archives: 14-mar-13 : Animal Rights and The Law

Tags                                                                                                 Reading: Introduction to Bisgould, Leslie. Animals and the Law. Irwin Law: 2011 (in course reader) Podcast 10 

archives: 07-mar-13 : The Art of the Possible: An Introduction to Effective Activism


Rob Laidlaw’s Suggested Reading List

The Art of the Possible (a handbook for political activism), Amanda Sussman, McClelland and Stewart, Canada, 2007.

Animals and the Law, Lesli Bisgould, Irwin Law Inc., Canada, 2011.

Toxic Sludge is Good for You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry, John Stauber & Sheldon Rampton, Penguin Putnam, USA, 2001.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised Revised Ed: Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything, Joe Trippi, HarperCollins, USA, 2004.

Secrets and Lies: The Anatomy of an Anti-Environmental PR Campaign, Nicky Hager & Bob Burton, Craig Potton Publishing, 2000.

Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, George Lakoff, Chelsea Green, USA, 2004.

Citizen Muckraking: How to Investigate and Right Wrongs in Your Community, The Center for Public Integrity, Common Courage Press, USA, 2000.

Get Political for Animals and Win the Laws They Need, Julie E. Lewin, National Institute For Animal Advocacy, USA, 2007.

Managing Activism: A Guide to Dealing with Activists and Pressure Groups, Denise Deegan, Kogan Page Ltd., UK, 2001.

archives: 28-feb-13 : Racism-Speciesism Comparison (The Dreaded Comparison)





Finding Commonality in Suffering and Justice



Reading Review: Carol J. Adams’ “A Very Rare and Difficult Thing” [a phrase borrowed from Simone Weil, to refer to compassion for the objectified other within an institutional setting – it is rare for his to happen; it is far easier for objectify than to recognize the ‘absent referant’ or ‘invisible subject’ who has been shorn of humanity or animality by institutional violence]

Introduction to and discussion of The Sexual Politics of Meat

“Power, Oppression, and Christianity: Locating the Historical and Theological Roots of Gendered and Animal Oppressions”

Questions, Concerns, Thoughts [there was a class discussion at this point]


. Lifelong activist and feminist
. Education: Yale Divinity School; field work at new Haven Women’s Liberation Center and an abortion clinic at Yale Medical School
. Executive Director of the Chautauqua County Rural Ministry in Dunkirk, New York
. Advocacy and service not-for-profit agency addressing poverty, racism, and sexism
. Started a Hotline for Battered Women; pursued legal action against a radio station, and advocated for equitable housing to combat racism




Photo of art piece “Eat my fear” by David Lynch, referred to in the essay by Adams titled “Ecofeminism, Attention to Animal Suffering and the Disappearance of the Subject: a Very Rare and Difficult Thing.” [note: this essay is in the course reader]



[graphic showing worldview in which Male, Reason, and Human are above Female, Emotion, Nature. This is nextto another graphic in which the same categories are picture as Yin and Yang, side by side, not above and below]



Three main facets, as explained by Karen Warren:

. Dualistic Thinking
. Value-Hierarchical Thinking
. The Logic of Domination

The Construction of Subjectivity (Transcending the Animal)

[list of hierarchical binaries Adams refers to in the essay]

. Culture/nature
. Reason/nature
. Male/female
. Mind/body
. Master/slave
. Reason/matter
. Rationality/animality
. Reason/emotion
. Freedom/nature
. Civilized/primitive
. Public/private
. Self/other


[photo fo cow on left, hamburger meat on right]



. Awareness
. Attention and Denial
. Action


. Engaging with the subject
. The “ecological self”
. Redefinition of subjectivity
. An ethic of attention

[note “attention” is also a concept borrowed by Adams from Weil]

Two books by Carol J. Adams


[part II of slideshow]

Locating the Historical and Theological Roots of Gendered and Animal Oppressions


[taken from essay on the topic by presenter Carrie Proctor]

This essay will argue that the oppression of women and the oppression of animals are embedded in the same hegemonic patriarchal framework, and these issues are mutually inclusive and necessarily intertwined. To address these issues, we must approach them holistically by examining the overarching system that allows for these oppressive systems in the first place, thereby dismantling the patriarchy rather than operating within its framework. We cannot afford to focus on the liberation of one group at the expense of another.


The absent referent: gendered oppression
. The metaphors
. Intersecting metaphors

Objectification – Fragmentation – Consumption

. Literal example: animals bodies
. Alternate example: pornography
. Alternate example: Jack the Ripper

Complicity and Perpetuation

. The absent referent hides our complicity in these structures; unable to see the subject behind the meat, we unknowingly perpetuate the very systems that oppress and subjugate women and the natural environment.
. The distance between social groups is thus reified through these very structures.


. Judges 19:22: “When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel

. I Timothy 2:12: “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”

. I Corinthians 11:7: “He [the man] is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.”

. Augustine: nupt et conc. 1.4.5: “…women were meant, by the order of creation, to be subrodinate to men; that the only legitimate purpose of sexual intercourse is the procreation of children.”


[part III of slideshow]


. Critically outlines the roots of social dualisms, as noted above
. Christian foundational principle: each and every member of the human species, by virtue of species membership alone, has a special, qualitatively superior ontological status relative to other animals
. Value-hierarchical thinking
. Just as Augustine argued that women are inferior to men due to their physicality, animals are placed in opposition to human society because of their wildness.
. Augustine: Ontological truth in sequence of creation (Genesis)
.Irrationality as justification for destruction and use of animals


. Descartes: Animals as machines
. Rationality versus emotions, instinct
. Cartesian duality

Carol J. Adams:

. Outlines modern manifestations of these dualities
. So implicit in our lived realities, we are not aware of how these structures oppress certain groups
. The absent referent – a new expression of duality, as a certain group is so devalued as to become non-subject



The oppression of women and the oppression of animals are embedded in the same hegemonic framework. The ideas are embedded in our worldviews, and this worldview has continually constructed women and animals as inferior subjects or, often, inferior objects. Thus, to address the issue of patriarchal domination, we must approach them holistically, thereby dismantling the patriarchy rather than operating within its framework. We cannot afford to focus on the liberation of one group at the expense of another.



Adams, Carol J. “’A very rare and difficult thing’”: Ecofeminism, Attention to Animal Suffering, and the Disappearance of the Subject.” A Communion of Subjects: Animals in Religion, Science, and Ethics. (591-604). Paul Waldau and Kimberley Patton, eds. Columbia University Press: New York, New York, 2006. Print.

. Adams, Carol J. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc, 2000. Print.

. King James Bible Online. <;

. Matter, E. Ann. “Christ, God and Woman in the Thought of St Augustine.” Augustine and His Critics: Essays in Honour of Gerald Bonner. (163-174). Robert Dodaro and George Lawless, eds. New York: Routledge, 2000. Web.

. Waldau, Paul. The Specter of Speciesism: Buddhist and Christian 
Views of Animals. New York: The American Academy of Religion,
2002. Web.

archives: 14-feb-13 Ethical individualism and ethical holism, Environment and Animals


Reading: Albert Schweitzer. “The Ethics of Reverence for Life” Schweitzer, Reverence for Life link; Francione, Gary. Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or Your Dog? Temple University Press: 2000 (in course reader); Steiner, Gary. Descartes, Christianity, and Contemporary Speciesism.” In A Communion of Subjects, pp. 117-131 (in course reader) Reading: short selections on the concept of “environmental fascism”, by Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights (in course reader)

Lecture notes for Feb. 14, 2013 The Environment and Animal Rights: towards a reconciliation of ethical holism and ethical individualism by Paul York, for Animal Rights Philosophy course, Animal Rights Academy

About the lecture notes: the notes range widely into different topics, so they may seem a times a bit tangential at times, but all the topics covered have some bearing, directly or indirectly, on the problem of “environmental fascism” and the philosophical debate between ethical holism and ethical individualism. These are terms that I will explain below. One more point: this lecture merely introduces the problem, and discusses ways of thinking about it, but I do not pretend to have offered any final solution to it. Some of the ideas may resonate with you, while others may not. Ultimately, the reader must use his or her own best judgement for determining the truth. Please email if you have questions or comments. Thank you! For further reading on this, view my blog on Environment and Animals at this link

The Land Ethic Aldo Leopold, in A Sand County Almanac (1948), describes the now famous “land ethic” philosophy, which has since been identified with the environmental philosophy termed eco-holism, or sometimes called “ethical holism.” Holism, which focuses on the ecological whole (be it ecosystem or Earth) may be distinguished from ethical individualism, which be anthropocentric (human-centered) in focus, or can take a non-human centered focus, as in the case of animal rights ethics. The major proponent of ethical holism, and Leopold’s most noted interpreter, is the moral philosopher J. Baird Callicott. Leopold’s thoughts have also been very influential in the development of what eventually became known as the ‘deep ecology’ type of environmental philosophy, first formally articulated by seminal environmental philosopher Arnie Naess. [1] What does the philosophy of eco-holism or ethical holism say? Leopold outlines the need for a relationship between human beings and the natural world other than the industrial model of endless exploitation. The nonhuman community (or “biotic community”) includes non human entities such as soils, waters, plants, and animals, collectively termed “the land.” He finds intrinsic value in the ecosystem as a whole, in contrast to traditional ethics, which located intrinsic value in individuals. We can already note that animals are subsumed under “land” and are not regarded as individuals with rights, in Leopold’s model. This is an important point because it essentially negates any possibility of their intrinsic value as individuals; their entire worth is relegated to their value within the whole, which Tom Regan suggests could allow for violation of their individual rights in some cases. We will look at that point in a moment. The general thrust of Leopold’s ethic is that human beings need to recognize their place in the environmental community and take responsibility for protecting and caring for it (i.e. be good managers, or in Christian discourse, “good stewards” of the land, or good conservationists). This ethic is popular with conservationists concerned with biodiversity and the mass extinction of species. Conservationists, we can note, are not typically concerned with the rights of individual animals; they are more concerned with protecting biodiversity, which is characteristic of a holistic worldview. An animal is not valued for himself or herself, but only as a member of a group; thus a polar bear or whale’s life has far more value than a cow’s life or a dog’s, for instance, since there are over one billion cows and hundreds of millions of dogs, but relatively few polar bears and whales. The biotic community The heart of the land ethic is concern for the “biotic community.” This community, of which humans are a part, is made up of predators, omnivores, herbivores, plants, birds and rodents, insects, and soil, in that order. The order is based on transfer of energy, originally from the sun, with the base of the “biotic pyramid” (the soil) up through to the predator, at the top of the pyramid. Humans, as omnivores, are not at the top, but second from the top, in terms of our place in the energy pyramid. All elements revert back to soil. There is no moral hierarchy; the pyramid shape refers only to the transfer of energy. [2] The “biotic community” is part of a self-regulating system. Industrial civilization – and in particular industrial agriculture – distorts the natural order, according to eco-holism. The highest moral dictum (or highest good) for Leopold is this famous dictum: “A thing is right when it preserves the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community, and is wrong when it does not.” What is environmental fascism? Tom Regan in The Case for Animal Rights (1984), referring to Leopold’s dictum, famously states: “it is difficult to see how the notion of the rights of the individual could find a home within a view that, emotive connotations to one side, might be fairly dubbed ‘environmental fascism’.” This, as it turns out, has been the single most important challenge to eco-holism, generating many responses and counter-responses. This criticism encapsulates a fundamental divergence between two important worldviews; the consequences of non-human animals are profound, as we shall see. Recall that Leopold says that the highest good is the integrity of the biotic system. If individuals endanger that integrity, they are considerable expendable. Their rights don’t matter. A dedicated eco-holist – and there have been many — say that animals have no rights to speak of, and that the very concept of rights is a human concept that does not apply to non-human animals. This way of thinking, coupled with speciesism and protection of human property rights, is used by wildlife “managers” to justify killing thousands of animals every day. Marc Bekoff in the Animal Manifesto chronicles the incredible killing spree that U.S. Wildlife Services engage in, in the name of environmental integrity.Between 2004 and 2007, by their own account, they killed over 8 million animals. No wonder Regan calls it “environmental fascism”! The idea of rights is predicated on ethical individualism, which emphasizes the importance of the individual being, who (theoretically) can be human or non-human. The two perspectives – ethical holism and ethical individualism – therefore seem to be at odds. Moral inconsistency In the case of “culling” (a rather bland euphemism for killing), the land ethic is inconsistent because it does not include the human animal in its scope. An anthropocentric land ethic is used to justify killing animals, but to be entirely morally consistent it would have to advocate for killing humans as well, since of all the species ours is the most destructive to the biotic community. However, the wildlife manager’s ethic is morally inconsistent, favouring humans and rendering non-human expendable. The other way to be morally consistent is to not kill at all, which is the position favoured by ethical vegans. Farming and hunting How does the family farm fit into this picture? Or hunting? Leopold, Wendell Berry, are Brewster Kneen are three farmer-philosophers who seem to construct a normative vision for humanity, one that regards animals not as persons, but instrumentally as food. As noted in Michael Pollan’s book Omnivore’s Dilemma (and the film based on it, Food Inc.) the small farm is juxtaposed to the factory farm, and the former seen as extension of nature. It is okay to eat animals as long as they were “humanely” raised and slaughtered, in this normative vision. In the case of hunting, we could note a fad called the so-called Palaeolithic Diet, or Paul Sheperd’s eco-philosophy (which champions hunting), as examples of the same sort of normative vision of nature, in which animals are viewed as food, superimposed on what are really highly anthropocentric behaviours. This is a highly constructed worldview that is in fact predicated on notions of human superiority. Would Michael Pollan or Shepard be so enthusiastic about hunting if they were the prey and the predator a Palaeolithic-era sabre-toothed tiger (once a powerful predator of humans until humans hunted them to extinction)? There appears to be a claim that nature has inherent (not instrumental) value, but is there in fact a “creeping anthropocentrism” built into this perspective which justifies continued instrumental use of animals by humans. As noted above, small-scale animal agriculture and hunting are legitimized, even though both are enabled by technologies that early humans could not have possessed (e.g. diesel powered tractors, steel plows and other farming tools, high-powered rifles, sophisticated bows and steels knives). This also seems morally inconsistent. The last man standing ethic, and population control Returning to environmental fascism, we can also think of the “last man standing” ethic described by Richard Heinberg in his book on peak oil (titled Powerdown). This is one of many possible responses to finite resource depletion and growing human populations. It describes a survival of the fittest attitude. Or one may think of the white supremacists who argue for population control according to racial lines; modern white supremacists refer to finite resource depletion to make their argument. How is this really any different than the argument for deer culling, except for the species in question. As the animal ethicists have pointed out, bias for one’s own race or species, is not a morally defensible argument. Human beings, being (in Leopold’s words) “a plain member and citizen” of the biotic community, are vastly overpopulated, so if the highest good is the health of the land (or the Earth), what about culling humans? Population control Are China’s population control efforts “fascist” as some claim? This is certainly debatable, and depends on whether you regard reproduction as a human right or not, but less ambiguous in terms of its moral callousness is the calculated indifference of world leaders to the threats of climate change. Already, we can point to the deaths of over five million human beings per year due to drought and climate change related events. Republican climate change denial is a good example of complete moral disregard for others, essentially condemning them to death for the sake of perpetuating an unjust and unsustainable economic and political status quo. Even the far more benign emphasis on “adaptation” rather than mitigation efforts by governments, rather than challenging the current unsustainable economic status quo, is a sign of this indifference. One could argue that this turning of our collective backs on the victims of climate change, leaving them to die, is an example of environmental fascism. Complicating the issue of population control is the fact that the real issue is not human numbers as much as per capita emissions and pollution levels, which are much higher in the west / industrial north, even though per capita there is less overall population growth than the global south. There is also at greater risk of premature death from drought and flooding due to climate change. These injustices are often termed “climate injustice” and “climate racism.” By 2030 CE 100 million are predicted to have died from climate change. Predicted “water wars” are another implication. A fascist ethic (that “might makes right”) seems to prevail in these scenarios, and helps describe the unfolding of what has been called “water wars” and “wars over scarce resources.” Structurally at least, this is no different than deer culling, except that human beings are the victims. Regan’s criticism of environmental fascism applies not only to culling non-human animals on a local scale, as we see in these examples, but also globally vis-à-vis climate change. The Earth as a whole is like the government protected park and the humans, like the deer or elephants, are deemed too numerous. Rather than mitigating climate change governments and corporations have taken a rather cynical stance on the issue of climate change, choosing to abandon millions (and potentially billions) of humans to suffering and death rather than change the system causing this apocalyptic scenario. [3] All that having been said, ending the discussion here is very problematic because it is all too easily used by right-wing ideologues to dismiss environmentalism (as “eco-fascism”). This has been done several times now by Fox News and others. It is important for us to salvage the land ethic and eco-holism from this criticism, because, despite its problems, it is still a valuable ethic for addressing the environmental crisis. A rights-based philosophy needs to address the environmental crisis in some way, because the well-being of individuals in incompatible without a healthy environment. Why is environmentalism important? Environmentalism is an important worldview from any rational perspective – even the most self-interested – because it is about protecting the conditions that make life on Earth possible. Environmental concern is vital for the continuation of life on Earth, and so (it seems) is the kind of concern for others that informs rights language. So how do we reconcile these apparently opposed worldviews? The fate of the world seems to hinge on the widespread adoption of an ethic that reconciles environmental concern, animal rights and human rights! Environmental fascism is unacceptable, and so is focus just on rights without regard for the environment. Callicott’s defense of Leopold’s land ethic First, let us look at the response to Regan’s famous criticism. Leopold’s principal defender is the philosopher J. Baird Callicott. He is a moral philosopher who champions an evolutionary-ecological worldview, one that recognizes the beauty and grandeur of nature. Callicott wants to reconcile the land ethic with the right of others to pursue “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, in reply to Regan et al. The phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is of course taken from the American Bill of Rights, and thus represents a particular expression of rights language. Callicott says that that the land ethic does not replace consideration for individuals, but assumes it already. The land ethic is an “accretion” to existing normative human-to-human ethics, adding a new sphere of concern: the land, which is not meant to replace concern for individuals, but to expand upon it. According to the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy, Callicott “under the pressure from the charge of ecofascism and misanthropy … revised his position and now maintains that the biotic community (indeed, any community to which we belong) as well as its individual members (indeed, any individual who shares with us membership in some common community) all have intrinsic value.” Furthermore, although accused of “moral monism” (i.e. having just one ethical perspective), Callicott maintains that he is in fact a moral pluralist (i.e. having more than one ethical perspective). He maintains that a concern for the basic rights of individual human beings is not incompatible with the land ethic. He sees these concerns as complementary, not contradictory, provided the interests of the individuals are held in check by limitations on rights. Callicott concedes that our traditional obligations to others, to respect their right to “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” of human beings may trump our obligation to the biotic community, but prefers to argue that they can be thought of as compatible. The limitations on rights argument makes this possible. Does his defense work? We will examine this. Luxury and necessary emissions In defense of Callicott’s argument regarding the limitations that need to be put on human activities, we can cite The Ethics of Climate Change, a great introductory book on climate ethics, by James Garvey. In it he distinques between “luxury emissions” and “necessary emissions.” Although his concern is greenhouse gas emission, this disctinction is also applicable to the idea of limitations on rights for the sake of the common good, or what is often called “the commons.” In other words, it is not a human right to consume as much as I want; there need to be limits placed upon individual activities, in consideration of others. This does not negate positive rights, but it curtails them, in consideration of the needs of others and the limited resource base we all must share. Having rights does not mean the right to own a Hummer or eat meat. Rights entail responsibilities to others. This point is especially crucial at this stage in human history, given the concurrence of environmental catastrophes caused by overconsumption in the midst of scarce resources such as water, oil, wood, and arable land. As we have already seen animals are denied negative rights under the pretext of environmental concern. [4] We gave the example of deer culling. The problem is caused by the fact that human beings have encroached on wilderness areas, overrunning them and developing them, and killing the natural predators of the deer. Creative solutions other than killing them do exist: relocating animals, enlarging wildlife areas, and most importantly for this discussion, the need to stop deforestation and further development of wilderness habitats. Humans can learn to responsibly limit their luxury (unnecessary) consumption, in consideration of the basic rights of animals to live, and they can come up with creative ways of protecting the negative rights of non-human animals, rather than killing them. Some animal, such as deer and raccoon, are what the authors of Zoopolis (discussed earlier in this course) term “liminal animals.” An argument in that book seems to be that human residents of urban areas need to take into account the basic needs of non-human animals, rather than violating their basic rights. Callicott comes across as weak on animal rights, but strong on the idea of human responsibilities, to balance human rights. Therefore, it is probably unfair to say that his philosophy supports environmental fascism against humanity; but what about animals? Although he does not advocate for animal rights, per se, Callicott does recognize the value of endangered species. He writes that “we have a much stronger obligation to save endangered species from extinction than we have to raise the Dow Jones Industrial Average.” It’s worth noting here that like many environmentalists and conservationists he appears to value non-humans as members of species and not as individuals, as persons in their own right. The responses to Callicott’s reply by rights ethicists They charge that Callicott provides no “second order principles” to adjudicate competing interests. So the question remains: how do we determine which interests are to be given precedence? A conservationism that does not recognize the negative rights of animals, and calls for culling, in order to conserve parklands or adjacent farmer’s fields, runs into the same problem that Regan initially identified. Who should decide who lives or dies? All too often, human interests prevail over non-human animal interests, and as Gary Francione notes, trivial human interests prevail over non-trivial non-human animal interests. His critics say that Callicott’s defense (moral pluralism) is therefore a “paper tiger” (without force). In reply to this he says that we do not have to adjudicate competing interests if everyone eliminates luxuries and makes do with necessities. And what is the number one unnecessary luxury item? Everyone should know this! Meat-eating. In defense of Callicott, his emphasis on limitations points in the direction of individual moral responsibility, and thus environmental vegetarianism, such as that practiced by IPCC chair Rajendra Pacahuri. As noted before Callicott says he is a moral pluralist, but the truth is that he is more of a moral relativist – meaning that he allows for multiple ethical systems, but still believes the land ethic and eco-holism (predicated on the evolutionary-ecological worldview originating with Darwin) is the best one. Perhaps this where the charge of moral monism comes from? As an aside we can note another author Tim Leduc, in his book Climate Culture Change, argues for multiple ways of knowing, based on the fact that the Inuit position on climate change the environment adds an important layer of understanding that climate science does not. Callicott believes that the evolutionary-ecological perspective is the most plausible worldview because it is based on science and therefore falsifiable. That question aside, what’s interesting here, for our purposes, is the way in which Callicott interprets the evolutionary-ecological perspective. He interprets it in a way that (as Regan noted) seems to exclude moral consideration of individual animals. Another interpretation of it, advanced by philosopher James Rachels, based on the work of cognitive and behavioural ethology (e.g. Marc Bekoff and others) can be used to support individualism. In other words, the evolutionary-ecological perspective can have more than one interpretation, more than one emphasis. Darwinism, as it turns out can be used to support both ethical individualism and ethical holism. Eco-holism does not seem to acknowledge this. A note about individuals We may recall Tom Regan’s theory of “subjects of a life” which says that beings that possess certain characteristic, such as sentience, the ability to think, emotions, and who value their own lives (even when no one else does) must be counted by moral subjects, worthy of moral consideration, possessing basic rights, and not to be used instrumentally. Does nature have inherent value, or should it be viewed instrumentally, as serving the “telos” (ancient Greek for “end” or purpose) of individuals? This is not easy to answer. Entire volumes have been dedicated to trying to answer this question, and we will not answer it today. However, the general thrust of this lecture is to argue that we can still respect the rights of individuals without at the same time devaluing the natural world, or viewing it instrumentally. Ethical individualism and ethical holism can be understood as mutually compatible, complementary philosophies, not as mutually opposed, or contradictory. How? It is possible to arrive at this conclusion if we allow for what is called “moral pluralism”, which is the idea that there can be more than one true worldview and system of ethics arising from it, as Leduc’s and Rachels’ works (cited earlier) attest. Leduc, as we saw, says that traditional non-scientific worldviews that express ethical concerns regarding climate change can complement and add to our scientific knowledge of it, and Rachels shows how evolutionary theory can be used to argue for ethical individualism. Both works, in this broader context, can be used to argue for moral pluralism. Individuals create value It is also important to note that when we are speaking of values, it is individuals that confer value, including aesthetic value, which as we have noted above, in Leopold’s Golden Rule, is enshrined in the idea of the “beauty” of the biotic community. This is an important point that makes recognition of the individual indispensable for the land ethic, even though on its face the land ethic seems not have any room for individual rights. We may recall the classic thought experiment, “if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?” This thought experiment asks us to consider whether sounds exist if there is no one to hear them. In the same, does beauty exist if there is no one to experience it? This brings to mind two ideas called “the weak anthropric principle” and “the noosphere.” Both ideas are advanced by Thomas Berry in his books The Dream of the Earth, and The New Story. They respectively say that the universe exists in such a way as to create the conditions whereby individual consciousness can evolve, and that through this consciousness the universe has consciousness of itself. We, as parts of the universe, are conscious of it. In other words, individuals are not unimportant. [5] The point is that without individuals, who possess aesthetic and moral faculties, one cannot speak meaningfully of “integrity” and “beauty” (as the land ethic does), to begin with. Non-human nature can certainly exist without such individuals, as it did on Earth for more than a billion years, in the form of rudimentary life, but without any animals to apprehend the world around them, there was no consciousness of it and no valuation could be given to any part of it. When Thomas Berry calls human beings “the consciousness of the universe” he is referring to human beings primarily, but it is reasonable to concluded, based on all the evidence at hand (available through ethology) that any sentient individual, human or otherwise, performs the same function. Other animals are also “the consciousness of the universe.” There is yet another way in which we can think of individuals: in terms of their basic rights. The idea of rights is almost certainly a social construction, but as the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas showed, the foundation of ethics (and consequently rights, one could argue) is the deep connection between two individuals – a connection that exists a priori (or prior to experience). Kantian ethics tried to establish something very similar; Kant speaks of the categorical imperative as based on “pure practical reason a priori” – which is a rather oblique reference to his theory of “pure reason” in The Critique of Pure Reason and “practical reason” in The Critique of Practical Reason. “Pure practical reason” refers to an ability to make moral choices and recognize good and bad that we are born with, although it requires development as grow up, just as we are born with the ability to recognize certain mathematical truths without having been trained to do so. Those who can reason are called “ends” and “law-givers” by Kant, and he counts them as moral subjects. For these reasons, those who promote the idea of rights speak of them as inalienable and universal. Their expression is culturally constructed, but their foundation, existing a priori, is universal in all persons in all times, and transcends culture and history. Of course, a Foucault scholar might argue that nothing exists outside of history; clearly this is a point of debate beyond the scope of these notes; suffice it say, that it is a debate, and not an issue upon which there is a final determination. The idea of human rights is based, in large part, on the work of a few Enlightenment philosophers, including Kant, and animal rights flows from human rights theory, so it is not unimportant to make note of these things. Most notably, Regan’s thought is very much part of the Enlightenment project, and as we have seen with Julian Franklin’s interpretation of Kant, non-human animals, by virtue of being sentient, can also be thought of us as moral subjects as well.

