30 May 2004

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "One Man's Cuddly Critter Is Another Man's Varmint" (Week in Review, May 23): Most people don't want to kill or harm animals they are educated about. Compassion knows no bounds, and we humans have plenty of compassion to share with all animals, human and nonhuman. When we save animals, we save ourselves.

Mounds, Okla., May 24, 2004

29 May 2004

The Red-Winged Blackbird

I had a wonderful childhood. My parents provided me with a safe, secure world, with just the right mix of freedom and structure. I grew up in rural Michigan, about a hundred miles north of Detroit. Michigan’s Lower Peninsula is shaped like a mitten. I grew up in the Thumb area (as it’s called), not far from Saginaw Bay.

Between kindergarten and fifth grade, my family moved several times. This can be hard on kids, but I took it in stride. Old friends were simply replaced with new ones. Almost all of our houses were in wooded areas, with creeks and meadows nearby. Like my brother Glenn, who’s two years older and a lot crankier, I came to love nature and animals.

One of my earliest memories is of our house in Metamora, where I attended kindergarten and first grade. This would be 1962 through 1964, about the time our nation lost its innocence. We lived a couple of miles from town, near a marshy meadow. (The marsh part was filled with cattails, which waved in the wind.) Although I was only five or six years old, I loved going into the meadow to “explore.” (Is anyone surprised that I’m a Lewis and Clark buff?) Glenn and I made “forts” in the bushes. When we got BB guns, we hunted birds. (This is before we were moral agents, so don’t blame us.)

I will never forget the sound of the red-winged blackbirds that frequented the meadow near our house. Today, while riding my bike in Pilot Point (north of Dallas-Fort Worth) with my friend Butch Moldenhauer and his two-year old son Lance, I heard many red-winged blackbirds. It’s the only bird note I can identify, and it transports me instantly to Metamora four decades ago—to a time of innocence, wonder, security, and joy. Here is the Wikipedia entry on the red-winged blackbird. Here is a site that contains a sound file, which will allow you to hear the bird’s distinctive (and, to my ears, lovely) note.

28 May 2004

Six Months Before the Mast

I began this blog on 28 November 2003, six months ago today. (See here for the first post.) The odometer shows 5,856 visits. As some of you know, the blog was originally communal, but one of the four members didn’t publish anything, another published only sporadically, and the third—a philosophical novice with more presumptuousness than sense—raised my hackles by challenging something I posted with the obvious aim of embarrassing me. With friends like that, who needs enemies? I decided to make it a one-person show. I’m glad I did. The others can start blogs of their own.

I try to post at least one item a day, even if it’s only a link to something interesting. The daily readership is small, compared to, say, my AnalPhilosopher readership, but that’s okay. If you’re a regular visitor, thanks. I’ll keep the blog going. Spread the word. If you have something to share with me, please do. By the way, I would open a comments section, but I’m afraid it would attract cranks. In fact, I know it would, because it did. It’s not worth the hassle. If someone sends a civil letter to me, even if it’s opposed to animal liberation, I’ll post it. I’m not trying to avoid controversy. I’m trying to avoid incivility.

27 May 2004

Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights

I just happened upon this site, so I thought I'd share it with you. I'll put a permanent link on the left.

26 May 2004

"Sheep," by Pink Floyd, from Animals (1977)

Harmlessly passing your time in the grassland away;
Only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air.
You better watch out,
There may be dogs about
I've looked over Jordan, and I have seen,
Things are not what they seem.

What do you get for pretending the danger's not real.
Meek and obedient you follow the leader
Down well trodden corridors, into the valley of steel.
What a surprise!
A look of terminal shock in your eyes.
Now things are really what they seem.
No, this is no bad dream.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want
He makes me down to lie
Through pastures green He leadeth me the silent waters by.
With bright knives He releaseth my soul.
He maketh me to hang on hooks in high places.
He converteth me to lamb cutlets,
For lo, He hath great power, and great hunger.
When cometh the day we lowly ones,
Through quiet reflection, and great dedication,
Master the art of karate.
Lo, we shall rise up,
And then we'll make the bugger's eyes water.

