20 December 2005

Peter Singer on the Vegetarian Movement

It might be said that the best solution would be neither the perpetuation of factory farming nor its sudden abolition, but a gradual phasing out which would allow the industry to be wound down in an orderly fashion. But this is likely to happen in any case. I have no illusions about seeing vegetarianism sweep America overnight. If the vegetarian movement succeeds at all, it will succeed gradually enough for factory farming to be phased out over many years. On utilitarian grounds, this is what we want.

(Peter Singer, “Utilitarianism and Vegetarianism,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 9 [summer 1980]: 325-37, at 334)

14 December 2005

The Vegan Family Cookbook

If you're interested in trying vegan cuisine, see here. Remember: It's not all or nothing. There's such a thing as cutting back on the amount of animal products one consumes. The animals you don't eat will thank you!

07 December 2005

Animal Rights

Khursh Mian Acevedo sent a link to this page of quotations.

06 December 2005

Peter Singer on Utilitarianism and Vegetarianism

There are three ways in which a utilitarian condemnation of the treatment of farm animals might fall short of entailing that we should switch to a vegetarian diet. Firstly, if the objection is not to all raising and killing of animals for food, but only to particular methods of raising and killing them, it would seem that we can avoid the necessity of vegetarianism by restricting our diet to the flesh of animals not reared or killed by methods involving suffering. Secondly, one might argue that, bad as factory farming is, the consequences of abolishing it are not clearly better than the consequences of continuing it. And thirdly, those who admit that it would be better if factory farming were abolished may deny that there is any utilitarian connection between this conclusion and the obligation to avoid consuming the products of factory farms.

(Peter Singer, “Utilitarianism and Vegetarianism,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 9 [summer 1980]: 325-37, at 331)

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "For Environmental Balance, Pick Up a Rifle," by Nicholas D. Kristof (column, Dec. 4):

Yes, deer overpopulation is a serious problem in parts of our country. But the correct solution in the short term includes the development and employment of birth-control techniques for deer. In the long term, the correct solution includes re-establishing ecological balance through the reintroduction of the predators that we hunted into local extinction.

Mr. Kristof defends hunting by calling it "natural," but not all "natural" activities (making war, for example) are morally acceptable.

The factors that make it generally immoral to kill a human are the same factors that make it generally wrong to kill a deer: making a sentient creature suffer and, more important, taking from that creature the thing that is of greatest value to it, the remainder of its life.

Hunting is not wrong where the practice is essential to maintaining human life. But it is wrong to hunt in the United States in the 21st century.

Howard Pospesel
Grand Island, Fla., Dec. 4, 2005

03 December 2005

Vegan 4U

Here is a site that contains links about veganism.

02 December 2005

Vegetarian Diets

One of my readers asked me for information about vegetarian diets. While researching the matter, I found this. I thought I'd share it with everyone.

28 November 2005

Two Years of Animal Ethics

It's hard to believe, but I started this blog two years ago today. Here is the first post; here is the first-anniversary post. Where did the time go? As of this moment, there have been 26,662 visitors to the blog. That computes to 36.4 visitors per day, on average. Unless people are coming here by accident or mistake, this shows that the site is serving a purpose. I don't post as much as I once did, but the site is useful even if I never post again, for it contains many posts in its archive and many animal-related links. I wonder where the readers come from. Why are you here? Drop me a line to explain. By the way, my main blog is AnalPhilosopher. You will find a link to it in the sidebar.

15 November 2005

Animal Rights

One of my readers brought this book to my attention. I don't own it and haven't read it, but I will.

11 November 2005

Animal and Man at Princeton

Here is a newspaper report of a debate between Roger Scruton and Peter Singer on the moral status of nonhuman animals.

09 November 2005

Animal Acres

Khursh Mian Acevedo brought this site to my attention.

05 November 2005

Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness

Khursh Mian Acevedo brought this site to my attention.

04 November 2005

Just Like the Old Days

Bison hunting is coming to Montana. See here and here.

31 October 2005

Stuart Hampshire on the Inapplicability of Moral Terms to Animals and Infants

Moral terms are inapplicable to animals and infants, just because animals and infants are not language-users and do not entertain arguments or self-consciously make up their minds to act differently; we can train them and we may cause them to act in one way rather than another, but we cannot persuade them.

(Stuart Hampshire, “Freedom of the Will,” The Aristotelian Society, supplementary volume 25 [1951]: 161-78, at 165)

26 October 2005

Peter Singer on Vegetarianism and Absolutism

Vegetarianism is, for me, a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Whether we ought to be vegetarians depends on a lot of facts about the situation in which we find ourselves.

Some writers find this strange. They think of vegetarians as moral absolutists, who will stick to their belief in the immorality of eating meat no matter what. Thus Cora Diamond writes: “. . . one curious feature of the Peter Singer sort of argument . . . is that your Peter Singer vegetarian should be perfectly happy to eat the unfortunate lamb that has just been hit by a car.” Why is this curious? It is only curious on the assumption that vegetarians must think it always wrong to eat meat. No doubt some vegetarians are moral absolutists, just as there are absolute pacifists, absolute antiabortionists and absolutist truth-tellers who would never tell a lie. I reject all these forms of moral absolutism.

(Peter Singer, “Utilitarianism and Vegetarianism,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 9 [summer 1980]: 325-37, at 327-8 [italics and ellipses in original; footnote omitted])

24 October 2005

Tom Regan on Factory Farming

Anyone writing on the topic of the treatment of animals must acknowledge an enormous debt to [Peter] Singer. Because of his work, as well as the pioneering work of Ruth Harrison, the gruesome details of factory farming are finding a place within the public consciousness. All of us by now know, or at least have had the opportunity to find out, that chickens are raised in incredibly crowded, unnatural environments; that veal calves are intentionally raised on an anemic diet, are unable to move enough even to clean themselves, are kept in the dark most of their lives; that other animals, including pigs and cattle, are being raised intensively in increasing numbers. Personally, I do not know how anyone pretending to the slightest sensitivity or powers of empathy can look on these practices with benign indifference or approval.

(Tom Regan, “Utilitarianism, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 9 [summer 1980]: 305-24, at 308-9 [footnote omitted])

12 October 2005

ALF

The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) is using one of my essays without permission and without attribution. It's one thing to link to something that's posted on the Internet. It's another to reproduce it in its entirety without permission, especially when (1) I'm easily contacted and (2) I say, on my blog, that all material is copyrighted. Worst of all is that my name doesn't appear on the page. This is plagiarism, folks.

By the way, I repudiate the aims and methods of ALF. See here. The only method of belief revision and behavior modification I endorse is rational persuasion. I reject force, coercion, and manipulation.

May I ask a favor, dear reader? Please write to ALF to complain about its use of my essay without permission or attribution. Tell ALF that you will not support it until it does right by me. (This assumes that you might otherwise support it, which may not be the case.) I don't want to have to take legal action, but I will.

Addendum: I sent a copy of this post (together with a link) to ALF. The plagiarized page has been taken down. I'm glad to see that someone at ALF has a conscience (or perhaps a healthy fear of litigation). By the way, it's easy to find my essay on the Internet. All I have to do is copy and paste a string of words from the essay into Google, using quotation marks. Google will find any document that contains that string. As of this moment, all is well. I'll keep checking. It would give me a great deal of pleasure to sue the creeps at ALF, who have no respect for property rights.

Bear Farming

Sometimes people don't get their just deserts. Sometimes they do. See here for a case of the latter.

09 October 2005

Walter Woodburn Hyde on Porcine Justice

One of the most amusing cases of the trial of a domestic animal was that of a sow together with her six pigs at Savigny-sur-Etang, in Bourgogne, France, in January, 1457. The charge against her was murdering and partly devouring an infant. The sow was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging, though her offspring, partly because of their youth and innocence and the fact that their mother had set them a bad example, but chiefly because proof of their complicity was not forthcoming, were pardoned.

(Walter Woodburn Hyde, “The Prosecution and Punishment of Animals and Lifeless Things in the Middle Ages and Modern Times,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 64 [1916]: 696-730, at 707 [footnote omitted])

06 October 2005

Husbandry

Here is an essay by one of my favorite writers, Wendell Berry.

22 September 2005

Rescue

Humans are not the only sentient beings harmed and displaced by hurricanes. See here for a worthy organization.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "Girls and Boys, Meet Nature. Bring Your Gun" (front page, Sept. 18):

I was saddened to read about children being taught to hunt.

It is dangerous to put guns in the hands of children, and it is cruel to teach them to enjoy killing animals for sport. A smart and sensitive child will never forget the horror involved in getting such a bloody "trophy."

Children should look forward to hanging diplomas on their walls, not the ghoulish, stuffed heads of their victims.

Carole Raphaelle Davis
Los Angeles, Sept. 19, 2005

To the Editor:

As a "liberal, tree-hugging" teacher, I agree with hunting advocates that there is value in being out in the woods, getting exercise and even in developing the skills to sneak up on animals unnoticed. But don't give children guns. Give them cameras.

