30 May 2008


Here is a New York Times editorial opinion about the removal of the gray wolf (Canis lupus) from the endangered-species list. The editorial board of the Times is intellectually dishonest, so please don't let this be your only source of information about the delisting. Here, for example, is a news release from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Here are questions and answers. Here is the management plan of Idaho's Fish and Game Commission.

29 May 2008

Leonard Nelson (1882-1927) on Animal Rights

If we apply the criterion of duty, the question of whether animals have rights can be readily answered: we have merely to ask whether, in considering an action affecting an animal, we could assent to such an action after abstracting from numerical determination. In other words, we have to ask whether we would consent to be used as mere means by another being far superior to us in strength and intelligence. This question answers itself. The fact that man has other beings in his power, and that he is in a position to use them as means to his own ends, is purely fortuitous.

(Leonard Nelson, System of Ethics, trans. Norbert Guterman [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1956], 141 [first published in German in 1932])

28 May 2008

Using Animals as Mere Means to Human Ends

How many of you think this experiment is justified? If you think it's justified, would it be justified if the experimental subjects were orphaned children?

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Biotech Company to Auction Chances to Clone a Dog” (news article, May 21):

Cloning animals to “replace” treasured companions is a boondoggle. These beloved animals’ personalities and charming quirks cannot be so easily reproduced. And when one considers that millions of dogs and cats are killed each year in shelters because there are no homes for them, cloning becomes unethical as well.

Kathy Guillermo
Laboratory Investigations Department
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Norfolk, Va., May 21, 2008

27 May 2008

Hampton L. Carson (1852-1929) on the Punishment of Animals

In the open square of the old Norman city of Falaise, in the year 1386, a vast and motley crowd had gathered to witness the execution of a criminal convicted of the crime of murder. Noblemen in armour, proud dames in velvet and feathers, priests in cassock and cowl, falconers with hawks upon their wrists, huntsmen with hounds in leash, aged men with their staves, withered hags with their baskets or reticules, children of all ages and even babes in arms were among the spectators. The prisoner was dressed in a new suit of man's clothes, and was attended by armed men on horseback, while the hangman before mounting the scaffold had provided himself with new gloves and a new rope. As the prisoner had caused the death of a child by mutilating the face and arms to such an extent as to cause a fatal hemorrhage, the town tribunal, or local court, had decreed that the head and legs of the prisoner should be mangled with a knife before the hanging. This was a mediƦval application of the lex talionis, or "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." To impress a recollection of the scene upon the memories of the bystanders an artist was employed to paint a frescoe on the west wall of the transept of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Falaise, and for more than four hundred years that picture could be seen and studied until destroyed in 1820 by the carelessness of a white washer. The criminal was not a human being, but a sow, which had indulged in the evil propensity of eating infants on the street.

(Hampton L. Carson, "The Trial of Animals and Insects: A Little Known Chapter of MediƦval Jurisprudence," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 56 [1917]: 410-5, at 410)

25 May 2008

John Passmore (1914-2004) on the Moral Status of Animals

One restriction on the absolutism of man's rule over Nature is now generally accepted: moral philosophers and public opinion agree that it is morally impermissible to be cruel to animals. And by this they mean not only that it is wrong to enjoy torturing animals—which few moralists would ever have wished explicitly to deny, however little emphasis they might have placed on cruelty to animals in their moral teaching—but that it is wrong to cause them to suffer unnecessarily. "The Puritan," Macaulay once wrote with condemnatory intent, "hated bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators." In other words, what they hated—and by no means perversely—was the enjoyment of animal suffering; to the mere fact that the bears suffered as a consequence of human action they were indifferent. That, on the whole, is the Christian tradition. But now the situation has changed; not only cruelty—the enjoyment of animal suffering—but callousness, indifference to animal suffering, not taking it into account in deciding how one ought to act, is morally condemned.

Controversies no doubt remain. But they now turn around the question what is to count as "making animals suffer unnecessarily," whether, for example, vivisection or fox-hunting are, in these terms, morally justifiable. By looking in some detail at the way in which the general moral principle that it is wrong to act callously has gradually won acceptance, we can hope to see revealed, first, how reluctantly Western man has accepted any restriction whatsoever on his supposed right to deal as he pleases with Nature and, secondly, how changes in his moral outlook have nevertheless come about.

(John Passmore, "The Treatment of Animals," Journal of the History of Ideas 36 [April-June 1975]: 195-218, at 195 [italics in original; footnotes omitted])

23 May 2008

From Yesterday's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “A Disgraceful Farm Bill” (editorial, May 16):

While the farm bill recently approved by Congress deals with enormous agricultural policy issues, it also includes three important provisions to protect animal welfare.