Bleating and babbling we fell on his neck with a scream.
Wave upon wave of demented avengers
March cheerfully out of obscurity into the dream.

Have you heard the news?
The dogs are dead!
You better stay home
And do as you're told.
Get out of the road if you want to grow old.

Empty Cages

See here and here for Tom Regan's new book.

Thinking Philosophically About PETA

It’s undeniable that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is controversial. Sometimes I think controversy is its objective. By why would that be, unless it were clear that controversy advanced PETA’s goals? Is it clear? Let’s think about it.

There are four categories of people (logically):
1. Those who treat animals respectfully no matter what PETA does.

2. Those who treat animals disrespectfully no matter what PETA does.

3. Those who treat animals respectfully as a result of what PETA does.

4. Those who treat animals disrespectfully as a result of what PETA does.
Let’s call those in categories 3 and 4, respectively, converts and perverts. Both converts and perverts, by definition, have been affected (influenced) by PETA’s actions, but in different ways. Converts are those who, but for PETA, would continue to eat meat, wear leather, &c. Perverts are those who, but for PETA, would become vegetarians, or at least take seriously arguments for vegetarianism.

Whenever I talk like this in front of PETA members or sympathizers, I’m told that category 4 is not important. Only category 3 is important. But why isn’t category 4 important? If you care about animals, shouldn’t you care that you’re turning people away from your cause? Maybe the point is that category 4 has few or no members. But that’s an empirical question concerning which, qua philosopher, I have no expertise. My own experience over the past few years suggests that category 4 has many members, not few.

Let’s think about this. Imagine a thoughtful, sensitive person who grew up in an omnivorous family and who enjoys eating meat and other animal products. I think this describes most people. The person in question has a vague sense that we wrong animals by eating them, using them in experiments, and so forth, but hasn’t integrated this intuition into his or her value system or web of belief. This person is ripe for the picking, philosophically. He or she will be receptive to fair-minded, clear-headed argumentation about how we should treat animals.

Along comes PETA with its bucket-of-blood campaign, paint-throwing, name-calling, woman-degrading, celebrity-mongering, publicity-whoring behavior. The person in question may have children and not appreciate the in-your-face tactics used by PETA. What does PETA say about this person? Does PETA care about this person? I assure you that PETA’s tactics turn this person away, perhaps forever, from the cause of animal liberation. This person was, but no longer is, persuadable. Is this good for animals?

PETA might reply, first, that the person’s behavior is irrational. Perhaps so, but that doesn’t save any animals. PETA might reply, second, that this cost (alienation) is outweighed by the benefits of in-your-face campaigns. Is there any evidence of that? In other words, are there more converts than perverts? My sense is that there are more perverts than converts: More otherwise receptive people are turned off by PETA than are taken in by it. This is why I say that PETA has been a net detriment to animals. Its ends may be laudable, but its means are lousy and self-defeating. Unfortunately, PETA seems unwilling to even address this issue.

With friends like PETA, animals don’t need enemies.

25 May 2004

Tom Regan

More people have heard of Peter Singer than Tom Regan, but they're equally important in the animal-liberation/animal-rights movement. Singer is a utilitarian (a species of consequentialist) who believes that the morally salient fact about animals is that they're sentient, i.e., capable of suffering. Regan is a rights theorist (a species of deontologist) who believes that the morally salient fact about animals is that they're subjects of a life. While Singer and Regan differ about the theoretical rationale for changes in our treatment of animals, they agree on many practical matters, such as that people should become vegetarians. Here is a site devoted to Regan's work. I hope you enjoy it. I put a permanent link to it on the left, in case you lose the address.

24 May 2004

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 7

I’ve heard it said many times (usually by students in my Ethics course) that if people become vegetarians, as Peter Singer and others recommend, we’ll be overrun by animals. All the cows, pigs, goats, turkeys, and chickens being confined on farms and ranches will be roaming the streets and countrysides, interfering with our activities and generally making nuisances of themselves. You will wake up one morning to see a cow munching the grass in your front yard, or a pig rooting in your garden, or a turkey pooping on your driveway, or, god forbid, a goat eating the tin cans out of your recycling bin.

