31 December 2003

The Problem with PETA

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has done real harm to nonhuman animals. Anyone who cares about animals should refuse to support this group. It has been co-opted by the establishment; it uses sexist imagery and methods; and, worst of all, it entrenches the view that animals are resources for human use. Read what law professor Gary L. Francione has to say about PETA in this wide-ranging interview. (His critique of PETA comes near the end.)

Animal Liberation and Utilitarianism

Peter Singer (born 1946) is a towering figure in animal ethics, so let's clear something up once and for all. I will direct people to this entry whenever they make the mistake I'm about to identify. In 1980, Singer began an essay with the following stirring words:
I am a utilitarian. I am also a vegetarian. I am a vegetarian because I am a utilitarian. I believe that applying the principle of utility to our present situation—especially the methods now used to rear animals for food and the variety of food available to us—leads to the conclusion that we ought to be vegetarian. (Peter Singer, "Utilitarianism and Vegetarianism," Philosophy & Public Affairs 9 [summer 1980]: 325-37, at 325)
Five years before this essay appeared in print, Singer published Animal Liberation (New York: Avon Books, 1975), which has been called "the bible of the animal-liberation movement." In this book, Singer argued against two "speciesist practices": (1) the raising and killing of animals for food and (2) the use of animals in scientific experiments and tests of consumer products.

So Singer is all of the following: (1) a utilitarian, (2) a vegetarian, and (3) the author of Animal Liberation, in which he makes a case for vegetarianism. Moreover, he is a vegetarian because he is a utilitarian. It does not follow from any of this that the argument of Animal Liberation is utilitarian. In fact, it is not, as Singer himself said in 1999. Responding to criticism by Robert C. Solomon, he wrote:
Solomon refers to my Animal Liberation, and suggests that the emotional impact of the photographs included in that book had more impact than the 'ethereally controversial utilitarian attack on "speciesism" that accompanied them'. But the text of Animal Liberation is not utilitarian. It was specifically intended to appeal to readers who were concerned about equality, or justice, or fairness, irrespective of the precise nature of their commitment. (Nor, for that matter, do I think there is anything in the least ethereal about it.) Significantly, the book succeeded in persuading thousands of people to change their diet and become involved in the animal movement. (Peter Singer, "A Response," chap. 13 in Singer and His Critics, ed. Dale Jamieson [Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1999], 269-335, at 283)
Singer is a smart man and a good philosopher. He knew in 1975 and knows now that not everyone is a utilitarian. Many people are, but many are not. If the argument of Animal Liberation presupposed utilitarianism, then he would be cutting off much of his audience. People who aren't utilitarians would say, "This argument doesn't apply to me; I reject its main premise." That would be self-defeating, since Singer wanted to persuade as many people as possible to change their beliefs and behavior. The premises of Animal Liberation can be accepted by people of any (or almost any) theoretical persuasion. This gives the book a wide audience.

Here is a handout that I distribute to my Ethics students when we discuss Singer's 1974 essay "All Animals Are Equal" (first published in Annual Proceedings of the Center for Philosophical Exchange 1 [summer 1974]: 103-11). This essay, published when Singer was twenty-eight, is the basis for the main argumentative chapter of Animal Liberation. I showed the handout to Singer a few months ago. He suggested some minor changes in wording but said it accurately reconstructs his argument. As he put it in e-mail correspondence, the argument is compatible with utilitarianism but does not presuppose it. In other words, it's a nonutilitarian argument but not an anti-utilitarian argument. You will note that the argument is entirely free of theoretical commitments.

30 December 2003

Misunderstanding Moral Argument

In a long, interesting comment on one of my posts, Mary writes: "eat what you like and let the rest eat what they like." With all due respect, Mary, you make it sound as though I'm coercing you into giving up meat. No. I'm trying to persuade you to give up meat. There's a big difference between coercion and persuasion! The main difference, and it's a morally important one, is that only persuasion is respectful of the person.

How does persuasion work? By drawing out the implications of what your interlocutor already believes or values. Have you read Mylan Engel's essay "The Immorality of Eating Meat"? If not, please do. There's a link to it on the left side of the blog. Mylan tries to show you that you are already committed (without knowing it) to vegetarianism. There are three things you can do in response to his argument (assuming you want to avoid self-contradiction). First, deny that you have the beliefs and values he says you have. Second, show that even if you have those beliefs and values, they do not commit you to vegetarianism. (In other words, find fault with the structure—validity—of his argument.) Third, accept his conclusion and become a vegetarian. Please read (and think about) his essay. Nobody is trying to force or coerce you into anything. Law is coercive; morality is persuasive. And don't say that Mylan is imposing his values on you. He's imposing your values on you!

Addendum: Mylan's essay is on my university's server, which is down for maintenance for a few days. Please keep trying the link until it works.

29 December 2003

Red Meat

The following was posted as a comment on my blog entry, "Becoming a Vegetarian (or Demi-Vegetarian)":
I happened upon your blog from the blogger main page and have been fascinated ever since. I very much enjoy the issues brought up and discussed. This post in particular has really gotten me to think. To be honest, I very much enjoy the taste of beef. I do not enjoy the way in which beef is a[c]quired—the farming or the slaughtering. But I find it interesting when people give up red-meat, but not other meats. Chickens and turkey[s] are raised in terrible environments and treated just as badly with practices such as debeaking and layering. Perhaps you can shed some light on why red-meat is usually the first meat to go from diets and not other meats. I can think of many reasons myself, but I enjoy your thoughts and writings and would love to hear what you have to say especially considering that you have the actual experience. Personally, I'm not a big fan of poultry and would give that up before beef, must [much] to the dismay of our fellow [?] bovine mammals.
Let me say, first of all, that I appreciate the feedback. Mylan, Angus, Nathan, and I hope that this site becomes a worldwide forum for philosophical discussion of the moral status of nonhuman animals. This means give and take, not lecturing. Please spread the word about the blog. And please—all of you—keep the questions coming. We will do our best to respond to them. Right, guys? Guys? Are you there?

You say you enjoy the taste of beef but do not enjoy the farming or the slaughtering. Have you tried various soy-based beef substitutes? One common reaction to this suggestion is, "Yuck!" But seriously, I eat hamburgers, hot dogs, and lunch meat—all made with vegetables. They're delicious. The technology is amazing. Even the texture is mimicked. But suppose you conclude that these items aren't as tasty as the real thing; isn't that a reasonable price to pay to avoid contributing to the suffering and death that you say bothers you? I don't mean to be censorious, but you did ask me. Try the soy products. They're available even in traditional grocery stores such as Kroger and Albertson's. If you have specialty stores such as Whole Foods Market in your area, you will find an amazing assortment of vegetarian foods. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. Perhaps other readers can make recommendations as to brand and so forth.

As for why some people "give up" red meat but not other meats, it probably varies by person. One reason that springs to mind is that beef is less healthy than, say, poultry. If you're wondering about me in particular, red meat (beef and pork) was just the first meat to go from my diet. I didn't want to go whole hog (or quit cold turkey). I was chicken, sheepish, cowed. I don't know why I started with red meat; maybe it was because cows and pigs are bigger and more humanlike. Have you ever looked into a cow's eyes? I don't think I saw any moral difference between the various meats (or animals); nor is there, in my judgment. One reader of this blog pointed out a while back that, other things being equal, it's worse (morally) to eat chickens than cows or pigs. His reasoning was that the same amount eaten would require more deaths, and also that cows and pigs aren't (in general) treated as badly as chickens.

By the way, I have always considered pork red meat, despite the pork industry's slogan, "The other white meat." What do you suppose explains that slogan? Think like a rhetorician.

28 December 2003

Alan R. White on the Kinds of Things Which Can Have Rights

A right is something which can be said to be exercised, earned, enjoyed, or given, which can be claimed, demanded, asserted, insisted on, secured, waived, or surrendered; there can be a right to do so and so or have such and such done for one, to be in a certain state, to have a certain feeling or adopt a certain attitude. A right is related to and contrasted with a duty, an obligation, a privilege, a power, a liability. A possible possessor of a right is, therefore, whatever can properly be spoken of in such language; that is, whatever can intelligibly, whether truly or falsely, be said to exercise, earn, etc. a right, to have a right to such logically varied things, to have duties, privileges, etc. Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier, a necessary condition of something's being capable of having a right to V is that it should be something which logically can V.

In the full language of 'a right' only a person can logically have a right because only a person can be the subject of such predications. Rights are not the sorts of things of which non-persons can be the subjects, however right it may be to treat them in certain ways. Nor does this, as some contend, exclude infants, children, the feeble-minded, the comatose, the dead, or generations yet unborn. Any of these may be for various reasons empirically unable to fulfil the full role of a right-holder. But so long as they are persons—and it is significant that we think and speak of them as young, feeble-minded, incapacitated, dead, unborn persons—they are logically possible subjects of rights to whom the full language of rights can significantly, however falsely, be used. It is a misfortune, not a tautology, that these persons cannot exercise or enjoy, claim, or waive, their rights or do their duty or fulfil their obligations. . . .

