30 December 2004

Gary L. Francione on Animal Property

Although animal rights may be a remote goal in a nation that still disregards the rights of the poor, of women, of people of color, and of children and the elderly, there can be little, if any, doubt that conventional morality strongly proscribes the infliction of any “unnecessary” pain on animals and imposes an obligation of [sic] all humans to treat nonhumans “humanely.” Despite ubiquitous agreement on these points, there is also widespread acknowledgment that animal abuse does continue unabated in our society. What accounts for this ostensible irony is that animals do not have rights under the law. There are, of course, many laws on the federal and state levels that purport to protect animals from “inhumane” treatment, but these laws do not really confer rights in the sense that we usually use that term. Indeed, the vast majority of these laws do not even prohibit certain types of conduct that adversely affects animals. To the extent that the law does contain any types of prohibitions, such as the illegality of dogfighting or cockfighting, these prohibitions are usually more concerned with class issues or other moral issues than with animal protection. Similarly, aggressive efforts by police to prohibit the use of animals in religious “sacrifices” may have more to do with racist attitudes about the religion involved than with concern about animals. Both dogfighting and cockfighting are activities that are ostensibly more common among members of disempowered minority communities. Although these prohibitions also appear to be related to a general social disapproval of gambling, other animal wagering activities (e.g., horseracing) are more common among the middle and upper classes; indeed, several such events, such as the Kentucky Derby, are quite celebrated. Prohibitions (e.g., no animal can be used in burn experiments) may imply that there are some interests possessed by the animal that may not be traded away simply because of consequential considerations (e.g., the animal has an interest in not being used in burn experiments even where it can be plausibly argued that humans will benefit). Animals are the property of people, and property owners usually react rather strongly against any measure that threatens their autonomy concerning the use of their property.

(Gary L. Francione, Animals, Property, and the Law, Ethics and Action, ed. Tom Regan [Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995], 17-8 [italics in original; endnote omitted])

29 December 2004


David Graham has a new blog. See here. David is a vegan and a libertarian.

27 December 2004

Robert Nozick (1938-2002) on the Moral Status of Animals

If some animals count for something, which animals count, how much do they count, and how can this be determined? Suppose (as I believe the evidence supports) that eating animals is not necessary for health and is not less expensive than alternate equally healthy diets available to people in the United States. The gain, then, from the eating of animals is pleasures of the palate, gustatory delights, varied tastes. I would not claim that these are not truly pleasant, delightful, and interesting. The question is: do they, or rather does the marginal addition in them gained by eating animals rather than only nonanimals, outweigh the moral weight to be given to animals’ lives and pain? Given that animals are to count for something, is the extra gain obtained by eating them rather than nonanimal products greater than the moral cost?

(Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia [New York: Basic Books, 1974], 36-7 [italics in original])

Addendum: See here for Peter Singer's contemporaneous review of Nozick's book.

20 December 2004

Understanding Speciesism

Racism can be understood as the view that race (racial membership) has intrinsic moral significance, i.e., that race is a morally salient category. Nonracism denies that. Nonracists say that race has no intrinsic moral significance. If race has any moral significance at all, they say, it is because race is correlated with other traits that do have intrinsic moral significance. That is to say, race has, at most, extrinsic moral significance.

Speciesism is analogous to racism. Speciesists hold that species (species membership) has intrinsic moral significance, i.e., that species is a morally salient category. Nonspeciesism denies that. Nonspeciesists say that species membership has no intrinsic moral significance. If species has any moral significance at all, they say, it is because species is correlated with other traits that do have intrinsic moral significance. That is, species has, at most, extrinsic moral significance.

Nonspeciesism is compatible with differential treatment for members of different species. Suppose I have to choose between a human being and a dog, as in a lifeboat situation. I may choose the human being, but that choice doesn’t make me a speciesist. Whether I’m a speciesist depends not on what I choose, or do, but on the basis or rationale of my choice. If I choose the human being because he or she is a human being, I’m a speciesist. If I choose the human being because he or she has a greater expected lifespan, a higher quality of life, or more dependents who will be adversely affected by his or her death, or because the human being is my child or friend, I’m not a speciesist.

This shows the fallacy of thinking that concern for animals necessarily reduces one’s concern for humans. One can be nonspeciesist simply by refusing to treat biological humanity (membership in Homo sapiens) as a morally salient category. If humans are special, morally, it’s because of other traits, not because they’re human. Incidentally, both Peter Singer and Tom Regan, the founders of the modern animal-rights/animal-liberation movement, would choose the human being in the hypothetical case I described. But neither of them is a speciesist.

