31 December 2006

Resolve to Do Right by Animals in 2007!

As another year comes to a close, most of us find ourselves reflecting on our lives and resolving to improve ourselves and our lives in various ways. These resolutions typically fall into one of two categories: (1) resolutions to acquire some desirable trait or better-making habit, e.g., resolving to exercise regularly; and (2) resolutions to eliminate some undesirable trait or worse-making habit, e.g., resolving to quit smoking. Sometimes resolutions from each category mirror each other, e.g., the resolution to improve one's health and the resolution to quit smoking. Most New Year's resolutions are primarily self-regarding, like resolving to get in better shape and resolving to eat fewer sweets. Some resolutions, however, are primarily other-regarding, like resolving to help others in various ways, e.g., resolving to volunteer at the local soup kitchen, or resolving to donate a certain amount of one’s paycheck each month to an organization working to curb global hunger and poverty.

A google search of “Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions” turns up hundreds of hits, containing various Top 10 Lists of resolutions along with suggestions as to how to achieve them. For examples, see here and here. Even the government has gotten in on the game. This FirstGov.gov site provides a list of some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions, each linked to pages designed to help people succeed in keeping the resolution in question. As you might expect with 66% of Americans being overweight, out of shape, and in poor physical condition, the most popular resolutions include the following:
1. Lose weight.
2. Quit smoking.
3. Exercise more.
4. Eat right.
5. Get in better shape/become more healthy.
6. Drink less alcohol.
7. Spend more time with family and friends.
8. Get out of debt.
9. Try something new or learn something new.
10. Get organized.
I suspect that many, if not most, of these resolutions are on your list of resolutions, as well. Let me recommend adding one more resolution to your list:
11. Stop supporting unnecessary animal cruelty in all of its forms.
[Below, I offer several reasons as to why you should add resolution 11 to your list of resolutions.]

Most people who have made resolutions like 1-10 above will have failed to keep them by the end of January. One reason people generally aren't able to stick to resolutions like 1-10 is that, so stated, these resolutions are vague and imprecise with no clear objective in sight. Lose weight. How much? Quit smoking. How and by when? Exercise more. How much more? Eat right. What counts as eating right? Get in better shape. By what standards?

Since the New Year's resolutions you have made for 2007 are your resolutions, I assume that you would actually like to succeed in keeping them. To increase the likelihood of keeping your resolutions, experts recommend that you try to make your resolutions concrete and precise. For example:
1. Lose weight—I will lose 10 pounds by March 15th.

2. Quit smoking—I will join a smoking cessation program in consultation with a physician and quit smoking by the end of February.

3. Exercise more—I will walk or jog or stationary cycle or X [plug in your preferred form of aerobic exercise for X] 30 minutes a day and do strength conditioning twice a week.

4. Eat right—I will eat a diet low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and high in complex carbohydrates and fiber; and I will limit my consumption of empty calories like those found in sweets, soda pop, and trendy high-calorie coffee drinks.

5. Get in better shape/become more healthy—By May 1st, I will have lowered my systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 10 points each, lowered my total plasma cholesterol by 30 points, lowered my resting heart-rate by 5 beats per minute, lowered my body mass index (BMI calculator) by 2 points. [The numbers provided are just by way of illustration. Since people vary in the degree to which they are in or out of shape, individuals need to determine their own fitness and health improvement goals, in consultation with a physician.]

6. Drink less alcohol—I will not consume more than the recommended one to two alcoholic beverages per day.

7. Spend more time with family and friends—I will do X in the evening with my spouse or partner, and I will do Y with my kids on the weekend (where you and your family and friends fill in the variables appropriately).

8. Get out of debt—I will pay off some specific amount of debt by March 31st.

9. Try something new or learn something new—I will try out a new healthy habit, or I will try to learn how to do X.

10. Get organized—E.g., I will clean out one closet each weekend for the next 6 weeks, or I will spend 20 minutes each evening sorting through a pile of papers, etc.
Specific resolutions like those just listed are easier to follow; they allow you to track your success, and they can be fully accomplished.

What about resolution 11? Like the original 1-10, resolution 11 is also vague on details. Stop supporting unnecessary animal cruelty in all of its forms. How? What can I do to stop supporting unnecessary animal cruelty, and is it difficult to do so?

Here are some surprisingly simple things you can do to stop supporting unnecessary animal cruelty:
(a) Stop eating animals.

(b) Stop eating animal products.

(c) Eat delicious plant-based meals centered around whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, and in moderation nuts, instead.

(d) Stop wearing animals—Don’t purchase or wear garments made of fur or containing fur trim; don't purchase garments advertised or labeled as "faux fur" since these garments may be made of real fur mislabeled as faux fur (for details, see my previous post on mislabeled dog fur jackets here); don’t purchase leather, and as your leather garments wear out, replace them with nonleather alternatives.

(e) Don’t purchase cosmetics or personal care products that were tested on animals when equally effective cruelty-free products are available.

(f) Don’t purchase cosmetics or personal care products that contain animal ingredients.

(g) Purchase cruelty-free cosmetics and personal care products instead. Cruelty-free shopping guides that list companies that don't test their products on animals are available here and here.

(h) Don’t attend circuses that contain nonhuman animal acts.

(i) Do attend socially conscious circuses like Cirque de Soleil that exclusively feature human performers.

(j) Donate only to Humane Charities that don't test on animals. A list of Humane Charities is available here.
At first blush, the list of changes that are required in order to stop supporting unnecessary animal cruelty may seem daunting, but in reality, quite the opposite is the case. First, since there are so many things that you can do to stop supporting unnecessary animal cruelty, you can start with any one of these sub-resolutions (a)-(j) and then, once that sub-resolution has been accomplished and thoroughly ingrained in your behavior, you can move on to the next way you can stop supporting cruelty. In short, breaking resolution 11 into a number of easily accomplished specific sub-resolutions makes it more likely that you will accomplish at least part of your over-arching goal of reducing your contribution to unnecessary animal cruelty. Second, many of the things you can do to stop supporting animal cruelty—like not buying or wearing fur—require minimal effort and no expense!

Where should you begin? Obviously, since not buying and not wearing fur requires minimal effort and no expense, that's a good place to start. Of course, since that is so easily accomplished, you may have already fully succeeded in carrying out that aspect of resolution 11 long ago. What to do next?

I recommend trying to accomplish sub-resolutions (a), (b), and (c) next. Why? Because doing (a), (b), and (c) will help you accomplish many of your other resolutions. Moderately to seriously overweight people who eliminate all meat and all animal products from their diets and replace those animal-based foods with plant-based foods almost always lose 10-20 pounds with no other behavioral changes. If you are serious about losing weight and improving your health, try out a cruelty-free vegan diet for three months. If you are like most people, you will be amazed at (i) how much weight you will lose, (ii) how much better you will feel, and (iii) how much more energy you will have. One beauty of a low-fat vegan diet is that you can eat as much vegan food as you like and still lose weight. Switching to a vegan diet devoid of meat and animal products also almost always results in significantly lower plasma cholesterol levels. A vegan diet also reduces the risk of heart disease and some cancers, while lowering blood pressure, and is, thus, an extremely effective means of helping you to achieve your goal of improved health. By eating a low-fat vegan diet centered around whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, you will be eating right. And, of course, by experimenting with all sorts of new vegan dishes, you will be learning a new healthier way of cooking and eating. So, if you are serious about losing weight, improving your health, eating right, and trying something new, switching to a cruelty-free vegan diet will single-handedly help you accomplish all of these goals.

