regions of the cerebral cortex which fish do not possess.
To which I replied:
David DeGrazia summarizes the research on pages 108-12 of Taking Animals Seriously: Mental Life and Moral Status [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996]. "To conclude," he writes, "given the convergence of various kinds of evidence, it is parsimonious to attribute pain, and consciousness generally, to most or all vertebrate species and probably at least some invertebrates such as cephalopods" (page 111). I think Swinburne, who, by the way, studied philosophy of science for ten years before doing philosophy of religion, comes to the same conclusion.
Make up your own mind.

Richard Swinburne on Animal Souls

At which stage of the evolutionary process did animals first start to have souls and so a mental life? We do not know. But fairly clearly their behaviour shows that the mammals do have a mental life. My view is that all the vertebrates have a mental life, because they all have a brain similar to the human brain, which, we know, causes a mental life in us, and their behaviour, too, is best explained in terms of their having feelings and beliefs. Dogs and birds and fish all feel pain. But there is no reason at all to attribute a mental life to viruses and bacteria, nor in my view to ants and beetles. They do not have the kind of brain which we do, nor do we need to attribute feelings and beliefs to them in order to explain their behaviour. It follows that at some one particular moment in evolutionary history there appeared something utterly new—consciousness, a mental life, to be analysed in terms of souls having mental properties.

The reluctance of so many philosophers and scientists to admit that at a particular moment of evolutionary history there came into existence, connected to animal bodies, souls with mental properties seems to me to be due in part to the fact that, if such a thing happened, they are utterly lost for an explanation of how it came to happen. But it is highly irrational to say that something is not there, just because you cannot explain how it came to be there. We should accept the evident fact; and if we cannot explain it, we must just be humble and acknowledge that we are not omniscient. But I am going on to suggest that, although there cannot be an inanimate explanation, of the kind characteristic of the natural sciences, of the occurrence of souls and their mental life, the theist does have an explanation.

(Richard Swinburne, Is There a God? [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996], 79-80)

07 January 2004

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "Mad Cow Forces Beef Industry to Change Course" (front page, Jan. 5):

Was it really too much to expect the beef industry to exclude sick, non-ambulatory cows from our food supply a long time ago, before the government forced it to do that?

The industry's greed has killed the goose that laid the golden egg. I may never enjoy a hamburger again.

Katonah, N.Y., Jan. 5, 2004

06 January 2004

Tom Regan on Why Christians Should Be Vegans

I take the opening account of creation in Genesis seriously, but not, I hasten to add, literally. I take it seriously because I believe this is the point from which our spiritual understanding of God's plans in and hopes for creation must begin, and against which our well-considered judgments about the value of creation finally must be tested. It is therefore predictable that I find it significant that God is said to judge each part of creation "good" before humans came upon the scene and that humans were created by God (or came upon the scene) on the same day as the nonhuman animals to whom I have been referring—those whose limbs are severed, whose sensory organs are brutally removed, and whose brains are ground up for purposes of scientific research, for example. I read in this representation of the order of creation a prescient recognition of the vital kinship humans share with these other animals, a kinship I have elsewhere endeavored to explicate in terms of our shared biographical presence in the world, a view which, quite apart from anything the Bible teaches, is supported by both common sense and our best science.

But I find in the opening saga of creation an even deeper, more profound message regarding God's plans in and hopes for creation. For I find in this account the unmistakable message that God did not create nonhuman animals for our use—not in science, not for the purpose of vanity products, not for our entertainment, not for our sport or recreation, not even for our bodily sustenance. On the contrary, the nonhuman animals currently exploited in these ways were created to be just what they are: independently good expressions of the divine love that, in ways that are likely always to remain to some degree mysterious to us, was expressed in God's creative activity.

The issue of bodily sustenance is perhaps the most noteworthy of the practices I have mentioned since, while humans from "the beginning" were in need of food, there were no rodeos or circuses, no leghold traps or dynamite harpoons in the original creation. Had it been part of God's hopes in and plans for creation to have humans use nonhuman animals as food, it would have been open to God to let this be known. And yet what we find in the opening saga of creation is just the opposite. The "meat" we are given by God is not the flesh of animals, it is "all plants that bear seed everywhere on the earth, and every tree bearing fruit which yields seed: they shall be yours for food" (Gen. 1:29 [NEB]).

