30 June 2004

Catfish at Play?

Joanna Lucas sent this. You'll have to provide the context. It looks like a catfish at play to me, but then, I live with dogs, the most playful critters on earth.

29 June 2004


Here is an essay about hunting that may be of interest.

28 June 2004

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 12

Suppose you’re inclined to eat meat but wonder about the moral permissibility of doing so. You think it might be wrong, since it requires the confinement and killing of sentient beings, but then it occurs to you that your forbearance won’t make a difference. Why deprive yourself of a simple pleasure when it’s not clear that doing so will save an animal’s life? It seems pointless, fruitless, wasteful, abnegating.

If you look at it this way, you’ll probably continue to eat meat. But there’s another way to look at it. I’ve always thought of morality in terms of personal integrity—of having high standards and striving mightily to live up to them. Morality, in this view, is more a matter of what one rules out as unthinkable than of what one decides or does. Do I want to participate in an institution that uses animals as resources—that confines them, deprives them of social lives, frustrates their urges, alters their diets and bodies, and eventually kills them in the prime of their lives? It’s a matter of not getting one’s hands dirty, of not collaborating with evil. Perhaps other people can do these things, I say, but I can’t. I want no part of such a cruel institution. There will be no blood on my hands.

One view of morality sees it as a mechanism of change, with each person being a lever of the mechanism. The other sees it in terms of what sort of person one is. When you hear that billions of animals are killed every year for food, you might think, “My becoming a vegetarian won’t make a difference, so I may as well indulge my tastes.” That’s to take the first view. But why not say that what other people do is not up to you? You control your actions. Your actions reflect your moral values and what sort of person you are. Stand up for something. Say “These things go on, but they do not go on through me!” You’ll feel good about yourself; I guarantee it.

From NewScientist.com

Dogs can predict epileptic seizures

Some dogs can predict when a child will have an epileptic seizure, a new study has revealed. These dogs not only protect their charges from injuries, such as falling, but also seem to help kids deal with the daily struggle of epilepsy.

Nine of the 60 dogs in the study (15 per cent) were able to predict a seizure by licking, whimpering, or standing next to the child. These dogs were remarkably accurate—they predicted 80 per cent of seizures, with no false reports.

However, those interested in owning a dog with these skills cannot yet just order one. The dogs were not trained, but instead began predicting seizures spontaneously within a month of moving in with their owners.

"No one is reliably training such dogs yet," says Adam Kirton, a neurologist at Alberta Children's Hospital in Canada and lead author of the study. His group is looking into setting up a training program. However, some epilepsy patients do already have dogs that have been trained to protect them during a seizure.

Children with epilepsy are at risk of falling or choking during a seizure. The injury rate is highly variable, but can be about 20 per cent for some types of childhood epilepsy.

"But the worst part of the disease isn't a seizure, it's fear of the next seizure," says Kirton. "By knowing when a seizure might happen, it could liberate them and free them to do what they want to do."

Minutes to hours

Before the new study, reports of dogs predicting seizures had only been anecdotal. So Kirton and colleagues attempted to systematically assess dog behaviour by sending questionnaires to families in their clinic.

Forty-two percent of the families with both an epileptic child and a dog said their dogs responded to seizures. And nine of these dogs actually anticipated the seizure, alerting families minutes to hours before the seizure occurred. Also, dog-owning families reported a higher quality of life than those without, with the owners of seizure-alerting dogs reporting the highest values.

One possible weakness of the study is that the behaviour was reported by the dog-owners themselves, who may overestimated their dog's abilities. Kirton therefore plans to do another study in a more clinical setting, which will also try to determine how these dogs predict seizures.

At present, the mechanism is unknown. But some researchers speculate that the dog could be using subtle visual or olfactory cues that occur before a seizure.

Gregory Holmes, a neurologist at Dartmouth Medical School in New Hampshire, says the dogs could be detecting a change in smell. "People have autonomic changes, such as increased sweating, which a dog could pick up on."

According to Douglas Nordli, director of the children's epilepsy center at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, such external changes could result from a small electrical discharge that occurs in the brain before the full blown electrical seizure.

Journal reference: Neurology (vol 62, p 2303)

Emily Singer

27 June 2004


You'll enjoy this. First, click here for a reproduction of Vittore Carpaccio's 1503 painting The Apparition of Saint Jerome to Saint Augustine. Study it. Second, click here (PDF) for a wonderful poem about the painting (or rather, what's represented by the painting). Finally, click here for a discussion of the painting by a commencement speaker. Don't you love the little dog?

26 June 2004

25 June 2004

The Animal Rights Library

Khursh Mian Acevedo sent this wonderful resource to me the other day, so I thought I'd pass it on. It looks like more fine work by Pablo Stafforini. Thanks, Khursh! Thanks, Pablo! You work in behalf of animals and speak on behalf of animals.