Because the Agriculture Department enforces the Animal Welfare Act, this authorizing bill deals with a broad range of subjects regarding the humane treatment of animals.

The bill contains sweeping new penalties against animal fighting, included after the Michael Vick case revealed the pervasiveness of this crime.

The bill also bans the importation of puppies from foreign puppy mills, and increases penalties for violations of the Animal Welfare Act from $2,500 to $10,000. Enforcement has been inconsistent at best. These new penalties would give the law some much needed teeth.

The Humane Society of the United States and other animal protection organizations support the farm bill because of these achievements for animals. We hope Congress will vote to override the president’s veto.

Wayne Pacelle
President and Chief Executive
The Humane Society of the United States
Washington, May 21, 2008

21 May 2008

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) on the Fallacious Appeal to Nature

Of the many dense prejudices through which, as through a snow-drift, Vegetarianism has to plough its way before it can emerge into the field of free discussion, there is none perhaps more inveterate than the common appeal to "Nature." A typical instance of the remarkable misuse of logic which characterises such argument may be seen in the anecdote related by Benjamin Franklin, in his Autobiography, of the incident which induced him to return, after years of abstinence, to a flesh diet. He was watching some companions sea fishing, and observing that some of the fish caught by them had swallowed other fish, he concluded that, "If you eat one another, I don't see why we may not eat you"—a confusion of ichthyology and morals which is ludicrous enough as narrated by Franklin, but not essentially more foolish than the attempt so frequently made by flesh-eaters to shuffle their personal responsibility on to some supposed "natural law."

(Henry S. Salt, The Logic of Vegetarianism: Essays and Dialogues [London: The Ideal Publishing Union, 1899], 36)

Note from KBJ: Here is Franklin:
I believe I have omitted mentioning that, in my first voyage from Boston, being becalm'd off Block Island, our people set about catching cod, and hauled up a great many. Hitherto I had stuck to my resolution of not eating animal food, and on this occasion consider'd, with my master Tryon, the taking every fish as a kind of unprovoked murder, since none of them had, or ever could do us any injury that might justify the slaughter. All this seemed very reasonable. But I had formerly been a great lover of fish, and, when this came hot out of the frying-pan, it smelt admirably well. I balanc'd some time between principle and inclination, till I recollected that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs; then thought I, "If you eat one another, I don't see why we mayn't eat you." So I din'd upon cod very heartily, and continued to eat with other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet. So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.
Never underestimate the human capacity for rationalization!

20 May 2008

Animal Rights

A few years ago, philosopher David Oderberg published an essay entitled "The Illusion of Animal Rights" in The Human Life Review. A few months ago, having belatedly discovered Oderberg's essay, I wrote a critique entitled "Oderberg on Animal Rights," which I duly submitted to The Human Life Review for publication. The editor rejected it, which means Oderberg gets the last word as well as the first. It's unlikely that any other periodical would publish my essay, since it's a critique rather than a stand-alone essay, so I decided to "publish" it here. Enjoy!

19 May 2008

Global Warmism

Al Gore will dismiss these scientists as ideologues. In doing so, he will prove that he is the ideologue. Ideology is imperviousness to countervailing evidence.

18 May 2008

Levi and Bandit

Levi Leipheimer is one of the world's top cyclists. Here he is with his rescued companion Bandit. Here is a story about Levi on the web page of Helping Animals. Here is an interview with Levi.

14 May 2008

R. G. Frey on Animal Rights

The question of whether animals possess rights is once again topical, largely as a result of the recent surge of interest in animal welfare and in the moral pros and cons of eating animals and using them in scientific research. If animals do have rights, then the case for eating and experimenting upon them, especially when other alternatives are available, is going to have to be that much stronger; and those who engage in and support these practices are going to be increasingly beleaguered. Animal rights may not give vegetarians and animal liberationists all that they want, but the existence of such rights would unquestionably strengthen the cases of both camps. Arguments to show that animals do have rights, therefore, are at a premium.

(R. G. Frey, "Animal Rights," Analysis 37 [June 1977]: 186-9, at 186 [italics in original; footnotes omitted])

11 May 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “On the Ground, Counting Deer” (New Jersey and the Region, May 4) and the efforts of Essex County officials to justify the deer hunt in South Mountain Reservation:

When I moved to New Jersey from New York City 13 years ago, I was enchanted to encounter deer in a forest two blocks from my house in South Orange (which abuts the reservation).

People who move out here from the city generally feel the same way. It tends to be the Jersey natives who drive too fast and refuse to build fences in their backyards who view wildlife as the enemy.

