31 December 2008

Jonathan Bennett on Revisable Morality

There is a difficulty about drawing from all this a moral for ourselves. I imagine that we agree in our rejection of slavery, eternal damnation, genocide, and uncritical patriotic self-abnegation; so we shall agree that Huck Finn, Jonathan Edwards, Heinrich Himmler, and the poet Horace would all have done well to bring certain of their principles under severe pressure from ordinary human sympathies. But then we can say this because we can say that all those are bad moralities, whereas we cannot look at our own moralities and declare them bad. This is not arrogance: it is obviously incoherent for someone to declare the system of moral principles that he accepts to be bad, just as one cannot coherently say of anything that one believes it but it is false.

Still, although I can't point to any of my beliefs and say 'That is false', I don't doubt that some of my beliefs are false; and so I should try to remain open to correction. Similarly, I accept every single item in my morality—that is inevitable—but I am sure that my morality could be improved, which is to say that it could undergo changes which I should be glad of once I had made them. So I must try to keep my morality open to revision, exposing it to whatever valid pressures there are—including pressures from my sympathies.

(Jonathan Bennett, "The Conscience of Huckleberry Finn," Philosophy 49 [April 1974]: 123-34, at 133 [italics in original])

Note from KBJ: I thought of animals when I read this. Many people exclude animals from moral consideration, even though they would never think to neglect, much less harm, a dog or a cat. It is natural to feel sympathy for animals who are suffering. This sympathy can be a basis for revising one's moral principles so as to take animals into account. Perhaps the sympathetic impulse would be activated if people saw how their meat is produced. Have you taken the time to investigate this? Have you visited a factory farm or a slaughterhouse? Have you looked at images or videotapes of slaughter? If you haven't, then you are suppressing your sympathies, thereby protecting your moral principles from revision. This is bad faith.

28 December 2008

Paw Talk

Here is a blog for your consideration.

21 December 2008

J. Baird Callicott on the Catastrophe of Vegetarianism

From the ecological point of view, for human beings universally to become vegetarians is tantamount to a shift of trophic niche from omnivore with carnivorous preferences to herbivore. The shift is a downward one on the trophic pyramid, which in effect shortens those food chains terminating with man. It represents an increase in the efficiency of the conversion of solar energy from plant to human biomass, and thus, by bypassing animal intermediates, increases available food resources for human beings. The human population would probably, as past trends overwhelmingly suggest, expand in accordance with the potential thus afforded. The net result would be fewer nonhuman beings and more human beings, who, of course, have requirements of life far more elaborate than even those of domestic animals, requirements which would tax other "natural resources" (trees for shelter, minerals mined at the expense of topsoil and its vegetation, etc.) more than under present circumstances. A vegetarian human population is therefore probably ecologically catastrophic.

(J. Baird Callicott, "Animal Liberation: A Triangular Affair," Environmental Ethics 2 [winter 1980]: 311-38, at 335 [italics in original])

12 December 2008


Someone sent me a link to this student op-ed column. The sender wrote:

This is outrageous! The Indiana Daily Student wrote an article today encouraging people to kill and eat man's best friend!
The author isn't advocating that we eat dogs. The author is pointing out the inconsistency of eating cows and not eating dogs (or rather, caring about dogs but not caring about cows). The following three propositions are inconsistent:

1. It's morally permissible to eat cows.
2. It's not morally permissible to eat dogs.
3. There are no morally relevant differences between cows and dogs.
The author of the op-ed column says that there are people who accept 1 and 2. He is pointing out that, to be consistent, they must reject 3. He is asking them to state the morally relevant difference that justifies the rejection of 3.

11 December 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “From Hoof to Dinner Table, a New Bid to Cut Emissions” (front page, Dec. 4):

There is a solution to at least some of the beef industry’s sustainability woes, and that is to raise cows in a pasture-based system.

Many of the beef industry’s problems result from feedlots that consume tremendous amounts of grain and that pour out huge sloughs of waste. Finishing the cattle on grass is a far “greener” method.

Of course, the meat is more expensive since it takes lots of real estate to freely graze a herd, and it’s tougher than typical supermarket fare (Americans are used to a style of marbling that’s caused by grain diets and flabby cattle, whereas grass-fed cows are trim from their daily ambles). But the leaner meat from grass-fed animals actually tastes richer and more savory.

The other problem with meat consumption is proportion. Consumers can help the beef industry save itself by both buying less and choosing grass-fed.

Andrew Rimas
Evan D. G. Fraser
Jamaica Plain, Mass., Dec. 5, 2008
The writers are the authors of “Beef: The Untold Story of How Milk, Meat, and Muscle Shaped the World.”

To the Editor:

Missing from your article was mention of deleterious environmental and health effects resulting from intensive animal farming in addition to global warming. An approach to address all of these, instead of just developing technology to control methane emissions, is vital.

Specifically, the increasing meat-consumption trend could be reversed if consumers paid the true price for meat. For this to happen, subsidies that keep animal feed artificially low, and encourage producers to raise as many animals as possible, should end.

In addition, allowing animal waste to be spread on fields at rates higher than can be absorbed, resulting in nutrient runoff and oceanic dead zones, needs to be stopped.

If these policies were adopted, small-scale animal agriculture would be a more economical model, and people would eat less meat. This would result in improved human health, decreased environmental destruction and better animal welfare.

Jillian Fry
Baltimore, Dec. 5, 2008

To the Editor:

Kudos to The New York Times for covering the much-neglected connections between meat and climate change. As you note, the lack of media coverage of the livestock sector’s contribution to climate change is one reason it has escaped large-scale public outrage.

At the yearly Meat Marketing conference this summer in Nashville, the industry representatives seemed most worried about negative press concerning animal welfare; the words “global warming” were never even uttered. Now, with mounting public awareness, the meat industry may soon realize that investment in sustainable practices is not just a nice idea. It is essential for the industry’s survival.

With a new administration and agriculture secretary we can also hope that our leaders will also grasp that food and farming policy is climate change policy as well, and will make bold choices to ensure a healthier planet for all of us.

Anna Lappé
Brooklyn, Dec. 4, 2008
The writer is a co-founder of the Small Planet Institute.

Note from KBJ: The author of the New York Times story describes human beings as "carnivores." This is stupid. A carnivore is an organism that, by nature, feeds only on animal flesh. A herbivore is an organism that, by nature, feeds only on plants. An omnivore is an organism that, by nature, feeds on both animal flesh and plants. Human beings, like dogs, are omnivores. No human being has ever been, or ever will be, a carnivore.

10 December 2008

Animal Abuse

Here is a column by Carol J. Adams. Since women are as likely as men to commit domestic violence (see here), it would be interesting to see whether women as well as men abuse animals.

Addendum: See here.

07 December 2008

R. G. Frey on the Principle of the Equal Consideration of Interests

According to Singer, the principle of the equal consideration of interests 'requires us to be vegetarians'. This is a moral principle, and states that 'the interests of every being affected by an action are to be taken into account and given the same weight as the like interests of any other being'. Interests arise, Singer contends, from the capacity to feel pain, which he labels a 'prerequisite' for having interests at all; and animals can and do suffer, can and do feel pain. The principle of the equal consideration of interests, therefore, applies to them, which in turn means that we are not morally justified in ignoring, disregarding, or otherwise neglecting their interests. This, however, is precisely what factory farming does. Factory farming is nothing more than modern methods of technology applied to the mass production of food for human consumption; but this particular production line involves widespread and often intense suffering and therein the systematic disregard and/or undervaluation of the interests of animals, a disregard and/or undervaluation the moral seriousness of which is, if anything, compounded by the fact that alternative and health-sustaining sources of food are for the most part readily available to us. By forgoing meat in our diets, we can reduce, if not eliminate, this massive suffering of animals, merely through bringing market forces to bear upon factory farming. The smaller the demand for meat, the lower its price; the lower the price, the lower the profit; and the lower the profit, the fewer the animals that will be raised and slaughtered on factory farms. A serious concern for the suffering and interests of animals, then, as expressed through vegetarianism, which, after all, is effectively nothing more than the boycott of meat, directly affects factory farming, the immediate source of so much of this suffering. Doubtless it may and will be suggested that someone opposed to inflicting suffering on animals but not to painlessly killing them could still consistently eat the flesh of animals that had been reared and slaughtered painlessly; but Singer rejects such a suggestion on three counts. First, it amounts to looking upon animals as in effect means to the end of satisfying our tastes for certain types of flesh, and factory farming is nothing more than the application of technological methods to this idea; second, it is impossible to rear animals on a massive scale for human consumption without inflicting suffering; and third, even traditional methods of farming involve extensive suffering. There is for Singer, then, no escaping the conclusion: if we take morality seriously, a genuine concern for the interests of animals and for the diminution of their suffering requires that we cease rearing and slaughtering animals for food and cease dining upon them.