From the Mailbag

Hi Keith!

It's the president of your Luxembourg fan club again, whom you converted to vegetarianism some months ago. As regards dog food, what about feeding them with minced roadkill? I suppose there's a law against it, but I don't see what harm it could do. Or perhaps there isn't enough roadkill around.

Is there a "vegetarian ethics" stance on this?

Cathal Copeland

P.S. If you wish to publish this letter, feel free to do so!

17 December 2004

Charles S. Nicoll and Sharon M. Russell on Vegetarianism

The vegetarian lifestyle is clearly not “cruelty free,” as animal activists wish to believe. There is no such thing as a bloodless veggieburger. The difference between vegetarian and omnivorous lifestyles is simply that in the former, the killing of animals is indirect and unintentional, and animals are not intentionally consumed. We fail to see how that makes vegetarianism morally more acceptable than being omnivorous.

(Charles S. Nicoll and Sharon M. Russell, “The Unnatural Nature of the Animal Rights/Liberation Philosophy,” Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine 205 [1994]: 269-73, at 270)

13 December 2004


I discovered Barry Holstun Lopez 24 years ago today. It changed my life. See here if you want to be transformed.

12 December 2004

From the Mailbag


Redwood, a British company, has also great vegan cheese assortment, including Edammer and Gouda style. As a Dutch man I know these things, of course.

See for example here.

I don't know if it is available in the US but first it wasn't in the Netherlands, but then people started to ask for it and now it is available. Good stuff.

Met vriendelijke groet,

Danny Friedmann

Humans and Animals

Someone wrote to me to ask whether I’m as concerned about human rights as I am about animal rights. He said that, in his experience, those who believe that animals have rights tend to “humanize animals and dehumanize humans.” I don’t speak for others, obviously, but I don’t know of any philosopher (including me) whose concern for animals in any way undercuts his or her concern for humans. Peter Singer, for example, is as devoted to human beings as he is to animals. This is why he believes it wrong to allow human beings to suffer and die when one can easily prevent it. See here. Many people who claim to care about human beings would not go that far. There is, in short, no incompatibility between caring for humans and caring for animals; nor do I know of any psychological mechanism that suggests that caring is a zero-sum game. (If it’s possible to be nonracist, why isn’t it possible to be nonspeciesist?) If anything, those who care about animals care more about humans than those who care only about humans.

09 December 2004

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

In 1972, when I was 15, I discovered that I was allergic to dairy products. They were causing (or aggravating) my asthma. For the past 32 years, I’ve had no milk, butter, ice cream, or cheese. The only thing I’ve missed during this time is cheese, especially cheddar. A few years ago, my local grocery store (Kroger) began to carry fake cheese, made from soybeans. It’s very good. Here is the brand I eat. It’s available in cheddar, jalapeno cheddar, pepper jack, American slices, and other varieties.

The other day, while watching television, I happened upon a story about a New York City diner that specializes in grilled cheese sandwiches. The sandwiches looked delicious. I remembered eating grilled cheese sandwiches as a child. Then it hit me: I can eat grilled cheese sandwiches, provided I use fake cheese rather than real cheese. Unfortunately, I had forgotten how to make them. So I called my mother in Michigan. She told me to put margarine on the outside of the bread rather than in the frying pan. Within minutes, I was eating an old favorite. Thanks, Mom! Thanks, television! But now I have another problem: resisting the temptation to eat grilled cheese sandwiches every day.

08 December 2004

From the Mailbag

Dr Burgess-Jackson

Just a quick thought about feeding meat to your dogs.

Several studies have pointed out that were we to convert all our farming to organic methods, we would have to convert large areas to producing cattle feed, and raise cattle anyway to produce sufficient amounts of organic fertilizer.

Today, milk cattle are converted to pet-food products when they no longer can produce enough milk.

Would the same cattle raised to produce organic fertilizer be similarly converted when their output of fertilizer dropped?

Oh yes, this message was delayed by Feisty and Bacho (the Aussie Sheep dog and the Beagle) who suddenly wanted to play a short game of "Pet me first—No pet ME first." (They taught me that game early on.)

Being pack animals, dogs NEED the pack experience with their owners (or servants), just as much as they need proper food.

Frank Borger

07 December 2004

From the Mailbag

Hello Dr. Burgess-Jackson,

I read your latest blog entry about your dogs. [See here.] Your dilemma cries out for an empirical approach. Feed your dogs vegan dog food for a few weeks and see what happens. Do they lose their appetite, or perhaps eat with less gusto than usual? Do they become listless and whiny? Does their fur start to fall out?