But wait. There's more! For no extra charge, switching to a vegan diet also dramatically reduces your contribution to unnecessary animal suffering. If you are like most people, you think that it is seriously morally wrong to contribute to unnecessary animal suffering. Switching to a vegan diet will help you to live your life in accordance with your own deeply held moral values and will, thereby, help you to live an authentic life, a meaningful life of integrity. When looking for ways to better ourselves as the New Year approaches, we should look for ways to better ourselves both physically and ethically. Making an effort to live our lives in a manner consistent with our most deeply held moral values is one of the most important steps we can take toward being our best selves.

Like resolution 7, resolution 11 is primarily an other-regarding resolution (even though those who respect animals and refuse to eat them will experience profound health benefits as a result). Its primary focus is the well being of other sentient beings. Since other beings are affected by our other-regarding behavior, other-regarding resolutions may be easier to stick to than purely self-regarding resolutions. After dieting for a few weeks, one might rationalize as follows, "Oh well, I don't really mind carrying around 20 extra pounds. I just read that 'curviness' is in this year. Plus, if I lost weight, I'd have to buy new clothes." But if one keeps in mind the animals that one is trying to help, one might be more inclined to stick to one's resolutions. Plus, as Kathie Jenni rightly points out here, when it comes to doing right by animals, one can always take steps to reinforce one's motivation.

Suppose you find yourself about to give up on one of the sub-resolutions of resolution 11 that you have set for yourself, e.g., sub-resolution (a). Then, you can stop and remind yourself of one of the main reasons you resolved to stop eating meat in the first place, namely, your desire not to support the kinds of cruelty inherent in modern animal agriculture. If you feel yourself losing your resolve, take 12 minutes to re-view the documentary "Meet Your Meat" here or here. Or, suppose you're thinking about back-sliding on sub-resolution (d) and purchasing a fur-trimmed garment. Then, take 2 minutes and re-view this video of raccoon dogs being skinned alive. After seeing these documentary videos, I think you'll find all the strength you need to steel your resolve not to purchase such products of pain.

The Bottom Line:

Elsewhere in this blog (see here, here, and here), I have written about ethical synergy, the regularly observed phenomenon that simultaneously showing respect for persons (including oneself), animals, and the environment typically benefits all three groups (including oneself). Resolving to do right by animals and to stop supporting unnecessary animal cruelty is yet another powerful example of ethical synergy at work. As we have just seen, resolving to do right by animals is a great way to do right by yourself. By not ingesting animals you will not only not be supporting the unnecessary animal cruelty inherent in modern animal agriculture, you will also be taking positive steps toward improving your health, eating right, and losing weight, steps much more likely to result in permanent weight loss and improved cardiovascular health than unhealthful fad diets that cannot be sustained for the long haul. By not purchasing exorbitantly expensive fur coats and fur-trimmed coats, you will be actively boycotting animal cruelty while simultaneously saving money that can be applied toward resolution 8, i.e., that of getting out of debt. Doing right by animals makes us better people in countless ways, and that, of course, is the main reason we make New Year's Resolutions in the first place. Join me in resolving to do right by animals in 2007.

Wishing you a Happy Humane New Year!


It's been 25 years to the day since I ate turkey. I gave it up on 31 December 1981. Consequently, no turkey has suffered or died on my account for the past quarter century.

Addendum: Sometimes, in talking to omnivores, I get the sense that they feel impotent. They can't solve the problem of animal suffering all by themselves, so they throw up their hands in defeat and go on eating meat. But that's not the only way to look at it, and I would argue that it's not the right way. How many problems can be solved—in their entirety—by a single person, even over the course of a lifetime? Does the fact that you can't solve the problem of human suffering mean that you shouldn't do whatever you can to prevent and alleviate human suffering? Surely not. You're one person. You make decisions every day about what to wear, what to eat, what to feed your children (if any), where to shop, what to buy, and so on. Take responsibility for your decisions. Formulate defensible principles and strive conscientiously to live by them. That's what moral integrity—being an integrated person rather than a fragmented one—is all about. Has my abstention from turkey for the past quarter century made any difference? Yes, it has. There is still a turkey industry in existence, but I haven't contributed to it in any way in 25 years. It goes on without my participation and without my consent. I'm neither omnipotent nor impotent. I do what I can. Don't focus on how little you can do, for that will depress you and destroy your moral motivation. Focus on how much you can do! It makes me feel good to know that, for a quarter of a century, no turkey has suffered or died on my account. My hands, with regard to turkeys, are clean. If God turns out to be a turkey, I'm in good shape! Happy new year, everyone.

Taking It to the Streets

Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary has put up a billboard in downtown Denver. See here.

27 December 2006

The Politics of Food

See here.


Abstention from beef is overdetermined. If you care only about cows, you will not eat beef. If you care only about the environment, you will not eat beef. If you care only about human beings (present and future), you will not eat beef. If you care only about your health, you will not eat beef. See here.

25 December 2006


On this Christmas holiday, Christians would do well to reflect on what their faith teaches about the moral status of animals. Here is a New York Times story about St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. Here is a website that contains information about St Francis. If you're a Christian, please reflect on the following. Your religion does not require that you eat animals. It may not forbid it, but it doesn't require it. So you must decide for yourself, on independent grounds, whether to eat meat.

24 December 2006

Are You Wearing Man's Best Friend? That Trim on the Hood of Your Jacket Might Be Dog Fur!

According to this Associated Press story, if you are wearing a Sean John jacket with fur trim purchased from Macy's, that trim might have come from a dog indigenous to Asia known as a "raccoon dog." These dogs (pictured here) phenotypically resemble raccoons in that they have relatively short legs and bushy fur (and sometimes even have facial markings resembling raccoons), but despite their appearance, they are dogs. They belong to the canine species Nyctereutes procyonoides.

As reported in the AP story, two styles of Sean John jackets—one a hooded snorkel style, the other a classic version—were originally advertised as faux fur, but an investigation by the Humane Society of the United States [HSUS] found that the jackets were made from dog fur. According to HSUS's investigation (detailed in their press release), the Sean John Hooded Snorkel Jacket on sale at macys.com for $237.99 was advertised to online customers as having an "imitation rabbit fur collar." According to the press release, Macy's website went so far as to "identify" the materials used as "Nylon/faux fur/goose down." But when HSUS purchased several of these jackets, the jackets arrived bearing the labels "Made in China" and "genuine raccoon fur." Though these jackets originally arrived with the label "raccoon fur" on them, they were falsely marketed to consumers as "faux fur." According to the AP story, nine of ten jackets tested by HSUS were found to have trim made of dog fur, but were mislabeled in violation of federal law. The jackets were being sold by Macy's, both in its brick and mortar stores and in its online store. Macy's has pulled both jackets from its shelves and its web site in light of HSUS's findings. The AP story doesn't indicate how many of these mislabeled falsely-advertised jackets were already sold, but presumably many were sold and those conscientious consumers who were deceived into thinking they were purchasing faux fur may never find out about the mislabeled coats. Macy's should do the right thing and take out television and newspaper ads inviting anyone who purchased such a falsely-labeled jacket from any of its stores an opportunity to return the jackets for a full refund. It's doubtful that Macy's will do any such thing, but that doesn't prevent conscientious consumers from returning the jackets and demanding a full refund on the basis of false advertising.