(R. G. Frey, Interests and Rights: The Case Against Animals [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980], 141-2 [italics in original; footnote omitted; parenthetical page references omitted])

Note from KBJ: Here is my student handout on Singer's argument.

05 December 2008

Legal Rights for Animals

Sharon McEachern has a blog post about animal rights in Switzerland.

03 December 2008

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) on Religion

Religion has never befriended the cause of humaneness. Its monstrous doctrine of eternal punishment and the torture of the damned underlies much of the barbarity with which man has treated man; and the deep division imagined by the Church between the human being, with his immortal soul, and the soulless "beasts," has been responsible for an incalculable sum of cruelty.

(Henry S. Salt, Seventy Years Among Savages [London: George Allen & Unwin, 1921], 213)

28 November 2008

Five Years and Counting

I created this blog five years ago today. There have been 112,684 visits, which is an average of 22,536.8 per year and 61.7 per day. Here, for old time's sake, is my first post. Thanks for visiting. If you're looking for something in particular, please use the search function at the top left of the blog. For example, if you're looking for posts on bullfighting, type that word into the box and you'll get a list. I want to express my gratitude to everyone who has linked to this blog, which is the first item listed in a Google search of "animal ethics." One more thing. Mylan Engel asked me some time back to enable the comment function, which I did. He thought it would lead to intelligent discussion of our posts. Alas, there were very few comments, and most of those that were submitted were anonymous, so I disabled it. I don't understand anonymity, and I will not tolerate it. Philosophers don't talk to each other with bags over their heads. They take responsibility for their speech acts. You know a great many things about Mylan and me, including where we work, what we teach, and where we were educated. Why should we not know who you are?

26 November 2008


Here is Andrew Revkin's latest post at Dot Earth.

24 November 2008

Adopt a Chimp

See here.

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) on the Degradation of the Butcher

But this question of Butchery is not merely one of kindness or unkindness to animals, for by the very facts of the case it is a human question of no slight importance, affecting as it does the social and moral welfare of those more immediately concerned in it. Of all recognised occupations by which, in civilised countries, a livelihood is sought and obtained, the work which is looked upon with the greatest loathing (next to the Hangman's) is that of the Butcher—as witness the opprobrious sense which the word "butcher" has acquired. Owing to the instinctive horror of bloodshed which is characteristic of all normal civilised beings, the trade of doing to death countless numbers of inoffensive and highly organised creatures, amid scenes of indescribable filth and ferocity, is delegated to a pariah class of "slaughtermen," who are thus themselves made the victims of a grievous social wrong. "I'm only doing your dirty work; it's such as you makes such as us," is said to have been the remark of a White-chapel butcher to a flesh-eating gentleman who remonstrated with him for his brutality; and the remark was a perfectly just one. To demand a product which can only be procured at the cost of the intense suffering of the animal, and the deep degradation of the butcher, and by a process which not one flesh-eater in a hundred would himself under any circumstances perform, or even witness, is conduct as callous, selfish and unsocial as could well be imagined.

(Henry S. Salt, The Logic of Vegetarianism: Essays and Dialogues [London: The Ideal Publishing Union, 1899], 59 [italics in original])

18 November 2008


The ABA Journal mentions this blog, although I'm not sure why. Very few of the items we post are law-related.

17 November 2008

Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900) on Received Morality

Again, all or most men in whom the moral consciousness is strongly developed find themselves from time to time in conflict with the commonly received morality of the society to which they belong: and thus—as was before said—have a crucial experience proving that duty does not mean to them what other men will disapprove of them for not doing.

(Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics, 7th ed. [Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1981], bk. I, chap. III, sec. 2, p. 30 [italics in original] [first published in 1907; 1st ed. published in 1874])

16 November 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “The Protein Pyramid” (editorial, Nov. 10):

Thank you for pointing out the unsustainability of the so-called protein pyramid. But there is a net loss in all meat production, not just of farmed fish or feeding fish to land animals being raised for food. Feeding grain to chickens, pigs and cows is even more inefficient, with 70 percent of grain grown in the United States going to animals raised for food.

And while there are varying estimates, it takes between 3 and 15 pounds of grain to produce a pound of meat. It also takes 10 times the fossil fuels to produce a calorie of animal food as it does a calorie of plant food.

I also applaud your suggestion that people eat less meat, but eating no meat whatsoever is the most sustainable diet of all.

Danielle Kichler
Washington, Nov. 11, 2008

To the Editor:

We are seeing environmental ruin because of factory farming. Besides depleting the ocean’s supply of fish for those animals normally feeding on them, the factory farming of cattle, pigs and chickens uses excessive water and pollutes our land.

Going vegan is the best way to combat this environmental nightmare, improve your health and stand up against the animal cruelty so prevalent in factory farms today.

Laura Frisk
Encinitas, Calif., Nov. 10, 2008

To the Editor:

Your editorial sets forth a real, serious problem but proposes a futile solution.

It is certainly true that the world’s marine stocks—large fish even more than small ones—are being depleted by human demand at a catastrophic rate. But “encouraging healthy, less meat-based eating habits” will do nothing to ameliorate the situation.

Suppose that I and people like me reduce our meat consumption by 50 percent (an unlikely event). As soon as the population doubles (a very likely event), our self-denial will be for naught.

As with many other environmental issues, the real problem is excess population, and the only solution is human population control. Our long-term goal should be a reduction of world population to about half of what it is now.

Lawrence S. Lerner
Woodside, Calif., Nov. 10, 2008

To the Editor:

Your editorial is exactly right: for our sake and theirs, we need to eat fewer animals. The number of chickens, turkeys, pigs, cattle and other animals raised and slaughtered in the United States has been growing steadily for decades.

In 1950, each American consumed, on average, 144 pounds of animal flesh a year. Today, we eat well over 220 pounds a year, and it’s not uncommon for many Americans to eat animal products at every single meal. This comes at an enormous cost to animal welfare, the environment and of course public health.

A shift toward more vegetarian options would indeed benefit us all. This is an issue on which we don’t need to wait for government or industry to act first. We can start at our next meal.

Paul Shapiro
Senior Director
Factory Farming Campaign
Humane Society of the United States
Washington, Nov. 11, 2008

13 November 2008

From the Mailbag

Hi Keith,

You may be interested in a new post on Ethics Soup regarding rights of farm animals. Ethics Soup is a fairly new blog and I'm looking for ways to drive traffic to the blog to gain some readers. If you find this post informative, would you consider providing a link to it? Perhaps as a follow-up to your Nov 5th post "Legal Rights for Animals" on your Animal Rights Blog, or any other blog that features ethics issues.

You can read the post here.

Thanks Keith,
Sharon McEachern

12 November 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases is generated by livestock production, more than by transportation.

Yet Al Gore does not even mention the need for Americans to reduce meat consumption as we attempt to rescue ourselves from the climate crisis.

Michael Radkowsky
Washington, Nov. 9, 2008

Note from KBJ: Some reasons for vegetarianism apply to all animals, from cows, pigs, and sheep to turkeys, chickens, and fish. Here we have a reason to eschew beef. Stop chewing and start eschewing!

J. Baird Callicott on Wild Life

The land ethic, it should be emphasized, as Leopold has sketched it, provides for the rights of nonhuman natural beings to a share in the life processes of the biotic community. The conceptual foundation of such rights, however, is less conventional than natural, based upon, as one might say, evolutionary and ecological entitlement. Wild animals and native plants have a particular place in nature, according to the land ethic, which domestic animals (because they are products of human art and represent an extended presence of human beings in the natural world) do not have. The land ethic, in sum, is as much opposed, though on different grounds, to commercial traffic in wildlife, zoos, the slaughter of whales and other marine mammals, etc., as is the humane ethic. Concern for animal (and plant) rights and well-being is as fundamental to the land ethic as to the humane ethic, but the difference between naturally evolved and humanly bred species is an essential consideration for the one, though not for the other.

(J. Baird Callicott, "Animal Liberation: A Triangular Affair," Environmental Ethics 2 [winter 1980]: 311-38, at 332 [italics in original])

Note from KBJ: To understand what Callicott is saying, draw a two-by-two box diagram. On the left side, from top to bottom, distinguish between wild and domesticated organisms. On the top, from left to right, distinguish between (nonhuman) animals and plants. Cell 1 (the northwest quadrant of the diagram) contains wild animals; cell 2 (the northeast quadrant) contains wild plants; cell 3 (the southwest quadrant) contains domesticated animals (e.g., dogs, cats, pigs, cows, and chickens); cell 4 (the southeast quadrant) contains domesticated plants. Peter Singer and Tom Regan, who represent what Callicott calls "the humane ethic," are concerned about the organisms in cells 1 and 3. Leopold and Callicott, who represent what Callicott calls "the land ethic," are concerned about the organisms in cells 1 and 2. Note the overlap: Both Singer and Regan (on the one hand) and Leopold and Callicott (on the other) are concerned about wild animals, but not for the same reason. Singer and Regan care about them because they are sentient (Singer) or subjects of a life (Regan). Leopold and Callicott care about them because they are part of "the biotic community."

