30 December 2004

Gary L. Francione on Animal Property

Although animal rights may be a remote goal in a nation that still disregards the rights of the poor, of women, of people of color, and of children and the elderly, there can be little, if any, doubt that conventional morality strongly proscribes the infliction of any “unnecessary” pain on animals and imposes an obligation of [sic] all humans to treat nonhumans “humanely.” Despite ubiquitous agreement on these points, there is also widespread acknowledgment that animal abuse does continue unabated in our society. What accounts for this ostensible irony is that animals do not have rights under the law. There are, of course, many laws on the federal and state levels that purport to protect animals from “inhumane” treatment, but these laws do not really confer rights in the sense that we usually use that term. Indeed, the vast majority of these laws do not even prohibit certain types of conduct that adversely affects animals. To the extent that the law does contain any types of prohibitions, such as the illegality of dogfighting or cockfighting, these prohibitions are usually more concerned with class issues or other moral issues than with animal protection. Similarly, aggressive efforts by police to prohibit the use of animals in religious “sacrifices” may have more to do with racist attitudes about the religion involved than with concern about animals. Both dogfighting and cockfighting are activities that are ostensibly more common among members of disempowered minority communities. Although these prohibitions also appear to be related to a general social disapproval of gambling, other animal wagering activities (e.g., horseracing) are more common among the middle and upper classes; indeed, several such events, such as the Kentucky Derby, are quite celebrated. Prohibitions (e.g., no animal can be used in burn experiments) may imply that there are some interests possessed by the animal that may not be traded away simply because of consequential considerations (e.g., the animal has an interest in not being used in burn experiments even where it can be plausibly argued that humans will benefit). Animals are the property of people, and property owners usually react rather strongly against any measure that threatens their autonomy concerning the use of their property.

(Gary L. Francione, Animals, Property, and the Law, Ethics and Action, ed. Tom Regan [Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995], 17-8 [italics in original; endnote omitted])

29 December 2004


David Graham has a new blog. See here. David is a vegan and a libertarian.

27 December 2004

Robert Nozick (1938-2002) on the Moral Status of Animals

If some animals count for something, which animals count, how much do they count, and how can this be determined? Suppose (as I believe the evidence supports) that eating animals is not necessary for health and is not less expensive than alternate equally healthy diets available to people in the United States. The gain, then, from the eating of animals is pleasures of the palate, gustatory delights, varied tastes. I would not claim that these are not truly pleasant, delightful, and interesting. The question is: do they, or rather does the marginal addition in them gained by eating animals rather than only nonanimals, outweigh the moral weight to be given to animals’ lives and pain? Given that animals are to count for something, is the extra gain obtained by eating them rather than nonanimal products greater than the moral cost?

(Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia [New York: Basic Books, 1974], 36-7 [italics in original])

Addendum: See here for Peter Singer's contemporaneous review of Nozick's book.

20 December 2004

Understanding Speciesism

Racism can be understood as the view that race (racial membership) has intrinsic moral significance, i.e., that race is a morally salient category. Nonracism denies that. Nonracists say that race has no intrinsic moral significance. If race has any moral significance at all, they say, it is because race is correlated with other traits that do have intrinsic moral significance. That is to say, race has, at most, extrinsic moral significance.

Speciesism is analogous to racism. Speciesists hold that species (species membership) has intrinsic moral significance, i.e., that species is a morally salient category. Nonspeciesism denies that. Nonspeciesists say that species membership has no intrinsic moral significance. If species has any moral significance at all, they say, it is because species is correlated with other traits that do have intrinsic moral significance. That is, species has, at most, extrinsic moral significance.

Nonspeciesism is compatible with differential treatment for members of different species. Suppose I have to choose between a human being and a dog, as in a lifeboat situation. I may choose the human being, but that choice doesn’t make me a speciesist. Whether I’m a speciesist depends not on what I choose, or do, but on the basis or rationale of my choice. If I choose the human being because he or she is a human being, I’m a speciesist. If I choose the human being because he or she has a greater expected lifespan, a higher quality of life, or more dependents who will be adversely affected by his or her death, or because the human being is my child or friend, I’m not a speciesist.

This shows the fallacy of thinking that concern for animals necessarily reduces one’s concern for humans. One can be nonspeciesist simply by refusing to treat biological humanity (membership in Homo sapiens) as a morally salient category. If humans are special, morally, it’s because of other traits, not because they’re human. Incidentally, both Peter Singer and Tom Regan, the founders of the modern animal-rights/animal-liberation movement, would choose the human being in the hypothetical case I described. But neither of them is a speciesist.

From the Mailbag

Hi Keith!

It's the president of your Luxembourg fan club again, whom you converted to vegetarianism some months ago. As regards dog food, what about feeding them with minced roadkill? I suppose there's a law against it, but I don't see what harm it could do. Or perhaps there isn't enough roadkill around.

Is there a "vegetarian ethics" stance on this?

Cathal Copeland

P.S. If you wish to publish this letter, feel free to do so!

17 December 2004

Charles S. Nicoll and Sharon M. Russell on Vegetarianism

The vegetarian lifestyle is clearly not “cruelty free,” as animal activists wish to believe. There is no such thing as a bloodless veggieburger. The difference between vegetarian and omnivorous lifestyles is simply that in the former, the killing of animals is indirect and unintentional, and animals are not intentionally consumed. We fail to see how that makes vegetarianism morally more acceptable than being omnivorous.

(Charles S. Nicoll and Sharon M. Russell, “The Unnatural Nature of the Animal Rights/Liberation Philosophy,” Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine 205 [1994]: 269-73, at 270)

13 December 2004


I discovered Barry Holstun Lopez 24 years ago today. It changed my life. See here if you want to be transformed.

12 December 2004

From the Mailbag


Redwood, a British company, has also great vegan cheese assortment, including Edammer and Gouda style. As a Dutch man I know these things, of course.

See for example here.

I don't know if it is available in the US but first it wasn't in the Netherlands, but then people started to ask for it and now it is available. Good stuff.

Met vriendelijke groet,

Danny Friedmann

Humans and Animals

Someone wrote to me to ask whether I’m as concerned about human rights as I am about animal rights. He said that, in his experience, those who believe that animals have rights tend to “humanize animals and dehumanize humans.” I don’t speak for others, obviously, but I don’t know of any philosopher (including me) whose concern for animals in any way undercuts his or her concern for humans. Peter Singer, for example, is as devoted to human beings as he is to animals. This is why he believes it wrong to allow human beings to suffer and die when one can easily prevent it. See here. Many people who claim to care about human beings would not go that far. There is, in short, no incompatibility between caring for humans and caring for animals; nor do I know of any psychological mechanism that suggests that caring is a zero-sum game. (If it’s possible to be nonracist, why isn’t it possible to be nonspeciesist?) If anything, those who care about animals care more about humans than those who care only about humans.

09 December 2004

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

In 1972, when I was 15, I discovered that I was allergic to dairy products. They were causing (or aggravating) my asthma. For the past 32 years, I’ve had no milk, butter, ice cream, or cheese. The only thing I’ve missed during this time is cheese, especially cheddar. A few years ago, my local grocery store (Kroger) began to carry fake cheese, made from soybeans. It’s very good. Here is the brand I eat. It’s available in cheddar, jalapeno cheddar, pepper jack, American slices, and other varieties.

The other day, while watching television, I happened upon a story about a New York City diner that specializes in grilled cheese sandwiches. The sandwiches looked delicious. I remembered eating grilled cheese sandwiches as a child. Then it hit me: I can eat grilled cheese sandwiches, provided I use fake cheese rather than real cheese. Unfortunately, I had forgotten how to make them. So I called my mother in Michigan. She told me to put margarine on the outside of the bread rather than in the frying pan. Within minutes, I was eating an old favorite. Thanks, Mom! Thanks, television! But now I have another problem: resisting the temptation to eat grilled cheese sandwiches every day.

08 December 2004

From the Mailbag

Dr Burgess-Jackson

Just a quick thought about feeding meat to your dogs.

Several studies have pointed out that were we to convert all our farming to organic methods, we would have to convert large areas to producing cattle feed, and raise cattle anyway to produce sufficient amounts of organic fertilizer.

Today, milk cattle are converted to pet-food products when they no longer can produce enough milk.

Would the same cattle raised to produce organic fertilizer be similarly converted when their output of fertilizer dropped?

Oh yes, this message was delayed by Feisty and Bacho (the Aussie Sheep dog and the Beagle) who suddenly wanted to play a short game of "Pet me first—No pet ME first." (They taught me that game early on.)

Being pack animals, dogs NEED the pack experience with their owners (or servants), just as much as they need proper food.

Frank Borger

07 December 2004

From the Mailbag

Hello Dr. Burgess-Jackson,

I read your latest blog entry about your dogs. [See here.] Your dilemma cries out for an empirical approach. Feed your dogs vegan dog food for a few weeks and see what happens. Do they lose their appetite, or perhaps eat with less gusto than usual? Do they become listless and whiny? Does their fur start to fall out?