Dena Abramowitz
Shorewood, Wis., Sept. 19, 2005

To the Editor:

It seems ironic that many Americans are uncomfortable with hunting because it seems cruel and involves killing animals, yet they don't give a second thought to sitting down and eating a burger.

Animals killed in the wild at least had the luxury of a life of relative freedom; animals we eat for dinner are generally confined to small, overcrowded cages.

The point is that most people care little whether the procedure is cruel or unkind. It's worth opposing only if it involves getting your hands dirty.

Peter Hsu
Emeryville, Calif., Sept. 18, 2005

13 September 2005

Revenge

Animals are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. See here.

Animal Theory

Here is a new blog.

09 September 2005

Animal Rights and Stupidity

Look at this site. I was shocked to come across this sentence: "We do not believe that animals have rights but we do believe that people have responsibilities." Question: Who are the beneficiaries of these "responsibilities"? There are two possibilities: humans and the animals themselves. I assume this organization is not making the Kantian claim that our responsibilities to animals are really just duties to humans who happen to be interested in them. So the beneficiaries of our responsibilities are the animals themselves. But how does this differ from saying that the animals have rights? If our responsibilities are to refrain from harming animals, then they have negative rights against us. If our responsibilities are to promote the welfare of animals, then they have positive rights against us. I'm starting to think that people who deny animal rights are stupid. See here.

03 September 2005

J. J. C. Smart on Utilitarianism and Vegetarianism

[E]ven though they may not have the capacity for happiness and suffering that whales have, nevertheless I would suppose that chickens can suffer quite a lot, even though their consciousness should be very much a sort of daze, and this should be taken into account in our dealings with them. Perhaps in order to qualify for a moral elite one should become a heroic vegetarian like Peter Singer. I am myself not so heroic. I eat eggs though they may come from battery hens. Moreover at present I see no moral objection to eating the flesh of free range cattle, which seem to me to have a happy life which they would not have at all if they were not destined to be eaten.

(J. J. C. Smart, Ethics, Persuasion and Truth, International Library of Philosophy, ed. Ted Honderich [London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984], 134 [italics in original])

18 August 2005

Location of Readers

If you want to see where the readers of this blog live, click on "Location of Readers" to the left of this post. If you want to see just the continental U.S. or just Europe, for example, click on the appropriate link. If you roll your mouse cursor over a dot, you'll see the exact location of that visitor. If you left-click your mouse while over a dot, you'll see details of the visitor. I wish Mylan Engel would keep his promise to start posting on this blog. He would reach far more people through this blog than he does through his academic writings, which are read by only a handful of philosophers, most of whom are already concerned about animals. Therefore, if he really cares about animals, as he says he does, he will post. I know you're reading this, Mylan, because I saw a visitor from De Kalb, Illinois.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

I was heartbroken reading "The Lamb on the Runway" (Thursday Styles, Aug. 11), about astrakhan, a fur previously known as Persian lamb that is a trend for fall.

Just when I thought that the buying public was showing compassion by going "faux," I hear that fetal lambs are being killed for their fur. How many animals must be tortured and killed for so-called beauty?

There is nothing beautiful about a human wearing the fur of another animal. I have seen footage of precious animals screaming in agony as they are caught in steel-claw leg traps or killed in various other torturous methods for "fashion."

As smart as mankind proposes to be, why can't anyone invent a fashion that is soft and luxurious without viciously killing animals?

Oh wait! Isn't that what faux is?

Donna Dixon
Woodbridge, Va., Aug. 11, 2005

14 August 2005

Animal Writings

Here is a new blog.

A Critique of PETA

A reader sent a link to this essay by Tim Wise. I renew my claim—which I have made many times in this blog—that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) does more harm than good to animals. Why anyone would support it is beyond me.

11 August 2005

Animal Sexual Abuse

Here is a web page devoted to the prevention of animal sexual abuse.

10 August 2005

J[ohn] D[avid] Mabbott (1898-1988) on Legislating Morality

[I]t is unlikely that anyone in England refrains from bear-baiting or from torture in fear of the police. Even the education of children is probably now accepted as the ‘natural’ thing, and is not due nearly so much as in 1880 to the Attendance Officer. (In many areas he has been abolished.) A custom dies and a new one takes its place. One of the strongest points in favour of much of the legislation protecting animals is just this—that an enormous amount of the cruelty involved is the result of unconscious acquiescence due to simple ignorance or lack of imagination and continuing mainly through convention and fashion. When bear-baiting was abolished other entertainments took its place. The controls of the training of performing animals, of the trapping of animals for fur, of the making of foie gras, if enforced by law would cause only slight changes in what is at its best mainly caprice, the fashions of amusement or clothing or food. Animals which could be trained only by fear or trapped only with prolonged suffering would disappear from the circus and the fur market and in a year or two be forgotten altogether.

(J. D. Mabbott, The State and the Citizen: An Introduction to Political Philosophy, 2d ed. [London: Hutchinson University Library, 1967 (1st ed. 1948)], 67)

09 August 2005

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

The cloning innovation achieved by a team of South Korean scientists heralded in your Aug. 5 editorial "The Duplicate Dog" should be cause for concern, not celebration.

Genetic duplicates may turn out far different than their forebears. More to the point, with millions of healthy and adoptable cats and dogs being killed each year for lack of suitable homes, it is a little frivolous to be cloning pets.

Behind the cloned pets are far grander schemes to clone animals for use in agriculture and research. Before such projects become the norm, we should all pause and think carefully about where it is all leading—for animals and for humanity.

Congress and regulatory bodies must step in and provide some ethical precepts before the brave new world of animal cloning yields a commercial industry of its own.

Wayne Pacelle
Pres. and Chief Exec., Humane Society of the United States
Washington, Aug. 8, 2005

06 August 2005

Cattle Congestion

There are many reasons to abstain from meat. Here is one of them.

01 August 2005

Canine Suicide?

Can dogs commit suicide? See here.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Verlyn Klinkenborg misjudged the motive for our popular "PETA Kills Animals" Times Square billboard ("The Story Behind a New York Billboard and the Interests It Serves," Editorial Observer, July 24). We simply thought it was time more Americans saw People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as we do: a group of well-practiced hypocrites who relish throwing stones from their well-financed glass house.

It is certainly hypocritical for PETA to kill 80 percent of the animals that come through its doors, including many adoptable puppies and kittens. PETA raised $29 million last year alone, money that its donors believe is being spent caring for flesh-and-blood creatures instead of staging tawdry spectacles that highlight the supposed evils of not being a strict vegetarian.

Traditional animal shelters near PETA's Norfolk headquarters euthanize unwanted animals as well, but at a rate only one-third what PETA has quietly pursued under the public's radar. PETA's stated goal is "total animal liberation," and Americans deserve to know that this apparently includes "liberating" vulnerable, healthy pets from life itself.

Richard Berman
Executive Director
Center for Consumer Freedom
Washington, July 25, 2005

27 July 2005

Cruelty-Free Baseball and Softball

Khursh Mian Acevedo sent a link to this interesting site.

11 July 2005

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

Last of all, we should recall here the limits of a theory of justice. Not only are many aspects of morality left aside, but no account is given of right conduct in regard to animals and the rest of nature. A conception of justice is but one part of a moral view. While I have not maintained that the capacity for a sense of justice is necessary in order to be owed the duties of justice, it does seem that we are not required to give strict justice anyway to creatures lacking this capacity. But it does not follow that there are no requirements at all in regard to them, nor in our relations with the natural order. Certainly it is wrong to be cruel to animals and the destruction of a whole species can be a great evil. The capacity for feelings of pleasure and pain and for the forms of life of which animals are capable clearly imposes duties of compassion and humanity in their case. I shall not attempt to explain these considered beliefs. They are outside the scope of the theory of justice, and it does not seem possible to extend the contract doctrine so as to include them in a natural way. A correct conception of our relations to animals and to nature would seem to depend upon a theory of the natural order and our place in it. One of the tasks of metaphysics is to work out a view of the world which is suited for this purpose; it should identify and systematize the truths decisive for these questions. How far justice as fairness will have to be revised to fit into this larger theory it is impossible to say. But it seems reasonable to hope that if it is sound as an account of justice among persons, it cannot be too far wrong when these broader relationships are taken into consideration.

(John Rawls, A Theory of Justice [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press, 1971], 512)

10 July 2005

George F. Will

See here for my column about conservatism and animal rights.

New Harvest

Joanna Lucas sent a link to this interesting site. See here as well. And if you have an inexplicable craving for human flesh, see here.

07 July 2005

Animal Rights

Can animals have rights? Not do they have rights, but can they have rights? If they can, then it's an open question whether they do. If they can't, then they don't. See here.