07 November 2008

R. G. Frey on Feeling and Principle

An enormous volume of material has already appeared on the conditions under which animals live and die on factory farms, and more is almost certainly on the way. Much of this material is upsetting in the extreme, and it is difficult to imagine any normal person reading or hearing of it without being revolted. Indeed, our feeling of revulsion may be so intense that we simply can no longer bring ourselves to eat meat. In other words, we become vegetarians, not through any decision of principle, but through being unable to bring ourselves to continue to dine upon the flesh of animals. We become vegetarians in this way, however, only if we are revolted to a degree sufficient to overcome our fondness or liking for meat; and whether we are going to be sufficiently revolted by what we read and hear cannot be known in advance by the advocate of vegetarianism. If our liking for meat is in fact more intense than our revulsion at the suffering endured on factory farms, then we are going to remain meat-eaters, with the result that, if the vegetarian has grounded his case in an appeal to our feelings, then that case is in jeopardy. In order to protect himself, therefore, he is not likely to rest his case upon (an appeal to) the state and intensities of our feelings.

What the vegetarian wants, surely, is that we should stop eating meat even if our liking for it exceeds our revulsion at the suffering endured on factory farms. And this would seem to be possible only if vegetarianism is based upon principle and not upon feeling. That is, if what the vegetarian wants is that we should stop eating meat even if we like eating it and even if our liking for it greatly exceeds our revulsion at the suffering of animals in being raised and slaughtered for food, then a decision to stop eating meat would seem to amount to a decision of principle. It does not follow that this principle, which becomes the ground or basis of our vegetarianism, will be a moral one; but the overwhelming likelihood is that it will be, in view of the fact that it must convince and compel us to give up eating meat even when our inclinations, habits, and feelings run strongly in the opposite direction. If vegetarianism has a moral basis, a ground rooted in moral principle, then all of us, if we take morality seriously, must earnestly examine our present eating practices, however intense our liking for meat.

(R. G. Frey, Interests and Rights: The Case Against Animals [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980], 140-1 [italics in original; footnote omitted])

05 November 2008

Legal Rights for Animals

Here is a Los Angeles Times story about California's Proposition 2, which passed yesterday. I'm ambivalent about the proposition. On the one hand, it improves the lives of many farm animals. On the other hand, it entrenches the idea that they may be used as mere means to human ends. In the long run, measures such as this may make things worse for farm animals.

04 November 2008

From the Mailbag

Hi Professor Burgess-Jackson,

I just wanted to let you know that I recently launched an animal law blog with a couple of my colleagues at Pace Law School. Perhaps you will find it interesting. This is the link to the blog. I was wondering whether you could write an entry in your animal law blog announcing our website.

Warm regards,


03 November 2008

Michael Lockwood on Replaceability

Many families, especially ones with young children, find that dogs are an asset when they are still playful puppies (capable of keeping the children amused), but become an increasing liability as they grow into middle age, with an adult appetite but sans youthful allure. Moreover, there is always a problem of what to do with the animal when they go on holiday. It is often inconvenient or even impossible to take the dog with them, whereas friends tend to resent the imposition, and kennels are expensive and unreliable. Let us suppose that, inspired by Singer's article, people were to hit on the idea of having their pets painlessly put down at the start of each holiday (as some pet owners already do), acquiring new ones upon their return. Suppose, indeed, that a company grows up, 'Disposapup Ltd.', which rears the animals, house-trains them, supplies them to any willing purchaser, takes them back, exterminates them and supplies replacements, on demand. It is clear, is it not, that there can, for Singer, be absolutely nothing directly wrong with such a practice. Every puppy has, we may assume, an extremely happy, albeit brief, life—and indeed, would not have existed at all but for the practice. Yet the activities of the company and its clients would, I imagine, cause a general outcry amongst animal lovers.

(Michael Lockwood, "Singer on Killing and the Preference for Life," Inquiry 22 [summer 1979]: 157-70, at 168)

Note from KBJ: There are two replies Singer can make to this objection. First, he can deny that his theory (preference utilitarianism) has the stated implication. This is called grasping the bull by the horn. Second, he can admit that his theory has the stated implication, but accept it. This is called biting the bullet.

29 October 2008

John Passmore (1914-2004) on the History of Animal Cruelty

Once a definite social movement got under way in the West with its objective the restricting of man's treatment of animals, it moved with relative rapidity. Moral philosophers began to regard it as an obvious truth that it is wrong to treat animals cruelly. So the history we have been tracing is at once discouraging, in so far as it took two thousand years for Western men to agree that it is wrong to treat animals cruelly, and encouraging in so far as it suggests that man's opinion on such matters can change with considerable rapidity. This is especially true nowadays when the critic of man's treatment of Nature no longer has to contend with a general persuasion that in this respect man's conduct must be left unconfined. It should be observed, however, that if our analysis of the situation is correct, then this change in moral attitude resulted in a restriction of rights rather than an extension of them.

The degree of restriction placed on human behavior, furthermore, is relatively slight. Whereas it once used to be argued, as by Newman, that the least human good compensates for any possible amount of animal suffering, the current doctrine is that it requires a considerable good to compensate for such suffering. There is far from being a precise analogy, however, between the importance attached to animal and to human suffering. So while it is generally agreed that it is wrong to experiment on human beings without their consent in the expectation of making scientific discoveries, there is no such general opposition to animal vivisection. Biological warfare against human beings is generally condemned but not biological warfare against animals. Man-hunting is ruled out as a sport but not, at least with the same degree of unanimity, fox or bird hunting. In all these cases, of course, a minority opinion would support laws which go further than the present laws in limiting the circumstances in which men are entitled to cause pain to animals. But not so far as seriously to limit man's domination of the world.

(John Passmore, "The Treatment of Animals," Journal of the History of Ideas 36 [April-June 1975]: 195-218, at 217-8 [italics in original])

26 October 2008


Here is a New York Times profile of Humane Society president Wayne Pacelle.

Vegan Eating Out

The website has been redesigned. It looks good.

24 October 2008

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) on Fish-Eating

Before leaving this question of "consistency," as affected by the gradations of our duty of humaneness to animals, a few words may be said on the practice of fish-eating. It has been humorously suggested by Sir Henry Thompson (Nineteenth Century, June, 1898), who, as I have proved in the second chapter of this work, wrote in complete ignorance of the facts and dates of the vegetarian movement, that, as Vegetarians have "added" milk and eggs to their diet since their Society was founded (a statement quite devoid of truth), they may perhaps still further enlarge their dietary to include fish. Here again Sir H. Thompson has only shown his unfamiliarity with the subject, for his novel proposition is in fact an old one, which has been debated and rejected by the Vegetarian Society in its adherence to its original rule of excluding fish, flesh and fowl, and nothing else, from its dietary. So far, then, as organised Vegetarianism is concerned, those who eat fish are not within the pale of membership; but looked at from the purely humane standpoint, it must be admitted that there is an immense difference between flesh-eating and fish-eating, and that those unattached food-reformers, not few in number, who for humane reasons abstain from flesh, but feel justified in eating fish, hold a perfectly intelligible position. And I would further note that the very fact of there having been some disposition, wise or unwise, within the vegetarian ranks to recognise the comparative harmlessness of fish-eating, corroborates what I have asserted throughout—that the raison d'être of Vegetarianism has not been a pedantic hard-and-fast crusade against "animal" substances, but a practical desire to abolish the horrors of the slaughter-house.

(Henry S. Salt, The Logic of Vegetarianism: Essays and Dialogues [London: The Ideal Publishing Union, 1899], 57-8 [italics in original])

Animal Rights

Here is a New York Times story about California's Proposition 2.

23 October 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Watching the Numbers and Charting the Losses—of Species,” by Verlyn Klinkenborg (Editorial Observer, Oct. 15), is precisely on the mark regarding the urgency and importance of today’s plant and animal extinction crisis. And Mr. Klinkenborg’s conclusion that an international effort similar to what is happening to address the current global financial crisis will be necessary to protect species prompts a question.

What would it cost to stabilize our planet’s biological health by protecting species and their natural habitats? An estimated $13 billion a year would be enough to maintain and expand protected areas in the tropics, where the vast majority of plant and animals species are found.

The most recent estimate of what we actually do spend on conservation a year is about $6 billion. Of that, most goes toward conservation in the United States and Europe, and only a fraction is spent to protect tropical forests.