24 June 2004

Homes for the Abandoned

Joanna Lucas sent a link to this heartwarming story from yesterday's Christian Science Monitor.

22 June 2004

The Hidden Victims of War

When we tally up the costs and benefits of war, we must neither disregard not discount the interests of nonhuman animals. Khursh Mian Acevedo sent a link to this illustrated document. It's in PDF format, so please give it a minute or so to load. You won't regret waiting.

21 June 2004

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 11

The other day, a reader asked whether it is morally objectionable to eat the flesh of animals who died natural or accidental deaths. For example, suppose I strike a deer with my car. If I’m inclined to eat it, may I? Or suppose some animal companion of mine—a cow, a horse, a pig, a chicken, a goat—dies a natural death. May I eat it?

I don’t see why not. There are two reasons, in general, to refrain from eating animal flesh. The first—the utilitarian reason—is that the animals whose flesh you eat were made to suffer. By eating an animal’s flesh, you become a party to its suffering and contribute to further suffering. The second—the deontological reason—is that you deprive animals of their lives. Why is it wrong to kill normal adult human beings like you and me? It’s because we are deprived of our futures, which contain enjoyments, satisfactions, experiences, activities, and projects. Animals are deprived of the same things (with the possible exception of projects) by being killed, even if they were not made to suffer during life.

If an animal is not made to suffer and is not deprived of its future by having its life cut short, I don’t see any reason not to consume its flesh. I’m not saying that anyone must or should eat it, or even that many people would want to, only that one who is so inclined may. I welcome feedback from anyone who has a different take on this. Perhaps I’m missing some morally relevant consideration.

By the way, if it’s permissible to eat the flesh of animals who died natural or accidental deaths, it’s permissible (for the same reasons) to eat the flesh of humans who died natural or accidental deaths. The only difference I can see is that in the case of humans, others, such as relatives and friends, may be distressed by the knowledge that the corpse of their loved one is being consumed. This is a case where the greater intellectual capacity of humans makes a moral difference.

20 June 2004

Laboratory Experiments

The following news item, which I have had tacked to my bulletin board, appeared in The Dallas Morning News on 19 January 2000:
Champaign, Ill.—The University of Illinois has suspended first-year veterinary school lab experiments that can kill dogs, rabbits and pigs. The decision to stop such experiments through the spring semester followed complaints from veterinary students and members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Twenty-six students, or a quarter of the first-year veterinary class, signed a petition last fall saying they would not participate in animal labs during the spring semester. The veterinary school has used about 100 dogs and pigs annually to teach animal physiology, including a course in which students inject drugs into dogs to change their heartbeat or their rate of breathing.
I find it hard to believe that PETA had any influence on the university’s decision. What obviously troubled the university was the fact that its students refused to participate. Now, maybe the students themselves were influenced by PETA, in which case I salute PETA. I haven’t seen a follow-up about this decision. I hope the suspension of experiments became permanent. If anyone has information, let me know.

18 June 2004

Ad Hominem Arguments and Ad Hominem Fallacies

Just as not all slippery-slope arguments are slippery-slope fallacies (see the post of 19 November 2003 in the AnalPhilosopher archive), not all ad hominem arguments are ad hominem fallacies. If you want to learn the difference between the ad hominem argument (i.e., the argumentum ad hominem, or argument to the person) and the ad hominem fallacy (attack on the person), read my essay “How to Argue,” a permanent link to which appears on the left side of this blog.

Here’s the difference in a nutshell. The ad hominem fallacy consists in dismissing a person’s argument on the basis of some negative characteristic of the person (rather than because of some defect in the argument). That you are a jerk does not make your arguments bad (any more than your being a saint makes your arguments good).

Note that this fallacy requires dismissal of an argument. It has the form:
1. S is a bad person (in some respect).
2. S is a bad arguer (i.e., S's argument is bad).
1. M is a small animal.
2. M is a small mouse.
That this is invalid is easily seen, for the premise can be true while the conclusion is false (if M is a large mouse). The invalidity consists in transferring a relative term (“bad” or “small”) from one class to another. That this cannot be done is clear; the criteria for smallness in animals differ from (or rather, are not necessarily the same as) the criteria for smallness in mice. The criteria for badness in persons are not necessarily the same as the criteria for badness in arguers. Good people can be bad (or merely nongood) arguers. Bad people can be good (or merely nonbad) arguers. (For further discussion, see my textbook Informal Logic, 3d ed.)

One does not commit the ad hominem fallacy merely by attacking or disparaging a person. That may be disrespectful, but disrespectfulness is not a fallacy. It’s a vice, a character defect. A fallacy is a psychologically attractive but logically defective argument. It is a mistake in reasoning, not a way of treating someone.