06 July 2005

Happy Birthday, Peter

Peter Singer—“the dangerous philosopher”—is 59 years old today. He has been writing at a furious pace since at least 1970, when his first philosophical publication (on determinism) appeared. I have always had a love-hate relationship with Singer. I detest his leftist politics. I reject his consequentialism. I even disagree with him about the nature of philosophy. Singer thinks the aim of philosophy is to change the world. I think the aim of philosophy is to understand the world—specifically, its logical structure. To the extent that Singer advocates change, he is acting not as a philosopher but as what Richard A. Posner calls a “moral entrepreneur.”

But I love Singer’s concern for nonhuman animals. Reading his book Animal Liberation (1975) during law school changed my life. It is one of the most important books ever written. Singer says he’s an animal liberationist because he’s a utilitarian, but his argument for changing our treatment of animals—as he admitted to me in correspondence—doesn’t presuppose utilitarianism or any other normative ethical theory. All it presupposes is a principle of equal consideration of interests. Animals have interests. Disregarding or discounting these interests, while giving full weight to the like interests of humans, is irrational, a kind of self-contradiction. What would you say of someone who accorded full weight to the interests of whites, or men, but disregarded or discounted the interests of nonwhites, or women? Speciesism has the same logical structure, and hence the same moral status, as racism and sexism. That we put animals in a separate moral category doesn’t make it right, any more than our putting blacks or women in a separate moral category would make it right.

Even when I disagree with Singer, I admire his courage, his honesty, his adherence to principle (the principle of utility), and his decency. He has been badly treated over the years, and yet he keeps working. Six years ago, in correspondence with the late James Rachels, I mentioned the controversy surrounding Singer’s recent hiring by Princeton University. Rachels wrote back: “Hi Keith, thanks for forwarding the item about Peter. He’s catching a lot of flack, which is a tribute to his stature—no one cares much what the rest of the crazy philosophers think! But it’s too bad that he is having to endure this sort of press, since he’s about the most admirable human being I know.” I agree. Happy birthday, Peter! May you have many more “dangerous” years.

Addendum: Here is a column I wrote about Singer almost two years ago.

Addendum 2: Here is my review of Dale Jamieson's book Singer and His Critics.

04 July 2005

Animal-Centered History

Khursh Mian Acevedo sent a link to this interesting story about the history of nonhuman animals. I wrote a history of wolf legislation when I was in law school. The title was "The Legal Status of the Wolf (Canis Lupus) in Michigan, 1805-1982." I also wrote a philosophical essay entitled "Do Plants Have Rights?" A year later, I wrote an historical essay entitled "Hunting in Colonial America: An Essay on Nationalism and Popular Culture." More recently, I have written about the moral status of animal companions. See here.

03 July 2005

Mercy for Animals

Here is a website devoted to compassionate, respectful living.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "Face to Face With the Foie Gras Problem," by Lawrence Downes (Editorial Observer, June 26):

If it quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck. And so, too, I would argue that if a duck is force-fed by shoving a tube down its throat three times a day until its liver grows to as much as 10 times its normal size, you have animal cruelty.

Farmed animals deserve to lead their brief, often tortured lives as animals, not units of production unable to experience their natural instincts.

Although Mr. Downes suggests that there were no signs of suffering at the foie gras farm, polls show that the public rejects the practice. New York should make foie gras production illegal.

Brad Goldberg
President, Animal Welfare Trust
Mamaroneck, N.Y., June 27, 2005

To the Editor:

"Face to Face With the Foie Gras Problem," by Lawrence Downes, is a clarion call to do nothing.

Because billions of chickens and millions of pigs and cows are slaughtered in this country each year, should we not try to end the suffering of some? Should we stop trying to alleviate poverty in Africa because millions are in poverty in Asia and South America?

Will stopping foie gras production end the suffering of the billions of other animals we torture in factory farms and slaughterhouses each year? No, but it is a step in the right direction, and that is better than standing still.

Rebecca Wittman
Waterville, N.Y., June 27, 2005

16 June 2005

Another Reason Not to Be a Consequentialist

Russ Shafer-Landau is a philosopher at The University of Wisconsin-Madison. He taught at The University of Kansas for many years. Russ and I went to graduate school together at The University of Arizona in the 1980s. In January 1994, Russ published an essay entitled “Vegetarianism, Causation and Ethical Theory” in Public Affairs Quarterly. I read it in April of that year and then again today, because I’ve been grappling with the question he takes up. The question is whether buying (and consuming) meat causes harm to animals. Russ thinks it doesn’t, and since two of the three main normative ethical theories—consequentialism and deontology—require the causation of harm in order for an action to be wrong, neither of them grounds an obligation to abstain from meat.

Russ concedes that the third main normative ethical theory—virtue ethics—has the resources to ground such an obligation, but he doesn’t make the case here. As for deontology, I’m not convinced by Russ’s claim that it lacks the theoretical resources to condemn meat-eating. He himself provides a plausible deontological principle (to wit: “one must refuse (even symbolic) support of essentially cruel practices, if a comparably costly alternative that is not tied to essentially cruel practices is readily available”), but then, puzzlingly, he makes a wholesale attack on deontological principles. This (pardon the metaphor) is using a cannon to kill an ant. And he missed!—for reasons I give in my essay “Deontological Egoism.”

But Russ may be right that consequentialism lacks the resources to condemn meat-eating. (Consequentialism is the theory that the rightness or wrongness of an action is a function solely of its consequences. That an act is of a certain type, such as killing an innocent person, lying, or torturing, is morally irrelevant. Consequentialism requires that the good be maximized, and it insists that in calculating the amount of good, everyone’s interests—including those of the agent—be considered equally. Consequentialists hold that we are as responsible for what we allow as for what we bring about. Hence, each of us, at all times, is to make the world the best place it can be, remaining strictly impartial as we do so.) Here is the suspect inference:
1. Factory farming is wrong.
Therefore,
2. It is wrong to purchase and eat (factory-farmed) meat.
Russ accepts the premise for the sake of argument. What he denies is that the conclusion follows from it. Here is Russ’s criticism of this argument (he calls his criticism “the inefficacy argument”):
[O]ne cannot, in one’s purchase and eating of meat, have any direct influence on the amount of cruelty and harm inflicted on the animals in a factory farm. Whether one purchases a steak, or several steaks, for personal or family consumption will have no influence whatever on the amount of cruelty perpetrated on today’s farms. One’s meat-purchasing habits essentially make no difference at all to the total amount of suffering experienced by the billions of animals currently maltreated. The ordinary consumer of meat is so remote in the causal nexus of animal suffering, that one cannot properly attribute to any such consumer any causal, hence moral, responsibility for the admittedly wretched fates suffered by farm animals. One is morally free to do as one likes so long as one does no harm. Meat purchases do no harm. Therefore one is morally free to make them. (page 85)
If Russ is right, then one cannot consistently (1) be a consequentialist and (2) believe that meat-eating is wrong. Consequentialism, he says, implies nothing about the wrongness of eating meat.

I’m not as sure as Russ appears to be that consequentialism lacks the theoretical resources to condemn meat-eating. But suppose he’s right. It doesn’t follow that one must accept the moral permissibility of meat-eating. What follows is a disjunction: Either one accepts the moral permissibility of meat-eating or one rejects consequentialism. What Russ has done, perhaps unwittingly, is give a knock-down, drag-out argument against consequentialism. Any theory that has an unacceptable implication is unacceptable. Meat-eating is wrong; therefore, since consequentialism implies that it’s not wrong, consequentialism is to be rejected.

Let me put it differently. There are two ways to preserve consistency if Russ is right. The first is to bite the bullet and believe that meat-eating is morally permissible. (A bullet-biter is someone who sticks with a theory even though—even when—it gives counterintuitive results.) The second is to continue believing that meat-eating is morally impermissible (you do believe that, don’t you?) and to reject consequentialism for entailing the denial of this belief. Nor is this the only case in which consequentialism gives the wrong result. It gives the wrong result in so many cases of so many different types that you wonder why anyone, much less a philosopher, endorses it. Russ has simply added another nail to the consequentialist coffin.

12 June 2005

From the Mailbag

Hello Dr. Burgess-Jackson,

Good analysis of [Roger] Scruton's article. I know you've mentioned [Matthew] Scully a few times recently, but have you read Dominion? Scully does quite a job on Scruton. I count Dominion among the best non-fiction books I've ever read. As one reviewer put it, "A master of language, he leaves a memorable phrase on virtually every page." (Nichols Fox, Washington Post Book World)

Regarding Scruton: I think that many people (probably most of them) form their beliefs on a gut level and then proceed to look around for a logical justification for those beliefs (even if the resulting arguments don't really hold water). Scruton, in his heart of hearts, seems not to respect animals—so he cobbles together a rationalization that would justify his prejudice.

What I found most appalling about Scruton's article is his utter misinterpretation of Richard Dawkins's elegant theories. I suspect that Scruton never even read The Selfish Gene and simply judged it by its title. I'll have more to say about Dawkins in my next e-mail message.

On another note: What is your secret to time management? You seem to engage in an awful lot of activities: teaching, publishing academic papers, writing your blogs, walking your dogs, exercising, participating in bike rallies, watching movies and sports events, etc. How do you do it?

