31 March 2004

Stephen Budiansky on Animal-Rights Groups

The extreme abolitionist agenda of the animal-rights groups has made little headway in the past decade, and if anything there has been something of a societal backlash against their more outrageous and criminal acts. The generally favorable press coverage of animal-rights groups that prevailed in the 1970s and early 1980s began to shift in the late 1980s, and that trend has continued in the 1990s, with journalists exercising far more critical scrutiny of the groups' claims, tactics, and motives. The animal-rights groups have made almost no progress in their abolitionist campaigns against animal agriculture and pet ownership—perhaps unsurprisingly, given the popularity of dogs, cats, and steak.

(Stephen Budiansky, The Covenant of the Wild: Why Animals Chose Domestication, with a new preface [New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999 (1992)], vii-viii)

30 March 2004

Christianity and Vegetarianism

I just posted an entry on this topic over at AnalPhilosopher. See here.

Carruthers Online

Peter Carruthers, a prominent philosopher now teaching at The University of Maryland, is the author of the controversial book The Animals Issue: Moral Theory in Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), in which he argues that animals do not have rights. I just discovered that this book is available online, free of charge. See here.

29 March 2004

Persuading Libertarians

What, if anything, does libertarianism (the political morality, not the doctrine of freedom of the will) say about animal rights? For an essay by a libertarian trying to persuade his fellow libertarians that nonhuman animals matter, morally, see here.

28 March 2004

Vicki Hearne on Animal Rights

People who claim to speak for animal rights are increasingly devoted to the idea that the very keeping of a dog or a horse or a gerbil or a lion is in and of itself an offense. The more loudly they speak, the less likely they are to be in a rights relation to any given animal, because they are spending so much time in airplanes or transmitting fax announcements of the latest Sylvester Stallone anti-fur rally. In a 1988 Harper's forum, for example, Ingrid Newkirk, the national director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, urged that domestic pets be spayed and neutered and ultimately phased out. She prefers, it appears, wolves—and wolves someplace else—to Airedales and, by a logic whose interior structure is both emotionally and intellectually forever closed to Drummer, claims thereby to be speaking for "animal rights."

She is wrong. I am the only one who can own up to my Airedale's inalienable rights. Whether or not I do it perfectly at any given moment is no more refutation of this point than whether I am perfectly my husband's mate at any given moment refutes the fact of marriage. Only people who know Drummer, and whom he can know, are capable of this relationship. PETA and the Humane Society and the ASPCA and the Congress and NOW—as institutions—do have the power to affect my ability to grant rights to Drummer but are otherwise incapable of creating conditions or laws or rights that would increase his happiness. Only Drummer's owner has the power to obey him—to obey who he is and what he is capable of—deeply enough to grant him his rights and open up the possibility of happiness.

(Vicki Hearne, "What's Wrong with Animal Rights: Of Hounds, Horses, and Jeffersonian Happiness," Harper's Magazine [September 1991]: 59-64, at 64)

27 March 2004

Joel Feinberg on the Rights of Animals

Now, if a person agrees with the conclusion of the argument thus far, that animals are the sorts of beings that can have rights, and further, if he accepts the moral judgment that we ought to be kind to animals, only one further premise is needed to yield the conclusion that some animals do in fact have rights. We must now ask ourselves for whose sake ought we to treat (some) animals with consideration and humaneness? If we conceive our duty to be one of obedience to authority, or to one's own conscience merely, or one of consideration for tender human sensibilities only, then we might still deny that animals have rights, even though we admit that they are the kinds of beings that can have rights. But if we hold not only that we ought to treat animals humanely but also that we should do so for the animals' own sake, that such treatment is something we owe animals as their due, something that can be claimed for them, something the withholding of which would be an injustice and a wrong, and not merely a harm, then it follows that we do ascribe rights to animals. I suspect that the moral judgments most of us make about animals do pass these phenomenological tests, so that most of us do believe that animals have rights, but are reluctant to say so because of the conceptual confusions about the notion of a right that I have attempted to dispel above.