As we approve $700 billion to bail out failing banks, what is happening to financing for conservation? The United States is losing its historic leadership position in international nature conservation, as countries like Germany, Norway, Britain and others have made financial pledges that begin to dwarf United States yearly financing rates to address deforestation and species conservation.

With the next administration, the United States has an opportunity to regain that leadership. The huge financial bailout package has been put in place in record time. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on species, which are the basis of ecosystems that give us fresh air, water and countless other natural resources necessary for human well-being worldwide.

Once the world’s threatened species are gone, no amount of money can bring them back.

Russell A. Mittermeier
President, Conservation International
Arlington, Va., Oct. 16, 2008

22 October 2008


Those of you who aren't baseball fans (I feel sorry for you) may not know Chase Utley. He is a star player for the Philadelphia Phillies, who are in this year's World Series (which begins tonight in Tampa). Chase and his wife, Jen, are animal lovers, which makes them good people in my book. See here for a story.

21 October 2008

Alexander Broadie and Elizabeth M. Pybus on Kant's Treatment of Animals

One of the central propositions in Kant's ethical system is that persons, and persons alone, are proper objects of respect. But since something can correctly be regarded as an object of moral action if, and only if, it is worthy of respect, it follows that persons, and persons only, can be objects of moral action. For Kant this is equivalent to saying that only persons are ends in themselves, or, put otherwise, that persons are the sole limiting conditions on moral action. From this it follows that any being that is not a person can, with moral justification, be used merely as a means.

If Kant is right in his claim that persons alone are the proper objects of respect, then serious consequences follow concerning the moral status of animals. For unless they are rational they cannot be regarded as ends in themselves, and indeed only by the use of a questionable argument can animals be shown to give rise to any moral duties at all. For if Kant, or any philosopher in the Kantian tradition, wishes to say that animals are worthy of moral consideration, he must arrive at this conclusion by showing that our duties towards animals are in some way dependent on our duties towards persons. Thus, in so far as Kant wishes to claim that we have duties towards animals he must take one or other of two lines. He can say that animals are persons. Or he can say that there are moral limitations on our treatment of animals because certain kinds of treatment of animals can involve us in, or lead us to, treating persons merely as means and not at the same time as ends.

(Alexander Broadie and Elizabeth M. Pybus, "Kant's Treatment of Animals," Philosophy 49 [October 1974]: 375-83, at 375-6 [footnote omitted])

19 October 2008


Mark Spahn sent a link to this blog. At the risk of being a killjoy, let me say that there should (morally) be no zoos. Wild animals belong in the wild. Like humans, they have a right to liberty. They do not exist for our amusement, entertainment, or education.

Twenty Years Ago

10-19-88 Wednesday. In what has to be considered pure escapism (from the presidential campaign, if nothing else), every news organization is leading with the story of three young whales off the north coast of Alaska (near Barrow). The whales were frozen in by ice floes on their southward migration from the arctic. Somebody spotted them surfacing in a waterhole and contacted authorities. That set in motion a great train of events. Volunteers made their way to the scene, machinery was moved in, and rescue efforts commenced. Among the rescuers are environmentalists, biologists, and Eskimos. Whales must surface to breathe, so unless the ice can be broken all the way to the sea (hundreds of miles), they’ll perish. At night, when the waterholes begin to freeze over, volunteers keep them open with poles and chainsaws. When you think about it, it’s both tragic and hilarious. Here we are, less than three weeks from a presidential election, and the top story is three whales trapped in the ice. Whales die every day from suffocation and other natural calamities. But these whales are visible; they’re our whales. I’m surprised nobody has named them yet. Give them time. Personification is inevitable.

17 October 2008

"Human Beings Love Beef"

Here is a review of two new books about the consumption of cow flesh.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Standing, Stretching, Turning Around” (editorial, Oct. 9) does little to advance the debate on farm animal housing. It accepts completely the hype concerning a California ballot initiative that among other things bans gestation stalls for pregnant sows.

Research indicates that sows do just fine in individual housing. And you do not acknowledge the individual care that pigs get in such systems and the protection from predators, diseases and the aggression that pigs often exhibit toward each other in group housing.

Decisions on how best to house farm animals should be left to the family farmers, like me, who care for their animals every day. Those same producers care for the land, water and air that they live on, drink and breathe.

The animal housing debate will continue among those most knowledgeable about it. Editorial rhetoric won’t help.

Bryan Black
National Pork Producers Council
Canal Winchester, Ohio, Oct. 10, 2008

Note from KBJ: Speaking of rhetoric, don't you love "individual housing" for "gestation stalls"? Imagine calling solitary confinement "individual housing."

16 October 2008

Vegan Eating Out

Here is a blog for your consideration. The blog's owner needs to repair the site, which is jumbled.

15 October 2008

Getting Your Goat

Here is a New York Times story about goat meat.

13 October 2008

J. Baird Callicott on Domesticity

One of the more distressing aspects of the animal liberation movement is the failure of almost all its exponents to draw a sharp distinction between the very different plights (and rights) of wild and domestic animals. But this distinction lies at the very center of the land ethic. Domestic animals are creations of man. They are living artifacts, but artifacts nevertheless, and they constitute yet another mode of extension of the works of man into the ecosystem. From the perspective of the land ethic a herd of cattle, sheep, or pigs is as much or more a ruinous blight on the landscape as a fleet of four-wheel drive off-road vehicles. There is thus something profoundly incoherent (and insensitive as well) in the complaint of some animal liberationists that the "natural behavior" of chickens and bobby calves is cruelly frustrated on factory farms. It would make almost as much sense to speak of the natural behavior of tables and chairs.

Here a serious disanalogy (which no one to my knowledge has yet pointed out) becomes clearly evident between the liberation of blacks from slavery (and more recently, from civil inequality) and the liberation of animals from a similar sort of subordination and servitude. Black slaves remained, as it were, metaphysically autonomous: they were by nature if not by convention free beings quite capable of living on their own. They could not be enslaved for more than a historical interlude, for the strength of the force of their freedom was too great. They could, in other words, be retained only by a continuous counterforce, and only temporarily. This is equally true of caged wild animals. African cheetas [sic] in American and European zoos are captive, not indentured, beings. But this is not true of cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens. They have been bred to docility, tractability, stupidity, and dependency. It is literally meaningless to suggest that they be liberated. It is, to speak in hyperbole, a logical impossibility.

(J. Baird Callicott, "Animal Liberation: A Triangular Affair," Environmental Ethics 2 [winter 1980]: 311-38, at 329-30 [footnote omitted])

Note from KBJ: The word "liberation" is ambiguous in this context. Callicott thinks so-called animal liberationists such as Peter Singer (author of Animal Liberation [1975]) want to release cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens into the wild. This, he says, is absurd, since these are not wild animals. They have no wild or natural state to which to return. But that's not what animal liberationists want. They want to abolish the institution of confinement, which inflicts horrible suffering on animals. The best way to do this is to take the profit out of it, and the best way to do that is to persuade people, rationally, to stop purchasing animal products. Animals are being "liberated" not in the sense that they are being released from confinement, but in the sense that they are being kept from confinement in the first place.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Standing, Stretching, Turning Around” (editorial, Oct. 9):

Thank you for encouraging California voters to support the state’s Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, or Proposition 2, on the November ballot. This modest proposal would bring a smidgen of comfort to millions of hens used for egg production.

While some have suggested the egg industry should police itself, history shows that industries based on the backs of the disenfranchised do not voluntarily soften the suffering of those they exploit—all the more so when the victims are millions of hens the public never sees.

Recent investigations by nonprofit groups in California, Ohio and Pennsylvania have revealed the atrocious living conditions of egg-laying hens, though their owners said they were humanely cared for.

Consumer boycotts and protective laws are desperately needed. Proposition 2 is a modest step that deserves voter support and extension to other states.

Karen Davis
Machipongo, Va., Oct. 9, 2008
The writer is president of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that is a sponsor of Proposition 2.

To the Editor:

The American Veterinary Medical Association urges California voters to think twice before voting on Proposition 2. Just because something sounds good on the surface does not necessarily make it a wise decision.

While well intended, Proposition 2 is primarily based on emotion and not on a thorough scientific evaluation of all factors that contribute to animal well-being.

For example, while Proposition 2 would provide greater freedom of movement, it would very likely compromise other factors necessary to ensure the overall welfare of the animals, especially with regard to protection from disease and injury.

To protect the welfare of the animals as well as the safety of America’s food supply, the A.V.M.A. calls for a thorough review of housing alternatives and the limitations that might be imposed by Proposition 2.

Unless experts in veterinary medicine and animal behavior are involved in the implementation, we fear Proposition 2 could ultimately harm the very animals it strives to help.

