29 August 2004


Here is a BBC story about the intelligence of fish. Is intelligence morally relevant? If it is, then there are moral distinctions to be made among humans, some of whom are more intelligent than others. Humans value intelligence, which is understandable, since we have a lot of it; but we should not merely assume that it's linked to moral status. Unintelligent beings can suffer. Isn't that the main morally relevant feature of a being?

25 August 2004

Twenty Years Ago

25 August 1984

Professor Peter Singer
Department of Philosophy
Monash University

Dear Professor Singer:

I am an attorney and a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Arizona, and I want to thank you for inspiring me so with your books Animal Liberation, Practical Ethics, and The Expanding Circle. Your books have provided me with excellent teaching material in my Introduction to Philosophy courses (primarily on animal rights and famine relief), and I was so persuaded by your arguments in Animal Liberation that I became a vegetarian even before I had completed the book (three and a half years ago). Unlike most other writers on ethics, your arguments are clear, succinct, and persuasive; we would all do well, in my opinion, to emulate your style. Personally, I try to model my own writing after yours.

I understand that you were a visiting professor at the University of Colorado this past semester (Spring 1984). Although I did not get a chance to meet you then, I look forward to meeting you one day and discussing ethical issues. In the meantime, keep up the good work, and thank you for the inspiration. I will be watching for future books and articles from you.


Keith Burgess-Jackson
7424 East Speedway Boulevard
Apartment G-126
Tucson, Arizona 85710
United States of America

24 August 2004

From the Mailbag


As you know, I’ve been compiling a list of animal rights/environmental bloggers who will be able to put out occasional postings related to campaigns that we are running.
1. I have a favour to ask. I need to find more AR blogs! Could you please give my email address to any bloggers who you know that might be interested, or even post a blog entry calling for people to contact me? It is likely that many of your readers run their own blogs that might be relevant.

2. When I send out an alert, would you prefer to receive all of the information in an email, or would it be better if I set up an RSS feed that you could syndicate?

Chris Anderson
Campaigns Officer - Animal Aid
The Old Chapel, Tonbridge, Kent, TN9 1AW

23 August 2004

Meat-Eating Is Bad for Humans

Even if you care only about humans, you should be a vegetarian. See here. (Thanks to Khursh Mian Acevedo for the link.)

Animal Rights

I'm not sure whether I linked to this essay by Roger Scruton. If I did, I apologize for linking to it twice.

22 August 2004

Nancy E. Snow on Compassion for Animals

My thesis is that it can be, and frequently is, rational for humans to feel compassion for nonhuman animals. Compassion for animals can be explained by examining several modes of connection between humans and other animals. The connections encompass modes of identification between humans and other animals, for example: imaginative reconstructions of their subjective experiences, beliefs about humans and other animals, including beliefs about similarities between species, other emotions toward animals, such as kinship feelings, and outlooks or ways of life that reflect value judgments about and attitudes toward nonhuman animals. To feel compassion for animals is to be connected with them in an especially complex way.

(Nancy E. Snow, “Compassion for Animals,” Between the Species [spring 1993]: 61-6, at 61)

20 August 2004

The Asiatic Black Bear

Here is a site that contains information about the Asiatic black bear, which the Chinese farm and use for various purposes.

19 August 2004

Cat Restaurants

It was bound to happen: cats in restaurants. See here.

18 August 2004

The Elephant Sanctuary

Did you know that there is an elephant sanctuary in, of all places, Tennessee? See here. I'm sure these good folks would appreciate donations.

17 August 2004

From Today's New York Times

Save the Whales! Then What?

CAP DE BON DESIR, Quebec, Aug. 11—A few miles from this spit along the pink granite coast of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, there is a sheltered cove that has witnessed the full span of the human relationship with whales.

Nearly 500 years ago, fleets of Basque whalers, venturing ever farther from their home waters in Europe's Bay of Biscay, set up camp on the arc of gravelly beach. They had depleted domestic stocks of the right whale, a blubbery species that conveniently floats after it is killed, and found plenty of targets in the 900-foot-deep water just offshore.

They towed the harpooned giants into the shallows on the rising tide. When the water receded, they stripped fat from flesh, boiling it to extract precious lamp and cooking oil. The next high tide carried the carcasses back to sea.