(Joel Feinberg, "The Rights of Animals and Unborn Generations," chap. 8 in his Rights, Justice, and the Bounds of Liberty: Essays in Social Philosophy [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980], 159-84, at 166-7 [italics in original] [essay first published in 1974])

26 March 2004

Ursus Arctos Horribilis

Here is a site devoted to the grizzly bear, a magnificent (but threatened) creature.

From the Mailbag


I quickly scanned the essay on fishing [see the post of 24 March, infra]. He raises some interesting points, but I am not sure a scientific, neurological approach is correct. It would imply that any torture or mutilation is OK as long as there is no pain. Like most other issues, there are some very clear extremes and a huge unclear grey area where everyone argues where to draw a line. Issues of animal rights are more properly addressed in the abstract than with science. Science is easily co-opted, as witness the Nazi atrocities.

I read the essay on bullfighting [see the post of 23 March, infra]. My father traveled in Mexico and was an "affectionado." I have never had an interest in bullfighting and do consider it cruel. Psychologically it can be classed as operant conditioning. Despite the author's romanticizing, the bull is tortured, conditioned, and confused until it stands still and allows itself to be slaughtered. In the cases where the torero does the kill recibiendo the bull is essentially under conditioned control to follow the cape so that he lowers his head as he passes to provide the opening for the sword. It has the same morality as the old Roman gladiator contests and serves much the same function, with great amounts of rationalizing. I have heard it presented as a morality play. Bullshit (pun originally unintended but kept).

I think it is possible to be cruel to animals even if they don't feel pain. There are two forms of cruelty, intentional and unintentional. The first is easy to condemn, the second takes more work and frequently involves considerable re-education and discussion. As I said earlier this week, I have a lot of confused areas. I work on them as opportunity presents itself.


25 March 2004

An Exchange

I received this letter from a reader:
Keith: Since I started reading your blog I have been thinking about what you write and tried to place it in context to my own ideas about the world etc. One of the most important things you have said is that human and non-human animals are essentially the same and therefore we ought to treat animals with the same reverence that we treat humans in a just society. One of the most important thinkers of the 20th century I believe is Ludwig Von Mises, a giant in economic thought who should have received a Nobel prize. He said this: "Reason's biological function is to preserve and promote life and to postpone its extinction as long as possible. Thinking and acting are not contrary to nature; they are, rather, the foremost features of man's nature. The most appropriate description of man as differentiated from nonhuman beings is: a being purposively struggling against the forces adverse to his life." This quote got me thinking about what you have said. We may have essentially the same features that other mammals have but the one distinguishing feature of humanity is the ability to reason and think about ways that use nature to better our lives. How does this make us the same as animals? Thanks. Joe
Here is my reply:
24 March 2004, 9:01 A.M. Joe: I never said that humans and animals are alike in all respects. Obviously, they're not. But then humans aren't alike in all respects. The principle of equality is not a factual claim; it's a normative claim. It says that in all morally relevant respects, humans are equal. What I'm saying is that humans and animals are alike in certain morally relevant respects, the main one being that they are sentient (understood as having the capacity to suffer). Suffering is suffering, whether it's in a human body or an animal body. If it's bad, as I'm sure you believe it is, then it's bad wherever it occurs, not just when it occurs in a human body. Just as it would be racist to discount or disregard the suffering of other races, it's speciesist to discount or disregard the suffering of other species. kbj

24 March 2004

Do Fish Feel Pain?

Here is an interesting essay about fish and fishing. Warning! It's not for the faint-hearted.

23 March 2004


Here is a short essay on bullfighting in Mexico. I know bullfighting is traditional in certain cultures, and as a conservative I respect and value tradition, but this tradition is no different, morally, from slavery, which degrades human personality. The presumption in favor of tradition is rebutted in this case, just as it is in the case of human chattel slavery.

