Yearly Archives: 2012

Commentary #23: Lennox and Moral Reasoning in Animal Rights

It’s been a while since I did a Commentary and I have been meaning to start up again but, alas, it’s been a busy time.

I was planning to do a podcast on the topic of my essay, Moral Concern, Moral Impulse, and Logical Argument in Animal Rights Advocacy, which I published in May and that got a terrific response.

And then I saw the story yesterday that, on Wednesday, June 11, 2012, the Belfast (Northern Ireland) City Council, killed Lennox, a dog that was alleged to be a pit bull, a breed which is illegal in Northern Ireland. There had been a worldwide campaign to save Lennox and after he was killed, there were protests in Spain, the U.S., Serbia, and other places.

I posted an essay, The Legacy of Lennox as soon as I heard the news and I decided that it was a good time to do the Commentary because the reaction to Lennox’s situation required that we think generalizing our moral concern to other animals. In my view, if you are upset about the killing of Lennox, but you are not vegan, you are not thinking clearly. Lennox’s case raises some of the same issues as did the matter of Michael Vick.

In the first part of the Commentary, I discuss Lennox. I go on to talk about moral reasoning animal rights advocacy. I also discuss the concept of sentience in the second part.

I hope that you enjoy Commentary #24 and that you find that it helps your thinking about animal ethics.

And many thanks to Paola Aldana de Meoño for designing the new Commentary avatar.

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If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2012 Gary L. Francione

Play

Sentience

A sentient being is a being who is subjectively aware; a being who has interests; that is, a being who prefers, desires, or wants. Those interests do not have to be anything like human interests. If a being has some kind of mind that can experience frustration or satisfaction of whatever interests that being has, then the being is sentient.

We engage in speciesist thinking when we claim that a being must have a humanlike mind to count morally. That is, it is speciesist to claim that a being must have a reflective sense of self awareness, or conceptual thought, or the general ability to experience life in the way that humans do in order to have the moral right not to be used as a resource. As long as there is someone there who is subjectively aware and who, in that being’s own way, cares about what happens to him or to her, that is all that is necessary to have the moral right not to be used as a resource.

Is there uncertainty as to where the line is between sentient and nonsentient? Of course there is. It is, however, clear beyond any doubt that all of the animals that we routinely exploit–the fish, cows, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens and other birds, lobsters, etc. are sentient. So we know everything we need to know to make the moral decision to stop eating, wearing, or using those animals.

Can we say with as much certainty as is possible in any empirical matter that plants are not sentient? Yes, of course we can. Plants are alive; plants react to stimuli. But plants do not respond through any conscious process. That is, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that plants have any sort of mind that cares about what happens to the plant.

People often say that I regard insects as not sentient. That is not accurate. I do not know whether insects are sentient. I err on the side of sentience and I do not intentionally kill them. Indeed, I exercise caution when I walk so as not to kill or injure them. I do not know whether clams or other mollusks are sentient although I err in favor of sentience and do not eat them or buy products made from them.

But I repeat: not knowing where to draw the line does not mean that we don’t know enough right now to be absolutely clear that we have a moral obligation not to eat, wear, or use animals, and that veganism must be the moral baseline of a movement that seeks justice for nonhuman animals.

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If you are not vegan, please go vegan. Veganism is all about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2012 Gary L. Francione

Postscript added July 13, 2012

A number of people have written to me in the past day asking me whether I consider eating clams to be vegan. These inquiries were prompted by the video linked to above.

No, I do not regard consuming these nonhumans to be consistent with being a vegan.

In the case of plants, we can be as certain about nonsentience as as we can be about anything. The case for nonsentience in the case of clams, oysters, etc., is not certain and, therefore, it seems to me to make good moral sense to have a presumption in favor of sentience and against exploitation. And there are other mollusks (cephalopods, such as the squid, octopus, etc.) who are more neurologically developed and where it is clear that there is sentience. So I regard it as good moral sense to presume in favor of the sentience of clams, oysters, and scallops and all mollusks (including snails) and to not eat them or otherwise exploit them as human resources.

The Legacy of Lennox

Yesterday, July 11, 2012, Lennox, allegedly a pit bull, was killed by the Belfast, Northern Ireland, City Council. Pit bulls are illegal in Northern Ireland. There had been an international campaign to save Lennox and now there is international outrage over his death.

And there ought to be.

It is nothing but ignorance to regard pit bulls as a vicious type of dog. Anyone who knows anything about pit bulls knows that they are gentle, loving dogs whose historical role has been to act as nonhuman babysitters for human children. Are some pit bulls vicious? Yes, the ones who are made to be vicious by humans. And from what I have read, the claim by Belfast authorities that Lennox was vicious, or that it was “necessary” in any sense to kill him, was not supported by the evidence.