So far we have reviewed the idea of environmental fascism, intellectual debates the idea generated, the concepts of moral pluralism, relativism, and monism, and the concept of limitations on rights. This latter argument is the view that moral agents have responsibilities to all moral patients to limit consumption and emission in such a way as to avoid the conditions that would lead to a conflict of interests between the basic rights of individuals and the biotic community. Ethical individualism is often (but not always) associated with the idea of rights. However, the idea of rights is contested. What are the arguments against rights? Arguments against rights It is no accident that some environmental thinkers eschew rights of any kind (both human and animal types). “Rights language” is increasingly under attack. The most common arguments are that rights are: 1) Rights are socially and historically constructed and therefore invalid, originating with the Enlightenment (called “Enlightenment faith in progress through technology” by Lawrence Schmidt). This criticism of rights is often predicated on moral and cultural relativism, and the rejection of the possibility of a universal ethics. Morality is to be established by cultures, not universally, according to this view. L. Schmidt has called it “morality as a cultural product.” Rights make the claim of universality; therefore they are invalid, from this perspective. A good example is the shark-fin debate: the cultural relativist would say that the morality of shark-finning must be determined through Chinese culture, and the universalist would say that it is an issue that transcends culture. 2) A rejection of “liberal individualism”, conflating it with the “homo economicus” model of human behaviour (the idea that “rational economic man” must maximize his utility without consideration for the rights of others). This refers to the idea that individualism and human rights in particular contributes to the formation of societies patterned after a so-called “western” model, usurping other cultures and ways of knowing. The concept of rights ignores complex relations (e.g. the land ethic, deep ecology, systems theory, or some other version of holism, or ignores traditional cultures, which have lived more harmoniously with nature, animals, and one another for millennia). The emphasis on rights is really about the unlimited accumulation of utility for the individual, flagrantly ignoring the needs of others, against the common good. Having stated, in brief summary, the two arguments against rights, what are the defenses against these positions? Response to # 1, cultural relativism and the historicizing of ethics: holism is also socially constructed, so to argue that a viewpoint is constructed does not necessarily invalidate it. The question is not whether the view is constructed, perhaps, but whether it is the best one. The other way of replying is to say that in fact the kernel of rights is not constructed but in fact exists”a priori” (as noted above) – which is Kant’s argument in defense of his conception of ethics, upon which rights discourse in subsequent centuries was based. Whether or not “rights” themselves are construct, we can certainly acknowledge that rights language is constructed. However, it is also based on a basic biological fact: that there are individuals in nature, and cooperation and altruism does exist between individuals, and this cannot be reduced merely to self-interest. The weak anthropric principle, coupled with the idea of the noosphere, certainly points to the fact that individuals matter in some fundamental way, even within a holistic worldview. Are they to be granted negative and positive rights on that basis? Well, certainly that is debatable, but we can give a less ambiguous answer to the question if we turn to pragmatism at this point: rights are practically necessary because without them our society would resort to even greater violence, and animal rights are necessary because human beings, through technology, have so affected the lives of animals that we have a moral responsibility to them that our distant ancestors did not share. Response to # 2, the argument against liberal individualism: The argument against liberal individualism ignores the relational nature of rights, if properly understood: rights are not just about egoism and amassing utility for the “rational economic man.” This is a severe distortion of the idea of rights, based on the confusion between luxury and necessary emission made earlier, whereby the desire to live unsustainably, without regard for others, is considered a “right.” A proper understanding of the idea of rights is predicated on concern for the rights of others in consideration of finite resources. In other words, rights must be thought of as universalizable, especially in the current historical context of multiple ecological crises. All the forms of Kant’s categorical imperative have embedded with them a basic consideration for others, so properly speaking it is impossible to confuse human or animal rights discourse, if properly understood, with the short-sighted and narrow-minded economic model of limitless growth and accumulation. A further environmental criticism of animal rights John R. Livingston in Rogue Primate: An Exploration of Human Domestication (1994) argues against the idea of animal rights. He says that rights do not exist in nature, only in human civilization, and that to suggest that animals (who are part of nature) should have rights is to impose human values on nature. He views the imposition of rights on animals as an imperialist exercise. He apparently does not view killing them as wrong. How convenient Livingstone’s argument is! It allows us to kill them and ignore their rights by saying that this is okay as long as it is done naturally (whatever that is). What this argument fails to see is that 1) animals are individuals, and not merely to be lumped in with nature, and to be considered expendable in the same way that, for example, plucking a plant might be; 2) the separation between human and nonhuman worlds is not so absolute as Livingstone makes it out to be; in fact, we affect all animals, both wild and domestic (and liminal) and thus have a responsibility to them. We already have an effect on them due to the fact that we are the technologically dominant species on Earth; for this reason it is incumbent on us include them within the sphere of moral consideration.

Further responses to the land ethic problem I will briefly discuss two additional responses to the problem of environment fascism raised by Regan. The first –“moral pluralism” – is articulated by Don Marietta. We saw this phrase earlier in Callicott’s reply, where he claimed he was a moral pluralism, but was probably more of a moral relativist, or someone who believe there are many valid ethical positions, but favours one above all others. The view he favoured above others was eco-holism, based on a particular evolutionary-ecological worldview, but as we saw that worldview can also support ethical individualism, if we acknowledge the moral implications of Darwinism. Moral pluralism acknowledges the possibility of multiple and complementary interpretations. The interests of the individual beings (individualism) and the interests of the natural system (holism) could be seen as consistent, and not incompatible, provided that individuals do not over-populate and provided that they do not consume more than they need. This applies both to humans and non-human animals. No one can reasonably dispute that human beings have the ability to act as moral agents, to engage in moral decision-making. The argument for ethical veganism is that because we have this ability, and because we do not require eating animals to subsist and be healthy, we ought not to eat or otherwise exploit them. We can certain restrain ourselves from over-consumption and over-population, if we so choose. We can also control and limit the population of domestic and liminal animals. Moreover, we can act in an ecologically responsible manner by limiting our encroachment on natural lands, the habitats of wild animals, in consideration of their rights to life, space, freedom, and resources. Indirect holism and greenwash Another response to the Regan-Callicott debate worth nothing is the idea of “indirect holism”, advanced by Jon Moline. He says that holism ought to be viewed as a guiding principle, not as a direct duty. The land ethic dictum referred to earlier is meant to guide, not command, in other words. In response to Moline, one may be tempted to ask: if it is a guiding principle, not a direct duty, does it have any weight? What, for example, is to stop it from becoming greenwash? We see this in the example of the hunters and wildlife managers who “cull” deer and other animals and say that it is in the name of the environment. This seems rather disingenuous of them, since the real reason very often seems to be the desire to kill and to protect human property rights and human interests. “Indirect holism” seems to be a way for anthropocentrism to influence and corrupt the land ethic, in other words. However, Moline may be correct in saying that the land ethic dictum is not a direct duty, one that ought to be observed blindly in all circumstances, because clearly – as with all philosophy – it must be interpreted contextually. In that sense, Moline is correct.