I’m not sure what’s supposed to follow from this. Imagine saying that slavery should not be abolished because it will result in unemployed former slaves roaming the countryside. Actually, now that I think of it, this argument was made. But surely there are more than two options: retain slavery and create anarchy. And even if there were only two options, we should opt for anarchy and the social disruption it entails rather than slavery! The former is an enormous problem; the latter is an enormity.

Perhaps the thought is this. An act is right only if it is universally prescribable. But one cannot universally prescribe that confined animals be liberated, since it will produce the aforementioned rampage. Therefore, it is not right to liberate one’s own animals. The problem is that this principle proves too much. It proves, for example, that it’s wrong for me to flush my toilet at five o’clock, since, if everyone did so, it would be ruinous. It proves that it’s wrong for me to withdraw my savings from the bank, since, if everyone did so, it would be disastrous.

I think we can see what went wrong. It’s highly unlikely that everyone, or even most people, will flush their toilets at five o’clock (although I’ve heard it said that halftime of the Super Bowl puts a severe strain on city sewage systems). Thus, there’s no harm in my doing so. In the case of animals, it’s highly unlikely that everyone will become a vegetarian at the same time. What will happen is what happens all the time in a market. Demand for a product will fall, causing producers to produce less. As demand continues to fall, marginal producers will cease production, and then the largest producers. There will no longer be a profit in producing animal flesh for human consumption.

At this point I get a different line of argument. It is said that people will be put out of work by these altered dietary choices. Those who made their living producing animal flesh, from the farmers and ranchers to the butchers, will be in trouble. But that’s how markets work. Imagine making a living producing horse-drawn carriages at the time the automobile was invented. The demand for automobiles lessens the demand for your carriages, much to your chagrin. Are you wronged? No. You have no right that people buy your products. You’re not wronged by their decisions to buy automobiles instead of carriages. You must adapt to the needs of consumers. We may regret that there is no longer a carriage industry, just as we regret that there are dead languages such as Latin, but nobody is wronged by their respective demises.

I sincerely hope, for the sake of the animals, that everyone who makes a living producing animal flesh for human consumption is put out of business, like the carriage producers. It won’t happen overnight, but it can happen—and will, if we choose rightly. Singer and others are simply trying to move us closer to that day by rationally persuading people to change their dietary habits.

22 May 2004

Annie's World

Those of you who love dogs will love this site. (Thanks to Jan Bussey for the link.)

21 May 2004

Getting Singer Wrong

Here is an in-house report on a new book about animal thinking. I found it interesting, but the psychology professor whose book is being discussed gets Peter Singer wrong. He says Singer “humanizes” animals. Singer does nothing of the sort. Singer, who understands biology better than most psychologists, would never say that humans and animals are alike in all or even most respects. He says (1) that they are alike in some respects and (2) that some of the respects in which they are alike, such as being sentient, are morally relevant.

Morally responsible agents take all morally relevant considerations into account. (Yes, that's a tautology, but it bears stating.) That means animals must be taken into account when we act. Their interest in not suffering must be neither disregarded nor discounted simply because of species membership. Species, in other words, like race and sex, is morally irrelevant. Sadly, most humans don’t take animals into account. They inflict suffering on them for little or no reason, such as taste, entertainment, and the production of unnecessary clothing and redundant “knowledge.” This, Singer argues, is morally irresponsible.

Singer isn’t imposing his values on you, so don’t dismiss him as a meddler. He’s trying to get you to think clearly about—and act upon—your values. He’s your friend, not your enemy. If you feel as though you’re being imposed on, it may be your moral scruples rather than Singer doing the imposing. Singer just reminds you of your scruples and helps you see their implications. That is what philosophers do, and have done, since Socrates. It is a noble undertaking.

20 May 2004

Rattlesnake Hunt

Here is a tradition that is not worth conserving. (Scroll to the bottom to see images.)

