51 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t think you need science to tell that humanity’s gain has been the animal kingdoms loss. Unless you are some pampered pom or exotically bred cat with an attitude, if you are a beast, you have suffered a bit more with every new year since the agricultural revolution began.

    We have destroyed or altered habitats to the point that extinction has the accelerator on the floorboard, we have maximized profits by penning domesticated food sources into smaller and smaller quarters while trying to maximize growth on the least amount of food and who supposes oxen were less happy free ranging than yoked up to do our work?

    We engage in endless chemical warfare aimed at the insects we consider annoying, perhaps sacrificing perhaps our best friends in nature, the honeybees, in the process. Most of the CO2 we put into the air is sucked up by the oceans, acidifying them to the point of disrupting the whole food chain in addition to just killing sea creatures outright. And this is on top of our oil spills that kill not only life in the sea but creatures living by the shore who depend on those animals.

    I think I know how this will end. We shall breed up to be colorful and provide beauty as we did with guppies, chemically hormone up to ten pounds for food and genetically engineer up to a hundred pounds for labor our last companions on earth- the cockroaches.

    • In reply to #1 by rjohn19:

      if you are a beast, you have suffered a bit more with every new year since the agricultural revolution began.

      While, sadly, you are correct it is not always the case that animal cruelty needs to be part of agriculture. My father was a farmer and he was incredibly concerned with animal welfare. Naturally there are moments when animals will experience fear (such as when they are restrained for vaccinations) but generally he did his best to allow the animals to have a life without suffering to a point where he would get angry with anyone that appeared to be causing unnecessary animal suffering. He even refused to allow his animals to be sold to halal slaughter houses because although the alternatives are not especially pleasant either, he wanted to know that the animals at least had a quick death.

      While I’m on the subject I really do think (European) governments should be force shops to clearly label products that use the halal process so people like myself can avoid those products.

      Likewise my father informed me about other cruel practices such as the veal crates and foie gras. I will never be a consumer for these products and personally I believe it is the consumers’ duty to inform him or herself of the processes behind the cheap products and to avoid them if they care. It is all too easy to blame industry but no industry survives without consumers.

  2. Unfortunately, the biggest impediments to animal welfare are the mind sciences and the philosophies of mind believed by the mainstream to be true, along with our personal interest in exploiting them and our unclear ethical positions regarding their status. We simply do not fully understand how our own brains structure our thoughts and experiences, never mind how this works in other animals with different brains. So long as neuroscience and cognitive science remain in their infancy, it will remain ambiguous how detailed an organism’s neuroanatomy can be before we consider it worth caring about. Fellow mammals have largely the same structures we do (just smaller), and other land tetrapods like birds and crocodiles are likely to be sentient, but what about insects, cephalopods, and worms?

    This would be merely a technicality of scientific accuracy, though, were it not for the fact that most people’s conceptions of animal minds are all over the place, usually not in the animals’ favour. Combine that with the fact that we often have interests in exploiting animals – eating them, killing them as pests, destroying their habitats for our own needs – and with a general reluctance to overlook such biases, and it becomes harder to persuade people that there’s that much animal welfare to consider. Our philosophies on the subject simply aren’t up to task.

  3. I think it is bad enough that we humans eat too much meat in the first place!

    Its this obsession with meat eating that causes problems with these animals. If we didnt eat so much, there wouldn’t be a need to mass farm animals, and probably not cause so many problems with our health, the animals health and welfare etc.

    Look at the “Corn” fed cattle of the USA!, the battery chickens, meat and eggs. Its madness! Eat a little less meat! I don’t intend for us to become herbivores. As we are esentially Omnivores!
    Salmonella in cattle due to feeding them on corn is a problem! They dont eat corn naturally! (See movie “Food inc.”)

    We might not get so fat as a population perhaps too!

    So eat less meat, the animals will not be farmed so damn hard and they will be better looked after too!

  4. Science gives us the information to avoid suffering.
    Unfortunately it also puts powerful tools and weapons into the hands of irresponsible humans.

    The problem is a political one, of the governments who should be regulating and planning such activities, either do so inadequately, lack powers of enforcement, or are undermined by “free-market” politicians who come to power to fail to regulate, – or who actively undermine or under-fund regulation, on behalf of the money grabbers who (often corruptly) sponsor them.
    The poaching of wild animals, and the destruction of fish-stocks and forests are good examples of this.

