31 July 2008

Factory Farming

I agree with Nicholas Kristof that factory farms will eventually be banned by law. I also agree that it will be a good thing.

Addendum: Here are comments on Kristof's column.

30 July 2008

Animal Rights

I got a nice surprise in the mail today: a complimentary copy of this, which contains my 1998 essay "Doing Right by Our Animal Companions." Expensive, eh?

28 July 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Mustangs Stir a Debate on Thinning the Herd” (front page, July 20):

The Bureau of Land Management is charged with protecting wild horses and burros on the Western rangelands. Faced with budgetary constraints, however, it might put to death some of the 30,000 horses it is holding—a herd as big as the community of free horses still roaming the West. You report that Steven L. Davis, an emeritus professor of animal science at Oregon State University, says the horses “damage” the environment.

A total of 33,000 wild horses are degrading the environment, but around 3 million to 4 million cattle are not? Predator control (yet more killing by our government in the service of ranchers) is to blame for any overpopulation of herbivores.

And no, the mustangs do not need birth control. Animals in nature don’t need to be controlled by a species that has such difficulty in controlling itself.

The mustangs should never have been corralled in the first place. Let them go, and let them be. Allow them the dignity of freedom.

Priscilla Feral
President, Friends of Animals
Darien, Conn., July 23, 2008

24 July 2008

Pepé Le Pew

I see skunks (Mephitis mephitis) on a regular basis—usually in the evening—during my walks with Shelbie. I worry not only about her being sprayed (which has happened a couple of times), but about her being bitten. There have been reports recently of rabid skunks in this area. While Shelbie has had a rabies vaccine, it's best not to take a chance. Tonight, as darkness fell, I saw a large black object moving slowly across the meadow about 75 yards in front of me. Shelbie saw it, too, and off she went. I gave her the signal to return to me, but it was to no avail. She reached the moving object. At first I thought it might be a black dog, which would have meant a fight. But no fight ensued. I yelled. Shelbie came running to me. When I got nearer, with Shelbie leashed, I saw that it was a mother skunk with three or four babies. The babies were following her like so many ducks. It was cute. Shelbie and I watched them for a minute or so and moved on.

Addendum: Here is the Wikipedia entry on Pepé Le Pew.

23 July 2008

From the Mailbag

Hi Keith,

My name is Evelyn and I'm a big fan of Animal Ethics, reading it regularly, I enjoy your posts and share your love for animals.

I'm writing a blog about animal rights and have linked back to you here.

I would really appreciate if you could link to my blog or exchange blogrolls links with me, so more people would reach our blogs ;-)

I will also be honored if you would let me post a guest post on your blog or vice versa.


22 July 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

What’s Next in the Law? The Unalienable Rights of Chimps,” by Adam Cohen (Editorial Observer, July 14):

The Spanish Parliament’s decision to grant rights to apes is indeed groundbreaking, and will foster philosophical discussion about animal protection for some time.

But Americans need not await the resolution of the academic debate, which is more about form than substance, before acting to protect animals.

A bill now in Congress—the Great Ape Protection Act—provides many of the protections for chimps the Spanish resolution does, but without engaging (or attempting to resolve) the controversial and polarizing issue of granting legal rights to animals.

Common-sense, rational reforms reflect the emerging consensus of mainstream animal protection groups like the Humane Society of the United States and millions of Americans who care about animals. We need not wait for the resolution of the big-picture theoretical debates to come together to ensure that all animals receive more decent and humane treatment, as they deserve.

Andrew Rowan
Executive Vice President
Humane Society of the United States
Washington, July 14, 2008

To the Editor:

As a physician who treats asylum seekers who are torture survivors, I want to offer another reason for granting basic legal rights to apes: the trauma these animals suffer when subjected to harmful experiments or other abuses may not be so different from what humans experience in similar circumstances.

Several colleagues and I recently conducted a purely observational study to determine the prevalence of psychiatric disorders in chimpanzees previously used in experimental research and now living in a sanctuary in Louisiana.

I was astonished by how many displayed behaviors that overlap with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other trauma-related disorders. Our findings follow many other studies demonstrating mental anguish in traumatized animals.

Suffering is far from a uniquely human experience. It is time for us to widen our circle of compassion and follow Spain’s lead in granting legal rights to apes.