Macy's is not alone in misrepresenting the materials used in making its coats. According to the HSUS press release, HSUS revealed earlier this week that Burlington Coat Factory was falsely advertising real fur garments as faux fur in newspaper circulars, on its web site, and in store displays at its 350 locations nationwide. HSUS also reports find fur garments falsely labeled "faux" at Loehmann's, revealing an industry-wide problem when it comes to fur labeling.

Given the garment industry's track record and the track record of department store chains like Macy's, Burlington Coat Factory, and Loehmann's where "faux fur" is concerned, it is reasonable to assume that any time you see a jacket with trim that is labeled "faux fur" the trim is "faux faux fur," i.e., it is reasonable to assume that it is real fur being deceptively passed off as faux fur to trick well-meaning conscientious consumers into buying a product of torture they would otherwise never purchase. Wherever companies profit from cruelty, you can rest assured that they will try to hide that cruelty from consumers, because cruelty makes a rather poor PR statement.

The NY Times article Keith linked to earlier today (see here) points out that fur sales are up 9% over last year and from this statistic goes on to infer that "fur is back in style." But is it really? Not according to my students. Each semester when I teach Contemporary Moral Issues, on the first day of class I begin with a survey. One of the questions on the survey is: "Is it morally permissible to kill animals for fur coats?" The students' answers to this question have remained remarkably consistent over the last ten years. Consistently, each semester over 90% of my students answer this question in the negative. But if fur is not "in," what accounts for the increased fur sales? Fraudulent labeling might be a big part of the explanation for the increased fur sales. After all, if fur is "in" and "trendy" and "hip" and "cool," ask yourself why stores like Macy's, Burlington Coat Factory, and Loehmann's are labeling their coats made with real fur trim as "faux fur." Why not exploit the fact that it is real fur and charge a premium for it? Because, despite a NY Times story designed to promote fur sales, real fur is associated with cruelty, and cruelty is never "in."

Those who object to fur coats and fur trim on moral grounds, do so for two main reasons: (1) The animals whose fur becomes those coats and trims are being killed for no good reason, and (2) these animals are killed in horrifically inhumane ways and thus are made to suffer horribly for no good reason. "Just how do Chinese workers kill raccoon dogs?" you might wonder. The standard method of skinning raccoon dogs is as follows: The dog is removed from a cage, picked up by the tail (or hindlegs), and then swung violently headfirst into the ground. Sometimes, the dog is picked up a second time and slammed to the ground again. Documentary video reveals that this does not kill the dogs. Instead, dog after dog writhes about on the ground in pain. At this point, the worker may pick up a block of wood or a pipe and hit the dog over the head a few times. Again, documentary video reveals that this typically does not kill the dogs. The point is to injure the dogs severely so as to render them defenseless, and that is all. No serious attempt is made either to kill the dogs or to render them unconscious. As a result, the dogs typically remain fully conscious throughout the entire ordeal. After having slammed the dog to the ground once or twice, the worker takes a hatchet and chops off the front legs of the still fully-conscious dog. The still living, struggling, fully-conscious dog is then lifted up and hung upside down by a hind leg. The worker then cuts the fur from around the hindquarters, grabs hold of the fur, and begins pulling downward forcefully. The still conscious dog flails about in agony as she is skinned alive. The traumatized dog is then thrown in a dumpster on a pile of previously skinned dogs. Lying in the dumpster, the still living, still conscious, now skinless dog lifts her head, blinks her eyes, looks around in desperation, breathing her last breaths. Why is the dog subjected to such unspeakable cruelty? Just so stores can sell jackets with fur trim or falsely labeled "faux fur" trim.

The treatment of the dogs can't really be as bad as I have described, right? Wrong. For a detailed and photo-documented description of how these highly intelligent, highly sensitive dogs are killed, see here. For full confirmation of everything I have described, be sure to scroll through to the end of the 42-photograph photo-documentary and their accompanying descriptions. To see an undercover video documenting how these innocent dogs are inhumanely killed, see here. I urge every reader to view this video [running time: 2 minutes 42 seconds]. Watch the video first, and then, ask yourself whether torturing an animal in this way is morally permissible just so that we can have ornamental fur trim on the hoods of our jackets. I suspect that you'll agree with the 90%-plus of my students who think it is not permissible.

In my post on prima facie vs. ultima facie wrongness, I discussed both the prima facie wrongness of causing animals to suffer and the prima facie wrongness of killing conscious sentient animals. Anyone who thinks that it is morally wrong to cause an animal to suffer for no good reason is committed to the prima facie wrongness of causing animals to suffer. For those who missed the previous post, to say that it is prima facie wrong to cause an animal to suffer is to say that it is morally wrong to cause an animal to suffer unless there is some overriding moral reason that justifies causing that animal to suffer. Likewise, to say that killing a conscious sentient animal is prima facie wrong is to say that killing a conscious sentient animal is morally wrong unless there are overriding moral considerations that justify that killing. One immediate consequence of the prima facie wrongness of causing animals to suffer is that it is ultima facie wrong (i.e., all-things-considered wrong) to cause an animal to suffer for no good reason.

There is little doubt that skinning animals alive is a cruel and inhumane act that causes animals horrific pain and suffering. Is there some overriding outweighing justifying good that can only be achieved by causing raccoon dogs to suffer in this way? Surely not.

Here are a few points I think we can all agree on. No one living in a modern society needs a jacket with fur trim in order to survive the winter or in order to stay warm. No one's life will be impoverished by going through life without owning a fur-trimmed jacket. No one will be deemed unstylish or unfashionable for wearing a coat that does not contain dead animals as trim. There is absolutely no good reason to torture an animal to death just to use her fur as ornamental trim on a jacket. There is absolutely no good reason to kill an animal (not even humanely) just to use her fur as ornamental trim on a jacket. Consequently, it is ultima facie wrong to torture and kill a dog for fur trim.

Anyone who embraces the highly plausible moral principle that causing animals to suffer unnecessarily is morally wrong and ought not be supported is committed to the wrongness of purchasing jackets with fur trim. I suspect that if you have viewed the above video, you will want absolutely nothing to do with the fur industry and will never ever purchase a fur coat or a coat with fur trim again. But many people are unaware of the grim realities inherent in the fur industry, and one of these people might have bought you a fur coat or a coat with fur trim as a holiday gift. What should one do, if one receives a fur coat or a jacket with fur trim (even a coat with trim labeled "faux fur")? That depends on whether one wants to support the fur industry or not. If you don't want to support the fur industry (because you think it wrong to support such a barbaric industry), then return the garment and demand a full refund. When you do so, be sure to speak to the store manager, and let her/him know why you are returning the garment. Imagine if retail stores all over the country this year were inundated with dissatisfied customers returning fur garments and alleged "faux fur" garments on December 26. That might make retailers reluctant to carry fur-trimmed and "faux" fur-trimmed jackets for next year's holiday season. Of course, no one wants to look like an ingrate. So, naturally, you would want to explain your decision to the person who gave you the gift. I'm sure the person who bought the gift for you doesn't want to knowingly support cruelty either. Ask this person to watch the above video with you, and then together return the coat and demand a full refund. If enough people do just that, then the number of fully-conscious dogs who are skinned alive and thrown mercilessly into dumpsters to breathe their last breaths will decrease. That is the power of conscious choice.