The ad hominem argument, which is perfectly legitimate, indeed essential to effective persuasion, consists in holding people to their beliefs, values, or principles. If you’re a Christian and I point out to you that you’re not living up to your Christian principles, I commit no fallacy. I’m simply helping you be a better Christian, for which you should be grateful, not resentful. I do not need to be a Christian myself for this to work.

All of which is to say that I did not commit an ad hominem fallacy in my post (see here) about Michael Moore. I couldn’t have, since I didn’t dismiss any argument he made. (Does he make arguments?) Perhaps I was disrespectful to Moore, in which case I was bad. Then again, perhaps he doesn’t deserve respect, in which case I wasn’t bad. Respect must be earned.

From the Mailbag

Dear Keith Burgess-Jackson:

I'm a former philosophy grad student and freelance writer who enjoys your site. I saw your call for someone to forward Michael Moore's references to animals. As it happens, I had a copy of Herbivore magazine, issue #3, which includes "An Open Letter to Michael Moore," from Bruce Friedrich of PETA. The letter comes with a sidebar quoting two Moore passages concerning animals, which I've included below. Friedrich's letter is quite critical of Moore regarding animals. (For your amusement, if you Google PETA and Moore, you'll see they're also running a campaign making an issue of his weight.)

Unfortunately, the Herbivore article is not available online (and the actual issue of the magazine is sold out). But more information about Herbivore is available here.

Interestingly, Herbivore is a bit like Animal Ethics: both puncture stereotypes about vegetarians. You do it by writing as a conservative for animal ethics, while they do it using humour. I think both kinds of diversity are a terrific development for the animal ethics movement.

As one of your more liberal-minded admirers, I wondered if your item on Moore didn't stray a bit into the ad hominem zone. But I'm happy to see anyone get involved with animal issues, whatever their politics (I quite admired Matthew Scully's book, which I'm sure you're familiar with). Overall I think your site is terrific. I often follow up on the links to philosophical papers. I found especially valuable the recent links to Essays in Philosophy and the paper rebutting Steven Davis. I've interviewed Davis myself, and while he is very pro-animal, I've always thought someone should write a response.

For your interest, here are a couple of links to other conservatives (if libertarians count as conservatives) who are pro-animal rights:
This is a libertarian site.

And this is the blog of a writer for Reason magazine who writes about animals from time to time.
Interestingly (as you may already know), libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick also endorsed ethical vegetarianism in Anarchy, State, and Utopia. I hope it is a trend that is growing.

Keep up the great work.

[name withheld by request]
Ottawa, Ontario

P.S. I see you sometimes post emails on the blog. You're welcome to do so with all or part of this one, but I'd prefer you don't include my name if so.

From Dude, Where's My Country?
By Michael Moore

Page 190: "Vegetarianism is unhealthy. Humans need protein, and lots of it. Put down those sprouts and pick up a T-bone."

Pages 192-3: "Animals don't have rights."

"'Freeing' chickens from their factory farms is idiotic. They don't know how to survive in the wild and they're just going to get hit by a truck."

"You just look like a dumbass if you go on national TV, like PETA does, to argue that beer is better for the body than milk. This shit just makes me wanna go kick my dog."

17 June 2004

From the Mailbag

Keith, I am forwarding this information I found very valuable.
There's a virtual consensus among "food economists" that eating healthfully at the bottom of the food chain (i.e. veganism or near vegetarianism) is the most sustainable way for the human population to eat, animal welfare issues aside. Here is a column on the subject by George Monbiot that makes the basic case. Seemingly the lone dissident, an agricultural academic named Steven Davis, favors a pastured ruminant omnivorous diet for the planet [see here]. He has been rebutted in this paper.

Michael Moore's View of Animals and Those Who Defend Them

The other day, someone sent some quotations from Michael Moore’s books or essays. I unfortunately deleted them. The quotations were awful. Moore not only expressed indifference to the fate of animals; he poked fun at those who care about them and ridiculed the idea of animal rights. It was vile stuff, which shows the true character of this “man of the people.” I have a friend who cares deeply about animals but also admires and respects Moore. I wonder how he feels about Moore’s mockery of what he holds dear.

This raises a larger question. Leftists profess to be concerned with the disadvantaged, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the exploited. Don’t these terms apply, quite literally, to nonhuman animals? Michael Moore doesn’t see the contradiction between defending working people from greedy capitalists (an instance of exploitation) and dining on the flesh of cows, pigs, and chickens, who were made to suffer horribly (and eventually die) for his trivial pleasure. I don’t think Moore really cares about human beings, if you want to know the truth. I think he cares about himself, and only himself.