[At this point in the lecture I switched to a much less structured free-flowing discourse on issues that pertain to the themes explored above. What follows may be regarded as a series of short meditations on the theme of animal rights and the environment, to stimulate and focus the listener’s concern along these lines.] Broadly speaking, there are two points of intersection between three major types of ethical concern: animal rights, environmental concern, and concern for humanity. 1) The environmental costs of industrial livestock operations (also known as factory farming). The details of why it is harmful can be found in the 2006 United Nations report “Livestock’s Long Shadow” and in the works of scholar Anthony Weiss, among others For the sake brevity, we may note that the costs include global warming, water consumption, water pollution, deforestation, soil erosion, and biodiversity loss. Reducing animals to the status of objects to be eaten, and mass producing and eating animals on an industrial scale, leading to the increase of meat consumption per capita in recent years (referred to by Weis as the “meatification” of society), is contributing to conditions that threaten the possibility of continued life on this planet. The is very clearly an animal rights issue, although it is also framed as an animal welfare issue, and one may be opposed to factory farming for environmental reasons while still opting to reduce animals to the status of food, in violation of their rights. 2) The mass extinction of species, also known as the Earth’s sixth great extinction event. There are roughly 8.7 million species on Earth right now, and the extinction rate has been accelerated by man-made causes by several hundred times. About 150 to 200 species vanish every day. It is estimated that 80 per cent of all species could be gone by 2100. This is largely due to climate change, deforestation and habitat loss (e.g. loss of coral reefs, Amazon rain forest), invader species (e.g. the cane toad, zebra mussel), toxins and pollutions (e.g. extinction of frogs and salamanders is due largely to this and to deforestation), and hunting and “harvesting” of endangered species (e.g. rhinos, shark). Perhaps the most noted advocate for the preservation of biodiversity, E.O. Wilson, says that “future generations will never forgive us for having forsaken biodiversity”, since it is irreplaceable. While not strictly an animal rights issue, it concerns trillions of animals, and may be thought of in terms of indirect rights for animals, through the value we place on them via their status as members of biodiverse and endangered species. Eventually, if climate change continues unabated, all animals will all be gone (including us) in the worst case scenario, termed by James Hansen, the “Venus Syndrome” (the total eradication of life on Earth). Do we have a responsibility to mitigate that now, and if so how? First, let us quickly note that there are five humanistic (or human-centred or anthropocentric) reasons to be concerned with factory farming and the mass extinction of species: (i) Human health – the principally, the prevention of diseases linked to meat consumption. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has documented this at length. (ii) global human health – the prevention of pandemic diseases borne in factory farms. Dr. Michael Gregor has documented this at length. (iii) Environmental concerns that profoundly affect humanity — global warming and water consumption and pollution, principally. The “Livestock’s Long Shadow” report (2006) referred to earlier documents this at length. (iv) The mass extinction of species can have an adverse effects on humanity insofar as our survival is tied to the survival of other species, based on the complex relationships between species, often likened to a house of card. The work of E.O. Wilson and many other biologists document this at length. (v) And finally, what Marc Bekfoff terms our “compassion footprint” – the idea that by increasing our compassion for animals we are also increasing our capacity to be compassionate for humanity, which is similar to Kant’s argument for the indirect rights of animals, or Tolstoy’s dictum that cruelty to animals is linked to war. In other words, if we harm animals and are insensitive to them, we are more likely to harm other human beings. I bring up these points in order to show that human interests and the interests of non-human animals cannot be easily separated, as is so often done. This is important because most of the social and political movements for climate justice, food justice, water justice, human rights, etc. draw inspiration from an anthropocentric model of environmentalism, not from deep ecology or the land ethic. The most politically dominant model of environmental concern in the world today is based on the protection of human (and only) human interests. A clear example of this is concern for the loss of fish in the oceans due to commercial fishing. Whenever this example is brought up, the interests of the fish are never mentioned; it is only the interests of the fishermen and fishing communities that are raised. Returning to the theme moral pluralism, we can add anthropocentric environmentalism to ethical holism and ethical individualism as potentially complementary worldviews. In fact anthropocentric environmentalism may be viewed as a microcosm of the reconciliation of the other two worldviews, because concern for humanity can be predicated on concern for individual human rights, and on a more holistic concern for humanity as a whole. And while the interests of humans and non-humans are often opposed (as the example of commercial fishing illustrates) they need not necessarily be thought of this way. It is really only the presence of industrialization and unsustainable consumerism that has led to a vast reduction of finite resources (both renewable and non-renewable), pitting the interests of humans against other humans, and humans against non-humans. An ethic of limitations and what economist Herman Daly calls “sustainable sufficiency”, if adhered to, would mitigate and prevent the dire conditions that have led to this global conflict of interests, to begin with. The idea that animal and human interests are consistent with the health of the life systems of Earth may help to bring human-centered environmental justice and pro-animal movements together, politically. This is very important to achieve, in order to strengthen the movement against the type of position that supports factory farming and deforestation and threatens to destroy life on Earth – a position called “the cosmology of domination” and “faith in progress through technology.” This position, dedicated to endless economic growth, despite finite resources and growing human populations, is right now politically dominant, adhered to by corporations and governments. It relies on what has been termed “faith in technology” in order to continue. This industrial-technological worldview regards animals at objects to be used for industrial production, to generate profit. How we look at them literally determines the fate of life on Earth, because of climate change (caused by ILOs) and the mass extinction (which is like a house of cards). Assuming that the technological fixes will not work (which is a fair assumption), and that human beings won’t change their behaviour, we are not far from the collapse of civilization, and beyond that the end of all life on Earth. This has been termed James Hansen’s Venus Syndrome. The Venus Syndrome According to climate scientist James Hansen, if our species burns all the fossil fuels at the current rate [and continue with factory farming] “runaway conditions” will occur. If “the planet gets too warm, the water vapor feedback can cause a runaway greenhouse effect. The ocean boils into the atmosphere and life is extinguished.” He adds: “There may have been times in the Earth’s history when CO2 was as high as 4000 ppm without causing a runaway greenhouse effect. But the solar irradiance was less at that time. What is different about the human-made forcing is the rapidity at which we are increasing it, on the time scale of a century or a few centuries. It does not provide enough time for negative feedbacks, such as changes in the weathering rate, to be a major factor. There is also a danger that humans could cause the release of methane hydrates, perhaps more rapidly than in some of the cases in the geologic record. In my opinion, if we burn all the coal, there is a good chance that we will initiate the runaway greenhouse effect. If we also burn the tar sands and tar shale (a.k.a. oil shale), I think it is a dead certainty. “ Hansen likens this to the famous myth of the Devil’s bargain with Faust, in which the latter sold his soul for temporary wealth. The implication is that the fossil fuel companies have done just that. Regarding the end of life on Earth, caused by fossil fuel use, Hansen writes, “That would be the ultimate Faustian bargain. Mephistopheles would carry off shrieking not only the robber barons, but, unfortunately and permanently, all life on the planet.” Although Hansen does not mention factory farming, we are not remiss in applying his remarks regarding fossil fuel production to factory farms and meat-consumption, as well, because meat consumption (like fossil fuel use) is quite unnecessary. It is what Garvey would term a “luxury emission.” Those who promote it and profit from it have, like the fossil fuel CEOs, entered into the ultimate Faustian bargain. Of course we are not so much concerned with their souls as with the fact that by selling them (so to speak) they have bargained away all life on Earth in the process, much like a gambler who wagers lives that are not his to put at risk. Future generations, as well as current victims of climate change, and all the non-human victims have not had any say in any of this. Cosmologies and ethics The animal rights perspective, frequently ignored in an anthropocentric societies (and almost all human societies meet this description) is critically important for the preservation of life on Earth. Those who are truly concerned with global environmental destruction ought to draw from it in order to augment and strengthen their arguments. Seminal environmental thinker Thomas Berry argues that how we look at the world, the cosmology we adopt, determines how we conduct ourselves. According to Berry, the “story” we tell ourselves determines our decision making. He distinguishes between biocentric and anthropocentric worldviews (though he does not address the conflict between holism and individualism and tends to be more of a holistic thinker). Berry says “the universe is not a collection of objects; it is a communion of subjects.” Does this include animals? Berry says it does, in his forward to the anthology titled A Communion of Subjects (scholarly essays on religion and animals), but does not go so far as to endorse animal rights. We can note that one’s worldview and ethics determine who lives and who dies. Worldviews determine ethics, and ethics determine actions and relations with others, so it is important to talk about them. Viewing animals instrumentally has contributed to climate change, and is also at the root of the Cartesian objectification of nature and other human beings (Kant’s indirect rights argument writ large). A truly basic question to ask is how we choose to see animals: are they food, or are they fellow Earthlings with the same basic rights? Or are they something else? Is there a middle ground on this question? For example, they are often considered food in subsistence cultures, but that does not meant they should be regarded as such in industrial cultures. If you are an animal or a victim of climate change, your very life could hang on this question. One way of looking at animals as food, and not as persons, is famously advanced by Michael Pollan in The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Inc. We could term this view “the grassfed beef / free-range chicken ethic” or perhaps “the Michael Pollan ethic.” Popular environmental authors who advocate this sort of view include, but are not limited to George Monbiot, Wendell Berry, Wayne Roberts, Michael Pollan, David Suzuki, and Derrick Jensen. The problems with this view are multiple: 1) it is still not as environmentally sustainable as a vegan diet, even one which relies on industrial agriculture, and certainly not one that relies on local non-industrially produced plants; 2) ethically it is still inhumane and violates animal rights, since there is no such thing as “humane slaughter”, one could argue; 3) the grassfed beef / free-range egg market is unregulated, which means that factory farmed animals are marketed as such (according to Worldwatch Institute). Defining sustainability How do we define sustainability? Should it not be inclusive and egalitarian, or is it acceptable to achieve sustainability through violating the basic rights of others? I would like to propose a definition of sustainability that includes consideration of the rights of both human and non-human animals. We can certainly achieve a fascist ideal of sustainability by eradicating all human life, or killing all pets, but this seems to defeat the purpose of doing so, if sustainability is an ideal that exists in order to achieve acceptable levels of consumption by individuals. The very notion of sustainability is conceived as a way of guiding and adjudicating the use of finite resources by individuals and societies. It is a never fully realizable ideal, but it is nonetheless an important idea for the sake of future generations, animals, the poor, etc. Justice and limitations on rights must be incorporated into the model of sustainability. There seems to be a contradiction in the non-universalizable definition of sustainability, if as we have said the point of creating this ethic in the first place is to protect the living beings of Earth. Recall the logic of the U.S. presence in Vietnam: “we had to destroy the town in order to save it.” Similarly, hunters say they are entitled to destroy animals as part of a natural order? Are non-human animals not part of the natural order? To “cull” animals in the name of the environment seems morally self-contradicting and hypocritical if we are not willing to first look at our own ecological footprints (which most hunters are not willing to do). And as noted above, if we are to be morally consistent in the application of “culling” as a solution to environmental destruction, we would have to start by killing ourselves first; however, that would entail a violation of human rights, so it is unacceptable. So, why is violating animal rights any different? Surely it is possible to achieve the necessary balance that is needed to maintain ecosystems by reducing our consumption and pollution levels, and in the case of animals, re-locating them. Killing human and non-human animals is not necessary to achieve sustainability. The naturalistic fallacy A further question: is it “natural” to eat animals? Why is “natural” assumed to be correct? And what is “natural” anyway? Is the concept socially constructed, and if so, can it be deconstructed? There are three possible responses here: 1) The statement that meat-eating is not natural, for which there is a great deal of physiological and archeological evidence. First, we can note that human beings, while technically omnivores, are the only ape (in the great ape family, which includes orangutans, chimpanzees, gorillas, and bonobos) to consume large amounts of meat. The human body, as it turns out, is poorly adapted to eating meat. On the spectrum of omnivorism, we are very close to herbivores, and far away from carnivores. The fact that human beings can be healthy vegans testifies to all of this. 2) The statement that meat-eating may be natural but that natural is not necessarily good. Recall that animal ethicists invoke rape and murder as examples of “natural” behaviours we ought not to engage in. Also, recall Hume’s dictum that “is does not equal ought.” Saying that we are omnivores does not equal the dictum: “we should eat animals.” 3) That “natural” is something made up to justify exploitation (e.g. the Palaeolithic diet). When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and others like him kill animals for food they do so in the name of a primitivist and naturalistic ethos in order to justify an ethically problematic practice: the taking of another sentient being’s life. This ethos, I would submit, is no different than other socially constructed forms of hierarchical thinking deemed “natural” by proponents, including forms of sexism and racism deemed to be “natural” by their proponents. The classic example that comes to mind is Aristotle’s Great Chain of Being, which creates a hierarchy starting with God and angels, then moving downward to man, animals, and plants at the bottom. The implications are clearly anthropocentric and self-serving. The Paleo food pyramid that prescribes a lot of meat-eating is quite similar to this, insofar as both pyramids are constructed to serve human collective self-interest over non-human nature. The responsibility of human beings Are we really entitled to control animal populations through “culling” when we cannot control human populations, and when we are the cause of ecosystem failure and the mass extinction to begin with? Should we “cull” human populations then? Clearly that is out of the question, and for the same reason, so too should culling animals be out of the question, morally unacceptable. As we saw this ethic is applied inconsistently, to serve human interests at the expense of non-human interests. Rachels and other animal ethicists argue that we need to recognize that we are animals of a type (Darwin) and there are moral implications arising from this fact: it does not give us license to kill them as though it were “natural” to do so. Given that both ethical holism and ethical individualism are socially constructed, perhaps we ought to favour the construction that is most just, which means bringing them together into a new construction – a version of what Berry terms “the new story.” A reconciliation of worldview is necessary because those who favour the environment over rights risk becoming moral monsters and those who favour rights over the environment forget that without the environment individuals cannot exist; they are not pragmatic, and nor do they recognize the value of the biocentric worldview – which it can be argued is our biological legacy. Solutions, all which can be enabled or greatly advanced through greater consideration for animals: • Stop breeding animals; put those that exist in farm sanctuaries • Stop eating animals; eat plant-based whole foods (preferably local over industrial) • Stop deforestation and end extraction industries; recycle and create green jobs instead • Stop commercial fishing; allow the oceans to regain health and biodiversity • Control our own population growth, ethically (e.g. education), not forcibly • Reduce per capita consumption and greenhouse gas emissions and waste, especially in industrial nations • Greatly mitigate greenhouse gas emission and water consumption, especially in terms of fossil fuel use and meat-eating All of the above solutions require a sizeable portion of humanity to change its way of thinking. Many have already done so. One way to change our worldviews significantly is to exercise radical concern for animals – both wild and domestic – enlarging our compassion footprint (so to speak). There is merit in going in this direction even if it is not enough all the problems. As we saw with the indirect rights / compassion footprint argument, changing our worldview to include concern for animals shift the locus of concern away from narcissism to compassion, which is necessary at this time in history if we are to safeguard the conditions that make life possible. To pragmatically advance the goals of environmental anthropocentricsm and ethical holism, the complementary ethic of animal rights should be given greater consideration. Recognizing individuals is practical. The best way to protect rights is through clean environment, best way to protect environment is through recognition of rights of non-human animals (i.e. not eating them, protecting their habitats). As moral decision makers we can always seek to reduce our ecological impact. The principle of ahimsa is important. In David Sztybel’s interpretation of it, it means “best care” which is the “most good and least bad” that can be achieved through our choices and actions. As noted above, we need to define sustainability in a way that is inclusive, against both racism and speciesism, and other forms of discrimination. Social and environmental justice should be guiding principles informing environmental concern and climate change mitigation efforts. Why should environmentalism be inclusive? One way to think about it is that we are all Earthlings, and no one Earthling has the right to destroy the life of any other unnecessarily. We are not predators, and can live without killing other animals, and therefore ought to do so, not only in consideration of their rights, but also in consideration of humanity as a whole (for the humanistic reasons given earlier). The moral quandary of consumption and rights Over-consumption is clearly a bad thing, but what about consumption at all? Does it not infringe on the natural world and biodiversity? This particular view that has led to misanthropism. Would the natural world be better off without us? It is certainly easy to find evidence to support this view. But what about human rights? Deep ecology and ethical holism find intrinsic worth in non-human nature and ecological wholes, while the “rights position” finds intrinsic value in individuals and also in the idea of an ethical community composed of individuals, but not the ecosystem or Earth or nature as a whole. Perhaps these two ideals can be reconciled provided we see that the rights of individuals requires their existence, and their existence requires respect for the natural world upon which their existence is dependant. Can this ideal be achieved? Yes, if there is a limitation on the positive rights of individuals, in consideration of the negative rights of all others, so that the right to water (for example) does not exceed necessity and diminish access to water enough to live on the part of others. Kant says that seeking happiness is not a bad thing, as long as it does not infringe on the moral law. The moral law, if we recall, simply says that we need to be considerate of all others, to “universalize the maxims of our actions.” This ethic leaves room for rational beings to exist, but with limitations that they (ideally) impose on themselves, out of a sense of moral duty to others. This corresponds with the ideal of “sustainable sufficiency”, as defined by economist Herman Daly; the idea simply means that we can take as much as we need, but not more. A holistic understanding of the natural world, and efforts to preserve it, can aid us in protecting individual rights, provided that we understand positive rights as consistent with a strong conservation ethic, and limitations on consumption, for the good of all (often termed the common good).

Addendum After delivering the above lecture, I realized that another very important point — one which in a way tied things together — was the critique of the popular view that individual actions don’t matter. For instance, ethicist James Garvey (The Ethics of Climate Change) or popular writer Derrick Jensen, or climate blogger Ian Angus will say it doesn’t matter what we as individuals do and that what is needed is structural change. They juxtapose the two sorts of change, but a better position is to say that both individual change (e.g. ethical consumerism, and more particularly environmental veganism) AND structural change (e.g. ending subsidies to factory farms and fossil fuels, creating green jobs, creating renewable energy, funding local food initiatives, taxing carbon emissions, etc.) are needed. It is interesting that many environmental groups and thinkers not only neglect the rights of individual animals, but also dismiss the responsibilities of individual consumers as irrelevant (and in particular the responsibility to not consume animals). And this lack of emphasis on both individual rights and individual responsibilities undermines the moral force of their arguments. A much stronger moral argument is one that is inclusive of non-human interests and stresses personal moral responsibility — or as Gandhi famously said “be the change you want to see in the world.” Interestingly, there is a strong parallel between human rights concerns, embedded in the discourse on environmental racism, and animal rights concern. Additionally, Paul Waldau argues for expanding the definition of environmental justice to include non-human animals, as well as racialized and marginalized human groups. In another essay I have argued that Regan’s concept of environmental fascism applies quite well to marginalized human groups whose communities and health are endangered by nuclear power plants, geo-engineering schemes, and carbon sequestration. Of course, ecosystems and local flora and fauna (i.e. animals) are also endangered as well. The utilitarian argument that these local communities should be put at risk for the sake of the greater good is predicated on both faith in technology to solve these problems and allegiance to an unsustainable economic status quo, rather than arguing that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions voluntarily through reduced consumption. The solution to the whole problem, as stated in the lecture, is reduced per capital consumption. In other words, it is not necessary to oppose animal to human or environmental interests (as though we can say that the three are separate to begin with) if there is a widely adopted ethic of voluntary reduction of consumption by our species and sustainability is understood as incorporating justice concerns.

Endnotes [1] Deep ecology is often distinguished from the more human-centric “social ecology”, advanced by Murray Bookchin. The historical debate between deep ecology and social ecology is beyond the scope of this lecture, but suffice it say that Leopold’s land ethic informs it. [2] As an aside, I wish to note there that because the energy pyramid of the biotic community is often pictured with carnivores on top and plants and soil on the bottom, but since there is no moral hierarchy implied by the diagram, it could as easily be pictured on its side or upside down! It is interesting to note that in hierarchical models of reality, the top is always pictured as superior and the bottom inferior. Carol Adams, in one of her essays, notes that mapping hierarchies typically uses the imagery of “up and down” in this way. Theoretically, the biotic pyramid is not hierarchical, but as with the theory of evolution, there is a strong human tendency to think of it that way: Darwin himself was against hierarchicalism being superimposed on evolution, saying there is “no higher or lower” among species, but his interpreters ignored this and superimposed a very anthropocentric way of thinking onto evolution, creating what is now known as “evolutionism” or the idea that species evolve from lower to higher and that “higher” species (notably humans) are entitled to dominate lower species, accordingly. [3] Another form of environmental racism, according to some commentators, is the displacement of indigenous peoples from traditional lands. For example, indigenous peoples were asked to leave the area that is now Temagami provincial and federal parklands (in Ontario), in order that these areas would remain pristine wilderness. Governments are now allowing mining and logging development in that area; had indigenous people remained they might have stood in the way of such development, as has happened elsewhere in Canada. As it is, there is very little opposition to the development, currently .The rights of the indigenous people to stay on that land was brushed aside for the sake of preserving the land. Was it justified? This is just one small example of alleged environmental racism. They are many others. For our purposes, it simply worth noting that both human and non-humans’ rights can be violated in the name of wilderness conservation. [4] The United Nations recognizes three types of human rights: negative rights, positive rights, and community rights. Negative rights are the same for human and non-humans animals. They refer to the right not to be harmed or killed. Positive rights refer the right to certain amenities, such as clean water, housing, education, etc., and in the case of non-human animals, things such as space (territory, habitat). Community rights are rights that accrue to a group, and it is reasonable to suppose that a particular group of sharks should be entitled to community rights to the same degree that a human ethnic or religious groups should. [5] Nature needs individuals. Individuals confer value. Without them would there be anyone to value nature? Berry talks about human beings as the “consciousness of the universe.” Individuals are part of the natural order. There is a legitimate place for us — not only us (human beings) but all sentient beings who confer value — who are “subjects of a life.” Kant’s third Critique spells this out in a rather convoluted way: he describes how nature is something that we exist within and are part of, but it is also something that we perceive in a particular way, a way that has a purpose, which is to serve an end (telos) or purpose. For Kant that end is the creation of the ethical society, but speaking biocentrically (with Thomas Berry) we can interpret it to mean “the communion of subjects” – including non-human animals, as well as humanity. Non-human animals straddle the fence between non-human nature and human-like consciousness, but we know they value their own lives and are sentient, and that is certainly sufficient to argue that they are aware of the world and their place in it, and therefore are part of the noosphere. This idea ties into the Kantian philosophy of non-consequentialism: a thing is good, regardless of consequences or final outcomes, because of the good will that motivates the action. Thus non-violent protest and “bearing witness” to the needless suffering of others, even if it does not manage to stop that suffering, has great moral merit regardless, because it is motivated by the good will. Ethical veganism has moral merit even if it does not stop climate change or the needless deaths of 60 billion farm animals per year and 2 trillion fish per year (mostly by-catch). In the lecture I made this point, and David Sztybel added a relevant point to mine: ethical veganism does in fact have good consequences, even if they are not felt globally. We do in fact save anywhere from 90 to 900 lives per year according to various estimates (the number varies depending on whether or not one ate fish or not, I am guessing). For those lives our choices are of ultimate importance, as the famous story of the starfish proves: saving one starfish does not save all the starfish – it does not save the whole world — but it means the whole world for that one starfish whose life is saved.

archives: 31-jan-13 Zoopolis, Anti-Animal-Rights Theories and Ideas



a)  Animals & Our Political Communities

Imagining the Zoopolis

by Dan Hooley

Thanks to Jayme Dunlop for recording this lecture

Lecture notes transcribed from Dan Hooley’s powerpoint presentation

Reading: Donaldson, Sue and Will Kymlicka. Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights. Oxford University Press: 2011. chapters 1 and 3 (in course reader)

Some Background

• Published in 2011
• Shifts debate from animal ethics to political theory
• Canadian authors: Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka

‘Nibbling at the Edge of Injustice’

• Animal advocacy movement is at an impasse
• Animal victories: Some legal limits to the most egregious abuse in animal agriculture
• The dark side: growing exploitation and suffering of animals
• Dwindling habitat for wild animals and growing meat production

What’s behind this impasse?

• The usual suspects: cultural and religious inheritance, selfish
desires, laziness, apathy, powerful vested interests and industry lobby groups, etc.
• Problems with traditional animal rights theory (ART)

What’s wrong with traditional ART?

• A ‘flat moral landscape’
• Exclusive focus on negative rights
• No account of positive, relational obligations

Conceptual and poli/cal consequences:

• Miss much of the complexity of our moral relations to animals
• Fails to speak to potential allies like conservationists and companion animal lovers
Why the focus on negative duties?

• Urgency of establishing negative rights
• Suspicious about the possibility of just relations between humans and other animals (ex. Gary Francione)
• Full abolition of animal ‘use’: On the view of some, a just society would no longer interact and live with other animals.

Problems with the (full) aboli/on approach

• Empirical problems: humans will always live among and interact with other animals
• Substantive problems: ignores the need for just relations with other animals (domesticated and non-­domesticated)

Expanding Animal Rights Theory

• Political turn: we need to think about our relations to other animals in political terms (citizenship, sovereignty, etc.)
• Expanding upon, not denying, Universal Basic Rights
• All conscious animals have these rights and these rights have far reaching consequences
• But we need to go beyond Universal Basic Rights
• Consider: Universal Human Rights, Citizenship Rights

Why Political Categories?

• We have a lot of different relations to different animals
• D/K think that only by employing political categories can we understand the distinctive claims different animals have upon us, and the different types of injustice we cause different animals

• Domesticated animals -> Fellow citizens
• Wild animals -> Sovereign Animal Communities
• Liminal animals -> Denizens

Animal Citizens? [picture of pig on trial in medieval Europe]


• This is Crazy Town. Animals cannot vote, they cannot participate
in political debate. They just don’t have the cognitive capacities to be citizens.