  5. The fact that millions of animals live and die in appalling conditions is, you would think, a global disgrace. But evidently, most people do not agree. I don’t particularly blame governments or businesses for their inactivity, I blame the public who, by and large, say one thing and do another. I gave up on ever seeing any real improvement to animal welfare or the environment years ago. When it comes down to it, people, in general, just don’t care.

    I became a vegetarian over 20 years ago and it is one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. In the West, we certainly don’t need meat in our diet anymore as there are plenty of alternative protein sources. I would recommend it to anyone.

  6. To rjohn (Comment 1) I agree with your general ideas, although not to the extremes you have.

    I do take exception, however, when you say * “Unless you are some pampered pom or exotically bred cat with an attitude….”* My mongrel cats and dogs aren’t pampered; they are just well taken care of, and they and I get along just fine. I provide them with shelter, good nutrition, and veterinary care. I will keep them in my home all their lives, even in their old age.

  7. I am a firm believer in science but animal rights are a compassioniate and emotional issue for me.Science proves that it is a detriment to the health of the individual and the environment and I respect their findings. I am proud to be a vegan and an animal rights activist as well as an animal lover and rescuer.

  8. Science tells us that we are apes, mammals and animals. Before science, western religion (the Bible, I mean) told us we were special, above it all, and that we should use animals as a resource, with no remorse or regret. Science (more and more over time) shows that we aren’t so different from those creatures we imprison, torture and mistreat to put protein on our dinner plates. I’m vegan because I know other animals feel, worry and suffer in the same ways that we animals do. Science continues to show how similar we are to other species. The ethical thing to do is extend compassion to all sentient beings regardless of their species.

  9. Science tells me that domesticated animals exist because humans practiced artificial selection to produce their present characteristics. I also have learned that animals—wild and domesticated—are capable of physical and mental suffering. Science is silent on the ethics of this situation, but has provided crucial information to inform my decisions about the appropriate treatment of animals. I conclude that we debase ourselves individually and socially when we ignore avoidable suffering. Domesticated animals would not exist without our intervention, a (scientific) fact that carries a particular obligation for humane treatment. Because humans have a unique awareness of our place in the web of living things, we should apply this understanding constructively. In application, my understanding leads me to attempt to avoid damage to the environment in general, and cruelty to animals in particular. For example, I limit my purchases of animal products to those created by humane methods and I support regulations to encourage these practices. We have the ability to develop our ethical thought and practice. Science provides an essential tool to reach this understanding.

  10. I would agree with 78rpm that cats, dogs, and most particularly horses, have better lives now, simply given considerate (not pampered) care. There are always, sadly, animal abusers, but that’s another subject. But in general the lifespan and overall health and life of cats, dogs, and especially horses, has greatly increased due to advances in medicine and general care. 100 years ago, a 12 year old horse was an “aged” animal. Many injuries meant euthanization. Today, most horses at the top level of competition, for example, are 8 to 17 years old. Effective worming medications, surgical advances, treatment of arthritic changes, better understanding of proper nutrition, etc. have extended and made their lives longer and more comfortable, PETA notwithstanding. The last four horses I, personally have owned, have lived comfortably well into their 20s. I don’t know the statistics, but I would imagine the average lifespan for a horse in the first half of the 20th century was much shorter.

  11. I find it a bit crazy that intelligent people continue to use evolution as an ethical justification for causing animal suffering. Surely, if anything that was consistent with the evolution of our species was morally justifiable, rape and murder would be considered ethical too. The fact that we don’t need, in any way, to exploit or kill animals for food, clothes etc, makes it completely unethical to do so in my books. The only grey area, as far as this debate goes, is the use of animals for medical research, where using animals may be of benefit for medical research, and may therefore reduce human suffering. Even this is questionable if you start to consider the ‘right’ of humans to cause suffering of other beings for their own benefit. That vegetarianism is becoming more and more common, and as society becomes more and more concerned with ethical issues, it is clear that ethical thinking is being selected for on some level, as all common traits are. It’s great to see this issue being raised here though; I find it tragic that the argument on animal rights that I think can be the only rational one, is so often thought to be crazy or subversive.