19 May 2004

From Today's Dallas Morning News

A satirical Web site spreading an anti-fur message by making fun of Neiman Marcus has survived a bid by the Dallas-based retailer to turn it into roadkill.

The National Arbitration Forum, an agency empowered to resolve disputes over Web addresses on the Internet, ruled that the Fund for Animals can continue using domain names that include "NeimanCarcass."

In March, Neiman Marcus filed a complaint that the Web address was "confusingly similar" to its own and would divert customers and hurt its business.

The Fund for Animals, which was founded by the late author and critic Cleveland Amory and operates an animal sanctuary in Henderson County, put up the site about a year ago.

The organization said the name was a parody that did not infringe on the retailer's business.

Visitors to neimancarcass.com find photos of suffering animals, pleas not to buy fur and links to urge Neiman Marcus not to sell it.

"We're not telling people to boycott Neiman Marcus," says Michael Markarian, president of the Fund for Animals, which is based in Silver Spring, Md.

"We're educating the public and asking them to speak out."

Mark Schaaf, a spokesman for Neiman Marcus, said the company had no comment.

The ruling by arbitrator Charles K. McCotter Jr., which was dated May 14, concluded that "NeimanCarcass was sufficiently distinguished" from Neiman Marcus and clearly a parody that would not confuse customers.

"It is unreasonable to believe that a reasonable consumer would be confused as to what the Web site is about or whether it is owned, sponsored or affiliated with" Neiman Marcus, he wrote.

Pierre Grzybowski, grass-roots coordinator for the Fund for Animals, called the decision "a victory both for free speech and the millions of animals who rely on us to tell the truth."

Mr. Grzybowski said the organization was targeting the upscale chain "because they set trends among the major department stores. We're eager to work with Neiman Marcus to become socially responsible."

18 May 2004

From the Mailbag

I put up a guide to finding humane eggs on nakedvillainy, if you are interested. [See here.]

I sent you an e-mail a couple of weeks ago (it bounced, probably due to the huge number of e-mails you were getting about the "Explaining Liberal Anger" article) congratulating you on one of the fallacy posts—I thought you had hammered my argument and you had made me rethink my position. I posted a concession to your logic on nakedvillainy. I'm still working on a post about recreational fishing based on one of your links a couple of months ago—it convinced me that I ought not do catch-and-release recreational fishing since my fun was based on fish pain. But that's still in progress.

All the best.



Here are some recipes from the world-famous Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York (home of Cornell University). I'm hungry just looking at them. Now if only I could cook. . . .

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 6

Anyone who has been reading this blog for more than a few days knows that I care deeply about nonhuman animals. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about humans. It means I don’t care only about humans. Care is not a zero-sum game. Yes, there are conflicts between humans and nonhumans; but there are conflicts between humans and humans. Caring for nonhuman animals means taking them into account in one’s deliberations. It means, at a minimum, not treating them as resources for human use and consumption.

It may puzzle some people that I’m conservative. Isn’t concern for animals a trendy liberal idea? How can this Burgess-Jackson guy be both a conservative and a respecter of animals? He must be confused. This must be a vestige of his liberal days.

I’m not confused. If you think conservatism is incompatible with concern or respect for animals, you don’t understand conservatism. Conservatism is a political morality. Like any political morality, it is concerned with the relation of individuals to the state. This explains the adjective “political.” Political morality is a subset of morality. Animals, of course, are not moral agents, so they’re not political agents, either. But this just means they fall outside the scope of political morality. It doesn’t mean they fall outside the scope of morality. There are moral patients as well as moral agents.

Ah, you say; but isn’t conservatism committed to conserving traditions, and isn’t using and consuming animals traditional? This goes too fast. Yes, conservatism, unlike liberalism, is committed to conserving traditions, but not just any old traditions. Some traditions are worth conserving; others are not. Slavery is traditional in Western culture, but no self-respecting conservative defends slavery. I maintain that using and consuming animals is analogous to slavery. Conservatives should reject both.

