28 December 2010

J. J. C. Smart on the Moral Elite

J. J. C. Smart Let us think of the more moral members of society as a moral elite, much as the generality of scientists form a scientific elite. I hope I do not need to stress that such a moral elite must not be confused with a social or intellectual elite. Many people of no great education and of no prestigious social position certainly belong to my envisaged moral elite. If we judge this moral elite by its adherence to something like the Golden Rule of the New Testament, there is not all that much room for its improvement, except, as I suggested earlier, for the extension of our moral sympathies to nonhuman animals. This last implies of course an improvement in ethics, as opposed to morality, as I have defined it, unless we already understand 'Do as you would be done by' as applicable to whales, cattle, chickens, and so on, as it is to human beings. Of course fully to understand what this injunction comes to we need to take into account theories about the degree of consciousness that various creatures possess. I would suppose that the consciousness of whales is comparable to ours, that of chickens very different, and that of lizards very conjectural. When our philosophical and scientific knowledge of minds is greater we may be able to improve on our estimates. Of course even though they may not have the capacity for happiness and suffering that whales have, nevertheless I would suppose that chickens can suffer quite a lot, even though their consciousness should be very much a sort of daze, and this should be taken into account in our dealings with them. Perhaps in order to qualify for a moral elite one should become a heroic vegetarian like Peter Singer. I am myself not so heroic. I eat eggs though they may come from battery hens. Moreover at present I see no moral objection to eating the flesh of free range cattle, which seem to me to have a happy life which they would not have at all if they were not destined to be eaten. But this is a digression and I must return to my main theme.

(J. J. C. Smart, "Ethics and Science," Philosophy 56 [October 1981]: 449-65, at 453 [italics in original])

18 December 2010

An Invitation to Live Consistently in 2011

In her well-reasoned and thoughtful Huffington Post column, Kathy Stevens invites all of us to let 2011 be the year that we finally decide to live in accordance with our own most cherished values.

Happy Holidays!

01 December 2010

H. J. McCloskey on Animal Rights

Snow monkeys As regards animals, the position is clear. If an animal has the relevant moral capacities, actually or potentially, then it can be a possessor of rights. The evidence available to date about the rational capacities of animals is far from complete, but to date it appears to be decidedly unfavourable to the view that any animals possess the relevant moral capacities. Thus, whilst research on chimpanzees, monkeys, and many other animals, reveals a significant degree of rationality which provides an important ground for justified moral demands that they be better treated than they now are, the degree and kind of rationality fall far short of that necessary for moral judgment and moral self-determination. Although there is limited evidence in respect of certain animals of a capacity for seeming 'self-sacrificing', 'disinterested', 'benevolent' actions in limited, somewhat arbitrary areas, there is no real evidence of a capacity to make moral judgments, morally to discriminate when self-sacrifice, gratitude, loyalty, benevolence is morally appropriate, and more relevantly, to assess their moral rights and to exercise them within their moral limits. However, further research on animals such as whales and dolphins, although seemingly not in respect to monkeys, apes, chimpanzees, may yet reveal that man is not the only animal capable of being a bearer of rights. It may for this reason be morally appropriate for us meanwhile to act towards the former animals as if they are possessors of rights.

(H. J. McCloskey, "Moral Rights and Animals," Inquiry 22 [summer 1979]: 23-54, at 42-3 [italics in original])


This blog had 3,902 visits during November, which is an average of 130.0 per day.

28 November 2010

Seventh Anniversary

I started this blog seven years ago today: on 28 November 2003. There have been 179,090 visits during that time, which is an average of 25,584.2 visits per year (70.0 per day). The past year has been quite successful, with 34,463 visits (an average of 94.4 per day). I post only rarely, but the blog should be useful as an archive. Please use the search box in the upper left corner to locate posts on various topics.

21 November 2010

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Hero Dog From Afghan Base Is Killed by Mistake in Arizona” (front page, Nov. 19):

The story of Target, the Afghan hero dog, is truly heartbreaking. The important lesson, however, one that would add to Target’s legacy, is that all of us who love our dogs need to make sure that they have a tag and, even better, a microchip. This misadventure could have been avoided!