If you're not willing to conduct the experiment, I would at least be interested in hearing your thoughts about how, exactly, vegan dog food is purported to cause harm to dogs. Is the harm physical (i.e., malnutrition of some kind), psychological, or some combination of both? Surely there must be some data on this subject.

Alex Chernavsky

Misunderstanding Peter Singer

I finally got around to reading Richard A. Posner’s book Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001). Although I admire Posner greatly and always learn from him, I find that he treats certain people and subjects cavalierly. For example, here is what he says about Peter Singer:
Singer is an academic philosopher. But his book [Animal Liberation] is written for a popular audience, is not tightly reasoned, and makes no effort to overcome the obvious objections that can be lodged against a version of utilitarianism that expands the community whose aggregate welfare is to be maximized to include animals—objections such as: if there are happier animals than man, we may have a moral duty to shrink the human population to the point at which the maximum number of the happy animals can be supported. (page 158)
Posner must have read other works by Singer besides Animal Liberation, because nowhere in that book does Singer refer to or rely on utilitarianism (the theory that one has an obligation to maximize the overall good, impartially considered). The book has no theoretical presuppositions. That Singer is a utilitarian and argued in behalf of animals doesn’t entail that Singer’s argument is utilitarian in nature. (Compare: I’m a conservative and I put in a garden. Therefore, I put in a conservative garden.) In fact, it is not. Singer’s argument can be accepted by any normative ethical theorist. As Singer himself put it to me, it’s compatible with utilitarianism but not dependent on it.

If you read Animal Liberation carefully, you’ll see that Singer is making a simple and uncontroversial point: that like interests should be treated alike. This is an application of Aristotle’s dictum that justice consists in treating like cases alike and different cases differently. Suppose you’re dealing with two humans whose interests are the same. Justice requires that you neither disregard nor discount either person’s interests. Singer calls this principle the Principle of Equal Consideration of Interests (PECI). It’s a formal principle, not a material principle. It doesn’t tell us what interests there are, only how equal interests must be treated.

Obviously, each of us has many interests, the main one being the interest in not suffering. Let us call beings who have the capacity to suffer “sentient beings.” You and I are sentient beings. Cows, pigs, turkeys, and chickens are sentient. Trees and other plants are not. Rocks and dirt are not. Since cows, pigs, turkeys, chickens, and other animals are sentient, and since suffering is intrinsically bad (you believe that, don’t you?), every sentient being has an interest in not suffering. Trees, plants, rocks, and dirt, not being sentient, cannot suffer (by definition), and therefore have no interest in not suffering. Indeed, they have no interests at all. Nothing matters to them. Sentience appears to be a necessary condition for having interests, and, since being sentient gives one at least the interest in not suffering, it is also a sufficient condition. The class of sentient beings is the same class as (i.e., is coextensive with) the class of beings with interests.

All Singer demands, in Animal Liberation, is that, when we act, we take all relevant interests into account and consider them equally. We must neither disregard nor discount relevant interests. But disregarding and discounting routinely occur with respect to animals’ interest in not suffering. Humans inflict terrible suffering on animals for little or no reason, often just because they like the taste of their flesh. (I refer here to factory farms, where most meat, including, I suspect, all the meat you consume, originates.) That this disregards the animals’ interest in not suffering can be seen by the fact that we would not inflict any amount or kind of suffering on humans in order to satisfy our taste for human flesh (supposing we had such a taste). We are fastidious about respecting human suffering, but cavalier to the point of indifference when it comes to animal suffering.

If we took animal suffering into account, without discounting it, as PECI requires, our behavior would change dramatically. The main change is that we would stop eating the flesh of animals who were made to suffer, since eating it contributes to further suffering. But practically speaking, this means becoming vegetarian. We would also stop using animals for entertainment or for frivolous medical, biological, and psychological experiments. Finally, we would stop most forms of hunting, trapping, and fishing (those whose sole purpose is recreation, amusement, or sport).

Singer’s argument is not as radical as it may appear. He’s not imposing his values on his readers. He’s trying to get them to see that they’re not living up to their own values, i.e., that they’re not taking seriously their beliefs that (1) suffering is intrinsically bad and (2) animals have the capacity to suffer. If nothing else, he’s shifting the burden of persuasion to those who would continue to use animals as objects. He’s forcing people to reflect on the distinction they draw between humans and other animals. There are many differences between humans and animals, some of them, in some contexts, morally relevant. But one thing humans and animals have in common, and that must be considered equally, is sentience. If suffering is bad, why is it less bad when it’s experienced by an animal? Why the fundamentally different treatment of human and animal suffering? How does that differ from disregarding or discounting the suffering of other races or nationalities, which all of us think objectionable?

That a smart man like Richard Posner doesn’t grasp Singer’s argument is dismaying. Perhaps he was too eager to dismiss the argument and latched onto the first thing he thought damaging to it, namely, Singer’s utilitarianism. But if Singer’s argument doesn’t rest on utilitarianism, then no defect in utilitarianism can undermine it.

06 December 2004

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 22

I appreciate the feedback I’ve received about whether feeding meat-based products to Sophie and Shelbie is compatible with my deontological principle that it’s wrong to harm others. I’m not yet convinced that I have inconsistent beliefs. I don’t consider this an easy case by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it’s quite hard. It involves the strength of the principle against harming others, the extent of my obligations to Sophie and Shelbie, and problems of causation.

One obvious solution of the problem is to be a moderate rather than an absolutist deontologist. Moderate deontologists say that it’s wrong to harm others, but not if enough good would be brought about thereby. In other words, sometimes the end justifies the means. So the question is where I place the threshold. Does the good I bring into Sophie and Shelbie’s lives justify contributing to an institution that harms others? What if the contribution is small, as it appears to be?

I hope nobody thinks I’m rationalizing. To rationalize a decision is to state reasons in its support that played no role in one’s deliberations. It is to dress up a decision made on other grounds. If, after deliberating, I conclude that I have incompatible beliefs, I’ll decide which of them to modify or abandon. Having said that, I’m going to do the best I can to reconcile the beliefs. I have two strong intuitions: that it’s wrong to harm others and that I have a solemn obligation to give Sophie and Shelbie good lives. I will try to do justice to both intuitions.

By the way, several people have said or implied that, if it turns out to be morally acceptable for me to feed meat-based products to Sophie and Shelbie, then it’s morally acceptable for anyone, including me, to consume meat. But this doesn’t follow. Most people eat meat because they enjoy the taste of it. They don’t do it because they have an obligation to make themselves happy. The conflict I face isn’t between taste and duty, between satisfying my desires and doing the right thing; it’s between two duties, both of which I take seriously. By bringing Sophie and Shelbie into my life, I undertook to give them good lives. It’s this duty, and not some generalized desire to promote their happiness, that’s creating the logical difficulty.

05 December 2004

From the Mailbag


You have got me in a real bind since I started reading your blog. Every time I eat meat now I feel pangs of guilt which get stronger after reading a new piece. The Costello story [this?]—I can't get out of my head for the last two days it was so powerful and compelling. I talk about it with my wife and even she is feeling the same way. I can honestly see myself not eating meat in the future.

I am a die-hard conservative and truly hate the Left and their friends like PETA and Greenpeace because they don't persuade people through force of intellectual argument—this is beyond them. They coerce through violence and intimidation all wrapped up in their holier-than-thou view of things.

You have done this differently. You have taught me, or have helped me teach myself, why we ought to not harm and cause pain to God's little creatures.

I need to say thanks but I am not sure if that is the right word.

Anyway enough of that.

Joe Cambria

04 December 2004


Here is a company that specializes in soy products. The soy nuts are delicious. I purchased them at Kroger.

Are You Next?

Consequentialism is the doctrine that the only morally relevant aspect of an action is its consequences. Each of us, according to this doctrine, is obligated at all times to bring about the best consequences, where all interests, including those of nonhuman animals, are considered equally. To a consequentialist, there are no act-types that are intrinsically wrong. (Deontology is the doctrine that some act-types are intrinsically wrong. Hence, by definition, everyone is either a consequentialist or a deontologist. It is the fundamental divide of normative ethical theory.) Killing the innocent, to a consequentialist, is not intrinsically wrong. Lying is not intrinsically wrong. Cheating, stealing, being unfaithful to one's spouse, raping, terrorizing, breaking promises, and torturing are not intrinsically wrong. Every act-token must be evaluated on its merits, which means on the basis of its consequences. If a particular act of torture maximizes the good, then it is right. If not, then it is wrong. That it is an act of torture (i.e., a token of that type) is morally irrelevant. Here is where consequentialism leads. Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedung, and Pol Pot—the greatest butchers in human history—were consequentialists. (Thanks to Mylan Engel for the link.)

From Today's Dallas Morning News

This year, I hope Jews will enhance their celebrations of the beautiful holiday of Hanukkah by striving even harder to live up to Judaism's highest moral values and teachings and moving toward a vegetarian diet.