You report that Susan Predl, a senior biologist with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, uses “distance sampling” to count the deer that managed to survive the recent county-organized, taxpayer-financed slaughter.

You also note that “counting deer is an imprecise science” and that an aerial survey is expensive, “but some believe it yields the most accurate count.” Grid searches are the best, although that would require patience and commitment, which seem in short supply in Essex County.

The article’s observations regarding “rutted roads” and “long-neglected picnic groves and campgrounds” more accurately describe the pitiful condition of the reservation. The lack of maintenance and patrol is staggering under the stewardship of Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr., the county executive. The fault does not lie with the deer.

Kelly Bishop
South Orange, N.J., May 5, 2008

09 May 2008

From the Mailbag


Here is a photo of a little guy we found across the street. It was chewing on the remains of a little bird that had fallen out of its nest. It was right on the curb and I was concerned about it getting run over. My son and I put it in a box and took it to a ditch area behind our house. Usually possums this small are with their mothers. This little guy appeared weak and the wound on its head is very apparent. The heart in me wanted to take him in and get him up to strength. What to do? During this season, a lot of little birds will be falling from the trees. There is really nothing you can do for them. A young bird, yet to reach flight, is extremely vulnerable to pet cats and dogs. Feeding and caging them from your own pet, is impossible. Birds, possums, same problem.

I regret that I didn't leave that little fellow with some dog food or a can of tuna. However, my son and I did remove him from the dangers of man (cars). We took positive action. We did leave him in nature in a more secure location than when we found him. Nature has already been cruel.

We did our part. There is a philosophical lesson here somewhere.


08 May 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Another Horse-Racing Horror” (editorial, May 6):

Thank you for adding your voice to the many who are demanding that the welfare of racehorses should come before profits. But let us also give thought to the thousands of horses that are bred every year for racing and don’t make the cut or outlive their usefulness to the investors and owners.

Most wind up auctioned off for a few dollars each and sent to the foreign slaughterhouses to be made into pet food or dinner for someone overseas. Even the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand ended up in a Japanese slaughterhouse because he wasn’t proving his monetary value as a stud.

It’s not just the injured horses that suffer. It’s the thousands of faceless colts and fillies we never see that suffer from this so-called sport.

Jane Shakman
Ossining, N.Y., May 6, 2008

From the Mailbag


Here is an online ethics and animals class I developed for the Humane Society of the United States. Perhaps its content would be useful for your readers.

Nathan Nobis, Ph.D.

07 May 2008

Farm Sanctuary

Let's take a roll in the hay.

Babies and Animals, Part 2

Seven months after R. G. Frey's essay was published, philosophers Dale Jamieson and Tom Regan replied to it. (Dale Jamieson and Tom Regan, "Animal Rights: A Reply to Frey," Analysis 38 [January 1978]: 32-6.) They make the following points:
1. Nobody makes the argument Frey criticizes. It is certainly not an "important argument," as Frey claims.

2. Frey claims that there are only three grounds for premise 2 of the argument: potentiality, similarity, and immortality. None of these grounds, he says, applies to animals. Jamieson and Regan reply that some animals are potentially rational. If so, then it is not the case, as Frey claims, that every ground for affirming premise 2 renders premise 1 false. At least one ground for affirming premise 2 renders premise 1 true.

3. The three grounds Frey supplies for premise 2 are not exhaustive. There is at least one other ground—namely, sentience—for the proposition that babies have rights. Unfortunately for Frey, this ground, unlike the three he supplies, does not preclude animals from having rights. Since both babies and animals are sentient, both have rights.
I think point 2 is shaky. Animals are not rational in any meaningful sense, and if they are not rational, then they are not potentially rational. Point 3 is a good reply, in my opinion. The right not to be made to suffer derives from (i) sentience and (ii) the intrinsic badness of pain. As for point 1, I don't see why it matters whether anyone has made the argument. It's an argument in favor of animal rights. Those who deny that animals have rights (e.g., Frey) must find fault with it. As for whether it's an "important" argument, I don't know. Nothing hinges on whether it is.

06 May 2008

Babies and Animals

Here is a common argument in favor of animal rights:
1. If babies have rights, then animals have rights.
2. Babies have rights.
3. Animals have rights.
In 1977, philosopher R. G. Frey argued that at least one of the premises of this argument must be false, and hence that the argument is unsound. (R. G. Frey, "Animal Rights," Analysis 37 [June 1977]: 186-9.) This doesn't show that animals don't have rights, for an unsound argument can have a true conclusion; but it does show—if Frey is right—that there must be some other basis for animal rights than the one provided by this argument.

