31 March 2009

Animal Advocacy

Here is information about an upcoming conference.

29 March 2009

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “As Bullfighter Gains Honor, Peers Perceive a Grave Loss” (Madrid Journal, March 19), which describes several bullfighters’ disapproval of a Spanish Fine Arts award given to a wealthy torero:

It’s sickening that there are still people who derive entertainment from watching steel daggers being plunged into living flesh and blood.

And this orgy in sadism is termed by some as “art”!

I hope we will continue to see the decline in popularity of this remnant of Middle Ages barbarism.

Daniel Samuels
Armonk, N.Y., March 19, 2009

27 March 2009

Moral Vegetarianism, Part 5 of 13

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

A variety of arguments have been given for vegetarianism. Sometimes they take such a sketchy form that it is not completely clear they are moral arguments. I outline two arguments of this sort in what follows in order to illustrate some of the difficulties in evaluating moral vegetarianism. Even when it is clear that a moral argument is intended, however, exactly what the premises of the argument are is not always clear. There appears to be a gap in some of the arguments that it is difficult to fill with plausible premises.

The Argument from Monkeys

According to Gerald Carson, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, a well-known advocate of vegetarianism and inventor of some eighty ready-to-eat breakfast foods, used to persuade people to adopt vegetarianism in the following way:

Dr. Kellogg, a superb publicist, kept a morose chimpanzee, which he used for a stunt. The doctor would toss a juicy beefsteak to the suspicious animal. The chimp would examine it and quickly slam the meat right back at him. Then Dr. Kellogg would offer a banana, which the ape munched with evident enjoyment. Kellog [sic] drew the conclusion “Eat what the monkey eats—our nearest relative.”

I assume—although this assumption may not be justified—that Dr. Kellogg was using this stunt to show the moral superiority of vegetarianism. But it is unclear what premises Dr. Kellogg was presupposing to get his conclusion, “Eat what the monkey eats.” Is he assuming that man’s meat eating is a perversion of his natural instincts, which are inherited from monkeys? But even if this is true, what moral import does this have unless one also assumes that what is natural should be done? Yet this further assumption is surely unjustified. After all, it may be quite natural for both chimpanzees and men to perform acts of violence. But it is questionable whether they should perform them.

Perhaps the assumption is only that one should eat what man’s nearest relative in evolutionary development eats. But aside from the fact that the truth of this ethical assumption is not obvious, it is not true that monkeys are man’s nearest relatives. Scientists have discovered closer relatives of homo sapiens than monkeys, e.g., homo erectus. There is little reason to suppose that all of these near relatives were vegetarians.

Finally, one cannot resist asking the question: What would Dr. Kellogg’s chimp have done if Dr. Kellogg had tossed it a bowl of corn flakes? The animal’s response and the conclusion “Eat what the monkey eats” could have ended Dr. Kellogg’s breakfast-cereal empire.

KBJ: I agree with Martin that this is a weak argument for moral vegetarianism. Even if it were true that meat-eating is unnatural for humans (in some nonmoral sense), it would not follow that it is wrong. Hume’s Law says that one cannot infer an “ought” statement from an “is” statement. An evaluative conclusion, in other words, requires at least one evaluative premise.

23 March 2009

J. Baird Callicott on Environmental Ethics

There are intractable practical differences between environmental ethics and the animal liberation movement. Very different moral obligations follow in respect, most importantly, to domestic animals, the principal beneficiaries of the humane ethic. Environmental ethics sets a very low priority on domestic animals as they very frequently contribute to the erosion of the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic communities into which they have been insinuated. On the other hand, animal liberation, if pursued at the practical as well as rhetorical level, would have ruinous consequences on plants, soils, and waters, consequences which could not be directly reckoned according to humane moral theory. As this last remark suggests, the animal liberation/animal rights movement is in the final analysis utterly unpracticable. An imagined society in which all animals capable of sensibility received equal consideration or held rights to equal consideration would be so ludicrous that it might be more appropriately and effectively treated in satire than in philosophical discussion. The land ethic, by contrast, even though its ethical purview is very much wider, is nevertheless eminently practicable, since, by reference to a single good, competing individual claims may be adjudicated and relative values and priorities assigned to the myriad components of the biotic community. This is not to suggest that the implementation of environmental ethics as social policy would be easy. Implementation of the land ethic would require discipline, sacrifice, retrenchment, and massive economic reform, tantamount to a virtual revolution in prevailing attitudes and life styles. Nevertheless, it provides a unified and coherent practical principle and thus a decision procedure at the practical level which a distributive or atomistic ethic may achieve only artificially and so imprecisely as to be practically indeterminate.