If you're not willing to conduct the experiment, I would at least be interested in hearing your thoughts about how, exactly, vegan dog food is purported to cause harm to dogs. Is the harm physical (i.e., malnutrition of some kind), psychological, or some combination of both? Surely there must be some data on this subject.

Alex Chernavsky

Misunderstanding Peter Singer

I finally got around to reading Richard A. Posner’s book Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001). Although I admire Posner greatly and always learn from him, I find that he treats certain people and subjects cavalierly. For example, here is what he says about Peter Singer:
Singer is an academic philosopher. But his book [Animal Liberation] is written for a popular audience, is not tightly reasoned, and makes no effort to overcome the obvious objections that can be lodged against a version of utilitarianism that expands the community whose aggregate welfare is to be maximized to include animals—objections such as: if there are happier animals than man, we may have a moral duty to shrink the human population to the point at which the maximum number of the happy animals can be supported. (page 158)
Posner must have read other works by Singer besides Animal Liberation, because nowhere in that book does Singer refer to or rely on utilitarianism (the theory that one has an obligation to maximize the overall good, impartially considered). The book has no theoretical presuppositions. That Singer is a utilitarian and argued in behalf of animals doesn’t entail that Singer’s argument is utilitarian in nature. (Compare: I’m a conservative and I put in a garden. Therefore, I put in a conservative garden.) In fact, it is not. Singer’s argument can be accepted by any normative ethical theorist. As Singer himself put it to me, it’s compatible with utilitarianism but not dependent on it.

If you read Animal Liberation carefully, you’ll see that Singer is making a simple and uncontroversial point: that like interests should be treated alike. This is an application of Aristotle’s dictum that justice consists in treating like cases alike and different cases differently. Suppose you’re dealing with two humans whose interests are the same. Justice requires that you neither disregard nor discount either person’s interests. Singer calls this principle the Principle of Equal Consideration of Interests (PECI). It’s a formal principle, not a material principle. It doesn’t tell us what interests there are, only how equal interests must be treated.

Obviously, each of us has many interests, the main one being the interest in not suffering. Let us call beings who have the capacity to suffer “sentient beings.” You and I are sentient beings. Cows, pigs, turkeys, and chickens are sentient. Trees and other plants are not. Rocks and dirt are not. Since cows, pigs, turkeys, chickens, and other animals are sentient, and since suffering is intrinsically bad (you believe that, don’t you?), every sentient being has an interest in not suffering. Trees, plants, rocks, and dirt, not being sentient, cannot suffer (by definition), and therefore have no interest in not suffering. Indeed, they have no interests at all. Nothing matters to them. Sentience appears to be a necessary condition for having interests, and, since being sentient gives one at least the interest in not suffering, it is also a sufficient condition. The class of sentient beings is the same class as (i.e., is coextensive with) the class of beings with interests.

All Singer demands, in Animal Liberation, is that, when we act, we take all relevant interests into account and consider them equally. We must neither disregard nor discount relevant interests. But disregarding and discounting routinely occur with respect to animals’ interest in not suffering. Humans inflict terrible suffering on animals for little or no reason, often just because they like the taste of their flesh. (I refer here to factory farms, where most meat, including, I suspect, all the meat you consume, originates.) That this disregards the animals’ interest in not suffering can be seen by the fact that we would not inflict any amount or kind of suffering on humans in order to satisfy our taste for human flesh (supposing we had such a taste). We are fastidious about respecting human suffering, but cavalier to the point of indifference when it comes to animal suffering.

If we took animal suffering into account, without discounting it, as PECI requires, our behavior would change dramatically. The main change is that we would stop eating the flesh of animals who were made to suffer, since eating it contributes to further suffering. But practically speaking, this means becoming vegetarian. We would also stop using animals for entertainment or for frivolous medical, biological, and psychological experiments. Finally, we would stop most forms of hunting, trapping, and fishing (those whose sole purpose is recreation, amusement, or sport).

Singer’s argument is not as radical as it may appear. He’s not imposing his values on his readers. He’s trying to get them to see that they’re not living up to their own values, i.e., that they’re not taking seriously their beliefs that (1) suffering is intrinsically bad and (2) animals have the capacity to suffer. If nothing else, he’s shifting the burden of persuasion to those who would continue to use animals as objects. He’s forcing people to reflect on the distinction they draw between humans and other animals. There are many differences between humans and animals, some of them, in some contexts, morally relevant. But one thing humans and animals have in common, and that must be considered equally, is sentience. If suffering is bad, why is it less bad when it’s experienced by an animal? Why the fundamentally different treatment of human and animal suffering? How does that differ from disregarding or discounting the suffering of other races or nationalities, which all of us think objectionable?