Sandy Brenner
Elkins, N.H., Nov. 19, 2010

12 November 2010

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) on the Ridicule of Vegetarians

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) But what of the many individual failures, it is asked, among those who make trial of Vegetarianism? Taking the circumstances into account, the failures cannot be regarded as numerous; for in every such movement there are half-hearted people who are impelled by motives of restlessness and curiosity, rather than of real conviction, and in view of the personal obstacles that beset the path of the Vegetarian, it is not surprising that in food-reform, as in drink-reform, there are a certain number of backsliders. In an ordinary household every possible influence, social and domestic, is brought to bear on the heretic who abstains from flesh foods. Anxious relatives and indignant friends adjure him to remember the duty he owes to himself and to his family, and urge him for the sake of those dear to him, if not for his own, to return to that great sacramental bond of union between man and man—the eating of our non-human fellow-beings. Is he smitten by one of the numberless ailments that are the stock-in-trade of the physician, and of which flesh-eaters are daily the victims in every part of the world? The doctor looks wise, shakes his head, and informs a sorrowing circle that it is the direct result of "his vegetarianism." Above all, the fear of ridicule, acting on the natural unwillingness of mankind to venture along unknown paths, is a strong deterrent; for there are still many persons to whom the idea of abstinence from butchers' meat is positively a matter for merriment, and it seems fated that Vegetarianism, like every new principle, must be a target for such shafts. Well, so be it! We know that the struggle will be a long one; and if Vegetarianism has got to run the blockade of Noodledom, and a huge amount of foolish talk must perforce be fired off, the sooner the battle commences, and the sooner it is concluded, the better for all concerned. And ridicule, as the flesh-eater will learn, is a weapon which can be wielded by more parties than one.

(Henry S. Salt, The Logic of Vegetarianism: Essays and Dialogues [London: The Ideal Publishing Union, 1899], 114-5)

01 November 2010


This blog had 2,945 visits during October, which is an average of 95.0 visits per day. The average for September was 78.0.

31 October 2010

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “New Way to Help Chickens Cross to Other Side” (front page, Oct. 22):

PETA is proud to see that its hard work behind the scenes with Bell & Evans and other companies to encourage implementation of this new, less cruel form of slaughter is finally coming to fruition. By carrying out a slaughter system that greatly reduces the suffering of chickens, Bell & Evans and Mary’s Chickens show that animal welfare and good business go hand in hand.

With controlled-atmosphere killing, chickens aren’t dumped from their transport crates and do not suffer broken wings and legs while being shackled upside down, they’re never scalded to death in defeathering tanks, and there is no opportunity for workers to further abuse birds at the slaughterhouse, as PETA has documented in undercover investigations.

While ever more consumers are going vegetarian or vegan, almost every consumer is demanding that companies take steps to reduce animal suffering. Bell & Evans has heard them and set a new standard in the chicken-supply industry.

McDonald’s, are you listening?

Tracy Reiman
Executive Vice President
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Los Angeles, Oct. 25, 2010

04 October 2010

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Working to Keep a Heritage Relevant” (news article, Sept. 26):

The “heritage” of hunting will continue its decline into irrelevance and will eventually disappear.

It is useful to dispel two myths. First, there is no “heritage” of hunting as it is practiced today. In the early days trappers and others hunted for survival. They would be appalled to see how their survival “heritage” has been transformed.

Second, hunting is not a “sport,” since any true sport involves two or more competitors, either individuals or teams, similarly equipped, playing by the same rules, let the best individual or team win. There is no “sport” when one “competitor,” the hunter, equipped with a high-powered weapon, camouflage clothing and other devices, pursues an unsuspecting animal.

The reason hunting has no future in this country is that the next generation of potential hunters will not accept these myths. The next generation understands that the slaughter of our precious wildlife is unethical and has no place in modern society.

Robert H. Aland
Winnetka, Ill., Sept. 29, 2010

01 October 2010


This blog had 2,340 visits during the month of September. That's an average of 78.0 visits per day, which is an increase over the 62.7 of August.

27 September 2010

Philip E. Devine on Demi-Vegetarianism

Philip E. Devine Some might argue that while eating meat is in general acceptable, we are under an obligation to abstain from meat produced in particularly harsh ways: from veal perhaps, or from lobster or from pâté de foie gras. Others might argue that what is important is the level of the animal's evolutionary development, so that while it is acceptable to eat poultry one should abstain from the flesh of animals, or while it is acceptable to eat fish one should abstain from the flesh of warm-blooded animals. Or one might distinguish according to the kinds of value which may justify the eating of meat: turkey dinners on holidays with the family might be thought legitimate, while a bachelor cooking for himself would be under an obligation to abstain from meat. And there are many who see nothing wrong with buying meat at a supermarket, while disapproving of hunting even when the resulting meat is eaten by the hunter's family. Finally, one might, without accepting vegetarian ideas oneself, still feel that vegetarians are entitled to the kind of respect frequently accorded to pacifists by those who do not share their convictions.