Now the same cove is home to a different kind of fleet. Several times a day, fresh assortments of tourists slide into a dozen yellow and red kayaks and paddle away. Their quarry is also whales, but these visitors covet them alive, not dead. Small minkes and giant fin whales spout and feed amid ranks of puffing porpoises and seals.

But even as whales have faded as a resource and cemented their status as an environmental icon, with whale watching now a billion-dollar business, pressure is building to end the 18-year moratorium on commercial whaling.

A small group of countries, led by Japan, Norway and Iceland, says some stocks have recovered sufficiently that they can be both protected and eaten. They say the whales are essentially the marine equivalent of the majestic bison, which was slaughtered nearly to extinction, protected and now is being made into burgers.

It is hard to find a whale biologist who, in terms of numbers alone, disagrees with the contention that some whale stocks are, in theory, harvestable now.

Populations of whales like the 100-foot blue, the largest animal ever to inhabit the planet, remain profoundly depleted decades after intensive hunts ended. But experts say that for certain stocks of sperm, minke and other varieties, the 35-year-old slogan "Save the Whales" no longer applies. They are back.

A decade ago, the International Whaling Commission, created under a 1946 treaty to manage whale harvests, approved management plans with harvesting quotas for some of the more robust populations. A wide array of scientists advising the commission agreed the quotas would not endanger those species.

But most experts say there is a long way between a theoretically safe harvest limit and one that will work in practice. The commission remains divided on how to enact such a plan in a way that prevents cheating, with whaling and anti-whaling countries riven by passion, cultural differences and divergent interpretations of the same data.

Japan and its allies say the moratorium has been transformed by anti-whaling cultures from a strategy for restoring whales to harvestable numbers into an indefinite defense against whaling.

Last month, at the 56th annual meeting of the commission, in Sorrento, Italy, delegates approved a resolution calling for treaty parties to settle on a final management plan and a way to pay for it by their next meeting. Still, for many scientists and most environmental campaigners, there is a "wall of reluctance" to ending the moratorium, said Véronik de la Chenelière, a biologist at the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals in Tadoussac, a whale watching and research hub 12 miles west of this ancient whaling outpost.

Many experts still insist it is premature to resume big-scale hunts, given the lack of information on the dynamics of many whale populations and given how rife whaling has been in the past with false reporting and greed. The cultural and historic rifts over whales are even more intense than the scientific and regulatory debate.

Since 1971, when "Songs of the Humpback Whale" became a hit album and groups like Greenpeace were filming factory-scale whaling up close, western countries have grown to revere the animals as a sort of benevolent alien. The whale songs were even sent out of the solar system on the Voyager spacecraft.

But in countries like Japan, where the only meat in school lunches after World War II was fried whale and parboiled blubber, the right to go whaling has become an issue of national pride.

In Norway, which invented industrial-scale whaling a century ago, Halvard P. Johansen, the deputy director general of the fisheries ministry, said reverence for whales and revulsion to whaling could well be a result of the detachment of modern societies from the sources of other meats.

"I grew up on a small farm in the northern part of Norway," Mr. Johansen said. "In the spring we were playing with the lambs, which by any definition are cute animals, but nobody did mind eating them in the fall. That was, and still is, part of life."

Now, he said, "Most people see meat only wrapped in plastic."

Many biologists and activists, however, say whales are a special case.

"A lot of people would like to think of whales as philosopher-poets swimming around the oceans thinking deep thoughts, and that is not true," said Dr. Roger Payne, one of the biologists who first studied the mating songs of humpbacks. "But for some reason, people are deeply, deeply impressed by these animals. It may be their size, and grace has something to do with it. But there really is an air of mystery about them."

The human fascination with whales has led to a new counterweight to the pro-whaling forces—the hundreds of companies running whale-watching operations in 87 countries, including those seeking an end to the ban on commercial hunting.

Whale watching from boats began off San Diego in 1955, with the gray whales migrating offshore drawing 10,000 viewers in that first year. Nearly 50 years later, the activity draws nearly 10 million people annually.

Starting last year, the companies involved began showing up at the meetings of the whaling commission, trying to make the case that whales are worth more alive than dead, and that their use of live whales should have just as much consideration in managing populations as the killing of the animals for food or other products.

Even so, every year it is clearer that the 1986 moratorium will not prevent rising numbers of whales from being hunted and eaten. Growing numbers of scientists say the only way to see this resumed whaling happen in a controlled way is for anti-whaling countries and groups to concede that the blanket ban must be replaced by a stock-by-stock management plan.