22 March 2004

Josephine Donovan on a Feminist Ethic for the Treatment of Animals

[Carol] Gilligan, [Sara] Ruddick, [Estella] Lauter, [Paula Gunn] Allen, [Rosemary Radford] Ruether, and [Marilyn] French all propose an ethic that requires a fundamental respect for nonhuman life-forms, an ethic that listens to and accepts the diversity of environmental voices and the validity of their realities. It is an ethic that resists wrenching and manipulating the context so as to subdue it to one's categories; it is nonimperialistic and life affirming.

It may be objected that this ethic is too vague to be practicable in decisions concerning animals. My purpose here, however, is not to lay out a specific practical ethic but, rather, to indicate ways in which our thinking about animal/human relationships may be reoriented. Some may persist: suppose one had to choose between a gnat and a human being. It is, in fact, precisely this kind of either/or thinking that is rejected in the epistemology identified by cultural feminism. In most cases, either/or dilemmas in real life can be turned into both/ands. In most cases, dead-end situations such as those posed in lifeboat hypotheticals can be prevented. More specifically, however, it is clear that the ethic sketched here would mean feminists must reject carnivorism; the killing of live [sic] animals for clothing; hunting; the trapping of wildlife for fur (largely for women's luxury consumption); rodeos; circuses; and factory farming; and that they must support the drastic redesigning of zoos (if zoos are to exist at all) to allow animals full exercise space in natural habitats; that they should reject the use of lab animals for testing of beauty and cleaning products (such as the infamous "LD-50" and Draize tests) and military equipment, as well as psychological experimentation such as that carried out in the Harlow primate lab at the University of Wisconsin; that they should support efforts to replace medical experiments by computer models and tissue culture; that they should condemn and work to prevent further destruction of wetlands, forests, and other natural habitats. All of these changes must be part of a feminist reconstruction of the world.

Natural rights and utilitarianism present impressive and useful philosophical arguments for the ethical treatment of animals. Yet, it is also possible—indeed, necessary—to ground that ethic in an emotional and spiritual conversation with nonhuman life-forms. Out of a women's relational culture of caring and attentive love, therefore, emerges the basis for a feminist ethic for the treatment of animals. We should not kill, eat, torture, and exploit animals because they do not want to be so treated, and we know that. If we listen, we can hear them.

(Josephine Donovan, "Animal Rights and Feminist Theory," Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 15 [winter 1990]: 350-75, at 374-5)

From the Mailbag

Dear Keith,

I came across your website a few weeks ago, I can't remember from where or how naturally, but ever since I've been reading your posts daily. It is so nice to come across someone who has fair arguments, inspiring posts and not to the point of extremism.

The post you made on Dec. 27th, Becoming a Vegetarian (or Demi-Vegetarian), really got me thinking. I gave up all red meat a year ago this month, and sometimes, sadly, I still get those intense cravings for a cheeseburger. Deep down I know I would never eat one. When someone around me is eating one, I will look at it and wish for a bite, but then will realize that it is the last thing I want. Before reading your post I always felt like a hypocrite for calling myself a vegetarian and still longing for a bite of meat, but maybe this is normal. Like you, I still eat chicken and turkey, though with time and self-discipline, it will stop. Weird thing is, it's not that I even want to eat poultry, half the time I'm picking at it and putting it to the side for someone else who will usually ask me what's wrong with the chicken and then snicker when I say "nothing."

Another post that you made that got me thinking was about zoos and the horror they cause animals. On my own weblog, psycheoflove.com, I posted a small story of what I witnessed at the Phoenix Zoo in Arizona that completely changed the way I view zoo and animal welfare. Leaving the zoo that day two years ago I was so disturbed by what I had seen and the way people reacted to these animals, these animals who are there simply for their amusement and entertainment, who look so bored and alone behind their cages, I wept on the way to the car thinking and knowing that this just was not right at all. What is there that we can do though? It feels no matter how much I try to tell people or inform people, no one seems to really care for the treatment of animals, or believe that it doesn't matter . . . they're "just animals." The article about the beautiful 13 year old gorilla was terrible. Watching the video they put up, showing the police officer so determined to shoot it was painful to watch.