• D/K’s Reply: Misunderstanding of the nature of citizenship

The Different Functions of Citizenship

1. Rights to Nationality
2. Popular Sovereignty
3. Democratic Political Agency

• We cannot reduce citizenship to the third function, or only grant citizenship based on a narrow understanding of the third dimension of citizenship.
• This would rule out many human beings.
• So we can think of domesticated animals as citizens on at least the first two understandings. This isn’t crazy town.

Animal Political Agency?

• But D/K think animals can also exercise political agency. How?
• Enter Disability Movement & Disability Theory
• Citizenship for individuals with severe cognitive disability?
• Dependent Political Agency: Trustees & Collaborators who help construct and interpret these individuals preferences and interests
• Embodied Political Agency
• Opens the door for thinking of domesticated animals as capable of political agency

Practical Significance of Citizenship for Domesticated Animals

• Basic socialization
• Mobility / public space
• Duties of protection (legal rights and legal standing)
• Animal labour
• Medical care (social duty to provide health care to animal companions)
• Forms of political representation

Why only domesticated animal citizens?

• Proximity, intimacy, and sociability needed for dependent agency
• Not feasible, desirable, or in the interests of, wild animals or liminal animals
• The flourishing of these animals, D/K think, would not be advanced by citizenship

Wild Animal Sovereignty [photo of primate mother and infant]

Problems with traditional ART

• Injunction from traditional ART: ‘just leave them alone’
• Ignores the harmful ways human behavior can often indirectly affect wild animals
• Not helpful in negotiating what positive obligations we have towards wild animals

Understanding Animal Sovereignty

• Recognizing wild animals as being sovereign over their territory would mean accepting that we have no right to govern their territory or make unilateral decisions
• Why recognize animals as sovereign?
• Wild animals have a legitimate interests in maintaining social organization on their territory and their flourishing depends on this being protected

Practical Consequences of Animal Sovereignty

• Respect their territory: wild animals have a right to be where they are.
• End the expansion of human seelements into wild animal territories
• Minimize harm: we have an obligation to design our highways, shipping lanes, and other travel routes with animals in mind
• Not all human ac/vity violates sovereignty
• Enforcing animal sovereignty through proxy political representation

Liminal Animal Denizens [photo of raccoons]

Who are these ‘liminal’ animals?

• Problems with the wild/domestic dichotomy
• Liminal animals are those who have adapted to life amongst humans, without being under the direct care of humans
• Examples: squirrels, raccoons,rabbits, sparrows, pigeons, coyotes, rats, ducks, bats, deer, foxes, and many more!
• One result of this false dichotomy: humans often view these animals as invaders, or alien residents who don’t belong.

The Political Status of Liminal Animals

• These animals have no other place to go.
Many would not survive if forcibly removed.
• The challenge: their interests aren’t served by either the sovereignty model or the citizenship model.


• Denizenship is a sort of in-between political category. Consider human migrant workers.
• In the human case, denizenship involves certain rights and certain responsibilities.
• The interests of denizens constrain what political bodies can rightly do and create certain obligations to respect their interests.
• DK think we should view liminal animals as denizens.
They are not citizens, but their interests matter and should influence how we live, the law, and public policy.

Practical Consequences of Animal Denizenship: Negotiating Space

• Secure Residency: End eradication efforts.
• Take in to account the interests of liminal animals in how we design and build our urban dwellings
• Minimize conflict: barriers to initial entry, disincentives, reduced food supply, habitat corridors, safe zones
• Legal protections and anti-stigma efforts

Summing Up
Is the Zoopolis Utopian?

• Might be far off, but we need a vision of a just society to work towards
• Catalysts for positive change: climate change and the ‘clean food’ movement (meat/animal product alternatives)
• Current developments towards a zoopolis …

Some Theoretical Questions

• Do we need rights to argue for the zoopolis? Or can we secure the same conclusions on the basis of morally important interests?
• What do you make of the different obligations and responsibilities D/K think we have towards different animals?

Practical Questions

• Does the vision of a‘zoopolis’ – involving what just relations between humans and animals might look like – have practical advantages for animal advocacy?
• Can this vision help to broaden the base (conservationists,
animal lovers)?


Lecture on Anti-Animal-Rights Theory

Agenda: [Slide 1]

1. Can Nonhuman Animals Feel Pain?
2. R. G. Frey’s Supposed Negation of Animal Interests
3. “Humanist” Denials of Speciesism
4. The Old Mental Inferiority Argument against Animal Rights
5. Humanism Improved: Background for Superiorism
6. The Superiorist Argument
7. Superiorism’s Stance on Mentally Disadvantaged Humans
8. Objections to Superiorism That Don’t Work
9. Defeating Superiorism
10. Does Humanism Show Kindness, Humaneness, or Anti-Cruelty? No
11. Common Weak Excuses for Speciesism
12. Questions and Discussion

1. Can Nonhuman Animals Feel Pain?

• science now agrees they do
• anatomical evidence, including genes
• behavioral evidence
• evolutionary advantage of feeling pain

2. R. G. Frey’s Supposed Negation of Animal Interests: [Slide 2]

One of his key arguments:

1. In order to have interests one must have desires.
2. In order to have desires one must have beliefs.
3. In order to have beliefs one must have language.
4. Animals have no language.
5. Therefore animals have no beliefs.
6. Therefore animals have no desires.
7. Therefore animals have no interests.
8. One needs interests to count morally.
9. Therefore animals do not count morally.

A response:

  • can have beliefs without language
    We should have no difficulty grasping that animals can believe something is present that they sense, even if they do not necessarily use words (although some nonhuman great apes can extensively use American Sign Language for the deaf)

    • Bernard Rollin: animals can think in terms of images
    • animals engage in deception requiring reflection on beliefs, not only having them
  • can feel desire for something imaged too

3. “Humanist” Denials of SpeciesismAnti-animal-rightists who deny they are speciesist:

  • R. G. Frey: “I take seriously the charge of speciesism; I think discrimination solely on the basis of species is wrong.” R. G. Frey, ““Animal Parts, Human Wholes,” in Biomedical Ethics Reviews—1987, eds. James M. Humber and Robert F. Almeder (Clifton, NJ: Humana Press, 1987), p. 105.
  • Michael Leahy rejects speciesism is “in its purest form based…only upon the anatomical difference.” Michael P. T. Leahy, Against Liberation: Putting Animals in Perspective (New York: Routledge, 1991), p. 203.
  • Peter Carruthers: “for the purposes of morality, species membership is an irrelevant characteristic.” Peter Carruthers, The Animals Issue: Moral Theory in Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 52.
  • Michael Allen Fox: “speciesism or species chauvinism in its full-blown form is unacceptable from an ethical standpoint.” Michael Allen Fox, The Case for Animal Experimentation: An Evolutionary and Ethical Perspective (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), p. 89.
  • not hard to see why they reject bare speciesism: just because someone is of a different species does not mean we have a licence to harm them (Sztybel, “Can the Treatment of Nonhuman Animals Be Compared to the Holocaust?”)

4. The Old Mental Inferiority Argument against Animal RightsCriteria of moral standing by author:

Aristotle rationality
Thomas Aquinas rationality
Immanuel Kant rationality
G. W. F. Hegel rationality
Bonnie Steinbock intelligence, moral agency
Richard Watson intelligence, reason
Meredith Williams rationality, sense of past and future, ability to have a cultural life, ability to make sense of interests informed by morality
L. B. Cebik ability to claim rights, self-concept
Ruth Cigman self-concept
Peter Miller richness of life
Alan Holland autonomy, rationality, self-consciousness
Carl Cohen moral agency, moral community
Michael Allen Fox critical self-awareness, ability to utilize concepts in complex ways and use sophisticated languages, ability to manipulate, ability to reflect, ability to plan, ability to deliberate, ability to choose, ability to accept responsibility for acting, ability to form a life plan, ability to self-actualize
R. G. Frey richness of life
A. I. Melden moral agency
Michael Leahy language, moral agency moral vocabulary
David DeGrazia richness of life

features of all these views that discriminate on the basis of mental abilities:

  • intuitionist: completely dogmatic
  • never say how lacking trait gives licence to do violence

5. Humanism Improved: Background for Superiorism

reasons for superiorism:

  1. Make the strongest case for speciesism, and show it still fails
  2. Weed out animal rights theories and objections to speciesism that do not work
  3. Try to provide understanding for why speciesism seems so intuitive to so many
    people, or to explain our cultural landscape.

favors beings more associated with good in two ways:

  1. more good in their own lives
  2. ability to create more good in the lives of others

other notes:

  • those with less good in their lives do not have no moral standing, but less moral standing
  • has been called strongest version of anthropocentrism by three prominent animal ethicists:
    “No object really interests us but man, and in man only his superiorities…” Ralph Waldo Emerson

    • L. W. Sumner, utilitarian, University of Toronto
    • Evelyn Pluhar
    • Michael Allen Fox

list of goods better to have than to lack: [Slide 3]

  1. Affectionate relations (with mentally disabled, antiques, nature preserves, art objects, cultural foods, collectibles, etc.)
  2. Artistic or creative endeavor
  3. Autonomy
  4. Awareness of self
  5. Beauty
  6. Capacity for play (games, dancing, music, joyful motions, etc.)
  7. Cultural or societal interrelationships
  8. Exchange of goods and services (i.e., general reciprocity and economic productivity)
  9. Freedom
  10. Health
  11. Humor
  12. Intelligence (sometimes conceived less formally than rationality)
  13. Language usage (or perhaps advanced communication, as well; language is richer)
  14. Legal engagement
  15. Moral agency
  16. Physical prowess (strength, agility, speed, physical senses, rending power, endurance, sexual vigor, dexterity)
  17. Political participation
  18. Rationality
  19. Sentience
  20. Sociability (friendship and love)
  21. Spirituality (religious pursuits would be optional here; a consideration of spiritual questions, however skeptically, would be sufficient)

Note: will use the abbreviation “G” to refer to these goods [Slides 4 – 7]

6. The Superiorist Argument

  1. Substantial G is not only relevant to but also sufficient for assigning moral standing, since all those who substantially possess all sorts of G also have moral standing.
  2. G alone is relevant to determining moral standing, since morally, it is the very best such criterion that one could choose amongst all of the competing criteria, and this is true for the following reasons:
    So G is necessary for having full moral standing.

    1. That which is best is that which has the most good and the least bad.
    2. That which has the most good and lack of bad is richest.
    3. Therefore what is richest is best.
    4. Each aspect of G is a good, for it seems better to have than to lack such things.
    5. So G is richer than any more modest criterion of moral standing such as being alive, sentient, or a subject of a life.
    6. Ethics is a pursuit of the good, or “the good life,” and aspires to what is best.
    7. Therefore, morally, we should aspire to holding G as the best criterion of moral standing.
  3. Since G is both necessary and sufficient for full moral standing, it follows that those who have only some of the criteria count for something, since they exemplify some riches, but they will have less of a moral claim than those who more fully embody all of G.
  4. Nonhuman animals either lack G, or might only have a more or less impoverished realization of it, such as in the case of whales, apes, and dogs.
  5. Nonhuman animals—as well as plants, rocks, ecosystems, etc.—which utterly lack G have no moral standing.
  6. Those nonhuman animals who have some G, such as self-awareness, advanced intelligence, sentience, etc., have a degree of moral standing, but in many cases it might be so limited that it only constitutes a minor ethical consideration.
  • slogan: “The best for the best.”
  • better than stipulating criteria of moral standing, because an intriguing justificaiton is presented

[Slide 8 – see table comparing average dog, average human, and average Nietzschean “Super-Person” in the reading “Taking Humanism Seriously”, or see the PowerPoint for this lecture]Note some results of this comparison (everyone is invited to come up with his/her own list, interpretation of items, and estimates):

  • dog marginally partakes in goods of life, no substantial G, so no substantial
    consideration and no rights
  • rights are reserved solely for those who are entitled to substantial moral consideration
  • God would be supremely revered, Einstein much less revered, and mediocre humans would simply be respected
  • superiorism compatible with rights, utilitarianism, virtue theory, ethic of care
  • it is a theory of moral standing rather than an ethical theory

7. Superiorism’s Stance on Mentally Disadvantaged Humans

  1. Affectionate relations are one of the greatest goods in life that we should cultivate as much as possible.
  2. One of the greatest opportunities for affectionate relations are with direct kin or
    indirect kin as in fellow human kindred, whereas other examples include family
    heirlooms, historical sites, prized landscapes or ecosystems, collectibles, etc.
  3. Kinship with humans is enhanced over affectionate relations with animals for dogs for a variety of reasons relating to special interests:
    So it is in human interests to cultivate affectionate relations, but not with utility animals because that will lead to much less happiness for humans.

    1. they belong usually to human families whereas dogs do not necessarily
    2. oneself could end up mentally disabled although not a dog
    3. all species show much greater affection towards their own species and are more likely to be disaffectionate towards members of species that are the most different from one’s own species
    4. there would be special sympathy to families who have the tragedy of children without full mental capacities, whereas there could be no such special sympathy for dogs
    5. the greater status is self-reinforcing because it would result in institutions that would develop standards of care; this is important because it results in systematic treatment that must be consistent with the dignity of the public conscience; if the government fails to respond in a caring way then insofar as that is true it is a failed state, and not maximizing goodness as superiorism would maintain; maximizing the good has serious implications and certainly would not mean desecrating and underservicing affectionate relations
    6. they look like us and that inspires affectionate relations, as in children with their dolls, or film or magazine images and adults
    7. we may have affectionate relations towards the human genome because it normally creates such a great species; a recent appreciation but a real
      possibility nevertheless since it is an aspect of kinship which is often of special affectionate interest
    8. we can take satisfaction or joy in helping mentally disadvantaged people to cope and to live well for them
  4. Therefore we can have a strong moral status for mentally disadvantaged humans that excludes most nonhuman animals.


  • this argument cannot be easily attacked without going after superiorism itself, since this is indeed a great and genuine human good
  • cannot say that affectionate relations is not a great good worth promoting (love, friendship)
  • cannot deny kin is one of the greatest opportunities for affectionate relations
  • cannot deny many unique enhancers for human affectionate relations
  • cannot insist that we must extend the same consideration to all nonhuman animals on superiorism, since they are inferior and are not always the best beings to form close affectionate ties with if we use animals, as is our right on superiorism
  • note that affection permits having regard for the dog and the mentally disabled themselves, and does not regard them as mere instruments
  • regarded non-violently and benefited if adopted into an affectionate relationship, but dogs have no rights and are allowed to be killed by the millions without protest and with general social indifference, and are allowed to be raised abusively by exploiters who have no affection for their charges whatsoever
  • because mentally disabled humans would receive among the greatest affectionate relations, they would be granted that status of honorary rights-holders, like dogs are considered honorary family members in the best of homes, only all of society would adopt these humans because of their enhanced status and kinship to all humans
  • there would be moral limitations to affectionate relations:
    • cannot oppress those not regarded with affection or with some disaffection
    • cannot favour pet theories or prejudices that we regard with special affection for whatever reason

8. Objections to Superiorism That Don’t Work

  1. Superiorism is speciesist.
    • does not discriminate on the basis of either species or species-characteristics
  2. Does not account for mentally disabled humans.
    • see above
  3. Superiorism lacks compassion.
    • superiorists care in proportion as G-beings are worth caring about
    • degrees of compassion
    • a welfarist view that requires “kind” treatment of nonhuman animals
    • compassion can also be occasioned for objects of affectionate relations, as in mentally disabled humans
  4. Humanism uses irrelevant and arbitrary criteria of moral standing such as being human, having rationality, etc.
    • G is relevant and not arbitrary to emphasize, because it is the business of ethics
      to promote the good
    • skin colour, by contrast, is indeed arbitrary and irrelevant
    • superiorism rejects racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and all other forms of oppressing superior G-beings who happen to be human
  5. We should use being sentient or being alive as a criterion of moral standing.
    • these are bare and impoverished compared to all of the goods that G embodies
  6. Individuals are not responsible for the amount of G they have.
    • we are often uninterested in the cause or origin of worth, but it still matters, as in the weather
    • therefore it does not matter that there is no merit in having G-factors
  7. Humanism is selfish.
    • superiorism is altruistic, but has less regard for so-called “inferiors”
  8. Nonhuman animals often have superior abilities such as sensing, strength, agility, running, flying, etc.
    • the G-list accounts for all of these but animals still have insubstantial G
  9. Humanism embodies “might makes right”.
    • those rich in G may be weak like Stephen Hawking
    • appeals to rational argument about the good, not imposition by force
  10. Rationality can be misused, even for evil.
    • yes, but so can any good, and reason can be used for great good too
    • ethics must aim for best although some will of course turn to evil
  11. Superiorism would mean contempt for the poor.
    • not ruthless perfectionism
    • all normal humans have rights based on substantial degree of G
  12. Superiorism is contrary to non-violence.
    • humans are entitled to non-violence on this ethic
    • if animals lack substantial G, they do not deserve substantial respect, and hence no rights against violence
    • violence does not have the same significance in relation to all sentient beings
  13. We should equally consider all equivalent interests (Singer).
    • no simply consider interests as free-floating abstractions, but act for conscious beings, count interests for less if they occur in the lives of inferior G-beings
    • thus trivial human interests might overrule vital animal interests because humans have rights but animals with insubstantial G do not
  14. You can’t precisely measure G.
    • true, as Aristotle says, ethics is not a precise science
    • any reasonable estimate of G values will have the same broad result

9. Defeating Superiorism

  1. Not best in terms of consequences, instead of the good of all, makes choose between sentient beings, good-negating
    • which produces more good, choosing to affirm the good of two people or choosing between them? obviously the former
    • similar though less stark logic interwoven with superiorism, negating good of inferiors
    • best criteria of moral standing is sentience because allows pursuit of the good of all
  2. Does not recognize how sentience underlies all G-goods
    Superiorist altruism is perverse: helping those already rich in goods, and helping the least those who are most impoverished in goods; neglecting those more likely to be less happy and focusing on making those more likely to be happy even happier

    • anhedonic person would find all these goods to be useless, worthless, without interest or even undesirable
    • animals can equally have lives of joy or misery
    • none of us would consider agony or joy to be “insignificant” so would be hypocritical or speciesist to downgrade these for nonhumans in any way
    • Sztybel: “No sentient creature looms over another in terms of ability to feel joy or suffering. We are all on a common playing field.”
  3. “Superior” aliens could enslave or kill inferior humans on this logic


  • these objections sink all general appeals to human superiority as in people who just list traits animals really or just supposedly lack
  • superiorism is inferior in its promotion of what is good, and in terms of justice

10. Is Humanism “Kind”?

  • not kind to refrain from supporting the good of all, instead proposing to chip away at that or negate it to a large degree
  • not kind to glut those already rich in goods and neglect those who are not so rich
  • not kind to stack the deck in terms of goods as an illusion, pretending sentience is only a minor factor
  • also not kind if we look at the violence involved, as the following analysis

[Slide 9]

Levels of Harmful Discrimination

Level 0: No Harmful Discrimination

Level 1: Comparatively Minor Harmful Discrimination

  • insults, not being fully accepted

Level 2: Major Harmful Discrimination

  • less access to food, shelter
  • poor quality food and life

Level 3: Very Major Harmful Discrimination

  • = “kindness”, “humaneness”, “anti-cruelty”, animal “welfare”? No, because humans would not at all be doing “well” at this level
  • forcible slavery to perform for amusement
  • killed for food, body parts, hunted down, experimented on
  • condition of kindness, no “unnecessary suffering”
  • main priority here is not animals doing “well” or would be level zero
  • imagine aliens with a doctrine of “human welfarism” but really we are treated at Levels 3 and 4

Level 4: Extreme Harmful Discrimination

  • Holocaust, harshest slavery, factory farming, extreme vivisection
  • same as Level 3 only no pretensions to “humane” treatment