If someone has quotations about animals from Moore’s books or essays, please send them to me with full citations, including page numbers. I don’t own any of his writings and never will. He’s a despicable and hypocritical human being, one of the very worst I’ve seen. That he is celebrated in certain quarters—e.g., Hollywood, France, academia—is a symptom of an insidious social disease.

16 June 2004

From the Mailbag

"But animals are harmed (egregiously, profoundly, irreversibly) by meat-eating, so the presumption in favor of tradition is rebutted in this case, as is the corresponding commonsense belief that meat-eating is morally acceptable." [See here.]

Although I understand what this sentence was about, I think the wording is incorrect, and thinking about alternate meanings led me to some questions.

I think you really meant to say animals are harmed by being killed (for their meat)—the physical act of eating their flesh does not harm their interests, since they are already dead. Even if the meat were not eaten, their interests would be harmed irreversibly, so I don't see how the act of meat-eating would add anything to that.

I don't think it's a minor terminological issue, either, since it raises the question—do you think it's moral to eat meat from animals that died a natural death?

I don't recall this being addressed on your website, but I could have missed it. I believe that lower-caste Indians do actually eat the meat of cows that die of natural causes in India, but not sure how reliable that is.

A related question would be if it's okay to raise animals for that purpose, giving them a reasonable life, then as soon as they die-off to market.

John Crawford

15 June 2004

Peter Singer on the Expanding Circle

The circle of altruism has broadened from the family and tribe to the nation and race, and we are beginning to recognize that our obligations extend to all human beings. The process should not stop there. In my earlier book, Animal Liberation, I showed that it is as arbitrary to restrict the principle of equal consideration of interests to our own species as it would be to restrict it to our own race. The only justifiable stopping place for the expansion of altruism is the point at which all whose welfare can be affected by our actions are included within the circle of altruism. This means that all beings with the capacity to feel pleasure or pain should be included; we can improve their welfare by increasing their pleasures and diminishing their pains.

The expansion of the moral circle should therefore be pushed out until it includes most animals. (I say “most” rather than “all” because there comes a point as we move down the evolutionary scale—oysters, perhaps, or even more rudimentary organisms—when it becomes doubtful if the creature we are dealing with is capable of feeling anything.) From an impartial point of view, the pleasures and pains of non-human animals are no less significant because the animals are not members of the species Homo sapiens. This does not mean that a human being and a mouse must always be treated equally, or that their lives are of equal value. Humans have interests—in ideas, in education, in their future plans—that mice are not capable of having. It is only when we are comparing similar interests—of which the interest in avoiding pain is the most important example—that the principle of equal consideration of interests demands that we give equal weight to the interests of the human and the mouse.

The expansion of the moral circle to non-human animals is only just getting under way. It has still to gain verbal and intellectual acceptance, let alone be generally practiced. Yet the ecology movement has emphasized that we are not the only species on this planet, and should not value everything by its usefulness to human beings; and defenders of rights for animals are gradually replacing the old-fashioned animal welfare organizations which cared a lot for domestic pets but little for animals with less emotional appeal to us. In philosophy departments all over the English-speaking world, the moral status of animals has become a lively topic of debate, and the number of those calling for a change in our present attitude toward animals is growing. The idea of equal consideration for animals strikes many as bizarre, but perhaps no more bizarre than the idea of equal consideration for blacks seemed three hundred years ago. We are witnessing the first stirrings of a momentous new stage in our moral thinking.

(Peter Singer, The Expanding Circle: Ethics and Sociobiology [New York and Scarborough, Ontario: New American Library, 1982], 120-1 [first published in 1981])

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "Finally, an Old Dog That Can Learn New Tricks" (news article, June 11):

The only surprising thing about the news that Rico, a 9-year-old border collie, can understand human language is the attention paid to it by the news media.

On the day I read about this "Albert Einstein" of the dog world, Bailey, my 3-year-old golden retriever, came to me with my daughter Leah's stuffed toy in her mouth. After reminding Bailey that it was Leah's toy, not hers, I told her sternly, "Go ask Leah" if she could have the toy.

Bailey disappeared. Five minutes later, my daughter yelled from downstairs: "Mom! Bailey's following me around and won't leave me alone!"

Of course dogs can understand language. It shouldn't take a scientist and a controlled experiment to discover this.

Albuquerque, June 11, 2004

To the Editor:

Rico, the 9-year-old border collie from Germany who learns by fast mapping, is impressive, as is Jack, my 8-year-old Australian shepherd. Jack knows, in advance, when a dog will appear on TV.

He will be in an adjacent room where he can hear, but not see, the TV. He'll hear the music of a familiar commercial and run into the living room to the TV. Why? Because he knows that a few seconds after the music starts, a dog will appear that he can bark at.