Regards,

Alex Chernavsky
Rochester, NY

Note from KBJ: No children.

07 June 2005

Scully on the Radio

Longtime reader Khursh Mian Acevedo sent a link to a radio interview with animal-rights advocate Matthew Scully, who happens (like me) to be a conservative. See here. Thinking that animals matter, morally, is not a liberal cause. How it came to be seen as a liberal cause puzzles me. Was the abolition of slavery a liberal cause? Must one be a liberal to think that making sentient beings suffer for trivial reasons is wrong? And by the way, not all liberals have been proponents of animal rights. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), one of history's great liberals, was decidedly not a proponent of animal rights. Indeed, he thought animals had the moral status of inanimate objects.

03 June 2005

Animal Rights

Many people have a visceral response to the idea of animal rights. They say it’s impossible, nonsensical, absurd. But why? To say that an animal has a particular right, such as a right not to be harmed, isn’t to say that it has any other particular right, such as a right to vote, much less that it has all rights. We know that children, for example, have certain rights but not others. Why can’t the same be true of animals?

Another important distinction, often ignored, is that between positive and negative rights. A positive right is a right to do or have something. If there is a right to health care, as liberals claim, it is a positive right. Voting is a positive right. But many rights are negative. I have a right not to be killed, battered, robbed, stolen from, or defamed. Why can’t animals have negative rights? Perhaps animals have only one right: a negative right not to be made to suffer.

Yet another confusion is between absolute and defeasible rights. An absolute right may not be infringed; a defeasible right may be infringed under certain circumstances. Most of our rights are defeasible. There is a right to speak, but not to yell fire in a crowded theater. There is a right to exercise your religion, but not if it requires human sacrifice. Rights are defeasible because there is more than one valuable thing. Even the right to life is defeasible, which is why execution of murderers is not a violation of it.

There are many other important distinctions to be made in the realm of rights. Let me mention just one more: between legal rights and moral rights. Legal rights are conferred by government and would not exist without government. Moral rights exist independently of government. Indeed, they set limits on what government may do. Read Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence to see an example of moral (often called “natural”) rights. There are two sorts of argument one can have about legal rights. The first is whether a particular legal right exists. Lawyers are expert in answering this question. The second is whether a particular legal right should exist. Everyone is competent to answer this question, since it’s a moral question. (There are no moral experts.) Even if animals had no legal rights, it could be true that they should.

When I say that I’m a proponent of animal rights, all I mean is that I believe that animals have moral status. They’re not nothing, morally speaking. There are moral limits to what we can do to them. We can wrong them. They have (valid) claims on us. They’re entitled to be treated a certain way. There’s nothing mysterious about any of these claims. Indeed, we say such things all the time about humans.

By the way, utilitarians don’t believe in rights (even for humans), but this doesn’t prevent them from using the language of rights. Here is Peter Singer:

In misguided attempts to refute the arguments of this book, some philosophers have gone to much trouble developing arguments to show that animals do not have rights. They have claimed that to have rights a being must be autonomous, or must be a member of a community, or must have the ability to respect the rights of others, or must possess a sense of justice. These claims are irrelevant to the case for Animal Liberation. The language of rights is a convenient political shorthand. It is even more valuable in the era of thirty-second TV news clips than it was in [Jeremy] Bentham’s day; but in the argument for a radical change in our attitude to animals, it is in no way necessary. (Peter Singer, Animal Liberation, 2d ed. [New York: The New York Review of Books, 1990], 8 [endnote omitted])
The question is not whether animals can have rights, or even whether they do in fact have rights, but which rights they have. I submit to you that they have one basic right: the right to have their suffering taken into consideration in our deliberations. If that right were respected, it would change the world.

01 June 2005

Frum on Scully on Animals

Here is David Frum's review of Matthew Scully's book Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy. I suspect most people think of animal rights as a liberal cause. It has nothing to do with liberalism or conservatism.

30 May 2005

Scully

Here are some essays by Matthew Scully, who, like me, is both a conservative and a proponent of animal rights.

Addendum: Here is the PDF version of "Fear Factories." Please read it.

24 May 2005

Wayne Pacelle on the Future of the Animal-Protection Movement

We are now at a new and strange juncture in human experience. Never has there been such massive exploitation of animals—from the puppy mills to the canned hunting ranches to the laboratories to the billions of animals raised on factory farms. At the same time, never have there been so many people determined to stop this exploitation. One force or the other has to prevail, and it is the goal of the animal protection movement to see the forces of kindness and mercy triumph over custom, complaisance, and selfishness, and to usher in a new era of respect and concern for animals.

The means of effecting these sweeping changes take many forms. There is enlightenment and education, and the personal transformation that occurs when people of conscience become aware of abuse and misconduct. There is direct care and relief, and the humane movement has spent the bulk of its resources during the last century and a half providing shelter, sanctuary, food and water, and other animal care services to creatures in need.

In a market-oriented economy—in which many animals are treated only as commodities—the humane movement must influence corporate practices and policies. We vote for or against animal cruelty with our dollars in the marketplace, and our ability to spur corporate policy changes has enormous implications for animals. When major corporations halted animal testing, or when fast food giants stipulated that producers had to observe basic welfare standards, these decisions affected the lives of millions of creatures.

And then there is the matter of the law. When it comes to animals, the law must speak, and set a standard in society for personal, corporate, and government conduct. Matters dealing with the treatment of animals cannot be left entirely to personal choice or conscience, since many people would knowingly flout society’s voluntary proscriptions. As elsewhere in the law, people must be held to clear standards of conduct, and those standards must be enforceable.

(Wayne Pacelle, “Law and Public Policy: Future Directions for the Animal Protection Movement,” Animal Law 11 [2005]: 1-6, at 1-2)

23 May 2005

Hubris

This says it all about human arrogance. (Thanks to Michael W. Gross for the link.)

Addendum: Two faithful readers have pointed out to me that The Onion is a satirical site. I know that. I've been reading it for years. This satirical story makes fun of human arrogance. It wouldn't be funny if we didn't see the awful truth in it.

18 May 2005

Whole Foods

Here is a bizarre column about Peter Singer and Whole Foods Market.

17 May 2005

Humans and Animals

Why is it acceptable to treat nonhuman animals as mere means to human ends? Why are we deontologists with respect to humans but consequentialists with respect to animals? Why are humans morally special? Are whites morally special? Are men morally special? See here for disturbing video footage. (See here as well.) If it doesn't enrage you, then you aren't wired properly. (Thanks to Khursh Mian Acevedo, a tireless animal advocate, for the links.)

12 May 2005

LocalHarvest

If you want fresh, organic, locally produced food, see here.

04 May 2005

They Die Piece by Piece

I may have linked to this already. Think about it before you bite into that hamburger or steak. Ask yourself whether you want to support this industry.

Animal Cruelty

Sophie, Shelbie, and I take two walks every day, without fail. On weekdays, we walk around the neighborhood in the morning and around the school grounds in the evening. On weekends, we walk around the school grounds both morning and night. Dogs love to run, which my girls get to do on the school grounds. At a minimum, they need to be able to move around. For several weeks now, I’ve noticed a reddish Chow chained to a dog house in my neighborhood. The poor dog has only two or three feet of chain. It’s heartbreaking. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, this dog remains in the same small area. What are the dog’s owners thinking? How would they like to be confined to an area that size, with the only choice whether to stand up or lie down? The area must be covered with excrement. A few minutes ago, I called The Humane Society of North Texas, which will investigate. State law requires at least six feet of chain. I asked that the investigator request that the dog be allowed to roam freely in the back yard, which is fenced. It should be illegal to chain a dog, even with a long chain.

02 May 2005

Gary E. Varner on Hunting

When teaching the hunting issue, I find it useful to distinguish among three types of hunting in terms of the purposes hunting is taken to serve. By therapeutic hunting I mean hunting motivated by and designed to secure the aggregate welfare of the target species and/or the integrity of its ecosystem. . . . By subsistence hunting I mean hunting aimed at securing food for human beings. By sport hunting I mean hunting aimed at maintaining religious or cultural traditions, reenacting national or evolutionary history, honing certain skills, or just securing a trophy. Many would prefer to recognize a distinction within this third category between hunting for sport and hunting as a ritual. Although there may be some important differences, I class them together because both activities serve human needs (which is what distinguishes both sport and subsistence hunting from therapeutic hunting), but needs which are less fundamental (in the sense of universal) than nutrition (which is what distinguishes subsistence hunting from both ritual and sport hunting).

(Gary E. Varner, “Can Animal Rights Activists Be Environmentalists?” in People, Penguins, and Plastic Trees: Basic Issues in Environmental Ethics, 2d ed., ed. Christine Pierce and Donald VanDeVeer [Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1995], 254-73, at 257-8 [italics in original])

25 April 2005

The Pope on Animals

Here is PETA's letter to Pope Benedict XVI. If you're Catholic, please read what the pope has said about factory-farmed animals.