What is Frey's argument? Frey claims that (i) there are only three grounds for ascribing rights to babies and (ii) none of them applies to animals. Thus, what makes premise 2 true makes premise 1 false. What are the three grounds?
1. Potentiality. Babies may not be rational, but they're potentially rational. If we ascribe rights to babies on the basis of their potential rationality, we thereby deny rights to animals, for animals are not even potentially rational.

2. Similarity. Babies may not be rational, but they're similar in many other respects to "other members of our species." If we ascribe rights to babies on the basis of their similarity to other human beings, we thereby deny rights to animals, for animals are not similar in many other respects to human beings.

3. Immortality. Babies may not be rational, but they have immortal souls. If we ascribe rights to babies on the basis of their immortality, we thereby deny rights to animals, for animals are not immortal.
One way to challenge Frey is to show that (i) there is a ground other than these three for ascribing rights to babies and (ii) it applies to animals. Can you think of such a ground?

04 May 2008

Plant Rights

Here is an essay by Wesley J. Smith. There is no inconsistency in rejecting plant rights while accepting animal rights. If Smith thinks that plant rights and animal rights stand or fall together, then he is confused, for there is a morally relevant difference between plants and animals, namely, that only the latter are sentient.

Addendum: Smith appears not to understand the animal-rights movement. He writes:
The animal rights movement grew out of the same poisonous soil. Animal rights ideology holds that moral worth comes with sentience or the ability to suffer. Thus, since both animals and humans feel pain, animal rights advocates believe that what is done to an animal should be judged morally as if it were done to a human being. Some ideologues even compare the Nazi death camps to normal practices of animal husbandry. For example, Charles Patterson wrote in Eternal Treblinka—a book specifically endorsed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—that "the road to Auschwitz begins at the slaughterhouse."
Animal-rights advocates do not believe "that what is done to an animal should be judged morally as if it were done to a human being." What they believe is that animals matter, morally. Animals have weight on the moral scale. Morally speaking, animals are something, not nothing. Inflicting pain on animals must be justified. This is not to say that it can't be justified, only that it must be.

Addendum 2: Smith wants the circle of moral concern to be the same as the circle of biological humanity. In his view, neither animals nor plants have rights. He seems to think that if we expand the circle to include animals, we will have to expand it, on pain of inconsistency, to include plants. This is false, for there is, as I say, a morally relevant difference between animals and plants that justifies drawing a line between them. The circle of moral concern should include all sentient beings, not all living organisms.

Addendum 3: When I was a law student at Wayne State University in the early 1980s, I took a graduate philosophy course in ethics with Bruce Russell. He allowed me to write a term paper entitled "Do Plants Have Rights?" Little did I know that I'd be coming back to that topic a quarter of a century later!

Addendum 4: Smith should grapple with the biocentric arguments of Paul W. Taylor in Respect for Nature: A Theory of Environmental Ethics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986). It is one of the best books I've read. It sounds to me as though Europeans are taking Taylor's theory seriously.

H. J. McCloskey on Animal Rights

The issue as to who or what may be a possessor of rights is not simply a matter of academic, conceptual interest. Obviously, important conclusions follow from any answer. If, for instance, it is determined that gravely mentally defective human beings and monsters born of human parents are not the kinds of beings who may possess rights, this bears on how we may treat them. It does not settle such questions as to whether it is right to kill them if they are a burden or if they are enduring pointless suffering, but it does bear in an important way on such questions. Even if such beings cannot be possessors of rights it might still be wrong to kill them, but the case against killing those who endure pain is obviously easier to set out if they can be shown to be capable of possessing rights and in fact possess rights. Similarly, important conclusions follow from the question as to whether animals have rights. If they do, as Salt argued, it would seem an illegitimate invasion of animal rights to kill and eat them, if, as seems to be the case, we can sustain ourselves without killing animals. If animals have rights, the case for vegetarianism is prima facie very strong, and is comparable with the case against cannibalism.

(H. J. McCloskey, "Rights," The Philosophical Quarterly 15 [April 1965]: 115-27, at 122 [footnote omitted])

01 May 2008

Animal Prosthetics

Here is the story of Albie the goat.


I almost feel guilty about not posting more often (and more substantively) on this blog, given its expanding readership. This past month, there were 5,208 visitors to the blog, which is an average of 173.6 per day. The previous records (set in March 2008) were 4,200 and 135.4. I have a number of posts about animals waiting in the wings, but I have been saving them for summer, when I have more time. One of them is a long critique of philosopher David Oderberg's argument against animal rights. Mylan and I appreciate your interest in our blog. Perhaps Jonathan will post some items this summer as well. He has been busy with his studies at UT-Austin.