. . .

It is a misunderstanding to object to this distinction between the kinds of things which can have rights and those which cannot on the ground that it constitutes a sort of speciesism. For it is not being argued that it is right to treat one species less considerately than another, but only that one species, that is, a person, can sensibly be said to exercise or waive a right, be under an obligation, have a duty, etc., whereas another cannot, however unable particular members of the former species may be to do so.

(Alan R. White, Rights [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984], 90, 92 [italics in original; footnotes omitted])

27 December 2003

Becoming a Vegetarian (or Demi-Vegetarian)

I stopped eating red meat (i.e., all animal products except turkey, chicken, fish, and eggs) on 11 February 1981, when I was twenty-three years old. I was in law school at the time, hence cooking my own meals. Something happened while I was reading Peter Singer's 1975 book Animal Liberation. I can't say that Singer persuaded me, rationally. It was more like he emboldened me or gave me permission to change my diet. I had always loved animals and felt uncomfortable about eating their flesh, but I didn't know anyone who was a vegetarian and thought I'd be viewed by my family and friends as a crank. My family had always eaten meat, and still does.

As I read Singer, I kept thinking, "Here's someone who is extremely intelligent and who thinks it's wrong to eat meat." I also liked the fact that Singer made no appeal to emotion or sentiment. He was a hard-headed, factually grounded philosopher. Singer became my model and my inspiration. However much I was mocked by family and friends for giving up red meat, I would know that Singer, at least, was on my side. This may seem silly to some, but it's hard for young people (I consider twenty-three young) to take moral stands by themselves. Young people are herd animals. I knew that becoming a vegetarian would require vast changes in my life. I would have to learn how to cook. I would have to learn about nutrition. I would have to adjust my social life. How do you say to a host, without seeming rude or boastful, that you don't eat meat?

As I explain to my students when I lecture on Singer, a decision to become a vegetarian doesn't change one's tastes or desires all of a sudden. For some time prior to giving up red meat, I had stopped at a Burger King outside Flint, Michigan, on my way home from college classes. I always bought a hamburger and a cup of coffee for the long drive to Vassar. It was part of my routine. Once I stopped eating red meat, I had no reason to stop at Burger King. For a long time thereafter, I missed stopping there and missed the taste of the hamburger. Driving by was a forlorn event. Meanwhile, my mother continued cooking meat for my family. I enjoyed the smell and secretly wished I could eat what she cooked. The point is, I still craved meat after I gave it up. This must be counted as a cost of becoming a vegetarian.

But eventually, to my surprise, my affect caught up with my will. I found, as time went by, that I no longer craved meat. I became indifferent to it. And then, miracle of miracles, I came to be disgusted by it. To this day, I cannot watch television advertisements showing frying or broiling hamburgers, with grease dripping from them. It sickens me. Nor can I look at raw meat being sliced. It's interesting how the various parts of the self strive for integration. My moral beliefs (cognition), my volition, my affect, and my conative or desiring side have reintegrated themselves. I assume this happens to others and not just to me. So if you're contemplating becoming a vegetarian, or just giving up red meat (as I initially did), don't fear that you'll be gustatorily frustrated for the rest of your life. You'll probably be frustrated for a while, and may even curse your decision from time to time, but eventually you'll feel integrated again. It's a wonderful, liberating feeling.

26 December 2003

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy

Like most of you (or at least those who haven't been out shopping), I've been reading a lot (see here, for example) about mad-cow disease. It's interesting on many levels: epidemiologically, agriculturally, economically, politically, and morally. One thing is clear: The cost of beef and beef products will increase, perhaps significantly. Consumers will demand, and government will require, a more stringent inspection regime, the cost of which will be passed on to consumers by producers. Some consumers will switch to other, comparatively cheaper meats, such as pork, turkey, and chicken; but others will eliminate beef from their diet without replacing it. I can't but think that mad-cow disease will be a good thing for farm animals generally.

While I'm on the subject, is anyone besides me dumbfounded by the fact that otherwise intelligent, reasonable, even sensitive people eat beef? Have you been reading the stories about how it is produced? Cows live in filthy, stinking conditions. They walk about in their own feces and urine, with flies thick on their bodies. The slaughterhouse is covered in blood, guts, and gore. Either beef-eaters don't know about these conditions or they know and don't care. I can't believe they don't care. So maybe reading stories about where their neatly wrapped hamburger and steak comes from will make a difference to their behavior. You are what you eat.

From Today's Dallas Morning News

PETA's terrorist attacks

I love animals as much as the next person (maybe more), and abhor the wearing of fur, but People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' new anti-fur campaign has gone over the proverbial edge.

In case you hadn't heard, when PETA folk eye a fur-wearing mom at The Nutcracker ballet performance this holiday season, they approach her kids and thoughtfully provide them with a comic-book type of leaflet entitled "Your Mommy Kills Animals!"—which graphically shows a mom stabbing a helpless rabbit with a bloody knife, among other things.

Quite simply, there is absolutely no excuse for terrorizing and traumatizing innocent children for the fur-wearing sins of their mother. It's reprehensible.

In the past, PETA supporters' civil disobedience in support of animal rights and, yes, even some occasional red paint were understandable. Now, they've lost all credibility.

Perhaps they should rename their organization "People Exemplifying Terrorist Actions."

Mark Monse, Coppell

Gary L. Francione on PETA's Sexism

[I]n recent years, the promotion of animal causes has increasingly relied on sexist and racist imagery. For example, the fur campaign has from the outset been tainted by sexism. The trapping or ranching of animals for fur is certainly barbaric and immoral, but fur is no more or less morally obnoxious than leather or wool. The primary difference is that furs are worn by women, and wool and leather, although also worn by women, are worn by virtually all men. Fur became an early target of the animal rights movement, and from the outset the imagery was, not unexpectedly, sexist. An early poster shows a pair of women's legs (no torso, no head, just legs) clothed in black stockings and spiked high heels. The woman is dragging a fur coat, which is trailing blood. The caption read, "It takes up to 40 dumb animals to make a fur coat. But only one to wear it." And in the nineties, PETA has promoted its "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" ads, featuring billboards with naked models, as well as demonstrations in which women appear naked. In one particularly notable example, a PETA staff person "stripped" on Howard Stern's radio station in order to make her point about fur, and Stern described each phase of the event in considerable detail. Unfortunately, some animal advocates have harassed women wearing furs. The fur industry is certainly indefensible according to any moral standard (other than an extreme form of ethical egoism), but using sexist imagery or assaults on women to make that point is extremely problematic not only because it is violent but because men wearing their expensive wool suits need not worry about animal rights advocates harassing them.

(Gary L. Francione, Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement [Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996], 74-5 [footnote omitted])

25 December 2003

Whom Do You Trust?

Ultimately, each of us is responsible for his or her safety. This is true of eating, flying, and everything else. After the horrific attacks of 11 September 2001, each of us had (and still has) to decide whether to fly. Now that mad-cow disease has been documented in a United States herd, each of us has to decide whether to eat beef. (Many of us don't eat it anyway; I'm referring to those who do.)

Do you trust statements emanating from the beef industry? Do you trust statements emanating from the United States Department of Agriculture, which is in the pocket of the beef industry? We know that the beef industry is aggressive to the point of dishonesty in marketing its products. Think of all the slogans over the years designed to make people think beef is essential to health: "Real Men Eat Beef"; "Beef: It's What's for Dinner"; and so on. Lately, the beef industry has been trying to persuade women (how's that for sexism?) that cooking beef is quick and easy. Why, in just thirty minutes you can have beef on the table for your husband and children. The not-so-subtle implication is that if you don't feed your family beef, you're not a good wife and mother.

I wouldn't trust the beef industry with a nickel of my money, much less with my life and health. This is cynical, but I think cynicism is warranted in this case, given the industry's duplicity and demonstrated lack of concern for consumer health. I say the same thing about the airline industry after 9-11. It got to the point where airline representatives were calling Americans weenies for not flying. "Fraidy cat!" "Wuss!"

As most readers of this blog know (but some may not), the beef industry is so sensitive to lost profits that it uses the law to attack critics. Here in Texas, there is a "disparagement" law that allows the industry to sue those who disparage its products. That is an abuse of legal processes. But the industry, at least in Texas, is powerful. It is almost a separate branch of government. At least the airline industry isn't built on deprivation, suffering, and death, like the beef industry.

