30 April 2004

Bucket of Blood

Dennis Mangan sent a link to this debate about PETA's Bucket of Blood campaign against KFC. Thanks, Dennis.

From the Mailbag


Thanks for sending me your recent blog entry [dated 5 April; see below] on eating meat. I am not a purist in the sense you attribute to me. Of course, I agree that the state of affairs of one woman being raped is objectively LESS BAD, than the state of affairs of twenty-four women being raped. I acknowledge the comparative judgment. I just don't think it gets the rapist (or you) off the hook. Even committing one rape is so bad that the rapist deserves serious moral sanction. I know you think of rape as an extremely heinous instance of wrongdoing. I don't think that, in the case of rape, you would maintain, of a person who regularly rapes 24 women a year, but who out of conscience cuts back to only one rape a year, that that person has done enough where rape is concerned. One rape is one too many. Better than twenty-four? Yes. Good enough. NO!

How is your position on eating fish any different?

Your friend,



Here is a link to a T-shirt company that may be of interest (but in which I have no financial or other interest). I, personally, need a T-shirt like I need a blow to the head. I get a T-shirt at nearly every bike rally and footrace I do. I've done 327 bike rallies and over a hundred footraces. My walk-in closet is filled with T-shirts!

29 April 2004


I have consumed no dairy products since 1972, when I was fifteen. No milk, cheese, butter, ice cream, or yogurt. Recently I discovered White Wave Chocolate Soymilk, which has the taste, texture, smell, and appearance of chocolate milk. I haven't tried the other White Wave products (see here for details), but I assume that if the company got the chocolate milk right, it got everything else right. What a world! The taste you want, without harming anyone. Please look for White Wave products in your local grocery store. I get mine at Kroger.

28 April 2004


Should organs and other bodily tissues be transplanted from animals to humans? See here and here.

26 April 2004

From the Mailbag

Hi Keith,

This [see here] is a topic that is close to my concerns at the moment. Australia exports tens of thousands of live sheep to the Middle East every year. Last year, one shipment was refused by Saudi Arabia, and 58,000 sheep spent months at sea, without room to move and in temperatures around 100 degrees. Thousands died. Refusal of shipments is fairly common (of course, the sheep certainly suffer even when all goes to plan; some sheep are too stressed to eat, and starve to death). Information here.

Here's where religion comes in: the sheep are destined to be slaughtered by Muslims performing a religious duty. You write that no religion requires meat eating. True, so far as I know. But some religions require killing: Islam, and also Santeria (see P. Casal, "Is Multiculturalism Bad for Animals?" Journal of Political Philosophy [March 2003]). The shipments are refused because apparently the Koran requires that the sheep be in good condition: obviously, that's hard to guarantee when they're shipped from Australia. This is a big debate at the moment in Australia (I'm addressing the Australian Veterinary Association annual conference on the topic). Of course, I want the sacrifices stopped. But I think given the mutual mistrust between Islam and the West right now, this has to come from their side. We can only hope. . . .



Dr Neil Levy
Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics
University of Melbourne
Parkville, 3010

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 3

“Animals kill each other, so why can’t we kill them?” Anyone who lectures on the moral status of animals, as I’ve been doing for twenty years (almost to the day), has heard this question dozens of times. It has a powerful appeal to certain minds. But it’s thoroughly, almost ludicrously, confused.

Nobody doubts that animals kill each other. It’s just that nothing of a normative nature follows from that fact. In general, that something is the case is no reason that it ought to be the case. This principle—that one cannot validly infer an “ought” statement from “is” statements—is known as Hume’s Law, after the eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776). (Some people mistakenly call it “the naturalistic fallacy,” but that refers to something else.) Imagine a parallel argument: “People murder each other, so why can’t I murder?” Pretty lame, eh?

Let’s reconstruct the questioner’s reasoning to make it valid. In other words, let’s make it so that the conclusion follows logically from the premise(s). This will focus attention on the truth or acceptability of the premise(s). Perhaps the person who asks the question is reasoning as follows:
1. Predation is morally permissible.
2. When humans kill and eat other animals, they are preying.
3. It is morally permissible for humans to kill and eat other animals.
This reasoning would justify interspecific predation but not murder.