But the story of Lennox has a deeper meaning. There was international outrage over this matter because there was no justification for killing Lennox. The Belfast City Council acted wrongly.

But what about the approximately 150 million nonhuman animals-not counting fish-who will be killed today for food?

Every one of those animals is as innocent and vulnerable as was Lennox. And there is no justification for the suffering and death we impose. We kill and eat animals because they taste good; we act out of habit to satisfy our palate pleasures. Nothing more.

Many of those protesting Lennox’s death and objecting to the actions of the Belfast City Council are doing exactly what the City Council did in Lennox’s case: they are deciding who lives and who dies.

The worldwide outrage over this injustice shows that many of us do have moral concern about nonhumans.

If we could ignite the moral spark and generalize that moral concern so that all of those upset over the death of Lennox could become similarly outraged over the deaths of the billions of animals killed annually for food, we’d have an animal rights movement.

The pathetic “happy meat” “compassionate consumption” movement that presently exists has nothing to do with animal rights; it has to do with making humans feel better about consuming nonhumans.

Lennox was killed unjustly. That was wrong. Those who object to what happened to Lennox should recognize that continuing to consume animals makes us no different from the Belfast City Council.

If you are not vegan, please go vegan. And educate others, in a creative and nonviolent ways, about how veganism is the only rational response to the recognition that animals matter morally.

And if you have the ability to adopt a homeless animal of any species, please do so. If you adopt, consider a pit bull or pit bull mix. They are wonderful dogs!

Let our raised consciousness about justice for all nonhumans be the legacy of Lennox.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2012 Gary L. Francione

Postscript added July 16, 2012

Some animal advocates are calling for a tourism boycott of Northern Ireland and the Olympics in response to the tragic killing of Lennox. This shows how confused many animal advocates are. First, why Northern Ireland? New York City kills more pit bulls in a day than Northern Ireland and the entire United Kingdom has probably killed in years. Second, millions of animals are being killed every minute of every day everywhere around the world and the response: a boycott focused on one dog and no mention of the millions of others or how it all fits. No mention of veganism.

http://bit.ly/Lj57pQ

Got Practical Vegan Information? You Do Now.

Adam Kochanowicz and Sandra Cummings have produced a terrific resource, the Vegan Starter Kit.

This sort of project is of great practical value and I am glad that Adam and Sandra did this. I am sure that you will find it of great use.

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If you are not vegan, please go vegan. It is easy and better for your health and for the environment and, most important, it’s the morally right thing to do.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2012 Gary L. Francione

A Facebook Exchange

This is from an an exchange that occurred in a thread on the Abolitionist Approach Facebook page:

Someone asked:

Doesn’t the bible inform us that animals are provided by its god for the use of man, and the koran & jewish scriptures ordain how (and which) animals must be slaughtered for human consumption? Skirting past the acts of wanton cruelty and disregard of the rights of animals, it appears to me that the christian bible in part advocates animal welfare, but certainly not an abolitionist approach – how could this not promote speciesism?

I responded:

I have several replies:

First, unless you believe that the holy books of a religion are the literal received word of God, religious texts should be viewed as spiritual tracts in their historical contexts. What is valued as a central tenet of a religion may (and usually does) develop through changing historical contexts. In any event, one can be a theist, and, indeed, a Christian, without regarding the Bible as anything but a document that developed historically and addressed various concerns many of which had nothing to do with theology and had everything to do with power and control that are part of *all* institutions, whether churches or corporations or governments.

Second, go and read Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament. In the original creation story, everyone, including animals, was vegan. It’s completely clear that humans did not eat animals and animals did not eat each other. It was only after the covenant between humans and God was ruptured that eating animals began. As far as I read it, veganism was the ideal position and it is the position toward which humans should work (a situation where there will be peace, no killing, and where even the lion will lie down with the lamb and the lion will eat straw, etc.).

Third, speciesism, whether in the form of a religious doctrine or a secular doctrine, promotes speciesism. The notion that religion has a corner on the speciesism market is just plain wrong. Have religions been used to support speciesism? Yes. Have secular institutions, such as the humanist paradigm of the Enlightenment been used to support speciesism? Yes. Is mainstream science speciesist? Of course it is. None of these institutions are inherently speciesist (or racist or sexist or homophobic). But these institutions are all dominated and shaped by people who are speciesist (and sexist, racist, and homophobic).