Hope Ferdowsian
Director of Research Policy
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Washington, July 14, 2008


I continue to receive—and to reject—comments from people who don't use their full names. Unless I see a full name, I delete the comment without reading it. I don't understand the impulse to write anonymously. Imagine Peter Singer sending a note to Tom Regan anonymously. The very idea is absurd. Singer and Regan are adults. Each is able and willing to defend his views. Why would either of them want to hide his identity from the other? If you want to contribute to this blog by posting a comment, be an adult and use your name. Otherwise, go away.

21 July 2008

R. G. Frey on Anthropomorphism

Yet, in the case of domesticated animals especially, many people, particularly lonely people, regard (and often want to regard) their pet as a kind of lesser human being, with a less rich but still plentiful mental life which explains why their cat or dog behaves as it does. Their pet loves them, they often say, and tries to be faithful to them, and they in turn try not to hurt its feelings (for example, by leaving it alone or ignoring it) and to return this deep affection. For understandable reasons, such people have nevertheless not been so rigorous as Tinbergen in divesting themselves of all traces of anthropomorphism in their attempts to understand and explain animal behaviour. It is as if the only way they can bring themselves to approach an understanding of their pet's behaviour is by first investing the animal with a human endowment and then finding as the explanation for why it behaves as it does precisely some feature of this endowment with which they have invested it. By describing the cat or dog and its behaviour in anthropomorphic terms and thereby 'putting' into the animal what one is going to cite as the explanation of its behaviour, there is no limit to the complexity and extent of the mental goings-on of cats and dogs, or rather the only limit is the range of mental life one is prepared to endow these creatures with in the first place, on some anthropomorphic paradigm. Indeed, the endowment now allegedly extends even to communication with animals by telepathy. The animal psychologist Beatrice Lydecker claims in her book What the Animals Tell Me that one can, even though cats and dogs lack language, nevertheless communicate with and in this sense 'talk' to one's pet by means of something akin to ESP. One simply commands one's dog to sit and simultaneously forms a mental image of him in that position; and as this image is communicated to and received by him by telepathy, he will soon come to adopt the appropriate position. Doubtless to many the dog will be thought to be like us in being able to send and receive such images and to communicate in this way.

(R. G. Frey, Interests and Rights: The Case Against Animals [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980], 84-5 [italics in original; footnote omitted])

Note from KBJ: There are two mistakes one can make in thinking about animals. The first—anthropomorphism—consists in attributing distinctively human qualities to animals. The second—mechanism—consists in denying animal qualities to animals. Frey comes perilously close to making the second mistake, if indeed he does not make it.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

What’s Next in the Law? The Unalienable Rights of Chimps,” by Adam Cohen (Editorial Observer, July 14), unfairly characterized PETA’s efforts.

Few people know the depth of our work, as it is mostly our stunts that make the news. While cruelty to animals is a serious matter that should elicit widespread public outrage, efforts to reach the public through more serious means often fall on deaf ears in a world in which sex sells and there are both a war and an economic downturn.

By comparing the common mind-set that has produced both the past injustices against humans and the current abuses of animals, we can and do inspire debate and convince many people that it is a human obligation to speak out against injustice to all beings.

Animal suffering and human suffering are undeniably interconnected. In 2004, for example, The New York Times broke the story about a PETA undercover investigation that found routine animal abuse at AgriProcessors kosher slaughterhouse. Since then, the paper has repeatedly reported on the abuse of migrant workers at AgriProcessors. It should come as no surprise that a facility that profits from tormenting and killing animals would also oppress and abuse humans.

Those of us who have worked in the field as social service staff members or humane law enforcement officers know that child abuse and animal abuse as well as battered women and battered companion animals are often found under the same roof.

Forgive us our bikinis and our shock tactics, but our message that all beings—both human and nonhuman—deserve compassion and respect is one that we must work hard to make heard.

Ingrid E. Newkirk
President, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Norfolk, Va., July 15, 2008

18 July 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Cholesterol Drugs for 8-Year-Olds” (editorial, July 10):

Eight-year-olds do not need to be put on cholesterol drugs. Cholesterol levels can be controlled by eating healthy food and getting exercise.

Humans, and most animals, produce cholesterol naturally, but the problem is when we “supplement” this biologically occurring substance.

Cholesterol is found only in foods derived from animals, like meat, cheese and eggs. All food that comes from plants is cholesterol-free, so a vegetarian or vegan diet does wonders for lowering cholesterol levels.

I suppose you can say that I started to control my cholesterol level 17 years ago when I was a young woman. That is when I went vegetarian. My cholesterol levels have always made my doctors happy. I’ll take a veggie burger over a handful of pills any day.