(Philip E. Devine, "The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism," Philosophy 53 [October 1978]: 481-505, at 502 [footnote omitted])

20 September 2010

H. J. McCloskey on Punishment of Cruelty to Animals

[T]here is another class of cases where the state is accorded the right to interfere with the individual when he is not interfering with any other person, namely, where cruelty to animals is involved. We accept that the state has the right to ban cruelty to animals, even when such cruelty is in the interests of the person being cruel, for example, of the greyhound owner who trains his dog on cats, first removing the cat's claws to protect his dog from injury, or of the householder who half-starves his dog so that he can have an extra beer or two, or of the person who hunts kangaroos, wounding many and killing a few, for the fun of the sport. Legislation forbidding cruelty to animals represents the use of coercion against the interests of the individual coerced, and not to further the interests of any other person (it may do so but need not to be justified). Yet it is legislation that few of us should wish to condemn as lacking in justification. (It is, of course, arguable that the liberal who is prepared to allow state legislation against cruelty to animals is compromising his liberalism, even though it is typically in liberal societies that we find such legislation. Certainly a strange mode of justification is offered along the lines of interpreting animals as weaker members of the community, as individuals who cannot protect their own interests, and who therefore need the sort of protection extended to others such as children, lunatics, etc., who cannot protect their interests. Animals, in fact, are not members of the community, they are not weaker individuals in the sense that children are, and this is recognised in very many ways.)

(H. J. McCloskey, "Some Arguments for a Liberal Society," Philosophy 43 [October 1968]: 324-44, at 330-1)

19 September 2010

President Clinton Goes Vegan!

Former president Bill Clinton has been following an essentially vegan diet since May for its health benefits. (A vegan diet is an entirely plant-based diet centered around whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and beans, and contains absolutely no animal products—i.e., it contains no meat of any sort, no fish, no seafood, no dairy products, and no eggs.) The only thing that prevents his diet from being completely vegan is that once in a while, he eats fish, but not often. He notes that 82% of people who follow a low-fat vegan diet (like the diet recommended by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. Dean Ornish, and Dr. T. Colin Campbell) are able to reverse heart disease, and he is trying to be in that 82% so that he can live long enough to enjoy his grandchildren. President Clinton discusses his decision to go vegan here. If you'd like to join President Clinton in adopting a heart-healthy vegan diet, you can find menus, recipes, and other meal-planning ideas at the PCRM's 21-Day Vegan Kickstart Mealplan.

01 September 2010


This blog had 1,944 visits during August, which is an average of 62.7 visits per day.

25 August 2010

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “A Hen’s Space to Roost” (Week in Review, Aug. 15):

We are glad to see an article describing the intensive confinement of egg-laying chickens, but we disagree when it says that animal advocates and consumers are “driving big changes” in the treatment of chickens.

Thus far, the state ballot initiatives and agreements that will expand space for chickens (as well as for gestating pigs and veal calves) are really very minor. At most, chickens will be guaranteed room to spread their wings. They will still lack the freedom to engage in natural behaviors like foraging and nesting. Most will never know sunlight, breezes, plants or soil.

At our farm sanctuary, we see how much chickens rescued from factory farms delight in these experiences. Like humans, animals have a right to enjoy life.

Bill Crain
Ellen Crain
Poughquag, N.Y., Aug. 15, 2010

The writers are co-founders of Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary.

20 August 2010

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “A Hen’s Space to Roost” (Week in Review, Aug. 15):

I have one very simple piece of advice for consumers interested in higher-quality eggs from humanely treated chickens: stop buying eggs at the grocery store. I distribute locally produced, free-range eggs from my home to a small group of friends, but these kinds of eggs are widely available through farmers’ markets at prices that range from $2 to $3.50 a dozen.

The eggs we eat come from chickens that spend their days outside, scratching and eating grubs. In addition to allowing me to feel good about eating the fruits of their labor, they are the most delicious eggs—with shockingly rich, bright-yellow yolks—that have ever graced my lips. I’ll never go back.

Josh Miner
La Crosse, Wis., Aug. 15, 2010

The writer is farm-to-school coordinator for the La Crosse County Health Department and a former W. K. Kellogg food and society policy fellow.

11 August 2010

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Disgusting but Not Illegal” (editorial, Aug. 2): We disagree with your contention that the First Amendment protects animal “crush” videos.

In United States v. Stevens, the Supreme Court last year overturned a 1999 law banning depictions of animal cruelty on the grounds of overbreadth. The justices were legitimately concerned that the law could impede valid speech. But they explicitly reserved judgment on a statute narrowly tailored to crush videos.

These videos, the subject of House legislation and of a bill that we plan to introduce, are beyond “disgusting”—and go beyond conventional conceptions of animal cruelty. They depict truly extreme forms of animal cruelty—often involving young women torturing small animals—and are created for the prurient interest of a small sick segment of society.