The problem with the reasoning is that the first premise is nonsensical. It has a false presupposition. To say that predation is morally permissible is to presuppose that the animals who engage in it are moral agents, capable of reasoning and acting on principle. No animal is a moral agent. Only humans are moral agents. Only humans, therefore, are morally responsible for their conduct. Predation is just a fact about our world. Those who engage in it are neither blameworthy nor praiseworthy.

It might be said that if no animal is a moral agent, then no animal has moral status. But moral status comes in two forms: moral agency and moral patienthood. Children are moral patients, but not moral agents. The severely retarded are moral patients, but not moral agents. The senile are moral patients, but not moral agents. Are we to cast these individuals out of the moral community because they cannot reason or act on principle? To be a moral patient, one needs only interests, and animals clearly have interests, the main one being in not suffering.

There’s also a relevant difference between humans and animals that undermines the analogy. Humans don’t need animal flesh in order to survive. Many animals (the carnivores) do. (Humans are omnivores, not carnivores.) Even if animals were moral agents, and therefore morally responsible for their conduct, it would not follow from the fact that they kill and eat each other that humans may follow suit. In the case of animals, it’s self-defense (which is not to say that they think in those terms). They kill to survive. They have no choice. Humans don’t need to kill animals to survive. We have a choice.

At this point it might be said that something has to die for another thing to live. This is true, but, as I argued a week ago (see here), there are morally relevant differences between animals and plants. Both are alive, but only animals can suffer, and suffering is intrinsically bad. Humans must eat. Nobody denies that. They do not have to add to the world’s suffering in order to do so.

Isn’t it odd that the people who ask the question posed at the outset don’t look to the animal world for moral guidance in other areas? If we’re to emulate animals with respect to diet, why shouldn’t we emulate them with respect to habitat, reproduction, child-rearing, hygiene, social structure, and other matters? Let’s not be selective! I suspect that people who ask the question aren’t thinking clearly and carefully. They’re groping for a reason to continue eating meat.

25 April 2004


Ever heard of pâté de foie gras? See here. You have to wonder about someone who would contribute to such cruelty. Not knowing how this “food” is produced is one thing; knowing and not caring is another. Please get the word out so that consumers of this “food” are deprived of the excuse of ignorance. (By the way, I’m not implying that ignorance always excuses. There is such a thing as culpable ignorance. People have a duty to find out how the foods they eat are produced.)

Ambrose Bierce

Carnivorous, adj. Addicted to the cruelty of devouring the timorous vegetarian, his heirs and assigns.

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

24 April 2004


If I could get people to make one change in their diets, it would be eliminating veal. This would destroy the market for veal and prevent a great deal of misery. See here.

23 April 2004

René Descartes (1596-1650) on Animal Minds

I know that animals do many things better than we do, but this does not surprise me. It can even be used to prove that they act naturally and mechanically, like a clock which tells the time better than our judgement does. Doubtless when the swallows come in spring, they operate like clocks. The actions of honeybees are of the same nature; so also is the discipline of cranes in flight, and of apes in fighting, if it is true that they keep discipline. Their instinct to bury their dead is no stranger than that of dogs and cats which scratch the earth for the purpose of burying their excrement; they hardly ever actually bury it, which shows that they act only by instinct and without thinking. The most that one can say is that though the animals do not perform any action which shows us that they think, still, since the organs of their bodies are not very different from ours, it may be conjectured that there is attached to these organs some thought such as we experience in ourselves, but of a very much less perfect kind. To this I have nothing to reply except that if they thought as we do, they would have an immortal soul like us. This is unlikely, because there is no reason to believe it of some animals without believing it of all, and many of them such as oysters and sponges are too imperfect for this to be credible.

(René Descartes to the Marquess of Newcastle [William Cavendish (1593-1676)], 23 November 1646, in The Correspondence, vol. 3 of The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, trans. John Cottingham et al. [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991], 304)

A Friend of Animals

Marc Bekoff is a biologist at The University of Colorado at Boulder. He writes both scholarly and popular essays on animals. Here is one of his latest popular essays. Here is Marc's personal home page. Keep up the good work, Marc!

22 April 2004


Has anybody eaten Vegemite? I haven't, but I want to. Where can I get some? I've never seen it in a grocery store. What does it taste like?