You might think this is cheating. “How convenient! You pick and choose traditions in accordance with their worthiness.” But this is no different from liberalism. The central value of liberalism is liberty, understood as the absence of constraint. Liberals aren’t anarchists; they believe there are moral limits on the exercise of individual liberty. As the old saying goes, your liberty stops at the tip of my nose. Liberty, to the liberal, is intrinsically good, but it’s not the only intrinsically good thing. Liberals aren’t absolutists about the value of liberty.

Nor are conservatives absolutists about the value of tradition. Liberals accord a presumption to liberty. Liberty, it might be said, is innocent until proven guilty. Conservatives accord a presumption to tradition. Tradition is innocent until proven guilty. Just as the presumption in favor of liberty can be rebutted or overridden, the presumption in favor of tradition can be rebutted or overridden. Bullfighting, fox hunting, meat-eating, and rodeos, like human chattel slavery, are traditional. This creates a presumption in their favor to the conservative. But I would argue that the presumption is rebutted or overridden in each case.

When is the presumption in favor of tradition rebutted or overridden? When the tradition inflicts harm on others. Conservatives are just as concerned with harm prevention as liberals are. Ah, you say, but animals can’t be harmed. Why not? To harm another is to set back his or her interests. Animals have interests. The main interest any sentient being has is not suffering. Animals also have an interest in life, just as humans do. Life is the precondition for all else of value to the individual: enjoyments, activities, experiences, and, in the case of humans, projects. Animals also have an interest in liberty. Confining animals sets this interest back. Humans harm animals in myriad ways.

Please don’t equate conservatism with the views actually held by conservatives. The views of a conservative fall into two categories: essential and accidental. The essential views are those that cannot be subtracted from conservatism without making it a different political morality. The accidental views are those that can be subtracted from conservatism without making it a different political morality. I maintain that lack of concern for animals is an accidental property of conservatism. In some cases, it derives from the religious beliefs of the conservative. But religion is not essential to conservatism. I’m an atheist. I’m also conservative. Logically speaking, I can be both.

Please be good to animals. First, do no harm to them. Primum non nocere. Second, do what you can to prevent harm to them. Third, if you have it in you, work to improve their lives. Let’s start a new tradition of compassion, concern, care, and respect for other species. That will be a tradition worth conserving.

17 May 2004

Ci[r]cadian Rhythms

I don't know whether insects such as cicadas feel pain, so I don't know whether the presumption against inflicting pain applies to them. I do know that it's not always healthy to eat animal products, as this man learned to his chagrin. (Thanks to Ally Eskin of Who Moved My Truth? for the link.)

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "How to Catch Fish in Vermont: No Bait, No Tackle, Just Bullets" (front page, May 11):

Is there no end to the cruelty human beings can conceive and practice? This is not sport.

Suwanee, Ga., May 11, 2004

16 May 2004

A Defense of PETA

Here is a short essay in support of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Ambrose Bierce

Reverence, n. The spiritual attitude of a man to a god and a dog to a man.

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

Harlan B. Miller on Philosophical Paralysis

The ethical incoherence of our customary treatment of nonhumans has been demonstrated time and again by [Peter] Singer, [Tom] Regan, [S. F.] Sapontzis, [David] DeGrazia, [Evelyn] Pluhar, and others. Almost every member of the American Philosophical Association would agree that all mammals are conscious, and that all conscious experience is of some moral significance. But somehow this has no connection with one’s choice of food. Like the undergraduate who listens to, and actually understands, the refutation of naive relativism, and still writes in the final exam that “no one can judge another person’s morality,” many philosophers suffer from a sort of inferential paralysis.

(Harlan B. Miller, review of Ethics into Action: Henry Spira and the Animal Rights Movement, by Peter Singer, Ethics: An International Journal of Social, Political, and Legal Philosophy 110 [January 2000]: 441-3, at 443 [italics in original])

From the Mailbag


I remember seeing a TV documentary interview with Peter Singer, set in his family home. Singer at that time lived here in Australia and the family had a cat. All members of the family were strict vegetarians, except the cat, of course. It was a cause of some angst to the Singers that puss would only eat canned cat food.