The Bottom Line:

When one witnesses an innocent dog skinned alive for no good reason, it shocks one's moral sensibilities. One wonders just what sort of person could do that sort of thing to another conscious sentient being. Sadly, there is nothing that any of us can do to help that innocent raccoon dog pictured in the video escape her ruthless tormenters. But there are some things we can do to help prevent that same fate from befalling other innocent dogs. We can say "No" to fur. We can join others who refuse to support such a cruel and barbaric industry. We can send everyone we know the link to that video and urge them to view it. We can encourage them to join us in boycotting fur. We can and should boycott "faux fur" as well, because (1) it might be real fur dyed to look like fake fur (a standard industry trick), and (2) since other people won't know that it is faux (even if it is), wearing faux fur fosters the appearance of approving of fur. These are things we can do, and if we think that it is wrong to support unnecessary cruelty, they are things we should do. If everyone who witnesses that poor dog's undeserved fate decides to say "No" to the fur industry in all its guises, then perhaps that dog will not have died in vain.


Fur is in. See here.

Referring to Animals

Mark Spahn, a longtime reader of my AnalPhilosopher blog, thinks it’s question-begging to use “who” (instead of “that”) to refer to animals. I agree. To beg a question, in the philosophical sense, is to assume what needs to be proved. The question (presumably) is whether animals have moral status, i.e., whether the interests of animals must be taken into account in our deliberations. Using “who” assumes that the being in question has moral status (even if not full-blown personhood).

But notice: Using “that” also begs the question, for it assumes, without argument, that the being in question lacks moral status. So both usages are question-begging. I don’t know of a neutral way to refer to animals: one that doesn’t make an assumption about moral status. Do you?

If both usages are question-begging, and if there’s no neutral reference, what’s wrong with choosing the usage that accords with one’s view of the moral status of animals? Surely it would be unreasonable to expect me—someone who believes that animals have moral status—to use a form of reference that assumes that they lack moral status! My usage reflects my belief. If you, dear reader, believe that animals lack moral status, then you will refer to them with “that.” I wonder, though, whether those who use “that” use it in reference to their dogs and cats. Suppose you’ve lived with a dog for 10 years. Wouldn’t it be odd to say such things as, “I have a dog that eats grasshoppers”? Compare: “I have a car that gets 25 miles per gallon.” Does your dog have the same moral status as your car? Are both of them mere objects?

From the Mailbag


What I call "editorializing by adverb" is the practice of inserting an adverb into a statement to make an assertion without seeming to make an assertion. Example: A reference to "still undemocratic Iraq" makes the assertion that eventually Iraq will be democratic. But typically the writer will not stop to argue in favor of this assertion, hoping by the subtle use of an adverb to escape the need of justifying his assertion.

On the blog Animal Ethics (which I visited because of your reference to it) is the sentence "Let us temporarily assume for the sake of argument that it would be permissible to eat the flesh of an animal who was raised humanely and killed entirely painlessly."

Did you notice that "who" the writer slipped in there? This is the first instance I have seen of what might be called "editorializing by relative pronoun." Using the human-appropriate relative pronoun "who" to refer to an animal is a planted assertion that animals should be considered in the same way that humans are considered. Possibly the writer has an elaborate and convincing argument for the use of "who" in reference to animals, but "who" needlessly antagonizes the casual reader, who will suspect question-begging.

—Mark Spahn (West Seneca, NY)

P.S. I tried to leave this note as a comment on that blog, but did not find a convenient way to do so. If you think the writer would like to see this note, feel free to pass it on.

23 December 2006

Prima Facie vs. Ultima Facie Wrongness

Jonathan Hubbell, a philosophy major at the University of Texas at Arlington, is the newest member of the Animal Ethics blog, and once again, I would like to welcome him aboard. Like Keith, I think it will be interesting and instructive to observe as Jonathan works through his views on the myriad of ethical issues that surround our current treatment of animals. In my role as co-blogger, I hope to help Jonathan (and his readers) think more clearly about some of the issues with which Jonathan will be dealing. It is in that spirit that I wish to make a clarificatory observation regarding Jonathan's first post.

In his fresh and candid first post (available here), Jonathan admitted that he is struggling with the issue of ethical vegetarianism. He thinks that the treatment of animals in factory farms is morally unjustifiable, and yet, he continues to support those practices financially by purchasing and eating meat and animal products. He clearly thinks that it is wrong to cause animals to suffer unnecessarily, but he appears to be somewhat ambivalent about killing animals (provided the killing is carried out humanely). I suspect that underlying his thinking here is a common rationalization that many of my students initially embrace. It goes something like this:
Yes, I agree that factory farming is morally unjustifiable and ought to be abolished. It truly is horrific and despicable to treat animals so badly. But the wrongness and vileness of factory farming does not show that eating meat is morally wrong, because it is theoretically possible to raise animals outdoors in idyllic settings, to give them wonderful, enjoyable, rich lives, and then after 6 months to a year of such blissful existence, to kill them entirely painlessly. Since it would not be wrong to eat the flesh of animals raised in that manner, eating meat is not morally wrong!
[As we shall see, this is a bad argument, and I am not attributing any such worked-out argument to Jonathan. It's just that I see hints of this argument lurking in the background of Jonathan's thoughts, as will become clearer in Problem #2 below.]

The above argument/rationalization is problematic in numerous respects, but I will focus on only two.

Problem #1

Let us temporarily assume for the sake of argument that it would be permissible to eat the flesh of an animal who was raised humanely and killed entirely painlessly. All that follows from that assumption is that it is morally permissible to eat some meat. It does not follow that it is permissible to eat all meat. And it certainly doesn't follow that it is permissible to eat meat that comes from animals who were forced to endure horribly inhumane factory farm conditions and who were then slaughtered inhumanely. The question is not: "Is there any conceivable set of circumstances in which it would be permissible to eat meat?" Rather, the question is: "Is it morally permissible to eat this meat—the meat you are about to purchase—which did come from an inhumanely raised and cruelly slaughtered animal?" Anyone who accepts the highly plausible and widely held principle that "Causing animals to suffer unnecessarily is morally wrong and ought not be supported" is committed to the wrongness of eating the flesh of animals who were raised in factory farms, because by purchasing these products one is financially supporting the unnecessary cruelty inherent in those farms. So, even if it were permissible to eat the flesh of humanely raised animals who were painlessly killed (as we have been assuming), the permissibility of eating such animals does not entail the permissibility of eating inhumanely raised animals. Over 95% of all animals raised for food in the U.S. are raised in cruel, inhumane factory farms. Rest assured that if you are purchasing meat from your favorite fast food restaurant, your favorite sit-down chain restaurant, or your local grocery store, you are purchasing the flesh of a tortured animal. So, if you think that it is wrong to contribute to unnecessary animal suffering and if you are purchasing your meat from any of these sources, what you are doing is morally wrong by your own lights, regardless of the theoretical possibility (but commercial impracticality) of raising animals in a humane way.

[Those who have doubts as to whether or not factory farming really is inhumane can view the graphic but accurate documentary "Meet Your Meat" here or here. Running time: 12 Minutes. If you do view the documentary, I suspect that you will agree that "raising," transporting and slaughtering animals in this way is, indeed, wrong and ought not be supported.]

