27 February 2009

26 February 2009

Primate Pets

Here is a New York Times story about people who keep primates as pets.

24 February 2009

From the Mailbag

Hi Keith,

I wanted to make sure you knew that Farm Sanctuary has officially launched its new shelter blog, “Sanctuary Tails,” which can be viewed here. This blog is an up-to-date listing of the exciting news and events happening around the farm at both our New York and California Shelters. If you’d like to include a link to this blog on your site, that would be fantastic! Please let me know if you have any questions.

Thanks, and all the best!
Angela Barker

22 February 2009

Animals & Politics

Here is a blog for your consideration.

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) on Sophistry

We may grant that so long as no scruple has arisen concerning the morality of flesh-eating, or any other barbarous usage, such practices may be carried on in innocence and good faith, and therefore without personal demoralisation to those who indulge in them. But from the moment when discussion begins, and an unconscious act becomes a conscious or semi-conscious one, the case is wholly different, and it is then impossible to plead that "it does not matter" about one's food. On the contrary, it is a matter of vital import if injustice be deliberately practised. To use flesh-food unwittingly, by savage instinct, as the carnivora do, or, like barbarous mankind, in the ignorance of age-long habit, is one thing; but it is quite another thing for a rational person to make a sophistical defence of such habits when their iniquity has been displayed, and then to claim that he is absolved from guilt by the spirit in which he acted. The spirit that absolves is one of unquestioning faith, not of far-fetched sophistry. The wolf devours the lamb, and is no worse a wolf for it; but if he seek, as in the fable, to give quibbling excuses for his wolfishness, he becomes a byword for hypocrisy.

(Henry S. Salt, The Logic of Vegetarianism: Essays and Dialogues [London: The Ideal Publishing Union, 1899], 77-8 [italics in original])

15 February 2009

Moral Vegetarianism, Part 3 of 13

For an explanation of this feature, click on “Moral Vegetarianism” at the bottom of this post.

What Meat Should Not Be Eaten?

What is forbidden meat? Most moral vegetarians list fish and fowl as animals one should not eat. But what about microorganisms? Vegan vegetarians who eat only vegetables, fruit, and nuts do not completely remove all microorganisms from their food, even with repeated cleaning. Has the vegetarian who eats microorganisms along with his salad sinned against his own principles? Vegetarians may attempt to justify the eating of microorganisms in three different ways.

First, it may be argued that only animals who can feel pain are not to be eaten. Since it is unlikely that microorganisms can feel pain, the vegetarian can eat them without scruples. But this suggestion has a peculiar implication. If beef cattle who could not feel pain were developed, then it would be permissible to eat them. The ability to feel pain is not an obviously plausible way of morally distinguishing microorganisms from other organisms.

KBJ: Martin seems to think that people who abstain from meat on the ground that meat-eating causes pain would not eat “beef cattle” even if they could not feel pain. Why wouldn’t they? If someone’s sole reason for abstaining from meat were pain-avoidance, then there would be no reason not to eat these cows. Even Peter Singer would eat these cows, assuming he had a taste for beef, which he probably doesn’t.

Second, it might be argued that although it is wrong to kill microorganisms, it is not obvious that eating them kills them. Neither is it obvious, however, that eating microorganisms does not kill them. Scientific research and expertise are needed here.

KBJ: I agree that this is a factual question.

This brings us to the third attempt at justification. Let us suppose that some microorganisms that are eaten are killed, e.g., by the digestive workings of the body. The question can be raised: Why should these organisms be killed and others not be killed? What is the moral difference between killing a microorganism in the digesting of other food and killing a hog, e.g., in order to eat and digest it. [sic] Some vegetarians might argue that there is a difference. Killing a hog can be avoided. We do not need meat, let alone pork, in order to live. But we do need to digest food in order to live. If some microorganisms must be killed in the process, this is unfortunate but necessary for human life. But the question remains. Why should microorganisms be sacrificed rather than humans? Why is human life more valued than the life of microorganisms?