Anna West
Richmond, Va., July 10, 2008

17 July 2008

Peter Singer on the Moral Significance of Self-Consciousness

Preference utilitarians count the killing of a being with a preference for continued life as worse than the killing of a being without any such preference. Self-conscious beings therefore are not mere receptacles for containing a certain quantity of pleasure, and are not replaceable.

To take the view that non-self-conscious beings are replaceable is not to say that their interests do not count. I have elsewhere argued that their interests do count. As long as a sentient being is conscious, it has an interest in experiencing as much pleasure and as little pain as possible. Sentience suffices to place a being within the sphere of equal consideration of interests; but it does not mean that the being has a personal interest in continuing to live. For a non-self-conscious being, death is the cessation of experiences, in much the same way that birth is the beginning of experiences. Death cannot be contrary to a preference for continued life, any more than birth could be in accordance with a preference for commencing life. To this extent, with non-self-conscious life, birth and death cancel each other out; whereas with self-conscious beings the fact that once self-conscious one may desire to continue living means that death inflicts a loss for which the birth of another is insufficient gain.

(Peter Singer, "Killing Humans and Killing Animals," Inquiry 22 [summer 1979]: 145-56, at 152 [endnote omitted])

Note from KBJ: Singer is making a distinction within the class of sentient beings. Those that are self-conscious are not replaceable, whereas those that are non-self-conscious are replaceable. Suppose pigs are non-self-conscious. Then painlessly killing a pig while replacing it with another, equally happy pig is not wrong. Suppose humans are self-conscious. Then painlessly killing a human (specifically: one who desires to continue living) while replacing it with another, equally happy human is wrong. Note that this distinction does not make Singer a speciesist, since it is not species that makes the difference. It is self-consciousness. While self-consciousness may be correlated with species, it is not identical to it. Self-consciousness is morally significant; species, like race or sex, is not.

16 July 2008

15 July 2008

John Rodman on Theriophobia

More common in Western thought than theriophilia has been theriophobia, the fear and hatred of beasts as wholly or predominantly irrational, physical, insatiable, violent, or vicious beings whom man strangely resembles when he is being wicked. Thus in a state of nature "man is a wolf to man" (Hobbes). A society founded on the principle of satisfying appetites is "a city of pigs" (Plato). The basic theriophobic stance is one of disgust at "brutish", "bestial", or "animalistic" traits that are suspiciously more frequently predicted of men than of beasts, just as the types of behavior in which these traits are exhibited (egoism, insatiable greed, insatiable sexuality, cruelty, the gratuitous slaughter of other species, and the mass extermination of one's own species) are more frequently observed on the part of men than of beasts.

Theriophobia appears to be compounded of two major elements: man's disgust with his own body and appetites ("certainly man is of kin to the beasts, by his body; and, if he be not kin to God, by his spirit, he is a base and ignoble creature"—Bacon); and man's anxiety stemming from the loss of inhibitions (e.g., against the killing of one's own species) normal to other animal species. The well-spring of theriophobia is thus fear of self, and its central mechanism is projection. In the most alienated form of theriophobia, the beasts themselves were seen as animated by devils, and man's extermination of the beasts and of "savages" (bestial men) was carried on as part of God's war against Satan.

(John Rodman, "The Dolphin Papers," The North American Review 259 [spring 1974]: 13-26, at 20 [footnotes omitted])

Note from KBJ: Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) famously wrote that life in the state of nature is (or would be) "solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short." Brutish = of the brutes. John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) defended utilitarianism from the charge that, because it exalts pleasure, it is "a doctrine worthy only of swine." He also said that "It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied." Can you think of other such examples in the history of philosophy?

14 July 2008

Animal Rights

I've been reading the literature of animal rights for nearly three decades, and contributing to it for the past decade or so. This New York Times column has to rank as the worst thing I've read. The author fails to distinguish legal rights from moral rights, fails to distinguish the question whether animals do have legal rights from the question whether they should have legal rights, fails to analyze the concept of a right (i.e., fails to tell his readers what it is to have a right), fails to distinguish between positive rights and negative rights, and in general glosses over all the important questions, philosophical and otherwise. To make things worse, the column is badly written. In parts, it's incomprehensible. Yuck.