That a smart man like Richard Posner doesn’t grasp Singer’s argument is dismaying. Perhaps he was too eager to dismiss the argument and latched onto the first thing he thought damaging to it, namely, Singer’s utilitarianism. But if Singer’s argument doesn’t rest on utilitarianism, then no defect in utilitarianism can undermine it.

06 December 2004

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 22

I appreciate the feedback I’ve received about whether feeding meat-based products to Sophie and Shelbie is compatible with my deontological principle that it’s wrong to harm others. I’m not yet convinced that I have inconsistent beliefs. I don’t consider this an easy case by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it’s quite hard. It involves the strength of the principle against harming others, the extent of my obligations to Sophie and Shelbie, and problems of causation.

One obvious solution of the problem is to be a moderate rather than an absolutist deontologist. Moderate deontologists say that it’s wrong to harm others, but not if enough good would be brought about thereby. In other words, sometimes the end justifies the means. So the question is where I place the threshold. Does the good I bring into Sophie and Shelbie’s lives justify contributing to an institution that harms others? What if the contribution is small, as it appears to be?

I hope nobody thinks I’m rationalizing. To rationalize a decision is to state reasons in its support that played no role in one’s deliberations. It is to dress up a decision made on other grounds. If, after deliberating, I conclude that I have incompatible beliefs, I’ll decide which of them to modify or abandon. Having said that, I’m going to do the best I can to reconcile the beliefs. I have two strong intuitions: that it’s wrong to harm others and that I have a solemn obligation to give Sophie and Shelbie good lives. I will try to do justice to both intuitions.

By the way, several people have said or implied that, if it turns out to be morally acceptable for me to feed meat-based products to Sophie and Shelbie, then it’s morally acceptable for anyone, including me, to consume meat. But this doesn’t follow. Most people eat meat because they enjoy the taste of it. They don’t do it because they have an obligation to make themselves happy. The conflict I face isn’t between taste and duty, between satisfying my desires and doing the right thing; it’s between two duties, both of which I take seriously. By bringing Sophie and Shelbie into my life, I undertook to give them good lives. It’s this duty, and not some generalized desire to promote their happiness, that’s creating the logical difficulty.

05 December 2004

From the Mailbag


You have got me in a real bind since I started reading your blog. Every time I eat meat now I feel pangs of guilt which get stronger after reading a new piece. The Costello story [this?]—I can't get out of my head for the last two days it was so powerful and compelling. I talk about it with my wife and even she is feeling the same way. I can honestly see myself not eating meat in the future.

I am a die-hard conservative and truly hate the Left and their friends like PETA and Greenpeace because they don't persuade people through force of intellectual argument—this is beyond them. They coerce through violence and intimidation all wrapped up in their holier-than-thou view of things.

You have done this differently. You have taught me, or have helped me teach myself, why we ought to not harm and cause pain to God's little creatures.

I need to say thanks but I am not sure if that is the right word.

Anyway enough of that.

Joe Cambria

04 December 2004


Here is a company that specializes in soy products. The soy nuts are delicious. I purchased them at Kroger.

Are You Next?

Consequentialism is the doctrine that the only morally relevant aspect of an action is its consequences. Each of us, according to this doctrine, is obligated at all times to bring about the best consequences, where all interests, including those of nonhuman animals, are considered equally. To a consequentialist, there are no act-types that are intrinsically wrong. (Deontology is the doctrine that some act-types are intrinsically wrong. Hence, by definition, everyone is either a consequentialist or a deontologist. It is the fundamental divide of normative ethical theory.) Killing the innocent, to a consequentialist, is not intrinsically wrong. Lying is not intrinsically wrong. Cheating, stealing, being unfaithful to one's spouse, raping, terrorizing, breaking promises, and torturing are not intrinsically wrong. Every act-token must be evaluated on its merits, which means on the basis of its consequences. If a particular act of torture maximizes the good, then it is right. If not, then it is wrong. That it is an act of torture (i.e., a token of that type) is morally irrelevant. Here is where consequentialism leads. Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedung, and Pol Pot—the greatest butchers in human history—were consequentialists. (Thanks to Mylan Engel for the link.)

From Today's Dallas Morning News

This year, I hope Jews will enhance their celebrations of the beautiful holiday of Hanukkah by striving even harder to live up to Judaism's highest moral values and teachings and moving toward a vegetarian diet.