KBJ: Humans and pigs are not just sentient, which already distinguishes them from microorganisms; they are, in Tom Regan’s terminology, “subjects of a life.” Microorganisms are alive, like plants, but they have no interests. Hence, they have the same moral status as plants, which is no moral status at all. Martin seems to think that some vegetarians believe that it is categorically wrong to kill. I have never met anyone who holds that view. The very name “vegetarian” suggests that these individuals eat plants, which are living organisms.

One might be inclined to say that human beings are more valuable because of their intelligence. One might first ask, “Why does higher intelligence mean that one species is more valuable than other species?” Second, there are other species besides human beings that have high intelligence, e.g., chimpanzees and dolphins. What should our moral attitude be toward eating members of these species? This problem becomes crucial when the notion of consent is brought in.

KBJ: Nobody in the animal-rights or animal-liberation movement views intelligence as a morally significant property, at least intrinsically. If it is morally significant at all, it is because it is correlated with other things (such as sentience or self-awareness) that are intrinsically morally significant.

Suppose there is a man who wishes to end his life but regrets never having given his poor and hungry family any pleasure. He requests that after his death his wife prepare a lavish dinner with him as the main course. The members of his family have no objections; on the contrary, they rather relish the idea. Putting aside any moral objections to his suicide, what moral objections would there be to a family having Papa for Sunday dinner if it is okay with Papa? In a word, what is wrong with cannibalism among consenting adults?

KBJ: Nothing. Why Martin thinks this is a problem for vegetarians escapes me.

Whatever one thinks about voluntary cannibalism among humans, it may be argued that the situation is very different with animals. After all, we cannot communicate with them in any meaningful way, and besides, from their behavior it seems clear that they don’t want to die. (Animals in the wild try to escape from hunters.) But recent experiments with chimpanzees suggest that the day may be near when we can ask trained chimpanzees if they want to be eaten for food. Suppose some of them say yes (in American sign language). Suppose there is good reason to assume that they understand the question. Indeed, some of them might express enthusiasm for the idea. Would not eating these animals be morally permissible? If not, why not?

KBJ: Ten-year-old children can “say yes” when you ask them whether they want to have sex. This does not constitute consent, for consent presupposes a number of things that a ten-year-old child lacks. But let me answer Martin’s question. In a possible world in which chimpanzees consent—really consent, not just “say yes”—to being eaten, it would be morally permissible to eat them. This, however, is not our world, so I don’t understand the bearing of the question. Clearly, cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, and fish do not consent to being eaten.

Even if no chimpanzee would consent to being used for food, one can certainly imagine animals that would consent. In his comic strip, Little Abner, Al Capp created an animal called a shmoo whose greatest joy was to be eaten. We may smile at the absurdity of this idea. But shmoo-type creatures may not just be creations of cartoonists in the next century; they may be creations of genetic engineers.

Suppose a shmoolike animal were developed, a creature programmed to want to be eaten for food. Would there be anything wrong in eating it? One might object that the act of creating such animals was morally wrong and consequently that eating them would be morally wrong. It is not clear, however, that the creation of shmoos would be morally wrong. But even it [sic] it were, it does not follow that eating them after they were wrongly created would be morally wrong. After all, shmoos want to be eaten and are unhappy if they are not eaten. It may be wrong to create creatures with such a desire, but once such creatures exist it seems cruel not to fulfill their desire.

KBJ: As the case of 10-year-old children shows, desire is not enough; consent is necessary. If the shmoos are capable of consenting (really consenting), then they may consent to being eaten. What does this have to do with the real world, in which no animals (other than humans) can consent? This, with all due respect to Martin, is philosophy run amok.

Still, one might argue that eating such animals is wrong because it is necessary to kill them in order to eat them. And killing animals is wrong, since (1) killing involves inflicting pain and inflicting pain is wrong and (2) animals that have a self-concept have a right to life and killing animals with a right to life is wrong. But recall that shmoos want to be eaten. If they have a right to life because they have a self-concept, they surely also have a right to die and the right to suffer pain in the process if they desire.

KBJ: Ditto.