Ron DeHaven
Chief Executive
American Veterinary Medical Association
Schaumburg, Ill., Oct. 9, 2008

Zebra, "Bears" (1984)

No Tellin' Lies (1984).

10 October 2008

From the Mailbag


This is Edgar, from OpposingViews.com. Since you’ve expressed interest in our past debates, I thought I’d let you know about a discussion that just launched.

PETA and the Weston A. Price Foundation, among others, are currently debating the question “Are Vegetarians Healthier?” See it here.

As always, we’d love if you spread the word by blogging or linking to the debate. Also, feel free to add to the discussion by commenting on experts’ and users’ arguments.

We want as many perspectives as possible. Make sure your voice is heard!

Thank you.


From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “One in 4 Mammals Threatened With Extinction, Group Finds” (news article, Oct. 7):

Man’s activity, whether through global warming, overhunting or clearing of habitat, has led to the loss of species at a rate that would have been unimaginable 100 years ago.

When the population of any species, including Homo sapiens, grows so quickly and consumes so many resources, it is clear that the effect on other life will be staggering.

When I have watched documentaries about saving animals and plant life, often the primary rationale offered for their preservation is that miraculous cures may be found for people, and that by seeing other species in the wild we find peace and harmony in ourselves.

But isn’t it enough to save other species because of our respect for all other forms of life, even if in doing so we do not directly benefit? Don’t other species have as much right to exist, and coexist, as we do?

Tim Boland
Lake Stevens, Wash., Oct. 7, 2008

09 October 2008

Legal Rights for Animals

Here is a New York Times editorial opinion about California's Proposition 2. Here is a column by Gary Francione, who opposes the proposition.

08 October 2008

R. G. Frey on Egoism and Utilitarianism

In addition to an explanation of utility, however, there is another integral part to the principle of utility; this is its scope. It must be made clear that it is the act's consequences as affecting everyone and not just the agent himself which are to be considered. For, at least as both are usually construed, the only major difference between ethical egoism and act-utilitarianism is that the egoist is concerned with maximizing utility in his own case, so that only consequences which affect him bear upon the rightness and wrongness of his acts. In an act-utilitarianism, on the other hand, everyone affected by the act is to be considered, and to be considered equally, at least on the usual assumption of each to count for one and none for more than one. But if everyone affected by the act is to be considered, are we to consider the animals affected by our acts? As we saw earlier, virtually all utilitarians, present-day as well as classical, have wanted the scope of the principle of utility extended to animals, or, in any event, to the 'higher' animals. In this way, we obtain a characterization of the principle something like 'Always maximize net satisfaction of interests of animals as well as humans'; and this expanded characterization both accurately reflects present-day views on the interpretation of utility and on the scope of the principle of utility and is, in its present essentials, a plausible candidate for the principle of utility.

(R. G. Frey, Interests and Rights: The Case Against Animals [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980], 132)

03 October 2008

Save the Chimps

This site should be of interest to readers of this blog.

29 September 2008

Eco-Compass Blog

Here is a blog for your consideration. I will add it to the blogroll.

25 September 2008

John Passmore (1914-2004) on Bentham's Treatment of Animals

As so often, the Benthamites could join hands with the evangelicals. "The French have already discovered," Bentham wrote, "that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may come one day to be recognised that the number of legs . . . or the termination of the os sacrum are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same plight." Observe the transition from slave to animal. Bentham's Utilitarianism looks not to the rationality of the agent or the patient, in the Stoic manner, but to the effect of the agent's actions on all sentient beings, who are from this point of view to be accounted equal. If all pain is evil, as Bentham thought, then the pain of animals—assuming only that they can feel pain—ought not to be ignored in man's moral decisions. The pains of animals might be less, as not including the pains of anticipation, than the pains felt by man, but that is no reason for not taking them into account. "The question is not," so Bentham argues, "Can they reason?" nor "Can they talk?" but "Can they suffer?" So whereas Plutarch and Porphyry thought it necessary to begin their case against treating animals merely as chattels by arguing that animals have a share in reason, for Bentham it is irrelevant whether or not they are rational and to what degree. It is enough that they are capable of suffering.

In his later writings, however, Bentham reverted to something more like the Aquinas-Kant position. The Traités edited by Dumont condemn cruelty to animals only—if Dumont can be trusted—on the ground that it can give rise to indifference to human suffering. In his Constitutional Code, Bentham's emphasis is not on suffering but on the alleged fact, made secondary in the Principles, that mature quadrupeds are more moral and more intelligent than young bipeds. I do not know why Bentham changed his mind. But perhaps he boggled, and not unnaturally, at the conclusion that to determine whether an act is right we ought to take into consideration its consequences for every sentient being.

(John Passmore, "The Treatment of Animals," Journal of the History of Ideas 36 [April-June 1975]: 195-218, at 211 [italics in original; footnotes omitted])

22 September 2008

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) on Consistency

It is certain, then, that the practice of flesh-eating involves a vast amount of cruelty, a fact which cannot be lessened or evaded by any quibbling subterfuges. But, before we pass on to another phase of the food-question, we must deal more fully with that very common method of argument (alluded to in Chapter III.) which may be called the Consistency Trick—akin to that known in common parlance as the tu quoque or "you're another"—the device of setting up an arbitrary standard of "consistency," and then demonstrating that the Vegetarian himself, judged by that standard, is as "inconsistent" as other persons. Whether we plead guilty or not guilty to this ingenious indictment, depends altogether on the meaning assigned to the term "consistency."

For, as anyone who tries to do practical work in the world will rapidly discover, there is a true and there is a false ideal of consistency. To pretend that in our complex modern society, where responsibilities are so closely interwoven, it is possible for any individual to cultivate "a perfect character," and stand like a Sir Galahad above his fellows—this is the false ideal of consistency which it is the first business of a genuine reformer to put aside; for no human being can do any solid work without frequently convicting himself of inconsistencies when consistency is stereotyped into a formula. On the other hand there is a true duty of consistency, which regards the spirit rather than the letter, and prompts us not to grasp foolishly at the ideal, like a child crying for the moon, but to push steadily towards the ideal by a faithful adherence to the right line of reform, and by ever keeping in view the just proportion and relative value of all moral actions. Let it be remembered that it is this latter consistency alone that has any interest for the Vegetarian. His purpose is not to exhibit himself as a spotless Sir Galahad of food-reformers, but to take certain practical steps towards the humanising of our barbarous diet system.

(Henry S. Salt, The Logic of Vegetarianism: Essays and Dialogues [London: The Ideal Publishing Union, 1899], 53-4 [italics in original])

Note from KBJ: Salt, bless his heart, is running together some things that ought to be kept separate. First is the question of whether one is living up to one's ideals. I, for example, am a demi-vegetarian. I eat chicken, fish, and eggs. I have had no other animal products (no beef, pork, lamb, or turkey, for example) since 1982. Am I a hypocrite? That depends on whether there are morally relevant differences between chickens and fish on the one hand and cows, pigs, and sheep on the other. (I believe there are.) But my diet is far closer than most people's to what I take to be the ideal. Surely that counts for something, morally. Salt seems to be saying that there are degrees of rightness. The ideal, even if one never achieves it, guides and inspires.

Second is the question of whether those who are not perfect have any business lecturing others. Think here of Thomas Jefferson, who, in 1776, wrote the following stirring words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Jefferson owned slaves at the time he wrote these words. Does that mean he was not expressing profound moral truths? Does that mean nobody should take heed of what he said? Human beings are, and always will be, imperfect, morally and otherwise. If our standard is perfection, then everyone falls short of it and no distinctions can be made. Jefferson, an imperfect man like you, me, and everyone else, expressed profound and inspirational truths, leaving it to others to bring the world into conformity to them.

Note 2 from KBJ: There is a saying that captures Salt's point, if I understand him correctly. It is that the perfect is the enemy of the good. If nothing but perfection is acceptable, then, given human imperfection, nothing is acceptable. Turn it around: That something is acceptable implies that perfection is not the appropriate standard. We should strive for perfection, and each of us should encourage others to do better, but it would be foolish to expect anyone to achieve it.

15 September 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “In-Flight Plight of a Famished Vegan” (“Frequent Flier” column, Business Day, Sept. 9):

As a dietitian who travels often, I know how challenging finding a healthful vegetarian meal in an airport can be.

Unhealthy airport food is a nuisance for vegetarians and vegans, but it affects all exhausted travelers seeking nutritious meals to help them make it to their destinations.

Many scientific studies have demonstrated the wide-ranging health benefits of a plant-based diet—lower blood pressure and cholesterol and less risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and several cancers.

As a growing number of Americans are discovering the advantages of a meatless diet, the demand for vegetarian and vegan food in airports is on the rise.

The benefits of providing healthy, meatless meals are clear for both frequent fliers and for airports.

