There are two main moral issues concerning our dealings with animals (here
by "animals" I mean non-human animals):
- Do animals belong in the moral sphere intrinsically or
- If they belong to the sphere of morality intrinsically,
how should we deal with them?
animals belong in the moral sphere intrinsically?
Of course (some) animals belong within the moral sphere parasitically: they
are someone's pets or property, and harming them is indirectly harming
their owner. However, here we are addressing a different issue: Do
animals per se belong in the moral sphere? Those who adopt a negative
answer, e.g. Aquinas or Kant, embrace radical speciesism: Since animals
don't fall within the purview of morality, we can do with them as we please;
consequently, even trivial human interests take precedence over vital animal
Arguments for Radical Speciesism:
- We are made in God's
image; animals aren't
Problem: Difficult to see why this is relevant.† Moreover, animals feel pain, and causing
unnecessary pain seems evil.
- We have immortal souls;
it's hard to see the relevance of having or lacking an immortal soul to being a
subject of morality or not. If anything, the lack of an immortal soul should
make us more sympathetic to animals.
- At Genesis
1:26 God gives humans dominion over the animals: they exist for us to
do what we want with them.
Problem: From the fact that we have dominion over animals it does
not even begin to follow that we are allowed to do whatever we want with
them.† A ruler can be good or evil.
is, of course, the broader problem of the Ďhistoricalí truth of Genesis.
- Animals are mere
machines, without any sensations or feeling. Hence, picking
an animal apart is like breaking a watch, which per se is certainly not
morally wrong. By contrast, humans are conscious.
Problem: The idea that animals are mere machines seems false for
three main reasons:
have no sense of self through time; they can at most experience disconnected
fragments of pain. But these fragments of pain don't amount to suffering, which involves the
ability to think of oneself as being in pain through time.† But suffering, and not mere pain, is
- Animal behavior is
exactly what we would expect if animals had sensations and emotions
- The neural structures
which are involved in sensation and emotion in us have analogous
counterparts in some non-human animals (at least in mammals and
birds).† For example, scientists
have studied what happens in the brain of poultry when debeaking
occurs.† First, there is a firing
of A-fibers and then of B-fibers, just as when a human puts her hand on a
very hot surface.† In humans,
A-fiber stimulation is not associated with pain but is produces a quick
removal of the hand; B-fiber stimulation occurs after the hand has been
removed and is associated with pain.†
Evolutionary considerations suggest that the same is true for
birds.† When it comes to primates,
the possibility that they donít feel pain is unbelievably remote.
- All contemporary
primatologists use anthropomorphic considerations to understand the
behavior of apes.† Some even find
the emotional building blocks of morality in ape behavior.
- There is a lot of
evidence that some animals have a diachronic sense of self.
Moreover,† many animals do seem to
become stressed when in unpleasant situations for a long time.
- Why shouldn't pain fragments
count?† Pain is bad, fragmented or
Humans are persons, animals aren't. But only
persons are within the sphere of morality. Hence, animals are outside
Itís unclear what the necessary and sufficient conditions for personhood
are.† There are two main views:
- Strong version: An individual is a person if and only if it is
- self-conscious, i.e.
able to think of itself as itself through time.
- capable to act on the
basis of moral beliefs
good evidence that some animals satisfy (1).†
assuming that no animals satisfies (2), there are humans that fail to satisfy
(2) as well.† This would entail that some
human beings are not persons.
- Weak version: An individual is a
person if and only if it is
- conscious , e.g. aware
of one's surroundings.
- self- conscious, i.e.
able to think of oneself as oneself through time.
- able to reason and
know, e.g. plan, understand.
- a sentient being, e.g.
- able to have emotions.