I hope Americans stop eating beef. It won't be for the right reason (which is concern for the animals whose flesh is consumed), but doing the right thing for the wrong reason is better than doing the wrong thing. What's the industry going to do, sue mad-cow disease? Pass a law requiring that every citizen eat beef? Ha!

24 December 2003


Quoting Richard Ryder on speciesist language piqued my curiosity about the origin of the term "speciesism," so I did some detective work. Here is the result.

Richard D. Ryder on Speciesist Language

Some aspects of the language I use may surprise the reader. This is because I have tried, when appropriate in the context, to dismantle the speciesism inherent in the words we use. Phrases like 'men and animals', for example, insult not only women but nonhumans also, for humans are animals too.

Using the word 'animal' in opposition to the word 'human' is clearly an expression of prejudice. So how can this be avoided when describing those sentient creatures who are not of the human species? Does a phrase such as 'animals and human animals' help? It might, but it is rather clumsy. Slightly less cumbersome is the phrase 'nonhuman animal' and its inevitable abbreviation 'nonhuman'. To some this may itself sound speciesist, in that it could be asserting that human is the norm and that nonhuman is inferior. All I can say is that no such inferiority is intended or understood. In the absence of other appropriate words I use 'nonhuman' or 'nonhuman animal' in the hope that their use reminds the reader, as it does me, of the kinship between those of my own species and others.

Admittedly, in dealing with the past, it is difficult to use new terms and concepts consistently, so the early chapters do contain some speciesist phrasing. I defend the use of the word 'animal' in the title on the grounds that the revolution to which I refer applies to the human animal as well as to others; and because the revolution, to a large extent, is about the concept of 'animal' itself.

The hostility towards so-called ant[h]ropomorphism during this century has been so extreme that the use of certain adjectives, pronouns such as 'he' or 'she' and verbs in a nonhuman context has been abhorred, particularly by those intellectuals who should have known better. Nevertheless, if I believe it appropriate I have, and without shame, deliberately attributed behavioural and emotional qualities to nonhumans which some may regard as far-fetched. So, if I believe a dog is angry then I say so, and if she is a dog who feels angry with speciesists, then I sympathize!

(Richard D. Ryder, Animal Revolution: Changing Attitudes Towards Speciesism [Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989], 2)


Was Jesus a vegetarian? See here.

Happy Holidays!

Sophie, Shelbie, and I wish all of you a happy, safe holiday season. Give your loved ones big sincere hugs.

23 December 2003

Ambrose Bierce

Cat, n. A soft, indestructible automaton provided by nature to be kicked when things go wrong in the domestic circle.
This is a dog,
This is a cat,
This is a frog,
This is a rat.
Run, dog, mew, cat,
Jump, frog, gnaw, rat.

(Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, c. 1911)

For Your Holiday Gift Needs

I hope this isn't unseemly (or excessively so), but I want to plug a book by my fellow blogger, Angus Taylor, who hails from the Great White North (British Columbia). Four years ago, he published a book entitled Magpies, Monkeys, and Morals: What Philosophers Say About Animal Liberation (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1999). I don't recall how or why I acquired it, but when I read it, I was amazed. Everything I had been reading for the past twenty years was there, elaborated, analyzed, synthesized, and critically discussed. All the theories, all the arguments, all the topics. I was so taken by the book that I offered to review it for the prestigious journal Ethics. Here is my review (a book note, actually). Somewhere along the line I made contact with Angus, whom I didn't know, and here we are, blogging together.

A few months ago, the second edition of Magpies was published. Lo and behold, I'm quoted on the back cover, as if I were an important philosopher! The book's title has changed to Animals and Ethics: An Overview of the Philosophical Debate (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2003). Please acquire and read this book. Not because it will make Angus money (we don't do this stuff for money, I assure you), but because it will improve the quality of discussion and debate about the moral status of nonhuman animals. The book, as I say in my review, is beautifully written—and it's fair. Angus may have a view about the moral status of animals (which you can discern for yourself by reading his blog entries), but he doesn't argue for it in the book. The book is an overview, meant to educate. The bibliography, by the way, is superb. It will take you as deeply into the philosophical literature on animals as you care to wade.

Thanks, Angus, for applying your skills to this important topic. And thanks for joining this blog! Happy holidays, everyone.

22 December 2003

Aldo Leopold on the Lessons of Darwinism

It is a century now since Darwin gave us the first glimpse of the origin of species. We know now what was unknown to all the preceding caravan of generations: that men are only fellow-voyagers with other creatures in the odyssey of evolution. This new knowledge should have given us, by this time, a sense of kinship with fellow-creatures; a wish to live and let live; a sense of wonder over the magnitude and duration of the biotic enterprise.

Above all we should, in the century since Darwin, have come to know that man, while now captain of the adventuring ship, is hardly the sole object of its quest, and that his prior assumptions to this effect arose from the simple necessity of whistling in the dark.

(Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, with Essays on Conservation from Round River [New York: Ballantine Books, 1970 (1949)], 116-7)

21 December 2003

Deconstructing My Egg Carton

My egg carton has a number of alluring (and cryptic) phrases, but only one of them, so far as I can tell, has moral significance.

The logo depicts a farmhouse with the words "FARMHOUSE EGGS" above and below it. One might be tempted, upon reading this, to think of a cozy henhouse with straw-filled nests and pleasant roosts, but a farmhouse is not a henhouse. The egg farm near my childhood home in Vassar, Michigan, had a farmhouse, and believe me, there were no henhouses on the premises. It was chicken hell.

The logo says "ALL NATURAL" and "HAND GATHERED." It's not clear what the former expression refers to. "Natural" usually contrasts with "artificial." Eggs aren't artificial, so they must be natural. It's natural for hens, even factory-farmed hens, to lay eggs. The latter expression, I think, is meant to mislead. The eggs in the egg farm near my childhood home were hand gathered by either the sons of the proprietor or hired help. When laid, the eggs rolled downward on a wire mesh. Someone came by once or twice a day to "gather" them by hand. The term "gathered" suggests an egg basket carried by a farmer's wife clad in an apron.

On the left of the carton it says, "From Natural Grain Fed / Free Roaming Nesting Hens." How or what the chickens are fed seems irrelevant to how they're treated, and therefore morally irrelevant. The chickens in the egg farm near my childhood home were fed grain. Was it natural? It's not clear what that means. Grain is natural as opposed to artificial, so the word "natural" may add nothing but favorable emotive meaning to the term. Lots of products in grocery stores have "natural" in their title. Natural is good.

The only phrase that's morally relevant, in my view, is "Free Roaming Nesting Hens." The main complaint about factory egg farms is that the chickens are kept in cramped quarters. If they're free-roaming, that would vastly improve the quality of their lives. But who knows what "roaming" means? Does it mean the chickens have the run of an enclosure? Perhaps they have only a little more room than the chickens in factory farms—room to turn around, for example. But any more room to move about is good, morally speaking. PETA certainly thinks so.

Someone might say, upon reading this, that I'm naive. "Do you believe that stuff, Keith? Sheesh!" But why shouldn't I? I have no reason to disbelieve it. If I can't believe what it says on an egg carton, why should I believe what it says on any product container? Should I believe that the computer I purchased has an eighty-gigabyte hard drive in it, or that it was put together in Austin, Texas, simply because it says those things on the box? Maybe I should conduct a personal investigation. I should go to the place where the eggs are produced and see for myself what "free roaming" means. Is that reasonable? Wouldn't it require that I conduct personal investigations of the soy products I buy? After all, why believe it when it says "Meatless Fat Free Slices" on my Deli Slices? Why believe it when it says "Meat Free Soy Protein Links" on my Smart Dogs? This sort of skepticism sweeps too broadly.

"But why eat eggs at all?" you ask. "Even if you're right that the chickens from whom these eggs came were free roaming, it doesn't follow that no suffering was involved." I agree. I'm not doing the best I can. But I'm doing better than if I ate any old eggs, as I did until recently. I'm doing less than the best—by my own standards—but not nothing. You can criticize me for not doing my best as long as you also praise me for doing something. To criticize me for not doing my best is to imply that morality is all or nothing—that there is no morally relevant difference between eating any old eggs and eating eggs from free-roaming hens.

Imagine if we adopted that attitude in other realms. If you're not playing in the major leagues, you may as well not play baseball. If you're not doing everything you can for your spouse, you're acting immorally. If you're causing any animal suffering at all, you may as well be skinning cats alive for the fun of it.

20 December 2003

A Letter to The New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "Middle Ground on Dogs" (editorial, Dec. 13):

When the World Trade Center fell, dogs (over the New York City Housing Authority's 40-pound maximum, which you support) cut their feet on shards of glass and crawled through unstable debris, risking their lives to search for victims. Dogs sniffing for explosives protect the lives of airline passengers. When a plane crashes, dogs crawl through twisted metal searching for survivors; as passengers, these dogs are required to travel as baggage.