11. Common Weak Excuses for Speciesism

  1. Humans should always have priority.
    • even if believe, easy not to eat or wear animals, not go to dolphin shows, support animal experiments while acting for humans
    • best to attend to everyone, speciesist not to
    • naked assertion of speciesism
  2. Animals cannot behave ethically towards us, so we owe them nothing.
    • then no rights for mentally disabled humans, assuming we are not moved by refutation of superiorism
    • but whatever anyone says, it is not best to deprive the helpless of rights
  3. Humans are natural omnivores?
    • what nature permits is no guide to morality, or violence would be fine
    • healthier to be vegan by far
    • our anatomy more like herbivore than carnivore
      • tiny canine teeth
      • no claws, soft little fingernails
      • move jaws side to side and grind using molars unlike carnivores
      • long digestive tract, low acid unlike short, high-acid guts of carnivores
      • no instinct to devour raw carcasses, sickened by sight of blood, intestines, etc.
  4. What about plants?
    • most agree not sentient
    • even if sentient:
    • would face dilemma about eating plants, not animals, and most would choose to save themselves over a broccoli plant
    • vegetarians consume ten times fewer plants
  5. Only saints are vegan.
    • non-violence not for saints alone
  6. Animals never know any better treatment.
    • we know though
    • does not excuse child abuse
  7. Animals are our property to do with as we will.
    • once true of humans, but human slavery was wrong
    • we don’t own animals’ experiences: the animals have their own experiences as no one else can
  8. Humans have souls but nonhuman animals do not.
    • how can you prove anyone has a soul?
    • if souls are psyches, animals have psyches too
    • ethnocentric: Jains, Hindus, many natives say animals have souls
    • Cardinal Bellarmine: If animals only have this life, they should be treated more kindly if anything (quoted in Rollin, Animal Rights and Human Morality)
  9. Vegans should not dictate their ways to others.
    • informing choices of individuals and working democratically with society
    • animals “dictated to” in slaughterhouses, etc.
    • respect for diversity does not include violence
  10. The Bible suggests that it is acceptable to eat meat.
    • Bible says punishable by death to eat on the mountains, come near a menstruating woman, engage in usury (Ezekiel 18:5-9)
    • Bible says we have dominion over animals, radah in Hebrew which means government as in the case of citizens, who have rights
    • grateful and careful stewards of nature, not contemptuous of divine creation
  11. “I am not violent towards animals.”
    • if hunted humans, killed to eat or wear skins, enslaved, experiment on we call that violence: speciesist, hypocritical language and thinking
  12. “I like the taste of meat.”
    • speciesist, not taking animals seriously
    • thoughtless, inconsiderate, ignorant
    • veganism is full of great tastes

archives: 24-jan-13 Kant and Animal Rights, Regan And Singer


by Paul York

Thanks to Michael and Jayme for recording the audio and video

Readings: Julian Franklin on Kant and animals in Animal Rights and Moral Philosophy, pp.32-50 ; selections from Immanuel Kant. Religion Within the Bounds of Mere Reason pertaining to the role and formation of the ethical community.


a) A quick note on the 2nd Kant reading (pp. 10-17) for Jan. 24th to bring it into focus:

The book this is taken from (Kant, Religion Within the Bounds of Mere Reason) is often misunderstood as a theological tract because it uses words like “God” and “church.” In fact, as I will argue, it has significance for animal rights because it can be interpreted as a description of any kind of social movement that advances a moral position for the betterment of society — which the animal rights movement does, or certainly tries to do.The confusion can arise from Kant’s appropriation of religious language to describe movements that can in fact be secular in orientation. “God” in Kantian language is not in reference to the traditional monotheistic God of Abraham; rather, it is a symbol (or “postulate”) of “pure practical reason.” God is a symbol for “the highest good” which is our capacity to be persons who always act in a morally good manner, in consideration of others. This refers to the potential of human beings to act in accordance with “the moral law within” (or conscience), which means respecting all others, including (we could argue) other animals we share this planet with.Ethically minded communities and the use of some kind of symbols or shared ideals are necessary for this purpose, because morality is very often a subjective experience, so we require symbols to share moral perspective. In the animal rights movement, for example, we refer to “abolition” or “liberation” or “rights” as ideals.Kant uses the phrase “the true church” to represent such communities. If one reads the text carefully, this is not a Christian church, necessarily, or even a religious group (though it could be), but any social movement that advances “the moral law within” that we all have access to by virtue of being rational beings. Think of Toronto Pig Save, for instance, which is certainly an ethically minded and inclusive movement trying to help both human society and animals.I would argue that rational beings, in this understanding, are the same as “moral agents” — beings who have the ability to make moral decisions. Franklin’s argument is vital for the expansion of this moral philosophy to nonuman animals because he includes all sentient beings, including “moral patients” (moral subjects who do not have moral decision making ability but nonetheless are deserving of moral consideration, such as young children, for example).Complicating this discussion is Marc Bekoff’s work, and the work of other ethologists, who shows that in fact some nonhuman animals can be moral agents as well as patients. Does that mean that nonhuman animals can also form ethical communities? One thinks of the groups of dolphins working together to try to save other dolphins from harm, for example. The ethologists have many examples of animal altruism.Moreover, nonhuman animals may work together to help one another, cooperatively, without requiring any kind of shared representation systems, such as religious language to do so. The fact is that we do not know if they have symbolic language and shared representations of ideals. Humans, on the other hand, seem to require symbols to communicate their ideals, and this propensity carries with it a great risk for our species, since we so often misunderstand each other (and religious texts) and use religion to dehumanize (and de-animalize) others, to advance individual and collective self-interest, rather than helping others.This wrong understanding comes from mistaking “supersensible” ideals and metaphysical concepts with empirical reality. This is how we might account for religious arguments used to justify speciesism, for example: saying that “God made animals for us to use” misrepresents the idea of God, from the perspective of Franklin’s interpretation of Kant, because it wrongly appeals to authority in a supersensible representation (“God”) when in fact we should be using reason to discern the truth for ourselves (to “think for ourselves” in other words, which is a dictum Kant uses in another essay).As noted above “God” is the symbol of the highest good, the moral law, not an external agent whom we can appeal to violate the moral law. “God” is a useful concept when it helps us act in consideration of all others, to suggest that our society should live in accordance with principles and ideals that approximate the highest good, but it is a worse than useless concept when it is used to justify violence against others — as so often is the case in human history.This argument is important for animal rights, because 85% of our species has some sort of religious affiliation, very often used to exploit animals. If we can help shift an all too common understanding of the meaning of religious faith from blind obedience to an external authority figure, to social justice, moral responsibility, and consideration of the basic rights of others (including non-humans), that is a valuable service.The discussion is also valuable for grounding the animal rights movement in a kind of ethics that does not rely on literal belief in religious ideas, but is nonetheless guided by what theologian Paul Tillich calls “ultimate concern” through “moral faith” in the possibility of a just, inclusive society.I would argue that this vision necessarily requires a commitment to nonviolence in order to be truly inclusive and just. It is nonviolent to include all others, even meat-eaters and animal oppressors, within your scope of one’s moral concern (as hard as that may be for some), and to seek to transform society in an inclusive manner. So misanthropic or violent language would, from this perspective, be expunged. Thus a Kantian worldview is very similar to a Gandhian worldview, if understood in this manner.

This train of thought is based on a few of the pages in Kant’s book. This text also discusses “the propensity to evil” and time permitting I will discuss that as well, because it really gives us great insight into the dynamics and psychology of discrimination and hierarchical thinking, which informs speciesist thinking.

This is the sort of discussion I hope we can have on Jan. 24th, time-permitting.


Readings for Jan. 24th class (for those who have course readers):

1) Peter Singer reading from Julian Franklin’s Moral Philosophy and Animal Rights, handed out first week.

2) Tom Regan and Peter Singer readings from Environmental Ethics, handed out this week (Jan. 17) pp. 1 to 9 of bottom right hand corner.

3) Review Regan’s Empty Cages (handed out first week).

4) Kant reading from Julian Franklin’s book Moral Philosophy and Animal Rights, handed out first week.

5) From 2nd week handouts: pp. 10-17 (lower right hand corner numbers) from Kant’s Religion Within the Bounds of Mere Reason, only the check-marked portions. The discussion above relates to this particular reading.

I do not expect you to read all of this, but do your best over the next week. The more you read the clearer the lectures will be. Email me with questions or comments if you have any. – Paul York

b) by Paul York, for Jan. 24th class

Historical context

• Eighteenth century Enlightenment thought, in response to centuries of traditional Christian theology and metaphysics, occurring during the rise of modern science and technology, and western liberal individualism.

• Emphasis on reason, rather than emotion. For example: “enthusiasm” as a pejorative term. It refers to the emotional outburst of charismatic preachers. Enlightenment philosophers thought poorly of this type of religion. Philosophically, rationalism and empiricism were in vogue.

• Emphasis on liberty, egalitarianism, freedom, democracy, humanism, a rejection of traditional theocratic ancien regime – ideas that were influenced French and American Revolutions (e.g. Jefferson, Paine) incidentally. (Note that Kant rejected outright revolution; see essay online An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?).

Introductory remarks on the foundation for Kantian ethics

• Kant thought that the foundation of ethics is “pure practical reason a priori.” “Pure practical reason” means the ability of reason, which we all have, to make moral decision. “a priori” means prior to experience; that is, we are born with it. See his main works on ethics: Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals; Critique of Practical Reason.

He was at pains to locate the origin of morality (our capacity to make moral decisions) in free will, free from any empirical, social, historical, or otherwise causal influences.

• These influences can shape the endless expressions of moral decision-making to be sure (e.g. religious expression, secular expressions, culturally diverse expressions), but the origin or root of morality cannot be subject to the vicissitudes of history, he thought, because if it were, they would be influenced by various expressions of self-interest, either individually or collectively, which would corrupt it. Indeed it is corrupted — and we see that every day around us in endless forms — but the root of morality is itself incorruptible, he thought.

One way to think of this is to understand that everyone at a deep level knows right from wrong: that is wrong to harm others — including animals. However, we are socially conditioned to believe it is necessary or justifiable. “Autonomy of the will” is the ideal state where we have divested ourselves of the illusions imposed on us and see things clearly for ourselves.

• This gives us a certain hope that we can aspire to be better human beings, because if we thought that we could not aspire to the highest ideal of moral goodness, we certainly would lose hope in the possibility of a better society. Those who feel that human society is beyond hope often succumb to feelings of nihilism and despair. Kant’s ethics are an exercise in hope, but not a false hope; he was well aware of the evil that men do, and watned to articulate how we may overcome it.

• All rational beings, on a basic level, can distinguish between good and evil, i.e. distinction between harming others vs. helping others. We can use judgement to discern which is which. We (meaning all rational beings) are moral decision-makers – though not all of us use this ability.

• For the purposes here, I am equating “rational beings” with moral agents (not moral patients). But humans are morally lazy so we frequently defer to external authorities or ideologies or unquestioned cultural norms. This is called “heteronomy of the will.” The ideal for Kant was its opposite, the “autonomy of the will.” This refers to the highest ideal of human behaviour, the possibility of being a perfectly good person. Kant knew that was not actually going to happen, but he was concerned with the ideal as a guiding force us, to help us apsire to it.

Jesus, for example, was not the son of God, in his view; he was the personification of an ethical ideal that humanity can emulate. The same could be said of other semincal figures in history: Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Gautama Buddha, et al.They occupy a space in our culture as ethical examples, personifications of the moral law which we all have the capacity to realize within ourselves, and to help reinforce on social and political levels (through activism for example).

• This view, that ethics can have a universal foundation, is challenged by a postmodern emphasis on cultural / moral relativism, which maintains that good and evil are not universal; they are historically particular, determined by social and historical forces. A Kantian might respond by saying that the forms that moral judgements take are of course historically determined a posteriori (i.e. through experience), but the “subjective determining ground” of morality exists a priori, meaning prior to experience, or any causal determinants.

• These ideals are universal and ahistorical (the same in all times and places for all persons): every rational being has the ability to realize them for him or herself at any time, although many need moral guidance in this, but this guidance must not become heteronomous — meaning that we must determine right and wrong for ourselves, not in deference to an external authority or a cultural norm that is non-universalizable.

• As noted in an earlier lecture by David, Kant came up with a theory for describing his ethical perspective, called “the categorical imperative” which contained the principle of “universalizability.”

“Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means but always at the same time as an end.”(Third formulation of the Categorical Imperative (CI)).

• The well-being of all persons is important. If the well-being of some persons is gained at the expense of the well-being of others , the maxim of the actions that allow this are not universalizable — which is to say that it cannot be feasibly applied to all. A good example is stealing: it would cause harm to others so it, cannot be a universalizable maxim for our actions. This is why Kantian ethics can be juxtaposed to utilitarianism, which permits individual rights to be violated in some cases.

• Kant emphasized “thinking for yourself” – i.e. using your own reason. Most people let others think for them, he said. Example: animal exploitation industries tell us that they raise and treat animals “humanely.” Or corporations and ad agencies tell us we need certain products to make us happy. Social conditioning contributes to heteronomous thinking; standing back from that is exercising autonomy of the will, especially in morally ambiguous situations.

• Kant intended his ethics, in large part, to respond to the abuses of religion, but the application of the philosophy is far larger than this: it can apply to any cultural form, any manifestation of heteronomy of the will in human culture. Thus it is applicable in a modern context to advertising (what David Loy calls “the religion of the market”) and certainly to the socially conditioned worldview that animals are inferior or the myth that we need massive amounts of animal protein and calcium to be healthy.

Enlightenment is defined as liberation from “self-incurred minority” (meaning self-imposed subservience to the will of authority figures and unquestioned cultural norms). We need a foundation for moral decision-making that is free from parochial interests. It is an ideal, never fully realizable and requires moral striving and constant effort.

• Autonomy of the will (freedom from heteronomy) is an ideal, for the individual and society. It is often interpreted as a stress on liberal individualism, associated with capitalism and g`lobalizing imperialism (Asad, Adorno, McIntyre, et al), but this interpretation misses the potential of this ethic to argue for liberation from the barrage of external influences on us that reinforce globalization, or (we could add) a hierarchical slave-owning society.

The postmodern view maintains that Kant’s ethics are historical and cultural formations, which certainly they are, but they also refer to something ahistorical and universal: the moral law. Talal Asad says there is nothing outside the historical, but moral judgement of colonialism and racism are evidence an arguably universal moral position: that these things are wrong because they harm others.

Apologetics; a response to criticisms

• There are problems with Kant from an animal rights perspective. He was not for animal rights. He was for “indirect rights” for animals (explained further down in the notes). So from the perspective of someone committed to practical / applied ethics and animal rights, the study of the application of Kant is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end, for the purpose of understanding some fundamental issues that bear on animal rights.

• In other words, it is important to grasp the kernel of truth and discard the rest (e.g. anachronisms, prejudices against Judaism, women, and animals; endless meta-ethical and epistemological debates – these are only relevant insofar as they shed light on the practical issues that the philosophy is intended to address).

• Another way of putting it: pluralism v. exclusivism. The former is an ideal for discourse that acknowledges multiple perspectives. The latter maintains that there is only one valid perspective and discards the rest.

A philosopher can be wrong on many points and yet still provide valuable insights. We do not have to throw out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak. Kant’s philosophy transcends his personal views on certain subjects, including animal rights.

• We can cite three hundred years of objections to Kant over many different issues, some valid, some not. The most vocal objection today is against the postmodern objection against the universal ethics, but this is not a good reason to not study him.

• Kant realized this formula applied to all persons regardless of race or class, and thus was against colonialism and slavery, which was fairly enlightened for the 18th century. He simply did not see that slavery can include nonhumans too. It was not lack of a good heart, in his case, but rather that he was (as so many of us are) perpetual “muddlers” (Regan’s term for people, usually men, who are undecided on the animal issue). Evidence of his muddling was his theory of indirect rights, which is a bit like welfarism.

On supersensible ideas and ideals

• “Supersensible” concepts (both ideas and ideals) have meaning beyond sense experience. They are products of our imaginations. They have no objective correlative in empirical reality, in other words, yet they are important, in Kant’s view, for “practical” (i.e. ethical) reasons.

• Kant accepts and agrees with Hume’s rejection of Christian doctrines, but unlike Hume sees that there may be some practical value in historical religions for advancing the ideal of an ethical society.

• Supersensible concepts can be used for good or evil. Humans are imaginative creatures. We often mistake the products of our imagination for reality, with tragic consequences. The key is not abandoning imagination (which cannot be done anyway) but to harness this power, to use it practically, for a good end: for the creation of an ethical, radically inclusive society.

• Example: American nationalism. A regulative (i.e. ethical) interpretation of the moral imperative to protect the nation is protecting the ideals that it stands for (freedom, democracy) for all persons in all nations at all times. The nation state is merely the vehicle for the advance of the ideals, but if, through constitutive interpretation, it becomes the end and not the means (or vehicle) that is problematic. Our duty is not to preserve the vehicle or symbol or institution, but the ideals they stand for. Violating human rights to protect the state (e.g. torture, drone attacks, wars of aggression, predatory economic policies, etc) may strengthen the state, but it undermines the ideals it purportedly stands for. The same is true also of religious institutions (e.g. child-sex scandal covered up to protect the institution).

• We see this heteronomous interpretation of supersenible ideals in the example of torture of alleged enemies of the state, and also (we could add) in the exploitation of animals. There are countless examples of evil being done for the sake of making reality conform to an ideal (e.g. communism, capitalism, fascism). Individuals can be de-humanized or de-animalized, used as a means to an end (the end being some ideal or objective such as a theocratic state, for example, or a society that is ideal for humans but still enslaves nonhumans); they are not regarded as ends in themselves, worthy of respect.

Kant’s point, to use rights language, is that individual rights can never be violated or compromised for the some social or political ideal, because the highest ideal is the protection of the basic rights of all. Example: a statesman says that his ideal is to provide milk for all children; in so saying he is not extending his concern to dairy cows or calves. His ideal, while seemingly laudable, is non-universalizable.

• Kantian ideals can also be used to help humanity and nonhumanity in productive ways by helping us envision the highest possible ideal (the utopian society, or Berry’s “communion of subjects”) and striving for that ideal, even if we can never fully achieve it. What other choice does humanity have, after all, but to strive for the highest ideals, such as abolitionism or democracy or sustainability? The alternatives — continuing factory farms, wars, dictatorship, climate change — are unthinkable.

Thus humanity needs to strive for higher ideals than merely reforming them, but the path to do this cannot be violent, because that would compromise the moral law, which is at its core nonviolent. Recall that we can never use others as means to an end, even if the end is the good society, because ultimately the highest end of all is the well-being, the protection of the basic rights of all.

Julian Franklin on Kant

• Franklin says that Kant’s Formula of Humanity (or FH, a form of the Categorical Imperative) is the “the most powerful argument” for animal rights, despite the fact that Kant did not recognize it.

• Kant was for indirect rights for animals. He wrote that “he who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men.” We may think of serial killers torturing animals. What are some major arguments for “indirect rights” for animals? The environment and human health comes to mind (e.g. Regan’s “environmental fascism” which describes violating individual rights for the sake of a perceived greater good).

• FH is powerful because of the principle of universalizability, which is radically inclusive for all persons, including non-human persons (in Franklin’s version of it).

• Again, this ethic can be distinguished from utilitarianism: the highest good is what brings the greatest good (i.e. most happiness) to the greatest number (Singer, see ch. 1 of Franklin). Basic problem with utilitarianism: not inclusive of all beings in all circumstances, and can be used to justify victimization of the individual or minority for the sake of the majority (e.g. animal testing, or utilitarian calculus of cost-benefit analysis, frequently used to justify environmentally destructive development projects). However, when applied to animals (e.g. Singer), utilitarianism is a powerful argument for their liberation, based on their numbers, and their capacity to suffer – “in suffering they are our equals” (Bentham). So we must give this philosophy its due, as well.

