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)

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