Bear with me.

Many years ago, when I was around eight or nine, I believe that is when I had my first moment of realization that animals deserve fair treatment, and what animal cruelty was. I practically ran away from home when I witnessed my step-father beat my dog and I could not believe the pain it caused the dog, as well as me. Ever since that moment I cannot stand to view an animal being mistreated in any form.

Ok, hopefully this e-mail has not bored you too much. All of this is to say that I, as well as many others, appreciate your website and the articles you share. It's really wonderful to know there are people like you who do care about the animals of the world.

Many blessings to you,

21 March 2004

A Good Old Boy

It's been almost five years since Huckleberry died. I think about him every day. Here, for those of you who missed it, is his story.

Animal Rights

My Australian friend Dr John J. Ray over at Dissecting Leftism mentioned me in a post about animal rights. See here. He says he can't see any basis for rights other than contract; and since nonhuman animals can't contract, they can't (and hence don't) have rights. But this can't be the correct account of rights, for many humans can't contract. Some (e.g., infants and the severely retarded) have never had the capacity to contract. Others (e.g., the comatose and the senile) have had the capacity but lost it. I don't want to push this line of thought, though, because John might bite the bullet and say that these humans lack rights.

I see no conceptual barrier to ascribing rights to nonhuman animals. In other words, it's no contradiction to say (for example) that Sophie and Shelbie, my canine companions, have rights. So the question is whether they have rights (and, if so, which). That, of course, depends on what one takes rights to be. If rights are valid claims, as Joel Feinberg says, then animals have rights, for they have valid claims. We should also ask whether we're talking about moral rights or legal rights. Animals clearly have many legal rights. John must know that. (Actually, he does seem to concede this in his post.) In my opinion, animals should have more legal rights than they do, and one day, I am confident, they will—especially if we keep working at it in their behalf. Animals have more legal rights in Sweden than they do in the United States, which is why you see so many animals swimming toward Sweden. Just kidding about the swimming part.

Whether animals have moral rights depends on one's moral theory. According to my moral theory, deontological egoism, they do. According to Tom Regan's moral theory, they do. According to utilitarianism, they don't. But then, not even humans have rights according to utilitarianism, except in a manner of speaking, and in that manner of speaking, so do animals. (Read your Bentham.) Whether contractarianism (social-contract theory) leaves animals out in the cold remains a matter of dispute. Some say yes; some say no. In my view, any moral theory that precludes animal rights is to that extent unacceptable.

20 March 2004


I just discovered a wonderful organization devoted to the abolition of zoos, which are morally abominable. See here. Animals are not resources for our use, consumption, disposal, or entertainment. They are fellow travelers, entitled to the same respect we accord human beings. Only someone who thinks animals are objects, with no moral status whatsoever, could eat them, experiment on them, hunt them, or confine them for purposes of display or entertainment. By the way, if you're a Christian and think animals exist for your use, you either haven't read your Bible or don't understand it. See here.

19 March 2004

Dale Jamieson on the Immorality of Zoos

Zoos teach us a false sense of our place in the natural order. The means of confinement mark a difference between humans and animals. They are there at our pleasure, to be used for our purposes. Morality and perhaps our very survival require that we learn to live as one species among many rather than as one species over many. To do this, we must forget what we learn at zoos. Because what zoos teach us is false and dangerous, both humans and animals will be better off when they are abolished.

(Dale Jamieson, "Against Zoos," in In Defense of Animals, ed. Peter Singer [New York: Harper & Row, 1986 (1985)], 108-17, at 117)

18 March 2004

Abolish Zoos

Here is a sad story from today's Dallas Morning News about a 300-pound gorilla that escaped from its cage in the Dallas Zoo, injured several people, and had to be shot to death by police. Zoos are wrong. They should be abolished. See Dale Jamieson, "Against Zoos," in In Defense of Animals, ed. Peter Singer (New York: Harper & Row, 1986 [1985]), 108-17.