  12. According to the theory of evolution, humans are not special. We are just one species out of the billions of other species that we share planet Earth with. Given this fact, why should non-human animals be treated any worse than us? And here is another problem: When one species dies, it disrupts the food chain; this is what scientists refer to as “the domino effect.” Although killing off one or two species every now and then may not effect current generations, over time, they add up. If we kill off all mosquitos, for example, there would be nothing for the spider to eat, and if the spider then dies off, there would be less for birds and frogs to eat… etc. Not only this, but there are more than two species dying each year- there are 30 species dying each hour! There are 24 hours in a day, so in total, 720 species die each day. And that means that 262800 species die each year. So in conclusion, as humans, we should be more careful of how we treat other animals.

    • In reply to #15 by tala00131:

      When one species dies, it disrupts the food chain; this is what scientists refer to as “the domino effect.”

      Really? Which scientists are those exactly? Please name one. It sounds to me more like what US politicians used to say about why we had to stay in Vietnam and even then it was bullshit, otherwise all of Asia would be communist now.

      And in reality species go extinct all the time. Of course the effects are unpredictable but we have fucked up the planet so much that there will be far more in the coming years, it’s just inevitable. The real question for people who want to use reason isn’t how can we stop this or that species from going extinct but how can we start to do something about climate change so that the effects don’t cause billions of humans (and thousands of species) to die.

    • In reply to #15 by tala00131:
      >

      When one species dies, it disrupts the food chain; this is what scientists refer to as “the domino effect.” Although killing off one or two species every now and then may not effect current generations, over time, they add up.

      That depends on their position in the food-chain, and how dependent the other species are on their activities. The extinction of key species or top predators can have very far reaching effects.

      Whole coral atolls for example, may cease to exist, if the warming or acidifying seas kill the reef-forming corals. Likewise, the removal of trees from rainforests makes major changes in the ecosystems and in the climate.

      All sorts of irreversible damage can be done by moving invasive species to new ground or new continents.

      That includes spreading pathogens across the globe to infect humans or other animals or plants.

  13. Science tells me I am an animal.

    As the connotation of the word changes, we adopt new cultural assumptions. The suffering howls of other species are not (as Descartes would have it) the squeaks of malfunctioning machines. I am an animal, therefor I know animals suffer. Dawkins makes a brilliant speculation (not a stance, just an exercise in reason) that less sentient animals may suffer more as they lack the intellect to understand harm. Dawkins points out there is no evidence to support this idea, but it does effectively eliminate the widely accepted, unverified assumption that chickens suffer less humans.

  14. My own belief is that many animals have emotions very similar to our own. How could they not? Emotions have evolved to shape our behavior towards life and reproduction (eg. fear of death, love and protection of viable mates, guilt at the prospect of being caught and socially outcast, etc, etc). Emotions are as basic to survival as consuming food and nothing particular to homo sapiens. Have seen emotions in other animals (eg. a mouse with heart busting out of its chest as a cat played with it in a corner) with my own eyes on many occasions and this is something to contemplate in regard to animal welfare. For me it is enough to believe that animals probably have the same feelings as me that leads me to treat them with respect but that is not true for everyone. I probably just lack the killer instinct as they say. In regard to diet I eat a moderate amount of meat because I think it is better for my health and cheaper. If meat was cheaper and more healthy then I would probably eat a lot more. So I am, obviously not a fan of the idea of vegetarian on moral grounds and would point out that harvesting a field of wheat with modern harvesters is an absolute blood bath for the millions of mice( and other small mammals) that love to live in such wheat fields. Many of them probably take many days to die of the horrific wounds inflicted by the passing mechanical harvesters. True mice are smaller than cows but I do not see how this makes them morally less important. And I personally loathe house pets like cats and dogs sitting around all day waiting for next meal. Not sure why, just find it so anti-life to see any animal failing to play the game

  15. I salute the vegans here, but I’m afraid it is just a bit of a step too far for me at the moment. I recommend vegetarianism to anyone because there really isn’t much of a downside. Having eaten quite a bit of vegan food, I’m not sure I could say the same about a vegan meal.

    There is another much bigger benefit to the environment with a meat free diet. Apparently, if everyone became vegetarian, then the land used for food production would decrease by 6/7ths. I’m not sure whether this is true, but there is no doubt the green footprint of beef is enormous. Whilst I still worry about the mice in the corn field, as Catfish pointed out, imagine all that wilderness and all that mouse habitat that could be created by going vegetarian.

