31 December 2008

Jonathan Bennett on Revisable Morality

There is a difficulty about drawing from all this a moral for ourselves. I imagine that we agree in our rejection of slavery, eternal damnation, genocide, and uncritical patriotic self-abnegation; so we shall agree that Huck Finn, Jonathan Edwards, Heinrich Himmler, and the poet Horace would all have done well to bring certain of their principles under severe pressure from ordinary human sympathies. But then we can say this because we can say that all those are bad moralities, whereas we cannot look at our own moralities and declare them bad. This is not arrogance: it is obviously incoherent for someone to declare the system of moral principles that he accepts to be bad, just as one cannot coherently say of anything that one believes it but it is false.

Still, although I can't point to any of my beliefs and say 'That is false', I don't doubt that some of my beliefs are false; and so I should try to remain open to correction. Similarly, I accept every single item in my morality—that is inevitable—but I am sure that my morality could be improved, which is to say that it could undergo changes which I should be glad of once I had made them. So I must try to keep my morality open to revision, exposing it to whatever valid pressures there are—including pressures from my sympathies.

(Jonathan Bennett, "The Conscience of Huckleberry Finn," Philosophy 49 [April 1974]: 123-34, at 133 [italics in original])

Note from KBJ: I thought of animals when I read this. Many people exclude animals from moral consideration, even though they would never think to neglect, much less harm, a dog or a cat. It is natural to feel sympathy for animals who are suffering. This sympathy can be a basis for revising one's moral principles so as to take animals into account. Perhaps the sympathetic impulse would be activated if people saw how their meat is produced. Have you taken the time to investigate this? Have you visited a factory farm or a slaughterhouse? Have you looked at images or videotapes of slaughter? If you haven't, then you are suppressing your sympathies, thereby protecting your moral principles from revision. This is bad faith.

28 December 2008

Paw Talk

Here is a blog for your consideration.

21 December 2008

J. Baird Callicott on the Catastrophe of Vegetarianism

From the ecological point of view, for human beings universally to become vegetarians is tantamount to a shift of trophic niche from omnivore with carnivorous preferences to herbivore. The shift is a downward one on the trophic pyramid, which in effect shortens those food chains terminating with man. It represents an increase in the efficiency of the conversion of solar energy from plant to human biomass, and thus, by bypassing animal intermediates, increases available food resources for human beings. The human population would probably, as past trends overwhelmingly suggest, expand in accordance with the potential thus afforded. The net result would be fewer nonhuman beings and more human beings, who, of course, have requirements of life far more elaborate than even those of domestic animals, requirements which would tax other "natural resources" (trees for shelter, minerals mined at the expense of topsoil and its vegetation, etc.) more than under present circumstances. A vegetarian human population is therefore probably ecologically catastrophic.

(J. Baird Callicott, "Animal Liberation: A Triangular Affair," Environmental Ethics 2 [winter 1980]: 311-38, at 335 [italics in original])

12 December 2008


Someone sent me a link to this student op-ed column. The sender wrote:

This is outrageous! The Indiana Daily Student wrote an article today encouraging people to kill and eat man's best friend!
The author isn't advocating that we eat dogs. The author is pointing out the inconsistency of eating cows and not eating dogs (or rather, caring about dogs but not caring about cows). The following three propositions are inconsistent:

1. It's morally permissible to eat cows.
2. It's not morally permissible to eat dogs.
3. There are no morally relevant differences between cows and dogs.
The author of the op-ed column says that there are people who accept 1 and 2. He is pointing out that, to be consistent, they must reject 3. He is asking them to state the morally relevant difference that justifies the rejection of 3.

11 December 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “From Hoof to Dinner Table, a New Bid to Cut Emissions” (front page, Dec. 4):

There is a solution to at least some of the beef industry’s sustainability woes, and that is to raise cows in a pasture-based system.

Many of the beef industry’s problems result from feedlots that consume tremendous amounts of grain and that pour out huge sloughs of waste. Finishing the cattle on grass is a far “greener” method.

Of course, the meat is more expensive since it takes lots of real estate to freely graze a herd, and it’s tougher than typical supermarket fare (Americans are used to a style of marbling that’s caused by grain diets and flabby cattle, whereas grass-fed cows are trim from their daily ambles). But the leaner meat from grass-fed animals actually tastes richer and more savory.

The other problem with meat consumption is proportion. Consumers can help the beef industry save itself by both buying less and choosing grass-fed.

Andrew Rimas
Evan D. G. Fraser
Jamaica Plain, Mass., Dec. 5, 2008
The writers are the authors of “Beef: The Untold Story of How Milk, Meat, and Muscle Shaped the World.”

To the Editor:

Missing from your article was mention of deleterious environmental and health effects resulting from intensive animal farming in addition to global warming. An approach to address all of these, instead of just developing technology to control methane emissions, is vital.