(J. Baird Callicott, "Animal Liberation: A Triangular Affair," Environmental Ethics 2 [winter 1980]: 311-38, at 337-8)

Note from KBJ: I'm done mining this essay for quotations. I hope you enjoyed them and learned from them. While I reject the holistic approach that Callicott champions (an approach Tom Regan has described as "environmental fascism"), I consider this essay a classic in the field of practical ethics. Every paragraph is interesting. Callicott's tone is sometimes insulting, but he is a good philosopher.

19 March 2009

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Like Nicholas D. Kristof, I’m not opposed to hog farmers or people consuming meat. But we are paying the price for having as much meat as we want, whenever we want, and cheaply, too. Millions of animals cannot be forced to grow on schedule without subjecting them to conditions that require the use (and abuse) of antibiotics.

Technology can control nature only for so long. If we insist on a daily practice of having our steak and eating it, too, then we must expect a nice big helping of superbugs on the side.

Lisa Eicher
East Northport, N.Y., March 12, 2009

16 March 2009

Death on a Factory Farm

Ever wonder how the animals you eat are treated before they become your dinner? You can find out tonight by watching HBO's new documentary, "Death on a Factory Farm." The documentary airs tonight (Monday, March 16) starting at 9:00 p.m. Central time, but check your local listings for local show times.

"Death on a Factory Farm" chronicles an investigation into alleged abuses that took place at a hog farm in Creston, Ohio. This highly informative documentary is produced by Tom Simon (a seven-time Emmy® winner) and Sarah Teale, producer of the 2006 HBO special "Dealing Dogs," which received two Emmy® nominations, including Best Documentary.

More information on this documentary can be found here.

12 March 2009

Thomas E. Hill Jr on the Basis of Human Dignity

The person who most completely lives as an autonomous person, then, is the one for whom the disposition to follow the Categorical Imperative is most effective. That is, he not only conforms to the principles that he freely adopted but does so because they are principles that he freely and rationally adopted. This is the person most completely "self-governing."

Why, then, did Kant hold conscientious adherence to the Categorical Imperative in such high regard? It was, I suggest, to a large extent because he felt that the noblest feature of humanity is the capacity to be self-governing, to adopt principles without being influenced by sensuous motives and then to live by them whatever the contingencies. On Kant's theory, the man who best realizes this capacity is the man who acts from respect for the Categorical Imperative.

I conclude with two brief comments. First, if my explanation of the importance of moral conduct is correct, then Kant should not be viewed as a man obsessed with duty for duty's sake. He believed, of course, that one ought always to do one's duty and also that only acts motivated by respect for moral law have moral worth. What is uniquely important to Kant about moral conduct, however, is not its difficulty, orderliness, or purposelessness; it is rather the fact that moral conduct is the practical exercise of the noble capacity to be rational and self-governing, a capacity which sets us apart from the lower animals and gives us dignity. Kant's ethics is as much an ethics of self-esteem as it is an ethics of duty.

Finally, without overlooking the important differences between the Categorical Imperative and the Hypothetical Imperative, we may note a further similarity. Both principles, as it turns out, enjoin a person to follow through on what he himself wills. The Hypothetical Imperative tells him not to balk at the necessary means to the ends he wills, and the commands of the Categorical Imperative are simply the constraints he himself adopts as a rational and autonomous person. To put the point paradoxically, we could summarize the demands of practical reason by saying, "Do what you will."

(Thomas E. Hill Jr, "The Hypothetical Imperative," The Philosophical Review 82 [October 1973]: 429-50, at 449-50 [italics in original; footnote omitted])

Note from KBJ: Two things. First, notice the difference between "Do what you want" and "Do what you will." Second, notice that Kant, the deontologist, like John Stuart Mill, the consequentialist, distinguishes between the rightness of the act itself and the goodness or worthiness of the motive from which the act springs. To both philosophers, one can do the right thing for the wrong reason (as well as the wrong thing for the right reason). Kant divides right acts into two categories: (1) those motivated solely by duty and (2) those motivated by something other than, or in addition to, duty. Only acts in category 1 are morally worthy. For Kant, then, worthy acts are (given human fallibility) a proper subset of right acts. (All of God's acts are worthy as well as right.) President Bush's invasion of Iraq could have been right (i.e., in accordance with duty) but not worthy (i.e., not from duty). His motive for invading is literally irrelevant to the rightness of what he did—for both Kant and Mill. Unfortunately, almost all of the criticism of the invasion by progressives was based on President Bush's motives (or worse, alleged motives). This was frustrating for me, as a moral philosopher. I wanted a national debate on the rightness of the invasion. I don't give a damn about President Bush's motives. Who knows his motives, anyway, besides him? Maybe even he doesn't know his motives.