It's happened dozens of times, with different music, ads and dogs, so it can't be a coincidence. He's learned to identify certain music with the imminent arrival on the screen of another dog in his territory. If there's no animal in the ads, Jack ignores the TV.

Williamstown, Mass., June 12, 2004

To the Editor:

The ability of Rico, a border collie, to learn by inference is seemingly impressive, but I suspect that it's so only because of the assumptions we make about the members of other species.

My cat talks from time to time, yet I have no idea what he's saying, so he compensates for my poor learning skills by using body language that he somehow deduces I'll understand.

There are thousands of stories showing an innate ability of animals to reason. Perhaps we ought to rethink our own reasoning ability when we use it to denigrate the integrity and dignity of members of other species by confining them, exploiting them and knowingly causing them pain and stress in order to dine on their flesh, wear their fur, probe their bodies and force them to perform.

New York, June 11, 2004

From the Mailbag

I was very intrigued by your blog [post] re: eating meat. If I understand your blog, you are saying that because there is a risk (albeit remote) of hurting another, one must consider whether the harm to eating flesh is morally justifiable. Implicit in this argument is the idea that there may, perhaps, be an act of immorality involved in the eating of flesh, and that to be moral, an agent must consider the possibility. (Although I don’t understand how the act of cogitation renders another act moral or not; either it is moral to eat flesh or it is not. If you cogitate and reach an incorrect conclusion, you are behaving both immorally and in error.)

I argue that you have turned it around. Your idea would be valid if there were any reason to assume that animals are anything other than fodder. There can be a risk of immorally harming an animal only if an animal is somehow imbued with sentience, or a soul, or some element of morality. Since animals have none of these elements there is no reason to give thought to eating one any more than there is a need to give thought to eating an ear of corn.

This begs the question: Is there a need to consider the morality of eating corn or animals? I can’t see how there can possibly be. Whether you accept (as I do) the Word of God as it pertains to man’s use of the earth, or if you believe that man is a product solely of the flesh, you have to accept that man is, if nothing else, a product of the natural order. Man’s actions are no more unnatural than any other animal’s, and therefore man’s morality in eating other creatures is no less an issue than any other creature’s consumption of another. Is a wolf immoral for eating a lamb? It seems to me that if I have to consider the morality of consuming a wolf, then the element of sentience that a wolf may possess that would make eating him immoral also places the wolf in the position of behaving immorally when it consumes flesh, which is absurd.

Warmest regards,
Mark T. Gibson
Rockvale, TN

14 June 2004

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 10

I’ve written a great deal (some would say too much) about liberalism and conservatism as political moralities. Did you know that there are analogues in epistemology? (Epistemology is the science, study, or theory [logos] of knowledge [episteme].) Epistemological liberals accord no presumption to commonsense or ordinary belief. In their view, beliefs are guilty until proved innocent, i.e., unjustified until justified. Epistemological conservatives, by contrast, accord a presumption to commonsense or ordinary belief. In their view, beliefs are innocent (justified) until proved guilty (unjustified).

It will not surprise you to learn that I’m an epistemological conservative as well as a political conservative. I see no reason why anyone’s commonsense beliefs need justification. If someone points out to me that two of my beliefs are contradictory, it will of course concern me (for I find cognitive dissonance uncomfortable), and I will take steps to resolve the inconsistency. How I do so, however, is up to me. A conservative will change as little as possible. If the choice is between giving up a belief that lies at the center of my noetic web and giving up a belief that lies at its periphery, rationality dictates that I give up the peripheral belief. I won’t argue the point here, but I believe rationality entails epistemological conservatism. Isn’t it irrational to give up (pay) more than one has to? Isn’t this the case in other realms, such as the economic?

Many people, probably most people, believe that there is nothing morally wrong with eating animal flesh, either because animals don’t matter at all, morally, or because animal interests count for less than human interests. It would seem that an epistemological conservative would presume this belief innocent until proved guilty. But that’s not so. Conservatives don’t accord infinite value to tradition or to commonsense belief. They accord a presumption to them. Presumptions are by their nature rebuttable (overridable). I have argued in various places that, just as the liberal presumption in favor of individual liberty can be (and sometimes is) rebutted (overridden), so the conservative presumption in favor of tradition can be (and sometimes is) rebutted (overridden). Neither liberals nor conservatives, in other words, are absolutists.

In both cases, what does the rebutting is harm to others. My liberty stops at the tip of your nose. I’m free to do as I please provided I don’t harm anyone. By the same token, traditions are morally benign provided they don’t harm anyone. But animals are harmed (egregiously, profoundly, irreversibly) by meat-eating, so the presumption in favor of tradition is rebutted in this case, as is the corresponding commonsense belief that meat-eating is morally acceptable.