24 April 2005

Vegan Police

Khursh Mian Acevedo sent a link to this.

22 April 2005

For the Sake of the Animals

If you're a meat-eater and want to eliminate meat from your diet—because you care about animals, because you care about your health, because you care about the environment, or because you care about humans—see here for a vegetarian starter guide.

18 April 2005

J. J. C. Smart on Progress in Ethics

One way in which there has indeed been progress in ethics recently has been through the realization by some ethicists that animal happiness and suffering has to be considered equally with that of human beings. I should draw attention here to the remarkable book Animal Liberation by Peter Singer. Christian ethics has been deficient in this respect, since animals have been regarded as things made by God for the use of men. Even St Francis has a not too clear record on this question. If we are to believe the tradition (but perhaps we should not take this as good historical evidence), one of his disciples cut a trotter off a living pig to give to another of the brethren who was ill. St Francis told the disciple to apologize to the owner of the pig, not for his cruelty but for having damaged the property. However, utilitarianism has been mindful of animals. Unlike Kantians, who are primarily concerned with the rationality of those with whom we deal, Bentham, for example, was clear that the important question was not whether animals are rational, but was whether they can suffer. At any rate, the increased attention to the sufferings of animals is one of the most notable examples of progress in ethics over the last hundred years or so. We should, of course, be equally mindful of extra-terrestrial consciousnesses, should we come across any such and have to interact with them.

(J. J. C. Smart, Ethics, Persuasion and Truth, International Library of Philosophy, ed. Ted Honderich [London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984], 129-30 [endnotes omitted])

13 April 2005

Birds

PETA and PETCO have reached an agreement under which PETCO stops selling large birds and PETA ends its boycott of the store. See here. Wild animals should not be kept as pets. It frustrates their natural urges.

Speciesism

What would you say of someone who, while deliberating about what to do, either disregarded or discounted the suffering of blacks? You would say that the person is racist, right? Suffering is suffering, whether it is experienced by someone with black skin or white skin. What, then, do you say of someone who, while deliberating about what to do, either disregards or discounts the suffering of animals? Shouldn't you say that the person is speciesist—and isn't speciesism just as wrong as racism? Why should it matter, morally, what kind of being experiences suffering? If suffering is intrinsically bad, and you believe it is, then it's irrational and wrong (specifically, unjust) to count only some of it.

08 April 2005

Human-Animal Conflicts

One of the malcontents who left The Conservative Philosopher several weeks ago commented, before leaving, on one of my posts about animals. In response to my claim that animals have moral status, he asked whether I wear a face mask to keep from ingesting—and therefore killing—insects. I can only speculate about the force of this question; but let me try. Is the writer suggesting that, since it’s impossible to avoid harming all animals, we have no duty to refrain from harming any of them? But that’s a flagrant non sequitur. It’s impossible to avoid harming all humans, yet nobody thinks this precludes our having a duty (a stringent duty, in fact) to refrain from harming them, or that we have no duty of reparation when we do harm them.

Think about all the steps we take to avoid harming humans, and to minimize the harm that’s unavoidable. There are rules of the road, replete with punishment for their violation. There are norms (legal and moral) against taking human life, violating bodily integrity, inflicting pain and suffering, and depriving individuals of liberty. That it’s hard to live a life free of harm to humans doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive mightily to do it. Why is the case any different with animals? Perhaps we haven’t worked as hard at avoiding and minimizing conflicts with animals because we haven’t taken them seriously. But that’s no reason to continue doing so! At one time, the interests of blacks and women were disregarded or discounted. That was an injustice. Respect for them as individuals meant taking them fully into account in our deliberations and in our actions. This is what justice requires with respect to animals.

When the writer says (or implies) that it would be too hard to avoid harming animals, he’s simply admitting that he doesn’t take them seriously. But that’s question-begging, for I’m arguing precisely the opposite: that they must—by virtue of their capacity to be harmed—be taken seriously. Animals have interests. Equal interests must be considered equally. To disregard or discount the interests of those we affect is an injustice to them.

07 April 2005

The Prairie Progress

Here is the spring 2005 issue of The Prairie Progress, which is published by Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary.

06 April 2005

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "Drug Makers Race to Cash In on Fight Against Fat" ("Obesity Inc." series, front page, April 3):

With all the information available these days about the benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets, I am surprised that people are still popping pills to lose weight.

I have been a vegan for eight years, and at 51 years old I am slim and extremely healthy.

A diet rich in vegetables, legumes, fruits and soy products is the way to go for weight loss. It is not a quick fix but a lifestyle change for the long run—guaranteed to keep off the weight.

Laura Frisk
Encinitas, Calif., April 5, 2005

04 April 2005

Thank You, Charlie Trotter

This is a great story. If you put your own trivial interests ahead of someone else's important interests, you're selfish, right? And that's bad. Meat-eaters are selfish.

01 April 2005

Animals

See here for my defense of Peter Singer from an attack by Roger Scruton.

27 March 2005

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "When Cute Deer Go Bad" (editorial, March 20):

White-tailed deer, one of America's most adaptable and elegant mammals, should never be viewed as vermin, but your editorial and the New Jersey Audubon Society are exactly right about the need to better manage the species.

One hike through our denuded forests will show that this is not just a suburban problem. Many of this animal's predators are missing from the ecosystem, but a few remain, including one of the best: humans, who have been hunting deer in North America for thousands of years.

It may be hard for the typical urbanite to grasp that we are as "natural" a predator as wolves or mountain lions. Sport hunting is safe, effective and ecologically sound. Relying on hunters who use traditional skills and woodsmanship to bring home venison for their families is infinitely more palatable than having sharpshooters mow down entire herds under cover of darkness.

Anthony Licata
Brooklyn, March 20, 2005
The writer is senior editor, Field & Stream magazine.

To the Editor:

One could justifiably substitute Homo sapiens for white-tailed deer in "When Cute Deer Go Bad" (editorial, March 20).

It is the human animal that inflicts the most rapacious assault on the environment by polluting air and waterways and despoiling the forests because of its need for more lumber for more developments. The human predator has blasted more species into extinction than the Bambi Barbarians ever could.

Each year humans kill more than 41,000 of their own species in car accidents, many times more than the number of people killed by accidents with deer.

Those of us whose morals transcend "slaughter everything that's in my way or that inconveniences me" know that it is not wildlife that regularly invades and destroys suburban habitat; it is almost invariably the other way around.

Gloria S. Feldscher
Plymouth Meeting, Pa.
March 21, 2005

25 March 2005

Losing One's Humanity

I keep hearing it said, by those who oppose the removal of Terri Schiavo’s hydration and nutrition tubes, that human life is valuable. (Often they go further and say that it’s intrinsically valuable.) Let’s think about this. Plants are living organisms, but they’re unconscious, nonsentient, and nonsocial. They have no mental lives. Animals (most of them, anyway) are conscious, sentient, and social, but they lack the cognitive abilities of humans. Humans are special animals: rational, autonomous, freely choosing agents. Most of them, anyway, most of the time. Occasionally a human being loses what makes him or her distinctively human. The being devolves into an animal and is capable of living only an animal existence. That’s not nothing, of course, for animals, qua sentient beings, have moral status. Sometimes, tragically, human beings lose their consciousness, sentience, and sociality as well as their cognitive abilities, which reduces them to vegetables. Terri Schiavo, sad to say, is a vegetable. She’s not only nonrational, nonautonomous, and unfree; she’s nonsentient and nonsocial. She’s lost the capacity to suffer, think, feel, and interact with others. Those who wish to sustain her in this state would never think to sustain a plant at such cost. Why the inconsistency? There’s something deeply irrational going on, perhaps originating in fear of death.

22 March 2005

Twenty Years Ago

3-22-85 Following up on yesterday’s discussion of my anti-social character, let me say this. Sometimes I get livid when I see, hear, or think about certain types of people. For instance, when I see a television advertisement which portrays women as happy housewives, I curse the producers of the program. Don’t they realize that they are sending a subtle message to all the young girls of the world? The message is that there is virtue, or happiness, or contentment, in being a homemaker, and that it is women, rather than men, who are supposed to occupy that role. Take another example. The beef and pork industries have undertaken a campaign to induce people to buy and consume more red meat. One advertisement for beef boasts that “Beef builds strength.” And people believe this! They are utterly ignorant of the moral ramifications of what they do. Most people who eat meat never think of the origin of the meat on their plate, let alone the pain and suffering that its production involved. I shudder and curse under my breath every time I see an advertisement of this sort or see someone eating a hamburger or hot dog. We are raising yet another generation of children who believe that eating meat is as morally innocuous as eating a stalk of celery. Sometimes I could just scream in frustration. I hate ignorant, insensitive people. I would rather that people be aware of what they’re doing and attempt to defend it morally than be ignorant of what they’re doing.

20 March 2005

Cows

See here.