08 March 2009

Moral Vegetarianism, Part 4 of 13

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

What Is an Animal Part?

The last example suggests the difficulty of making a clear distinction between an animal part and an animal product. If a genetically engineered animal’s legs periodically fell off, would not its legs be more like a product of an animal (analogous to eggs) than a part of the animal? If so, the lactovo vegetarian should have no qualms about someone’s eating such legs.

KBJ: Agreed. But keep in mind that many lactovo vegetarians care about how animal products are produced, not just the fact that they are animal products. These people abstain from eggs and dairy products the production of which involves suffering for the animals. The same would be true of Martin’s hypothetical animal legs. To avoid this complication, Martin should have stipulated that no suffering is involved in the production of animal legs. For example, if one could pick up shed animal legs in a pasture in which animals roam freely among their own kind, there might be no moral objection to eating the legs. If, on the other hand, the legs are produced in factory conditions, there is a moral objection.

This sort of question can also be raised without benefit of hypothetical examples from future genetic engineering. Suppose someone enjoys drinking the blood of cattle and hogs. Suppose further that such blood is obtained without killing the animal and without causing the animal pain. Would the blood drinker be sinning against the principles of lactovo moral vegetarianism or just the principles of vegan moral vegetarianism? Would the blood be analogous to milk or eggs?

KBJ: Again, the answer for many lactovo vegetarians would depend on whether the production of the blood involved suffering. Suffering is more than pain. Deprivation of liberty, for example, is a kind of suffering that need not be painful in any straightforward sense. Think of the suffering involved in solitary confinement.

Functionally, we might attempt to distinguish between an animal product and an animal part in the following way: X is a part of an animal A if X is derived or could be derived from A and A could not function well without X. X is a product of an animal A if X is derived from A and A can function well without X and X has some useful purpose for some Z. On this analysis, the shed legs of genetically designed leg-shedding animals would be a product, not a part; the blood of an animal taken in small quantities would be a product and not a part.

KBJ: Martin is assuming (again) that lactovo vegetarians care only about whether the item is an animal part or an animal product. As I said above, many of them care about more than this. Among other things, they care about whether the animal products involved suffering.

But this account seems overly permissive in one respect. One can imagine the possibility of amputating the legs of animals and using them for food and fitting the animals with mechanical limbs that enabled them to function normally. Would we still wish to say that the amputated limbs were products rather than parts of the animals?

KBJ: Ditto.

Moreover, this account also seems overly restrictive in one respect. Suppose there was a breed of sheep that became very ill when the sheep’s fleece was removed; they did not function normally. Or suppose that by genetic engineering we could develop a milk-producing animal that became sick when it had the milk removed by members of other species, e.g., human beings. On the above definitions the wool and the milk of such animals would not be animal products.

These conceptual difficulties do not show that a distinction between parts and products of animals cannot be made in individual cases. But they do point up the difficulty of making any general distinction between parts and products and the correlated difficulty of making a clear distinction between vegan and lactovo vegetarianism.

KBJ: The most that this shows is that people should be vegans rather than lactovo vegetarians. That way, they won’t have to make the problematic (to Martin) distinction between animal parts and animal products.

The above problems and questions should give vegetarians some pause. They suggest that any simple moral vegetarianism is impossible. There are many complex problems connected with moral vegetarianism, and a fully articulate and comprehensive moral vegetarianism is yet to be produced.

KBJ: This is true of every normative ethical theory, from natural law to divine command to utilitarianism to egoism to contractarianism to Kantian deontology. What is supposed to follow? That we should suspend moral evaluation and live amoral lives until all the theoretical problems are solved and all the conceptual questions are answered?

Still, it might be maintained that this does not mean that moral vegetarianism is an unsound view. After all, it might be said, there are unsolved problems implicit in any moral position. Although there may be difficult problems at the core of moral vegetarianism, it may be maintained that there are sound reasons for taking the position.

KBJ: Bingo.


Here is Mylan Engel's review of Nature Red in Tooth and Claw. Those of you who work in philosophy of religion should find it interesting. Mylan, like me, is an atheist and a proponent of animal rights.

06 March 2009

Please Help Jean

Jean Kazez needs help coming up with a title for her book. Please help her. I like the first proposed title, but I would change "All Due Respect" to "With All Due Respect."

01 March 2009


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