Problem #2

The above rationalization acknowledges the wrongness of contributing to unnecessary suffering, but tries to find a way around the argument for ethical vegetarianism by considering the merely theoretical possibility of humanely raised animals. However, the above rationalization does not directly address the issue of contributing to the unnecessary killing of a conscious sentient being. Of course, when hamburgers aren't at stake, most of us think that it would be morally wrong to kill an animal for no good reason. Even hunters try to justify their killing of animals with reasons, e.g., "If we don't cull the deer herd, there will be massive starvation of deer come winter, so we are doing the deer a favor by providing them a quick death (assuming accurate shooting, which one really shouldn't assume!) rather than a slow death from starvation." [Compassion like that almost makes one think that we should start shooting the 1 billion humans on the brink of starvation to provide them quick and relatively painless deaths rather than slow protracted ones.] The point is that even hunters seem to think that they need a reason to justify killing these animals. You don't find many hunters who candidly and unapologetically say: "I hunt because I like to kill. I take great pleasure in shooting animals with high-powered rifles or better yet with high-powered crossbows so that I can watch them die a painful, agonizing death." Hunting wouldn't be the "noble," "manly" "sport" that it is, if these were the reasons for doing it. So, we are given the "cull the herd for its own good" defense, or the "cull the herd to prevent automobile accidents" defense, or the "I hunt to put food on my family's table" defense. The weakness of these "defenses" must await another occasion. What is relevant here is that even hunters think that killing animals for no good reason is wrong, and thus, they feel obligated to provide some sort of reason for why they kill the animals they do.

We have already seen that Jonathan thinks that it is wrong to cause animals to suffer unnecessarily. What does he think about killing animals? Like many of my students, he seems to be somewhat ambivalent as to whether or not it is permissible to kill animals, for he writes: "Currently, I do not believe that killing an animal is prima facie morally wrong."

Some readers might be unfamiliar with the notion of prima facie moral wrongness. What does it mean to say that an action is prima facie morally wrong? The expression 'prima facie morally wrong' literally translates as "on the face of it morally wrong." However, philosophers and ethicists use the expression in a more technical and more precise way. To say that an action is prima facie morally wrong is to say that that action is wrong unless there are overriding reasons that justify doing that action. Formally:
An action X is prima facie morally wrong just in case X is morally wrong in the absence of overriding reasons to the contrary that justify doing X.
So, e.g., to say that killing a conscious sentient animal is prima facie morally wrong is to say that it is morally wrong to kill a conscious sentient animal unless there is some overriding reason that justifies and warrants killing that animal. In simple terms, to say that an action is prima facie wrong is to say that the wrongness of that action can, in principle, be overridden by other weightier moral considerations. We can gain a deeper insight into the nature of prima facie moral wrongness by contrasting it with ultima facie moral wrongness:
An action X is ultima facie morally wrong just in case (i) X is prima facie morally wrong and (ii) there are no overriding justifying reasons for doing X.
So, e.g., if it is prima facie morally wrong to kill a conscious sentient animal, then, absent an overriding justifying reason for killing that animal, it is also ultima facie morally wrong to kill that animal. [Think of ultima facie wrongness as all-things-considered-wrongness.]

Jonathan admits that "the idea that the killing of animals is not necessary due to the availability of alternative, nutritious food sources, and therefore all suffering on the part of the animal killed is done merely for preference in taste" is "a very powerful moral argument that is compelling to anyone who gives animals moral consideration." The reason it is such a powerful moral argument is because if there is no good reason to kill animals, then the prima facie moral wrongness of killing animals entails the ultima facie moral wrongness of killing animals. Moreover, if it is ultima facie morally wrong to kill animals for food when plant-based foods are readily available, then the above rationalization that only addresses the wrongness of supporting unnecessary suffering collapses.

I think Jonathan is sensitive to this very point because, as I noted above, he claims: "Currently, I do not believe that killing an animal is prima facie morally wrong." The clarificatory point that I wish to make concerning Jonathan's post is this: I think that Jonathan does believe that killing an animal is prima facie morally wrong. Why? Because, after claiming that he thinks that killing an animal is not prima facie morally wrong, he goes on to claim: "I simply believe that when animals are killed it ought to be for a good purpose, and in a manner that is respectful to their capacity to suffer" (emphasis mine). But this latter claim just is to admit that killing animals is prima facie morally wrong, for it just is to admit that killing conscious sentient animals in the absence of an overriding good reason for doing so is morally wrong, and that is just what it means for an action to be prima facie morally wrong.

Now apply these insights to the above rationalization. Even if we could raise animals outdoors in idyllic settings and give them wonderful, enjoyable, rich lives, in order to eat them, we would still have to kill them. Now, if killing animals is prima facie morally wrong—as Jonathan and even most hunters seem to admit—then if there is no good reason for killing these animals for food, then it is ultima facie morally wrong to kill them for food. Of course, the prima facie status of the moral wrongness of killing animals cuts both ways, because if killing these animals is necessary for some important overriding human benefit that can't be achieved in any other way, then the killing might be justified, after all. So, the central issue is this: Is there a good reason for us to kill animals for food? Is it necessary for us to kill animals for food? Or are we killing animals unnecessarily when we kill them for food?

To answer these questions, we need to reflect on what "necessary" means in the present context. To say that something is "necessary" is to say that it is something that cannot be done without. According to Webster's Third New International Dictionary, something "necessary" is something that is "absolutely required: essential, indispensable." Things that are necessary for our survival are absolutely required for our survival; they are essential NEEDS, as opposed to mere WANTS or DESIRES. Here are some things that are necessary/absolutely required for our survival: Water, oxygen, and food. Meat, however, is not absolutely required for our survival. When plant-based foods are available, meat is not needed for our survival at all. How can I be so sure? Simple. If eating meat were essential for our survival, then the hundreds of millions of vegetarians worldwide would have long since died out, but they haven't. They are alive and well.

Is eating meat necessary for optimal health? No, quite the opposite in fact. Numerous epidemiological studies have demonstrated that vegetarians, and especially vegans, have far lower rates of heart disease, cancer, stroke, hypertension, and diabetes compared to meat-eaters. For example, the famous Framingham heart study has been tracking the daily living and eating habits of thousands of residents of Framingham, Massachusetts since 1948. Dr. William Castelli, director of the study for the last 20 years, maintains that based on his research the most heart healthy diet is a pure vegetarian diet. Perhaps vegetarians suffer from other illnesses or die of other diseases earlier than their meat-eating counterparts. Not according to Dr. Castelli: “The vegetarian societies of the world have the best diet. Within our own country, they outlive the rest of us by at least seven years, and they have only 10 or 15 percent of our heart attack rate.” Castelli adds: “Vegetarians not only outlive the rest of us, they also aren’t prey to other degenerative diseases, such as diabetes, strokes, etc., that slow us down and make us chronically ill.” Dr. Dean Ornish has also documented the heart-protective effects of plant-based diets, as has Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn of the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. T. Colin Campbell of Cornell University is the director of the Cornell/Oxford/China Study, the largest epidemiological study ever conducted. The data collected in this study has led Campbell to conclude that 80-90% of all cancers can be controlled or prevented by a lowfat (10-15% fat) vegetarian diet. For more information regarding the health benefits of plant-based diets, check out the American Dietetic Association's Position Paper on Vegetarian Diets here.