Hanukkah commemorates the miracle of the oil that was enough for only one day, but miraculously lasted for eight. A switch to vegetarianism on the part of the world's people could help cause an even greater miracle: the end of the scandal of world hunger, which results in the death of an estimated 20 million people annually, while over a third of the world's grain is fed to animals destined for slaughter.

The miracle of the oil brings the use of fuel and other resources into focus, and vegetarian diets make resources go much farther, since far less water, fuel, land, pesticides, fertilizer and other resources are required for plant-based diets than for animal-centered diets. In addition, a switch toward vegetarian diets would greatly benefit the health of individuals and would sharply reduce the mistreatment of billions of farmed animals.

Richard H. Schwartz
president, Jewish Vegetarians of North America

03 December 2004

Victory for the New Jersey Bears

No, I'm not talking about a sports franchise. See here. (Thanks to Mylan Engel for the link.)

Tigers in the City

Mindy Hutchison sent a link to this story from The Houston Chronicle. It makes me sad. Why do humans feel entitled to take wild animals from their habitats for such trivial purposes as amusement? Doing so frustrates the animal's natural urges. How does this differ from human chattel slavery?

02 December 2004

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "New Provision Would Allow Slaughtering of Wild Horses" (news article, Nov. 25):

Senator Conrad Burns of Montana, by attaching a rider to the appropriations bill allowing wild horses to be sent to slaughter, has gutted the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act and condemned so-called surplus and unadoptable wild horses to a ghoulish death.

The motive behind this unexpected maneuver is not hard to discern: greed. For every horse that is removed from our vast public lands, the livestock industry is allowed to graze an extra cow and calf at a pittance, $1.37 a month.

Apparently, some seven million head of privately owned cattle eating public grass at this bargain rate doesn't satisfy the beef industry. With new rules allowing the roundup and auction of unadoptable horses (unbreakable stallions and old mares important only to the functioning of bands), profiteers will bid at the wild-horse corrals, and stockmen will get a bonanza.

Thus, Senator Burns has delivered a plum to his Montana livestock constituency.

Hope Ryden
New York, Nov. 25, 2004
The writer is the author of books about wild horses.

Factory Farms

Bad news out of Minnesota, not only for animals but for humans. See here.

From the Mailbag


You are indeed correct [see here] that much of what goes into dog food is by-product produced by agriculture oriented toward human consumption.

However, the use of by-products for dog food is economically significant. Because the margins per animal in industrialized agriculture are so small, the removal of the market for dog food might push farm budgets into unprofitability.

As an example, a large proportion of meat produced for non-human consumption comes from culled dairy cows—four year old steak is unpalatably tough. These cows are heavily discounted in the marketplace on a per-pound basis, but their "death value" is critical in dairy budgets.

If you go to this site and examine the variable costs and income on pages five and six, you will see that each culled cow is assumed to be worth $630, or approximately $189 per cow in the dairy when averaged over the years of her productive life. When income over variable costs is only $595 per cow in the dairy, removing knacker meat from the equation will reduce dairy profitability by almost a third.

When one considers the massive capital expenditures necessary to build an intensive dairy operation—millions of dollars—this one third change might make the return on investment figures very unattractive.

I would argue that the suffering experienced by dairy cows in confinement operations is even greater than the suffering of beef animals in a feedlot—the stomach pain from acidosis is not as high, but the low-level discomfort and sensory deprivation continues for an average of four and a half years—and the end result of death will be the same.

Margins on feedlot beef are also razor-thin. Take a look here.

The income over expenses on a per-head basis is only a shade over $11. If removing the by-product market drops the price paid for cattle by only a few cents per pound, feedlots would go bankrupt.

It seems that you dearly want your two hounds to be happy. But I don't think you can justify feeding them meat on the basis that the harm caused by feeding meat to dogs is insignificant.

Additionally, when you quote Samuel Scheffler, he argues that harm is permissible for a "badly needed benefit." Can a preference for meat be termed a "need?" If so, why wouldn't this argument allow humans who prefer tasty steaks to eat animals as well?

Mark Tueting (a.k.a. Smallholder)

01 December 2004

The Horror

My friend and former graduate-school colleague Mylan Engel, whom I admire greatly in spite of our metaethical, theoretical, and epistemological differences, sent a link to this. If you haven't read Mylan's essay "The Immorality of Eating Meat," please do so at your earliest convenience. There's a link to it on the left side of this blog. It's the best thing I've ever read on the moral status of animals. I wish I had written it.