Whaling has already been steadily increasing as pro-whaling countries have used clauses in the treaty, which critics call loopholes, to keep hunting.

Norway never stopped commercially hunting certain stocks of minke whales, exercising a right in the treaty to object to a moratorium. The country is planning to expand its harvest.

Japan and Iceland are now killing minkes and some other varieties in growing numbers under a treaty clause allowing lethal hunts for research, and allowing the resulting meat to be sold.

Critics say the research, which is not reviewed by peers, is a sham, although, as Japanese officials are quick to point out, the commission is using the resulting data.

Whaling countries want to expand their catches from hundreds a year to several thousand in all, mainly pursuing the minke, a small species, about the size and length of two Hummers, that is thought to number one million or two million worldwide.

Japan has recruited a lengthening list of small island nations, many without whaling traditions, to join the commission. Many end up receiving development assistance from Japan. Almost all the newcomers have sided with it on votes, although Japanese officials say there is no quid pro quo.

The total count of commission members is 57 countries, and the number of pro-whaling votes has gone to 21 in 2003, from 9 in 2000, according to environmental groups.

At the July meeting, Japan threatened to pull out of the commission altogether in 2006 if it did not enact the new management plan and end the moratorium.

During the meeting, Yoshimasa Hayashi, a member of Japanese Parliament from the ruling party, crystallized the Japanese position in an interview with the BBC. "In Japan we have pet dogs," he said. "But we don't tell the Koreans to stop eating dogs. Nor should people tell us to stop eating whales."

Environmental and animal welfare groups, facing the rise in whale numbers, the expanding hunt in the name of research and erosion of the whaling commission's support for the moratorium, have split into two camps.

Some agree that commercial whaling is possible to consider now but only with ironclad tracking and enforcement methods that some whaling countries oppose.

Richard Mott, vice president for international policy of the World Wildlife Fund, said whales are more akin to elephants or mahogany than to fish or other marine resources—slow to reproduce, extremely valuable and harvested by anyone with access to the species habitat. A shutdown of a global market can help restore such stocks, he said, but added that when markets in these kinds of commodities are reinstituted, history tends to repeat itself.

Animal welfare groups argue that any whaling, managed or not, is inherently cruel. They say it is impossible to hunt semi-submerged mammals by shooting explosive harpoons from heaving ship decks without causing some to die slow, agonizing deaths.

Pro-whaling countries and their supporters attack both sets of critics, saying proposed hunting levels are so conservative that stocks could not be depleted again. They say the unbridled hunts of old, conducted by powerful countries seeking valuable oils, would never be repeated by a few countries seeking a source of meat.

They add that the hunting methods are far more lethal and humane than most of the big-game hunting that takes place in many anti-whaling countries. Japanese officials contend that, overall, wild-killed whales have a far better life, and death, than most livestock or poultry.

Rollie Schmitten, the top American government official on the whaling commission, said there has been "more progress in the last year than the last 10 years" on ways to prevent illegal harvests. He said Japan and the other pro-whaling nations have agreed to a plan for putting independent observers on whaling vessels and are close to agreeing on a system for using DNA tests of whale meat in markets to make sure it came from animals killed by the rules.

Other technological innovations can help, he and other experts said. Ships can be equipped with position-indicating beacons that reveal if they are straying from permitted waters, just as a felon on probation can be monitored with an ankle bracelet.

Still, Mr. Schmitten said, big hurdles remain to ending the moratorium. In return, he said, loopholes in the treaty, like the lack of restrictions on whaling that is labeled scientific research, must be eliminated.

Many whale biologists, while agreeing that some stocks of some species are thriving, still oppose an end to the moratorium, saying the history of whaling contains too many incidents of unrecorded kills, falsely labeled meat and questionable science.

"A few years ago, I would have said I don't see the problem, but now I see reason for being cautious," Ms. de la Chenelière in Quebec said. "There is a lot of pressure that rises when something becomes a big industry. We've seen it again and again with fish stocks. Human beings have historically shown they can't follow rules and stick to what is reasonable."

In the end, it is still perceptions that most deeply divide those in the whaling debate.

Off the coast near Cap de Bon Desir, whale watchers from Paris and Toulouse, France, marveled as several fin whales surfaced, each nearly three times the length of a kayak.