An enormous body of scientific research confirms that meat consumption is not necessary for optimal health nor is it necessary for promoting longevity. Perhaps eating meat is "necessary" in some weaker sense in that it is not necessary to satisfy any of our needs but rather is necessary to satisfy one of our stronger wants: Taste. Most people know that Big Macs and Whoppers aren't good for them. People eat high cholesterol, saturated-fat-laden bacon cheeseburgers because they like the taste. The questions we honestly have to ask ourselves are these: Does our experiencing a pleasant, but fleeting taste sensation justify causing an animal an entire lifetime of painful sensations and horrible suffering? Does our experiencing a pleasant, but fleeting taste sensation justify dramatically cutting short the only life that that animal has? Not if one can derive equally enjoyable (or nearly as enjoyable) taste sensations from plant-based foods. Why not? Because if one can derive similar enjoyment from eating plant-based foods, then all of the suffering and the premature death inflicted upon the animal is gratuitous. It serves no purpose whatsoever, not even the purpose of taste. As I have noted elsewhere, with minimal effort, people can learn to cook delicious vegetarian meals. If there is any reason to kill animals for food that overrides the prima facie wrongness of killing animals, we have yet to have been told what that reason is. Absent such a reason, killing animals for food is ultima facie morally wrong. That's one more reason to forego the Christmas Turkey or Ham this year.

The Bottom Line:

Eating animals is not necessary for survival, it is not necessary for optimal health, it is not necessary for being a world class athlete, it is not necessary for being a super model, it is not necessary for reaching one's highest level of mental development [see my post on Vegetarianism and IQ here], it is not necessary for increased longevity, and it is not necessary in order to experience the pleasures of tasty meals. There simply is no good reason to kill animals for food when plant-based foods are available. That fact, coupled with the prima facie moral wrongness of killing animals for food, entails the ultima facie moral wrongness of killing animals for food. This conclusion is not derived from some esoteric, highly contentious moral theory that one can easily reject. It derives from the extremely modest, widely shared principle that it is wrong to kill animals for no good reason. Anyone who embraces this modest principle is committed to the all-things-considered wrongness of killing animals for food (at least whenever plant-based foods are available, which in modern societies is practically always).

Wishing you a Happy, Healthy, Humane Holiday!

20 December 2006

Welcome Aboard!

Welcome aboard, Jonathan! I'm looking forward to reading your posts. Best,

From the Mailbag

Like the site—you might like to see my post on Cairo zoo.

mary beard

19 December 2006

From the Mailbag


We are an animal welfare group working for animals in India—www.hopeandanimal.org we have tie up with a US based company for fund raising—If you buy pet products from www.petmedusa.net 10% of sale proceeds are donated to our organisation—Pls Bid and buy the product.

with regards,
Praveen Ohal

18 December 2006

Introducing Myself

Hi there, I'm Jonathan. First of all, I would like to thank Keith for inviting me to be a part of this blog. I think it is an honor to be offered the opportunity to post on here with him and Mylan. Keith has not only been my favorite Philosophy professor that I have studied under during the course of my college experience, but my favorite professor in general. I admire him both for his patient and clear way of conveying material, and for the humble manner in which he equates himself to God.

I was a Biology major for two and a half years before I finally got the courage to take the plunge and switch to Philosophy, though I had been taking Philosophy courses since my first semester. I had a strong interest in science because of its reliance on reason and skepticism, which struck me as very good tools for truth seeking (which is ultimately what I am interested in). When I came across Philosophy, I immediately saw that it was the tree from which the branch of science had grown. Philosophy struck me as a very powerful force, and seemed as if it was where the "real" truth seekers were. I knew fairly quickly that Philosophy was what I really wanted to study, but it took me some time to make the switch because I needed to ensure that I would be okay with the consequences of jumping in. I eventually decided that I was okay with potentially going insane, and that being poor is not necessarily a vice. So, I took the plunge.

Currently, I am very interested in social and political philosophy and ethical issues. I felt a strong sense of connection to the ideas of Peter Singer while taking Ethics from Keith. My personal perspective regarding Animal Ethics is not fully formed, which is one of the reasons why Keith and I felt it would be a good idea for me to post on here. We think it will be interesting to see how my perspective shifts as I meander through new data and material in regards to this subject.

I have always felt a sense of connection to animals since as far back as I can remember, and the current manner in which they are treated in factory farms disturbs me. I find animals to be valuable for a number of reasons, one of which is for their aesthetic value. There are some personal anecdotes I plan on sharing on this site that range from my most recent experience of getting trapped on a hunting trip with my relatives, to an early memory I have of experiencing empathy for the first time with my dog Tabatha.

Currently, I do not believe that killing an animal is prima facie morally wrong. I simply believe that when animals are killed it ought to be for a good purpose, and in a manner that is respectful to their capacity to suffer. I do not believe that the current factory farm system in place lives up to both of those standards. Also, I am not a vegetarian, though I attempted to be one last year (an experience I plan on posting about). I believe it will be interesting to see if these characteristics about me change, and how they change, in exploring Animal Rights issues more. I can sense that one of the arguments I will be coming into contact with soon that will challenge me is the idea that the killing of animals is not necessary due to the availability of alternative, nutritious food sources, and therefore all suffering on the part of the animal killed is done merely for preference in taste. I think this is a very powerful moral argument that is compelling to anyone who gives animals moral consideration. Aside from moral issues, I have also been learning more about how vegetarian diets are actually much healthier for humans in many ways—which I find very encouraging.

Anyway, there are lots of different angles out there on this issue, and I respect and care about animals enough to explore all of them with sincerity.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Plan for Tracking Animals Meets Farmers’ Resistance” (news article, Dec. 13):

I live in rural Pennsylvania. I have one older riding horse and occasionally some laying hens. All these would have to be tagged if the National Animal Identification System becomes mandatory, and for no purpose, because none of my animals will be sold overseas for food.

And I would have to make a report to the United States Department of Agriculture any time a hen gets out and runs onto the neighbor’s property, or pay a $1,000 fine. This program will create havoc on America’s small farms.

I buy pasture-raised meat, milk and eggs from local farmers who I know personally, because the animals are healthier than industrially raised animals, and I find that the quality is better.

I expect that the industry groups would like to put my farmer friends out of business with the costs and hassles of tagging their animals, to eliminate competition.

I hope everyone who prefers local and pasture-raised animals will speak up and protect the source of their food and health.

Marjorie Smith
Shoemakersville, Pa., Dec. 13, 2006

16 December 2006

Introducing Jonathan Hubbell

This blog has a new member: my former (and perhaps future) student Jonathan Hubbell. Jonathan is a philosophy major at the University of Texas at Arlington, where I have been a professor since the fall of 1989. Like many people (including me), he fell in love with the discipline almost as soon as he discovered it. Love, of course, isn’t sufficient for being a philosopher (it may not even be necessary), but Jonathan has a genuine aptitude for philosophy. He received the highest score in both my fall 2005 Social and Political Philosophy course and my spring 2006 Ethics course. I believe Jonathan’s plan was to become a medical doctor. If I’m not mistaken, he now wants to become a professor of philosophy, like Mylan and me. But I’ll let Jonathan tell you about how he got where he is and what he plans to do with himself.