Hanukkah commemorates the miracle of the oil that was enough for only one day, but miraculously lasted for eight. A switch to vegetarianism on the part of the world's people could help cause an even greater miracle: the end of the scandal of world hunger, which results in the death of an estimated 20 million people annually, while over a third of the world's grain is fed to animals destined for slaughter.

The miracle of the oil brings the use of fuel and other resources into focus, and vegetarian diets make resources go much farther, since far less water, fuel, land, pesticides, fertilizer and other resources are required for plant-based diets than for animal-centered diets. In addition, a switch toward vegetarian diets would greatly benefit the health of individuals and would sharply reduce the mistreatment of billions of farmed animals.

Richard H. Schwartz
president, Jewish Vegetarians of North America

03 December 2004

Victory for the New Jersey Bears

No, I'm not talking about a sports franchise. See here. (Thanks to Mylan Engel for the link.)

Tigers in the City

Mindy Hutchison sent a link to this story from The Houston Chronicle. It makes me sad. Why do humans feel entitled to take wild animals from their habitats for such trivial purposes as amusement? Doing so frustrates the animal's natural urges. How does this differ from human chattel slavery?

02 December 2004

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "New Provision Would Allow Slaughtering of Wild Horses" (news article, Nov. 25):

Senator Conrad Burns of Montana, by attaching a rider to the appropriations bill allowing wild horses to be sent to slaughter, has gutted the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act and condemned so-called surplus and unadoptable wild horses to a ghoulish death.

The motive behind this unexpected maneuver is not hard to discern: greed. For every horse that is removed from our vast public lands, the livestock industry is allowed to graze an extra cow and calf at a pittance, $1.37 a month.

Apparently, some seven million head of privately owned cattle eating public grass at this bargain rate doesn't satisfy the beef industry. With new rules allowing the roundup and auction of unadoptable horses (unbreakable stallions and old mares important only to the functioning of bands), profiteers will bid at the wild-horse corrals, and stockmen will get a bonanza.

Thus, Senator Burns has delivered a plum to his Montana livestock constituency.

Hope Ryden
New York, Nov. 25, 2004
The writer is the author of books about wild horses.

Factory Farms

Bad news out of Minnesota, not only for animals but for humans. See here.

From the Mailbag


You are indeed correct [see here] that much of what goes into dog food is by-product produced by agriculture oriented toward human consumption.

However, the use of by-products for dog food is economically significant. Because the margins per animal in industrialized agriculture are so small, the removal of the market for dog food might push farm budgets into unprofitability.

As an example, a large proportion of meat produced for non-human consumption comes from culled dairy cows—four year old steak is unpalatably tough. These cows are heavily discounted in the marketplace on a per-pound basis, but their "death value" is critical in dairy budgets.

If you go to this site and examine the variable costs and income on pages five and six, you will see that each culled cow is assumed to be worth $630, or approximately $189 per cow in the dairy when averaged over the years of her productive life. When income over variable costs is only $595 per cow in the dairy, removing knacker meat from the equation will reduce dairy profitability by almost a third.

When one considers the massive capital expenditures necessary to build an intensive dairy operation—millions of dollars—this one third change might make the return on investment figures very unattractive.

I would argue that the suffering experienced by dairy cows in confinement operations is even greater than the suffering of beef animals in a feedlot—the stomach pain from acidosis is not as high, but the low-level discomfort and sensory deprivation continues for an average of four and a half years—and the end result of death will be the same.

Margins on feedlot beef are also razor-thin. Take a look here.

The income over expenses on a per-head basis is only a shade over $11. If removing the by-product market drops the price paid for cattle by only a few cents per pound, feedlots would go bankrupt.

It seems that you dearly want your two hounds to be happy. But I don't think you can justify feeding them meat on the basis that the harm caused by feeding meat to dogs is insignificant.

Additionally, when you quote Samuel Scheffler, he argues that harm is permissible for a "badly needed benefit." Can a preference for meat be termed a "need?" If so, why wouldn't this argument allow humans who prefer tasty steaks to eat animals as well?

Mark Tueting (a.k.a. Smallholder)

01 December 2004

The Horror

My friend and former graduate-school colleague Mylan Engel, whom I admire greatly in spite of our metaethical, theoretical, and epistemological differences, sent a link to this. If you haven't read Mylan's essay "The Immorality of Eating Meat," please do so at your earliest convenience. There's a link to it on the left side of this blog. It's the best thing I've ever read on the moral status of animals. I wish I had written it.

30 November 2004

The Lives of Animals

You ought to read this, especially if you eat factory-farmed meat.

29 November 2004

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 21

Eleven days ago (see here), I posted a letter from my friend Joanna Lucas in which she criticized me for feeding meat-based products to my canine companions, Sophie and Shelbie. Joanna wrote:
Do my obligations towards the animals (or humans) in my care entitle me to harm the animals (or humans) who are not in my care? Specifically, does my obligation to give my dog Louie a good life entitle me to cause suffering and death to Michele’s cow, Sherman?
I take these as rhetorical questions. That is, I take it that Joanna wants to assert that my obligation to give Sophie and Shelbie good lives does not entitle me to cause suffering and death to the animals whose body parts they consume.

Is Joanna right? The first thing to note is that only an absolutist deontologist would hold that one may never harm one to benefit another. Absolutist deontologists say that certain act-types—lying, killing the innocent, and torture, for example—may not be performed even if a great deal of good would be brought about thereby. One must not do evil that good may come. Moderate deontologists say that certain actions may not be performed unless X amount of good would be brought about thereby. As the “X” indicates, moderate deontology comes in degrees. The higher the threshold, the closer moderate deontologists come to absolutist deontologists. The lower the threshold, the closer moderate deontologists come to consequentialists (who say that no act-types—even torture—are intrinsically wrong).

Even if I had no special responsibility for (or to) Sophie and Shelbie, therefore, I might be able to justify harming some in order to benefit them. Whether this is so would depend on two things: (1) how much harm I do and (2) how much good I produce. Other things being equal, the more harm I do, the less likely I am to be justified in bringing it about. Other things being equal, the more good I produce, the more likely I am to be justified in doing the harm that brings it about.

When you add the fact that I stand in a special relationship to Sophie and Shelbie, an even stronger case can be made that I may harm some to benefit them. As Samuel Scheffler writes, “it may be thought that circumstances can arise in which I would be required or at least permitted to harm some person, or to violate his property rights, in order to provide a badly needed benefit for my brother or my child, even though it would be wrong for me to do the same thing in order to provide a comparable benefit for a stranger” (Samuel Scheffler, Boundaries and Allegiances: Problems of Justice and Responsibility in Liberal Thought [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001], 52).

Obviously, one may not do just any amount or kind of harm to a stranger in order to benefit a loved one. I may not kill a stranger in order to get the funds to take my child to Six Flags over Texas (or pay for my child’s dental work). Scheffler’s point is more modest. He’s saying that one may (perhaps must) do more harm in order to benefit a loved one (someone to whom I stand in a special relationship) than to benefit a stranger. However much harm one may do to stranger A in order to benefit stranger B, in other words, one may do more harm if B is a loved one rather than a stranger. Loved ones have greater claims on us than strangers.

Let’s return to the dog-food case. Granted that it’s not always wrong to harm some to benefit others (in other words, assuming moderate deontology or consequentialism), and granted that I have a special responsibility to benefit Sophie and Shelbie, does the calculation come out in their favor? Is the harm insignificant enough? Is the benefit great enough? I believe the benefit is substantial. Some readers are skeptical that Sophie and Shelbie prefer meat-based foods. I’m convinced that they do and that they would have inferior lives if they had to eat vegetarian diets.

What about the other prong? How much harm am I doing, really, by feeding them meat-based products? Here, I think, is something that’s been ignored in the debate. I don’t think I’m doing any harm at all by purchasing meat-based products. The animal products used in dog foods are by-products. Cows are killed for their flesh, which is to be consumed by humans. Some of the unusable parts end up in dog foods. It’s not like I went out and killed a cow—Joanna’s poor Sherman!—in order to feed Sophie and Shelbie. They’re eating the equivalent of table scraps, scraps that would be thrown into the garbage if they weren’t used. In short, I’m not doing any harm; or, if I am, it’s insignificant. When you add this fact to the picture, a strong case can be made that it’s not wrong, all things considered, for me to feed Sophie and Shelbie meat-based foods.

28 November 2004

One Year

It's been a year since I began this blog. See here for the first post, on 28 November 2003. According to Blogger, I've posted 392 items on this blog, which is an average of 1.07 per day. The site odometer shows 12,007 visits, which is an average of 32.8 visits per day. Thank you for visiting. I try to post something every two or three days, even if it's just a letter to the editor on some animal-related topic. If you'd like something posted or if you have a link that may be of interest to the blog's readers, let me know.

26 November 2004

From the Mailbag

Hello Professor Burgess-Jackson,

In your blog, you wrote: "There is no doubt in my mind that [Sophie and Shelbie] would be significantly less happy, maybe even unhappy, if I fed them a vegetarian diet."