Specifically, the increasing meat-consumption trend could be reversed if consumers paid the true price for meat. For this to happen, subsidies that keep animal feed artificially low, and encourage producers to raise as many animals as possible, should end.

In addition, allowing animal waste to be spread on fields at rates higher than can be absorbed, resulting in nutrient runoff and oceanic dead zones, needs to be stopped.

If these policies were adopted, small-scale animal agriculture would be a more economical model, and people would eat less meat. This would result in improved human health, decreased environmental destruction and better animal welfare.

Jillian Fry
Baltimore, Dec. 5, 2008

To the Editor:

Kudos to The New York Times for covering the much-neglected connections between meat and climate change. As you note, the lack of media coverage of the livestock sector’s contribution to climate change is one reason it has escaped large-scale public outrage.

At the yearly Meat Marketing conference this summer in Nashville, the industry representatives seemed most worried about negative press concerning animal welfare; the words “global warming” were never even uttered. Now, with mounting public awareness, the meat industry may soon realize that investment in sustainable practices is not just a nice idea. It is essential for the industry’s survival.

With a new administration and agriculture secretary we can also hope that our leaders will also grasp that food and farming policy is climate change policy as well, and will make bold choices to ensure a healthier planet for all of us.

Anna Lappé
Brooklyn, Dec. 4, 2008
The writer is a co-founder of the Small Planet Institute.

Note from KBJ: The author of the New York Times story describes human beings as "carnivores." This is stupid. A carnivore is an organism that, by nature, feeds only on animal flesh. A herbivore is an organism that, by nature, feeds only on plants. An omnivore is an organism that, by nature, feeds on both animal flesh and plants. Human beings, like dogs, are omnivores. No human being has ever been, or ever will be, a carnivore.

10 December 2008

Animal Abuse

Here is a column by Carol J. Adams. Since women are as likely as men to commit domestic violence (see here), it would be interesting to see whether women as well as men abuse animals.

Addendum: See here.

07 December 2008

R. G. Frey on the Principle of the Equal Consideration of Interests

According to Singer, the principle of the equal consideration of interests 'requires us to be vegetarians'. This is a moral principle, and states that 'the interests of every being affected by an action are to be taken into account and given the same weight as the like interests of any other being'. Interests arise, Singer contends, from the capacity to feel pain, which he labels a 'prerequisite' for having interests at all; and animals can and do suffer, can and do feel pain. The principle of the equal consideration of interests, therefore, applies to them, which in turn means that we are not morally justified in ignoring, disregarding, or otherwise neglecting their interests. This, however, is precisely what factory farming does. Factory farming is nothing more than modern methods of technology applied to the mass production of food for human consumption; but this particular production line involves widespread and often intense suffering and therein the systematic disregard and/or undervaluation of the interests of animals, a disregard and/or undervaluation the moral seriousness of which is, if anything, compounded by the fact that alternative and health-sustaining sources of food are for the most part readily available to us. By forgoing meat in our diets, we can reduce, if not eliminate, this massive suffering of animals, merely through bringing market forces to bear upon factory farming. The smaller the demand for meat, the lower its price; the lower the price, the lower the profit; and the lower the profit, the fewer the animals that will be raised and slaughtered on factory farms. A serious concern for the suffering and interests of animals, then, as expressed through vegetarianism, which, after all, is effectively nothing more than the boycott of meat, directly affects factory farming, the immediate source of so much of this suffering. Doubtless it may and will be suggested that someone opposed to inflicting suffering on animals but not to painlessly killing them could still consistently eat the flesh of animals that had been reared and slaughtered painlessly; but Singer rejects such a suggestion on three counts. First, it amounts to looking upon animals as in effect means to the end of satisfying our tastes for certain types of flesh, and factory farming is nothing more than the application of technological methods to this idea; second, it is impossible to rear animals on a massive scale for human consumption without inflicting suffering; and third, even traditional methods of farming involve extensive suffering. There is for Singer, then, no escaping the conclusion: if we take morality seriously, a genuine concern for the interests of animals and for the diminution of their suffering requires that we cease rearing and slaughtering animals for food and cease dining upon them.

(R. G. Frey, Interests and Rights: The Case Against Animals [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980], 141-2 [italics in original; footnote omitted; parenthetical page references omitted])

Note from KBJ: Here is my student handout on Singer's argument.

05 December 2008

Legal Rights for Animals

Sharon McEachern has a blog post about animal rights in Switzerland.

03 December 2008

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) on Religion

Religion has never befriended the cause of humaneness. Its monstrous doctrine of eternal punishment and the torture of the damned underlies much of the barbarity with which man has treated man; and the deep division imagined by the Church between the human being, with his immortal soul, and the soulless "beasts," has been responsible for an incalculable sum of cruelty.

(Henry S. Salt, Seventy Years Among Savages [London: George Allen & Unwin, 1921], 213)