The practical upshot of these reflections is that meat-eaters should institute a moratorium on meat-eating until they have thought things through. Don’t just continue with the diet your parents had or that you find tastiest. Take responsibility for your diet. Until you have justified your belief that meat-eating is morally acceptable, it’s morally risky to continue eating meat. Suppose there’s a one-in-ten chance that a human being is on the other side of the target you’re shooting at. Wouldn’t it be irresponsible—reckless—to shoot? You could easily kill someone! Why does this reasoning not apply to meat-eating? Unless you have thought things through and justified your belief, you are taking a moral chance (i.e., playing with moral fire).

Stop. Think. If, after thinking it through in good faith, in light of the facts of meat production, taking all counterarguments into consideration and finding them wanting, you are convinced that meat-eating is morally acceptable, you will be acting responsibly. This is the least we can expect of moral agents. You are a moral agent, aren’t you?

13 June 2004

Animals and War

The links Khursh Mian Acevedo sent to me could be posted on any of my blogs. Here is one that I posted on my Ethics of War blog.

Roger Scruton on Animal Rights

Khursh Mian Acevedo sent a link to this essay by Roger Scruton, who is one of my philosophical heroes. I'll comment on it soon. Thanks, Khursh.

12 June 2004

An Interesting Site

A reader, Khursh Mian Acevedo, sent several links the other day about the effect of war on nonhuman animals. (Thanks, Khursh!) I'll post some of the links here and on The Ethics of War in days to come. While browsing on one of the sites, I came across this.

11 June 2004

Them Wacky Scientists

Anyone who lives with a dog (or watched Lassie) will wonder about the point of doing a scientific study of whether dogs can learn the meanings (or at least the referents) of words. See here. When I say "squirrel," both Sophie and Shelbie go on high alert. I've played around with it. I'll be scratching Shelbie's belly while talking to her in a monotone. I'll slip in the word "squirrel," as in "You're a good girl, Shelbie. We had fun this morning down by the school, didn't we? This evening we'll go around the block. Squirrel." Up she bolts, ears raised, eyes fixed. It's funny. I have to resist yanking her around by doing it all the time.

One thing the scientists might study, given that they're studying what we already know, is how dogs pick up on the tone of one's voice. I think they read their human companions' emotions and moods by focusing on their voices. Dogs are far more intelligent than they're given credit for. Sometimes I think Sophie and Shelbie know me better than I know myself. They read me like a book. They know what I'm doing, what I'm about to do, and even, by sniffing me, what I've done.

10 June 2004

Blood Sport

Here is a story about seal hunting in Norway. Killing defenseless animals has become a mark of status, a kind of conspicuous consumption. (Thanks to Dan Gifford for the link.)

09 June 2004

Gary L. Francione

Here is an interview with law professor Gary L. Francione, author of, among other things, Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996). I admire Francione very much. If I were an animal, I would love him and hate PETA.

08 June 2004

Letting Me Have It

Smallholder gives me hell here. Ouch!

From the Mailbag

I must disagree with the conclusion of this post that even People Who Think Animals Count For No More Than Rocks (hereafter referred to as PWTACFNMTR) should logically adopt a veggie diet because 1) meat-based agriculture is wasteful, 2) some people are starving, and 3) meat is bad for you. I will attempt to reason from the point of view of PWTACFNMTR.

No matter how wasteful it appears to Dr. [Peter] Singer, agriculture in a highly developed Western country is so efficient that it constitutes only one to two percent of GDP. In fact, most of these countries are net exporters of food. The cost of food is so low that it has exactly little or no bearing on whatever level of domestic starvation their populations experience. That is a political and sociological issue which would remain even if their agricultural systems were entirely crop-based. I conclude that changing to veggie diets in the Western world would not affect starvation there.

In the less developed parts of the world, in which the bulk of humanity lives, agriculture is a much higher component of GDP and in many cases is the dominant component. About half of these folks live where there are decent soils, reliable water supplies, and access to transportation, markets, and supplies. They have instituted modern agricultural techniques (the Green Revolution), and livestock agriculture is an important source of income for them they would be foolish to forgo without some very good reason. The rest of the people in the third world live in intermittently rain-fed, hilly areas far from civilization and its markets. They use a form of agriculture that is an incremental refinement of the way people have grown food and livestock for almost 10,000 years. Livestock can live on locally grown or grazed feed, their "outputs" can enrich the soil, and their very movements can till the soil. Growing livestock is a proven way out of poverty for them. They start with a few chickens, then work up to goats, and then eventually the largest animals (cow/buffalo/camel). At each stage their livestock represent capital stock in an economy which places high value on the animals because of their many uses. Again, it is foolish to expect the PWTACFNMTR among them to conclude in large numbers that becoming veggie will be best for all. It is reasonable to conclude that a large-scale adoption of the veggie lifestyle, which would devastate the market value of the capital stock of the poorest third-world people, would definitely NOT improve the quality of life in the third world.