Some airports have already discovered that as they increase nutritious vegetarian meal options, their customers are thanking them—and coming back for more.

Susan Levin
Washington, Sept. 9, 2008
The writer is a staff dietitian at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington.

05 September 2008

Joel Feinberg (1926-2004) on the Logic of Animal Rights

According to a great many philosophers and jurisprudents, animals do not have rights for the simple reason that they are not the kinds of beings who can have rights. We can have duties concerning animals, these writers are often quick to add, but those duties are not owed to the animals as their due, and thus cannot be claimed against us as rights. Animals in this respect are like trees and rocks, automobiles and buildings, which are not the sorts of things of which it even makes sense to say they could have rights of their own. In respect to having rights, animals are more like pebbles and sunbeams than they are like full-fledged human beings. I believe that this view of the moral status of animals is radically mistaken, not because its distinguished proponents are somehow misinformed about the facts or insensitive in their attitudes, but rather because they misunderstand the basic terms of their own moral vocabulary even as applied to human beings.

(Joel Feinberg, "Human Duties and Animal Rights," chap. 9 in his Rights, Justice, and the Bounds of Liberty: Essays in Social Philosophy [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980], 185-206, at 186-7 [italics in original; endnotes omitted] [essay first published in 1978])

Note from KBJ: It may surprise you to learn that much of the debate about animal rights among philosophers has been about whether animals can have rights. If they do have rights, then obviously they can have rights; but it doesn't follow from the fact that they can have rights that they do have rights. Philosophers, as such, are equipped to answer logical or conceptual questions about animal rights, but not factual or normative questions. This is not to say that philosophers cannot answer factual and normative questions. It is to say that when they do answer such questions, they do so in a nonphilosophical capacity. Why does this matter? Because philosophical expertise, like any sort of expertise, is limited. Being expert in logic or conceptual analysis does not make one an expert on factual or normative matters.

31 August 2008

R. G. Frey on Animal Suffering

My view, then, is not that which it has often been taken to be in discussion and which Singer, Regan, Clark, and others blast in their work; I am not suggesting that, because they lack language, animals can be factory farmed without suffering. Animals can suffer, which they could not unless they were conscious; so they are conscious. Nothing I have said in earlier chapters and nothing I will say in subsequent chapters is intended to deny this fact, which animal rightists correctly insist upon. But animals lack that reflective awareness which enables us to see our experiences and acts as our own (and thereby, of course, unlike animals, to be responsible for our acts).

(R. G. Frey, Interests and Rights: The Case Against Animals [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980], 109 [italics in original; footnote omitted])

Note from KBJ: Who thinks, much less argues, that animals are responsible for their acts? Animals are moral patients, but not moral agents. Like children, they can be wronged but cannot wrong. Nor does it follow from the fact that animals are not moral agents that they cannot have rights. There are two types of rights: autonomy-rights and welfare-rights. You and I have both. Animals have only welfare-rights, the most important of which is the right not to be made to suffer.

30 August 2008

Creature Talk

Here is a blog for your consideration. I will add it to the blogroll.

29 August 2008

Michael Lockwood on Utilitarianism

The great strength of a pure utilitarianism, whether it be couched in terms of the maximization of aggregate happiness, on the one hand, or of desire satisfaction, on the other, is its unity, its capacity to adjudicate non-arbitrarily between all competing moral claims. Once one allows a multiplicity of first principles, with resulting internal trade-offs, this strength is lost; and moreover, it becomes more difficult to offer convincing, principled resistance to those who would have one believe that the moral universe is a veritable jungle of diverse and independent principles and demands, of perhaps inexhaustible complexity.

(Michael Lockwood, "Singer on Killing and the Preference for Life," Inquiry 22 [summer 1979]: 157-70, at 158)

27 August 2008

John Rodman on Dolphinic Wisdom

I. Original Sin. Religious man separated himself from God and was driven from the garden for his pretension. Philosophic man, also in quest of short-cut wisdom, separated himself from the rest of nature, which is its own punishment. Thus Socrates turned his back on the great speculations about the nature of the universe and focused his whole attention on "the good for man". Twenty centuries later men lament that they pursue loneliness, and that their morals and politics lag dangerously behind their natural science. Perhaps the good for man cannot be comprehended out of the context of a universal good in which man shares.

2. True Irrationality. Man, said the ancient philosophers, is a rational animal. Animal: genus; common denominator of man and beast. Rational: species; the principle distinguishing man from beast. Assume the distinction to be valid, and ask the following question. If you and I have certain qualities in common and certain qualities in difference, is it obvious that I (or you) ought to live so as to maximize the qualities that distinguish us? Classical philosophy, from Socrates on, is based on a choice, and that choice is arbitrary: it is not made in accordance with any general principle that is self-evident, nor is it deducible from another principle that is in turn self-evident. The reductio ad absurdum of the classical choice is modern "individualism" in its "Romantic" form—the cult of individual eccentricity. Classical thought stopped short of that, of course. But why? The preference for differentiation at the species level is an unjustified presupposition of the philosophic tradition.

3. Waiting. Once before, around the time of Plato and Aristotle, the dolphins began tentatively to approach man. But first philosophers, then religious men, turned their backs on us in disinterest or hostility, and we retreated into the depths of the sea to await a better time. Now men in desperation voyage into outer space, searching far-off planets for signs of intelligent, non-human life. We wait and wonder whether man is ready.

4. Transcendence. In the lore of the dolphins it is recorded that at some moment in time a few individual human beings will break through to a new, transhuman level of consciousness, will become true philosophers comprehending the whole in all its parts, and will quietly leave the city of man and make contact with the dolphins. There are several versions of this legend. In one, the philosophers join the dolphins and never return. In another, they return out of a sense of duty to bring the good news to their fellow men and are imprisoned in lunatic asylums. In a third, they join forces with the dolphins, execute a bloodless coup d'état, and establish their benign and pacific rule over the rest of the animals (both human and other). In a fourth, the philosophers and the dolphins lead a bloody insurrection of all the beasts, smash all machines, and eliminate the human race as irredeemably depraved and dangerous to the planet.

(John Rodman, "The Dolphin Papers," The North American Review 259 [spring 1974]: 13-26, at 26)

25 August 2008

Animal Companions

Should we keep pets? Here is a website with opposing answers.

24 August 2008

John Passmore (1914-2004) on Animal Suffering

Neither Aquinas nor Kant nor Newman denied, however, that animals could suffer: Descartes and Malebranche thought differently. It is impossible, they argued, to be cruel to animals, since animals are incapable of feeling. They lack not only—as Aquinas had followed Aristotle in arguing—a rational soul but even that sensitive soul which both Aristotle and Aquinas had allowed them. To suppose that animals could feel would be to suggest that there could be pain and suffering where there has been no sin. For animals did not eat of the Forbidden Tree. "Being innocent," Malebranche writes, "if they were capable of feeling, the effect would be that under the government of an infinitely just and all-powerful God an innocent creature would suffer pain, which is a penalty, and the punishment of some sin." The only possible conclusion, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, is that animals cannot feel. "They eat without pleasure," Malebranche therefore tells us, "they cry without sorrow . . . , they desire nothing, they fear nothing, they know nothing." (The Stoic Chrysippus, it is worth noting, had also suggested that animals do not feel but only "as it were" feel.) What we hear as a cry of pain is of no more significance than the creaking of a machine. An organ, the Cartesian Rouhault argues, makes more noise when I play it than an animal when it cries out, yet we do not ascribe feelings to the organ.

These teachings, it should be observed, were more than metaphysical speculations. They had a direct effect on seventeenth-century behavior as manifested, for example, in the popularity of public vivisections, not as an aid to scientific discovery but simply as a technical display. "They administered beatings to dogs with perfect indifference," so La Fontaine, a contemporary observer, tells us, "and made fun of those who pitied the creatures as if they had felt pain. . . . They nailed poor animals up on boards by their four paws to vivisect them and see the circulation of the blood which was a great subject of conversation."

(John Passmore, "The Treatment of Animals," Journal of the History of Ideas 36 [April-June 1975]: 195-218, at 204 [italics in original; footnotes omitted])

18 August 2008


Here is an interesting blog post about so-called animal-rights terrorism.