Deer

New Jersey is being overrun by deer. See here. What should be done?

16 March 2005

15 March 2005

It's What's for Dinner

Here is a New York Times editorial opinion about the importation of Canadian beef.

13 March 2005

Conservative Veggie

Here is an interesting site.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "Down on the Farm: The Little Guys Are O.K.," by Bruce Gardner (Op-Ed, March 7):

Yes, the number of very small farms is growing. The bad news is that midsize farms are disappearing into the maw of huge farms, which place large hidden costs on the public with their manure lagoons, pesticide drift and nitrogen runoff. And without subsidies, they're seldom profitable.

Small- and medium-sized farms using sustainable methods and selling local foods enhance the environment, animal welfare and health—and raise farm income. My parents' vegetable farm has sales of $10,000 per acre. Many farms with similar total sales sell less than $300 per acre.

Yet consolidation is the policy. It is estimated that New York will lose 6,000 small dairies in 15 years. Family farms will be replaced by a few huge dairies. Bulk milk price will stay low, but eventually even these dairies will be unable to compete with mega-dairies in the West. The green slopes of the Catskills will turn barren even as New Yorkers clamor for high-quality local milk.

Nina Planck
New York, March 7, 2005
The writer is president of Local Foods, a nonprofit group that promotes sustainable agriculture.

09 March 2005

Ladybug

I found this little lady in my yard the other day.

07 March 2005

Institutionalized Cruelty

By consuming dairy products (milk, cheese, ice cream, butter, yogurt), you support practices such as this. Is that the kind of person you are? It's time to switch to soy-based products. Take my word for it: They are delicious and much healthier.

06 March 2005

Philosophy Talk

Lori Gruen and I were graduate students in philosophy at The University of Arizona 20 years ago. She eventually received her doctoral degree at The University of Colorado-Boulder. Today, Lori is a professor of philosophy at Wesleyan University. Here is her talk about animal rights on Philosophy Talk.

05 March 2005

Welcome Aboard, Mylan!

Mylan Engel Jr, whom I have known for more than 20 years, has accepted my invitation to join this blog. Mylan (on the left in this image) is Associate Professor of Philosophy (with tenure) at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois. We met in graduate school at The University of Arizona. There is a link to Mylan's homepage on the left, in the Members area. You may also want to read his essay, "The Immorality of Eating Meat," a link to which appears (where else?) in the Links area. It is the best essay I've ever read on the moral status of nonhuman animals. Please spread the word about this blog. I hope Mylan's presence gives it new life.

Addendum: Mylan and I are committed to protecting the interests of nonhuman animals. You could say that we're animal liberationists. Perhaps it would be nice if I added someone who thinks the interests of animals may be discounted or disregarded. But Mylan and I are far from clones. I'm politically conservative; Mylan is a liberal. I'm a moral subjectivist; Mylan is an objectivist. I'm an egoist; Mylan is an altruist. I'm a dog lover; Mylan is a cat lover. I'm a demi-vegetarian; Mylan is a vegan. I think epistemology is dead; Mylan thinks it's alive and well. I hope our differences make for an interesting blog!

02 March 2005

Don't Get on the Wrong Side of Bessie

See here. (Thanks to my bird-loving [but meat-eating] friend Peg Kaplan for the link.)

Addendum: See here.

26 February 2005

Paul W. Taylor on Biocentrism

When a life-centered view is taken, the obligations and responsibilities we have with respect to the wild animals and plants of the Earth are seen to arise from certain moral relations holding between ourselves and the natural world itself. The natural world is not there simply as an object to be exploited by us, nor are its living creatures to be regarded as nothing more than resources for our use and consumption. On the contrary, wild communities of life are understood to be deserving of our moral concern and consideration because they have a kind of value that belongs to them inherently. Just as we would think it inappropriate to ask, What is a human being good for? because such a question seems to assume that the value or worth of a person is merely a matter of being useful as a means to some end, so the question, What is a wilderness good for? is likewise considered inappropriate from the perspective of a biocentric outlook. The living things of the natural world have a worth that they possess simply in virtue of their being members of the Earth’s Community of Life. Such worth does not derive from their actual or possible usefulness to humans, or from the fact that humans find them enjoyable to look at or interesting to study.

(Paul W. Taylor, Respect for Nature: A Theory of Environmental Ethics [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986], 12-3)

25 February 2005

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

I suppose we think it's bizarre that a century ago women wore dead birds on their hats and it was considered the height of fashion (Editorial Observer, Feb. 22). Yet look around, and you'll find women strutting down the avenue wrapped in the skins of dead mammals. The brutal feather trade is gone, but the brutal fur trade lives on.

Jane Shakman
Ossining, N.Y., Feb. 22, 2005
The writer is grass-roots coordinator, Westchester Animal Rights Activists.

24 February 2005

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "Testing New Ban, Britons Run With the Hounds" (front page, Feb. 20):

Likening the ban on fox hunting with dogs in Britain to the end of a tradition should in no way mitigate the barbarity of this practice.

Just as slavery was once a tradition whose abolition was decried by many, so, too, is the vicious fox hunt another tradition that the world could surely do without.

Matthew A. MacDonald
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Feb. 20, 2005

Addendum: One of my readers sent a link to this.

23 February 2005

Healthy Living NYC

Here is a site that should be of interest to readers of this blog.

19 February 2005

UpWord

Tom Chatt is rethinking his diet. See here.

18 February 2005

Billy J's Benevolence

Here is Billy J's post on the morality of eating animals.

14 February 2005

Animals

Many readers will not like my saying this, but there is more rationalization about meat-eating than about any other topic. I say that without the slightest exaggeration. I believe meat-eating violates most people’s moral principles, but they conspire in various ways to keep this uncomfortable fact from themselves. Why? Because they enjoy the taste of meat. That fact—taste—drives everything.

If animals matter at all, morally speaking, they win. Think about it. If animal suffering has any weight on the moral scale (i.e., if it weighs more than nothing), it outweighs your taste preferences. To hide this ugly fact, people pretend that animal suffering has no moral weight. Some people, such as RenĂ© Descartes, have gone further and denied that animals are capable of suffering. Descartes said that animals are elaborately constructed (by God) robots: bĂȘtes machines. But you don’t think that. You know that cows and pigs are subjected to horrible suffering to produce the flesh you so happily consume. Why does this suffering not matter to you? Do you live with a dog or a cat? Does your dog’s or cat’s suffering matter, morally? Why should one animal’s suffering matter morally but not another’s? Isn’t that like saying that white suffering counts for more than black suffering? The fact that you’re not inclined to eat your dog or cat, but are inclined to eat cows and pigs, doesn’t show that the suffering of cows and pigs doesn’t matter. It shows that you’re putting your own trivial interests ahead of their basic interests.

Don’t rail out at me. Don’t displace blame for your actions. Take responsibility for your actions. Live up to your moral principles, one of which, I assume, is that it’s wrong to inflict suffering on others. This means that unless there is a good moral reason to inflict suffering, it’s wrong to do so. Your taste preferences are not moral considerations. Saying that they are, or thinking that they are, is a rationalization. And even if your taste preferences have some moral weight, it is easily outweighed by animal suffering. To see this, suppose you had a taste for human flesh. How much human suffering would that justify?

12 February 2005

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Your Feb. 6 editorial "What Meat Means" indicts the United States meat industry in an outrageous manner.

Worker safety guidelines developed in 1990 by the American Meat Institute, in collaboration with government and union officials, have reduced injury and illness rates by two-thirds. Days lost due to work-related injuries dropped 220 percent.

Line speeds are a function of engineering assessments that assure that tasks can be safely performed in a prescribed period of time. That injury rates have been declining for a decade demonstrates that staffing levels are appropriate.

Meat packing has been a gateway industry for new Americans. That's because meat jobs pay more than twice the minimum wage and offer generous benefits, making these jobs highly desirable.

Department of Agriculture data show that bacteria on meat and poultry have declined substantially over the last decade. Those gains would not be possible if our systems are antiquated, as your editorial suggests.

J. Patrick Boyle
President and Chief Executive
American Meat Institute
Washington, Feb. 8, 2005

11 February 2005

Singer the Teacher

One of my readers sent a link to this story about Peter Singer.

Twenty-Four and Counting

It's been 24 years—more than half my life—since I ate red meat. No cow, pig, sheep, or deer has suffered or died on my account.

09 February 2005

Vegetarianism

As I wrote the other day, vegetarianism is overdetermined. That is to say, there are multiple individually sufficient reasons to abstain from meat. If you care about animals, you should abstain from meat. If you care about the natural environment, you should abstain from meat. If you care about other human beings, you should abstain from meat. If you care about yourself, you should abstain from meat. See here for the book that demonstrates the adverse health effects of meat-eating. You can be sure that the meat industries will not like it. (Thanks to Khursh Acevedo for the link.)

06 February 2005

Meat

We already knew that the editors of The New York Times are twisted. This proves it. The editors care far more about overworked humans (poor babies!) than about the animals those workers slice to pieces (sometimes while alive).