Each animal spouted explosively five or six times, like some hybrid of submarine and steam engine, before diving to feed. A cheer echoed over the sea.

In a new book promoting the Japanese point of view on whales, published by The Japan Times, a section on the "tastiest of all whales" describes the gustatory merits and drawbacks of various species.

The tastiest? The fin.

Plastic Surgery for Animals

Here is a BBC story about plastic (i.e., cosmetic) surgery for animals. What do you think? (Thanks to Dan Gifford for the link.)

16 August 2004

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 18

A few years ago, I had a discussion with a friend (and fellow philosopher) about comparative wrongdoing. I asked him whether a person who eats only fish is doing less wrong than someone who eats fish and other animals. It seems obvious to me that these sorts of comparative moral judgments make sense, but he resisted. I gave an analogy. Imagine two men, I said. One rapes twenty-four women. The other rapes one woman. Isn’t the first man worse, morally speaking? Doesn’t he do more wrong than the second?

My friend finally—reluctantly—conceded the point. He said that the man who rapes only one woman does less wrong than the man who rapes twenty-four women, but he quickly added that that’s not good enough. He shouldn’t rape any women! We agree that nobody should rape. I just wanted him to admit that fewer rapes are better, morally speaking. Why, then, is it not better to eat only fish than to eat fish and other animals? I think my friend thought that by admitting this, he would be endorsing fish-eating. But he wouldn’t. Saying that A is morally worse than B isn’t to say (or imply) that B is morally acceptable.

Here’s the kicker. This same friend thinks it’s moral progress to get egg-laying hens a few more inches of cage space. But shouldn’t he resist this judgment just as strenuously as he resisted the judgment about the rapists? Shouldn’t he say that there shouldn’t be any hens in cages? Many of us think that PETA and other organizations are making things worse by agitating for more cage space for hens. PETA thinks this improves the lives of the hens, or at least makes them suffer less. Perhaps this is so, but what is the long-term effect of agitating for more cage space? Isn’t it to reinforce the idea that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with confining hens for the purpose of collecting their eggs?

Imagine working for improvements in the lives of slaves rather than for the abolition of slavery. That’s outrageous. Why don’t we say the same about improvements in the lives of factory-farmed animals or animals kept in laboratories? PETA might say that there is no inconsistency in working toward both goals. Is this correct? What evidence does PETA have that working for improvements in the lives of factory-farmed animals or animals kept in laboratories leads to abolition of those institutions? I’ve never seen such evidence. In fact, there’s reason to believe that working for improvements decreases the likelihood of abolition by reinforcing the idea that animals are resources for human consumption. People who care about animals must stop sending mixed messages. Don’t try to get more cage room for hens. Work to get hens out of cages.

13 August 2004


Here is the website of a turkey farm. Here is the Humane Society page on turkey farms.

10 August 2004


Mylan Engel, the talking human, sent this story about Koko, the talking gorilla.

09 August 2004

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 17

Frank Borger asked for my opinion about deer hunting for purposes of minimizing the likelihood of car-deer accidents. I oppose it. There are many things short of killing deer that can be done to prevent accidents. See here for some possibilities. I’m not an absolutist about this. If nothing else worked, I’d be willing to allow hunting in selected areas, and the deer killed (by expert marksmen, not by novices) should be made available to those who would like to consume their flesh. I’m not convinced that we as a society have done all that we can to prevent accidents. After all, human beings run into each other with their vehicles. We don’t solve this problem by thinning out the human population.

Gary L. Francione on the Animal Welfare Act

[T]he Animal Welfare Act is a law that does not give any rights to animals, that is not enforced, and that is used primarily by the biomedical establishment as a public relations device to assure an otherwise uninformed public that the use of animals in American laboratories is carefully monitored.

(Gary L. Francione, Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement [Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996], 69)

08 August 2004

From the Mailbag

Dr Burgess-Jackson:

Over the last 4 days, I had to slow down on my drive to work or stop 4 times because of deer. They are really a problem throughout most of Wisconsin, and hurt and/or kill a lot of people due to accidents.

This made me recall your remarks about the ethics of "road kill."

The head of the Wisconsin DNR summed up the problem as: "Once we removed the natural predators of deer we're left with two ways to cull the herd, hunters or vehicles."