The message could not be any clearer. In the most perfect state of creation humans are vegans (that is, not only is the flesh of animals excluded from the menu God provides for us, even animal products—milk and cheese, for example—are excluded). And so I believe that, if we look to the biblical account of "the beginning" as more than merely one among many considerations, but instead as an absolutely essential source of spiritual insight into God's hopes in and plans for creation, then, like it or not, we are obliged to find there a menu of divinely approved bodily sustenance that differs quite markedly from the steaks and chops, the roasts and stews most Christians are accustomed to devouring.

(Tom Regan, "Christians Are What Christians Eat," chap. 8 in his The Thee Generation: Reflections on the Coming Revolution [Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991], 143-57, at 149-50 [italics in original] [essay first published in 1990])

05 January 2004

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) on Moral Patienthood

IV. What other agents then are there, which, at the same time that they are under the influence of man's direction, are susceptible of happiness? They are of two sorts: 1. Other human beings who are styled persons. 2. Other animals, which, on account of their interests having been neglected by the insensibility of the ancient jurists, stand degraded into the class of things. [footnote 1]

[footnote 1] Under the Gentoo and Mahometan religions, the interests of the rest of the animal creation seem to have met with some attention. Why have they not, universally, with as much as those of human creatures, allowance made for the difference in point of sensibility? Because the laws that are have been the work of mutual fear; a sentiment which the less rational animals have not had the same means as man has of turning to account. Why ought they not? No reason can be given. If the being eaten were all, there is very good reason why we should be suffered to eat such of them as we like to eat: we are the better for it, and they are never the worse. They have none of those long-protracted anticipations of future misery which we have. The death they suffer in our hands commonly is, and always may be, a speedier, and by that means a less painful one, than that which would await them in the inevitable course of nature. If the being killed were all, there is very good reason why we should be suffered to kill such as molest us: we should be the worse for their living, and they are never the worse for being dead. But is there any reason why we should be suffered to torment them? Not any that I can see. Are there any why we should not be suffered to torment them? Yes, several. See B. I. tit. [Cruelty to animals]. The day has been, I grieve to say in many places it is not yet past, in which the greater part of the species, under the denomination of slaves, have been treated by the law exactly upon the same footing as, in England for example, the inferior races of animals are still. The day may come, when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may come one day to be recognized, that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or, perhaps, the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?

(Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, The Hafner Library of Classics, Number Six [New York: Hafner Press, 1948 (first published in 1789; this is the 1823 edition)], chap. XVII, sec. 1, subsec. IV, pp. 310-1 [italics and third set of brackets in original; footnote within footnote omitted])

04 January 2004

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Testing sick or slaughtered animals for mad cow disease (news articles, Jan. 1) is closing the door after the horse is out of the barn. The only way to protect our food supply is to ban the use of animals as food for other animals. Beef brains and lower intestines are not routinely sold for human consumption, but they are ground up for use in feed for other animals. It is still common practice to feed dead cattle to pigs and chickens and vice versa. Now that we have a case of mad cow confirmed, it is very possible that infected cow remains from this or other undetected diseased cows have already been fed to pigs and chickens. Consumers who feel safer switching from beef to pork or chicken are in for a rude awakening.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Jan. 1, 2004

03 January 2004

Do Plants Have Rights?