While all 50 states and the District of Columbia have animal cruelty laws, the anonymity of the perpetrators in the videos severely frustrates enforcement efforts, so we need to ban the sale of these videos.

We share your opposition to tinkering with the First Amendment. And the Supreme Court’s decision is a reminder of the importance of narrowly tailoring this legislation, but it has not determined that these crush videos constitute protected speech. We believe our new legislation will pass constitutional muster.

Jon Kyl
Jeff Merkley
Richard Burr
Washington, Aug. 5, 2010

The writers are United States senators.

01 August 2010


There were 2,003 visits to this blog during July, which is an average of 64.6 visits per day.

21 July 2010

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

In your July 12 editorial “A Humane Egg,” you disparage the modern, sanitary housing systems for egg-laying hens, which have improved chickens’ health and well-being, improved consumer food safety and kept eggs a nutritious and economical staple on kitchen tables and restaurant menus nationwide.

These modern systems allow hens to stand up, turn around, lie down and walk to clean water and nutritious food troughs. Groups like the American Veterinary Medical Association support these modern egg-laying housing systems.

The California law adds an arbitrary and unscientific requirement that chickens be prohibited from touching one another or the side of any enclosure. Yet there is no scientific proof that the requirement will improve chicken well-being or food safety.

The new law will cost American family farmers, and ultimately California consumers, hundreds of millions of dollars.

Gene Gregory
President, United Egg Producers
Alpharetta, Ga., July 13, 2010

To the Editor:

Today tens of thousands of American farmers don’t even own the livestock they raise, and the conditions they raise animals in are dictated to them by a handful of extremely powerful companies that are concerned only with the bottom line.

So while The Times is to be commended for continuing to highlight the many terrible aspects of factory farms, including inhumane confinement practices, let’s not forget that because of the extraordinary consolidation and vertical integration of American agriculture over the last 60-plus years, American farmers are enduring extraordinary suffering as well.

Inhumane confinement, illegal anticompetitive practices and factory farming hurt animals, the environment, the consumer, the public health and the farmer. Reversing the agricultural trends of the last half century is a policy area where almost everyone’s interests are aligned.

Regina Weiss
Brooklyn, July 12, 2010

12 July 2010

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) on Progress

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) Does Vegetarianism progress? Yes and no, according to the expectations, reasonable and unreasonable, that its supporters have been cherishing. If we have fondly hoped to witness, in the near future, the triumph of the humaner living, it must be allowed that the actual rate of progress is extremely disheartening; but if, on the contrary, we work under a rational understanding that a widespread change of diet, like any other radical change, is a matter not of years but of centuries, then we shall not find in the slow growth of our movement any reason for dissatisfaction. Revolution in personal habits, be it remembered, is even more difficult than revolution in political forms, and needs a greater time for its fulfilment; and looked at in this light, Vegetarianism has made as much progress, during the past half-century, as any other cause which aims at so far-reaching a change.

(Henry S. Salt, The Logic of Vegetarianism: Essays and Dialogues [London: The Ideal Publishing Union, 1899], 114)

From Today's New York Times

A Humane Egg

The life of animals raised in confinement on industrial farms is slowly improving, thanks to pressure from consumers, animal rights advocates, farmers and legislators. In late June, a compromise was reached in Ohio that will gradually put an end to the tiny pens used for raising veal calves and holding pregnant sows, spaces so small the animals can barely move.

In California last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law requiring that all whole eggs sold in the state conform to the provisions of Proposition 2, the humane farming law that was embraced by state voters in a landslide in 2008. By 2015, every whole egg sold in the state must come from a hen that is able to stretch her wings, standing or lying, without touching another bird or the edges of her cage. This requirement would at least relieve the worst of the production horrors that are common in the industry now.

Since California does not produce all the eggs it eats, this new law will have a wider effect on the industry; every producer who hopes to sell eggs in the state must meet its regulations.

Heartening as these developments are, there is also strong resistance from the food industry and from fake consumer-advocacy groups that are shilling for it.

In fact, there is no justification, economic or otherwise, for the abusive practice of confining animals in spaces barely larger than the volume of their bodies. Animals with more space are healthier, and they are no less productive.

Industrial confinement is cruel and senseless and will turn out to be, we hope, a relatively short-lived anomaly in modern farming.

01 July 2010


This blog had 2,066 visits during June, which is an average of 68.8 visits per day.