Fighting the Facts

Some people cannot entertain hypotheticals. See here.

21 April 2004

Old Font

Having tried Comic Sans for a few days, I decided to go back to Bookman Old Style. Sorry for the inconvenience (if any). Thanks to those of you who provided feedback.

20 April 2004

Engineering Animals

Here is a short essay on genetically engineered animals. Let me know what you think.

19 April 2004


I received the following letter from a reader:
Professor Burgess-Jackson:

Forthwith, I am no expert in the field of animal ethics. . . .

However, as a constant reader of your site, many of your posts prompt internal questions. The following came to mind upon reading your plant/animal dichotomy [see the previous post], and since I've heard many make a similar point in regard to animal rights, I'll ask you (perhaps you could deal with it on your blog someday).

Where does one draw the line, and is the line arbitrary? I'm thinking here about insects. Surely, building one's home not only displaces but destroys many thousands of insects. Are we to take this issue weightily or lightly? Mosquitoes stinging us? Stepping on ants as we walk through the grass? Etc. I guess I'm asking whether insects have rights, and how far one may go before an ordinary swatting of a gnat away from one's ear deigns moral responsibility?

I think you get the point. Now, I'm honestly not offering this as an "argument" against your views—I would just like to hear something said about it. Surely, it seems to me, such considerations are stronger than the "plant" examples to which your interlocutors alluded?

One final request: could your answer entertain a non-utilitarian mode of argument? As a non-utilitarian, I am less likely to be convinced by such an argument (though I can readily see how the argument would be formed on utilitarian grounds).

Just food for thought.

Take care, Allan
Here is my reply:
19 April 2004, 2:15 P.M. Allan: The line is not arbitrary. If a being is sentient, it has moral status. There are two kinds of case: (1) those in which it is clear that the being is sentient and (2) those in which it is not clear that the being is sentient. Let's call these cases, respectively, "easy" and "hard." Cows, pigs, and chickens are easy cases. Insects and mollusks are hard cases. Let's not commit the fallacy of inferring the absence of easy cases from the presence of hard cases. In other words, from the fact that it's unclear whether insects are sentient, it doesn't follow that it's unclear whether cows, pigs, and chickens are sentient. As to your final question, I'm a deontologist. It's wrong to harm others. Suffering is a harm. So it's wrong to inflict suffering on others. You don't have to be a consequentialist (or, more particularly, a utilitarian) to think that suffering matters, morally. kbj
Keep those cards and letters coming!

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 2

It is astonishing how often plants come up in connection with animal liberation. Even intelligent people think that bringing animals into the moral community requires bringing plants in. Since it is absurd to think that plants have moral status, they say, it is absurd to think that animals have moral status. The assumption is that there are no morally relevant differences between animals and plants. Either both of them have moral status or neither of them has moral status. Since plants clearly do not have moral status, neither do animals.

The flaw in the reasoning is that there are morally relevant differences between animals and plants, differences that ground a difference in treatment. Animals (most of them, anyway; certainly those that are most often eaten) are sentient; plants are not. Both are living, to be sure, but nobody thinks that being alive is a sufficient condition for having moral status. Peter Singer doesn’t. Tom Regan doesn’t. I don’t. You don’t.

It might be said that plants are sentient, in the sense of having the capacity to suffer. There is no evidence for this. (Take my word for it. I wrote an essay entitled “Do Plants Have Rights?” for a graduate seminar many years ago, which required that I review the scientific literature.) The people who say it don’t believe it, either. I often hear it said that plants have amazing abilities. They respond to all manner of environmental stimuli, from light to heat to magnetism to noise. But machines can be made to respond to environmental stimuli. Your thermostat isn’t sentient. Your car isn’t sentient. Your computer isn’t sentient.

There is no reason whatsoever to think that plants can feel pleasure or pain. They lack brains and nervous systems. What good would a pain response do for an organism that can’t move to avoid painful stimuli? Animals can avoid pain by moving; plants cannot. Evolutionarily speaking, it would be pointless for a plant to be sentient. It is not pointless for an animal to be sentient.