Problem: Many, perhaps all,
non-human mammals satisfy (1)-(5).† One
could object than animals cannot reason, but that is ridiculously false. Crows
(!) can solve complex problems involving abstraction; chimps have a political
system involving alliances, medicate themselves, and have cultures.
it looks as if the strong version of personhood leaves out too many humans, and
the weak version lets in some animals.
further problem is that itís difficult to argue that only persons belong in the
Thought Question: Can you think of some
Arguments against Radical Speciesism:
- Utilitarian argument: If
animals are sentient, PU demands that their pains and pleasures be taken
- Some animals are emotionally
and intellectually similar to us, and therefore no harm should be
inflicted on them unless necessary.
NOTE: This can go very far.†
For example, since 1999 in New Zealand apes cannot be used in testing,
research, and teaching except in their own interest.
- Moral Individualism
argument (James Rachels): Morality demands that individual beings be
treated in the same way unless there is a relevant difference between them
which justifies the difference in treatment. Hence, if the treatment
involves pain, the fact that human A, but not the animal B, is a person,
is an irrelevant difference. What matters is that both A and B can
of those who find Radical Speciesism unacceptable and ill argued favor
cannot be moral agents (they're unable to engage in moral reasoning), and
consequently, although they do belong
in the moral sphere, the morally relevant differences between them and humans
are wide enough to justify very unequal moral treatment.
Problem: Some of the criticisms that affect Radical Speciesism (e.g.,
comatose humans, infants) affect Mild Speciesism as well.
Mild Speciesism, when trivial human interest and substantial
animal interest are in conflict, we should choose the latter. However,
when they are comparable (e.g. equal or not largely different), we
should give preference to human interests.†
For example, we should conduct animal experiments to find cures for
human diseases but nor to produce a new shampoo.
Thought Question: Do you find Mild Speciesism
attractive?† Why?† Why not?
B. If animals
intrinsically belong in the moral sphere, how should we deal with them?
This question can be broken down into three others:
it prima facie wrong to kill animals,
however painlessly (imagine zapping them out of existence, as it were)?
animal farming wrong?
animal experimentation wrong?
I. Is it prima facie permissible to kill
- Clearly, to the extent that an animal is a person, it
has a very substantive claim (a right) to life, and consequently it's
deeply wrong to kill it. As we saw, depending on which criteria for
personhood once accepts, there is a good ground for claiming that at least
some animals are persons.
more controversial issue is whether mere
sentience is enough to give some claim to life.† Some
Utilitarians say Ďyesí because a conscious being can derive pleasure from
satisfaction of desire, and eliminating pleasure is bad.
Thought Question: Do you think that only
persons have a claim to life?
Industrial animal farming
Before considering industrial animal farming and animal experimentation, it
may be helpful to make a few points about the Animal Welfare Act, the federal
law protecting animals. The original AWA was enacted in 1966, and revised
six times after that
- the law applies to animals; However, for the US,
"animal" doesn't mean what it seems to mean to the average
English speaker. In its original form (1966) the animals covered
were "live dogs, cats, monkeys (non-human primate animals), guinea
pigs, hamsters and rabbits." Later (1970) the term was
expanded to cover "any live or dead dog, cat, monkey (non human
primate mammal), guinea pig, hamster, rabbit, or such other warm-blooded
animal, as the Secretary may determine is being used, or is intended for
use, for research, testing, experimentation, or exhibition purposes or as
a pet; but such term excludes horses not used for research purposes and
other farm animals, such as, but not limited to livestock or poultry, used
or intended for use as food or fiber, or livestock or poultry used or
intended for improving animal nutrition, breeding, management or
production efficiency, or for improving the quality of food or fiber. With
respect to a dog the term means all dogs including those used for hunting,
security, or breeding purposes." The USDA, the agency charged
with providing the regulations for the AWA, interprets the term
"animal" to exclude "birds, rats of the genus Rattus and
mice of the genus Mus bred for use in research."