17 August 2008

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) on "Humane Slaughter"

The plea that animals might be killed painlessly is a very common one with flesh-eaters, but it must be pointed out that what-might-be can afford no exemption from moral responsibility for what-is. By all means let us reform the system of butchery as far as it can be reformed, that is, by the total abolition of those foul dens of torture known as "private slaughter-houses," and by the substitution of municipal abattoirs, equipped with the best modern appliances, and under efficient supervision; for there is no doubt that the sum of animal suffering may thus be greatly lessened. There will be no opposition from the vegetarian side to such reform as this; indeed, it is in a large measure through the personal efforts of Vegetarians that the subject has attracted attention, whereas the very people who make this prospective improvement an excuse for their present flesh-diet are seldom observed to be doing anything practical to carry it into effect. But when all is said and done, it remains true that the reform of the slaughter-house is at best a palliative, a temporary measure which will mitigate, but cannot possibly amend, the horrors of butchery; for it is but too evident that, under our complex civilisation, when the town is so far aloof from the country, and pastoralism can only be carried on in districts remote from the busy crowded centres, it is impossible to transport and slaughter vast numbers of large and highly sensitive animals in a really humane manner. More barbarous, or less barbarous, such slaughtering may undoubtedly be, according to the methods employed, but the "humane" slaughtering, so much bepraised of the sophist, is an impossibility in fact and a contradiction in terms.

(Henry S. Salt, The Logic of Vegetarianism: Essays and Dialogues [London: The Ideal Publishing Union, 1899], 51-2 [italics in original])

13 August 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld writes about the horrors of a kosher slaughterhouse where “news reports and government documents have described abusive practices.” But he says almost nothing about reports of how badly the animals were treated there.

Religious slaughter is still slaughter.

Gretchen Berger
New York, Aug. 6, 2008

11 August 2008

M. P. Golding on Animal Rights

One aspect of the question of whether animals have rights may now be treated. If animals have rights, then these are welfare rather than option-rights. My pet turtle does not exercise, at his option, any rights over itself, things, or people. We can now see why some philosophers (who admit duties in respect of animals) have denied that animals have rights: such denials rest upon identifying or connecting, in an essential way, having rights with having option-rights. Some philosophers admit rights only for beings who are capable of choice, and this is reflected in definitions of 'rights' as 'ranges of action' or 'spheres of autonomy'. If this be pressed, one must also deny that the incapacitated and the senile have rights, and must be hesitant before admitting that children have rights. However, we do speak of the rights of such persons—their welfare-rights. They have a claim to some of the goods of life under the social ideal, although others must make claims for them, when necessary. Whether animals have welfare-rights depends upon the very perplexing question, which I shall not discuss, of their inclusion in the community and their relation to the social ideal. It may also be the case that their rights (if they have any) are, because of the nature of their interests, so insignificant in comparison with those of humans that they hardly deserve the appellation.

(M. P. Golding, "Towards a Theory of Human Rights," The Monist 52 [October 1968]: 521-49, at 545-6 [italics in original; footnotes omitted])

Note from KBJ: Is an animal (i.e., a nonhuman animal) the sort of being that can have rights? It depends on what a right is! Golding is pointing out that there are two conceptions of a right. One conception links rights to autonomy or self-governance (he calls these "option-rights"); the other links rights to welfare or well-being (he calls these "welfare-rights"). If no animal is autonomous, then no animal can have, and therefore no animal does have, an option-right. But it doesn't follow that no animal can have a welfare-right! Those of us who affirm that animals have rights are conceiving of rights as welfare-rights. Those who deny that animals have rights are conceiving of rights as option-rights. Both of us can be right! Indeed, I would argue that both of us are right.

08 August 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

The recent terrorist attacks on scientists (“Firebombings at Homes of 2 California Researchers,” news article, Aug. 4) are abhorrent acts condemned by the vast majority of animal advocates and the organizations who represent them, including the National Anti-Vivisection Society.

Violence, threats of violence, destruction of property and harassment are justifiably considered criminal acts no matter how worthy the cause for which they are perpetrated. Compassion for animals cannot be achieved by violence. Respect for animals cannot be coerced by threats. And justice for animals will never be achieved through criminal acts.

It is our job as advocates for animals to promote the ethical and scientific arguments that advance science without harming animals—within the parameters of a democratic process in which the truth, not violence, prevails.

Peggy Cunniff
Executive Director
National Anti-Vivisection Society
Chicago, Aug. 5, 2008

Note from KBJ: Well put! I have said this many times, but I'll say it again: I can't think of anything that harms animals as much as violence in their behalf. Those of us who care about animals and wish to change how they are treated must condemn these violent acts in the strongest possible terms. The creeps in question should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

06 August 2008

Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys

Here is a New York Times story about a vegetarian restaurant in (of all places) France.

04 August 2008

"Animal Rights Terrorism"

I leave you this fine evening with a column by Debra Saunders. For the record, I am opposed to violence in behalf of animals. I can't think of anything that does more harm to the cause of animal liberation. In the long run, the best thing we can do for animals is engage in rational persuasion. That means patiently showing people—one at a time, if necessary—that their own values commit them to changing the way they treat animals. You might wonder how this could work. If their own values commit them to changing the way they treat animals, why haven't they changed the way they treat animals? The answer is that not everyone has thought through the implications of his or her values. Philosophers are trained to do this. Their only tool is the law of noncontradiction, which says that no proposition can be both true and false. If I can show you that one of your moral principles entails that it's wrong to eat meat, then, to avoid contradiction, you must either abandon the principle or abstain from meat. If you're unwilling to abandon the principle, then you must abstain from meat. Here is a brilliant example of this approach.

Ethical Beauty

Here is a website for your consideration.

02 August 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “A Farm Boy Reflects” (column, July 31):

Hats off to Nicholas D. Kristof, who takes note of the trend represented by the animal welfare proposition on the ballot in California this fall.

While this legislation would be an important step in transforming inhumane animal production, we must also call for change on the federal level, where the farm bill subsidizes this sector to the tune of billions of dollars.

In the past decade, for instance, we have doled out more than $3 billion in direct subsidies to large-scale livestock producers. And thanks to federal corn and soybean subsidies, factory farms saved an estimated $3.9 billion a year between 1997 and 2005, totaling nearly $35 billion, according to researchers at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University.

It’s time that our tax dollars no longer finance the inhumane conditions—for workers and animals and the climate—of factory farms.

Anna Lappé
Brooklyn, July 31, 2008
The writer is a co-founder of the Small Planet Institute.

To the Editor:

Nicholas D. Kristof’s column broke my heart. As a recent convert to vegetarianism, I found that it reinforced my feeling that the eating of living, thinking, emotional creatures is just plain wrong.

The fact that geese mate for life, and that the mate of the poor goose that was slaughtered would step forward, was enough to make me swear off meat forever, if I hadn’t already.

As a country, we place so little value on the creatures that give up their lives to satisfy our hunger. Since our food is delivered to us on a bun or in big bags of frozen parts, it’s easy to eat it and not think about what it was or how it was killed.

If people had to see what these animals are subjected to or take an active role in their deaths, I believe many more people would think before they eat. Unfortunately, that is unlikely to happen any time soon.

We pay lip service to more humane treatment of the animals that we eat, but how many of us look beyond the label on the package of chicken cutlets?

Bernard Burlew
New York, July 31, 2008

To the Editor:

While I am grateful for Nicholas D. Kristof’s thoughtful exploration of animal rights, I was astonished to read that he continues to eat animals, like geese and pigs, for which he obviously has such affection and respect.

Doesn’t he realize that he does not have to engage in this voluntary activity, which causes moral conflict for himself and suffering for the animals?

Mr. Kristof is attuned to issues of human suffering and injustice. I hope he also knows that choosing a meat-based diet contributes to environmental devastation, involves a disproportionate use of the earth’s resources and causes untold health problems.

I encourage him, and everyone who has been moved by his reflective column, to try going vegetarian full or part time, and dig into a plate of something more delicious, more compassionate and more healthy for us all.

Susan Beal
Brooklyn, July 31, 2008

To the Editor:

Nicholas D. Kristof wants animals to be raised for human consumption in the kind and generous manner of his boyhood farm, a way that certainly seems nicer to the animals than mean ol’ modern industrial-style farming.

But one consequence that Mr. Kristof doesn’t note is that meat prices would certainly be substantially higher. And for poor people, higher prices would mean less meat in their diets.

While the comfortably affluent always seem to prefer archaic forms of production and commerce, such as that to be found in a quaint Vermont (or Oregon) village, those of us who live in the real world understand that efficiency and productivity, as well as trade, are what make life better for the vast majority of people in the world.

Mark Nuckols
Moscow, July 31, 2008

To the Editor:

Nicholas D. Kristof’s column has been haunting me since I read it. I imagine my own horror if my husband were to be brutally taken from me and slaughtered after our years of caring for each other and sharing our lives.

We empathize with our fellow humans when they endure mental or physical torture and condemn the cruel barbarians that inflict it.

We know that animals suffer as well. It would be a testament to our humanity if we could at least acknowledge that fact and show some kindness toward the creatures that we imprison to feed our appetites.

Maybe someday our legislators in New York will have the courage to follow in the footsteps of the states Mr. Kristof mentions. I look forward to casting my vote for compassion.