17 March 2004

Marian Stamp Dawkins on Animal Suffering

Let us not mince words: Animal welfare involves the subjective feelings of animals. The growing concern for animals in laboratories, farms, and zoos is not just concern about their physical health, important though that is. Nor is it just to ensure that animals function properly, like well-maintained machines, desirable though that may be. Rather, it is a concern that some of the ways in which humans treat other animals cause mental suffering and that these animals may experience "pain," "boredom," "frustration," "hunger," and other unpleasant states perhaps not totally unlike those we experience.

This would appear to put scientists in a dilemma. If we insist that such subjective language has no place in science and that the mental states of nonhuman animals cannot be studied empirically, then we opt out of all debates about animal welfare, leaving the formulation of laws and regulations concerning the treatment of animals to those (often nonscientists) who may have no such scruples. On the other hand, if we feel that laws and regulations should be based on scientific knowledge about the animals . . . , we may feel we have a duty to step into these muddy waters and say what we can, even if we then risk being called unscientific. The purpose of this . . . article is to argue that we do not, in fact, have to choose between scientific respectability and practical considerations. A middle way is possible. We can acknowledge the genuine difficulty of ascertaining what a nonhuman animal feels and yet attempt to attain a scientific understanding of its feelings. Indeed, we should do so not only because we will thus promote the welfare of animals but because the study of subjective feelings is properly part of biology.

(Marian Stamp Dawkins, "From an Animal's Point of View: Motivation, Fitness, and Animal Welfare," Behavioral and Brain Sciences 13 [March 1990]: 1-9, at 1 [citation omitted])

16 March 2004

Do Animals Have Rights?

Carl Cohen is a professor of philosophy at The University of Michigan and an outspoken opponent of the idea that nonhuman animals have rights. Here is one of his essays.

14 March 2004

Of Wolves and Men

Here is a New York Times editorial about the hunting of wolves in Alaska. This topic has especial meaning to me, because I wrote a lengthy essay on the legal status of wolves in Michigan when I was in law school. (I wrote it for a graduate history course.) By the way, if you haven't read Barry Holstun Lopez's magnificent book Of Wolves and Men (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1978), please do. It changed my life. It'll change yours, too. I guarantee it.

13 March 2004

From the Mailbag

Hope you don't mind that I referred readers to your blog.

I represent the local Salem Humane Society and another local group, Angels for Animals. Your site is a great source for many of the issues we address.

Robert L. Guehl, JD, LLM
Salem OH

12 March 2004

Raping Animals

If rape is sexual intercourse without an individual's consent, and if nonhuman animals (like underage humans) are incapable of consenting, then sexual intercourse with a nonhuman animal is rape (or the moral equivalent thereof). Here is an interesting news story in which a Dutch politician reaches that conclusion. (Thanks to Norm Weatherby for the link.)

11 March 2004

Ownership Versus Guardianship

Dr Mylan Engel Jr sent a link to this essay, which may be of interest to readers of this blog. Thanks, Mylan! By the way, I hope you've read Mylan's essay "The Immorality of Eating Meat," a link to which appears on the left side of this blog. It's the best thing I've read on the moral status of nonhuman animals, better even than Peter Singer's Animal Liberation (1975).

10 March 2004


Euthanasia is a good, easy, or gentle death. (The word derives from the Greek words "eu," good, and "thanos," death.) The central case of euthanasia involves a person who is terminally ill, in great pain, and desirous of dying. Hastening the person's death is a release from misery. The motive of the person doing the euthanizing is benevolence. We say that we're doing it for your own good—because we love you. A synonym for "euthanasia" is "mercy killing."

Suppose we find a healthy, happy orphan. If we put him or her to death because (1) no individual is willing to provide the necessary care and (2) society is unwilling to allocate the resources for such care, is it euthanasia? Clearly not—even if the death itself is quick and painless. The orphan, by hypothesis, is healthy and happy and will, with adequate care, live a long life.

So why do we call it euthanasia when healthy, happy dogs and cats are put to death? We're not doing it for their benefit. We're not doing it because the only alternative to death is a life of unmitigated misery. We're doing it because we—individually and collectively—are unwilling to pay for the care they need.