There is a great deal of intellectual dishonesty among those who deny animals moral status. They seem committed to thinking of and using animals as resources and will let nothing—not even logic and common sense—stand in the way. They ridicule those who take animals seriously. When they make the point about plants, they do so with an air of triumph. But the joke’s on them. Those who think animals have moral status have thought things through to a much greater degree than those who don’t. Take my word for it. I’ve been reading, writing, and talking about the issue for a quarter of a century.

If you sincerely believe that plants are sentient, act on your belief. You may think it shows that any living organism may be killed and eaten. What it actually shows, when you combine it with your belief that pain is intrinsically bad, is that you’re acting wrongly. You should be foraging for plants and animals that died natural deaths, not raising and killing them for food. But suppose this were an inadequate diet. Then one would have to make comparative judgments about the degree to which various organisms suffer. Presumably, if plants were sentient, they would be less sentient than animals, so one would have an obligation to consume them rather than animals. Either way, it’s wrong to eat animals.

18 April 2004

From the Mailbag

I don't see how Smallholder can love on his cattle every day [see Smallholder's post of 14 April 2004, infra] and then lead them to their death. That's like me taking my cats or dogs to the slaughterhouse after they sleep in the bed with me!

Maybe he could find another career that allows cow-petting and makes him a profit so he can cow-pet on a regular basis.

Mindy Hutchison

New Font

As you will undoubtedly have noticed, I changed fonts. One of my students used an interesting font in her term paper. I snooped around in a Word document until I found it. It's Comic Sans MS. It looks like hand lettering. There's something rustic and endearing about it, so I decided to use it in one of my blogs (the other being AnalPhilosopher). I still like Bookman Old Style, but there's no reason both of my blogs have to have the same font, is there? Feedback is welcome.

By the way, there appears to be a controversy about Comic Sans MS. See here and here.

From Today's New York Times

The Bush administration generally frowns on federal regulation and touts the virtues of voluntary efforts to deal with all manner of national problems. So it was quite a shock when heavy-handed regulators at the Agriculture Department refused to let a private company test all the cattle it slaughters for mad cow disease.

The request to conduct tests was submitted by Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, a small producer in Kansas, which wanted to resume selling its high-priced Black Angus beef in Japan, a major market. The Japanese have detected some 10 or so cases of mad cow disease in their own country, so they now test every animal slaughtered for food purposes there. They want American exporters to do the same.

Creekstone was willing to oblige even though it believes the American beef supply is already safe. (One cow in the state of Washington tested positive for the disease last December, but it was found to have originated in Canada.) The Japanese ban is costing the company some $200,000 a day and has forced it to lay off 45 workers. Creekstone planned to test all 300,000 animals slaughtered at its Kansas plant each year, using the same rapid diagnostic tests used in Japan.

In a country like the United States, where not a single indigenous case of mad cow disease has yet been detected in cattle of any age, such blanket testing is probably overkill. It would seem adequate for consumer safety purposes simply to test most of the nation's disabled cattle and a suitable sample of healthy cattle, as Agriculture officials plan to do. But it is hard to see how Creekstone's desire to do more would hurt anyone else.

The Agriculture Department gave a curt no when Creekstone, which was required under a 1913 law to get permission to conduct the tests, sent in its request. The stated reason for the rejection was that the rapid tests are licensed only for surveillance, not to guarantee consumer safety. But critics contend the department is primarily trying to protect the beef industry from pressure to test all 35 million or so cattle slaughtered in this country annually. Such blanket testing would raise production costs, and discovery of a single case of mad cow disease, or even a false positive, might cause American beef sales to plummet.

What is most worrying about this entire incident is not that Creekstone will not be able to do the tests, or even that the federal government appears to be discouraging a minor concession that would lead to both exports and jobs. If the cattle industry has the clout to sway a government department on this kind of issue, it probably has the clout to influence federal officials when it comes to questions much closer to the interests of American consumers.

American negotiators are pressing the Japanese to relax their requirements, and if they succeed Creekstone, at least, will have a happy ending. If they do not, the government should change its mind and let the market rule. That would be at least a small sign that the people who help protect the safety of American meat have their priorities in the right place.