12 June 2010

J. J. C. Smart on Ethical Progress

J. J. C. Smart If there has been progress in ethics recently it has been through the realization of some ethicists that animal happiness and suffering has to be considered equally with that of human beings. I should draw attention here to the remarkable book Animal Liberation by Professor Peter Singer of Monash University. Christian ethics has been deficient in this respect, since animals have been regarded as things made by God for the use of men. However, utilitarianism has been mindful of animals. Unlike Kantians, who are primarily concerned with the rationality of those with whom we deal, Bentham, for example, was clear that the important question was not whether animals were rational, but was whether they can suffer. At any rate, the increased attention to the sufferings of animals is one of the most notable examples of progress in ethics over the last hundred years or so. We should, of course, be equally mindful of extra-terrestrial consciousnesses, should we come across any such and have to interact with them.

(J. J. C. Smart, "Ethics and Science," Philosophy 56 [October 1981]: 449-65, at 450 [footnotes omitted])

01 June 2010


There were 2,566 visits to this blog during May, which is an average of 82.7 visits per day.

01 May 2010


This blog had 3,418 visits during April, which is an average of 113.9 visits per day.

20 April 2010

Freedom of Speech

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment protects depictions of animal cruelty. This does not mean that it protects animal cruelty, which is (and ought to be) illegal in every state.

05 April 2010


I'm a dog person, not a bird person, but I understand the loss suffered by my friend Peg today.

04 April 2010


This is a few years old, but everyone should read it.

01 April 2010


This blog had 4,003 visits during March, which is an average of 129.1 visits per day. It's the fourth-best month in the blog's history.

30 March 2010

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Animal Abuse as Clue to Additional Cruelties” (news article, March 18):

As someone who deals with dozens of cruelty-to-animals cases every week, I applaud states that are imposing stricter penalties on people who hurt animals and that are working to establish online registries of animal abusers.

Animal abusers are cowards who take their issues out on “easy victims”—and their targets often include their fellow humans. I cannot begin to say how many incidents I’ve seen involving animal abusers who commit violent acts against humans, and animal neglecters who have also neglected their children or other human dependents.

Treating cruelty to animals with the seriousness it deserves doesn’t only protect animals, it also makes the entire community safer.

Martin Mersereau
Norfolk, Va., March 18, 2010
The writer is director of the Emergency Response Team, cruelty investigations department, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

04 March 2010

Animal Rights

Here is a New York Times blog post about legal rights for animals.

01 March 2010


This blog had 3,399 visits during February, which is an average of 121.3 visits per day.

22 February 2010

A Look at Humane Farming

The film Partitions (running time: 14 minutes) by Audrey Kali gives an intimate glimpse of the ethical struggles that five small-scale meat farmers face when their animals are slaughtered. In this film, we see farmers interacting with the animals they will eventually transform into food (chickens, pigs, and cattle). The farmers in the film confront very difficult questions posed by the filmmaker about why they think their approach to processing of meat is different from that of factory farming. Although the farmers can easily answer that their animals are treated more humanely whilst alive, their discomfort about being asked questions regarding the slaughter process is visually and audibly obvious.

This film provides an accurate portrayal of small-scale, non-intensive animal farming. This is as humane as "humane farming" gets. One of the farmers interviewed says: "We give our pigs and our chickens many weeks of relatively happy life." The farmer fails to note that the natural lifespan of pigs is 11-15 years and the natural lifespan of chickens is 5-11 years, depending on breed. After watching the film, the viewer can decide whether giving these animals a few weeks of "a relatively happy life" is humane enough to justify taking these animals' lives for products that no one needs.

12 February 2010

Sanctuary Tails

Here is the Farm Sanctuary blog.

06 February 2010

Philip E. Devine on the Vegetarian's Dilemma

Philip E. Devine The sum of the matter is as follows. Either the vegetarian argues on utilitarian premises, or he tries to supplement or replace his utilitarianism with some plausible non-utilitarian principles implying the wrongfulness of rearing and killing animals for food. In the first case, there is no way around the suggestion, which many people appear to believe, that animal experience is so lacking in intensity that the pains of animals are overridden by the pleasures experienced by human beings. That the argument may appear cynical is no concern of the utilitarian, who is forced by his moral theory to admit the relevance of even the most cynical-seeming arguments. On the other hand, all the non-utilitarian principles which have been put forward turn out on inspection to have reference only to human beings. If they were to be abandoned, the practical result would be more likely to be that human beings would be treated as we now treat animals rather than animals as we now treat (or believe that we should treat) human beings.

(Philip E. Devine, "The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism," Philosophy 53 [October 1978]: 481-505, at 491)

Note from KBJ: Devine's argument takes the following form:
1. Either the vegetarian argues on utilitarian grounds or the vegetarian argues on nonutilitarian grounds.