02 February 2005

Boxing Chickens

Now I know why he's called Mike Tyson. (Thanks to Mylan Engel for the link.)

31 January 2005

Conservatism and Animal Rights

I’m a conservative. I’m also a proponent of animal rights. I won’t say I’m a proponent of animal rights because I’m a conservative, the way Peter Singer says he’s a vegetarian because he’s a utilitarian, because that would imply a logical connection between them. I don’t think there’s any logical connection between conservatism and animal rights, or indeed between any political morality and animal rights. But they’re not incompatible, either. One can be a conservative and a proponent of animal rights or a conservative and an opponent of animal rights. That there are more of the latter than of the former is an accident.

Let me explain what I mean by “proponent of animal rights.” Animals matter. Morally. They have intrinsic moral significance, just like human beings (but unlike plants). Immanuel Kant famously denied that animals have intrinsic moral significance. If it’s wrong to treat animals in certain ways, he held, it’s not because the animal is wronged but because some human being who takes an interest in the animal is wronged. Utilitarians such as Jeremy Bentham say that it’s not rational agency that confers moral status on a being; it’s the capacity to suffer, and animals have the capacity to suffer.

I’m not a utilitarian, but I’m not a Kantian, either. I’m a nonKantian deontologist who believes that it’s wrong to harm others. Animals can be harmed. Their lives are valuable to them in the same way that your life is valuable to you. Why is it wrong for me to kill you? I suspect you will say that my killing you deprives you of your future, which contains enjoyments, experiences, projects, and activities. Animals such as dogs, cows, pigs, and chickens are capable of enjoyments, experiences, and activities, too, although perhaps not of having projects. If animals can suffer the same sorts of loss that you can, then if that loss makes it wrong to kill you, why doesn’t it make it wrong to kill an animal?

Why should my conservatism be thought to deny any of this? It might be said that conservatism is committed to conserving traditions, and that it’s traditional to treat animals as resources for human use. But no conservative endorses all tradition. Slavery is traditional. No conservative defends slavery. There must be a criterion for distinguishing those traditions that are worth preserving and those that are not. I suggest that the criterion involves harm to others. Slavery harmed slaves. That is why it need not and should not be conserved. But using animals for food and other purposes (entertainment, for example) harms them. That it’s traditional to so use them is therefore irrelevant. Bad traditions should be abolished, not conserved.

I’ve only sketched my argument. The main point of this post is that there is no logical incompatibility between being a conservative and being a proponent of animal rights. If there is, then I’m horribly confused.

30 January 2005

Cows with Guns

My friend Peg Kaplan sent a link to this. Peg should not be assumed to agree with its contents.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Our food habits could not be more dysfunctional. Food makers lobbying to edit national dietary standards is the tip of the iceberg.

Deciding what we grow and eat is now answered by large agribusinesses here and overseas, farm subsidies, chemical companies, genetic engineers and lobbyists.

The quickest change comes from our buying dollars.

Melanie Cheng
San Francisco, Jan. 26, 2005

26 January 2005

Gratification #27

Dogs. Yes, dogs. I love dogs. They are loyal to a fault; they are playful and enthusiastic; their love for their human companions is unbounded and unconditional; they hold no grudges; they are patient; they appreciate little favors (as well as big ones); and they don’t care whether you’re a success or a failure in your work or in your love life—as long as you come home to them. Schopenhauer said that he would not want to live in a world without dogs. Neither would I. I have learned as much from my canine companions as I have from certain philosophers I could name. They teach me (by example); they inspire me; they entertain me; they fulfill me.

25 January 2005

Reasons for Vegetarianism

If you care about any of the following, you should abstain from meat:
• animals
• the natural environment
• your health
• humans
That’s right, humans. See here.

Addendum: Philosophers often speak of overdetermination and underdetermination. Theory, they say, is underdetermined (by data). Vegetarianism is overdetermined. There are multiple sufficient reasons to abstain from meat.

24 January 2005

Sophie

I don’t know where the time went, but it’s been 12 years since I brought two-month-old Sophie to my house in Fort Worth. She was born in a horse barn in Red Oak, Texas. I’ve watched Sophie go from a rampaging puppy to a rambunctious middle-aged dog to an old girl who sleeps a lot, walks more slowly, and doesn’t hear as well. But one thing hasn’t changed: my love for her. We have been constant companions for a dozen years, with several more to go.

22 January 2005

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "Mad Cow Across the Border" (editorial, some editions, Jan. 19):

Nearly 190,000 animals have been tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy since June 2004 as part of an intensive Department of Agriculture surveillance program. None have tested positive. Even if additional cases of B.S.E. are discovered in the United States, scientists agree that B.S.E. is not a public health risk.

At least 82 percent of the cattle harvested in the United States are less than 30 months old. Current science says that B.S.E. develops only in cattle older than 30 months. The testing program targets these cattle. Testing all cattle would be like testing children for Alzheimer's disease. It is just not necessary.

As a rancher, a mother and a grandmother, I am confident in the safety of the beef I serve to my own family and to others around the nation.

Jan Lyons
President, National Cattlemen's Beef Association
Manhattan, Kan., Jan. 20, 2005

19 January 2005

PETA

Here is the Wikipedia entry on People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Note that its neutrality is disputed. I haven't read the whole entry, but there are two possibilities. Either PETA supporters have made the entry too favorable to the organization or PETA opponents have made it too unfavorable. Or both. That the entry is disputed shows that animal rights remains a controversial topic in our society. This is not necessarily bad. John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) said that all great movements go through three stages: ridicule, discussion, and adoption. We're past the ridicule stage and into the discussion stage. Whether we get to the adoption stage remains to be seen. I hope we do. I'm working to increase the chance that we do.

Whole Foods Market

Ryan Gendron sent a link to this interview with John Mackey, who is the founder and chief executive officer of Whole Foods Market. Thanks, Ryan!

18 January 2005

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Yes, processed-food manufacturers were issued a reprieve on trans fats from the Agriculture Department's dietary guidelines. But it bears mentioning that the meat and dairy industries also have a history of being shielded from scrutiny.

There is no dietary requirement for cholesterol whatsoever, and too much of it in our blood becomes a risk factor for deadly disease. Yet the guidelines give the allowance of 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol per day, simply so people may eat foods of animal origin, the only foods that actually contain cholesterol. (Plants are free of cholesterol, and in fact supply phytosterols, which are good for human health.)

Interestingly, 300 milligrams don't go very far. A person handily uses up his or her entire U.S.D.A.-designated daily quota for cholesterol after consuming two small eggs. How many would believe that the government actually advises people to completely curtail meat and dairy intake after that limit has been reached?

Pamela Rice
New York, Jan. 13, 2005
The writer is the author of a book about vegetarianism.

17 January 2005

Categorizing Animals

Some animals are wild and some domesticated. Some domesticated animals are used as resources for human ends and some are cared for as family members. I believe our moral obligations differ depending on which category a particular animal belongs to. This is not ad hoc. I also believe that our moral obligations to humans differ depending on which category they belong to. I have obligations to my children, for example, that I have to no other child. I have obligations to Americans that I have to no other nationality. Here are the three categories:
1. Wild animals. Wild animals should be left alone. We should not hunt them, trap them, capture them for zoos or circuses, or displace them. Nor should we intervene to prevent predation. Saving one animal from another only starves the other. The relevant principle here is nonmaleficence (do no harm).

2. Domesticated resource animals. Institutions such as factory farms, which treat animals as resources for human consumption, should be abolished. We should stop breeding cows, pigs, and chickens for their meat, eggs, hides, and other materials. The relevant principle here is nonmaleficence (do no harm).

3. Companions. Domesticated animals that we take into our homes, such as dogs and cats, have the status of children or friends. We have obligations not only to refrain from harming them (as we do to all animals), but to provide for their needs. The relevant principles here are nonmaleficence (do no harm) and beneficence (do good).
Consequentialists deny the existence of special responsibilities. They say that any partiality toward those near and dear to one is impermissible. They also deny the moral significance of the distinction between harming and not preventing harm. If I allow you to die, they say, I am a murderer, even if I had nothing to do with your predicament. Many of us think that the failure to make these distinctions counts against consequentialism. For more on this subject, see my essay “Doing Right by Our Animal Companions,” a link to which appears on the left side of this blog.

16 January 2005

Save Dogs

Here is a heartwarming new blog.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "A 9,000-Pound Fish Out of Water, Alone in Alaska Since 2002" (Anchorage Journal, Jan. 9):

Friends of Maggie, an Anchorage citizens' group, has worked to persuade the Alaska Zoo to relocate its solitary female African elephant, Maggie, to a warm climate and the company of other elephants.

Four superb institutions are willing and able to give Maggie a spacious home with other female African elephants in a mild climate.

Female elephants are one of the most socially needy and complex land mammals on the planet. Outside captivity, they never live alone, and never live in the sub-Arctic.