14 May 2004


People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is both loved and hated, both celebrated and excoriated, both supported and opposed. It might be said that those who love PETA do so because they accept its ends, while those who hate it do so because they reject its ends. PETA has a stake in promoting this view, for it diverts attention from the organization’s strategies and tactics.

I think the view being promoted is mistaken. There are many people who accept PETA’s ends but reject its means. There are many people who genuinely care about animals and would gladly throw their support behind a reputable organization, but who believe that PETA adopts reprehensible and counterproductive tactics. How do I know this? I teach. I receive letters. I read newspapers. I watch television. I’ve had over twenty years of experience with this issue. I know whereof I speak.

Can we agree that it’s wrong to degrade women (or any other group) in order to promote a goal? If so, then we can ask whether PETA’s campaigns degrade women. I believe they do. Can we agree that rational persuasion is superior to manipulation? If so, then we can ask whether PETA prefers the latter to the former. I believe it does. Can we agree that commercialization is bad? If so, then we can ask whether PETA is commercialized. I believe it is. Can we agree that a serious organization, devoted to long-lasting social change, should not rely on celebrity? If so, then we can ask whether PETA relies on celebrity. I believe it does.

I’m trying to reach agreement on moral principles so that we can discuss facts. Sometimes I get the feeling that, to PETA, the end justifies the means. If manipulation works better than rational persuasion, then by all means manipulate! If tactic A gets more attention than tactic B, thus getting PETA into the news, then tactic A is preferable to B. If degrading women or cozying up to powerful commercial interests helps animals, then it must be done.

I despise this sort of result-oriented thinking. It appalls me. Animals do not benefit, in the long run, from anything but rational persuasion. It particularly galls me to find philosophers supporting PETA. No self-respecting philosopher would manipulate an audience, however important the end. Philosophers are concerned with knowledge, not mere belief. Their objective isn’t to change people’s beliefs but to provide good grounds for belief. This rules out appeals to emotion, for example. It rules out buckets of blood, paint-throwing, rudeness, and other vile, self-defeating tactics. PETA turns off more people than it recruits. I’m convinced of it. Is this good for animals? With friends like PETA, animals don’t need enemies.

Philosophers must remain independent. They must avoid affiliation, association, and membership. Philosophers (think Socrates) are devoted single-mindedly to the acquisition of knowledge, which means, among other things, having rational grounds for belief. Nothing must interfere with this objective. The philosopher, as such, would rather not change beliefs at all than change them through disreputable means. Philosophers are deontologists, not consequentialists. Philosophical argumentation is constrained, not free.

I call upon my philosophical friends (they know who they are) to sever ties with PETA. Immediately. Regain your lost independence and self-respect. Come home to philosophy. Come back to what attracted you to philosophy in the first place: its integrity, its honesty, and its methodological purity. You can’t be both a philosopher and a shill. You can try to be both, but you can’t succeed at it.

From the Mailbag


A friend pointed out your blog to me noting that while she appreciates reading your Animal Ethics blog, there is a lot of anti-PETA rhetoric in it. I read through some of your blog and enjoyed a lot of your articles. I only discovered two anti-PETA posts (one calling them "jerks" and another citing Gary Francione's essay).

Getting involved with PETA and becoming a member has changed my view of them quite a lot. I used to think very negatively of PETA. This weekend my husband and I attended their "Helping Animals 101" conference. I found them to be very effective and consistent in their approach to helping the animals. I don't agree with everything they do, nor do I think every tactic they use is the best one, but overall I am very impressed with the level of their commitment and success. I also have a lot of respect for the PETA staff members; those I know personally are not only intelligent and gifted, but extremely ethical and concerned for humans and animals alike.

PETA is constantly misrepresented and taken out of context. And PETA's tactics reveal more about society and the media than they do about their seriousness regarding animal cruelty. PETA does what works to get their message across. Unfortunately we live in a society in which often, what works, is less than ideal.

12 May 2004

Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians

A reader named Eileen sent a link to this site. I'm delighted to hear about this organization and wish it success. I will put a permanent link on the left side of this blog.