NOTE: the following animals are excluded: birds, Rattus, Mus
(i.e. mice and rats commonly used in labs), all cold-blooded animals; farm
animals, unless they are used in experiments; equines used in
entertainment events (e.g., rodeos, mule-diving, etc.), reptiles, birds,
and amphibians. However, birds suddenly become animals when
animal-fighting ventures are concerned (if the relevant state law
- The law applies to zoos, aquariums, research facilities, puppy mills, animal dealers, and
circuses.† Regulations have been
questioned: for example, a dolphin can be kept in a tank 24 feet long and
6 feet deep.
- The law doesn't apply to: farm animals, retail
pet stores, state and county fairs, livestock shows, rodeos, purebred dog
and cat shows.
- There's minimal regulation of experiments
- Since 1985, the psychological welfare of animals in the
lab is considered; for example an animal cannot be subjected to a major
operative experiment more than once
- Mostly, AWA regulates how animals are transported,
housed, and treated before and after an experiment.
A. Some facts about industrial animal farming:
- The numbers of animals involved just in the US is very
large: over 7 billion chickens, 300 million turkeys, 80 million pigs, 1.2
million calves (veal), are slaughtered every year. There are about
250 million egg producing hens; about 10 million milking cows.† About 2.4 billion fish are raised and
killed in acquafarms.
- Most industrial animal farming in much of the world
(with few exceptions) involves treating animals as things. In
the US, common practices involve cramped housing (e.g. 5-6 egg laying
chickens are put in a cage with a floor of 18X18 inches), separation of
mother and young, breaking up of herds, branding, transporting, and
slaughtering. Aggression and cannibalism brought about by crowding
and stress are curtailed by debeaking (poultry), tail docking and front
teeth snipping (pigs), light manipulation, and chemicals. Calves for
veal meat are fed an anemic diet and kept in small stalls, about 22X54
inches, so that they are unable to move about. Animals are treated
with large amounts of antibiotics, without which animal factories would
probably be impossible; as a result, because of† handling some of the flesh Americans eat
is contaminated with bacteria which are resistant to many antibiotics.
- The conversion rates of feed protein to animal protein
are low: 22% for cow milk, 23% for hen eggs, 17% for broilers, 12% for
pigs, 4% for beef. This inefficiency requires the cultivation of
vast tracts of land: most agricultural products produced in the US are for
- Industrial animal farming produces large amounts of
waste. For example, in addition to animal carcasses, an average 50,000 pig
farm produces about 3,000 tons of manure and urine per week; a 60,000
laying egg chicken farm produces about 82 tons of manure per week.
Some of the waste is recycled as feed, some of it degraded in waste
holding facilities. Occasionally, spillage contaminates rivers,
lakes, sea-coasts, and the water table.
Considerations about industrial animal farming
amount of animal pain involved in treating sentient beings as things
greatly outweighs the pleasures coming from the tickling of our palate.
one might argue that given the gulf between humans and animals, animal
pain/pleasure is incomparable to human pain/pleasure.
Notice that one ought to specify 1) what the "gulf" consists in, and
2) why it is relevant to the evaluation of pain/pleasure.
- Industrial animal farming requires cultivating land
which could be returned to a natural state, and often substantial
pollution of land and water due to spillage.
animal farming has kept the prices of food low, and this is good for us.
Problem: Maybe not; itís unclear
that much of the food people eat is good for them.† At any rate, vegetarianism is medically
viable and probably healthier than the average American diet.
- Overcrowding, ill treatment, and the excessive use of
antibiotics they require, appear at least partially responsible for some
bad consequences: a portion of broilers, eggs and beef are contaminated
with Salmonella, Listeria, Campylobacter, or E. coli.† Worse, some of the contaminating
bacteria are now resistant antibiotics. Hence, it may be reasonable
to eliminate or drastically reform industrial animal farming.
However, irradiation some other technological solution may be found to
eliminate the problem.
many animals hurt/eat each other, we may do the same to them, and
therefore industrial animal farming is justified.
Problem: Itís a non-sequitur. Animals are amoral, and consequently their behavior
cannot be a guide for what we do.
natural prey on animals, and therefore industrial animal farming is
Itís a non-sequitur.† Even assuming that itís natural for us to
prey on animals, it doesnít follow that we may be cruel to them.
rejection of industrial animal farming or of painful practices is largely compatible
with the eating of flesh.† Some
animals farm use humane practices.†
See Singerís video.