17 April 2004

16 April 2004

From the Mailbag

dear mr. burgess-jackson, i have discovered your web log (both, actually), parts of which i rather enjoy. especially issues on animal rights and their linking (though i could not disagree more) with vegetarianism [to which i had to link in my nectar&ambrosia blog]—and the variety of responses you publish.

best regards,
jens f. laurson
Center for International Relations
International Affairs Forum

A PETA Apologist

Dennis Mangan replies to my PETA post here.

15 April 2004

From the Mailbag

Yet another reason for animal-rights folks to distance themselves from PETA. This is disgusting.

I'm all for the humanest possible treatment of animals, but this isn't how I'd go about convincing people!


14 April 2004

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "U.S. Won't Let Company Test All Its Cattle for Mad Cow" (news article, April 10):

Is this government bureaucracy gone amok or simply another example of the failure of public servants to protect the interests of the American public?

How can testing of all cattle for mad cow disease, a potentially fatal illness, be bad for consumers?

Contrary to what the National Cattlemen's Beef Association says, the most important thing is not the potential false impression that untested beef is not safe but rather the truthful understanding that tested beef is not infected.

What a perversion of the free-market system and what an example of a government agency's pandering to an industry group at the expense of the health of all Americans.

Katonah, N.Y., April 12, 2004

From the Mailbag


I am not sure what your policy is on reader-to-reader discussions, but I would like to respond to Joanna's criticism if I may. I was unclear in my post and do not want to leave the impression that I deny the individuality of the steers I raise.

What follows is a bit lengthy, so feel free to cut and paste as you see fit—I also posted it on Mike's blog. I hope Big Hominid and Naked Villainy are ginning up some more site traffic for you.

Dear Joanna,

I'm always happy to bring happiness, humor, and joy to others. You should see me dance. Unfortunately, your amusement at my failure to recognize that meat comes from "individuals" arises only because I did not specify my background in my brief post. I am a small-scale organic farmer who sells a few (seven this year) custom-raised, humanely treated, grass-fed baby beef in the Shenandoah Mountains and certainly do not deny the individuality of the animals I raise. In fact, my blogosphere handle, "Smallholder," is taken from the English term that not only denotes someone who traditionally farms a small patch of land, but also lives in close harmony with his animals. I know each animal intimately, spending one or two hours in direct, hands-on contact with my boys every day.

If you were to drive up the hill at Sweet Seasons Farm at 5:00 AM on any day of the week, you would find the barn light on and yours truly inside, feeding the boys with hand-mixed milk replacer. As they drink, I rub their sides, talk to them, scratch their ears, and lift their tails to make sure they don't have runny manure. They particularly like chin rubs. As I clean out the night's manure, the only real difficulty I have is the lads throwing me off balance as they seek even more attention. The same process gets repeated each evening as well. In fact, one of the little scamps was too affectionate last night—I had forgotten the egg basket and carefully placed several eggs in my front pants pocket. One of my twins didn't think he had gotten enough love and butted my hip—breaking four of the eggs.

In fact, the close association with the individuals can get even more intense. Last year, a snowstorm coupled with freakish wind swirling through the hills pushed snow through the barn's second story, around the hayloft, and into the pen. I went out at eleven in the evening to check to see if my boys were snuggly warm in the midst of the blizzard and found them standing forlornly with a quarter inch of snow on their backs. Intellectually, I understand that cattle are built to survive this sort of thing—I have seen my neighbor's cattle with an inch of encrusted ice all over their hides—but I didn't want my lads to be cold. I jerry-rigged (look at me ethnically slandering myself) a tarp over the calf pen, rubbed them all over with a blanket, changed the straw bedding, and then proceeded to sleep in the barn to add my body heat to their pen. It was cold, nasty work. But I kind of enjoyed waking up at three in the morning with calves snuggled up to me on each side, their heads tucked between my shoulders and face.

This year I had an outbreak of pneumonia. I had one calf that I tube-fed three times a day for a week, cradling it in my arms and massaging its ribs to aid digestion.

I could provide many, many more examples.