2. If the vegetarian argues on utilitarian grounds, then vegetarianism is unsupported.

3. If the vegetarian argues on nonutilitarian grounds, then vegetarianism is unsupported.


4. Either vegetarianism is unsupported or vegetarianism is unsupported (from 1, 2, and 3, constructive dilemma).


5. Vegetarianism is unsupported (from 4, tautology).
The argument is valid (i.e., truth-preserving), and the first premise is true, but the second premise is false. Devine seems to think that if humans cease eating meat, they will derive no pleasure from eating. But not eating meat doesn't mean you get no pleasure from eating; it means, at most, that you get less pleasure from eating. Think of the difference between eating a hamburger and eating a veggie burger, for example. It is not as though the latter produces no pleasure! So the choice is between inflicting terrible pain and deprivation on animals and getting slightly less pleasure from eating. It's pretty clear that utilitarianism supports vegetarianism. Certainly Devine has not established that it does not.

05 February 2010

W. V. Quine (1908-2000) on Altruism

W. V. Quine (1908-2000) There remains the awkward matter of a conflict of ultimate values within the individual. It could have to do with the choice of a career, or mate, or vacation spot. The predicament in such a non-moral case will concern only the individual and a few associates. When the ultimate values concerned are moral ones, on the other hand, and more particularly altruistic ones, the case is different; for the individual in such a dilemma has all society on his conscience.

The basic difficulty is that the altruistic values that we acquire by social conditioning and perhaps by heredity are vague and open-ended. Primitively the premium is on kin, and primitively therefore the tribe in its isolation affords a bold boundary between the beneficiaries of one's altruism and the alien world. Nowadays the boundary has given way to gradations. Moreover, we are prone to extrapolate; extrapolation was always intrinsic to induction, that primitive propensity that is at the root of all science. Extrapolation in science, however, is under the welcome restraint of stubborn fact: failures of prediction. Extrapolation in morals has only our unsettled moral values themselves to answer to, and it is these that the extrapolation was meant to settle.

Today we unhesitatingly extrapolate our altruism beyond our close community. Most of us extend it to all mankind. But to what degree? One cannot reasonably be called upon to love even one's neighbor quite as oneself. Is love to diminish inversely as the square of the distance? Is it to extend, in some degree, to the interests of individuals belonging to other species than [our] own? As regards capricious killing, one hopes so; but what of vivisection, and of the eating of red meat?

One thinks also of unborn generations. Insofar as our moral standards were shaped by evolution for fostering the survival of the race, a concern for the unborn was assured. One then proceeds, however, as one will, to systematize and minimize one's ethical axioms by reducing some causally to others. This effort at system-building leads to the formulation and scrutiny of principles, and one is then taken aback by the seeming absurdity of respecting the interests of nonexistent people: of unactualized possibilities. This counter-revolutionary bit of moral rationalization is welcome as it touches population control, since the blind drive to mass procreation is now so counter-productive. But the gratification is short-lived, for the same rationalization would seem to condone a despoiling of the environment for the exclusive convenience of people now living.

It need not. A formulation is ready to hand which sustains the moral values that favor limiting the population while still safeguarding the environment. Namely, it is a matter of respecting the future interests of people now unborn, but only of future actual people. We recognize no present unactualized possibilities.

Thus we do what we can with our ultimate values, but we have to deplore the irreparable lack of the empirical check points that are the solace of the scientist. Loose ends are untidy at best, and disturbingly so when the ultimate good is at stake.

(W. V. Quine, "On the Nature of Moral Values," in Values and Morals: Essays in Honor of William Frankena, Charles Stevenson, and Richard Brandt, ed. Alvin I. Goldman and Jaegwon Kim [Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1978], 37-45, at 44-5 [italics in original])

01 February 2010


This blog had 2,864 visits during January, which is an average of 92.3 visits per day.

28 January 2010

Farm Sanctuary

Click here if you'd like to sponsor a farm animal for Valentine's Day.

17 January 2010

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “More Perils of Ground Meat” (editorial, Jan. 10):

Instead of encouraging efforts to improve food safety, you demonize a company that had the courage to invest in innovative technology proved to be effective in reducing dangerous pathogens.

The American food safety system is the highest standard in the world, and our ground beef is the safest.

According to the most recent information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s FoodNet Data, there have been no significant increases in food-borne illness since 2005, and there were significant declines before then.

Furthermore, recent analysis by the Food Safety and Inspection Service for E. coli O157:H7 shows that in the last year the percent of positive raw ground beef samples has dropped from to 0.30 percent from 0.47 percent at federally inspected establishments.

Furthermore, where there was a modest increase detected in raw ground beef components, Beef Products Inc.’s rate of positives is well below industry averages (0.05 percent for 2009 versus 0.99 percent).