Furthermore, genetic engineering may develop animals that lack all of the properties that vegetarians usually associate with the wrongness of killing animals for food: (1) the ability to feel pain, (2) consciousness, (3) having a self-concept. Suppose that by genetic engineering we could develop beef cattle that were born unconscious and remained unconscious all of their lives (they would be fed and bred artificially). Such animals would be incapable of feeling pain or having experiences of any kind. Would it be permissible to eat them? If not, why not?

KBJ: It would be permissible to eat them, just as it is permissible to eat plants. Martin has imagined not human vegetables, but cow vegetables!

Furthermore, genetic engineering might be able to produce meat-bearing animals that could be used for food without being killed. If so, no moral objection based on the killing of animals could be raised to the eating of meat. Suppose by genetic engineering it was possible to develop an animal that shed its legs periodically and grew new ones. Would it be morally permissible to eat such legs? If not, why not?

Now it might be argued that although such animals were not being killed they were being exploited. So it is still morally wrong to eat their meat. But it might also be possible to develop animals that periodically shed their legs and wanted to have their shed legs eaten, animals whose psychological health and well-being depended on such eating. Would these animals also be exploited? If so, would this be immoral? To be sure, we would be using the animals and in this sense would be exploiting them. But the animals would be happy to be used. Indeed, they would want their limbs eaten just as much as we would want to eat them. In this sense, they would not be being exploited.

KBJ: Once again, it depends on whether the animals in question can consent to being used as sources of food. If they can, then they may. If they can’t, then they may not.

10 February 2009

From the Mailbag


I am an intern for Ashley Paige, and she has been nominated for the "Top 10 Not So Ordinary Pet People" contest. If you don't know she rescues many animals and personally finds loving homes for them. She has a non-profit organization called Ruffhouzen, check it out! Please, please, please vote for her! It is so easy, just scroll down and click. The link to vote is here. Thank you so much!!!!


Mckenzie Dowler

06 February 2009

Canis Lupus

Here is an interesting New York Times story about wolves and dogs. It's good to see my old friend Marc Bekoff quoted in the story.

03 February 2009

J. Baird Callicott on Factory Farms

Meat eating as implied by the foregoing remarks may be more ecologically responsible than a wholly vegetable diet. Meat, however, purchased at the supermarket, externally packaged and internally laced with petrochemicals, fattened in feed lots, slaughtered impersonally, and, in general, mechanically processed from artificial insemination to microwave roaster, is an affront not only to physical metabolism and bodily health but to conscience as well. From the perspective of the land ethic, the immoral aspect of the factory farm has to do far less with the suffering and killing of nonhuman animals than with the monstrous transformation of living things from an organic to a mechanical mode of being. Animals, beginning with the Neolithic Revolution, have been debased through selective breeding, but they have nevertheless remained animals. With the Industrial Revolution an even more profound and terrifying transformation has overwhelmed them. They have become, in Ruth Harrison's most apt description, "animal machines." The very presence of animals, so emblematic of delicate, complex organic tissue, surrounded by machines, connected to machines, penetrated by machines in research laboratories or crowded together in space-age "production facilities" is surely the more real and visceral source of our outrage at vivisection and factory farming than the contemplation of the quantity of pain that these unfortunate beings experience. I wish to denounce as loudly as the neo-Benthamites this ghastly abuse of animal life, but also to stress that the pain and suffering of research and agribusiness animals is not greater than that endured by free-living wildlife as a consequence of predation, disease, starvation, and cold—indicating that there is something immoral about vivisection and factory farming which is not an ingredient in the natural lives and deaths of wild beings. That immoral something is the transmogrification of organic to mechanical processes.

(J. Baird Callicott, "Animal Liberation: A Triangular Affair," Environmental Ethics 2 [winter 1980]: 311-38, at 335-6 [italics in original])

Note from KBJ: My "outrage at vivisection and factory farming" has nothing to do with "the transmogrification of organic to mechanical processes." It has everything to do with "the quantity of pain that these unfortunate beings experience."

01 February 2009


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