• FH says “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity whether in your own person or the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.” i.e. Treat others as “ends”, not as “means to an end.”

• Franklin answers the objection “what about jobs?” In other words, isn’t a job using someone as a means to an end? One can distinguish between labour agreements in a normal society (e.g. waiter) and slavery: slavery is involuntary, and there in “inadequate compensation.” Example: child labour or slave labour, where the work is coerced or involuntary vs. work that is freely chosen.

• Complicating the discussion is “economic slavery” and prostitution that is freely chosen: economic drivers force people to choose lives they might not otherwise choose. But with outright slavery it is unambiguous: animal slavery treats animals as a means to an end, not as ends in themselves, and violates FH (or FS). (Note: The Dreaded Comparison, by Marjorie Speigel, which compares human and animal slavery).

• Franklin changes FH’s criterion from rationality to sentience (FS). Sentience is self-awareness, being in the world and aware of it and one’s place in the world. Thus he includes moral patients as well as moral agents in the formula. Kant seems to have neglected moral patients when he spoke of only rational beings having moral considerability.

• To be morally consistent we would have to either go in the direction of cannibalism or veganism. The dividing line between species is arbitrary, irrational (recall Hume’s “naturalistic fallacy” from the earlier lecture).

• Thus FS: “Act in such a way that you always treat sentience in your own existence or in the existence of any other, never simply as a means, but also as an end.” (Franklin, 42)

• Animals are sentient, but plants are not, in this view. Plants do not “suffer pain, deprivation, and unwanted death” as animals do, Franklin claims. Sentience also implies that the individual values his or her life absolutely, without limitation: the individual has “absolute value” (unlimited intrinsic value). Similar to “subject of a life” (Regan).

Moral agents and patients

• As noted before Kant’s does not seem to recognize moral patients. Franklin corrects this, designating animals as moral patients. This is very important for our understanding of what Franklin achieves with this essay — why it is a key essay for animal rights philosophy.

• The designation of ‘moral patients’ would apply to all future generations as well, all persons in different classes, and in different nations, all differently abled persons who do not have moral agency. We are all moral patients all the time, but not all of us are moral agents.

• Complicating this discussion is the fact that some non-human animals are also moral agents. Some animals have “potential for good will” as the science of cognitive behavioural ethology suggests. The “good will” is the freedom of choice to will good for others.

• Perhaps we could also add the capacity to love (Patton)? Certainly mother pigs love their children. Many animals are quite capable of love (see the work of animal ethologists Marc Bekoff and others).

• Altruism is not understood by biologists (Mayr). Altruism cannot be reduced to “kin selection” or even “biological cooperation” or “the selfish gene” – all ideas reductively imply instinctual / deterministic, rather than moral decision-making on the part of individuals. But we know that some non-human animals are moral decision-makers and unique individuals. They are moral agents, as well as patients.

In summary, The essential point is that Kant provides us with something called The Formula of Humanity, which says that we should never treat other persons instrumentally, as “means to an end”, and that we should always treat them as “ends in themselves” — with respect and dignity, in other words.

The problem with Kant’s theory is not the form of it, which Franklin thinks is a very powerful ethical argument for respecting others, but who it applies to. It is supposed to apply to all persons, all of humanity, but Franklin thinks it ought to apply to all nonhuman persons as well and that Kant was in error in making it anthropocentric / human-centered. Kant’s reasoning for doing so is that we are moral subjects (we matter morally) because we are rational beings. However, this is a very limited criterion, because it excludes moral patients who are non-rational beings.

So to be truly universal in scope — to conform to the ideal of universalizability that is central to the Categorical Imperative and Formula of Humanity (which are two expressions of the same “moral law”) — we need to say that it is sentience that is the criterion, not reason, for who counts morally. If we do that, then the Formula of Humanity tells us that nonhuman persons also matter morally and should not be used as means to an end (e.g. used for food, entertainment, clothing, science, etc.).

The crucial move Franklin makes is replacing reason with sentience as the criterion for moral considerability.

The Realm of Ends and Communion of Subjects

• Realm (Kingdom) of Ends (usually referred to as RE) represents the social ideal, the utopian vision of a perfect society where everyone acts without need of the law to restrain them because they have perfect autonomy of the will.

• If RE includes non-humans – which it should if we accept Franklin’s argument — then this is very close to Thomas Berry’s idea of “a communion of subjects.” It is a utopian ideal — a product of supersensible imagination — that we can use to guide us ethically towards the creation of a better (i.e. more just, more inclusive, more sustainable) society. It is an ideal that has practical value.

• For human society RE, in the modern context, would prescribe a just, sustainable, egalitarian society – also a no-growth economy (arguably). It would also mean an inclusive society, one that recognizes animal rights. Practically speaking we cannot achieve a better world unless we eliminate animal slavery, just as America could not move ahead socially until it eliminated human slavery.

• Animal liberation is also critical vis-a-vis ending factory farming, which is a major contributor to climate change, which suggests that in order to save humanity we must stop enslaving nonhumanity. RE, in this modern context, argues for animal liberation.

• Subjects are not objects; objects are means to an end. Idea of “ethical commonwealth”(ideal society) should include non-human sentient beings.

• In this commonwealth, domesticated animals that have been so selectively bred that they cannot exist without human help should be well cared for and not exploited and wild animals should be respected / treated better, and/or left alone / not infringed on (Bekoff, Animal Manifesto, ch. 1).

A note on individual freedoms and rights

• First, let us note that the United Nations recognizes three types of human rights: negative rights – right not to be harmed. This is a basic right. Secondly, positive rights (e.g. Declaration of Human Rights: education, water, etc.) For all animals this would mean (according to Rob Laidlaw, in his definition of the ‘good sanctuary’) (i) freedom, (ii) space, (iii) things to do, (iv) family. Third, community rights, recognizing groups, e.g. shark or dolphin community’s right to a clean environment, which is consistent with conservationism.

• Here is the problem we wish to answer. The avid meat-eater says “it’s my right to choose what I eat.”However, from a Kantian perspective individual positive rights must be limited in order to respect the negative rights of all persons.

• The concept of freedom is central to “the moral law” and rights language; however, crucially, there are limitations to freedom: “it is limited by respect for the rights of others.”

• Kant’s expression of this is as follows: to ensure equality we must “limiting the freedom of each to the conditions under which it can coexist with the freedom of everyone else in conformity with a universal law.”

• A vernacular expression of this principle is as follows: The freedom to swing my fist ends where my fist meets your face – attributed to Judge Learned Hand.

• Exploiting animals is not universalizable if we concede that they are moral subjects.

• Environmentally, we may understand this as the moral imperative to limit our “right” to finite resources in consideration of all others who need them, including future generations and non-humans. In this way, the principle of universalizability is tied to sustainability and habitat conservation.

Kant’s philosophy of religion and how it applies to animal issues

• There are two types of religion: true pure religious faith (i.e. “the moral law within”) and historical faith (created by men).

• The historical form of religion provides us with important lessons for all cultural formations, including secular human groups, movements, and institutions.

• Note: Kant appropriated religious language to describe an essentially cultural phenomenon. He may be considered an atheist or agnostic thinker, although some theologians have tried to claim that he was a Christian. This is disputed by James DiCenso.

• “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not need to search for them and merely conjecture them as though they were veiled in obscurity or in the transcendent region beyond my horizons; I see them before me and connect them immediately with the consciousness of my existence. The first begins from the place I occupy in the external world of sense and extends the connection in which I stand into an unbounded magnitude with worlds upon worlds and systems upon systems, and moreover into the unbounded times of their periodic motion, their beginning and their duration.”(5:161, tr. Guyer 1992).

Morality, in this expression, is like the universe around us: something larger and much older than us, that we ought to defer to; however, at the same time, it is not transcendental but its expression can be; the important thing is to discern this and employ it wisely, without granting that supersensible ideals exists within sensible reality. In other words, recognize their practical value, but do not grant them constitutive reality.

This perspective arises from the Third Critique, which argues that our perception of nature is much like our perception of God: it is something that derives from within us (that we create in imagination) and that we must recognize this and learn to use these perceptions practically for the good of all. This does not dismiss a biocentric worldview, but it does put it in perspective as something shaped by human ways of perceiving the world.

• Returning to historical faith (which we are saying is merely a cultural formation, something created by men, like all other cultural formations): there are two directions that historical faith can go in: “counterfeit faith” which violates the moral law (e.g. use of religion to justify violence, animal exploitation, to amass power for ecclesiastical authorities, to rob people of their ability to think for themselves), and historical religion that helps advance the moral law (e.g. social gospel, liberation theology, eco-theology, Christian animal rights, engaged Buddhism, ahimsa, Jesus’ ethical teachings on love, Gandhian philosophy).

• All cultural formations can go in these two directions, it seems: even the animal rights movement. None are above reproach. We (humans) also need systems of shared representations (Vorstellung in German) in order to share conceptions of the highest ideals that our imaginations create and which have (potentially) practical use. They also have the potential for evil because of supersensible imagination: the most demonic example is Nazism, which was a kind of religion based on the non-universalizable ideal of “blood purity.” Ideals that are non-universalizable have the potential to become fascist.

• In terms of historical forms of religion: we can have morality without religion (standard atheist argument) but there are two reasons to still consider it valuable without saying the atheists are wrong: 1) Pragmatically, it is here to stay. The secularization debate, after 9//11, has swayed in favour of those who argue that religion is here to stay. 85 percent of humanity is religious in some fashion; if it can be used for the good, it should be (Scharper). It has the potential to help humanity form a better society (Berry). 2) It provides the “clothing” (e.g. symbols, myths, shared representations) around which ethically minded communities form (e.g. Quakers, also animal rights). Ethical principles are abstract, esoteric; there is a need for symbols to easily convey these principles to the masses. We need “shared representations” to convey abstract principles such as ethical ideals. This helps us understand the potential of religion to convey the highest ideals.

• The danger, however, is that these ideals will be misunderstood, which happens quite often because of moral laziness and heteronomy of the will. The danger of employing traditional historical traditions is that they will be misunderstood (e.g. religious fundamentalists, Islamists, the American Religious Right, Nazism, communism, etc.). So it is the responsibility of all of us to make sure they are correctly understood, not to advance parochial interests, but to advance the common good. This is a constant never-ending process. Why stop the process at humanity? Why not non-humanity, if they are moral patients (and even moral agents)?

• This does not mean allegiance to ideological purity (the task of the Inquisitor or zealot); rather, it means commitment to living in accordance with and advancing the ideals that are most inclusive, most egalitarian, most conducive to the well-being of everyone in society. If an ideal is advanced in such a way that it compromises the well-being of others, we need to stop and question that. Kant argues for the ideal of education, which can be distinguished from indoctrination.

• So how do we discern? James Garvey’s distinction between necessary and luxury emissions can be applied: is it necessary to exploit animals, or merely a desire? The most inclusive society is the one that is considerate of the well-being of all sentient beings (if we accept FH –> FS or some other formulation of animal rights).

• These communities all have ethical blind spots, through which parochial interests can be advanced, at the expense of the moral law, which is why there need to be principles that advance the moral law, to help the community self-reflect and grow morally.

• Ethical communities can learn from one another. CI and FH are formal expressions of universal ethical principles that we find in many religious traditions (various expressions of the Golden Rule).

• Let us return for a moment to the idea of “pure practical reason a priori.” The “subjective determining ground of reason” and “freedom of power of choice” to choose good or evil is something we are born with, but it has to be activated; in some people it is not adequately activated, because of both external conditions and also our own choices: because we are morally lazy sometimes it is not activated within us, or because the society we are in is given over to evil in various ways and this misleads people. This is where Kant’s philosophy of religion comes into play: religion can help educate us, but if it orders us to think in a certain way, or reinforces unequal power relaions and hierarchical thinking and injustice, rather than educating us to use our own reason, then it is worse than useless.

Notes on Religion Within the Bounds of Mere Reason

• P. 50 (11) Three predispositions in human nature. 1) animality, 2) humanity, 3) personality. They can be corrupted by self-love [self-interest]. Self-love is not evil but if it is given precedence in our power of choice over the ML, that is evil. It’s okay to have animal desires (#1), or social instincts (# 2) but if we allow them to be corrupted, these predispositions can become great forces of evil in the world.

• Example for #2: a natural desire to gain equal worth in the eyes of others (sociality), which Kant thinks is a good thing, can be corrupted throught the power of choice into becoming a state of viewing others as inferiors. He is say that a natural inclination (or predisposition), good in itself and necessary for us, has evil “grafted onto it” by the choice to put self-interest ahead of the moral law, and then it becomes hierarchical thinking. This has led to consumerism (acquiring things for social status); a good examples vis-a-vis animals is meat, shark-fin soup, Canada Goose jacket.

• The corruption of the Predisposition of Animality (#1) is also important: this predisposition refers to our natural desires for food, sex, shelter, etc. A corruption of this is gluttony, desiring more than we need without consideration for others’ rights — in this case the rights of those eaten.

P. 109(13) “the ethical community” – K. is appropriating religious language in order to convey transcendental (supersensible) ideals …

• He also builds into his philosophy the tools for avoiding misinterpretation. This is not a religious tract; it is a description of any ethical community (‘religious’ or secular) that advances the common good. e.g. animal rights.

• The ethical community (or “true church”) is a kind of ethical vanguard for transforming society. e.g. Toronto Pig Save, and many other ethically minded protest movements. This community aspire to these infinite ideals (they are utopians – e.g abolitionism), but with the understanding that the ideal is “never fully attainable” and becomes an imperfect institution. This is the best that we can do, as human beings, and even to accomplish this requires endless moral striving and effort. The signs of a true ethical community are (p. 112 / 15):

Four criteria for ‘true church’ (or ethical community)

• Universal union. Against “sectarian schisms” – united by a common purpose, though allowing for differences of opinion.

• Purity, “union under no other incentive than moral ones” i.e. Not motivated by collective self-interest; motivated by altruism, the common good of all.

• “Relation under the principle of freedom” i.e. non-hierarchical, against “illuminatism” [cult of personality]; everyone is equal.

• Must have “secure principles.” i.e. Not cave into corruption or parochial interests (collective self-interests).

‘Counterfeit faith’

P. 153/16 – counterfeit service / priestcraft

• – the ideal of being able to eventually dispense with “ecclesiastical faith” and “statutory laws” and create a truly ethical society, where everyone is always considerate of everyone else, and works for the common good. Ecclesiastical authorities (and all those who accept corrupt systems and do not try to change) them are “damnable” – e.g. Temple Grandin. If we accept things as they are, that is unacceptable. In religions, acceptance of unjust social and political systems is wrong; in secular activist movements the same argument applies – especially when those movements symbolize the ideal. This means they have a moral responsibility to advance it. e.g. environmentalists or human rights activists who do not care about animal rights.

Excursus on “rights language” or the “rights position”

• Rights language arose from the Enlightenment idea (e.g. French Revolution, founding of Unites States of America, influence of Kantian ethics); they utilize “supersensible” (transcendental) ideals such as liberty, democracy, truth, freedom, equality (referred to above). Kant was influential in the development of rights language, which is prevalent today in many forms.

• Modern manifestations include: the United Nations forums on human rights, informed civil rights movement, women’s movement, human rights movement, Emancipation Proclamation, arguments against trafficking, torture, war crimes, Nuremberg trials, etc. Now it is part of popular discourse and law. However, there are strong criticisms, mainly to do with the critique of the Enlightenment as promoting individualism (contra communitarianism), and usually arguing that “rights” is a socially constructed worldview originating with Europeans.

• Rights are universal, those who have them are equals, they are inalienable. Opposed to “morality as a cultural product” and moral relativism (e.g. Asian values debate).

• Ambiguous role of religion as originary, speaks to the difference between a theocentric and human-centric or even atheistic worldview; note: one can also incorporate humanism into theology (e.g. Paul Tillich).

• Essential issue: rights, to be true, must be thought of ahistorically and their origin as existing a priori, even though common sense would dictate that their particular expression is historically particular.

• Rejection of the rights argument increasingly popular (Asad, McIntyre, Rachels, et al). Holism, if taken to an extreme, seems to abrogate rights (issue of “environmental fascism”), but that is a pending topic.

• Animal rights issue from human rights, historically. There is now also a “rights of nature” discourse. This is problematic because rights naturally accrue to individuals, not systems.

• Humans are animals, thus human rights = animal rights, logically.


Kant’s practical ethics are consistent with Gandhian non-violence. As Gandhi said, the means and ends must be consistent. This dovetails with Kant’s Formula of Humanity, which says never treat a person as a means to an end, but always as an end in themselves. Bringing together the two philosophies we can say that always treating others as ends in himself/herself requires us to act nonviolently towards everyone, regardless of who they are, consistent with the principle of universalizability. Violence treats others as means to an end (e.g. winning the war), but violates their basic rights in doing so and undermines the end (peace) through violence. Kant was against violence, judging from his essays, but he was for law and order. He did not think through the issue of civil disobedience.

archives: 17-jan-13 Overview of ethical theories – criticism



by David Sztybel

January 17, 2013


  1. Critical Thinking
  2. Problems with Intuitionism
  3. Rights Views3.A. Immanuel Kant and Julian Franklin3.B. John Rawls, Mark Rowlands, and Mark Bernstein3.C. Alan Gewirth and Evelyn Pluhar3.D. Tom Regan’s Animal Rights Theory3.E. Gary Francione’s Animal Rights Theory3.F. Compassion-Based Rights3.G. Tradition-Based Rights A: Steve Sapontzis’ “Everyday Morality”3.H. Tradition-Based Rights B: Bernard Rollins’ “Common Sense”

    3.I. Rights Theories That Do Not Logically Entail Rights

    3.J. The “Frankentheory” of Rights

  4. Utilitarianism
  5. Virtue Ethics
  6. Ethical Egoism
  7. Pragmatism
  8. Ecoholism
  9. Feminist Ethic of Care
  10. Conclusion
  11. Discussion and Questions

1. Critical Thinking

  • means standing back from a given argument and assessing it for strengths and weaknesses, factors pro and con, which translates into positive and negative criticisms
  • two types of arguments, using 1. deductive and 2. inductive logic:
    1. deductive argument [Slide 2 of 23]
      • classic example of a valid deductive argument:
        1. All humans are mortal.
        2. Socrates is a human.
        3. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
        • notice premises and conclusion [Slide 3]
        • if assert these premises and deny conclusion,
          contradicting oneself
      • Bertrand Russell would analyze the Socrates argument in
        mathematical form: If all As are Bs, and X is A, then X is B.
      • example of an invalid deductive argument: [Slide 4]
        1. Mathematics at university is a very difficult subject.
        2. Harold is studying mathematics at the University of
        3. Therefore, Harold is having a difficult time studying
          mathematics at university.
      • notice how conclusion does not follow, because given the premises, Harold could still be having an easy time of his math; calling university math difficult is relative to the standard of the average person, but Harold might be a mathmatical genius
      • one can assert the premises and deny the conclusion without self-contradiction
      • good arguments require more than just correct facts; they require right inferences from the facts
    2. inductive argument [Slide 5]
      1. We have been experiencing dramatic, weird weather such as more dangerous hurricanes.
      2. Stronger hurricances fit global warming theory.
      3. Therefore, global warming is probably occurring.
        • inductive arguments based on actual observations, and are matters of probability, not whether one contradicts oneself as in deductive arguments
        • this argument has some strength but would need to
          consider other supporting factors and also counter-arguments if one is to establish a thorough assessment of probability of global warming

      an argument that is weak would be:

      1. I lived through a fierce storm while on vacation.
      2. This fits the global warming theory.
      3. Therefore, global warming is probably occurring.
  • an argument is a series of statements in which at least one premise entails, justifies, or leads to at least one conclusion
    • the initial statement(s)s are called premises, because the argument is built upon them
    • conclusions are said to be logically entailed, or they follow, or are evident, or inferred
    • a deductive argument whose premises logically entail the conclusion is called a valid argument (means cannot assert the premises and deny the conclusion without self-contradiction)
    • a deductive argument whose premises do not logically entail the conclusion is called an invalid argument
    • a deductive argument whose premises entail the conclusion (making it valid and whose premises are true is called a soundargument (the strongest kind)
    • an inductive argument, by contrast, has conclusions that are improbable or probable by degrees
  • a fallacy is different from a falsehood
    • fallacies are errors in inference or logic, and pertain to arguments
    • falsehood is an error about facts, and applies to statements, e.g., “Kant wrote in Victorian times.” is a falsehood.
    • the key fallacy is called the non sequitur, which means the conclusion does not follow from the premises
    • equivocation occurs when one uses the same word in different ways, e.g., in the example given above, math being difficult for the average student versus math being difficult for Harold
    • fallacies often have special names such as equivocation, or contradiction, overgeneralization, or inappropriate appeal to authority (e.g., a law professor saying what the law should be based on his being a “legal expert”); ad hominem (e.g., Hitler is a monster and he was a vegetarian [a myth actually], so vegetarianism must be bad; that conclusion does not follow logically)
    • two kinds of argumentative weaknesses: factual and logical
    • the factual concerns statements, which may be a premise in an argument: is it true or false?
    • logic concerns arguments, and questions whether inferences are right
    • more about fallacies at
    • two kinds of argumentative weakness: factual and logical
      • the factual concerns statements: is the premise true?
      • logical concerns arguments: is the inference from the premises justified?
      • argumentative strength based on truth of premises and validity of inferences
    • in a deductive argument, the justification is stronger because it has to be 100%
    • in inductive arguments, the justification means that the conclusion is more or
      less probable
    • this is the essence of critical thinking: evaluating the truth of statements and the validity of deductive arguments, and the strength/weakness of probability of inductive

    2. Problems with Inuitionism

    • The problems:
      1. intuitions are not justified or evident, which many see inherently as bad theory.
      2. intuitions are appeals to prejudice.
      3. intuitions jump to conclusions at the start of a theory and then derives conclusions, making it seem as though they are not merely jumping to conclusions.
      4. indecisive: different intuitions for every theory
      5. cannot use intuitions to decide between intuitions without viciously circular reasoning
      6. can lead to differences being negotiated dogmatically or even violently
      7. can intuit oppression, as I will show later on in representing intuitive anthropocentrism.
    • I will show that all the major theories rely on intuitions by posting the intuitions in a rough fashion on overheads for the different views

    3. Rights Views

    3.A. Immanuel Kant and Julian Franklin [Slide 7]

    • positive criticism:
      • opposes exploitation and harming
      • embodies the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would be treated, i.e., with respect and fairness
      • promotes consistency or coherence in ethics
      • seeks to go beyond mere cultural customs
      • these strengths are common to virtually all the rights theories and so I will not repeat the positive criticisms with each treatment of a different rights theory
    • negative criticism:
      • one can universalize any set of rules [logic: does not lead validly to what we recognize as ethical]
        • tyrants can universalize special treatment for ego
        • can universalize utilitarianism
      • not treating someone as a “mere means” is too vague: longer chains for the slaves technically meets this criterion [logic: does not deductively entail human or animal rights]
      • respects only rational beings, Franklin extends to sentient beings [controversial: need to justify another theory to bear this out]
      • never lie, steal, cheat, kill is too rigid [controversial: need to justify another theory to bear out this conclusion]

    3.B. John Rawls, Mark Rowlands, and Mark Bernstein [Slide 8]

    • negative criticism
      • can frame any ethical theory as right from the original position
      • whether born as animals or not depends on a fictional scenario
      • if say “unjust” to exclude animals from those one can incarnate into, must mean it cannot be conceived from the original position to exclude animals, which is untrue

    3.C. Alan Gewirth and Evelyn Pluhar [Slide 9]

    • negative criticism
      • can admit need some welfare and freedom for ends without claiming rights to welfare and freedom
      • the principle of generic consistency would not be applied by many people: why treat others the same way just because, abstractly, they are of the same kind as me in some ways? All Earth objects are equally on our planet and I don’t need to be generically consistent in how to treat them all
      • we can be consistent about being inconsistent, the ethical nihilist says, thus being consistent about all kinds of things, responding to them arbitrarily
      • we do not always need to be consistent: e.g., choice of desserts
      • theory based on seeking any ends whatsoever, and that is nihilistic, and openness to any ends whatsoever does not show a mindset predisposed to morality, rights, etc.
        • therefore, Gewirth’s theory focuses too much on means to ends, and not on endsthemselves
        • it is not enough that some ends follow from upholding welfare and freedom, since the foundation of this is pursuing any ends whatever, which will not necessarily inspire respect for anyone’s welfare and freedom, not even one’s own
  • 3.D. Tom Regan’s Animal Rights Theory [Slide 10]
    • positive criticism:
      • strong rights for humans and other animals
      • opposes utilitarian vivisection and “environmental fascism” [all the rights theories have these positive characteristics potentially, and many others from Kant’s theory too]
    • negative criticism:
      • why not give rights to sentient beings, simply? Singer stresses sentience as does Francione and others. A subject of a life has memory, a sense of the future, the ability to initiate action in pursuit of their desires and goals (Regan, The Case for Animal Rights, 1st ed., p. 243); would a demented senior without these abilities not have rights?
      • Regan intuits “the respect principle”, but “respect” is ambiguous and can mean any ethical theory whatsoever
      • endorses saving human over dog in lifeboat case because more “opportunities for satisfaction”: does that mean, “Save the rich over the poor”?
      • says equal inherent value although all or most of the ten features can be had by degrees:

      …beliefs and desires, perception, memory, and a sense of the future, including their own future; an emotional life together with feelings of pleasure and pain; preference- and welfare-interests; the ability to initiate action in pursuit of their desires and goals; a psychophysical identity over time; and an individual welfare in the sense that their experiential life fares well or ill for them, logically independently of their utility for others and logically independently of their being the object of anyone else’s interests. (Case for Animal Rights, 1st ed., p. 243)

    3.E. Gary Francione’s Animal Rights Theory [Slide 10, continued]

    • positive criticism: strongly protects animals’ interest in not being considered property
    • negative criticism
      • intuitionist
      • he associates property status with treating animals as resources, slaves, objects, but:
        • responsible ownership is a notion that can make inroads against treating animals merely as objects or merely as resources
        • vegan animal ownership does not have anynegative characteristics except the ownership, which can also be used positively at times, e.g., to demand safe treatment of an “owned” animal at a vet’s
        • Francione upholding a right not to be considered property logically entails that being considered property must only be a bad thing, which is not neessarily true
      • a native hunter, influenced by anti-speciesism, may give up hunting but never considered animals to be property – ethnocentric theory of animal rights
      • property status is not the root problem: speciesism is, and what leads to speciesism, such as exploitive interests that interfere with compassion
      • says he derives his rights theory directly from the principle of equal consideration of interests, but utilitarianism can also use that principle, as can ethical egoism, etc. (treating like cases alike unless a reason to the contrary)
      • says his view rests comfortably on two intuitions (Introduction to Animal Rights, p. xxxvi):
        1. avoiding unnecessary suffering and
        2. allowing humans to be preferred in
          cases of necessity

        but these principles can rationalize medical vivisection in many minds

    [Slides 11 – 13]

    3.F. Compassion-Based Rights [Slide 13]

    • negative criticism:
      • Dunayer, Buddhists, Rousseau, ethic of care
      • peoples’ compassion highly variable
      • longer chains for slaves could be one person’s version of “compassion”
      • does not justify why compassion is appropriate – intuitionist
      • many criticisms from feminist ethic of care relevant here – discussed later

    3.G. Tradition-Based Rights A: Sapontzis’ “Everyday Morality” [Slide 14]

    • negative criticism
      • “everyday morality” includes anthropocentrism
      • Peter Carruthers also insists on “common sense” and says that validates factory farming and laboratory testing without qualification
      • common-sense can be wrong: geocentrism
      • all major theories are in a sense part of common-sense tradtions, so appeal is utterly inconclusive

    3.H. Tradition-Based Rights B: Bernard Rollins’ “Common Sense”[Slide 14, continued]

    • negative criticism
      • same four criticisms that apply to Sapontzis’ traditionalism
      • concludes animals only have the right not to be excluded from discussion: too weak
      • says weak right because Kant said: “Ought implies can.” [Means that we cannot say someone ought to do something, such as, “You ought to erase the past,” if the person cannot do the thing or it is impossible.]
        • can’t have animal rights in society now, therefore we can’t say we ought to have animal rights in society now (Rollin)
        • invalid argument: overlooks what we cando in the long-term, which may be difficult but is not necessarily impossible

    3.I. Rights Theories That Do Not Logically Entail Rights [Slide 15-16]

    • can universalize any ethical theory (Kant)
    • any ethical theory is based on “reflective intuitions” (Regan)
    • Francione’s equal consideration of interests is compatible with any ethical theory, just means treating like things alike unless there is a reason to do otherwise; all theories do this and supply reasons, sometimes intuitionist like Francione, for treating some differently from others
    • Rowland’s and Bernstein’s Rawlsian “veil of ignorance” has spirits capable of framing virtually any ethical theory
    • Gewirth and Pluhar (also Paola Cavalieri has endorsed Gewirth in her book, The Animal Question) use generic consistency as a principle, but that only means being consistent about kinds of things, and also, all theorists can agree to that and the fact that everyone needs some freedom and well-being to act
    • any given theory has a tradition
    • ethics based in compassion can range from ethical egoism, through rights, utilitarianism or other views too; Dunayer supports an ideal of justice intuitively too, but any moral theory has some idea of “justice”
    • theories of rights are logically empty, can drive virtually any moral theoretical truck through these logical systems
    • logical invalidity: the frameworks do not logically entail the rights that are asserted, but they are supposed to; basic fallacy of thenon sequitur
    • mine is a generous critique based on logical invalidity, becauseconcedes the precious theoretical frameworks (e.g., Kant’s universalizability) that these theorists advocate

    3.J. The “Frankentheory” of Rights

    • last time in discussion period I indicated that if we have strong rights to life, liberty, and welfare, this structure can be consistent with those rights being
      • universalizable (Kant)
      • capable of being formulated in the original position (Rawls)
      • can consider freedom and welfare to be useful to everybody (Gewirth)
      • consistent with intuitions of individual dignity (Regan, Francione)
      • consistent with compassion being part of those intuitions (Dunayer)
      • consistent with the equal consideration of interests (Francione)
      • coherent with tradition, or moral “common-sense” (Rollin) or “everyday morality” (Sapontzis), at least in a sense
    • this demonstrates that different rights theories are natural allies politically, but starting from each of these frameworks is perhaps not so great or so right, and so the death of my Frankenstein’s monster is – it may be – inevitable
    • each of the parts of the monster is too decayed and disorganized or dysfunctional to stitch together into a functional whole

4. Utilitarianism [Slides 17, 18]

  • utilitarianism lacks the strong protection of individual dignity that the rights theories at least mean to have, although their logical emptiness does not really protect individual dignity at all
  • positive criticism
    • seems fair to count everyone’s units of utility equitably
    • calls attention to the importance of results or consequences
    • going purely by rules leads to conflicting principles, and utilitarianism gives a way to resolve these conflicts, at least in theory
    • flexible and sensitive to different situations or contexts
    • plausible that rational agents should promote what is “best”
  • negative criticism
    • intuitionist
    • of several criticisms, will mention that seems to be nonsentientist, as explained in the reading, my essay, “The Rights of Animal Persons” (see essay)

5. Virtue Ethics [Slide 19]

  • positive criticism:
    • not as caught up in calculating consequences
    • in theory allows for sturdy and reliable character in people
  • negative criticism
    • intuitionist
    • too vague as a basis for ethics: can have aggressive warrior virtues, such as the code of honour for the samurai, or Friedrich Nietzsche’s violent conception of virtue

6. Ethical Egoism [Slide 20]

  • positive criticism:
    • seems to offer a way, at least in theory, for self-interested people to engage in ethical behaviour
  • negative criticism:
    • no special reason why ego should be counted differently, always
      someone more talented, and “it’s me” doesn’t seem to be a good reason
    • seems based on just ignoring others, or the illusions resulting from the fact that one’s own interests may seem more vivid than those of others
    • victimizes animals and perhaps also the mentally disabled

7. Pragmatism [Slide 21]

  • positive criticism
    • flexible, practical
    • allows for skepticism about absolutes which many find right-seeming
  • negative criticism
    • flexible, practical, can interpret any ethics from practical considerations, depending on what “works” for whom

8. Ecoholism [Slide 21]

  • three words: intuitionist “environmental fascism” (Regan, The Case for Animal Rights, 1st ed., p. 362)

9. Feminist Ethic of Care [Slide 23]

  • positive criticism
    • people perhaps do not live their moral lives according to abstractions so much as navigate through a network of caring relationships, including professional, friendly, and loving relationships
    • views individuals not only in isolation, but in relationships to others
    • people only do what they care about, so connects well with moral motivation
    • flexible and sensitive to context like act utilitarianism only differently
    • bursts stereotype of moral theorists as “cold and unemotional”
    • moral agents need to care about something or they would be catatonic, and need to care in the right way or they could be psychopaths
  • negative criticism (see “The Rights of Animal Persons” for many of these

    • disdain universal or abstract principles, instead emphasizing actual caring relationships, but many people have limitedsympathy or empathy, and one cannot be asked to copy anyone else’s sympathy or empathy, let alone an abstract, universal ideal of sympathy or empathy
    • does not seem to take reasoning or justification in ethics seriously
    • one can empathize or sympathize with aggressors, as Carol Adams points out but without a solution
    • empathy replicates another point of view but does not tell us how to act, leading to a deadlock of differing views, ethical subjectivism, and ethical relativism
    • can abuse substantial empathy with another through realizing weaknesses or levers for manipulation
    • people biased in how they empathize and sympathize, tends to occur more with those resembling oneself, thus leading to favoritism
    • substantial empathy cannot often be achieved even with intimates
    • even if perfect empathy, does not guarantee respect since one may have lucid self-awareness and be a masochist

10 Conclusion

  • trying to devise an ethical theory with all of the strengths of all of the theories, but without the flaws; will hint about it in my lecture on non-violence as a basis for animal rights
  • see reading, started to develop theory of best caring which some see as having all of the advantages but not the disadvantages of these mainstream ethical theories and others not covered in this brief survey

11. Discussion and Questions

archives: 10-jan-13 Overview of animal ethics – Analysis


Notes by the speaker, David Sztybel, Ph.D.

January 10, 2013

An introduction to animal ethics is very much like an introduction to ethical theory,
only with the speciesism either removed or cast into doubt

Basic Terms for Understanding Animal Ethics

  • ethics is the study of moral good and bad, right and wrong, justice and injustice, virtue and vice
  • different kinds of good:
    • instrumental good: good because useful, or extrinsically; that is, good because leads to another good the way a tool is useful and leads to various goods such as language leading to understanding, and hammers leading to houses
    • intrinsic good: good in itself; does not need to lead to any other good to be of value; for example, chickens intrinsically value friendship; they like the friendship itself, and show affection as a result; the friendship does not need to lead to any other good, such as when a chicken befriends a little child who does not take care of the bird, and the chicken just enjoys the relationship
    • inherent value is a term that philosopher Tom Regan uses to mean dignity; because animals have inherent value they should have rights, he holds
    • good character refers to someone who has fine character traits – virtues – and not bad character traits – vices
  • rights

    Joel Feinberg: “To have a right is to have a claim to something and against someone, the recognition of which is called for by legal rules or, in the case of moral rights, the principles of an enlightened conscience.”

    • there are moral and legal rights
  • speciesism: oppressive discrimination, like racism or sexism, but on the basis of either species, or species-characteristics, e.g., rationality is often said to be limited to humans; introduced in 1970 by psychologist and philosopher, Richard D. Ryder
  • deep ecology refers to environmental thinking that considers nature to be intrinsically valuable, thinks of the long-term and also subtle effects of environmental decisions; by contrast, shallow ecology considers nature as instrumentally valuable, thinks of the short-term (often profits), and thinks only of effects that seem quite obvious; introduced in 1970 by philosopher Arne Naess
  • moral agent: someone who acts according to moral ideas such as good, bad, right, wrong, etc.
  • moral patient: someone who is not necessarily a moral agent (at least in the human sense), but who is either benefited or harmed by moral agents
  • moral standing: a status pertaining to someone who is entitled to basic practical respect in some form (e.g., has rights, will be considered in utilitarian calculations, will be sympathized or emphathized with)
  • normative ethics versus meta-ethics:
    • a normative ethic is a framework someone might actually live by to guide their moral conduct, or is practical or applied
    • meta-ethics: goes beyond all theories of normative ethics and ascends to the critical level, evaluating moral theories and terms, comparing and contrasting theories, investigating the justification of theories (“meta-” means above or beyond)
  • intuition: a fundamental premise or belief in an ethical view that is said not to need a justification, otherwise it would be based on a more fundamental belief
    • moral bedrock
    • foundation of ethics
    • some say we need to start with intuitions, otherwise we would end up with an infinite chain of beliefs justifying beliefs which in turn justify beliefs, and so on, forever (called an infinite regress)
  • consequentialism: moral right and wrong is judged solely on the basis of consequences
    • three main examples: ethical egoism, ethical particularism, and utilitarianism
    • these theories introduced below
  • nonconsequentialism: moral right and wrong is not based only on consequences
    • primary example: what the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, termed “deontology” (the study of duty, and duty is usually associated with rights because if someone has a right, this creates duties on the part of individuals, or perhaps society)
    • The Stoics, originating from Ancient Greece, used to voice defiance of what we now call consequentialism by indicating: “Let justice be done though the heavens should fall.”
  • empathy: getting a sense of another’s point of view, what they feel, believe, etc.
  • sympathy: being inclined as others are, implying a change in the sympathizer’s own agency
  • ethical nihilism: there is nothing that is really right or wrong, good or bad, just/unjust
  • ethical relativism
    • there are no universal or absolute standards of morality
    • moral terms such as good, bad, etc., are only intelligible in a given cultural context
  • ethical subjectivism
    • there are no universal or absolute standards of morality
    • moral terms such as good, bad, etc., are only intelligible in the context of someone’s views and opinions

Rights Views

  • in general, rights views protect the dignity of individuals
  • by contrast, we will see that utilitarianism is the classic theory upholding good overall which can override the dignity of individuals
  1. Immanuel Kant
    • Kant’s test of moral principles is whether they can be “universalized” as a law of ethics
      • for example, if a shopkeeper proposed to short-change a customer, he should try universalizing that; but he would not accept the principle universalized, for then he would need to accept being short-changed himself
    • Kant also said that if we universalize principles in this fashion we will go according to the principle: Always treat persons as ends in themselves, and never as a means only.
      • someone who uses others as means only, e.g., sweatshop owner treating employee only as a means
    • Kant had absolute rules against lying, promise-breaking, killing innocents, suicide, stealing, adultery, and more
    • Kant’s theory has been extended by philosopher Julian Franklin to nonhuman animals
      • instead of treating rational beings as ends in themselves, and not a means only, Franklin talks about treating sentient beings as ends in themselves, not as a means only
      • Kant wrote in his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Moralsthat “rational nature exists as an end in itself”, which is an obscure way of saying he only respects so-called rational beings
      • example of treating animals as mere means: extreme vivisection


  2. John Rawls
    • Rawls asks us to imagine that we are disembodied spirits, not yet born, existing in a place called “the original position”
    • this is a thought experiment that we can meditate on to learn something; Rawls is not advocating that we believe in free-floating spirits who exist before births
    • justice = the principles we would make for when we are born, only we would have a veil of ignorance, so we would not know if we are going to be born strong or weak, light or dark skinned, intelligent or unintelligent, rich or poor, male or female, etc.
    • this would result in justice, without any racism, sexism, classism, etc.
    • Mark Rowlands and Mark Bernstein have extended this to nonhuman animals, e.g., we do not know if we will be born human or not, or rational or not, so we should give moral standing to all sentient beings, who would have rights


  3. Alan Gewirth
    • Gewirth observes that we all need a certain amount of freedom or well-being to pursue any desires at all, which can be illustrated with examples:
      1. we cannot pursue desires in a strait-jacket because we would have little or no freedom to speak of
      2. we cannot pursue desires if we are very ill, because we would be so deficient in well-being
    • everyone should therefore claim rights to freedom and well-being for oneself as an agent, otherwise one cannot even act
    • due to “the principle of generic consistency”, we should extend rights to freedom and well-being to other humans too
    • Evelyn Pluhar has extended Gewirth’s theory to nonhuman animals, because they need freedom and well-being to pursue their own desires too


  4. Intuitionist rights
    • Tom Regan
      • intuits that subjects of a life (those who have a life that
        matters to themselves) have equal inherent value along with other subjects of a life
      • he says we have this “reflective intuition” when we think about whether mentally disabled humans have rights
      • from equal inherent value of subjects of a life, he infers “the
        respect principle”
      • from the respect principle he derives “the harm principle”
      • all subjects of a life, human or not human, have rights including the right to life, and in general the right not to be harmed or treated as mere resources
    • Gary Francione
      • “I argue that the basic right not to be treated as property may be derived directly from the principle of equal consideration and does not require the complicated rights theory upon which Regan relies.” (Introduction to Animal Rights, p. 34)
      • intuition: human beings have an interest in not being considered
      • intuition: the principle of equal consideration of interests
      • intuition: we must respect that nonhuman animals have an interest in avoiding unnecessary suffering, but also in not being treated as property (which also involves unnecessary suffering)
      • from this shared interest in not being considered property, humans and other animals should have the right not to be considered property (not owned, nor considered to be an object, resource/tool/instrument, nor subject to unnecessary suffering)


  5. rights based in compassion:
    • Jean-Jacques Rousseau, David Hume
    • Buddhist animal rightists often use this, or Joan Dunayer says animal
      rights are based in compassion and justice


  6. rights based in tradition
    • Joseph Raz see rights debate being carried on within the liberal tradition
    • S. F. Sapontzis bases animal liberation (which to him also has utilitarian aspects) on “everyday morality”, which to him embodies:
      1. moral character (including compassion)
      2. reducing suffering and increasing enjoyment
      3. fairly distributing benefits and necessary harms
    • Bernard Rollin:
      • bases ethics in “common sense”
      • says animals only have the right not to be excluded from moral discussion, which is a very weak right
      • says Kant adheres to “Ought implies can.”: can’t have strong rights for animals in our times, so we should not say they ought to be advocated (yet can they not be advocated for the long-term?)