I'm not sure that you are right. If dogs are anything like people, then switching the dogs to a vegetarian diet would—at worst—make them unhappy for a relatively short while. Psychologists who study happiness in humans find that people generally have a specific "set point," and their level of happiness does not usually deviate much from that set point. Changes in life circumstances have only a transient effect on happiness. For example, lottery winners become much happier shortly after they win the lottery, and paraplegics become much less happy in the months after their accident. But within about a year, the lottery winners and the paraplegics are back to their previous, baseline-level of happiness. Here's the specific reference: Philip Brickman, Dan Coates, and R. Janoff-Bulman, "Lottery Winners and Accident Victims: Is Happiness Relative?" Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 36 (August 1978): 917-27.

Other studies also support this principle. Psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman (based at the University of Pennsylvania) discusses some of this research in his recent book Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002).

Anyway, back to your Sophie and Shelbie: I suspect that they probably wouldn't enjoy being vegetarians at first, but they'd adjust fairly quickly and would be none the worse for wear (assuming, of course, that the vegetarian diet had the necessary nutritional and caloric content).

Incidentally, I'm a vegan, but my cat is not. So I suppose I'm a hypocrite.

Kindest regards,
Alex Chernavsky

23 November 2004

Go Organic!

Americans are the people of plenty, but they have atrocious diets. If you care about any of the following—animals, other humans, your family, yourself—you will eat only organic plant foods. See here. There is simply no excuse, in the modern world, for using sentient beings as mere means to one's gustatory ends. Might does not make right.

22 November 2004

Twenty Years Ago

11-22-84 Today is Thanksgiving, the day on which several Pilgrims are supposed to have met with a group of Indians to enjoy an autumn feast more than three hundred years ago. Legend has it that the Pilgrims and Indians gave thanks to “God” for the bounty of their harvest. This is undoubtedly a myth, however, for there were seldom any good feelings between the intolerant Europeans and the suspicious Indians. Today, the holiday is celebrated by having a large meal and by watching football games on television, at least in my family. We always had a large turkey on the table and an assortment of side dishes, including cranberries, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and desserts. Mom went out of her way to make the day special for us. Now, of course, I do not eat turkey. It is wrong. Before I left school yesterday, I wrote on the blackboard in the T.A. office: “Have a nice Thanksgiving; but remember, eating turkey is wrong.” I take my moral commitments very seriously. But on television this evening, there was this bit of inanity by a reporter at a turkey farm: “If you’re having second thoughts about eating your turkey this Thanksgiving day, don’t. These turkeys are DUMB!!!” The point, I take it, was that if something is dumb (read: unintelligent), then it has no moral claim on our behavior. This is false, else people would be eating their infants and senile parents on Thanksgiving Day. I am sick of the ignorance and callousness that permeates this society.

21 November 2004

Dave Barry

Thanksgiving is nigh. Here is Dave Barry's take on it. Don't read it unless you have a hanky handy.

18 November 2004

From the Mailbag

Dear Keith,

On the subject of vegetarian dogs [see here], a few questions and a couple of facts.
1. Do my obligations towards the animals (or humans) in my care entitle me to
harm the animals (or humans) who are not in my care? Specifically, does my
obligation to give my dog Louie a good life entitle me to cause suffering and
death to Michele's cow, Sherman?

2. Why is it wrong to impose my moral standards on Louie but acceptable to impose my moral standards on Sherman (whose flesh Louie would like to eat)? Can I disregard the life and death concerns of a stranger if that means enriching the life of a friend?

3. If having dogs and cats forces me to impose misery on other animals, shouldn't I refrain from having dogs and cats in the first place?

4. What does Louie lose if I stop feeding him meat? What does Sherman lose if I feed him to Louie?

5. Can dogs be healthy on a vegan diet? Can they be happy?
The vegan dogs I've met are in perfect health. I'm sure they would choose meat over plant based protein if they had a choice but, since they are not given that choice, they enthusiastically eat their nutritionally complete, vet-approved vegetarian kibble.

I believe they are as happy as they act. They get companionship, respect, gentleness, inclusion in the pack, walks, hikes, runs in the park, ample opportunities to play, explore, and socialize. They are well cared for, well fed. They are loved.

If indeed eating becomes less exciting for vegetarian dogs, what they lose is negligible compared to what cows, pigs, lambs, chickens, and horses stand to lose if we grind them up into dog food.

Best regards,
Joanna Lucas

17 November 2004


Mylan Engel sent a link to this disturbing story about species extinction.

Virtual Hunting

I hope this is a joke, but I fear it isn't. (Thanks to Joanna Lucas of Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary for the link.)

From the Mailbag


Since I'm a new visitor to your blog (but have been enjoying your columns at Tech Central Station for a while), maybe you've posted about this before. Is meat the only thing you feed your dogs? [See here.] If so, I wonder if they are getting enough balance. We have a couple of greyhounds that we feed table scraps after almost every meal, but also give them IAMS twice a day. Since you have made room in your life for these dogs, I don't think you're doing anything wrong feeding them what they like. I am a hunter and meat eater, but I certainly respect your choice of diet. It may seem contradictory to be a hunter and care for animals, but I do. In some far corner of my mind I want to believe they have souls. In fact, getting the greyhounds was the first time I saw gambling in a bad light. I thought if people want to gamble let them. But when we adopted our dogs we learned that last year was the first time over half of the retired racers were adopted. But that still had over 7,000 being put down. Killing 7,000 of these wonderful animals just because they lost their usefulness to us is wrong. Two dogs is probably enough, but if you ever want another, check out greyhounds. They're great dogs.

Your Cheesehead Buddy,

Jeff Gostisha
Mukwonago, WI

16 November 2004

Bernard Williams (1929-2003) on the Hazards of Moral Philosophy

Writing about moral philosophy should be a hazardous business, not just for the reasons attendant on writing about any difficult subject, or writing about anything, but for two special reasons. The first is that one is likely to reveal the limitations and inadequacies of one’s own perceptions more directly than in, at least, other parts of philosophy. The second is that one could run the risk, if one were taken seriously, of misleading people about matters of importance. While few writers on the subject have avoided the first hazard, very many have avoided the second, either by making it impossible to take them seriously, or by refusing to write about anything of importance, or both.

(Bernard Williams, Morality: An Introduction to Ethics [New York: Harper & Row, 1972], ix)

15 November 2004

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 20

A couple of months ago, I asked my readers for logical help. I wanted to know whether it’s possible to reconcile my obligation not to harm others (I’m a deontologist) with my obligation to provide a good life for my canine companions, Sophie and Shelbie. Some readers missed the point of this post. Instead of helping me reconcile the obligations, which is all I wanted, they took me to task for feeding meat to Sophie and Shelbie. In other words, they used the post as an occasion to bash me. Thanks a lot. Several people concluded that my obligation not to harm others is more stringent than my obligation to provide a good life for my canine companions, but they didn’t explain why. Are negative obligations always more stringent than positive obligations? One reader tried to draw me into a pointless discussion about whether dogs are carnivores.

I begin with a fact: “Dogs prefer meat to vegetable protein and display preferences for one meat over another. These are, in order, beef, pork, lamb, chicken and horse-meat” (Chris Thorne, “Feeding Behavior of Domestic Dogs and the Role of Experience,” chap. 7 in The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behaviour, and Interactions with People, ed. James Serpell [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995], 103-14, at 104). If my only obligation to Sophie and Shelbie were to keep them alive, I could resolve the moral dilemma by feeding them a vegetarian diet. Indeed, it wouldn’t be a moral dilemma! But my obligation goes far beyond that. It is to make them happy, to give them a good life, to cause them to flourish. There is no doubt in my mind that they would be significantly less happy, maybe even unhappy, if I fed them a vegetarian diet.

Suppose, contrary to fact, that I enjoyed eating meat, but that my moral scruples prohibited it. I might be less happy by eating a vegetarian diet, but I would be doing the right thing by my standards. The cost of my standards, in terms of my happiness, would be borne exclusively by me. But if I impose my standards on Sophie and Shelbie, they are being made to bear the costs of my moral standards. Is that fair to them? This aspect of the situation doesn’t have overriding weight, admittedly, but it seems to me that it must be taken into account. I have every right to reduce my own happiness for the sake of a greater moral good, but do I have a right to reduce Sophie and Shelbie’s happiness for the sake of a greater moral good?

It might be objected that I haven’t made a fair trial of vegetarian dog foods. Until I do, I should not assume that Sophie and Shelbie would be significantly less happy on a vegetarian diet. I admit that I haven’t made a fair trial. I’m trying to work out the logic of the situation before doing so. I’m assuming, for the sake of argument, that Sophie and Shelbie prefer meat to vegetable protein.

Morality is messy. There are moral dilemmas. Sometimes, no matter what one does, something morally significant is lost. This is why we sometimes regret doing even what we believe to be right, all things considered. If I feed Sophie and Shelbie meat-based foods, I will be violating my principle against harming others. If I feed them a vegetarian diet, I will be failing to discharge my obligation to provide them a good life. If you think there’s no dilemma here, then you’re in no position to help me.