Dogs sniff out drugs; in Iraq, dogs risk their lives sniffing out land mines. They guard and warn of fire. When someone is missing, dogs search for clues while humans helplessly tag along. Dogs provide eyes and ears for the disabled.

Most of all, dogs provide humans with a unique and valuable gift—unconditional love. Let's stop merely exploiting dogs and give them the respect and honor they deserve.

New York, Dec. 14, 2003

Doug Peacock on the Grizzly Bear

If grizzlies are to survive in the modern world, the bedrock assumption must be that these animals, grizzlies, have the right to live a bearish life. To proceed from this assumption will be costly. Bears will always be in the way of commercial, industrial, and economic development. Grizzlies will always be dangerous. It is within the range of the "natural behavior" of any grizzly to kill a human during his or her average life span. The combination of a grizzly's disposition on a particular day and the nature of its confrontation with any particular human is also probably unique. It would probably never happen again. Nonetheless, it is the unwritten law of grizzly bear management that any bear who kills a human must die. Otherwise the agencies involved could be sued.

What grizzlies need most for survival is protection from humans who kill them and sufficient habitat for all their needs: den sites, food, beds, and cover or sufficient area for security.

(Doug Peacock, Grizzly Years [New York: Zebra Books, 1992 (1990)], 352-3)

19 December 2003

Categorizing Animals

Justice is not fairness, as John Rawls famously declared. It is equality. If there is a morally relevant difference between individuals A and B, then justice requires that A and B be treated differently. If there is no morally relevant difference between individuals A and B, then justice requires that A and B be treated alike. Of course, justice isn't the only moral consideration. Sometimes it is right, all things considered, to act unjustly; and sometimes it is wrong, all things considered, to act justly. Justice is only part of morality; it is not the whole.

Nothing I said in the preceding paragraph tells us how to act in particular situations. But that doesn't mean that what I said is useless. Justice is a formal (structural) constraint on action. It provides no substance (content). This is easily seen. One of Vince Lombardi's players (Jerry Kramer, I believe) said of Lombardi many years later that he treated his players equally—like dogs. That is to say, since there were no morally relevant differences among the players (in Lombardi's eyes), justice required equal treatment. But which treatment was unspecified. If justice is equality, then equal bad treatment is just treatment.

Why do we speak of "animals" in such phrases as "animal rights," "animal liberation," and "animal welfare"? This, it seems to me, obscures morally relevant differences—or what may well be morally relevant differences—among animals. Let me explain.

Take the class of animals. Divide it into two mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive classes: humans and nonhumans. You and I, like Lassie and Mr Ed, are animals. You and I, however, are human animals; Lassie and Mr Ed are nonhuman animals. I'm not saying, yet, that this is a morally relevant difference. It's just a difference. All morally relevant differences are differences, but not all differences are morally relevant differences. To discriminate (to be a "discriminating person") is to be able to discern relevant differences (moral or otherwise) among individuals. This takes knowledge and training. It is a skill. A just person is a discriminating person.

Now focus on the class of nonhuman animals. Divide it into two mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive classes: domesticated animals and nondomesticated animals. A white-tailed deer is a nondomesticated animal, even if it happens to be kept in captivity. Sophie and Shelbie, my canine companions, are domesticated animals, as are horses, cows, sheep, pigs, and chickens.

Now focus on the class of domesticated animals. Divide it into two mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive classes: companion animals and noncompanion animals. Sophie and Shelbie are in the former class. The cow whose flesh you eat (or used to eat) is in the latter class.

The distinctions I've drawn create four mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive classes of animal:
1. Human.
2. Nondomesticated, nonhuman.
3. Companion, domesticated, nonhuman.
4. Noncompanion, domesticated, nonhuman.
Let's use some shorthand:
1. Humans.
2. Wild animals.
3. Companion animals ("pets").
4. Resource animals.
I submit that there are morally relevant differences among these classes that justify different treatment. Please don't leap to conclusions. I'm not saying that the conventional ways of treating individuals in these various categories are justified. I'm saying that if we wish to do justice, we should at least inquire into the characteristics of these classes before deciding how to treat their members. If there are morally relevant differences, then justice requires that we take them into account.

I want this post to be suggestive (please post or send feedback!), so let me just say that in my opinion, the proper model for class 2 is foreigners. Wild animals are other nations. We should leave them alone. We must not harm them but have no positive duties to them. The proper model for class 3 is children. Our companion animals are childlike. They depend on us. We brought them into our lives, so we have duties not just to refrain from harming them but to provide for their needs. Individuals in class 4 are, in fact, treated like slaves. They are bred and kept for human purposes. This institution, like slavery, must be abolished.

In summary, we should leave wild animals alone (i.e., not harm them), provide for companion animals (just as we do for our children), and work to abolish institutions and practices that use animals as mere means to human ends (i.e., as resources). If this results in no more cows, pigs, sheep, or chickens, so be it; although I suspect that some of each species will be kept as companion animals the way dogs and cats are now. In other words, we shouldn't fear that if we abolish factory farms, we will render the species made use of by those farms extinct.

This way of looking at things—categorizing animals in this way—shows that the term "animal liberation" applies only to class 4. Wild animals and companion animals are not constrained (i.e., their liberty is not being limited), so they have nothing from which to be liberated. The term "animal welfare" applies to classes 3 and 4, at least until factory farms and other oppressive institutions are abolished, at which time it will apply only to class 3. The term "animal rights" applies to classes 2, 3, and 4, depending on whether the rights in question are negative (a right to be left alone) or positive (a right to be provided for), or both.

18 December 2003

Henry Beston on Other Nations

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

(Henry Beston, The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod [New York: Ballantine Books, 1971 (1928)], 19-20)

17 December 2003

Animals in Literature

I haven't read much fiction in my life. Even as a child, I read history. It mattered to me that what I was reading had happened, not merely that it could happen. How odd that I ended up a philosopher, concerned with possibility rather than actuality! I have, however, read a few novels, and all of them moved me profoundly. One novel that had a lifelong effect on me was Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull: A Story. I read it in high school in the early 1970s, not long after its publication. Here, for those who haven't read it, or haven't read it in three decades, is a snippet (from pages 63-5):
One evening the gulls that were not night-flying stood together on the sand, thinking. Jonathan took all his courage in hand and walked to the Elder Gull, who, it was said, was soon to be moving beyond this world.

"Chiang . . ." he said, a little nervously.

The old seagull looked at him kindly. "Yes, my son?" Instead of being enfeebled by age, the Elder had been empowered by it; he could outfly any gull in the Flock, and he had learned skills that the others were only gradually coming to know.

"Chiang, this world isn't heaven at all, is it?"

The Elder smiled in the moonlight. "You are learning again, Jonathan Seagull," he said.

"Well, what happens from here? Where are we going? Is there no such place as heaven?"

"No, Jonathan, there is no such place. Heaven is not a place, and it is not a time. Heaven is being perfect." He was silent for a moment. "You are a very fast flier, aren't you?"

"I . . . I enjoy speed," Jonathan said, taken aback but proud that the Elder had noticed.

"You will begin to touch heaven, Jonathan, in the moment that you touch perfect speed. And that isn't flying a thousand miles an hour, or a million, or flying at the speed of light. Because any number is a limit, and perfection doesn't have limits. Perfect speed, my son, is being there."

Without warning, Chiang vanished and appeared at the water's edge fifty feet away, all in the flicker of an instant. Then he vanished again and stood, in the same millisecond, at Jonathan's shoulder. "It's kind of fun," he said.
Everyone should read this book. Find the time.

E-Mail from a Reader (Posted by Permission)

A gorilla for the killing (paraphrase of a whale for the killing)

I've seen a lot of pain, suffering in which we would like to wish or imagine doesn't occur, but life is oh so full of it, you see raised as I was it was it was there to see, not hidden, not concealed, not even really scrutinized upon, man, huh why must we create such embittered hate.

The suffering that, of which I speak of, involves human upon human violence, I do say that I seem to have become quite desensitized to it, even callous I dare say. I can see a dead person on the news with out so much as a flinch, suicide bomber blows up restaurant, 18 killed, plane crash kills 67, friendly fire kills 4, negotiations broken off after attack on embassy, 6 killed, starving children on T.V., you see every time I turn around it's staring me in the face, what's a person to do.

Sadly I have come to accept and tolerate this violence, unbridled hate that only humans can muster up, to me seeing it leaves me with out much thought, I realize that it is wrong, but I seem lost as to any solution, actually I don't think there is one, lets be frank here, I'm not uncaring, it does sadden me the whole world down the tubes thing and all, but I accept it to a point, man is man, need there be more said.

