A Note on Moral Schizophrenia

Dear Colleagues:

In my book, Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog?, published by Temple University Press in 2000, I introduced the notion of “moral schizophrenia.” I have received comments about my use of this term and these comments fall into two groups.

Some people accuse me of confusing moral schizophrenia with multiple/split personality.

When I talk about moral schizophrenia, I am seeking to describe the delusional and confused way that we think about animals as a social/moral matter. That confusion can, of course, include conflicting or inconsistent ways of looking at animals (some are family members; others are dinner) but that does not mean that I am describing a classic split or multiple personality. Our moral schizophrenia, which involves our deluding ourselves about animal sentience and the similarities between humans and other animals, and an enormous amount of confusion about the moral status of nonhumans, is a phenomenon that is quite complicated and has many different aspects.

Some people think that by using the term, I am stigmatizing those who have clinical schizophrenia because it implies that they are immoral people. I am sincerely sorry—and I mean that—if anyone has interpreted the term in that way and that is certainly not what I intended. Schizophrenia is a recognized condition that is characterized by confused and delusional thinking. To say that we are delusional and confused when it comes to moral issues is not to say that those who suffer from clinical schizophrenia are immoral. It is only to say that many of us think about important moral matters in a completely confused, delusional, and incoherent way. I am certainly not saying that those who suffer from clinical schizophrenia are immoral!

To say that moral schizophrenia stigmatizes clinical schizophrenics is like saying that to talk about “drug use spreading like cancer” stigmatizes cancer victims.

I hope this clarifies what I mean when I talk about our moral schizophrenia when it comes to animal ethics. I also hope that it is clear that I am not using that term in a way that does or is intended to convey that clinical schizophrenics are immoral.

Gary L. Francione
© 2009 Gary L. Francione

Addendum from responses to this posting:

Some critics argue that it is sufficient to say that our moral views about nonhuman animals are contradictory or confused. No, it’s not sufficient. When it comes to nonhuman animals, our views are profoundly delusional and I am using that term literally as indicative of what might be called a social form of schizophrenia.

Some critics claim that it is sufficient to use “delusional.” But delusion is what characterizes the clinical form of schizophrenia and anyone who objected to the use of schizophrenia as ableist would have the same, and in my view groundless, objection to “delusional.”

Some critics claim that schizophrenia is different from cancer because no one would think that having cancer is a good thing. I confess that this objection is puzzling. I am unfamiliar with anyone who argues as a general matter that cancer or clinical schizophrenia are desirable conditions to have. Yes, there are people who claim that their schizophrenia has led them to great insight; but the same is true of cancer victims. In any event, if “moral schizophrenia” is ableist, then so is the expression “drugs are a cancer on society” or “our polices in the Middle East are shortsighted” or “we are blind to the consequences of our actions” or “when it comes to poverty, our proposed solutions suffer from a poverty of ambition.”