10 November 2004

Liberal Hypocrisy

If you listened only to liberals, and I don't recommend it, you would think that only they care about the downtrodden and disadvantaged. See here for evidence to the contrary. My liberal friends (or former friends, for I've lost respect for most of them) live in affluence. They want to take other people's money but won't give any of their own. And most liberals treat animals as mere means to their ends. They eat meat, wear leather jackets, and buy vehicles and furniture made out of animal skins. Where's the compassion in that? Where's the concern for the powerless, the unfortunate, the vulnerable, the oppressed? Where's the decency? Liberals are all talk.

09 November 2004

Gary Snyder on Animality

Do you really believe you are an animal? We are now taught this in school. It is a wonderful piece of information: I have been enjoying it all my life and I come back to it over and over again, as something to investigate and test. I grew up on a small farm with cows and chickens, and with a second-growth forest right at the back fence, so I had the good fortune of seeing the human and animal as in the same realm. But many people who have been hearing this since childhood have not absorbed the implications of it, perhaps feel remote from the nonhuman world, are not sure they are animals. They would like to feel they might be something better than animals. That’s understandable: other animals might feel they are something different than “just animals” too. But we must contemplate the shared ground of our common biological being before emphasizing the differences.

(Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild [San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990], 15-6 [italics in original])

08 November 2004

Lawrence Finsen and Susan Finsen on Peter Singer

Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation has had a profound influence; many activists refer to this book as a turning point in their thinking about animals and in their lives generally. It is largely as a result of Singer’s pioneering work, together with that of Tom Regan, that questions about the treatment of animals have become a serious topic of discussion today, within both moral philosophy and American society. Of course others have raised serious questions about our relations with animals, especially in the English tradition (Singer, though Australian, did his graduate work at Oxford University, where he was influenced by others to take up issues concerning animals), but the contemporary scene is much more profoundly influenced by Singer than by his predecessors. Perhaps the influence of Animal Liberation is to be traced to Singer’s success in bringing philosophical argument about the moral status of animals to bear in a straightforward way on factual information about the treatment of animals in modern farms and laboratories. When juxtaposed with a hard look at self-interested human bias, the facts (of which most people remained happily ignorant) lead to some startling questions and conclusions about our cherished institutions and personal habits.

(Lawrence Finsen and Susan Finsen, The Animal Rights Movement in America: From Compassion to Respect [New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994], 179-80 [endnote omitted])

05 November 2004


Wayne Pacelle is the new Chief Executive Officer of The Humane Society of the United States. You can read about him here.

04 November 2004

02 November 2004

From the Mailbag


You are a skilled writer and philosopher. I enjoyed reading your work on TCS and your blog site. However, the post on 11/1/04 about eating meat [see here] is extremely overstated. I don't have the time to write a detailed reason for my opinion. I will say this: It didn't pass the "giggle test." You lost me as a reader.

"In my opinion, the most pressing moral issue in the world today, with the possible exception of defending Western civilization from its Islamic enemies, is the treatment of nonhuman animals by humans."

Do you really believe this?

Dr. Matt T. Smith

Note from kbj: Yes.

01 November 2004


In my opinion, the most pressing moral issue in the world today, with the possible exception of defending Western civilization from its Islamic enemies, is the treatment of nonhuman animals by humans. Humans don't need to harm animals in order to survive and flourish. If you eat meat, especially meat produced on factory farms, you are making animals suffer and die solely because you like the taste of their flesh. Why would you do such a thing? I'm sure you don't think of yourself as a moral monster, but your actions are indefensible. Please stop. Please at least issue a personal moratorium on meat-eating until you think things through. There is no reason humans can't live together peacefully with all other animals. See here for an example of people who make a difference, day in and day out, to the cats, dogs, and other animals who live around and with them. I'm sure they would appreciate any donation you can make.

27 October 2004

26 October 2004

Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary

If you're a compassionate person, see here. Shouldn't the choices you make in life, including your dietary choices, reflect your values and express your character? If animals don't matter to you, why don't they? Do they suffer any less? Are their lives of less value? Do they have less of a desire to live? Don't just live out the life you were given by your parents. Reflect on your life and the choices you make. Become the person you want to be.

By the way, the Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary has a beautiful and useful newsletter to which you can subscribe. It is sent by e-mail. Please write to the site administrator to be put on the mailing list. Tell them AnalPhilosopher sent you.

24 October 2004

A Grieving Goose

Putting on airs is unseemly. When John Kerry puts on airs, geese die. See here.

From the Mailbag

Dear Keith,

Officials at the University of Illinois claim that there is a deer overpopulation at U of I's Allerton Park. They have proposed to remedy the situation with a bow hunt. [See here and here.] Rest assured that the people participating in this bow hunt will not be Olympic archers. They will be recreational hunters of varying abilities where archery is concerned. That means many animals will be shot in non-vital parts of their bodies. Some of the wounded animals will no doubt escape into the woods where they will die slow lingering deaths. Some of the other wounded animals, those too severely wounded to flee, will be shot again and perhaps several times before being brought down. Such a way of dealing with deer population problems is cruel and inhumane, especially when there are much more humane alternatives available. Some of the animals could be relocated, a more costly, but much more humane alternative. If the overpopulation problem is so severe that some of the animals must be murdered (there is no other term for it), then it should be done by professional marksmen who work for the forest service. These marksmen are able to kill the animals instantaneously—a fatal end for an innocent animal but at least it minimizes the animal's suffering.

Remember, the University of Illinois is a PUBLIC institution. It is funded with tax dollars, and not just tax dollars from people in the state of Illinois. Much of the research conducted at the University of Illinois is funded by federal research dollars which come from all taxpayers in America. If you don't think that a publicly funded institution of higher learning should be sponsoring a seven-week long deer bow hunt, please take a moment to write/email and call the people listed below. Also, please consider posting this information on your blog. Your readers' tax dollars fund research at U of I, and many of your readers might be opposed to such an inhumane way of dealing with an alleged deer-overpopulation problem. If U of I gets enough bad press on this matter and if enough people write David Schejbal, Associate Vice Chancellor at U of I, and the U of I Office of Public Affairs at the addresses below [schejbal@ad.uiuc.edu and r-kaler@ad.uiuc.edu, respectively], the officials at the U of I might cancel the hunt. Together, we might be able to prevent the senseless killing of these innocent animals. Thanks for you help.

Mylan Engel

21 October 2004

Sickos with Guns?

Here is an essay about the mental health of hunters. (Thanks to Dan Gifford for the link.)

20 October 2004

Twenty Years Ago

10-20-84 . . . There was an animal-rights march this morning near the university, but I decided to remain at home instead of participating. Don’t get me wrong. I oppose vivisection (experimentation on live animals) as much as anyone, but as a rational person, I recognize that demonstrations tend to be ineffectual. Sometimes, they alienate more people than they persuade. I feel that I can contribute more to the cause of animal rights by writing and lecturing on the subject than by carrying a sign and getting my picture on the evening news. I respect the demonstrators, but I decide to protest in other ways. Incidentally, I saw pictures of Lori Gruen, a fellow graduate student, on the news this evening. She was sitting by a small casket with the name “Lucky” on it in one scene, and was walking down the street with other protesters in another. Finally, I saw her being carried away by police after having been arrested for trespassing on university property. Go get ’em, Lori! You have demonstrated your commitment to the cause by paying a very personal price: arrest. Peter Singer, whose book (Animal Liberation) you carried, would have been proud.

Kosher Killing

One of my readers took my advice and read Mylan Engel's essay "The Immorality of Eating Meat," a link to which appears on the left. The reader said that kosher killing is morally superior to other sorts of killing. I forwarded the reader's letter to Mylan, who responded this morning as follows:
Dear Keith:

One of your readers, J. Wetstein PE, insists that my claims about "kosher slaughter" are inaccurate. S/he goes on to claim that you won't find a more humane treatment of animals for meat production than with kosher standards, but s/he offers no evidence in support of this claim. It sounds like a religious conviction rather than a well-founded, evidence-based empirical claim. So, let's look at the facts. According to "Kashrut" (Jewish dietary laws), the animal must be fully conscious when slaughtered. The method of slaughter is a quick, deep stroke across the throat with a perfectly sharp blade with no nicks or unevenness. This method is supposedly painless and is supposed to cause unconsciousness within two seconds and is therefore thought to be the most humane method of slaughter.

In theory, that may be correct, but in practice, kosher slaughter, at least in the U.S., makes for a horrific death for the animals so slaughtered. Moreover, even if kosher slaughter were more humane than other forms of slaughter, that would have no impact on the handling and transportation of the animals on their way to the slaughterhouse. These animals are prodded with electric cattle prods and beaten with metal poles to drive them onto the trucks. They are then shipped long distances without food or water and without adequate protection from the elements. In winter, some animals literally freeze to the sides of these trucks. When they arrive at the slaughterhouse, they are again prodded with electric prods and metal pipes to force them up the shoot to the slaughterer who awaits them. None of this constitutes what I would call "humane treatment." But now let's turn to kosher slaughter as it is actually practiced in the U.S. John Robbins has aptly described how the implementation of kosher slaughter laws in the U.S. is actually a perversion of the original intent of those laws. I have linked to an excerpt from his book below. Once you read Robbins's accurate description (I have seen detailed video footage documenting everything Robbins claims), you'll see that there is no plausible way of viewing kosher slaughter, at least in the U.S., as a humane way of killing animals. Even Orthodox rabbis in Sweden are starting to acknowledge this fact and have come to allow animals to be stunned before killing. Not so here in the U.S. Read Robbins's account, and you'll see why kosher slaughter is not humane in practice.