  16. This is a great question and the comments are brilliant and present a very wonderful picture of non believing thoughts on the subject. I shared this with folks who have sort of a off opinion on Athiests.

  17. When I was young and religious, I attended church and we used to sing this line: “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.” [emphasis added].

    What science clearly teaches me, and religion didn’t, is that not only are “my brothers” (and sisters) my immediate siblings; they are the entire human family.

    More, that this human family is part of a greater animal and plant family; that we are all related. Finally, that there is no creature that is “least” among us; we are all going about our daily business of living life.

    By widening my circle of sentiments, science allows me to empathize with my fellow man, woman, cockroach and cabbage.

  18. The main point raised here is whether science (i.e. discovery of the facts) can or cannot tell us something about welfare (a value judgment).

    I am still of the old school ( GE Moore, harking back to Hume) which affirms that you cannot legitimately deduce an “ought” statement from an “is” statement”. I am familiar with Sam Harris’s very interesting arguments to the contrary, but remain to be convinced .

    This being said, obviously science can tell us about the level of nervous development of various of organisms, which might provide guidance to the effect that a horse which ( who?) -upon being aggressed / hurt -”suffers” more than a cockroach, that suffers more than an amoeba

    • In reply to #25 by catphil:

      I am still of the old school ( GE Moore, harking back to Hume) which affirms that you cannot legitimately deduce an “ought” statement from an “is” statement”. I am familiar with Sam Harris’s very interesting arguments to the contrary, but remain to be convinced .

      I agree that is the problem. I’ve read Harris’s book but I don’t recall any interesting arguments on this issue. What I remember is a lot of hand waving that essentially boiled down to saying “come on all us rational western people can agree (that well being is the only logical foundation for ethics) and it’s only the crazy Muslims and other bad people who think otherwise”

      If you saw some more subtle or interesting argument I would be interested in your paraphrase of it. I think there are several things wrong with Harris’s argument.

      For starters he is just wrong in assuming that all western people agree that well being is the only rational foundation for ethics. I’ve been reading up on this a bit lately and philosophers are all over the map on the question. For Kant it’s the categorical imperrative which is more or less the golden rule. Which sounds the same as well being but for Kant it’s quite different. He believe in following rules because they are logical even if doing so would at some point cause less well being. Or Rawls is another example. For Rawls it’s justice or fairness not well being. I.e., given a scenarios where the mean well being is higher but the distribution is greater Harris would go for more well being (rather in line with his Libertarian 1% general philosophy) and Rawls would go with a more even distribution (in line with his liberal outlook).

      So even for western non religious intellectuals there are lots of differences (I won’t even attempt to start talking about Sartre or Nietzsche). Not to mention all the theists who think doing the will of God or following a sacred book is the foundation. I agree with Harris that those theists are nuts but “don’t listen to the crazy people” is not a strong philosophical or scientific argument. If we want to look at morality scientifically we need reasons that are grounded in something more than the common sense consensus of one particular community which is what I think Harris’s approach boils down to.

      • In reply to #26 by Red Dog:

        Hi Red Dog,

        I haven’t read Harris on ethics. I have seen Harris present his ideas via video.

        I don’t recall any interesting arguments on this issue.

        I guess it’s a case of different strokes for different folks – though I’m aware of a deficit in my knowledge so please enlighten me.

        It has always seemed to me that Harris was promoting a version of Normative Ethics?

        On that basis, Harris has been quick to short-circuit some of the philosophic canon on ethics but his basic premise, it seems to me, is sound.

        [Harris thinks] that well being is the only logical foundation for ethics, and it’s only the crazy Muslims and other bad people who think otherwise

        It’s interesting that your own list of alternatives:

        • Kant’s categorical imperative

        Please note that; Do it because it’s the right thing to do is decidedly not the same as Do as you would be done by.

        • Rawls’ two moral powers

        One of which, a conception of what is valuable in human life, begs the question: What is universally valuable?

        … appear to compliment Harris rather than refute?

        For me, Harris merely sums up one of the prevailing memes that springs from considering just such antecedents. I will be grateful for any argument on that point.

