31 August 2009

Call for Papers

Lori Gruen, who attended graduate school with Mylan and me at the University of Arizona, asked me to publicize a special issue of Hypatia devoted to "animal others." Lori is one of the guest editors.

28 August 2009


Some people abstain from meat for religious rather than moral reasons. See here.

21 August 2009

Moral Vegetarianism, Part 10 of 13

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

The Argument from Superior Aliens’ Invasion

John Harris advances the following consideration to show the immorality of eating meat.

Suppose that tomorrow a group of beings from another planet were to land on Earth, beings who considered themselves as superior to you as you feel yourself to be to other animals. Would they have the right to treat you as you treat animals you breed, keep, and kill for food?

The implication is certainly that it would be inconsistent for us to think that it is morally permissible for us to eat nonhuman animals but wrong for superior aliens to eat us.

But it is not clear that it is inconsistent if there is a relevant moral difference between animals and humans not found between humans and superior aliens. Our discussion above of the concept of person suggests a difference. Most human beings and presumably all of Harris’s aliens are persons. Most animals are probably not persons. Consequently, if personhood is the ground for the right to life, there need be no inconsistency in maintaining that it is morally permissible for us to kill and eat most animals, given that we cause them no pain, preserve the ecological balance, and so on, and that it is wrong for the aliens to kill and eat us, even though they kill us painlessly and so on.

KBJ: The following three propositions are inconsistent:

1. There is no morally relevant difference between humans and animals that would (a) justify the eating of animals by humans without (b) justifying the eating of humans by superior aliens.

2. It is wrong for superior aliens to eat humans.

3. It is not wrong for humans to eat animals.

The truth of any two of these propositions entails the falsity of the third. Since the propositions are inconsistent, every rational person must reject at least one of them. Harris rejects 3. Martin rejects 1. Do you know of anyone who rejects 2? Please don’t say that there aren’t any superior aliens. We don’t know that; and even if there aren’t, there could be, and it therefore makes sense to ask what one would say about them if they came here and wanted to eat us.

19 August 2009

J. J. C. Smart on the Moral Status of Animals

In the past I have been concerned to advocate a normative utilitarian theory from the point of view of a non-cognitivist meta-ethics. I assumed that Hume was right in thinking that ultimately morality depends on how we feel about things. In advocating utilitarianism to a group of people I therefore had to express my feelings and appeal to their feelings. I described the feelings to which I wished to appeal as "generalized benevolence." I described generalized benevolence as a desire for the happiness, or at any rate in some sense the good, of all mankind, or perhaps of all sentient beings. I now think that the "perhaps of all sentient beings" should be much more uncompromising. It is a merit of utilitarianism, with its stress on happiness and unhappiness, that lower animals must be considered along with human beings, so that they are not debarred from full or direct consideration because they are not "rational." Utilitarians will of course be equally mindful of the higher animals, some of which, such as whales and dolphins, for all we know may be about as rational as we are, and also of course of any creatures which are higher and more rational than we are and which we may conjecture exist in outer space, and, we may hope, in future times here on earth.

(J. J. C. Smart, "Utilitarianism and Generalized Benevolence," Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 61 [January-April 1980]: 115-21, at 115 [italics in original; endnote omitted])

Note from KBJ: Smart is mistaken if he thinks that only utilitarianism accords moral status to animals. Many prominent animal-rights advocates (such as Tom Regan) are deontologists rather than consequentialists. Perhaps Smart was still thinking (in 1980) of Kant versus Bentham, rationality versus sentience. If so, then he is to be excused; but nobody today can think that any particular moral theory has an advantage over the others based on the status it accords animals. Peter Singer, like Smart, is a utilitarian, but he told me personally several years ago that his argument for animal liberation is independent of utilitarianism. This is good, because if animal liberation depended on or presupposed utilitarianism, there would be far fewer people who believe that animals have moral status.

17 August 2009


Here is a blog for your consideration.

14 August 2009

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) on Academic Hypocrisy

To the so-called ethical, no less than to the political school of thought, the question of Vegetarianism is unwelcome, obtruding as it does on the polite wordiness of academic discussion with an issue so coarsely downright: "You are a member of an Ethical Society—do you live by butchery?" But the ethics of diet are the very last subject with which a cultured Ethical Society would concern itself, and the attitude of the modern "ethicist" towards the rights of animals is still that of the mediƦval schoolman. The ethicist does not wish to forego [sic] his beef and mutton, so he frames his ethics to avoid the danger of such mishap, and while he talks of high themes with the serene wisdom of a philosopher, the slaughter-houses continue to run blood.

(Henry S. Salt, The Logic of Vegetarianism: Essays and Dialogues [London: The Ideal Publishing Union, 1899], 108 [footnote omitted])

Note from KBJ: Sadly, not much has changed in the past 110 years. Many philosophers who rail against torture, capital punishment, war, racism, and indifference to human poverty have no qualms about consuming animal flesh. Can you say "cognitive dissonance"?

10 August 2009

The Bilby

One of our readers sent a link to this story about the Australian bilby.

06 August 2009

Reasonable Humans and Animals

Here is a crisp (but badly edited) essay by philosopher Nathan Nobis. I like Nathan's distinction between "Oh yeah?" and "So what!" as replies to an argument. Suppose you claim that proposition C follows, logically, from propositions P1 and P2. There are two mistakes you can be making. First, one or more of your premises may be false. Second, your conclusion may not follow, logically, from your premises, even if the premises are true. If I reject one of your premises, I'm saying, in effect, "Oh yeah?" If I deny that your conclusion follows from your premises, I'm saying, in effect, "So what (if your premises are true)!"

04 August 2009

"The Chicken Craze"

Here is a New York Times story about the growing number of people who raise chickens.

03 August 2009

Peter Singer

Here is an interview with Peter Singer.

02 August 2009


This man argues that vegetarianism is immoral. Why is it immoral? Because it is "based . . . on the principle that animals are morally equivalent to humans." Vegetarianism is based on the principle that animals matter, morally. It says nothing about whether animals are "morally equivalent" to humans (whatever that means). The author seems to grasp this point in his penultimate paragraph, but doesn't notice that it undercuts his argument. Let me put it bluntly: If animals matter at all, they win, because there is no weighty interest on the other side of the scale. How sad, that such bad reasoning as this man's should see the light of day in a prominent place.

01 August 2009


This blog had 1,743 visits during July. That's an average of 56.2 visits per day. Traffic is always lower during the summer months.