This leads me to two questions:
(1) Given three methods of maintaining natural deer-herd balance—wolves, hunters, and vehicles—which method is more or less humane? I lean toward hunting (especially considering the condition of some carcasses I see almost daily on a 30-mile stretch of I-43 on my commute to Milwaukee) as probably the least painful way for a deer to be dispatched. What would you say?

(2) If (as I believe you once said) the ethics of eating road kill are also not clear-cut, can one draw a distinction between eating road kill and eating the results of a hunt?
My own thoughts currently are:
(1) Deer and traffic don't mix, and in this part of Wisconsin—a long commute to either Milwaukee or Chicago—they are a real hazard to life and limb, and a significant cause of insurance claims. (Even the folks from PETA found this out.)

(2) Hunters are a better method for reducing the herds than vehicles.

(3) I like the taste of venison, and as long as it comes from what is essentially a replacement for the wolf, I see no ethical problem in eating it.

p.s. The deer are lousy on the road. They don't stop for signs, dart out of driveways, and Rudolph never signals his turns.

Frank Borger

07 August 2004

Aaron Lake et al. on Crush Videos

Generally, crush videos feature a woman, either bare footed or wearing high-heeled shoes, slowly crushing a small animal to death. Animals, including mice, hamsters, kittens, cats, dogs, monkeys, birds, and guinea pigs, are taped to the floor or a glass table and killed. In some videos, the woman’s voice can be heard talking to the animals in a dominatrix manner. Usually, the faces of the women engaged in the torturous act are not shown. The painful cries of the animals can also be heard. The videos often appeal to people with a very specific sexual fetish, who find the depictions sexually arousing or otherwise exciting. These videos, most of which originate in the United States, are commonly available through the Internet (over two-thousand titles) and are distributed almost exclusively for sale in interstate or foreign commerce for up to three hundred dollars each.

(“1999 Legislative Review,” Animal Law 6 [2000]: 151-78, at 162 [footnotes omitted])

From The Dallas Morning News

Re: "Dogs and heaven," Letters, Religion, July 24

Nothing in Ann L. Wilson's quotes from Scripture and statements provided any basis for her claim that animals don't go to heaven. Angels don't have souls, and they're in heaven.

John 1:11 states, "He came unto his own and his own received him not." Those two "owns" are two different words in the original language. The first "own" is all of creation and the second "own" is mankind. He came unto all of his creation and mankind received him not. The rocks received him. The animals received him—the donkey he rode, the fish that swam to his hand for the disciples' breakfast. They knew who he was.

Romans 8:19-24 states that all of creation awaits his return. From the Amplified Bible, verse 21: "That nature (creation) itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and corruption [and gain an entrance] into the glorious freedom of God's children."

Until we arrive, we have only a glimpse of heaven and cannot state for certain what it will be like or who will be there. Based on the above Scripture, I choose to believe that Louie, my beautiful, loving, faithful Australian shepherd, who died last August, who was my companion of 14 years, awaits me there.

Cheryel McRoy, Duncanville

Consequentialism and Deontology

The other day, out of the blue, a reader asked me to explain what I mean by “consequentialism” and “deontology.” I’m happy to do so, for these are key terms in moral philosophy and I use them on a regular basis in my blogs.

Consequentialism is the view that the only morally relevant feature (aspect, property, characteristic, attribute) of an action is its consequences. That is to say, in determining whether an action is right or wrong, only one thing matters: its consequences. Motives don’t matter; the type of action it is (e.g., a lie, a killing of an innocent person, a broken promise) doesn’t matter; whether the action can be universalized doesn’t matter.

As for which consequences matter, that depends on the theory. Here is an egoistic version of consequentialism: An action is right if and only if it has the best consequences for the agent (the one performing the action). Most consequentialists are universalists or impartialists rather than particularists or partialists. (Egoism is one type—an extreme type—of partialism. Others are familialism, tribalism, racialism, nationalism, and humanism.) They say that everyone affected by the action, and not just the agent, matters.

Another distinction is between act-consequentialism and rule-consequentialism. The act-consequentialist evaluates actions directly. The rule-consequentialist evaluates actions indirectly, by asking whether they fall under a rule which, if generally followed, would have the best overall consequences. For example, the rule that one ought not to lie has better overall consequences (arguably) than a rule that allows lying at whim; so, even if a particular lie would have the best overall consequences, it would be wrong to lie. Both types of consequentialism evaluate actions as right or wrong, and both do so solely in terms of consequences. They differ in whether the evaluation is direct (immediate) or indirect (mediate).