III. Animals in the laboratory
A. Some facts about the use of animals in US laboratories:
In the US, between 18 and 23 million animals are used in laboratory research
every year.† The AWA offers little
protection. Some examples may suffice. These two infamous experiments were
carried out after the AWA was passed (1966), and involved Rhesus
monkeys, primates explicitly covered by the law.
US armed Forces Radiobiology Institute trained rhesus monkeys to run
inside a wheel by giving them an electric shock if they slowed down.
Then, they were given a lethal dose of radiation. While sick,
vomiting, and defecating (these are effects of radiation) they were
compelled to run until they dropped. The alleged reason for the
experiment was to see for how long irradiated soldiers could keep on
fighting (Carol Frantz, "Effects of Mixed Neutron-Gamma Total-body
Irradiation on Physical Activity performance of Rhesus Monkeys", Radiation
Research vol. 10 (1985), pp. 434-41)
NOTE: because of military secrecy, it's almost impossible for the public
to know what the US military does to animals.
- At the Primate Research Center in Madison, Wisconsin,
rhesus monkeys were raised under conditions of maternal deprivation, so
that when placed among normal monkeys, they would sit in a corner in a
state of depression and fear. Harlow and Suomi put female rhesus in
a small steel cages a few hours after their birth and left them there in
total isolation for 18 months. Then, the monkeys were
impregnated with what they called a "rape rack," and after
giving birth, let loose on their own offspring. Some paid no
attention to their offspring; others crushed their skulls or "smashed
the infant's face on the floor, then rub[bed] it back and
forth." The rationale for the experiment was to study the
psychopathology of maternal rejection in humans. Harlow and Suomi
explained how baby rhesus are similar to, but smarter than, baby humans;
how maternal love is equally important in both; how normal rhesus mothers
show affection to their offspring, etc. (Harlow and Soumi, "Induced
Psychopathology in Monkeys", Engineering and Science, vol. 33
(1970), pp. 9-14)
Here are some relevant considerations:
- Utilitarian argument: Animal experimentation is justified as long as the
amount of pain (human or animal) generated is smaller than the pleasure
(human or animal) produced.
For example, in order to test the toxicity of new household
products, pesticides, cosmetics, drugs, weed killers, and industrial
are subjected to a procedure called "LD50", designed to find the
dose at which 50% of the subjects dies. In the process that can last
for 2 weeks, nearly all the animals become very sick. Another test,
the Draize test, consists in dripping concentrated solutions of shampoos,
or cosmetics in the eyes of rabbits or dogs, which have to be restrained
and prevented from rubbing their eyes. If the damage falls within
certain limits, the product is approved for human use.† Although the FDA does not condemn the
test, its popularity is diminishing.†
The good produced by LD50 or Draize is often minimal: we don't
really need new shampoos, cosmetics, or preservatives.
Medical experiment cases are more complex, depending on the view one takes
of the end for which the experiments were performed and of the necessity
of these experiments to achieve that end. In general, Utilitarianism
holds that if we are convinced that using Rhesus in labs is likely to be
necessary to find a cure for some serious and widespread illness, then we
should use them.
- Radical Speciesism: Given the immense moral gulf between humans (persons)
and animals, even trivial human interests justify inflicting any amount of
pain on animals.
When trivial human interest and substantial animal interest
are in conflict, we should choose the latter. However, when they are
comparable (e.g. equal or not largely different), we should give
preference to human interests.
NOTE: Mild speciesism is much
less egalitarian then Utilitarianism: in cases of equal, or even comparable,
amount of animal and human pain, we should choose the former.† Still inflicting pain to produce a new
shampoo or detergent would not be permissible.
- Treatment of persons: Persons should not be tortured either
intentionally or as an unintended but foreseen consequence of one's