This brings me to the title a gorilla for the killing, and what seems like an unpredictable response that I had to it. It happened quite sometime ago, I like watching those oh so many wildlife programs that cable can throw at you, anywhooo this particular program was on the possible extinction of the species we call gorilla, and mans encroachment on to them, you see man is the gorillas only enemy, sad isn't it, you think killing each other would be enough, but no because we have the use of guns that fire high speed projectiles, why not see what it can do to a gorilla. During the program it was discussed how family oriented they are, how they communicate with each other, how gentle they can be, what they eat, how they spend their days, it was really very interesting a lot can be learned from perhaps our not so distant cousins ; ), then it happened, they showed some snuck out black market tapes of poachers shooting these, what came to be defenseless 500 lb primates, how can a 500lb gorilla be defenseless eh, well they are when man owns a high powered rifle that can deliver a bullet that hits with 3500 ft lbs. What transpired was, and I think of my self as pretty much self controlled and not overly emotional, there it was, a tear in my eye, this is the truth, an actual tear, this killing, to me seemed so bloody senseless that I couldn't find any reason for it, not even in a, they need it for bush meat sense. I always try to make some sort of unattached judgment on most things but this, this I couldn't, I JUST couldn't.

In closing, man is mans worst enemy, but further more to that, man is everyone's enemy, is there intelligent life else where, perhaps, it is a big universe, but maybe the intelligent part is what will keep us from ever knowing, would you like to know us?


Human Predators

I received the following letter from a reader:
Hi Keith: You have argued against eating meat along the following lines: Meat eating causes undue pain and suffering to animals. You have also argued that we humans try as hard as possible to hide our animalness from ourselves. You have also said that we very much belong to the animal world. If this is so, although I am not paraphrasing, then isn't meat eating a trait that we would share with lots of other animals and therefore wouldn't the act of devouring flesh be a trait that is inherent to our species. I argue along the following lines: Humans are animals. A lot of animals derive their sustenance from eating other animals. If humans eat animal meat then it is a normal occurrence in the animal world.
Thanks for the feedback! The first thing to notice is that from the fact that humans have some things in common with animals, it doesn't follow that they have everything in common (i.e., that there are no differences). Men and women are alike, but also different. The question is whether the differences, such as they are, are morally significant.

Every animal species has special features. Dogs can smell much better than humans can. Eagles have better eyesight. Humans have greater intellectual capacities. The question is whether any of these differences make a moral difference. They may. If only humans have the capacity to project themselves into the distant future, then only humans can suffer at the prospect of future suffering (or death). But this cuts both ways. Animals can't be told that an intervention is intended to help rather than hurt them. (Think of Marlin Perkins of Wild Kingdom shooting a dart into a rhinoceros to sedate it and allow rescuers to relocate it.) So the special features of humans both increase and decrease the amount of suffering they experience.

One morally relevant difference between humans and other animals is that only humans are moral agents. That is to say, only humans have the capacity to (1) reflect on their conduct and (2) control their behavior in accordance with principles. Only humans can go against their natural impulses. But if we can do these things, then it is an open question whether we ought to. Moral theory is an attempt to determine how humans ought to behave, given their capacities. Moral argument is an attempt to persuade, rationally.

The slogan "'ought' implies 'can'" means that one has a moral obligation to do something only if it is possible to do that thing. If a thing can't be done, then there's no obligation to do it. But animals can't conform their behavior to moral principles, as humans can, so they have no obligation to conform. They are moral patients who can be acted upon, but not moral agents who act. This is why it makes no sense to blame animals for their behavior. We might say, "Bad dog," but we don't think that the dog is responsible for its conduct. Animals are like mentally defective humans in this respect.

To cut to the chase, only humans are morally responsible. That animals harm each other, either intraspecifically or extraspecifically, is irrelevant to how we humans ought to behave toward them. We're special. Our cognitive abilities both liberate us from nature (so to speak) and impose responsibility on us to act morally.

Incidentally, those who reason that because animals kill and eat each other, humans may kill and eat animals, are not consistent. They do not look to animals for guidance about how to raise their children, construct their dwellings, prepare their food, or reproduce. If you think that humans should do as other animals do, then apply the principle consistently. Pick a species and emulate it slavishly. Don't pick and choose among animal behaviors, following animals where it pleases and not following where it doesn't please. That is as disingenuous as abiding only by certain parts of the Bible.

One more thing. It's pretty clear that humans are omnivores. They are capable, biologically, of subsisting on either plant or animal products, or both. But this is just a fact about us. Nothing of a moral nature follows from it. To see this, think of some other natural features. Humans (especially males, who have much more testosterone than females) are naturally aggressive. Does it follow that we may aggress on each other without constraint? Of course not. It may be that human males have an impulse to rape females (in the sense of forcing sexual intercourse on them). Does it follow that they may do so? Of course not. That something is the case is no reason whatsoever for thinking that it ought to be the case.

16 December 2003

Jamie Mayerfeld on the Duty to Relieve Animal Suffering

The duty to relieve suffering is universal . . . in the sense that it applies to all significant suffering. That includes the suffering of people from cultures in which the duty to relieve suffering is unrecognized.

What of non-human animals? Like people, other animals have an interest in avoiding suffering. The duty to relieve suffering must apply with the same vigor to animal suffering as it does to human suffering, unless it is the case that the interest of animals in avoiding suffering carries less moral weight than the similar interest of humans in avoiding suffering, even where the intensity and duration of suffering are equivalent. This is a much disputed issue, which I cannot properly examine here. As I said in chapter 1, my own view is that the suffering of non-human animals carries no less moral weight than the suffering of humans, and that consequently the duty to relieve suffering applies with equal force to both.

A strong duty to relieve suffering that does not discriminate between species would require radical changes in the ways that we relate to other animals. It would, for example, require an end to the practice of factory farming, in which billions of animals are annually subjected to extreme suffering in order to supply humans with meat and other products at the lowest possible cost. It would also raise difficult questions about the practice of experimenting on animals to obtain medical benefits for humans. These cases, much discussed in the literature on animal ethics, involve suffering that is inflicted by human beings. But a species-blind duty to relieve suffering would also make it a prima facie requirement to save animals from suffering brought upon them by natural conditions and other animals. That seems right to me. (That the idea is unfamiliar to many people does not make it absurd.) There are, however, limits to what we can do. Efforts to teach animals less aggressive behavior or to protect them from a harsh environment would frequently fail, and when successful, would often require heavy-handed forms of intervention that would do more harm than good. The difficulty and expense of these efforts might also raise concerns about the limits of obligatory sacrifice. And there are moral opportunity costs: an equivalent expenditure of resources, directed elsewhere, might do much more to reduce the cumulative badness of suffering in the world. If we are serious about reducing animal suffering, we should start with the suffering that is inflicted by human beings.

(Jamie Mayerfeld, Suffering and Moral Responsibility [New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999], 116-7 [footnotes omitted])

15 December 2003

Canine Companions

LONDON (Reuters)—Thousands of years of joint evolution have made man's best friend into one of the family, an article in the journal New Scientist said on Wednesday [1 March 2000]. Research even indicates that dogs could empathize with the emotions of people who were sad or ill. Research carried out by scientists in Budapest indicates that dogs develop bonds with their owners as children do with their parents, the journal said. "What we found is that just as babies display a variety of levels of attachment towards their parents, dogs also show different levels of attachment to their owner," Adam Miklosi of the Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest told Reuters. A study called the "strange situation test" demonstrates that babies are happy to explore a new environment as long as their mother is nearby but become anxious if she leaves. Miklosi found the same behavior in dogs. In 1997, researchers in the United States used DNA techniques to estimate that dogs may have been domesticated as long as 135,000 years ago—previously scientists had thought dogs became domesticated only 14,000 years ago. Thousands of years of co-existence have influenced dogs to become dependent on humans, Miklosi said in the New Scientist article. "The stronger the attachment between a dog and its owner . . . the more likely the pet was to behave in a socially dependent way, relinquishing its powers of independent thought and action," the New Scientist said. Selective breeding of dogs over time has produced animals that form strong bonds and are predisposed to learn and obey rules, New Scientist said. "The dog's natural environment is the human family or other human social settings," the head of the Budapest team, Vilmos Cysani, said in the magazine article. Prolonged exposure to humans has also made dogs more responsive to human gestures than other animals which are purportedly more "intelligent" such as chimpanzees, the journal said. For instance, dogs are even better than chimpanzees at interpreting gestural clues and seem to understand what a human means when he points somewhere. Chimpanzees cannot, Miklosi said, though he pointed out long exposure could change that. More controversially, Cysani said his team's research indicates dogs could empathize with the emotions of people who were sad or ill. He even goes so far as to compare canine bonding with human love, New Scientist said.