  • direct utilitarianism
    • measure the good in terms of pleasure units, and bad in terms of pain units
    • or measure the good in terms of preference-satisfaction units, and bad in terms of preference-frustration units
    • add up the good units and subtract the bad units
    • that will indicate how much utility the given path for the future will have
    • choose that path with the most overall utility units
  • rule utilitarianism
    • do not try to estimate utility in individual actions, too unstable, unmeasurable, and untrustworthy because many moral agents show they can be violent or exploitive; people may vividly perceive their own interests, not so much others
    • come up with that set of rules that are justified by maximum utility, e.g., Do not kill, lie, steal, etc.
  • indirect utilitarianism
    • forget about being a utilitarian, and just be faithful friends and loves, have a reliable character, be loyal, honour commitments, rights, and so forth, in keeping with common-sense morality
    • this strategy will supposedly maximize utility in the long run

Virtue Ethics

  • concerned with character traits of persons known as virtues and vices
  • Aristotle said we should pursue the “golden mean” between excess and deficiency
    • e.g., courage is an example of a golden mean, but cowardice is deficiency, and foolhardiness
      is excess
  • Zoe Weil, an animal liberationist, lists the ten best qualities of human beings as:
    1. kindness
    2. compassion
    3. honesty and trustworthiness
    4. generosity
    5. courage
    6. perseverence, self-discipline, and restraint
    7. humour and playfulness
    8. wisdom
    9. integrity
    10. willingness to choose and change

Ethical Egoism

  • Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan said life without civilization is “nasty, brutish, and short”
  • in everbody’s “enlightened” self-interest not to have violence, deception, theft, etc., if others agree to the same rules in return
  • associates animal existence with unpleasantness, unlike biologist Jonathan Balcombe, in his book, Pleasurable Kingdom
  • a related concept is ethical particularism, which means favoring some groups such as one’s nation, linguistic community, church, etc., to the exclusion of other groups


  • skeptical about moral absolutes, so goes with what works in society, recognizing we need ethics for the purposes of law and getting on, and it need not all be purely self-interested
  • non-violence is pragmatic for everyone, but most pragmatists are speciesists


  • act for environmental wholes such as the Earth, nature, species, the ecosystem, the biosphere, biodiversity, bioregional narratives, the Land, and so on
  • Aldo Leopold: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.”
  • J. Baird Callicott is a contemporary follower of Leopold
  • deep ecology can be ecoholistic, or have a biocentric view assigning individual inherent worth to all organisms

Feminist Ethic of Care

  • critical of ethics based on universal principles such as rights or utilitarianism
  • bases ethics on caring, compassion, sympathy or empathy
  • not abstract, but concrete; not focused on universals, but particulars; not focused on reason, but affect; not focusing on individuals but relationships

Spiritual Ethics

  • not covered in this lecture

First note to AR class; notes on the paradox of religion and animal rights, and the search for truth

To: everyone who attended or expressed interest in the ‘free university’ course on animal rightsFrom: Paul York, course organizerI was very pleased to see such a great turnout for the first lecture. The level of discussion was very high, and there were many good questions and comments, taking us well beyond the time limit of 9 pm. In future, if we go over time (which may well happen) people are certainly welcome to leave early.I want to thank Paul Jenkins for making vegan cookies, Amy Baron for helping dispense the course readers, Michael Sizer for filming the lecture (hopefully soon to be posted to Youtube), Jayme Dunlap for audio recording it for podcast (now available online:, and especially David Sztybel for preparing the lecture and for his valuable feedback in terms of preparing the course outline.The next lecture is on Jan. 17, again with David Sztybel, and in the same room: 35 St. George, room 244. It is the second part of the overview of animal rights ethics. David will go over the ethical views he introduced through analysis last time, offering various criticisms – pro and con – for each approach. The readings for the first two weeks are on his website (; the links for them are provided in the course outline. Additionally, there is a print version of one of his essays in the course reader.Attached to this email is his powerpoint slide from the first lecture, and his lecture notes (the latter are posted to the blog). If you review the notes, view the powerpoint slides, and listen to the podcast, you can glean the essence of the lecture.As a supplementary reading I have included sections from Regan’s Empty Cages in the course reader; it is a very readable, accessible introduction to some important animal rights issues and themes. I quite enjoyed this book, and hope you will too.
For the third week (Jan. 24th), Daniel Hooley will give us a more in-depth look at Singer and Regan, and the difference between utilitarianism and deontology as it applies to animal ethics. The location of this class will be announced soon.

An essay on Singer, by Julian Franklin, is given in the course reader. On Jan. 17th I will provide some readings on Regan`s theories, and some short selections from Kant, for those who have bought the reader, to help you prepare for the third class.

In the reader you will already find Franklin’s essay on Kant and animal rights.
On Jan. 24th, after Daniel Hooley’s lecture on Singer and Regan, I will present on the Kant essay (which argues that the Formula of Humanity may be applied to nonhuman animals, as well as to humans, based on the criterion of sentience), and on the application of Kant’s thought, more generally.

The readings take time, of course, but they are valuable to gaining a more in-depth understanding of the material. If you do not understand them right away, that’s okay. Persistence is the key. Please do not hesitate to ask questions via email; there is no such thing as a bad question.

The film next week (Jan. 17th) is Peaceable Kingdom, followed by discussion. This is an incredible film if you have not seen it. I consider it _the_ best film on animal rights out there, aside from Earthlings. There are actually two versions of it; I will try to acquire the newer version.

Assignments: at least one person expressed an interest in writing an essay or book review. That is highly encouraged, as it is a great way to learn. If there are several people who do this, we may devote a lecture to some class presentations in which people share with the class what they had learned. Let me know if you are interested in essays or presenting.

Attached is a commentary on the subject of religion and animal rights, in response to a question brought up in class.

Thank you, and see you in class, Thurs. Jan. 17th, same classroom: rm. 244 of 35 St. George.

Sincerely, Paul York


A note on religion and the study of animal rights

by Paul York

Someone at the first lecture asked about “conflicts of interest” with regard to religious affiliation on the part of lecturers. There was also an email inquiry regarding the ambiguity of Buddhism with regard to animal rights. I recently completed teaching a course on religion and animals at U of T, and will be giving many of the lectures on religion and animals for this course, so I will address these points.

The approach taken in this course is not to advance any particular religious perspective, and no one in the course will be doing so. It is a secular academic format.

That having been said, it should be noted that there are several lectures in which we will discuss religion and animal rights, in various ways:

• The lecture on world religions will focus on how they have failed animals and are speciesist, which is a major theme in Paul Waldau’s work. See his book The Specter of Speciesism, on speciesism in early Buddhism and Christianity. The problems he focuses on appear in all the world religious traditions. However, this lecture will also focus on their potential for advancing animal rights, as demonstrated through the works of Andrew Linzey and Dan Cohn-Sherbok, who are Christian and Jewish animal rights theologians. Many traditions – in fact all of them – have elements that could be described as supporting animal welfare. Nonetheless, the question of religion and animals could be described as a paradox, inasmuch as the same traditions support notions of the superiority of humans over nonhumans. We will discuss this paradox.

• The lecture on atheist arguments for animal rights, which is a focus on James Rachel’s book Created from Animals, and also Peter Singer’s perspective on religion. Rachels’ book, if you have not read it, is a brilliant argument against the influence of western religions, and in particular Christianity, insofar as they have contributed to speciesism. We will discuss and assess his work.

• The idea that animal rights activism is itself a “religion” in a very broad sense of the word (both for and against that view). The Tolstoy lecture touches on that in part, and David Sztybel has written an essay in defense of this idea: Time permitting we will investigate this claim, based in part on Catherine Bell’s book Ritual Theory and Bron Taylor’s Deep Green Religion. Paul Tillich’s book The Dynamics of Faith can also be used to support the idea.

• Erika Ritter may touch on religion as well, in her presentation, from a critical stance, pointing to the paradox and ambiguity of cultures that purport to care for animals but then violate their rights.

• David Sztybel will also touch on religion through his presentation on ahimsa and Jainism. This is the link to David’s application of the principle to animal rights philosophy:

• In the lecture on the meaning of “bearing witness” with activist-scholar Anita Krajnc, we will look at Tolstoy, who was a Christian anarchist, pacifist, and early animal rights philosopher. Toronto Pig Save, although a secular volunteer group, adopts Tolstoy’s philosophy of transformative nonviolence, as well as a Gandhian love-based approach to activism. Toronto Pig Save is also engaged in a project to reach out to religious groups with “vegan mentoring solutions”, such as the Quakers and Mennonites, to persuade them to exercise greater compassion for animals, based on the historical parallel of their abolitionist work against human slavery. The basis for the engagement is not Christian faith, per se, but common belief in the necessity of social justice, which TPS believes should extend to nonhumans.

• In the lecture on art, some ancient cultures will be discussed, and this necessarily involves religion because the separation of religion and culture, as distinct phenomena, is a modern view. For the entirety of human history previous to the Enlightenment, religions and cultures were inseparably connected, and even considered synonymous. Palaeolithic culture, 30,000 years ago, in what is now France, comes to mind. We will examine the reverence this culture had for animals through the lecture on art, and the film preceding it: Cave of Forgotten Dreams, by Werner Herzog.

• I will also bring up religion in the third class, through Kant’s agnostic philosophy of religion, in which he discusses the failure and hypocrisy of historical religions vis-a-vis the moral imperative to create a good society, and the potential of those same traditions to advance that cause. Regarding the Kant lecture: how, you may ask, can religions which have failed animals so badly, help them? Is it even possible, or should we dispense with them entirely, as some very powerful atheist thinkers (e.g. Hume, Freud) have argued? Here is another way of expressing the same problem: some religious traditions have betrayed animals in the worst possible way by legitimizing violence against them, and yet at the same time those same traditions have elements within them that appear to be concerned with animal welfare, and there are individuals and sects within them who are pro-animal. So how do we understand this apparent contradiction?

One answer is provided by Kant’s argument for an interpretation of scriptures that emphasizes “the moral law within” and “thinking for yourself” over blind obedience to authority figures and conformity to what he called “heteronomy.” Stephen Scharper argues that 85 percent of the world’s population has some religious affiliation, so that if we are able to utilize religious traditions in the service of environmental protection or animal rights, we ought to. At the same time, Kant and various atheist thinkers such as Hume provide a framework for the critical assessment of the ethical and rational failure of religious traditions.

A note about the use of the word religion: when we are talking about different religions, it is important to keep in mind that they are not monolithic; they are not one thing. They are diverse and complex, so that it is impossible to correctly make categorical statements about “religion” as a whole (for or against). Thus we can never say that “religion” as a whole is either entirely for or against animals, but rather than both elements exist in almost all traditions, in greater and lesser degrees, and this should be acknowledged and examined in depth. Even Jainism has an anthropocentric element in it, as reflected in the belief in higher and lower rebirths.

Many elements within a given tradition will contradict each other, sometimes quite vehemently. Thus you will find, in Christianity for example, interpretations that legitimize violence against animals, and interpretations that argue for their liberation and greater compassion for them.

The classic example is the divergent interpretations of Genesis 1:26-8, which mentions the world “dominion.” Does it mean a license to dominate nature and animals, or good stewardship and responsibility for the well-being God’s creatures?

Kant is one thinker who provides the depth we need to do a critical assessment of these traditions. He was very critical of the hypocrisy of religious authorities, but also wanted to argue that persons of faith have a responsibility and a duty to act for the common good, and that “ethical communities” help advance this goal. I would count the animal rights community as an ethical community, in the sense that he defines it. Thomas Berry argues something very similar in his books.
Berry also argues (as does David Loy) that capitalism is a kind of religion – a very destructive one. Here is a link to Loy’s essay on this, for those so interested:

Overall, I think we present a very fair, open-minded, and critical view of religions and religious cultures in this course: acknowledging their influence (both good and bad), discussing their failures and their potential, and discussing what Waldau calls the “tension” between pro-animal and anti-animal views that exist in almost all of them (Jainism and Buddhism included, which tends to surprise many people).

Time-permitting we may also look at some emerging religions that focus on animals, such as the one started by Supreme Master Ching Hai, and the incorporation of concern for animals into similar spiritual worldviews – but again, from a critical perspective.

We will never endorse a faith tradition uncritically, as that is inconsistent with good academic thought. However, this does not mean that we are committed to become moral agnostics, never taking a firm position on the important issue of animal rights. That tendency is a frequent and discouraging trend among intellectuals in this era of specialization and corporatization of higher education institutions.

After all, as Howard Zinn noted, you cannot be neutral on a moving train – meaning that even if we do take no position on an issue but are part of a violent system you de facto take the side of the oppressor by taking no moral position.

As Noam Chomsky noted, intellectuals have a “responsibility” to take a stand on moral issues of great importance ( Thus we can seek to assess traditions using what philosopher James DiCenso calls an “ethical hermeneutics” — which means an interpretative framework that emphasizes an ethical position.

At the same time, if we are committed to the search for the truth, we cannot fixate on a position and advance it uncritically, since that lends itself to ideology and the death of thought. The search for truth is a process.

Notes on Weil’s “paying attention”, Lessing’s “search for truth” and jnana-yoga

In the Hindu tradition, there are three “yogas” or practices for arriving at truth; one of them is Jñāna yoga, or truth through knowledge – which describes the value of study. Another is the path of action (karma yoga); Gandhi described himself in his activism as a karma yogi. Bringing critical thought and action together, in service to the ideal of an inclusive ethical vision – one that includes animals’ well-being – is what animates the conscientious activist-academic.

The idea that we ought to try to glean truth and discern morality through knowledge, even if we do not always succeed in our efforts, is a very old and venerable idea. It is challenged in modern times, of course, by some post-modern ideas, and by cultural relativism.

French philosopher and mystic Simone Weil, in her essay on paying attention in study, argued that there is virtue in study, insofar as it helps us develop the ability to pay attention. The highest form of paying attention, she adds elsewhere, is compassion for those are afflicted in body and soul. Feminist author Carol Adams argues that this particular idea is applicable to animals. I will give you that reading in class. Here is Weil’s commentary on attention in study, which may be uplifting for people who do not grasp a particular study right away:

“. . . the development of the faculty of attention forms the real object and almost the sole interest of studies . . . [students] should never say: “For my part I like mathematics”; “I like French”; “I like Greek.” They should learn to like all these subjects, because all of them develop that faculty of attention . . . If we have no aptitude or natural taste for geometry this does not mean that our faculty for attention will not be developed by wrestling with a problem or studying a theorem. On the contrary it is almost an advantage. It does not even matter much whether we succeed in finding the solution or understanding the proof, although it is important to try really hard to do so. Never in any case whatever is a genuine effort of the attention wasted . . . Students must therefore work without any wish to gain good marks, to pass examinations, to win school successes; without any reference to their natural abilities and tastes; applying themselves equally to all their tasks, with the idea that each one will help to form in them the habit of that attention . . .” – Simone Weil (1942) Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God.

In the first lecture David gave us an overview of several ethical theories of animal rights thinkers. If we view them as engaged in the search for truth through knowledge, it is important (as I noted in class) to not make the mistake of becoming a moral relativist (or worse, an ethical nihilist), who believes that all theories are equally valid, and thus all equally invalid.

The nihilistic view would be to say that because no one of them captures the entire truth they must all be false. But this view is wrong, I would argue. Truth and morality can be determined through a rational process of inquiry and study. We can establish that it is wrong to harm animals in some absolute sense, but doing so is a process that requires sincere reflection and a willingness to articulate the ethic in different ways.

Nor can we rest on ideological presuppositions or base ethics on authority, such as the idea that welfarism is always wrong, or that a principle is correct because many people agree with it. For those committed to an ethical vision of truth and justice, the process of articulating and embodying these ideals is a never-ending process that requires us to examine and question cherished beliefs.

I believe we can reconcile an open-minded form of moral absolutism (a conviction, in this case, that harming animal is wrong) with critical inquiry into the ideas and principles we may use to articulate this ideal, recognizing that the latter is a journey, not a final destination.

The thinkers David reviewed are like the proverbial blind men and the elephant: each person touches a small part of the elephant and exclaims to the others “this is the elephant!” when none of them can see the entire animal. The search for truth is something like that: there is an element of truth in what each of them advances, but it can never be the entire truth, which is beyond the scope of any one person to articulate.

The philosopher Lessing said that were he to be offered truth in one hand and the search for truth in the other, he would choose the search. Underlying his statement is the wisdom that “the truth” as a fixed position or ideology cannot in fact be the truth because truth is infinite, never-ending, and cannot be fixed or totalized. It cannot be captured by words, only approximated and symbolized. Philosophy, at its best, is an inquiry into fundamentals; at its worst it is mere intellectual quibbling, full of jargon, and socially irrelevant.

It’s fascinating that universities give such little attention to animal rights philosophy generally. You may be lucky to find a single seminar on it in some of the larger philosophy departments. The Critical Animal Studies program at Brock U. is an important exception. Insofar as we are in the midst of what could be called a “slave-owning society” that views sentient beings as property, the education systems should pay far more attention to it, and not allow this study to be marginalized to one class in one department. Animal issues should be taught in many departments in an interdisciplinary manner.

Sorry for the long-windedness of this commentary. Perhaps we will have a chance to discuss these issues further in one of the classes. I welcome any feedback you may have. And if you have something interesting to share to with the class on animal rights issues, feel free to send it to me.