Yesterday I found a new source of free-range eggs. I was in Whole Foods Market in Arlington, Texas, to buy yeast flakes and Vegemite. Here are the eggs I bought. Before you jump on me for eating eggs, please note that Peter Singer eats free-range eggs (and dairy products) when he is away from home. He told me so.

11 May 2004

Harming Animals

A student who should be studying for her Ethics examination sent this to me. Make of it what you will.


Huckleberry died five years ago today. See here.

10 May 2004

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 5

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), who is considered by many contemporary philosophers as one of the greatest philosophers of all time, thought that all and only humans have dignity, by which he understood moral worth or value. This view can be challenged either by showing that some humans lack dignity or that some nonhumans have it. I believe some nonhumans have it. Indeed, I believe that all nonhuman animals have it.

Kant’s mistake was in locating worth in agency. But this is not part of the concept of dignity; it’s a normative position that one can consistently reject. Strictly speaking, dignity is the state of being worthy of honor or respect. It says nothing about the basis of worth or respect. A being can be worthy either in virtue of what it is or in virtue of what it does (or both). Thus, even if animals lack moral agency, they can still be worthy in virtue of what they are.

Let me give some examples. Have you been to a circus? What did you think when you saw bears wearing tutus and moving about on skates? Did you sense that it was undignified? Or what about mules who are trained to dive into pools? Or chimpanzees made to wear clothing and smoke cigars? Be honest. You felt sorry for the animals. You felt as though they were being degraded. Trust your feelings. They don’t lie.

Dignity does not require possession of the concept of dignity, much less the ability to defend oneself from affronts to it. That is a crude (but common) mistake. Having one’s dignity violated is not the same as being embarrassed or humiliated, so the fact (if it is a fact) that the aforementioned bears, mules, and chimpanzees are neither embarrassed nor humiliated is neither here nor there as far as having their dignity violated is concerned. Dignity is a condition, not a mental state or attitude.

Each animal species has a telos, or end. It has characteristic ways of behaving and feeling in response to environmental stimuli. When we take wild animals out of their natural habitats and train them to engage in unnatural behaviors for human amusement, we rob them of their dignity. This is no more acceptable in the case of animals than it is in the case of humans.

If you value dignity, you will boycott rodeos, circuses, bullfights, and zoos, all of which degrade and violate the animals they use and display. If you wouldn’t want your dignity violated, don’t violate the dignity of others, including our animal brethren.


One of my colleagues just sent a link to this beautiful essay from the San Francisco Chronicle.

09 May 2004

Veganism in a Nutshell

I'm not a vegan, but I'm close. The only animal products I ingest are (1) fish and (2) eggs from free-roaming hens. I hope it will not seem hypocritical of me, therefore, to plug the vegan diet. It's a diet to which I aspire, even if I am not yet there. See here.

08 May 2004

From Today's New York Times

More Mad Cow Mischief

The federal Department of Agriculture is making it hard for anyone to feel confident that the nation is adequately protected against mad cow disease. At a time when the department should be bending over backward to reassure consumers, it keeps taking actions that suggest more concern with protecting the financial interests of the beef industry than with protecting public health.

Just a few weeks ago, the department refused to let a small private company test its cattle for mad cow disease to satisfy Japanese customers. That decision was incomprehensible, unless it was driven by a desire to protect the beef industry from pressure to conduct such tests on all 35 million cattle slaughtered annually in this country.

Now the department has been caught refusing to test a cow that collapsed at a slaughterhouse in Texas; such a collapse could be an indication of mad cow disease. The department's own inspectors at the site wanted to take a brain sample for testing but were overruled by their regional office.

Further evidence of lax regulation emerged when the department quietly expanded the range of beef products that could be imported from Canada, where mad cow disease has been detected, only to be stopped short by a lawsuit.

There is no evidence yet that mad cow disease has invaded American cattle and thus no reason for inordinate worry. The task ahead is to make sure that our herds remain free of the disease. No one can be confident if the department remains so blatantly protective of the American meat industry.

06 May 2004

Dolphin Intelligence

I grew up watching Flipper, so naturally I love dolphins. See here for an interesting and informative essay.