You may think it odd that I would invite a student to blog here, but actually I think it will be exciting. Jonathan is just now struggling with some of the things—philosophical and personal—that Mylan and I worked out long ago. I’m not suggesting that Mylan and I won’t change our views or values, but it’s probably less likely that we will than that someone as young as Jonathan will. Jonathan can post on anything he wants. He can put up informational items, as I often do; he can argue; he can write book reviews; he can criticize arguments; he can comment on public affairs. He can even write about personal things, such as his attempt to become a vegetarian. Maybe he’ll share some recipes! I have asked him to describe himself (and his background) in his first post. Stay tuned.

Addendum: I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will. Mylan, Jonathan, and I are different persons. Our views and values overlap to some extent, if only because we share a culture, but they don’t overlap entirely. For example, I’m a conservative, politically speaking. I’m pretty sure neither Mylan nor Jonathan is a conservative. Mylan and I are atheists. I don’t know about Jonathan. I’m a dog person. Mylan is a cat person. I don’t know about Jonathan; maybe he’s a horse person. I like heavy-metal music. Mylan probably likes Lawrence Welk. (Just kidding, Mylan.) The point is, you should not assume that I share Mylan’s or Jonathan’s views, values, beliefs, tastes, preferences, interests, or anything else. I may or may not. It would be a boring blog if we agreed on everything, wouldn’t it? Indeed, if two people agreed on literally everything, one of them would be . . . superfluous.

15 December 2006

Vegetarianism and IQ

According to this study published today in the British Journal of Medicine, "Higher IQ at age 10 years was associated with an increased likelihood of being vegetarian at age 30." The study gathered data from 8,170 men and women 30 years of age who are ongoing participants in the 1970 British cohort study. The study also found that: "IQ remained a statistically significant predictor of being vegetarian as an adult after adjustment for social class (both in childhood and currently), academic or vocational qualifications, and sex."

The study itself doesn't explain why individuals with higher IQs are more likely to be vegetarians as adults, but Catharine L. Gale, the study's lead author, cites as a possible explanation the general tendency among brighter children to behave in a healthier fashion as adults. As Gale notes in this HealthDay report, brighter children are less likely to smoke, be overweight, or have high blood pressure and more likely to exercise strenuously. Gale thinks that her study "provides further evidence that people with a higher IQ tend to have a healthier lifestyle."

Gale's proposed explanation seems quite plausible. People with higher IQs are presumably much more likely than people with lower IQs to possess accurate information as to which behaviors promote health and which behaviors promote disease. So, even if we were simply to hold constant across IQs both the desire to be healthy and the willingness to take the steps required to be healthy, those with accurate beliefs about what behaviors are health-promoting will be more likely to engage in those behaviors compared with those who have false beliefs about what sorts of behaviors are health-promoting.

But it is also quite plausible that Gale has overlooked an important part of the explanation. Individuals with higher IQs are generally much better reasoners than individuals with lower IQs. As such, they are likely to be better moral reasoners, as well, both in their ability to identify moral reasons and in their ability to appreciate these reasons. Plus, they are more likely to be able to recognize inconsistencies in their beliefs and in their practices. If they are like most people, they believe that a world with less unnecessary suffering is intrinsically better than a world with more unnecessary suffering. Given that belief, they no doubt also believe that it is wrong to knowingly contribute to unnecessary suffering. If they are at all informed about modern animal agricultural practices, they know that raising animals intensively in factory farms greatly increases the amount of animal suffering in the world. Given their knowledge of nutrition already hinted at in Gale's reasoning above, they realize that no one needs to eat animals or animal products in order to be healthy. Quite the opposite, in fact, plant-based diets are among the most heart-healthy, cancer preventative diets one can consume. Consequently, they realize that all of the suffering and frustration that animals are subjected to in factory farms is entirely unnecessary. It serves no significant human interest whatsoever. Anyone who thinks that it is wrong to contribute to unnecessary suffering and who realizes that eating meat is entirely unnecessary has a moral reason to refrain from eating animals and animal products. I suspect that many of the vegetarians in Gale's study base their vegetarianism on just such moral reasons. If we want a complete explanation for why children with higher IQs are more likely than children with lower IQs to be vegetarians as adults, I think we must look to moral reasons in addition to self-interested health-based reasons.

From the Mailbag

Hi there,

I've enjoyed reading your blog and appreciate the articles you've posted and the thoughts you've provoked in your readers. I just wanted to introduce myself, as I thought you might be interested in knowing about my organization, Compassionate Cooks, and perhaps add us to your Links list. The mission of Compassionate Cooks is to empower people to make informed food choices and to debunk myths about veganism. I do this through the vegan cooking classes I teach and the articles and essays I write. (I am a columnist for VegNews Magazine, a contributing writer for Satya, a contributor to KQED radio, and a contributor to Common Dreams and Alternet [see here, just published today].) I produce a popular podcast called Vegetarian Food for Thought, and I made a cooking DVD called Vegetarian Cooking with Compassionate Cooks. Anyway, just thought you could add us to your wonderful site.

I look forward to continuing to read your blog.

All the very best

13 December 2006


Here is a New York Times story about the tracking and containment of livestock disease.

12 December 2006


The New York Times does one thing well. It keeps its readers abreast of goings-on in the animal kingdom. Here is a story about the plight of the turtle.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Ebola Imperils Gorilla Species in Congo Republic” (news article, Dec. 8):

Increasingly, we are observing that our efforts to reach sustainable balances for wildlife populations are being confounded by the spread of infectious disease. Historically, these diseases have been studied only when they affect human populations or domestic animals.

In 2003, I was in the sanctuary described in your article and collected samples from those dead animals.

Whether it is the Ebola virus in gorillas, the H5N1 avian influenza virus in birds or SARS, we are understanding that the implications of infectious disease for wildlife and humans are becoming one and the same.

As we continue to exert pressure on wildlife and wild lands, health issues are hitting us from a number of angles and reminding us that while animal health and human health are separated because of academic tradition, there is really only one world and only one health.

William B. Karesh
Bronx, Dec. 8, 2006
The writer is director of the Field Veterinary Program, Wildlife Conservation Society.

11 December 2006

Food Safety

Here is a New York Times op-ed column about the safety of the food supply.

10 December 2006

Barking Squirrels

Kansans are fighting over prairie dogs—or what Lewis and Clark quaintly called "barking squirrels." See here.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

I wish that I could better understand the recent trend of anthropomorphizing dogs. Is this a reflection of our society?

Our dogs have a better standard of living than millions of people in other parts of the world. I had two dogs growing up, and I remember their being thrilled with a dirty old tennis ball or a dip in the somewhat murky town pond.

While I do understand the need for companionship, especially in New York, this dog obsession has gone too far. Have we isolated ourselves so much that we need dogs to start a conversation or meet people? Do we feel better about ourselves when playing dress-up with our dogs?

It seems as if we are humanizing dogs in a perverse effort to make us feel more human ourselves.

Loretta O’Driscoll
Brooklyn, Dec. 7, 2006

09 December 2006


Here is a New York Times story about poaching, which is a matter of illegality rather than immorality, but I thought it would be of interest to this blog's readers.

06 December 2006

From the Mailbag

Hi Keith and Mylan,

A new think tank has been set up in Britain dealing entirely with animal ethics issues. The website is here. And a newspaper article about it is here. Neither of you seem to be affiliated with this group. Perhaps you should get into contact with them as you both seem to fit the bill.