I'm sure Joanna will object that it can't be humane because the guys must be terrified at the end of their lives. I'm sure the slaughtering process is hard on 99.9% of the steers destined for hamburger, but the kindness I have shown the boys and the mutual affection we have also help their ends come cleanly. They follow me right up to the truck and I drive over to a Mennonite Farmer who slaughters on the side. He takes the animals in the order that they arrive, so I shoot to get to his place at 4:00 AM so I am first in line. They calmly walk down the ramp and into the facility. He was shocked that they would just follow me like little lambs—normally unloading and moving is accompanied by a fair amount of yelling and shoving. He hits them with a .22-caliber bullet to the brain and they are down—no muss, no fuss.

Ah, many animal-rights advocates might contend, there is still cruelty because they die in the end. While I am in agreement with animal-rights activists in their critiques of unnecessary (mental and physical) cruelty, they typically lose me when they make that judgment. If the goal of animal-rights activists is to eliminate as much animal suffering as possible, attacking humane farming is not conducive to their end. My animals lead TREMENDOUSLY better lives on my farm then they would in nature.

The PETA crowd seems to misunderstand that "Mother Nature" is, as Gene Logsdon puts it, often "Old Bitch Nature." Animals aren't living out in a state of Disney Technicolor utopia. Animals in the wild are perpetually fearful, subject to predation, parasite-ridden, frequently sick, and constantly hungry. Most die young and their deaths are ugly, traumatic affairs.

Professor Burgess-Jackson has stated that the art of persuasion is based on making people realize that their basic beliefs are in conflict. I have a challenge for his readers.

If my beliefs are:
A) Suffering should be minimized.

B) Animals in my care, provided with meals, shelter, health care, and protection from predation, suffer much less than they would in the state of nature.
Show me where these beliefs are in conflict. Please do so without using the "don't use others as an end" arguments. I'd buy that in person-to-person relationships, but don't accord full moral (human) weight to animals.


13 April 2004

From the Mailbag

Donovan and Smallholder's posts read so much like Psychology 101 illustrations of Denial (animals don't suffer, Donovan), Justification (it's acceptable to eat meat because other animals do it, Donovan, or because the "meat" was raised "humanely," Smallholder) and Dissociation (meat comes from "humanely raised meat" not from individual animals, Smallholder), that they are almost comedic. Thank you, I enjoyed reading them.


From the Mailbag

Dr. Burgess-Jackson,

Yesterday you posted a letter from "Donovan." May I reply?

Dear Donovan,

As a fellow omnivore, I also believe in eating meat. However, I am dismayed that you so blithely dismiss animal suffering. While the position that animals are not morally equivalent to humans is defensible, we still ought not to cause unnecessary pain and suffering when it is avoidable. If you are unwilling to minimize suffering for the sake of animals, do so for your own sake. The way we treat "lessers"—however one might define that term, reflects on us and changes us.

The best parallel that I can think of is the historical opposition that many virulent racists offered to the institution of slavery. They opposed chattel bondage not because they felt any sympathy for Africans but because the racists were alarmed by the way that the institution coarsened slaveholders.

I believe (the good professor will have to confirm this for me; it has been awhile since freshman philosophy) that Aquinas extended this rationale to animals. If I may paraphrase badly: even though they do not have moral weight (souls) we ought to treat them well so as not to develop the habit of cruelty that might then be extended to our fellow man.

You don't have to become a vegetarian to eschew being a cog in the horror machine. Buy humanely raised meat and enjoy it with a clean conscience.


Your political posts still tend to irk me, but the animal rights stuff is always thought-provoking.

All the best.

12 April 2004

From the Mailbag

Why cant i deny that pain and suffering is bad for animals? For me its as simple as the food chain and im at the top of it. I love meat and have no quibbles about doing whatever is required to put it on my families dinner table. The super market just makes it easy. Got to love the division of labor!

Sorry i just dont put animals on the same playing field as humans.


From the Mailbag


I am looking forward to your "series of blog entries that address the most common confusions and fallacies" about the moral status of animals. I will definitely stay tuned.

Meanwhile, see the link below for an activist effort that we hope will achieve similar results in terms of clarifying people's moral thinking (ha!). Should confusion still persist even after the screening, then, at least the event will have benefited local farm sanctuaries. The fundraiser will be held at my studio. Discussion to follow the film. Wish us luck.


Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 1

Some people defend their omnivorous diet by citing their religion. This is puzzling. No religion, to my knowledge, requires meat-eating. Some forbid it. For those that neither require nor forbid it, meat-eating is permissible, optional, or discretionary. Whether you should eat meat depends, therefore, on other considerations besides your religion, such as whether it contributes to the amount of pain and suffering in the world.