Consequentialism requires a theory of the good. It must specify which states of affairs are good, for it requires that agents bring about as much good as they can at any given time. Some consequentialists are hedonists. They seek to maximize the amount of pleasure (or happiness) in the world. Others are welfarists. They seek to maximize overall welfare (well-being), even if it doesn’t increase pleasure or happiness. Consequentialism is a maximizing theory. If there are two actions available to me and one of them produces only slightly more good than the other, I am obligated to perform the action that produces slightly more good. If I perform the other action, I act wrongly. Consequentialism makes the good logically prior to the right. The right, in other words, is defined in terms of the good. To act rightly, one must bring about as much good as one can.

The word “deontology” (literally, study or science of [logos] duty [deon]) is used in different senses. Some philosophers use it to mean nonconsequentialism, which has the advantage of cleanly partitioning the class of normative ethical theories. In this way of thinking, any theory that denies the central claim of consequentialism—viz., that the only morally relevant feature of an action is its consequences—would count as deontological. Note that deontology, so understood, does not deny the moral relevance of consequences. It says that consequences aren’t everything. Something else, such as the motive with which the action is performed, also counts. Consequentialism, theoretically speaking, is pure and simple; deontology is impure and complicated. Of course, purity and simplicity don’t make a theory correct. If the moral life is complicated, then perhaps our theory of rightness should be complicated. Consequentialism may be simplistic as well as simple.

Consequentialism has been assailed as both too permissive and too demanding. It’s arguably too permissive because it allows individuals to harm others in pursuit of the greatest good. If my killing you (an innocent person) is the only way to save ten other innocent persons, then it’s right for me to kill you. It’s arguably too demanding because it requires individuals to work full time to alleviate misery. Consequentialism (I speak here of impartial consequentialism, the most common type) makes no distinction between self, family members, friends, colleagues, compatriots, and strangers. Everyone counts equally. My own interests count for no more (or less) than those of anyone else, including people in faraway lands whose lives, customs, and religious beliefs are very different from mine. Peter Singer, the author of “Famine, Affluence, and Morality,” is a consequentialist. You can see why he believes that each of us has a moral duty to relieve and prevent famine. It’s not merely a good thing that we do this, he says; it’s required. We act wrongly if we live comfortable lives while others are suffering.

To a consequentialist, that an action is of a particular type—say, a lie, a broken promise, a killing of an innocent person, a torture—is morally irrelevant. Of course, a rule-consequentialist can say that the rule against torture, if generally followed, would maximize the overall good, and that individual acts of torture are therefore wrong. But torture, in this view, is not wrong because it’s torture; it’s wrong because it’s the sort of act that tends to produce bad consequences. Put differently, the wrongness of torture is extrinsic to it, not intrinsic to it.

Things are otherwise for the deontologist. The deontologist holds that certain actions are intrinsically wrong. They are wrong not because of their consequences or any other extrinsic feature, but because of the kinds of actions they are. This doesn’t mean that deontologists are absolutists. Some are; some are not. An absolutist deontologist holds that certain actions, such as torture, must not be performed no matter how good the consequences of doing so. A moderate (i.e., nonabsolutist) deontologist holds that certain actions, such as torture, are intrinsically wrong, but may be performed if enough good would be produced thereby. I said that consequentialists make the good logically prior to the right. Deontologists make the right logically prior to the good. Do you see the difference?

Please don’t conflate moderate deontology and consequentialism. They’re different. That neither is absolute doesn’t make them the same theory. Here’s a summary of the three theories (or theory-types):
Consequentialism: No act-type is intrinsically wrong. Rightness and wrongness are extrinsic properties of actions.

Moderate deontology: Some act-types are intrinsically wrong, but may be performed if enough good would be brought about.

Absolutist deontology: Some act-types are intrinsically wrong and may not be performed no matter how much good would be brought about.
It’s unfortunate, but some consequentialists dismiss deontology on grounds that it’s absolute. They set up a false dichotomy: Either you’re a consequentialist or you’re an absolutist deontologist. Since many people resist absolutism, they think they’re committed to consequentialism. Not so. Moderate deontology is a viable alternative.