See here as well.

14 December 2003

Organic Beef

My marathon packet contained a brochure for organic beef. Here's the website.

Beneficent Hunting

I received a nice e-mail message from a reader in Colorado. He asked a challenging question:
I read your post on guns and hunting. My question is, wouldn't it be acceptable, moral, and responsible to permit, and even encourage, hunting of game, if only to thin the herds? I'm not a hunter myself, but several friends and relatives are. Isn't it true that due to the lack of natural predators, deer populations (for example) have grown to levels that put domesticated animals at risk? Overgrazing is a serious problem sometimes, which is why the state of Colorado permits hunting for short periods at the Air Force Academy.
This is an issue that could bear discussion. I personally am ambivalent. Perhaps my fellow bloggers would like to comment. Readers, too, are welcome.

13 December 2003

Environmentalism as a Religion

If you're an environmentalist, you need to read Michael Crichton's lecture of this past September. Go here for a link.


Suppose Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation, has been surreptitiously eating factory-farmed animal flesh all these years. What should we say?

R. M. Hare on the Alleged Wrongness of Killing Animals

For utilitarians like [Peter] Singer and myself, doing wrong to animals must involve harming them. If there is no harm, there is no wrong. Further, it has to be harm overall; if a course of action involves some harms but greater benefits, and there is no alternative with a greater balance of good over harm, it will not be wrong. We have to ask, therefore, whether the entire process of raising animals and then killing them to eat causes them more harm overall than benefit. My answer is that, assuming, as we must assume if we are to keep the 'killing' argument distinct from the 'suffering' argument, that they are happy while they live, it does not. For it is better for an animal to have a happy life, even if it is a short one, than no life at all. This is an old argument, and there are well-canvassed objections to it . . . ; but I do not think they succeed. First, it is claimed that mere existence is in itself not a benefit. But this is irrelevant; I am not claiming that mere existence is a benefit in itself, but that it is a necessary condition for having the benefits that we can have only if we are alive. It is beneficial not in itself but as a means to these.

(R. M. Hare, "Why I Am Only a Demi-Vegetarian," chap. 15 in his Essays on Bioethics [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993], 219-35, at 226)

12 December 2003

Richard Swinburne on Love of (and by) Animals

The higher animals have all of the simpler kinds of belief and desire which I have described, and humans have the more sophisticated kinds of belief and desire. One might come to think that, in that case, because the beliefs and desires which humans can have are better than those which animals can have, God would create only humans. But that thought would be mistaken for more than one reason. It will suffice to mention here just one reason; I will come to others in the next chapter. This one reason is that among the great goods available to humans are those of responding in the right way to those with lesser abilities and so to love and to care for animals. Although animals can respond with great love to human love, they cannot love in the same way; and hence human love of animals will have a uniquely valuable character (because reciprocable only in a limited kind of way). To be able to love those who cannot love you in the same way is to have a unique opportunity for generous love.

(Richard Swinburne, Providence and the Problem of Evil [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998], 79)

Harming Your Children by Feeding Them Animal Flesh

Suppose you're a vegetarian for health, and perhaps also for moral, reasons. Suppose your spouse is not a vegetarian. You tolerate each other's diets. Now suppose you have children. Your spouse believes that children need meat in their diets in order to be healthy and strong. You disagree. Indeed, you believe that animal products increase the risk of various diseases, so in your view the meat-based diet is harming (i.e., setting back the interests of) your children. Each of you wants what's best for your children, obviously, but you disagree about what's best.

It may seem that this is a silly dispute. Consult the facts about meat-based diets for children and act accordingly. But it's not that simple. The facts may not be clear, first of all; or the parent who wishes to feed the children animal flesh may believe that the studies are not reliable (they may seem to be "advocacy science"); or the parent may wish to err on the side of caution, reasoning that many meat-eaters have lived long, healthy lives, whereas it's not clear what the long-term effects of a vegetarian diet are.

Family life is difficult enough as it is, but fighting about the diet of one's children can seem more trouble than it's worth. I had a friend who gave up—who allowed his wife to feed meat to their children. I chastised him for it, but only mildly, for it seemed to intrude on a personal matter. Okay, it did intrude on a personal matter. He said that his daughter didn't like meat and that he hoped she would refuse to eat it. His strategy was hope, which is, of course, no strategy at all. I have no children of my own, so I can't speak with any authority about what it's like to balance love, concern, and respect. After all, the children are your spouse's, too. (Wasn't it simpler when men made all the decisions?)

I'm not making an argument. I'm thinking aloud. Does anyone have any suggestions about how to handle a situation such as this? I may yet have children (I know: poor kids), so I want to be prepared.

11 December 2003

Guns and Deontology

Careful readers of my blogs (personal and communal) may think they've spotted an inconsistency. On the one hand, I defend gun-ownership. I said the other day (on AnalPhilosopher) that one of the things I like about Texas is its gun-friendliness. Much earlier I had written that guns, like David Lee Roth and Jif peanut butter, are underrated. On the other hand, I say disparaging things about hunting and hunters. What gives?

There is no inconsistency. I defend gun-ownership for lots of reasons, the main one being that it is protected by the United States Constitution. Read your Second Amendment. I also believe that private gun ownership deters, and therefore prevents, crime. (Deterrence is one kind of prevention. I'll discuss the distinction in another entry.) If there were more guns in the hands of private citizens and this fact were well known, criminals might think twice about aggressing on them. If you're thinking of burglarizing a house, will you think twice if you know or suspect that the owner has a gun? I thought so. It's common sense. If guns are outlawed, then only outlaws will have guns—and they will terrorize the rest of us.

But defending the legal or moral right of individuals to own guns is not the same as defending whatever uses they make of them. Nobody thinks that the right to own guns confers a right to kill other human beings (except in self-defense or defense of others). Nobody thinks that the right to own guns confers a right to destroy other people's property. Your liberty stops at the tip of my nose.

But animals have noses, too. (Okay, noses, beaks, trunks, and snouts.) The right to own a gun doesn't confer a right to kill sentient beings. Someone asked me recently whether libertarianism takes a position on the moral status of animals. As a former card-carrying member of the Libertarian party, I don't think it does. Libertarianism is a political philosophy. It is about the relation of citizens to the state. It is not a moral theory about which entities have moral status. This is why some libertarians are animal-liberationists and some are not. Nothing in the ideology commits one either way.

Morally speaking, I'm a deontologist, not a consequentialist. I believe that there are constraints on the pursuit of the overall good. The main constraint is against the doing of harm. I'm not an absolutist deontologist, so I'm willing to allow the doing of harm in order to prevent significantly greater harm (emphasis on "significantly"). But hunting does not fall into this category. Hunting inflicts gratuitous harm on animals. It is done for sport or recreation or entertainment, none of which comes close to justifying harm-doing.

"But animals can't be harmed!" you say. Why can't they? To harm another is to set back his or her interests. Animals, whether wild or domestic, have many of the same interests as humans, including life, liberty, security, and bodily integrity. You don't really believe that animals can't be harmed. But if they can, then harming them requires a powerful justification, not just a desire for the activity that does the harm. Nothing hunters come up with comes close to justifying it.

"But what's the point of having a right to own guns if we can't hunt with them?" you ask. There are other uses of guns: competition, self-defense, target practice. No right is absolute. Your right to drive a motor vehicle does not confer a right to run people over. Imagine someone saying, "But what's the point of having a right to drive if we can't run over people?" Sounds silly, doesn't it? So yes, I'm a strong defender of private gun ownership, for legal and moral reasons. But the right is constrained by other moral considerations, such as the moral status of animals. You may disagree with me about whether animals have moral status, and if so what that amounts to, but please don't accuse me of being inconsistent. I'm a gun owner's best friend. I'm a hunter's worst enemy.

Addendum: I'm posting this on both blogs, since it raises general philosophical issues as well as issues related specifically to animal ethics.

Power Hunting

This is sad. (Thanks to an anonymous reader for the tip.)

Concealing Our Animality

This entry from my personal blog, AnalPhilosopher, may be of interest to readers of Animal Ethics.

Fourteenth Column

Tired of being trampled underfoot by trained arguers? Ready to kick some argumentative butt? Then read my latest column on Tech Central Station, "How to Argue." Feedback is of course welcome—preferably on the TCS site, but also by e-mail or in a comment immediately below.

10 December 2003

Shooting Fish in a Barrel

This is real manly.