Lastly, we have the "meat is bad for you" issue. I think you failed to demonstrate why a PWTACFNMTR would conclude that there is something fundamentally unsound with a diet consisting of, say, fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and lean meats in moderation. You said the PWTACFNMTR should "look it up." I don't think a PWTACFNMTR would find that this type of diet is considered a health menace.

I think the justification for the veggie lifestyle can only be found in granting moral status to animals, which a PWTACFNMTR does not.

Duluth, GA

07 June 2004

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 9

It’s a sad fact of life that some people don’t care about animals. It’s tempting to think that no argument for vegetarianism could appeal to these people. But let’s think about it. Suppose you care only about humans. That is to say, suppose that when you deliberate, about diet or anything else, you take only the interests of human beings into consideration. As far as you’re concerned, animals count for no more than rocks. On the moral scale, they have no weight.

You should still be a vegetarian. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But keep two facts in mind.
1. Meat-based agriculture is wasteful. “If we are to analyze the real efficiency of animals as food machines, . . . we must add in all grain and other food energy spent in rearing and maintaining breeding animals and all losses resulting from infertility and deaths. When these are figured in, only about 17 percent of the usable grain or food energy fed to a dairy herd is recovered in milk, and only about 6 percent of that fed to a beef herd is recovered in edible meat” (Jim Mason and Peter Singer, Animal Factories, rev. and updated ed. [New York: Harmony Books, 1990], 110 [endnote omitted]).

2. There are human beings throughout the world, including in the United States, who are starving to death or otherwise malnourished. I hope I don’t need to support this factual claim. If you doubt it, do some research.
By doing what you can to end animal agriculture, such as refraining from eating animal flesh, you improve the world for human beings. What’s good for animals turns out to be good for human beings. This gives the lie to the idea that we must choose between humans and animals. There is no conflict. There is no competition. There is no dilemma.

Animal agriculture has many other harmful effects on humans, from pollution of the air they breathe and the water they drink to erosion of the soil they depend on (see here) to the spread of diseases (think of Mad Cow). And meat-based diets are themselves unhealthy, even deadly. They’re linked to heart disease, colon cancer, and stroke, among other maladies. Don’t take my word for it. Check into it! Take responsibility for your choices.

I hope you care about animals, because that in itself will, if you’re rational, dictate your diet; but even if you don’t—even if you care only about humans—you have ample reason to become a vegetarian. All roads lead to vegetarianism.

06 June 2004

The Vegetarian Site

This website has several good links. Try the one entitled "Philosophy of Animal Rights."

05 June 2004


Here is the website of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). Please note that providing a link does not constitute an endorsement on my part of any organization, doctrine, or set of tactics.

04 June 2004

"Almost Totally Useable"

Here is a site devoted to emu farming. Note the absence of any indication that emus are sentient, social beings, with interests of their own. To the people involved in the "emu business," emus are resources for human use and consumption. Only efficiency—not morality—dictates how they are treated. Here is information about emus.

03 June 2004

Essays in Philosophy

The Internet is transforming scholarship. Here is an online, edited, refereed philosophical publication. This particular issue is devoted to animal ethics. I hope you enjoy it.

From Today's Dallas Morning News

Poultry trouble grows
Pilgrim's Pride flock is 2nd to be destroyed in recent infections

A second flock of 24,000 chickens raised for Pilgrim's Pride Corp. has been killed after testing positive for avian influenza, the third incident in the state this year.

The flock of breeding birds was destroyed Saturday after state and federal workers found more evidence of the disease. The officials had been testing to learn whether the virus could be contained after an outbreak in the area last week also resulted in the destruction of 24,000 birds.

The tests of the second flock showed "the same strain of avian influenza as in the first flock (H7N3)," Dr. Bob Hillman, executive director of the Texas Animal Health Commission, said in a statement released Wednesday.

The birds were on farms near Sulphur Springs in Hopkins County. Officials have been testing surrounding commercial flocks, as well as privately owned chickens and waterfowl, to determine how far the disease had spread.

Nearly all of that testing is now complete, although test results are not yet known.

According to Dr. Hillman, the same people owned both sets of diseased flocks. Their names have not been released.

Pilgrim's Pride, based in Pittsburg, Texas, said that the chickens were used to lay eggs for hatching and that none of the products had left the farms.

Texas agriculture officials have tried to reassure consumers, saying the disease does not compromise the safety of cooked poultry or eggs.

The disease is usually transmitted from bird to bird through respiratory discharge.

It can also be passed in bird manure.