In case you’re wondering, many prominent philosophers are deontologists. Here is a partial list: John Rawls, Thomas Nagel, Immanuel Kant, Robert Nozick, Ronald Dworkin, Charles Fried, G. E. M. Anscombe, Bernard Williams, John Finnis, Alan Donagan, Joel Feinberg, Bernard Gert, Judith Jarvis Thomson, Samuel Scheffler, and T. M. Scanlon. There are many prominent consequentialists as well, such as Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick, J. J. C. Smart, R. M. Hare, Richard B. Brandt, L. W. Sumner, Peter Singer, and Shelly Kagan. The debate between consequentialism and deontology is alive and well, as I suspect it always will be. Don’t say that they should compromise. Given how the theories are defined, no compromise is possible. Either you believe that only consequences matter or you believe that something besides consequences matters. This is an unbridgeable, permanent divide in ethical theory.

I hope this helps. If you have questions, write to me. If you want to read more about normative ethical theory, please acquire and read Shelly Kagan’s Normative Ethics (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998). Some of the distinctions I make in this post derive from this book, which is one of the best books I’ve read—on any topic.

06 August 2004

From the Associated Press

Human Mad Cow May Be More Widespread

By EMMA ROSS, AP Medical Writer

LONDON—Scientists have found evidence suggesting that the human form of mad cow disease might be infecting a wider group of people than seen so far and that some may develop a milder form of the illness.

Since variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease was first identified in 1996, little has been learned about it. Until now, the fatal brain-wasting disease was found only in people who have a certain genetic profile.

But research published this week in The Lancet medical journal reported the infection in a person with a more common genetic makeup and with no symptoms of the illness.

That means more people than previously believed could be incubating the disease, thought to come from eating processed beef products from cattle infected with mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy. It also raises the possibility that some people may get only a mild infection, as opposed to the fatal disease.

Scientists don't know how many people are infected with the human form of mad cow disease. Projections vary wildly—from just 10 more cases in the future to hundreds of thousands—because so many factors that play into the disease remain a mystery and because there have been so few cases to study.

Experts don't know how long the incubation period is; whether everybody is equally vulnerable; exactly how the disease spreads and whether it can be easily passed on before symptoms develop. There is no test to diagnose it, no treatment and no cure.

The latest finding means that forecasts need to be radically revised because they were based on the assumption that the disease only affects people with a particular genetic profile found in about 35 percent of Caucasians, said James Ironside, director of Britain's national Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease surveillance unit, which did the study.

In new research, an autopsy found the disease in a person whose genetic signature is shared by about 50 percent of Caucasians.

Ironside said, "I think we have to go back and redo all the calculations based on this case."

So far, 147 people in Britain, and another 10 elsewhere, are known to have contracted the disease. Five are still alive.

The illness occurs when normal proteins found in the brain, known as prions, change shape and prompt adjacent healthy prions to do the same. When enough prions are altered, they deposit a plaque on the brain and surround the mark with spongy holes, killing the victim.

The latest discovery was made during an autopsy of an elderly person who died of an unrelated cause but who had received a blood transfusion five years earlier from a donor who later died of the human form of mad cow disease.

Strangely, the infection was found only in the spleen, but not in the brain or other places the disease typically turns up. It is unknown whether the disease might eventually have killed this person after a longer incubation period or whether the infection was milder and may have done no harm.

Dr. Kumanan Wilson, a blood safety expert at Toronto General Hospital in Canada, said the finding is a vindication of policies by some countries that have taken steps to protect against what was previously a theoretical risk of spreading the disease through blood transfusions. During the HIV epidemic, the blood supply wasn't protected until HIV began spreading through transfusions.

"By acting in advance of complete certainty, policy makers have potentially protected against vCJD emerging as a new large-scale blood-borne epidemic," said Wilson, who was not connected with the study.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Indeed, the United Nations should step up efforts to confront the avian flu crisis in Asia before it takes the world by storm ("The Enduring Avian Flu Problem," editorial, Aug. 4). But it is our penchant for international trade in birds—whether for eggs, meat, live poultry or pets—that already spins these local animal disease challenges into a complex web of global threats to agriculture, wildlife and human health.

In this year alone, avian flu outbreaks in Asia, Africa, Canada and the United States have inspired a dizzying array of international trade bans on poultry and pet birds, as well as calls for the killing of wild cranes in parts of Asia. Although disruptive, the bans are necessary because existing border controls and quarantines fail to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Because recent outbreaks have cost hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars and because current science predicts that avian flu is becoming more lethal, shouldn't we be asking whether any international trade in these animals is worth the risk? Do these niche-market profits for a few justify the financial and health risks borne by us all?