Jeff McMahan on Dogliness

There are, I confess, moments when one doubts the superiority of the goods of human life, at least in comparison to those of certain types of animal life. If, for example, one has ever had a dog, one must surely at some point have suspected that a dog's life contains more pure, unalloyed joy than one's own. But even if it is true that, as a sober and responsible adult, one seldom seems to attain quite the peaks of ecstasy that a dog experiences at the prospect of going for a walk, most of us can remember having, as a child, a capacity for almost boundless delight in various equally simple and trivial activities. Thus one may console oneself with the reflection that one's life as a whole contains much the same goods that a dog's contains, and much more besides. This reflection, however, has little bearing on the comparative evaluation of human and animal death, since the simple ecstasies of childhood are, for most of us, in the past. Still, it seems that even adult human life tends to contain its share of exuberant joys that rival in intensity those experienced by dogs. They are simply not so conspicuous as they are within the lives of dogs, where they dramatically punctuate days otherwise given over to torpor and sleep. Human well-being, by contrast, is more continuous, dense, and varied, so that the ecstatic moments, which may be more diffusely spread over longer periods, are less salient. And what fills the intervals between these moments is normally altogether better than the dull vacancy of a dog at rest.

(Jeff McMahan, The Ethics of Killing: Problems at the Margins of Life [New York: Oxford University Press, 2002], 195-6 [italics in original])

Law and Morality

Morality works by persuasion. Law works by coercion. Animals need both types of protection. If you're interested in learning about animal law, please go here.

09 December 2003

Simon Blackburn on Dogs

Dogs are frequently shown in pictures of philosophers, as their assiduity and fidelity is a symbol of what is needed in the hunt for wisdom.

(Simon Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy [Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1994], 17 [s.v. "animal thought"])

Received "Wisdom" About Animals

This is a reply to Nathan's immediately preceding (and interesting) post. The reason there is not a corpus of philosophical work defending the view that animals are objects is that this has been the received view. It still is in most quarters. To many people, it's common sense (in modern parlance, a no-brainer) that animals exist for human use and enjoyment.

There are of course philosophical defenses of animal objecthood. See Descartes and Kant. But even these are un(der)developed. Teachers of animal ethics should explain to their students that the "debate" is between so-called common sense and those who would revise common sense. There's a kind of default position that must be challenged or called into question. Compare skepticism in epistemology. Half the battle is getting dogmatists to see that their "knowledge" is questionable.

There's also the Christian position on animals, which is about as well worked-out as any philosophical view. Most Christians believe that their religion confers object status on animals. Any good that is done in their behalf is supererogatory. This is highly debatable, as some thoughtful Christians have shown. Arguably, Christianity confers moral status on animals and requires such things as vegetarianism. But Christians must be persuaded of this.

Incidentally, this shows that defending animals requires versatility and patience. To persuade a Christian, one must begin with Christian premises. To persuade a Marxist, one must begin with Marxist premises. To persuade a contractarian, one must begin with contractarian premises. There are as many arguments to be made as there are religions, ideologies, and moral theories.

08 December 2003

Henry S. Salt on the Logic of Vegetarianism

The chief object of this work, as stated at the outset, has been to prove the logical soundness of vegetarian principles, and the hollowness of the hackneyed taunt, so often a makeshift for reasoning, that Vegetarians are a crew of mild brainless enthusiasts whose "hearts are better than their heads." How far I have been successful in this purpose it is for the reader to judge; I trust it has at least been made plain that, if it is logic that our friends are in need of, we are quite ready to accommodate them, and that nothing will please us better than a thorough intellectual sifting of the whole problem of diet. Only it must be a thorough sifting. The great foe of Vegetarianism, as of every other reform, is Habit—that inert, blind, dogged force which time called into being, and time only can outwear—and it is this which lurks behind the flimsy sophisms and excuses that the flesh-eater loves to set up, in which, as a rule, though there is much show of controversy, there is little real discussion.

(Henry S. Salt, The Logic of Vegetarianism: Essays and Dialogues [London: The Ideal Publishing Union, 1899], 112 [italics in original])

Philosophers and Technology

Mylan Engel is trying desperately to log in to Blogger so he can respond to some of the posts. He probably thinks Angus, Nathan, and I are keeping him out so he can't let us have it. We're not, Mylan. We welcome your input, feeble as it will undoubtedly be. We just wish you had minimal technical competence. Come on! If I can figure it out, anyone can.

07 December 2003

Angus Taylor on the Feminist Critique of Vegetarianism

The idea that feminists should advocate vegetarianism has been challenged by Kathryn Paxton George. . . . George maintains that arguments for universal vegetarianism, particularly in its vegan form (that is, a meatless diet without eggs or dairy products), tacitly assume male physiology to be the human norm. She claims that requiring girls and women to be strict vegetarians would typically mean imposing an inadequate diet on them, given the specific nutritional requirements of human females. There are also many males for whom a strict vegetarian diet is unsuitable, says George. Strict vegetarianism is a viable ideal only for well-off adult males (and for healthy, well-off, younger adult females who do not bear children) living in technologically advanced societies. It is normally only this minority who have the physiological capacity, the education, and the access to the necessary food sources (including vitamin and mineral supplements) to lead healthy lives on a strict vegetarian diet.

(Angus Taylor, Animals and Ethics: An Overview of the Philosophical Debate [Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2003], 104 [citing Kathryn Paxton George, Animal, Vegetable, or Woman? A Feminist Critique of Ethical Vegetarianism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000)])

06 December 2003

Theory and Practice

I have often heard it said (or implied) that theorists should submerge their differences (i.e., disagreements) for the good of the animal-liberation movement. For example, Peter Singer and Tom Regan are equally committed to changing the way humans think about and treat animals. Should they or anyone else even care that they bring different theoretical approaches (utilitarianism and deontology, respectively) to bear in reaching these conclusions? Isn't it divisive, distracting, and counterproductive? Doesn't it send the wrong message to those who view (and treat) animals as objects? Doesn't it suggest that the animal liberationists can't get their story straight? If animal liberationists can't figure out why it's wrong to hunt, eat animal flesh, or experiment on animals, why should anyone care what they say? "Get it straightened out," someone might say; "then come talk to us."

This, with all due respect, is confused. First of all, whatever else they are, Singer and Regan are philosophers. As such, they are interested in the grounds (if any), structure, and implications of belief, not just its content. Not everything Singer or Regan says is said in his capacity as a philosopher. I'm a conservative, for example. It has nothing whatsoever to do with my being a philosopher. Do I use my philosophical skills to argue in behalf of conservative causes? Yes, but in doing so, I am not doing philosophy. I am exploiting my philosophical skills for a nonphilosophical (but noble!) purpose. Let us be clear about this. Not everything a philosopher does is philosophy. Not everything a lawyer does is law. (I'm one of those, too.) Not everything a doctor does is medicine.

Philosophers, as such, are interested in the grounds, and not just the fact, of belief or action. Two people can believe in God for different reasons. One believes because the evidence supports it, the other because it maximizes expected value. Two people can refrain from eating meat for different reasons. One refrains because it is unhealthy, the other because it is wrong. Even two people who refrain from eating meat for moral reasons can cite different reasons. This is what divides Singer and Regan. Singer thinks the salient fact about animals is that they are sentient (i.e., capable of suffering). Regan thinks the salient fact about animals is that they are subjects of a life, with inherent value.

These theories about the nature and moral importance of animals give the same result in many or most cases, but this doesn't make them the same theory. All it takes is one case of divergence to show that they are different theories, and there are many such cases, real as well as hypothetical. (I'll do another post soon on the importance of hypothetical cases, or thought experiments.) When Singer and Regan discuss theory, as they did in their 1980 exchange in Philosophy & Public Affairs, they are acting as philosophers. (Let me know if you want PDF files of these wonderful essays. I'll be happy to send them.) They are investigating the grounds of their shared beliefs and judgments. This is good. Philosophical investigation, like scientific investigation, is always good, whatever the consequences. Do you agree?

What philosophers should do is not hide the (ugly) reality of theoretical disagreement from the public, much less try to stifle it, but explain to the public why it is taking place and why it is important that it take place. Incidentally, what I say here about animal liberation is true of feminism, environmentalism, and other -isms. Theory should never be stifled or discouraged for the sake of a social movement or cause, however important it may be. If you ask Singer or Regan to stop criticizing each other, as they have been doing so civilly and brilliantly for a quarter of a century, you are asking them to stop doing philosophy. I'm sorry, but I want them to do philosophy. And when they are done doing philosophy for the day, I, qua animal liberationist, am glad that they join hands, literally or figuratively, to protest the latest outrage against animals.

Addendum: All errors and infelicities in this post are attributable to Foghat, which has been blasting into my ears as I write.

05 December 2003

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) on Humanity as a Prejudice

'Humanity'.—We do not regard the animals as moral beings. But do you suppose the animals regard us as moral beings?—An animal which could speak said: 'Humanity is a prejudice of which we animals at least are free.'

(Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality, trans. R. J. Hollingdale [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982], bk. 4, aph. 333, p. 329 [first published in 1881 as Die Morgenrote: Gedanken uber die moralischen Vorurteile])

Animal Liberation and Utilitarianism

One important task of the philosopher is to clarify and disambiguate. This is the task in which we have a comparative advantage, given our training. Other people get confused; philosophers clear things up for them.

In 1996, Gary L. Francione, whose heart is in the right place, butchered Peter Singer's argument for animal liberation. See Gary L. Francione, Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996), chap. 3, esp. 54-62. Francione thinks that Singer's argument presupposes utilitarianism, which he finds unacceptable. But while Singer is both a utilitarian and a proponent of animal liberation, it's not the case that his argument for the latter presupposes the former.

Animal Liberation is an expansion of Singer's 1974 essay "All Animals Are Equal." In neither work is there any mention of utilitarianism. That alone should have given Francione pause. Singer's argument is rooted in the principle of equal consideration of interests (PECI). His argument, in a nutshell, is that no act can be morally right if it either disregards or discounts the interests of those affected by the act. Since animals have interests (in not suffering, for example), those interests must be counted. To discount them simply because they're the interests of animals is to violate PECI. There is nothing here about maximization. Nor does utilitarianism have a monopoly on equal consideration of interests. Francione is confused.

I recently reconstructed Singer's argument for my Ethics students. Singer commented on the resultant handout. He said what I expected him to say, namely, that while his argument for animal liberation is compatible with utilitarianism, it is not entailed by it. If you're interested, here is the handout, which I reproduced on my personal blog, AnalPhilosopher.

04 December 2003

Vegetarianism as a Lifelong Project

Suppose you believe that it's wrong to consume animal products. You yourself, let us suppose, are a vegan. What attitude should you take toward those who share your view but who continue to eat certain animal products? Should you be understanding and encouraging, or should you be judgmental? Should you chalk it up to moral weakness, or should you view it as perfidy and hypocrisy?

My interest in this question is partly philosophical and partly personal. I gave up red meat (i.e., all animal products except poultry, seafood, and eggs) on 11 February 1981. I had been raised with a traditional omnivorous diet and didn't want to eliminate all animal products at once. I knew that I would never backslide, and I haven't, but I wanted to work my way into vegetarianism gradually. Eventually I would become a vegan; it was only a matter of time.

It may sound funny, but I laid out a timetable for eliminating animal products from my diet. (I like to do things systematically.) At the end of 1981, I would give up turkey. I did. That left chicken, seafood, and eggs. (I'm allergic to dairy products, so that wasn't something to worry about.) The plan was to give up chicken the following year. Alas, I did not. I remained at this place until a couple of years ago, when I gave up chicken. I still get traces of chicken in various food products, such as ramen; but I don't eat any chicken flesh. I continue to eat seafood, however (such as tuna), and I still eat eggs, although I buy only eggs in cartons that read "From Free-Roaming Hens."

My dear friend and fellow blogger Mylan Engel has criticized me mercilessly for continuing to eat tuna and eggs. He says that even the eggs I buy bring pain, suffering, and death to chickens. I don't deny that. But I don't want to focus on that right now. I want to focus on whether it makes sense for someone like Mylan to praise someone like me. Admittedly, I don't live up to my principles; but am I not close, and doesn't that count for something? Am I not doing better than most others? Is it all or nothing? Are you either morally pure or no better than a carnivore?

Do you see the issue? My own view is that vegetarians and vegans should ease up. Every little bit helps. Vegetarianism comes easily to some people. They stop eating animal products cold turkey. (Sorry.) They go whole hog. (Sorry again.) But not everyone is as strong-willed as these individuals. For most people, dietary changes are the hardest changes to make. Most people, upon reaching adulthood, continue to eat (and enjoy) what they ate and enjoyed as children. If you developed a taste for meat growing up, not eating it (whether for health or for moral reasons) will be experienced as a loss.

Also, people need to learn how to make tasty, nutritious, filling vegetarian meals. This takes time. One needs to learn where to find the ingredients. More time. Vegetarianism is a lifelong project, not a decision. It is a way of working oneself pure over time. The key is not to backslide; but if you gradually eliminate certain animal products from your diet—whether by species or by food group (say, poultry)—you are on the right track. Even if you cut back on the amount of a particular animal product, without eliminating it entirely, you are making moral progress. Those who have gone further along the track than you should celebrate your progress and encourage you to continue. They should not badger you or make you feel bad for not being perfect.

03 December 2003

Morality Makes for Strange Bedfellows

One of our readers, I believe from Australia, wrote a poignant e-mail message to me the other day. He says he read Mylan Engel's essay "The Immorality of Eating Meat" (see the link to the left), which got him to thinking. He says he would like to try "veg. living" but believes that doing so would support organizations such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), whose ends or means (or both) he rejects.

I know exactly what the reader is talking about. It was hard for me to call myself a conservative, in part because it might give people the wrong impression. I differ very much from the people one thinks of as conservative, such as Tom DeLay and Jerry Falwell. I'm not religious, for example. I don't view nonhuman animals as resources for human use. But then I asked myself, "Why does it matter?" People will know what I mean by "conservative" by listening to me or reading what I write. Why should I care that other conservatives have views or values I don't share? If anything, I should welcome this sort of confusion, for it helps distinguish that which is essential to conservatism from that which is accidental. I believe that religiosity and speciesism are accidental to conservatism. I'm living proof of it.

Our reader can live a "veg. life" without subscribing to anything PETA stands for other than concern for animals. That the reader and the members of PETA have that in common doesn't imply that they have other things in common. I, too, am deeply troubled by many of PETA's tactics (about which more in subsequent posts), but wouldn't it be the height of selfishness for me to make animals suffer in order to dissociate myself from the group? I would be cutting off my nose to spite my face.

It's often said that politics makes for strange bedfellows. Both Jerry Falwell, the Baptist minister, and Catharine MacKinnon, the radical feminist, oppose pornography, but for very different reasons. Falwell thinks it's shameful and immoral; MacKinnon thinks it harms women. Should MacKinnon change her view about pornography because it puts her in "bed" with Falwell, with whom she differs on most issues? No. She should go about her work for her own reasons, pausing to explain her differences with Falwell to anyone who asks.

This is what I do with my conservatism, and it's what our reader should do about his "veg. life." Do what you think is right. Ignore the fact that it puts you in "bed" with PETA or other groups you despise because of their tactics. Don't make the animals suffer for what is, in the end, a trivial matter.

02 December 2003

Explaining (and Defending) Singer

Bill Carone posted a comment on the quotation from Peter Singer. I think his comment rests on a misunderstanding of what Singer is saying.

Singer is a consequentialist. This means he evaluates actions solely in terms of their consequences. That an act is of a particular type (say, of violence) is morally irrelevant to him. It has no intrinsic moral significance. Another way to put this is that Singer, qua consequentialist, cannot and does not rule out violence categorically. (A category is a class, kind, or type. To rule something out categorically is to rule out all the members—instances, tokens—of a particular category.) Whether an act of violence is morally permissible depends, for Singer, on its consequences (as compared to other acts the agent can perform instead).

But consequentialists can employ rules of thumb, as John Stuart Mill pointed out in chapter two of Utilitarianism (1861). I believe this is all Singer is doing here. He is saying that violence almost always produces inferior results by the utilitarian standard. Almost always. Therefore, unless there is very good reason to think that it will produce the best results in a given case, it should be avoided. Singer is also, in the quoted passage, alluding to one easily ignored bad effect of violent acts: They alienate and antagonize those who are otherwise sympathetic to the cause.

I'm no consequentialist, but I think Singer is being a good consequentialist when he disavows and discourages violence. Nor do I see any speciesism in what he says. He would say the same thing about violence in behalf of humans as he does about violence in behalf of animals.

The Meatrix

Angus Taylor passed along a link. I assume it's a play on The Matrix, which I haven't seen. Check it out.

01 December 2003

Peter Singer on Violence as a Means

It would be a tragic mistake if even a small section of the Animal Liberation movement were to attempt to achieve its objectives by hurting people. Some believe that people who make animals suffer deserve to have suffering inflicted upon them. I don't believe in vengeance; but even if I did, it would be a damaging distraction from our task of stopping the suffering. To do that, we must change the minds of reasonable people in our society. We may be convinced that a person who is abusing animals is entirely callous and insensitive; but we lower ourselves to that level if we physically harm or threaten physical harm to that person. Violence can only breed more violence—a cliché, but one that can be seen to be tragically true in half a dozen conflicts around the world. The strength of the case for Animal Liberation is its ethical commitment; we occupy the moral high ground and to abandon it is to play into the hands of those who oppose us.

(Peter Singer, Animal Liberation, 2d ed. [New York: The New York Review of Books, 1990], xii-xiii)