Do you care about pain and suffering? I assume you care about your own pain and suffering. You probably also care about the pain and suffering of your loved ones. But why are pain and suffering bad? Don’t say you’re not sure whether they’re bad. If you didn’t believe they were bad, you wouldn’t care whether you or your loved ones experience them. And once you admit that pain and suffering are bad, you can’t very well deny that it’s bad for anyone, even animals, to experience them. Pain is pain. Suffering is suffering. Why should it matter whether the being who suffers or experiences pain is white or black, male or female, American or Ethiopian, human or animal?

The meat you eat involved a great deal of pain, suffering, and deprivation. This is a fact, not an evaluation. (See here.) Most meat-eaters shield themselves (conveniently) from the suffering their actions cause. Find out how the meat that ends up in your grocery store got there. Ask yourself whether it’s right for you to support an industry that inflicts such suffering. Don’t say I’m imposing my values on you. I’m imposing your values on you. I’m trying to get you to examine your beliefs and behavior. I believe that if you do, you’ll see that you’re not living up to your moral principles. You would never think to inflict pain, suffering, and deprivation on a human being because of something as trivial as taste. Why is it permissible to inflict them on an animal?

Don’t say that your religion draws a moral line between humans and animals. We’ve already been over that. Your religion doesn’t require that you eat meat. At most, it allows you to eat meat. Whether you should do so, all things considered, is independent of your religious beliefs. It requires that you examine your beliefs about pain and suffering and draw a connection between your actions and various states of the world. It’s within your power to reduce the amount of pain and suffering in the world. Do think it through—for the sake of the animals.

11 April 2004

Dispelling Confusion About Animal Rights

I am constantly amazed and disappointed by the poor quality of thought about the moral status of animals. Sometimes I think meat-eating makes people’s minds shut off. I’ve decided to begin a series of blog entries that address the most common confusions and fallacies. Stay tuned!

09 April 2004

Don't Kill the Whales

Here is Greenpeace's page on whaling. Here are the lyrics of the Yes song "Don't Kill the Whale," from Tormato (1978):

You're first—I'm last
You're thirst—I'm asked to justify
Killing our last heaven beast
Don't hunt the whale

In beauty—Vision
Do we—Offer much
If we reason with destiny, gonna lose our touch
Don't kill the whale

Rejoice—They sing
They worship their own space
In a moment of love, they will die for their grace
Don't kill the whale

If time will allow
We will judge all who came
In the wake of our new age to stand for the frail
Don't kill the whale


08 April 2004

John Tuohey and Terence P. Ma on the Animal-Liberation Movement

Animal Liberation [1975; 2d ed., 1990] has played an important role in shaping the animal rights movement in the United States. [Peter] Singer’s work is recognized as central to the movement’s effort to claim legitimation on the contemporary scene. This legitimation remains, fifteen years after the publication of Animal Liberation, largely absent from the movement. The principal success of the movement seems to have more to do with the rise of sentimental attachment to animals due to their movement from the farm to the urban household than it does with a clear and compelling philosophical logic. The flaw in Singer’s approach is that he seeks to establish the equality of animals with humans on the level of characteristics where he finds similarities, rather, and more appropriately, than on the level of nature where there are real distinctions.

(John Tuohey and Terence P. Ma, “Fifteen Years After ‘Animal Liberation’: Has the Animal Rights Movement Achieved Philosophical Legitimacy?” The Journal of Medical Humanities 13 [summer 1992]: 79-89, at 88 [footnote omitted])

07 April 2004

Modern Meat

Have you seen this PBS documentary?

Meat-Eating and Health

Vegetarianism is good for the animals and good for you. See here.

06 April 2004

Feminism and Vegetarianism

Carol J. Adams is a feminist and a vegetarian. She has written many books at their intersection, including The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory (New York: Continuum, 1990). See here for details.