Fourth, what I find troubling is that so much of the discussion on this issue takes the form of people declaring that they are “atheists” because they don’t like the Pope, or because the Catholic Church facilitated and covered up pedophilia, or because some fundamentalist (of any religion) are obnoxious, hateful people, etc. All of those things may be true but they have nothing to do with the issue of whether God exists or whether there is a spiritual dimension to the universe.

Many animal advocates self-identify as “atheist” but many of those same people also embrace some spiritual belief and some even have theistic beliefs. What they mean by “atheist” is that they reject traditional organized religions.

Fifth, the New Atheism that is popular among many people, particularly young people, is being peddled by a group of political reactionaries, including Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Chris Hitchens. Noam Chomsky refers to these people as “fanatics.” Why? Because they promote the idea that the problems of the world are caused by religion rather than the geopolitical and economic factors that are really at work. In other words, they want you to think that the problems of the Middle East, for example, are related to Islam rather than to oil and western imperialism. These New Atheists seek to provide a “scientific” basis for the New World Order. If you are regard yourself as a politically progressive person, think twice about whether you want to identify yourself with these reactionary thinkers.

Please note: I am not saying that atheism is wrong because Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens are political reactionaries. I am saying only that people who are interested in critical, rational, and progressive thought should take care before jumping on the New Atheist bandwagon.

Sixth, I reiterate: the arguments for animal rights that I have developed over the past 30 years, which are very different from the positions developed by Peter Singer and Tom Regan, rest on logic and rationality. Period. Anyone who claims differently either does not know my work or is deliberately misrepresenting it. My work speaks for itself: logic and rationality are absolutely essential.

But logic and rationality cannot provide the entire picture.

In order for people to translate the logic and rationality of the abolitionist position into meaningful change in their own lives (going vegan) and advocating for others to effect changes in their lives, it is necessary that people must regard animals as having moral value. They must have a moral impulse concerning animals. They must “see” animals, or at least some animals, as members of the moral community. This is not necessarily a matter of “liking” or “loving” animals; it is a matter of regarding them as members of the moral community. It is a matter of having the motivation to act rightly where it comes to animals. If people have this moral concern or moral impulse concerning at least some animals (and the good news is that many people do), I believe the logical approach that I have developed can lead them to see that all sentient beings are members of the moral community and that we should abolish, and not regulate, animal exploitation.

If people reject the notion that animals are members of the moral community, then logic and rationality are not going to get very far. Let me put it this way: if you think that what Michael Vick’s brutal dog fighting was a bad thing, I can, through logical, rational argument, get you to see that any non-vegan is similarly situated to Michael Vick. If you think that Vick’s dog fighting was a terrific and wonderful thing, I won’t get very far with you.

That moral impulse that must be present to work with logic and rational argument can come from any source–it can come from theistic sources (e.g., one’s belief in an all-encompassing Christan love), spiritual sources (e.g., one’s belief in a Buddhist view about the interconnectedness of all life), or wholly atheistic and non-spiritual sources (e.g., a belief that the proposition expressed by “it is wrong to inflict suffering on a sentient being without a sufficient justification” is an objectively true statement as a matter of moral intuition).

It does not matter what the source of the moral concern or moral impulse is. It just matters that you have it.

The idea that an abolitionist must be an atheist is as absurd as the position that an atheist cannot be an abolitionist. Abolitionists can be atheists, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, secular moral realists, or whatever. (As an historical matter, most of the abolitionists with respect to human slavery were religious people.)

We should always be critical of speciesism in whatever form it appears and in whatever doctrine it surfaces. But that does not mean that we should make fun of or attack religious or spiritual beliefs per se. Recently, one of these misguided and reactionary New Atheist animal groups posted an offensive graphic comparing Jesus, Buddha, and Krishna to Charles Manson and Jim Jones. Does anyone really think that such a comparison, apart from being inherently wrong, is going to do anything to help animals? Surely, it would be irrational to think so.

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If you are not vegan, go vegan. It’s easy, better for you physically, and, most important, it’s the morally right thing to do. If you are already vegan, then educate others about why their concern for animals means that they, too, should be vegan.

And if you have the ability to do so, please adopt or foster a homeless animal. The shelters are overflowing with all sorts of animals who need you: dogs, cats, birds, rodents, fish. There is someone for everyone! If you have land and can take a large animal (or a lot of smaller ones), do so!

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2012 Gary L. Francione

Debate with Professor Michael Marder on Plant Ethics

Professor Michael Marder, author of the forthcoming book, Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life, and I had a brief debate on the issue of plant ethics at the Columbia University Press website. You can find the debate here.

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If you are not vegan, please go vegan. It is easy and better for your health and for the environment and, most important, it’s the morally right thing to do.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

©2012 Gary L. Francione