Pilgrim's Pride spokeswoman Sondra Fowler said the company decided to destroy the flock "as a prudent, pre-emptive action."

"One preliminary test showed a positive. Normally, they're tested a lot more than that. We went ahead and depopulated because we thought it was the prudent thing to do," she said.

The company expects no significant impact from this outbreak, unlike in 2002, when avian influenza cost the company millions and resulted in the destruction of 27.4 million birds.

This time around, the number of infected birds is "still a very small percentage, a fraction of 1 percent of our whole flock," said Ms. Fowler.

In February, more than 9,000 chickens were destroyed in South Texas, and big importers such as Mexico, Russia and Hong Kong banned Texas poultry as a result.

Most countries have relaxed the bans, but some have kept them because the February flu strain (H5N2) was highly capable of causing disease.

Pilgrim's Pride said the company is the second-largest poultry producer in Mexico, so that will help offset any trade issues that arise from bans there.

"That will somewhat mitigate the impact on us. We don't have to export, we're already there," said Ms. Fowler.

The company's stock was up 15 cents to close at $26.96 on the New York Stock Exchange.

02 June 2004

From the Mailbag


was reading your post about dogs & cats—and got to the part about other animals.

would have to beg to differ with you about this section:
Wild animals such as lizards, snakes, monkeys, rodents (hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs), and birds did not evolve with humans. They are out of place living in houses. This is highly unnatural for them and must be a source of frustration and distress (although not, given their natures, resentment). We should treat animals according to their nature. It’s in the nature of domesticated animals to need care; it’s in the nature of wild animals to be left alone in their habitats.
all of my birds have been bred in the US—with most of them being hand fed. thus—these birds virtually are domesticated from coming out of the egg . . . and probably couldn't even survive out in the wild. they love people and depend upon them to feed them and play with them.

while mr mollo enjoys looking at the birdies outside his window—i think he honestly seems himself more like ed and me than he does those "outside" birdies!

for him, his natural habitat is INSIDE the house, eating his regular food, with daily treats of eggs, lettuce, nuts and popcorn!


Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 8

How, philosophically speaking, should we think about dogs and cats? I’ve heard it said by people in the animal-liberation movement that dogs, cats, and other companion animals are slaves. If so, then they are being wronged and must be liberated forthwith, at whatever cost to our other interests. Just as the institution of human chattel slavery was an abomination, so too is the institution of pet ownership. Both are unjust. Both, accordingly, must be abolished. If you live with a dog or a cat, you are no better, morally, than a plantation owner in the ante-bellum South.

I’m ashamed to admit that I used to think this way, but now I consider it confused. Dogs and cats are domesticated animals. They are not wild. Dogs are not wolves; cats are not wildcats; and you and I are not apes. We evolved from apes, just as dogs evolved from wolves, but being evolved from X doesn’t make one an X. Humans and dogs have lived together for thousands of years. To think that a dog, bred to live with or near humans and to depend on them for food and shelter, could fend for itself in the wild is absurd. Could you fend for yourself in the wild? You might last for a while, but your existence (to quote Hobbes) would be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

The best way to think of dogs and cats is as children. They depend on us. They’re vulnerable. By bringing them into our lives, we assume responsibility for them. They need protection from things they don’t understand, such as automobiles, toxic substances, and malicious people. I’m tempted to say that the proper model for our relationships with dogs and cats is friendship, but while there are aspects of our relationships that are equal (as friendship requires), there are other aspects that are unequal. Parents aren’t their children’s friends, although one day, if they are lucky, they will be. So perhaps that’s the difference. Children can become friends of their parents. Dogs and cats cannot.

There’s a loose sense of “friend” in which I can befriend a dog. We do say, after all, that a dog is “man’s best friend.” But that’s metaphorical. A friend, as Aristotle pointed out, is an alter ego (other self). Friendship is a relation between equals. Some philosophers have thought (and some people still think) that even a man and a woman cannot be friends. Not because they’re different, which of course they are, but because they’re intellectually and morally unequal. As much as I love Sophie and Shelbie, my canine companions, they are not my friends. They are more like my children, looking to me for guidance and protection. I’m a moral agent; they’re moral patients.

To return to the charge that all companion animals are slaves, perhaps the person making it has in mind other animals besides dogs and cats. Wild animals such as lizards, snakes, monkeys, rodents (hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs), and birds did not evolve with humans. They are out of place living in houses. This is highly unnatural for them and must be a source of frustration and distress (although not, given their natures, resentment). We should treat animals according to their nature. It’s in the nature of domesticated animals to need care; it’s in the nature of wild animals to be left alone in their habitats.

If you want to read more along these lines, see my 1998 essay “Doing Right by Our Animal Companions,” which appeared in The Journal of Ethics.