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'ĂȘtre 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.