        Until I hear that argument I have always thought Harris to be simply logical in presenting the best of all possible Worlds as, um, the best of all possible Worlds … (With a nod to Voltaire)

        For the record I agree that Libertarianism, while it clearly offers many simple, practical, benefits, is not a good over-arching principle. We should offer the potentially greedy succour with strings firmly attached. We should also be aware that there is no free lunch when attempting to manage the ills that the, apparently ordinary, unevenness in the natural order presents to us. This is a subject that Professor Dawkins touches on in The Selfish Gene. We can all see that supporting those who have children which they cannot support, by accident, is morally superior. But we cannot deny that such a policy is open to abuse. Nor should we ignore the true imperative – we need to be encouraging less children, not more!

        When it comes to what science (i.e. the truth) can tell us about speciesism, I’m reminded of Douglas Adams’ book So Long and Thanks For All The Fish which revolves around the idea that we humans are, even now, surrounded by representatives of superior races. A sobering thought.

        Or there is Adams’ other book The Restaurant At The End of the Universe which features a restaurant where an animal on the menu, still alive, presents itself to potential consumers of its own flesh.

        Without wishing to sound superior (and perhaps failing?) my species eats other species. Big deal. The number of species (including many plants) which have evolved to consume to survive far outnumber the species that do not. A million wrongs do not, of course, make a right.

        Nevertheless, taking the Utilitarian view, it seems to me that the option of an abstemious habit is simply to deny nature. Perhaps it is the role of humans to deny that of which we are an integral part, from which we sprang, and to which we owe all … ?

        Please forgive my small-minded lack of vision. I’m still struggling for fairness, justice and honor among us humans.

        Peace.

        • In reply to #27 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

          It has always seemed to me that Harris was promoting a version of Normative Ethics? On that basis, Harris has been quick to short-circuit some of the philosophic canon on ethics but his basic premise, it seems to me, is sound.

          So to make sure we are on the same page by normative ethics I assume you mean specific questions about human behavior: should we as a society or should an individual reward X or Y more or less, etc. That contrasts with meta-ethics which is interested in the more fundamental question of what sense do ethical statements (regardless of what they are) even make? Can we ever directly derive ought statements from is statements or if we can’t can we find some other way to lay the foundation to get us from ought to is? (BTW, my answers are no and yes)

          With that in mind I don’t think it’s accurate to just say “Harris is doing normative ethics so the is ought problem doesn’t matter to him”. So for example, in the beginning of the Moral Landscape Harris says “I will argue… that questions about values… are really questions about the well being of conscious creatures”

          To me that is a meta ethical claim. He’s not just saying “I will argue we will all be better off if we do X” i.e., he isn’t just starting in with discussing normative laws but he is claiming that what he is doing is the rational solution to the basic meta ethical question of what constitutes “good”.

          In some sense though I see your point. His meta ethical stance is pretty simple: he doesn’t care. He just ignores the is ought problem and says that just as all rational people agree on what constitutes health (debatable but let’s assume that is true) that all rational people also agree on what is moral and if you don’t think well being is what is moral you are either confused, a psychopath, or a Muslim and as rational people we don’t care what you think.

          I’m not even really convinced that defining health is as easy as Harris thinks it is but I am very sure that he is wrong about all rational people agreeing about well being. As I said Rawls, Kant, Nietsche, Sartre,… I could even see making a case that Nietzsche and Sartre qualify as nut jobs but certainly not Rawls, he is taught in many schools and many classes on ethics for lawyers and business (arguabley an oxymoron but my point is he is influential). BTW, classes like that are what I think of as normative ethics. Not worrying about morality from the philosophical sense but about how to make people more moral (using a shared consensus definition of what that is) in specific situations such as business and law.

          Harris dismisses Rawls by creating reducto ad absurdem arguments that show if you use fairness you can get counter intuitive results to the question of what is good. But you could use the exact same arguments to show that you can manufacture counter intuitive results using simply well being as well. Harris has the example of a perfectly just society where everyone is miserable.Surely we don’t want that. But how about a society where one percent of the population is happy as pigs in slop and the rest of us are pretty miserable? It’s possible if the 1% are really psyched about their lives that the overall well being of that population is higher than a population where no one was incredibly rich but the wealth was more evenly distributed. I think at least some people would prefer the society with less overall well being and more equitable distribution.

          Actually, I went off on a tangent, my main point is that IMO BOTH Rawls and Harris ignore the really critical meta-ethical question of how you get from is to ought.

          • In reply to #28 by Red Dog:

            Hi Red Dog,

            So to make sure we are on the same page by normative ethics I assume you mean specific questions about human behavior: should we as a society or should an individual reward X or Y more or less, etc.