Best, Mylan

p.s. I obtained this Robbins excerpt from meat.org's web site [www.meat.org] which contains a great deal of information about animal slaughter, including some streaming video of pig and chicken slaughter. After viewing this footage, your readers can decide for themselves whether the slaughtering techniques used in the U.S. today are humane.
Please read Mylan's essay.

19 October 2004

Animal Rights

I'm a conservative. I'm also a proponent of animal rights. There is no entailment relation between the two, so far as I can discern. But there is no incompatibility, either, as some unthinking conservatives appear to believe (or want to believe). See here. (Thanks to John Andrews for the link.)

17 October 2004

On the Road with Mylan

My friend Mylan Engel Jr recently lectured on animal ethics at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Here is the story about his lecture. If you haven't read Mylan's essay "The Immorality of Eating Meat," please do. There's a link on the left side of this blog. I've read much of the literature on animal ethics over a period of 25 years, and this is the best essay I've read. Caveat: If you read it, you will either abstain from animal flesh or suffer from cognitive dissonance!

Addendum: Here is another story about Mylan's lecture.

16 October 2004


One of my former students, Mindy Hutchison, sent a link to this funny story from The Onion. Mindy maintains this site.

12 October 2004

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "Cloning a Bad Idea," by Verlyn Klinkenborg (Editorial Notebook, Oct. 9):

As a scientist, I am impressed with the cloning of cats performed by Genetic Savings & Clone, but as a recently bereaved pet owner, I fail to see the purpose.

I recently had to make the difficult decision to euthanize a cat that had been my companion for more than 17 years. Still, I would not have considered cloning her. One of the biggest joys of sharing one's life with pets is learning the variety of their personalities.

Gremalkin, my surviving cat, may look like Nyssa, my first cat, but Nyssa was more of an affectionate lap cat, while Gremalkin still has the playfulness and impatience of a kitten.

It is these differences in personality that make pet ownership the rich experience it is.

James C. Armstrong Jr.
Foster City, Calif., Oct. 9, 2004

To the Editor:

I was sad to read Verlyn Klinkenborg's article about cloning cats (Editorial Observer, Oct. 9).

We have a real pet overpopulation crisis in this country, and someone with more money than sense is striving to add to it.

Millions of beautiful, lovable cats, dogs, puppies, kittens and other animals are euthanized every year because they have nobody to care for them.

The selfishness required to create a life when millions are thrown away is astounding.

Mary Chipman
St. Ann, Mo., Oct. 9, 2004

10 October 2004

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

If the residents of Ville Platte, La. ("If Town Clears Out, It Must Be Squirrel Season," front page, Oct. 3), stopped shooting squirrels long enough to observe them, they would see that squirrels are creatures with complex lives of their own.

We have squirrels at our house and have witnessed a mother squirrel raising her young. She teaches them to climb slippery trees and steep rooftops. If she senses danger, she will carry her young to safety.

She spends lots of time hunting and gathering food and soft things with which to feather their winter nest.

It is sad to read of cruel behavior toward these small and beautiful creatures, which are merely struggling to survive, as we all are.

Joanna Lake
East Burke, Vt., Oct. 4, 2004

To the Editor:

Try as we may to respect cultural differences, it boggles the mind that anyone could gain pleasure out of taking the lives of animals "for the fun of it." Where are the values of compassion and stewardship for the world in which we live?

Cultures far wiser than ours respect the gift of life in all its forms. It is slight comfort that these miniature atrocities are isolated in remote pockets of our country where the light of human understanding has yet to dawn.

Linda Holt
Trenton, Oct. 4, 2004

05 October 2004

From the Mailbag

Hi AP,

I always find something to challenge my thoughts in your blog. And your ideas on being a carnivore are a particular challenge for me (talk about cognitive dissonance!).

But one thing I was pondering the other day (in the light of your eating-meat discussions) was your view on the wearing of leather. Since I only have a 56k dial-up connection, searching thru the archives was a vast chore. So I thought I'd just ask you to send me links if you've blogged on this topic. If not, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

Anyway, all the best! Don't let the rude people of this world get you down. :-)

Sincerely, gg2

PS: I've now got 2 e-mail addresses for you, not sure which is current so have sent to both.

"Not all who wander are lost." —JRR Tolkein

28 September 2004

From the Mailbag


Here is a photo gallery of vegan cats and dogs. I was proud to add my Boxers, Louie and Savannah, earlier today.

Joanna Lucas

24 September 2004

From the Mailbag


I haven't seen the replies you have received to your "Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 19" blog entry [see here], but I'm not sure whether your respondents intend to be arguing as follows:
1. Keith feeds his dogs meat.
2. It is o.k. for me to eat meat.
Perhaps that's how they put it, but I suspect that what they meant to say was more like this:
1. Keith admits (or should admit) that Shelbie and Sophie don't need to eat meat to survive or be healthy. [Dogs easily thrive on vegetarian diets.]

2. Why does Keith feed his dogs meat and animal products, if they don't need them to be healthy?

3. Because their lives would be impoverished if they didn't consume meat and animal products (impoverished in the sense that they wouldn't have the pleasurable experiences, satisfactions, and enjoyments that they currently get from eating meat and animal products).

4. So, Keith must think that it is o.k. to eat meat and animal products whenever refraining from doing so would result in an impoverished life (impoverished in the sense of lacking those pleasurable experiences, satisfactions, and enjoyments that would be gotten from eating meat).

5. If I were to refrain from eating meat, my life would be impoverished in just this sense, i.e. I would no longer get the pleasurable experiences, satisfactions, and enjoyments that I currently get from eating meat.

6. Given the principle identified in 4 above, which Keith apparently endorses in 3, it must be o.k. for ME to eat meat (since my refraining from doing so would result in my living an impoverished life), at least according to Keith's principles.
Given your commitment to 3, I can see why some of your readers think that YOUR principles justify their eating meat.

I think the mistake in the above argument lies in premise 3. It does not follow that a life that is "impoverished" in the sense stipulated in 3, is really an impoverished life in any meaningful sense. It would only be an impoverished life in a meaningful sense if there were no other pleasures comparable to the pleasures of eating meat and animal products that you could provide for your dogs. But there are lots of vegetarian foods that dogs love. Dogs go wild over certain veggie dog biscuits. With a little effort, you could provide your dogs with vegetarian foods that they would love. In some cases, you might have to cook some of these foods yourself. But they would love to eat these foods. By feeding them meat and animal products, you are "depriving" them of these alternative pleasures. Are they lives "impoverished" as a result of not getting these alternative vegetarian pleasures?

I suspect that if your readers explicitly formulated the above argument, your response would be something like this: YOUR life would not be impoverished if you refrained from eating meat, because you could get just as much pleasure (if not more pleasure) out of eating delicious vegan dishes instead. Many of these dishes (e.g. vegan Boca Burgers or Tofurkey sandwich slices) are even more convenient than their meat-based counterparts. While it's true that you won't be getting the pleasures of eating meat if you refrain from meat and animal products, you will be getting other pleasures that are just as satisfying as those associated with eating meat. Hence, your life will not be impoverished after all. In the case of humans, there is also the argument that humans will live longer, healthier, more fulfilling lives free of debilitating diseases, if they refrain from eating meat and animal products.

Some studies suggest that the same is true for dogs. The low quality of many of the animal ingredients [e.g. chicken meal (consisting of processed blood, bones, feces, etc. scraped off the killing floor of the slaughter), beef tallow (the rendered fat of cattle which is almost tasteless when pure and is used primarily in making soap, glycerin, margarine, candles, and lubricants), etc. Just read the label.] together with preservatives like BHT, BHA, and ethoxyquin found in most commercial pet foods, even upscale pet foods, like Science Diet, are thought to increase the risk of certain diseases and cancers. You may be shortening your dogs' lives and increasing their risk of painful cancers, crippling arthritis, and other debilitating diseases by feeding these commercial meat-based pet foods. For that reason alone, it is at least worth checking out some vegetarian dog foods to see how your dogs take to them and to see if their coats improve and to see if they have more energy. Here is a link to a web page about vegetarian dogs. Here is a link to a web site where you can purchase some vegetarian dog foods, and doggie treats.

I suggest you let your dogs decide for themselves whether they like vegetarian dog foods. They might relish them.

Hope some of this is helpful information for your dogs. I also hope that my above reconstruction of your readers' thoughts may better explain why they thought that your reasons for feeding your dogs meat and animal products gave them a reason for eating meat themselves.