05 April 2004

Meat-Eating and Rape

As many of you know, I stopped eating red meat (beef, pork, venison, &c) in early 1981. I gave up turkey, as planned, on the last day of 1981. Since then, the only animal products I've ingested are chicken, fish, and eggs. (I've been allergic to dairy products since 1972.) A couple of years ago I stopped eating chicken. More recently still, I ruled out eggs from confined hens. As of today, the only animal products I ingest are (1) fish and (2) eggs from free-roaming hens.

Do I live up to my moral standards? No. But I'm close, and that should count for something. A few years ago, in correspondence with several philosopher friends, I was taken to task by one of them for continuing to eat chicken and fish. He couldn't believe I hadn't gone all the way (cold turkey, whole hog). He said it was preposterous for me to think I was doing well. "Imagine someone saying that he commits only an occasional rape," he said. The implication, of course, is that rape is unacceptable. It's not good enough to reduce the number of rapes one commits (unless the reduction is to zero).

One virtue of my friend's analogy is that it brings individual animals into the picture. The flesh one eats comes from individual animals, not from a species, a population, or a collection. Each rape is an affront to the dignity of a distinct person. Each act of consuming steak, hamburger, or a chicken leg is an affront to the dignity of a distinct animal. We tend to think of chicken as a mass term, like peanut butter, but it refers to body parts of individual chickens.

My friend's criticism stung me, and it has bothered me ever since. Am I no better than the rapist who "cuts back" on the number of victims? Does my sense that I'm doing better than most people and better than I once did rest on sand? Am I deluding myself?

I don't think I'm deluding myself, and I hope I'm not deluding myself by thinking that I'm not deluding myself. Suppose I were a rapist, and suppose I had been raping five women a month for many years. If I cut back to two women a month, I'd be doing better than I was. There are fewer victims. Clearly, I should not be raping at all, but raping twenty-four women a year is morally better than raping sixty a year. Would my friend disagree?

He would probably say, "You shouldn't be raping any women!" But I can agree with that without giving up my belief that I'm doing better now than before. The two judgments—one comparative and one noncomparative—are compatible. My friend seemed unwilling to address the comparative claim. He's a purist. To him, there are just two choices: (1) rape at will and (2) don't rape at all. By analogy, (1) eat as much meat as you want, of whatever types you want, and (2) don't eat meat at all.

There's a lot of purism (my term) in the animal-liberation movement. Anyone who hasn't purged animal products from his or her diet is viewed with skepticism (at best) or animosity (at worst). I wonder why this is. Why not celebrate each incremental movement toward veganism? After all, most of us grew up eating meat. Is it reasonable to expect people to eliminate animal products from their diets overnight, or even over the course of a year? There's a learning curve, for one thing. Vegetarian diets require new cooking skills and a better understanding of nutrition. There's also this brute fact: People enjoy the taste of meat. Perhaps they shouldn't (if that makes sense), but they do; and we're talking about changing lifelong habits. Dietary habits are especially difficult to change, since food plays such an important role in our rituals and identities. (I'll write about that in another post.)

If you're a vegan, like my friend, be reasonable. Rape is abominable. But it's better for one woman to be raped than for two to be raped. This doesn't justify or excuse the rape; it simply compares two states of the world in terms of the individuals that compose those states. Eating only fish is better than eating all meats. Eating only eggs from free-roaming hens is better than eating just any eggs. It seems like common sense, but then, philosophers are not long on common sense.

04 April 2004

Conservatism and Animals

I'm a longtime defender of animals. I'm also a conservative. If these attributes were incompatible, I'd be in trouble. But they're not. Qua conservative, I value tradition. But the presumption in favor of tradition is rebuttable. If a tradition harms others, the presumption is overridden. All of the following traditions harm others: human chattel slavery, bullfighting, bear-baiting, rodeos, zoos, and hunting. Any good conservative can and should oppose these oppressive institutions. Here is an essay on conservatism and animals. Thanks to Khursh for the link.

03 April 2004

Festival of the Oxen

One of my readers, Khursh, sent a link to this. I had never heard of it. I'm sorry I now know of it.

02 April 2004

My New Stinker

Shelbie, my stinkin' monkey, is a year old today. See here for details.

01 April 2004


As a conservative, I accord a presumption to tradition (the way liberals accord a presumption to individual liberty). But presumptions, by their nature, are rebuttable. Here is a tradition the presumption in favor of which is rebutted.