13 July 2008

Leonard Nelson (1882-1927) on Interspecific Justice

Our analysis must not be misinterpreted as an attempt to champion altruism in relation to animals. It merely reaffirms the principle of justice. That is why there can be no general philosophical injunction that we subordinate our interests to those of animals under any circumstances. Each time we are confronted with a conflict between our own and an animal's interest, we must decide, after making fair allowance for each, which of the two interests deserves to be given preference. Thus it may well be permitted to injure an animal's interest in order to avoid injuring a preponderant interest of our own; but at the same time a limit is set to the extent of the injury, which is permitted only under condition that an actual conflict is involved—this must be proved separately in each case. After such proof has been supplied, we must ask further on which side lies the preponderant interest. In no event is it permissible to regard the animal's interest as inferior without good reason, and to proceed to injure it.

(Leonard Nelson, System of Ethics, trans. Norbert Guterman [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1956], 142 [first published in German in 1932])

12 July 2008

John Passmore (1914-2004) on the Mediaeval View of Animals

In the popular mediaeval tradition, as contrasted with official theology, there are many legends which associate saintliness and martyrdom with kindness to animals: even Jerome has his lion, to say nothing of Androcles. Vicious animals in that tradition were like the Gadarene swine, inhabited by demons. They might be brought to trial for their misdeeds and punished by the extremest of penalties—a form of distinction which, no doubt, they would willingly have foregone. Domesticated animals, in contrast, were the dwelling places of angels. The merely wild, but not the vicious, were spiritually uninhabited. Saintliness was demonstrated by a capacity to drive the demons out of the vicious—as some of the biographers of Francis of Assissi report that he tamed the wolf of Gobbio—and ordinary human virtue in domesticating wild animals, thus making of them a fit residence for angels.

(John Passmore, "The Treatment of Animals," Journal of the History of Ideas 36 [April-June 1975]: 195-218, at 199)

11 July 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Dog Eat Your Taxes?” (Op-Ed, July 9):

It may be amusing for Ray D. Madoff to criticize Leona Helmsley’s charitable giving by saying her fortune “is going to the dogs,” but those of us who give to the Humane Society of the United States and other animal-rescue organizations feel otherwise.

After Hurricane Katrina, after the floods in the Midwest, after the fires in the West, the humane societies across the country rescued and cared for lost animals and then sought to reunite them with their owners.

This may seem one of the “whims of the wealthy” to Mr. Madoff, but it’s not to pet owners.

Maybe the work of the humane societies doesn’t equate to the Rockefeller Foundation’s Green Revolution, but it certainly doesn’t deserve mockery.

Joel R. Gardner
Cherry Hill, N.J., July 9, 2008

Note from KBJ: All of my donations go to animal-welfare organizations. Humans can take care of themselves; domesticated animals cannot.

08 July 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Of Whales and National Security” (editorial, July 2):

Today’s threats to national security are not “exaggerated”; they are increasing. With the price of gasoline topping $4 a gallon, consider what could happen if a rogue state with quiet diesel-electric submarines were to threaten tanker traffic in the Strait of Hormuz.

The United States Fifth Fleet will prevent that from happening. Those sailors and marines will succeed because of the intense training they have undergone—training that included use of active sonar to find enemy submarines.

During training with active sonar, we protect marine mammals by employing rigorous protective measures. Such protective measures were developed in concert with, and were approved by, federal environmental regulators.

I am pleased that the Supreme Court has agreed to review the lower courts’ decisions on the Navy’s use of active sonar in waters off the coast of California. The lives of our sailors and marines, and our national security, depend on it.

(Rear Adm.) Larry Rice
Director, Chief of Naval Operations
Environmental Readiness Division
Washington, July 3, 2008

07 July 2008

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) on the Veil of Ignorance

What have humane people to say to the tremendous mass of animal suffering inflicted in the interests of the Table? By the unthinking, of course, these sufferings, being invisible, are almost wholly overlooked, while the deadening power of habit prevents many kindly persons from exercising, where their daily "beef" and "mutton" are concerned, the very sympathies which they so keenly manifest elsewhere; yet it can hardly be doubted that if the veil of custom could be lifted, and if a clear knowledge of what is involved in "Butchery" could be brought home, with a sense of personal responsibility, to everyone who eats flesh, the attitude of society towards the vegetarian movement would be very different from what it is now. If it be true that "hunger is the best sauce," it may also be said that the bon vivant's most indispensable sauce is ignorance—ignorance of the horrible and revolting circumstances under which his juicy steak or dainty cutlet has been prepared.

(Henry S. Salt, The Logic of Vegetarianism: Essays and Dialogues [London: The Ideal Publishing Union, 1899], 42 [italics in original])