Mylan Engel

23 September 2004

From the Mailbag

Hi Keith,

Thought you might be interested in this article on the rise of Chronic Wasting Disease, a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy akin to bovine spongiform encephalopathy that is infecting increasing numbers of deer and elk throughout the U.S.

Mylan Engel

22 September 2004

From the Mailbag


I have read your interesting wrestle [see here] with the question if it is good for a vegetarian to feed your dogs meat-products.

You say that the meat in dogfood is a by-product of the meat industry for human consumption. You are right. But this doesn't implicate that since they will slaughter animals anyway, you might as well use the remainders. If you buy dogfood made of meat, you will finance an industry that slaughters animals for human consumption, an unethical venture in your and my eyes.

I think your argument that, because your dogs are carnivores you should not restrain them from meat products otherwise their happiness will be in danger, may be relevant. But if they can survive without meat you should restrain them from it. The great utilitarianist Jeremy Bentham wants the suffering in the world minimised. So if you want this too, you can take into account what kind of dogfood minimises this suffering in the world. If dogs really need meat to survive (I don't know), you should try to find the most animal friendly meat (ecological or road kills) for your dogs. Because in these cases you don't spend money to the intensive farming industry. You can weigh the suffering of pigs, cows, chicks against the happiness of your dogs. Happy meals for your dogs versus horrible lives and deaths of pigs, cows, chicks etc.

By the way, many people think that leather is a by-product of animals slaughtered for human meat consumption. It is not. Leather is one of the most expensive parts of an animal. The slaughtering industry cannot exist without the revenues of the leather business.


Danny Friedmann
The Netherlands

21 September 2004

From the Mailbag

Prof. Burgess-Jackson,

First off, let me say that I am a vegetarian by upbringing, and subsequently by inertia; I am not an ethical vegetarian. [See here.]

My parents have a dog who they are raising vegetarian. He's doing okay. Compared to other dogs, I'd say he's skinny and small. He feels the urge to occasionally eat certain grasses (which have a high calcium content, a mineral he would otherwise get from gnawing on bones). He is fed lots of lentils and he loves cheese, which is where he gets his protein.

But when he plays around other dogs during feeding time, he might steal their meat. He might also occasionally hunt small lizards or rats around the house, and eat them. It is instinctive.

Dogs (and to a lesser extent, cats) can survive on a vegetarian diet. But it is unnatural. They get essential nutrients more easily from animal products, and it is difficult to give them a balanced vegetarian diet. Because it is unnatural, I wouldn't recommend doing so.

But given that the "rules" of domestication include getting fed what the master eats, I wouldn't say it poses a moral problem for you. The dogs will survive, and if necessary, as I mentioned above, fend for themselves. They have more highly developed instincts than humans do.

When I helped raise my brother's dog, we fed it meat-based dog-food. None of us had a problem with it. My brother and I are both vegetarians. The dog showed a strong preference for chicken-based food.

Gopi Sundaram

Fallacy Update

I appreciate the letters I receive. It keeps me on my toes. Unfortunately, the letters I’ve received so far in response to Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 19 have missed the point. Several of them appear to reason as follows:
1. Keith feeds his dogs meat-based products.
2. It’s morally permissible for me to eat meat.
This is obviously invalid, which leads me to believe that the readers are groping for an excuse to eat meat. Am I your moral authority? Does my doing something license your doing it? And even if it did, you’ve drawn the wrong conclusion! My feeding my dogs meat-based products would license your feeding your dogs meat-based products, not your eating meat.

My post, if you’ll reread it, was a solicitation for help. I want someone to help me reconcile—if possible—the proposition that it’s wrong to harm others with the proposition that it’s permissible to feed one’s dogs meat-based products. It’s a puzzle, folks, not an invitation to judge me! Some of you simply assumed, without analysis or argument, that the propositions can’t be reconciled. This shows that you have no philosophical aptitude. A philosopher should be able to make a case for any proposition. I’m an atheist, for example, but I can make a case for the existence of God. A damn good one, in fact. If you’re a theist, can you make a case for the nonexistence of God? If not, why not? Do you think that your belief is unassailable? Have you not probed and tested it?

Lawyers are expected to be able to represent anyone, even those whom they detest or whose actions are reprehensible. This is not a failing of lawyers; it’s a virtue. To say that there’s a better case for p than for its denial, non-p, is not to say that nothing can be said for non-p or that nothing can be said against p. It’s to look at both sides of the case, to seek out strengths and weaknesses. This is part of what it means to be rational. To understand one’s own position, one must be able to make a case for its denial. Something can be said in behalf of everything. Even Hitler had good qualities.

Nobody who wrote to me mentioned that I have an obligation to Sophie and Shelbie, which I clearly do. It isn’t a matter of my liking to eat meat and thinking that this fact justifies it. Some readers thought this is what I was arguing. It’s not even that my dogs like meat (or that meat makes them happy, as one reader put it). That misstates what I’m saying. Dogs have a strong, innate preference for a meat-based diet, just as they have a strong, innate preference to be free rather than confined. A dog can live a long life in a cage, but it will be horribly frustrated. A dog can live on a vegetarian diet, but it will be horribly frustrated. Arguably, my obligation to Sophie and Shelbie implies that I not frustrate their strong, innate preferences. This is a far cry from saying that I should (or may) do whatever makes them happy.

Nobody mentioned that we’re talking about by-products. A by-product of a process is an unintended but desired consequence of that process. The meat used in dog food is a by-product of a process that would exist even if the by-product were not used. Cows, pigs, chickens, and lambs are killed for their flesh—for humans. Undesired parts of their bodies are used for pet food. I believe that this fact is morally relevant, for, by purchasing dog food made from by-products, I am not increasing the demand for animal flesh and therefore not harming animals. In their eagerness to criticize me, nobody noticed this.

Why is everyone playing “Gotcha!”? Have I pissed so many people off with my posts about animals that, when I present them with a moral puzzle, all they can think to do is say, “Gotcha!”? It’s depressing. It shows me that some of my readers—perhaps many of them—have no philosophical aptitude, no patience with intellectual or moral puzzles, no desire to reconcile the apparently irreconcilable. Just be glad that you’re not taking one of my exams, for you would fail. I routinely ask my students to make a case for propositions that I know many of them reject.

By the way, I have never tried to impose my values on anyone. What I have tried to do—and this may be what pisses people off—is impose their values on them. I believe that if you examine your beliefs and values carefully, you will see that you are committed to vegetarianism. Read Mylan Engel’s essay “The Immorality of Eating Meat,” a link to which is on the left side of this blog. Don’t read the essay defensively, with a chip on your shoulder. Read it with an open mind and no bias. Read it calmly and dispassionately, with the idea that you may learn something and become a better person—not by Mylan’s standards, but by yours.

20 September 2004

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 19

Anyone who eats meat and thinks it justified will have no qualms about feeding meat to his or her dogs or cats. If you’re in this category, you may want to stop reading right here, for I’m sure you have other things to do. But what about those of us who believe that meat-eating is wrong? Must we, to be consistent, feed our animal companions a vegetarian diet? Is it wrong to purchase dog or cat food that contains animal products such as beef, pork, chicken, lamb, or fish?

Let me say up front that I feed animal products to Sophie and Shelbie, my canine companions. They eat Science Diet dry food, Science Diet canned food every third day, and an assortment of treats and chew bones made from cows, pigs, chickens, and lambs. Is it wrong of me to buy these items for them?

As in the case of humans, we must distinguish between needs and wants. If dogs and cats need animal products in order to be healthy or live a long time, that would resolve the moral issue in favor of feeding animal products to them, especially since the animal products in their food are by-products of other industries. I may be wrong about this, but I doubt that pigs are killed solely for their ears. More likely, they are killed for their flesh, which is consumed by humans, and the remainder of their body parts are used for pet food.

I’ve heard it said that dogs don’t need animal products in their diet. I’m skeptical. Humans are omnivores, so they can get on fine without animal products. But dogs are carnivores, or close to it, so it stands to reason that they need meat in order to get essential nutrients and vitamins. If so, then I would be morally derelict in not giving Sophie and Shelbie food made from animal products.

Suppose the facts are otherwise and that dogs don’t need animal products in their diet. Is it wrong of me to give them animal products solely because they enjoy them? Sophie and Shelbie love chewing on rawhide, pig ears, and other animal treats. Their lives would be impoverished without them. Not in the sense that they couldn’t survive without them, but in the sense that they wouldn’t have pleasurable experiences, satisfactions, and enjoyments.

As you can tell, I’m ambivalent about feeding animal products to Sophie and Shelbie. I’m strongly inclined to continue doing so even if it should turn out to be wrong according to my own moral principles. But it would be nice if I could do so compatibly with my principles. What do you think?

Please don’t say that I’m silly for agonizing about this. That would show that you don’t grasp the problem. It may not be a problem for you, but it is for me. Suppose you have a friend who loves gardening but wonders whether it’s right to use pesticides. It would be the height of insensitivity (or indifference) to say, “Forget about the bugs! Kill ’em!” You may not care about the bugs, but your friend does. Your friend has a problem. Shouldn’t you want to help?