Believe it or not, I wrote a term paper with that title in a graduate philosophy course at Wayne State University (while I was in law school). The professor, Bruce Russell, must have thought I was crazy, but he allowed me to do it, for which I am grateful. Today I received an interesting e-mail from Steve Walsh, who gave me permission to reproduce it here (with his name):
Professor Burgess-Jackson, I've just begun reading at the Animal Ethics blog and am writing in the hope that you can point me in the right direction. Intrigued by some of the posts about vegetarianism, veganism, and the other general attempts to persuade against eating meat, I am curious to find more writing on this topic, but with a specific idea in mind. I've always thought of the various forms of life as a sort of linear continuum: amoebas at one end and human beings at the other. Along the way we have bacteria, virus, fungus, plants, insects, and animals; more or less in that order from lesser (left) to higher (right). We (I?) distinguish these different forms by such things as sentience (perceived), self-consciousness, communication ability, mobility, and appearance. With this in mind I have always evaluated the morality of killing from a very simple point of view: everything to the right of the animals (ie; humans) is morally unacceptable and everything to the left of humans is morally okay. Whether I actually kill things (directly or indirectly) depends on my perceived utility of doing so. Thus using disinfectants to kill bacteria, taking anti-viral medications, using anti-fungal solvents has never been a problem. My killing of insects & other critters depends on whether they are being a nuisance or otherwise serving no immediate purpose (mosquitoes, spiders, bees, ants, rodents). With my continuum in mind, the question, in a couple of different forms, that I am trying to answer is this: what is the difference between killing animals and plants for food? What is the difference between killing animals for food and killing bacteria to prevent illness? I know you get a ton of mail but if you could suggest some reading on this topic I would appreciate it. Regards, Steve
Thanks for writing, Steve. Your question is a good one. Here is how philosophers put it: Which entities have moral status, and why? Assuming that some entities have moral status and others do not, what's the morally relevant difference? What is it that all the entities with moral status have that all the entities without moral status lack?

For some philosophers, the morally relevant difference is sentience, or the capacity to suffer. This is Peter Singer's view. He says that being sentient is both necessary and sufficient for having interests. (In other words, the class of sentient beings and the class of beings with interests is the same class.) Compare a stone and a mouse. There is nothing I can do to the stone that matters to it. It can't feel pain. It can't be deprived of liberty. But a mouse can feel pain, and pain is bad, so what I do to the mouse matters to it. Since the mouse has interests (specifically, an interest in not suffering), it has moral status. This is not to say that the mouse has the same interests as a human. I have an interest in participating in the political system. The mouse does not, since it cannot. Also, I'm a moral agent. The mouse is a moral patient. It can be acted on, morally, but cannot act, morally. I am responsible for my conduct in a way that a mouse is not. Strictly speaking, I am both a moral agent and a moral patient. The mouse is only a moral patient.

Since plants are not sentient, they lack interests, according to Singer. He devotes two pages of Animal Liberation to the topic. The reason he addresses it is to cut off a certain objection to the idea that nonhuman animals have moral status. Someone might reason as follows:
1. If nonhuman animals have moral status, then so do plants.

2. If plants have moral status, then humans will (have to) starve.


3. If nonhuman animals have moral status, then humans will (have to) starve (from 1 and 2).

4. It can't be the case that humans will (have to) starve.


5. Nonhuman animals do not have moral status (from 3 and 4).
Singer rejects 5, so, since the inferences appear to be valid, he must reject one or more of the premises: 1, 2, or 4. He rejects 1. (This is not to say that he accepts 2; he could reject it as well.) Nonhuman animals can have moral status even though plants (and perhaps some rudimentary animals, such as oysters, worms, and insects) do not. The difference, as I said, is sentience. "There is no reliable evidence that plants are capable of feeling pleasure or pain" (Peter Singer, Animal Liberation, 2d ed. [New York: The New York Review of Books, 1990], 235).

Singer goes on to ask what would follow if we became convinced that plants feel pain. It wouldn't follow that we must starve. What would follow is that we should minimize the amount of pain we cause in the course of preserving our lives. Since plants would presumably feel less pain than nonhuman animals, we would have a moral obligation to eat plants instead of animals. Indeed, if we truly cared about plants, he said, we would give up meat, which requires far more plants than we would need if we ate the plants directly. Meat is wasteful.

Singer's view is not the only view. Another is that plants, like animals, have moral status (even rights, provided we understand the concept properly). Not because they're sentient, but because they have a good of their own. Here is Paul W. Taylor:
Once we separate the objective value concept of a being's good from subjective value concepts, there is no problem about understanding what it means to benefit or harm a plant, to be concerned about its good, and to act benevolently toward it. We can intentionally act with the aim of helping a plant to grow and thrive, and we can do this because we have genuine concern for its well-being. As moral agents we might think of ourselves as under an obligation not to destroy or injure a plant. We can also take the standpoint of a plant and judge what happens to it as being good or bad from its standpoint. To do this would involve our using as the standard of evaluation the preservation or promotion of the plant's own good. Anyone who has ever taken care of flowers, shrubs, or trees will know what these things mean. (Paul W. Taylor, Respect for Nature: A Theory of Environmental Ethics [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986], 67-8)
As the title of Taylor's book suggests, he advocates an attitude of respect for nature: for each living organism (animal or plant) as well as for entire populations and biotic communities. Actions are right to the extent that (and only to the extent that) they express or embody this "ultimate moral attitude" (page 84).