Food safety is the No. 1 goal of industry, government and consumers. Beef Products’ technology, which has been approved by both the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration—as is thoroughly set forth on its Web site—provides consumers safe products.

Jeremy Russell
Director of Communications and Government Relations
National Meat Association
Oakland, Calif., Jan. 11, 2010

To the Editor:

I’ve been involved in beef safety research since college, and I don’t recognize the industry you’ve depicted in recent articles.

Your readers probably don’t realize how many different individuals—university researchers, lab technicians, quality assurance managers and so many others—work daily to bring safe beef to dinner tables across the country.

E. coli O157:H7 and other food-borne threats are tough, adaptable foes. But the people who raise and package beef share a commitment to aggressively finding and applying safety solutions that keep them out of our food.

Beef farmers and ranchers alone have invested more than $28 million since 1993 in beef safety research, and the industry as a whole invests an estimated $350 million a year on safety.

I know the people of the beef industry, and I’m proud of the work we do every day to provide safe food.

Mandy Carr Johnson
Executive Director of Research
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
Centennial, Colo., Jan. 11, 2010

16 January 2010

From the Mailbag


As a historian or even an anthropologist, one could make the argument that being a vegetarian limits one's ability to understand other cultures. I, like you, am not a complete vegetarian. In fact, my diet is worse, but I do justify my eating habits. I refuse to eat pork, but eat grass-fed beef when I am making Persian food, and certain forms of chicken and lamb with other ethnic foods I consume. I also have a rule to eat any cultural food when I am traveling to another country or am a guest or have guests of people from another culture who eat food with meat. Food is such an important part of history. In many ways, it has a lot to do with defining one's culture. If a person is in a discipline in which he or she is attempting to understand a culture or wants to experience a culture, vegetarianism is nearly impossible. So, how you would respond a person like me who cares for animal welfare, consciously stays away from the worse meat he can, and eats it mostly for cultural reasons. When I do cook it (which is maybe once every two weeks), I try to be a responsible as possible.


Note from KBJ: Thanks for writing, Brad. Suppose you travel to a place in which cannibalism is practiced. Do you eat the human flesh served to you by your hosts? Suppose they eat feces, grubs, dirt, or vomit; do you partake? By your logic, you cannot understand them unless you do. And why limit it to food? There are other customs besides diet. Suppose your hosts offer you young women for sex, as occurred with Lewis and Clark. Can you possibly understand them if you refuse? What if it's customary to allow guests to torture or kill one of the tribe? Can you possibly understand them if you refuse? Some things, I think you will agree, are more important than understanding. In other words, there are moral limits to science, as to law.

10 January 2010

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Company’s Record on Treatment of Beef Is Called Into Question” (front page, Dec. 31):

Would the average American have believed that hamburgers were treated with ammonia to remove salmonella and E. coli (or, in many cases, not remove them)?

An earlier article recounted an E. coli outbreak traced to Cargill (“The Burger That Shattered Her Life,” front page, Oct. 4). It, too, traced, with a great deal of investigative reporting, the journey fat trimmings take through the meatpacking industry. This is not unlike what we hear from financial institutions trying to track (or not) derivatives. It’s like trying to grip mercury.

The United States Department of Agriculture has been broken for a long time, and it is clear that it cannot protect the American public from illness and death from contaminated meat products. How many more Americans must die before something is done?

Perhaps simplifying the whole process would eliminate the need for multiple inspections, saving the U.S.D.A. labor costs and saving the lives of hamburger lovers.

Why not add only ground fat belonging to the meat being ground? Period. No outside fat trimmings! Sounds too easy, doesn’t it?

Evelyn Wolfson
Wayland, Mass., Dec. 31, 2009

To the Editor:

Let me see if I have this straight: We are now feeding our children stuff that used to be reserved for dog food, by treating it with ammonia, in order to save three cents a pound? Hey, why not just feed the little tykes dog food? I’m sure it would save even more money.

By the way, since we are using the former scraps (described as “pink slime” by one microbiologist) for people now, what are we feeding the dogs?

Mary Ellen Croteau
Chicago, Dec. 31, 2009

To the Editor:

In the United States Department of Agriculture’s dual, and often conflicting, roles as protector of consumers and promoter of agricultural products, it has once again made a clear choice.

By approving the revolting and often ineffective use of ammonia to sanitize the results of substandard meat processing, it has chosen the profits of big business over food safety for all Americans.

Instead of allowing companies to find ways to turn food a dog might reject into cheap human food, shouldn’t the U.S.D.A. concern itself with why there are E. coli and salmonella in our food supply in the first place?

Jan Weber
Brooklyn, Jan. 2, 2010

To the Editor:

If you can smell a chemical in your food, it’s an ingredient.