Many philosophical problems are like this. Philosophers pull their hair out trying to reconcile free will and determinism. Imagine someone who says, “Why reconcile them? Just pick one and chuck the other!” That wouldn’t solve the problem. It would avoid it. Some problems—intellectual, moral, or practical—must be faced and solved, not avoided. Simply understanding what the problem is shows philosophical aptitude. Do you see the moral problem I face with respect to dog food? It’s a problem that arises because of two commitments I’ve made: to refrain from harming others and to give my stinkers a good life.

19 September 2004

From the Mailbag

Hi Keith,

I thought you might enjoy meeting Celeste. She is the latest rescue at Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary, an organization I work closely with. The page below [see here] is the unofficial beginning of the Peaceful Prairie Diary.

See here for our upcoming screenings of "Peaceable Kingdom."

Thank you again for Animal Ethics. I enjoy reading it more than I can say.

Joanna Lucas


Marc Moffett is a philosopher at The University of Wyoming. In his spare time (see here), he kills animals by shooting them with razor-tipped arrows. Why does he do this? For fun. He might say it’s for sport, recreation, entertainment, or as a diversion. That’s what I mean. For fun. He doesn’t need the meat or the hides, as Native Americans might have, and the animals he kills (or wounds) are not interfering with him in any way.

I have a question for Moffett. Do you kill humans by shooting them with arrows? If not, why not? I can think of only three answers:
1. The animals you kill don’t feel pain (whereas humans do).

2. The animals you kill don’t feel as much pain as humans do.

3. The pain of the animals you kill doesn’t count, morally speaking (whereas that of humans does).
The first two propositions are factual in nature. Both are false, as I believe Moffett would agree. The third proposition is evaluative in nature. I would be interested in hearing Moffett’s explanation of why, in his view, animal pain doesn’t count. How does saying that animal pain doesn’t count differ from saying that African-American pain doesn’t count or that Iraqi pain doesn’t count or that female pain doesn’t count or that the pain of infants and fetuses (or the elderly) doesn’t count?

17 September 2004

The Rational Hunter

I just found this.

Dorothy L. Cheney and Robert M. Seyfarth on Monkey Cognition

We have argued that in order to succeed socially monkeys must be able to predict the behavior of others. To do this well they cannot rely on memorizing single interactions but must instead deal in abstractions, comparing the relationships that exist among others. For humans, the quest to predict behavior prompts us to search still further, for the factors that cause some relations to be different from others. A monkey that can compare social relationships is better able to predict the behavior of others than one who simply memorizes all the interactions he has observed. Vastly more powerful abilities to interpret other animals’ behavior accrue to the individual who can attribute motives to others and classify relationships on the basis of these motives. . . .

There are hints that nonhuman primates might occasionally attribute motives to one another. . . . Most examples, however, are anecdotal, and they are largely restricted to chimpanzees. Whether monkeys ever attribute states of mind to each other and whether they recognize that different states of mind are the cause of different social relationships, is an open question. In most cases, it is as easy to explain the behavior of monkeys in terms of learned behavioral contingencies as in terms of the attribution of mental states. . . . We have good evidence that monkeys are adept at understanding each others’ [sic] behavior and relationships; what remains to be determined is whether they are also adept at understanding each others’ [sic] minds.

(Dorothy L. Cheney and Robert M. Seyfarth, “The Representation of Social Relations by Monkeys,” chap. 7 in Animal Cognition, ed. C. R. Gallistel [Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1992], 167-96, at 191-2 [italics in original; parenthetical citations omitted] [essay first published in 1990])

16 September 2004

Soy Milk

If you're consuming dairy products (milk, cheese, ice cream, butter, yogurt), you're contributing to an institution that inflicts terrible pain and suffering on cows. See here and here. There is no need to do this and hence no moral justification for it. Soy products such as soy milk are every bit as good as cow's milk, if not better, and they're widely available. Look for them in your grocery store. Here is the White Wave site. I haven't tried all of its Silk products, but the chocolate milk tastes exactly the same as the chocolate milk from cows that I grew up drinking.

Please don't dismiss this as propaganda. I know you're a caring person who would never cause gratuitous pain; but if you're consuming dairy products, that's what you're doing. Make sound moral choices. Make a moral statement with your dollars. You'll feel better; I guarantee it.

By the way, even if you don't care about animals, you have reason to switch to soy milk. I assume you care about your health—and that of your children. See here.

14 September 2004

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

While there is a genetic predisposition to developing coronary heart disease, the primary determinants for most people are diet and lifestyle. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes and low in fat and refined carbohydrates, along with quitting smoking, moderate exercise and stress management, can reverse heart disease in most people. Improvements may occur much more quickly than had previously been realized.

People have a spectrum of choices. Those who have a family history of heart disease may need to make bigger changes based on their genetic predisposition, but most people can prevent a heart attack if they are willing to make sufficient changes in diet and lifestyle and, when appropriate, take medications.

This is not to blame but to empower. Understanding what a powerful difference these changes can make gives many people new hope and new choices.

Dean Ornish, M.D.
Sausalito, Calif., Sept. 12, 2004
The writer is president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute and clinical professor of medicine, University of California, San Francisco.

10 September 2004

Wild Birds

Should wild birds be captured and kept as pets? See here.

09 September 2004

08 September 2004

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "In Some Biology Classes, Dissection Is Optional" (news article, Sept. 6):

State laws that provide alternatives to animal dissection in school illustrate the progress, however slow, of questioning cruelty to animals.

Twenty years ago, a student took a failing grade if he refused to dissect an animal on the grounds that it contributed to the animal's death. Now students have compassionate options—or at least are more likely to consider the consequences of animal dissection.

I knew that evolution hadn't stopped!

Barbara DiNicola
Jackson Heights, Queens
Sept. 7, 2004

Twenty Years Ago

Department of Philosophy
[Monash University]
[Clayton, Victoria, Australia, 3168]

4th September, 1984

Mr. Keith Burgess-Jackson,
7424 East Speedway Boulevard,
Apartment G-126,
United States of America 85710.

Dear Mr. Burgess-Jackson,

Thank you for your letter. It is always good to hear from people who have been persuaded to do something about our exploitation of animals. This shows that, contrary to some cynical views, rational argument can be persuasive, even to the extent of leading people to change their diet.

I hope we do get a chance to meet one day. In the meantime, you might like to say ‘hello’ to someone I met in Boulder who shares many of our views about animals and other ethical issues. Her name is Lori Gruen and she is now also doing philosophy in Tucson.

Best wishes.

Peter Singer

07 September 2004

From the Mailbag

Dear Keith,

I am the knucklehead who wrote to you previously because I didn't know that desert (as in "just deserts") was spelled with one 's'. Your reply to me was most generous and gentlemanly. I loved your subsequent post about the man who was deserted in the desert and therefore his wife would have no dessert. Which was her just desert. If I was a vain person, I would have thought that your post was directed specifically at me.

For intellectual stimulation, your web site and The Belmont Club and sadly in the past tense USS Clueless are my first choices. I recall your writing some time back about how your web site is your site. You write for yourself and if I, the reader, am offended by your writing, then I should go somewhere else. You gave the example of Andrew Sullivan and his focus on gay rights. Another example from my perspective was Jeff Jarvis's focus on Howard Stern and the First Amendment. I don't visit either of those sites anymore.

Your ethical treatment of animal writings does not dissuade me from reading your blog. I am not a vegetarian but your writings on this topic stimulate me to think. I bought my first Airedale when I was twenty years old. I am now the proud owner of my fifth Airedale. I love him almost as much as my children and will be heartbroken when he dies. I cannot imagine that some people in this world eat dogs. For Christ's sake, what is wrong with them?

But (oops, started a sentence with a but), this is a special time of year for me. I live on a small city lot, but I still crowd in a small garden. The spinach and the strawberries have been eaten. The eggplant, tomatoes, string beans, corn and peppers are just now being harvested. The pears and peaches are ripe. My wife is drying the plums. The acorn squash and the fingerling potatoes will be ready in a couple of weeks. During this time of year I am almost a vegetarian and I love it.

Best Regards,
John Andrews

06 September 2004

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Your Sept. 1 news article about the mistakes made by pesticide applicators correctly reports that pesticides are dangerous chemicals that are frequently applied incorrectly, with tragic results. But there is a more important fact about home and garden pesticides.

Even when pesticides are applied correctly, they may not be safe to use. Many articles in medical journals have associated lawn weed killers and insecticides with dramatic increases in the incidence of a number of cancers and other diseases. One study found that the incidence of leukemia in children was 650 percent greater in homes where indoor and garden pesticides were used.

Anyone who lives in the suburbs has noticed the pesticide flags sprouting on lawns in the spring and fall. These are removed after one day. But the pesticides themselves last for weeks or months, and they are then tracked into the house.

Clearly, misapplication of pesticides is only the tip of the iceberg.

David Ehrenfeld, M.D.
New Brunswick, N.J., Sept. 2, 2004
The writer is a professor of biology at Rutgers University.