Maggie could live 40 more years. Surely she deserves a better future than 40 years on a treadmill in a cement barn in Alaska.

Penelope Wells
Exec. Dir., Friends of Maggie
Anchorage, Jan. 10, 2005

13 January 2005

Our Fellow Animals

Side A of this site contains pleasant images. Side B contains disturbing images.

12 January 2005

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) on the Philosopher's Product

I believe that the vegetarians, with their prescription to eat less and more simply, are of more use than all the new moral systems taken together: a little exaggeration here is of no importance. There is no doubt that the future educators of mankind will also prescribe a stricter diet. One hopes to make modern men healthy by means of air, sun, habitation, travel, etc.—including medical stimuli and toxins. But nothing which would be difficult for man seems to be ordered any longer. The maxim seems to be: be healthy and ill in an agreeable and comfortable manner. Yet it is just this incessant lack of moderation in small matters, this lack of self-discipline, which finally becomes evident as universal haste and impotentia.

[S]o long as philosophers fail to muster the courage to seek a totally transformed regimen and to exhibit it by their own example, then they are of no consequence.

The philosopher's product is his life (which occupies the most important position, before his works). His life is his work of art, and every work of art is first turned toward the artist and then toward other men.

(Friedrich Nietzsche, "Philosophy in Hard Times," chap. 5 in Philosophy and Truth: Selections from Nietzsche's Notebooks of the Early 1870's, ed. and trans. Daniel Breazeale [Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International, 1990 (1979)], 99-123, at 106, 107, and 109 [notes written in 1873] [italics in original; footnotes omitted])

Demi-Vegetarianism

One of my readers, Peg Kaplan, asked what “demi-vegetarian” means. Good question, Peg! I’ll be happy to explain. I got the term from R. M. Hare, who used it in the title of an essay: “Why I Am Only a Demi-Vegetarian,” chap. 15 in his Essays on Bioethics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 219-35. According to Hare (who says he did not invent the term), a demi-vegetarian is “someone who, while not being a full vegetarian, let alone vegan, eats little meat, and is careful what kinds of meat he (or she) eats” (pages 224-5). Hare wrote that he and his wife ate little or no meat at home (except when hosting guests whom they knew—or guessed—would not like a vegetarian meal) and occasionally ate meat in restaurants when there was “no obvious alternative” (page 225).

The prefix “demi” means half, or, in this context, imperfect. So a demi-vegetarian is someone who is imperfectly vegetarian. We might say “almost vegetarian.” As in the case of vegetarianism proper, the regimen can be for dietary or moral reasons, or both.

Now to my own diet. I learned when I was 15 years old that I was allergic to dairy products. Since then (1972), I’ve consumed no milk, cheese, butter, ice cream, or yogurt. I gave up red meat (beef, pork, lamb, venison, &c) in 1981, nearly a quarter of a century ago. That left only turkey, chicken, fish, and eggs in my diet, as far as animal products go. I gave up turkey in 1982, leaving chicken, fish, and eggs. That’s where it stood for many years. Finally, a couple of years ago, I gave up chicken, although if something I buy (such as ramen) is made with chicken stock, I will eat it. Also two years ago, I began buying eggs from free-roaming hens. So, for about two years, the only animal products I’ve consumed are fish (sardines, for example, but also frozen fish) and free-range eggs. It would be dishonest of me to call myself a vegetarian, and I never have, at least without immediately qualifying what I mean. I’m almost a vegetarian. I’m a demi-vegetarian.

11 January 2005

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

In "Live Free and Die" (Op-Ed, Jan. 4), Judy Blunt portrays the issue of what to do about overpopulation and starvation of wild horses to benefit those who stand to profit from their slaughter.

Senator Conrad Burns, Republican of Montana, added language into last year's spending bill allowing certain horses to be auctioned to the highest bidder, which may be a slaughterhouse. This lifted more than 30 years of protection for our wild herds.

Immunocontraception has been successful in controlling the populations of these animals. They should be moved to sanctuaries or protected areas where their numbers can be humanely controlled. Slaughter should never be an option.

The majority of Americans oppose the slaughter of horses and their export abroad for human consumption. It goes against our culture and has been illegal in California since 1998.

Wild horses and burros were being protected because the American people demanded it. Perhaps Representative John E. Sweeney of New York, who heads the Congressional Horse Caucus, will lead the way to repeal Senator Burns's disastrous legislation.

Susan Wagner
President, Equine Advocates
Chatham, N.Y., Jan. 4, 2005

09 January 2005

Peter Singer’s Influence

It’s been 30 years since Animal Liberation was published. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard or read about its influence, which is said to be significant. But where’s the evidence for this? Has anyone done a study? And how much influence is a lot of influence? Is it influential as philosophy books go, as books about animals go, as books about animal ethics go, or as books in general go? And how much of the book’s influence is due to its argumentation, as opposed to the emotional wallop packed by its images and descriptions of how animals are used in laboratories and on factory farms? If all or most of the book’s influence is due to emotional factors, then neither Singer nor his philosophical colleagues can take pride in the fact that it was written by a philosopher; for another book that had the same images and descriptions—but not the arguments—would have had the same effect.

Philosophers are usually careful in making factual claims, since they have no factual expertise, but for some reason (self-interest?) they take liberties when it comes to making claims about the influence of this or that philosophical work. How influential has John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice been, either popularly or professionally? Nobody knows! We need a society or a discipline that measures such things by strict empirical standards—and publishes the results. By the way, I’m not suggesting that the worth of a philosophical work (or any other scholarly work) lies solely, or even largely, in its impact on nonphilosophers. But when self-serving claims are made that philosophical works such as Animal Liberation have had significant extraphilosophical influence, I’m skeptical. Let’s see the evidence.

08 January 2005

From the Mailbag

Hi there

Your blog is exactly what I need right now and I hope you—or someone—can help me with an ethical dilemma regarding my one-year-old dog.

I am in a position of having to chose one life over another. My dog has recently killed some of my ducks and it seems that this may be next to impossible to switch off in him. Some of the training/rehabilitating already taken place seemed extremely effective until he ate another one, in spite of close supervision. I have had indications that he could go after our cats in a predatory way.

The dilemma is multifold. First—I have been in discussion with trainers all over the world (literally—I love this dog). The general consensus is that at best, I can hopefully "manage" the behaviour but the likelihood is that if he has the opportunity (or can take the opportunity) he will kill again. However, he is a perfect dog in most other respects. So, what I am wondering is, what steps do I need to take in order to arrive at an ethical decision?

I did take some ethics, but right now, I could use a bit of back up!

Thanks

Colleen

07 January 2005

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Judy Blunt takes aim not only at free-roaming horses and burros but also at the defenders of wild horses, whose positions she caricatures ("Live Free and Die," Op-Ed, Jan. 4).

It is fatuous to argue that 30,000 wild horses roaming the West are degrading the region's arid lands when there are more than four million livestock grazing on those same lands.

Her claim that livestock grazing is "under strict regulations" is laughable.

Groups like the Humane Society of the United States have advocated for fewer roundups of horses and helped develop a contraceptive vaccine as a centerpiece of an active, nonlethal management strategy.

Where population reductions are well justified, nonlethal strategies like contraception should take the place of costly roundups, which are now just an antecedent to the slaughter of horses for export to foreign markets for human consumption.

Wayne Pacelle
President and Chief Executive
Humane Society of the U.S.
Washington, Jan. 4, 2005

06 January 2005

Peter Singer

I found this story about Peter Singer while surfing the Internet. Like most leftists, he can't believe that an intelligent person can be religious. This shows how detached he is from reality. Religion has nothing to do with intelligence. It has everything to do with finding meaning in life.

Addendum: Notice how Singer keeps saying that such-and-such an act is not "inherently" or "intrinsically" wrong. This implies that he thinks some acts are intrinsically wrong, i.e., wrong in themselves, because of the kinds of act they are. He doesn't. Singer is a consequentialist. That an act is of a certain type, e.g., homicide, torture, incest, bestiality, adultery, lying, or breaking a promise, is morally irrelevant to him. The only thing that matters, to a consequentialist, is an act's consequences. If an act of homicide or torture brings about the best overall consequences (which, logically, it could), it is right. If an act of keeping a promise or telling the truth doesn't bring about the best overall consequences, it is wrong. What Princeton University needs in order to counter Singer's teaching is not a religious ethicist, as Marvin Olasky suggests, but a deontologist, someone for whom the type of act one performs is morally relevant. Not all religious ethicists are deontologists and not all deontologists are religious.

By the way, I find Singer's recourse to consent interesting. Consent is a deontological concept. It is linked to rights-possession, which Singer, qua consequentialist, disavows. If a particular act brings about the best overall consequences, it is irrelevant that not everyone affected by the act consents to it. Put differently, if consent has moral significance, then people cannot be used as mere means to collective ends as Singer wishes. As this shows, Singer is not only a bad philosopher; he's a bad consequentialist. Sometimes he appears not to understand his own theory.