05 May 2004

From the Mailbag

You need to check out and link penn and teller's show/ PETA episode from this season of "Bullshit" on Showtime. I wish more people would see this, then maybe they would stop funding the jerks at PETA.

If you have never seen this show, it is on Thursday nights at 9 cst 1 new and 1 older episode each week . . . tackling issues like environment, recycling, peta, bottled water, etc.

Season 1 is on dvd for sale and rent.

Artur Oczko

04 May 2004

From the Mailbag

Dear Keith,

I just came across your website and wanted to let you know how incredibly excited I was to find someone with conservative political views who is still pro-animal rights. So rarely do I find someone who has the same values, morals, and beliefs as I do. Furthermore, I enjoyed your article on liberal anger immensely (in addition to laughing sooo hard at the core truth involved) and forwarded it to several of my liberal and conservative friends. Thanks for voicing your opinion.

California Lutheran University
Class 2007

03 May 2004

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 4

Some people (including readers of my blogs) appear to think that in our dealings with animals, it’s enough to refrain from making them suffer. This explains why people think it’s acceptable to raise animals for food, provided they are not made to suffer along the way and provided they are killed painlessly. Some would insist, further, that any animal put to death be replaced by an equally happy animal, thus keeping the total happiness of the world the same.

We don’t think this way about humans. Suppose I had a taste for human flesh. Would it be acceptable for me to raise happy humans, the way Smallholder raises happy calves (see here), and then kill them painlessly? What’s the difference? Why the double standard? Why do we think like consequentialists with respect to animals but insist on deontology for humans? Why do we view animals, but not humans, as interchangeable and (therefore) replaceable?

Think about why it’s wrong to kill humans. (Here I draw on Don Marquis’s essay on abortion, from which I have learned much.) To kill a human is to deprive him or her of a future that contains activities, enjoyments, projects, and experiences. Life is the precondition for these things. Without it, they cannot exist. Even a painless killing deprives a human of these valued things.

But animals have futures that contain activities, enjoyments, and experiences, although perhaps not projects in the strict sense. Their lives are the preconditions for these things. Without their lives, these things cannot exist. Even a painless killing deprives an animal of these valued things.

The cases are parallel. You might object that humans and animals are different. Of course they’re different. But are the differences morally relevant? Humans differ among themselves, but not all the differences are morally relevant. We don’t let skin color, for example, affect one’s rights. Why is species membership morally relevant? How could it be, since it’s a biological concept? Species is no more relevant than race is, and you don’t think race is relevant.

Your life is the most important thing you have, since it’s the foundation on which everything else you value is built. This is as true for cows, pigs, and chickens as it is for you. What makes it wrong for someone to kill you is that it deprives you of these valued activities and experiences. That’s precisely why it’s wrong to kill animals. Apply the same standard to both cases. Be a consequentialist through and through, like Peter Singer, or be a deontologist through and through, like me. Don’t be a consequentialist with respect to animals and a deontologist with respect to humans. That’s irrational and self-serving.

02 May 2004

Tough but Not Cruel

Joanna Lucas also sent a link to this animation about veal. Thanks, Joanna.

Bullfighting in Barcelona

Joanna Lucas sent a link to this report, which says that Barcelona, Spain, has declared itself a nonbullfighting city. Surely Spaniards can find a replacement for this barbaric form of "entertainment." What I don't understand is how Spain could oppose capital punishment, which upholds the dignity of persons, and allow bullfighting, which degrades it. Europeans, in general, have things backwards.

01 May 2004

From the Mailbag


Just a note to let you know that the "Peaceable Kingdom" screening, that you so graciously announced on your blog earlier this month, went exceptionally well. We had over 80 people in the audience, unanimously positive comments on the survey cards and nice proceeds to contribute to our local farm sanctuaries.

Peaceable Kingdom is a beautiful film—a remarkable work of art and philosophy—I encourage you to see it if you haven't already.

Meanwhile, this e-card is to thank you for your support of our effort to show Peaceable Kingdom (turn up you speakers).

All the best,