Janet Treadaway
New York, July 31, 2008

To the Editor:

I, too, am a farm boy. I grew up on a dairy and hog farm in central Massachusetts. Although we knew that our animals were destined for the tables of America, we were taught by our parents to respect and provide them with creature comfort while they were in our care.

I have visited many of the grotesque factory farms that now corrupt our rural landscapes. Government animal rights regulations may help. But compassion and civil sense from the large farm entrepreneurs might be more helpful.

Jules L Garel
Columbus, Ohio, July 31, 2008

01 August 2008

J. Baird Callicott on Misanthropy

Some indication of the genuinely biocentric value orientation of ethical environmentalism is indicated in what otherwise might appear to be gratuitous misanthropy. The biospheric perspective does not exempt Homo sapiens from moral evaluation in relation to the well-being of the community of nature taken as a whole. The preciousness of individual deer, as of any other specimen, is inversely proportional to the population of the species. Environmentalists, however reluctantly and painfully, do not omit to apply the same logic to their own kind. As omnivores, the population of human beings should, perhaps, be roughly twice that of bears, allowing for differences of size. A global population of more than four billion persons and showing no signs of an orderly decline presents an alarming prospect to humanists, but it is at present a global disaster (the more per capita prosperity, indeed, the more disastrous it appears) for the biotic community. If the land ethic were only a means of managing nature for the sake of man, misleadingly phrased in moral terminology, then man would be considered as having an ultimate value essentially different from that of his "resources." The extent of misanthropy in modern environmentalism thus may be taken as a measure of the degree to which it is biocentric. Edward Abbey in his enormously popular Desert Solitaire bluntly states that he would sooner shoot a man than a snake. Abbey may not be simply depraved; this is perhaps only his way of dramatically making the point that the human population has become so disproportionate from the biological point of view that if one had to choose between a specimen of Homo sapiens and a specimem [sic] of a rare even if unattractive species, the choice would be moot.

(J. Baird Callicott, "Animal Liberation: A Triangular Affair," Environmental Ethics 2 [winter 1980]: 311-38, at 326 [ footnote omitted])

31 July 2008

Factory Farming

I agree with Nicholas Kristof that factory farms will eventually be banned by law. I also agree that it will be a good thing.

Addendum: Here are comments on Kristof's column.

30 July 2008

Animal Rights

I got a nice surprise in the mail today: a complimentary copy of this, which contains my 1998 essay "Doing Right by Our Animal Companions." Expensive, eh?

28 July 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Mustangs Stir a Debate on Thinning the Herd” (front page, July 20):

The Bureau of Land Management is charged with protecting wild horses and burros on the Western rangelands. Faced with budgetary constraints, however, it might put to death some of the 30,000 horses it is holding—a herd as big as the community of free horses still roaming the West. You report that Steven L. Davis, an emeritus professor of animal science at Oregon State University, says the horses “damage” the environment.

A total of 33,000 wild horses are degrading the environment, but around 3 million to 4 million cattle are not? Predator control (yet more killing by our government in the service of ranchers) is to blame for any overpopulation of herbivores.

And no, the mustangs do not need birth control. Animals in nature don’t need to be controlled by a species that has such difficulty in controlling itself.

The mustangs should never have been corralled in the first place. Let them go, and let them be. Allow them the dignity of freedom.

Priscilla Feral
President, Friends of Animals
Darien, Conn., July 23, 2008

24 July 2008

Pepé Le Pew

I see skunks (Mephitis mephitis) on a regular basis—usually in the evening—during my walks with Shelbie. I worry not only about her being sprayed (which has happened a couple of times), but about her being bitten. There have been reports recently of rabid skunks in this area. While Shelbie has had a rabies vaccine, it's best not to take a chance. Tonight, as darkness fell, I saw a large black object moving slowly across the meadow about 75 yards in front of me. Shelbie saw it, too, and off she went. I gave her the signal to return to me, but it was to no avail. She reached the moving object. At first I thought it might be a black dog, which would have meant a fight. But no fight ensued. I yelled. Shelbie came running to me. When I got nearer, with Shelbie leashed, I saw that it was a mother skunk with three or four babies. The babies were following her like so many ducks. It was cute. Shelbie and I watched them for a minute or so and moved on.

Addendum: Here is the Wikipedia entry on Pepé Le Pew.

23 July 2008

From the Mailbag

Hi Keith,

My name is Evelyn and I'm a big fan of Animal Ethics, reading it regularly, I enjoy your posts and share your love for animals.

I'm writing a blog about animal rights and have linked back to you here.

I would really appreciate if you could link to my blog or exchange blogrolls links with me, so more people would reach our blogs ;-)

I will also be honored if you would let me post a guest post on your blog or vice versa.


22 July 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

What’s Next in the Law? The Unalienable Rights of Chimps,” by Adam Cohen (Editorial Observer, July 14):

The Spanish Parliament’s decision to grant rights to apes is indeed groundbreaking, and will foster philosophical discussion about animal protection for some time.

But Americans need not await the resolution of the academic debate, which is more about form than substance, before acting to protect animals.

A bill now in Congress—the Great Ape Protection Act—provides many of the protections for chimps the Spanish resolution does, but without engaging (or attempting to resolve) the controversial and polarizing issue of granting legal rights to animals.

Common-sense, rational reforms reflect the emerging consensus of mainstream animal protection groups like the Humane Society of the United States and millions of Americans who care about animals. We need not wait for the resolution of the big-picture theoretical debates to come together to ensure that all animals receive more decent and humane treatment, as they deserve.

Andrew Rowan
Executive Vice President
Humane Society of the United States
Washington, July 14, 2008

To the Editor:

As a physician who treats asylum seekers who are torture survivors, I want to offer another reason for granting basic legal rights to apes: the trauma these animals suffer when subjected to harmful experiments or other abuses may not be so different from what humans experience in similar circumstances.

Several colleagues and I recently conducted a purely observational study to determine the prevalence of psychiatric disorders in chimpanzees previously used in experimental research and now living in a sanctuary in Louisiana.

I was astonished by how many displayed behaviors that overlap with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other trauma-related disorders. Our findings follow many other studies demonstrating mental anguish in traumatized animals.

Suffering is far from a uniquely human experience. It is time for us to widen our circle of compassion and follow Spain’s lead in granting legal rights to apes.

Hope Ferdowsian
Director of Research Policy
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Washington, July 14, 2008


I continue to receive—and to reject—comments from people who don't use their full names. Unless I see a full name, I delete the comment without reading it. I don't understand the impulse to write anonymously. Imagine Peter Singer sending a note to Tom Regan anonymously. The very idea is absurd. Singer and Regan are adults. Each is able and willing to defend his views. Why would either of them want to hide his identity from the other? If you want to contribute to this blog by posting a comment, be an adult and use your name. Otherwise, go away.

21 July 2008

R. G. Frey on Anthropomorphism

Yet, in the case of domesticated animals especially, many people, particularly lonely people, regard (and often want to regard) their pet as a kind of lesser human being, with a less rich but still plentiful mental life which explains why their cat or dog behaves as it does. Their pet loves them, they often say, and tries to be faithful to them, and they in turn try not to hurt its feelings (for example, by leaving it alone or ignoring it) and to return this deep affection. For understandable reasons, such people have nevertheless not been so rigorous as Tinbergen in divesting themselves of all traces of anthropomorphism in their attempts to understand and explain animal behaviour. It is as if the only way they can bring themselves to approach an understanding of their pet's behaviour is by first investing the animal with a human endowment and then finding as the explanation for why it behaves as it does precisely some feature of this endowment with which they have invested it. By describing the cat or dog and its behaviour in anthropomorphic terms and thereby 'putting' into the animal what one is going to cite as the explanation of its behaviour, there is no limit to the complexity and extent of the mental goings-on of cats and dogs, or rather the only limit is the range of mental life one is prepared to endow these creatures with in the first place, on some anthropomorphic paradigm. Indeed, the endowment now allegedly extends even to communication with animals by telepathy. The animal psychologist Beatrice Lydecker claims in her book What the Animals Tell Me that one can, even though cats and dogs lack language, nevertheless communicate with and in this sense 'talk' to one's pet by means of something akin to ESP. One simply commands one's dog to sit and simultaneously forms a mental image of him in that position; and as this image is communicated to and received by him by telepathy, he will soon come to adopt the appropriate position. Doubtless to many the dog will be thought to be like us in being able to send and receive such images and to communicate in this way.

(R. G. Frey, Interests and Rights: The Case Against Animals [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980], 84-5 [italics in original; footnote omitted])

Note from KBJ: There are two mistakes one can make in thinking about animals. The first—anthropomorphism—consists in attributing distinctively human qualities to animals. The second—mechanism—consists in denying animal qualities to animals. Frey comes perilously close to making the second mistake, if indeed he does not make it.