Yours Sincerely
Peter Wilkinson

04 December 2006

Organic Food

Here is a New York Times editorial opinion about organic fish. The Times argues that the concept of organic food does not apply to wild animals. It is designed to distinguish between two types of farming. Note that this debate is independent of the debate about the moral permissibility of eating fish. If organically raised fish suffer less than nonorganically raised fish, it is an accident, morally speaking. I'm not saying that there is no correlation between an animal being organically raised and it being treated in a morally permissible way; I'm saying that any such correlation is contingent rather than necessary. It's possible, in other words, that some organic methods inflict greater pain on the animals than nonorganic methods. So it would be fallacious to reason as follows: "The flesh I'm eating was organically produced; therefore, it is morally permissible to eat it."

02 December 2006

The True Costs of the Rhetoric of Terror Continue to Mount – Part 1

With surprisingly little fanfare, President George W. Bush signed the “Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act” into law this past Monday (November 27, 2006). The law protects animal enterprises from courses of conduct designed to disrupt their normal profitable functioning.

The new law is chilling both in its scope and in its narrowness. It is chilling in its narrowness, because it targets a single group of political activists, namely, animal rights activists. It makes certain conduct criminal if engaged in by animal rights activists, but not criminal when engaged in by other activists, say, by anti-abortion activists. It is chilling in its scope because it now expands the the definition of ‘animal enterprise terrorism’ to include acts that result in neither fear nor economic damages nor bodily injury. What is even more disturbing is that the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act permits owners and operators of animal enterprises to engage in the very same conduct it forbids animal activists to engage in. In Part 2, I will discuss and defend these claims, but here in Part 1, I want examine the real motivation for the Act, as well as the rhetoric that allowed such chilling legislation to sail through both houses of Congress.

A brief look at the history of how this Act came to be law will unveil the actual motivation for the law. On November 4, 2005, Rep. Thomas Petri (R-WI) introduced House Bill H.R.4239, dubbed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. There were 44 co-sponsors of the bill (33 Republican co-sponsors and 11 Democratic co-sponsors). The list of co-sponsors is available here. On November 13, the House of Representatives passed H.R.4239 by voice vote.

On September 30, 2006, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) introduced Senate Bill S. 3880, an only slightly more moderate version of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. The Senate Bill S. 3880 was co-sponsored by 10 senators (9 Republicans and 1 Democrat). The list of co-sponsors is available here. On September 30, 2006, the Senate passed S. 3880 by unanimous consent. [See the Office of Legislative Policy and Analysis here for details.] The Senate version of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act is the version that President Bush signed into law Monday, November 27, 2006.

There is one striking, but revealing, difference between the original H.R.4239 and the more moderate S. 3880 (the latter of which became law), and that striking difference reveals the true motivation for the law.

The “Penalties” section of the original House bill H.R.4239 counted, as an act of terrorism:

an offense involving exclusively a non-violent physical obstruction of an animal enterprise or a business having a connection to, or relationship with, an animal enterprise, that may result in loss of profits but does not result in bodily injury or death or property damage or loss (my emphasis).
This clause was entirely stricken from the version of the Act that was eventually signed into law, but it uncovers the real motivation behind the Act. The Act wasn’t instituted to protect Americans from the dreaded terrorist threat posed by rabid animal activists, it was designed to protect the profits of those individuals and corporations that profit from the exploitation and abuse of animals. That is why 75% of the co-sponsors of the House Bill and 90% of the co-sponsors of the Senate Bill were Republicans. Make no mistake about it. These Congresspersons didn’t enact this legislation to make you safer. They enacted it to make animal abusers and the corporations that profit from that animal abuse richer.

Restricting the rights of citizens to freely protest against practices that they sincerely believe to be unjust or immoral just to protect the profits of people engaged in those very practices would normally not be taken lightly in a country that values free speech and the open exchange of ideas; but couch it in the rhetoric of terror, and people will mindlessly submit to the rights-restrictions like lemmings being led off a cliff.

We have the Bush administration to thank for that. The Bush administration has deftly escalated the rhetoric of terror to such a fevored pitch that virtually any unwanted conduct can now be dubbed an act of “terror”. You don’t think so. Look again at the clause in H.R.4239 that was finally removed from the Senate version of the Act. How could anyone think that an exclusively nonviolent act of physical obstruction is an act of terrorism? How could anyone think that an exclusively nonviolent act of physical obstruction that does not result in bodily injury or death or property damage or loss is an act of terrorism? Think of the absurdity and semantic impropriety of calling such acts “acts of terrorism.” And then realize this: On November 13, 2006, the lame duck House of Representatives passed H.R.4239 by a voice vote under suspension of the rules, a procedure usually reserved for non-controversial legislation. That’s right. The House of Representatives passed the version of the bill containing the language that defines an exclusively nonviolent act of physical obstruction that does not result in bodily injury or death or property damage or loss as an act of terrorism. As I said above, the politics and rhetoric of the “war on terror” allow virtually any unwanted conduct to be deemed an act of terror, even exclusively nonviolent acts of physical obstruction that don’t result in bodily injury or death or property damage or loss.

One of the biggest travesties and biggest costs of the “war on terror” and the rhetoric that surrounds it is the stifling effect it has on dialogue and the open discussion of ideas between competing factions. If one’s opponents are “terrorists,” not only can they not be reasoned with, they aren’t worthy of the courtesy. As Eric Olive rightly notes here: “[The word] ‘Terrorist’ may be the most dangerous word in the English language, because it vilifies the opposition.”

The word ‘extremist’ runs a close second. ‘Extremist’ connotes a fanatical whacko incapable of being reasoned with. If one’s opponent is irrational, it's pointless to try to engage her in a rational dialogue. That conveniently frees one from the burden of finding out whether the opposition has any legitimate concerns. Their concerns can’t be legitimate if they are “fanatical extremist terrorist whackos.” The politics of name-calling and vilification writ large.

The rhetoric of terror has been used to “justify” the wire-tapping of America citizens' phone calls without probable cause. The rhetoric of terror has been used to “justify” human rights abuses in Guantanamo. And, now, with the successful passage of Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, the rhetoric of terror has been used to restrict the rights of animal rights activists simply to protect the profits of those industries and people who profit from the torture of animals.

The bottom line: It's time that all Americans start to question the politics and rhetoric of terror. Cherished rights are being stripped away in the name of protection from terrorism. When the rights of the few are violated, everyone should be alarmed. Using the rhetoric of terror to take away the rights of those one opposes is the first step down that slippery slope to having one's own rights stripped away.

More to follow.

01 December 2006


Are hunters a vanishing breed? If so, is that a good thing? See here.

Addendum: "Nimrod" is both a name and (without capitalization) a noun. Why do you suppose the latter is pejorative?

Canine Companions

Here is a column about man's (and woman's) best friend.


This blog had 2,325 visitors during November, which is an average of 77.5 visitors per day—which projects to 28,287.5 visitors per year. That is by far the most visitors during any month of the blog's three-year existence. The previous best month (March 2006) had 1,730 visitors (55.8 per day). I attribute the increased interest to Mylan Engel's presence. His posts—the first of which appeared on 15 October—are well-argued, well-written, interesting, and topical. I'm delighted to have him aboard. I hope you come back on a regular basis to see what's been posted, and, if you can, please spread the word. Links are appreciated. In my view, the moral status of nonhuman animals is one of the most important issues that any of us will confront, and it confronts all of us.