Now obviously something must give, for if every living organism has an inherent worth that must be respected, and if respect means not killing or using an organism, then no human will survive. (Remember: Nonhuman animals are not moral agents, so they are not morally responsible for what they do. The question is how humans should conduct themselves.) So Taylor must provide rules that minimize and resolve conflicts between organisms. Here are his four rules:
1. Nonmaleficence. This prohibits the doing of harm.

2. Noninterference. This requires us to leave organisms and ecosystems alone.

3. Fidelity. This forbids humans to break trust with individual animals (by hunting them, for example).

4. Restitutive justice. This requires restoration of the "balance of justice" when one of the previous rules has been broken.
Taylor goes on to provide priority rules for when these first-order rules conflict. Rule 1, for example, takes priority over the others. This is similar to the medical injunction, primum non nocere (first, do no harm).

Conflicts between organisms are inevitable. As Taylor puts it, "Not only must humans make use of the natural environment and thereby compete with animals and plants that might also need that environment as their habitat and food source, but humans must also directly consume some nonhumans in order to survive" (page 257). So Taylor rejects premise 2 of the argument presented earlier. The person who adopts an attitude of respect for nature (called biocentrism) will not automatically prefer the interests of humans to the interests of other organisms (called anthropocentrism). He or she will strive to accommodate all interests. This will mean limiting human population, reducing consumption, and being wise in the use of technology. Biocentrism sees humans as just another species, with no special claim on the earth's resources.

It might be thought that this leaves us where we were, with humans doing as they please. It does not. Most people say that nonhuman animals and plants have no moral status, whereas humans do. Taylor says that all organisms have moral status. This shifts the burden to those who would harm other organisms. What didn't need justification now needs justification. Most people are anthropocentrists. Taylor's biocentrism would require vast changes in our lives and in society. Compare the changes in thought, attitude, and behavior toward slaves before and after they were freed. Before they were freed, certain things could be done to them with impunity. After they were freed, these things could not be done. Becoming a member of the legal or moral community makes a great deal of difference to how one is (may be) treated.

I haven't begun to plumb the depths of Taylor's fine book. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in this topic.

02 January 2004

James Rachels (1941-2003) on Peter Singer

The impact of Peter Singer's writing is due as much to his gift for moral rhetoric as to the quality of his arguments. Reading his 1972 paper 'Famine, Affluence, and Morality,' one felt intellectual interest in the argument, but also guilt for not having contributed more money to relieve starvation. Many otherwise sober citizens, after reading his 1975 book Animal Liberation, became vegetarians. It is difficult to say just how this effect is achieved. There is no preaching; somehow a sense of moral urgency is conveyed through the statement of the theoretical arguments themselves. I know of no other writer whose work combines intellectual analysis and moral persuasion so compellingly.

(James Rachels, "Sociobiology and the 'Escalator' of Reason," review of The Expanding Circle: Ethics and Sociobiology, by Peter Singer, The Hastings Center Report 11 [October 1981]: 45-6, at 45)

01 January 2004


Here is the entry on Peter Singer from Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Here is the entry on PETA.


One thing that distinguishes philosophers from activists is that philosophers criticize each other. They do not suppress criticism for the sake of "solidarity." Peter Singer and Tom Regan have criticized each other's work for almost three decades. This is good; it shows that they are first and foremost philosophers and only secondarily activists. Gary Francione criticizes Singer, Regan, and everyone else (including PETA) who is well-intentioned but is in fact doing harm to animals. Francione's only goal is doing right by the animals. If he thinks PETA is harming animals but doesn't say so—and explain why—he is not a true philosopher. No self-respecting philosopher would be either a member or a defender of PETA. PETA is an organization, with all the faults and foibles of an organization. Philosophers must remain independent.