Why do we call it euthanasia when it's not? I think it's because we're hiding the ugly reality from ourselves. We don't like to think that we're killing healthy, happy animals simply because we'd rather use the resources for other purposes, such as entertainment and fashionable clothing. The word "euthanasia" assures us that we're doing it for the sake of the animals.

I'm not arguing, here, for increased funding, although I believe it's scandalous that an affluent nation such as ours doesn't provide for its feline and canine companions. I'm arguing for honesty. If we're unwilling to provide for dogs and cats, let's say so. Let's stop implying, by our terminology, that we have no choice. We do. We're making a bad choice.

09 March 2004

"Peaceable Kingdom," by Adrian Belew, from Mr. Music Head (1989)

When I wake up in my tree
wake up in my bedroom tree
a little girl and a parakeet
are singing to me

My, oh my, what a peaceable kingdom
why would I ever wanna leave
leave a peaceable kingdom

And when I wake up on the floor
on the carpeted forest floor
all of the squirrels in their conifers
are saying to me

My, oh my, even if you had a set of wings
why would you ever wanna fly
from a peaceable kingdom

oh my, oh my, what a peaceable kingdom
why would I ever wanna leave
leave a peaceable kingdom

It's quiet at night
when the monkeys retire
so we lay down our faces
by the fireplace
and sing softly
what a peaceable kingdom

08 March 2004

Factory Farms

Here are some images from inside factory farms.

07 March 2004

James Serpell on Interspecific Friendship

Human friendships share many features in common with certain social relationships in other species, particularly among non-human primates. The requirement, however, that friends should value the relationship itself above and beyond the gratification of personal ambitions, seems to be unique, and is uncharacteristic of analogous relationships among animals living under natural conditions. Human friendships, and the particular rules of conduct associated with them, probably evolved in the face of increasing social pressures which necessitated the formation of durable, reciprocal alliances with individuals other than kin or sexual partners. Since such alliances are expected to last a long time, perhaps for the lifetime of the individual, the process of friendship-formation places the emphasis on mutual liking, trust and compatibility, rather than on the prospect of immediate or even deferred material gains.

Despite the apparent absence of true friendships among animals, humans are able to derive many of the social and emotional benefits of friendship from relationships with animals, especially dogs, cats and other household pets. Perhaps because they involve other species, and therefore appear superficially counterfeit, such relationships between humans and animals have been largely ignored by ethologists and social psychologists. This is, perhaps, regrettable, since their particular differences and similarities may reveal a great deal about both the meaning and the limits of friendship.

(James Serpell, "Humans, Animals, and the Limits of Friendship," chap. 7 in The Dialectics of Friendship, ed. Roy Porter and Sylvana Tomaselli [London and New York: Routledge, 1989], 111-29, at 127-8)

06 March 2004

Ambrose Bierce

Fork, n. An instrument used chiefly for the purpose of putting dead animals into the mouth. Formerly the knife was employed for this purpose, and by many worthy persons is still thought to have many advantages over the other tool, which, however, they do not altogether reject, but use to assist in charging the knife. The immunity of these persons from swift and awful death is one of the most striking proofs of God's mercy to those that hate Him.

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

05 March 2004

Our Feathered Friends

United Poultry Concerns is devoted to changing our beliefs about and behavior toward chickens, turkeys, and other fowl. See here.

04 March 2004


If you eat beef, you're supporting this industry.

03 March 2004

Dogs, Cats, and Other Deities

If you live with (or for) a dog or a cat, you will enjoy this. Thanks to Jean Robart for the link.

02 March 2004

Upright Eating

Looking for vegetarian recipes? See here. Do it for your health. Do it for the animals.

01 March 2004

All Animals Are Equal

If you haven't read this essay by Peter Singer, please do. It was originally published in 1974 and became the main argumentative chapter of Animal Liberation a year later. Singer argues that speciesism is analogous to racism, which is, of course, wrong. Is he right?