James D. Gilardi
Director, World Parrot Trust
Davis, Calif., Aug. 4, 2004

05 August 2004


People who would never accept the use of a human being as a mere means to the ends of others are quite willing to use animals as mere means to human ends. See here for the result of this duplicitous thinking. Caution: The images are disturbing. Actually, that's not quite right. The images aren't disturbing; the events they depict are disturbing.

02 August 2004

Welcome to My Nightmare

It’s been almost five days since I had high-speed Internet access. Something—perhaps the thunderstorm that awakened me several times Wednesday evening and early Thursday morning—messed up my DSL modem. I spent almost all day Thursday on the telephone with EarthLink technicians, trying to get the modem working again. I was told that a technician would come to my house between eight and twelve o’clock Friday morning. Nobody came. I cleaned the house for nothing.

I called at three o’clock and was told that somebody had read my “ticket” and canceled the appointment. Nobody had informed me. For all they knew, I had taken a half day off work to be home for the technician. I was told to call back at eight. When I did, I was told that it was a telephone-company problem and that it might be Monday before it was solved. Unbelievable.

I waited patiently all weekend, using my EarthLink dial-up connection for as long as I could stand it (which wasn’t long). Today, exasperated, I called EarthLink. I was told that the telephone company had sprung into action. Sure enough, a telephone technician arrived shortly thereafter. He did some stuff on the outside of the house, then brought his equipment inside. He ran some tests and said everything appeared to be working up to and including the DSL modem. But still I couldn’t get connected, so, when he left, I called EarthLink back.

The technician ran some tests, had me do a few things on my computer, and concluded that something, somewhere, had to be reset. Sounds simple, right? Nope. He personally couldn’t do it; some other office had to do it. He told me to call back in one hour. When I called back, another technician told me he couldn’t reset whatever had to be reset until the telephone company’s report is submitted. He told me to call back at nine o’clock in the morning.

How would you feel if this happened to you? Responsibility is diffused, so each person can honestly say, “Things are working fine where I am.” Everything works, but my DSL doesn’t work. If this is how EarthLink does business, it deserves to go out of business. Someone should be assigned to each customer, the way lawyers are assigned to cases. That person handles every aspect of the case and stays in touch with the customer until the problem is solved. Most people, I assume, would be happy to pay a little more for this. I know I would.

I should have left EarthLink long ago, and certainly before five days passed; but I hold out hope that somebody will reset something tomorrow morning and I’ll be back online. I’m told by various people (including some friendly correspondents who read my blog) that a cable Internet connection is faster and more reliable. If I get no satisfaction in the morning from EarthLink, I’ll call Charter, my cable-television company. I can’t live like this, knowing that at any time, through no fault of my own, I can lose my high-speed Internet connection for five days. Five hours is too long. Five days is nightmarish. I’ve come to depend on high-speed Internet access. To lose it is equivalent to losing air conditioning, electricity, or water.

You’re probably thinking, “What a crybaby he is.” But I haven’t begun to describe the problems I’ve had. They breed like rabbits. I have two computers, an old Compaq and a new Dell. I keep the Compaq as a backup. For some reason, I can’t get a dial-up connection with the Dell. Maybe its modem is shot, but I don’t know why it would be. So to use the dial-up connection, I have to use the Compaq, which is slower.

It gets worse. The dial-up connection is squirrelly. I lose my connection right in the middle of doing something. I’ve had to redial many, many times in the past several days. A few minutes ago, I couldn’t open any web pages. I could get my e-mail, so I knew I had a connection, but no web page would open. Finally, after trying for several minutes, it worked. Will it work next time? Who knows? The various components of my system seem to have formed a league against me.

When you put it all together, I’m shell-shocked. I’m beyond frustrated; I’m livid. What’s happening could easily be the plot of a Kafka novel. My comfortable, scholarly world has been turned upside down. About the only escape I’ve had from the madness was during Saturday’s bike rally in Cleburne. I rode seventy-one miles in brilliant sunshine, enjoying the scenery, the people, and my music. Wish me luck with tomorrow’s “reset.” I hope to be back to blogging soon.