A Response to James McWilliams–And It’s Not Debatable

Columbia University Press posted an article on the call in Slate.com by Professor James McWilliams for all animal advocates to support the welfare-reform efforts of The Humane Society of the United States.

On the following day, the Press printed my reply to Professor McWilliams.

After I read Professor McWilliams’ Slate essay, I thought it would useful for us to discuss these issues in a podcast as I had done in with Professor Robert Garner. Garner is a professor of political science at the University of Leicester and my coauthor on The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation?. Like McWilliams, Garner defends a welfare approach. Advocates on both sides of the issue have said how useful they found that podcast discussion to be.

Although Professor Williams agreed to do a podcast discussion with me in October, after Columbia University Press printed my reply, he withdrew from the debate.

As I understand it, Columbia University Press also invited McWilliams to do a written debate with me on these issues, similar to the one that I did with Professor Marder on plant ethics. I was told that he declined that as well.

I am sorry to hear that Professor McWilliams, having put those issues on the table with his Slate essay, is apparently unwilling to engage in any direct debate, whether oral or written.

Professor McWilliams characterizes a discussion about these matters as a matter of “verbal sparring.” That trivializes the reality that there are important substantive issues here, including the notion, embedded very firmly in welfarist ideology, that animals do not have an interest in continuing to live, or, at least, that animal lives have less moral value than human lives for purposes of justifying their treatment as economic commodities.

Moreover, there is the matter of whether welfare reforms actually do provide significant improvements to animal welfare both as an absolute matter and in terms of encouraging continued consumption of “happy” animal products as a “defensible ethical position,” to use Peter Singer’s phrase. Surely, no one could deny that having large animal groups sponsoring “happy” labels for meat and other animal products is explicitly intended to make consumers feel that they are acting in a “socially responsible” way, to use an HSUS phrase, when they eat “happy” animal products.

And there is the issue of whether those reforms that are accepted or enacted actually increase production efficiency, and thus fail to represent any sort of incremental step toward abolition and, indeed, further enmesh animals in the property paradigm.

I hope that that Professor McWilliams will at some point decide that it is a good idea to engage in a direct discussion–written or oral–about these important issues.

My invitation remains open.


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