Andrew L. Chang
Stanford, Calif., Jan. 1, 2010

To the Editor:

Your article gave a whole new meaning to “Where’s the Beef?”

Not in my mouth.

Lesley Lee
Phoenix, Jan. 1, 2010

Note from KBJ: Enjoy your hamburger.

07 January 2010

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) on Zoophily

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) And here we see the inevitable logic of Vegetarianism, if our belief in the Rights of Animals is ever to quit the stage of theory and enter the stage of fact; for just as there can be no human rights where there is slavery, so there can be no animal rights where there is eating of flesh. "To keep a man, slave or servant," says Edward Carpenter, "for your own advantage merely, to keep an animal that you may eat it, is a lie; you cannot look that man or animal in the face." I am not saying that it is not a good thing that quite apart from food-reform, anti-vivisectionists should be denouncing the doings of the Scientific Inquisition, while humanitarians of another school are exposing the horrors of sport, for Cruelty is a many-headed monster, and there must at times be a concentration of energy on a particular spot; but I do say that any reasoned principle of kindness to animals which leaves Vegetarianism outside its scope is, in the very nature of things, foredoomed to failure and decay. Vegetarianism is an essential part of any true Zoophily, and the reason why it is not more generally recognised as such is the same as that which excludes it from the plan of the Progressive—that it is so upsetting to the everyday habits of the average man. Few of us, comparatively, care to murder birds in "sport," and still fewer to cut up living animals in the supposed interests of "science," but we have all been taught to regard flesh-food as a necessity, and it is a matter, at first, of some effort and self-denial to rid ourselves of complicity in butchering. Herein is at once the strength and the weakness of the case for Vegetarianism—the strength as regards its logic, and the weakness as regards its unpopularity—that it makes more direct personal demand on the earnestness of its believers than other forms of Zoophily do; for which reason there is a widespread, though perhaps unconscious, tendency among zoophilists to evade it.

(Henry S. Salt, The Logic of Vegetarianism: Essays and Dialogues [London: The Ideal Publishing Union, 1899], 110 [italics in original])

05 January 2010

Do Animals Have Rights?

Here is a talk by Mylan Engel.


This blog had 3,084 visits during December, which is an average of 99.4 per day.

01 January 2010

Enjoy the Ethical Synergy of Healthy Eating in 2010!

January is the time of New Year's resolutions. Like most Americans, you have probably resolved to get in better shape and to lose weight. Why not make this the year that you get serious and take a meaningful step toward improving your health and reducing your waistline by experimenting with a vegan diet for 21 days? If you are like most people, you will be amazed at (i) how much weight you will lose, (ii) how much better you will feel, and (iii) how much more energy you will have. If you have been a regular reader of my posts, you already know that switching to a vegan diet devoid of meat and animal products almost always results in significantly lower plasma cholesterol levels. A vegan diet also significantly reduces the risk of heart disease and some cancers, while lowering blood pressure and risk of type II diabetes, and is, thus, an extremely effective means of helping you to achieve your goal of improved health.

It has never been easier to try out a vegan diet. Today marks Day 1 of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine's 21-Day Vegan Kickstart. This 21-day program is designed for anyone who wants to explore and experience the health benefits of a vegan diet, and it's free! That's right, free! You can access the PCRM's 21-day meal plan, complete with delicious easy-to-prepare recipes, here. If you would like to receive, via email, daily e-tips to put you on the path to weight loss, better health, and greater well-being, you can register for the 21-Day Kickstart here. If you do register, a delicious, easy, and satisfying recipe will be emailed to you every day that will help you break your cravings for unhealthy foods. You will also receive weekly motivational nutrition webcasts featuring Dr. Neal Barnard, President of the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Elsewhere in this blog (see here, here, and here), I have written about ethical synergy, the regularly observed phenomenon that simultaneously showing respect for persons (including oneself), animals, and the environment typically benefits all three groups (including oneself). Switching to a cruelty-free vegan diet is yet another powerful example of ethical synergy at work. By not ingesting animals you will not only be refusing to support the unnecessary animal cruelty inherent in modern animal agriculture, you will be taking positive steps toward improving your health, eating right, and losing weight, steps much more likely to result in permanent weight loss and improved cardiovascular health than unhealthful fad diets that cannot be sustained for the long haul. You will also be dramatically reducing your carbon footprint, a boon for the environment! Eating vegan is good for you, good for animals, and good for the Earth. Now that's a New Year's Resolution we can all live with!

The Bottom Line: And this time I do mean BOTTOM line! Try the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart. You have nothing to lose but your gut and your butt!

Bon Appetit!