            I asked the question because, it seemed to me, Harris has been saying that we should stop to consider how we judge these individual acts (because, collectively, they consume the majority of our effort to understand ethics -consciously or unconsciously). I claim no special knowledge and I repeat: I may have misunderstood.

            That contrasts with meta-ethics which is interested in the more fundamental question of what sense do ethical statements (regardless of what they are) even make?

            Whether that constitutes a more fundamental question is dependent on one’s position, surely?

            I am constrained by my personal lack of study. Harris appears to take the view that this so-called meta-ethical problem is no such thing?

            Can we ever directly derive ought statements from is statements or if we can’t can we find some other way to lay the foundation to get us from ought to is? (BTW, my answers are no and yes)

            I confess that I am a poor student of philosophy. The tools that philosophy has crafted – such as logic – greatly interest me. But once I have qualified, to my own satisfaction, that I am asking the right question or, perhaps, a useful question, my attention is very easily lost.

            Thus, I find the philosophical conundrum posed by David Hume to be nothing more complex than asking can a crossword be solved by reviewing the clues. If the answer is no, if the is of the clues does not equal the ought of the correct answers then the words of the puzzle will never fit together. More to the point, the answer that I reach today will not agree with the Compiler’s published answer tomorrow. To put that another way: if some iss don’t at least suggest some oughts then truth is beyond our comprehension.

            Clearly every is does not lead to an ought. Knowing that it was my Brother’s birthday yesterday does not mean that I ought to send him a card. It’s obviously too late for that.

            Nor is it obvious that what any one person believes to be an ought is supported by an is – this is of course the position of religions. Nevertheless, some evidence leads to some concrete conclusions and, without wishing to appear triumphalist, this must mean that some is discoveries must inevitably draw us inexorably to a few conclusive ought results. The human population is rapidly outgrowing the Earth’s ability to sustain us. We ought to practice universal contraception and birth-control education.

            My emphasis here is on evidence.

            Aware that I have just set myself up against David Hume – one of the finest thinkers (never mind philosophers) of the Enlightenment – I reserve the right to do some back-peddling later!

            Harris says “I will argue… that questions about values… are really questions about the well being of conscious creatures”. To me that is a meta ethical claim. He’s not just saying “I will argue we will all be better off if we do X” i.e., he isn’t just starting in with discussing normative laws but he is claiming that what he is doing is the rational solution to the basic meta ethical question of what constitutes “good”.

            Yes, I think Harris does attempt this rhetorical stance. So far, so philosophical. Show me a Philosopher who didn’t over-reach and I’ll show you an under-achiever.

            Nevertheless, if we interpret Harris at the slightly lower level of: … questions about values … are really questions about … wellbeing discussed between conscious creatures …

            … then I think he’s on to something.

            Such an approach lends itself to my practical bent. Why make life complicated, as the authors of the United States Declaration of Independence almost certainly didn’t say. But they did encapsulate the sentiment in the phrase “the pursuit of happiness”.

            Ethics is a moveable feast. How appropriate, when discussing human intervention in nature and the wholly predictable loss of, and suffering of, other species.

            [Harris's] meta ethical stance is pretty simple: he doesn’t care. He just ignores the is ought problem …

            … as indeed he should (as above) …

            … and [Harris] says that just as all rational people agree on what constitutes health (debatable …

            Agreed, highly contentious even.

            … that all rational people also agree on what is moral and if you don’t think well being is what is moral you are either confused, a psychopath, or a Muslim and as rational people we don’t care what you think.

            I’m not going to defend Harris on that charge. He clearly says some of those things – particularly about Muslims – except to say that he was simply posing one set of values against another. It was a beauty contest that no religion was ever going to win.

            With Harris, it seems to me, the Scientist sometimes suppresses the Philosopher. Again, I haven’t read Harris, but he does appear to park philosophical certainty for scientific probability from time to time. Certainly I have always interpreted Harris on ethics as presenting the best probable goal for human endeavour. Is that a fair summary?

            I am very sure that he is wrong about all rational people agreeing about well being.

            Like the USA’s Founders, I have difficulty simplifying an alternative that doesn’t sound twee. Harris’s approach at least balances freedoms with the knowledge that those freedoms overlap.

            As I said Rawls, Kant, Nietsche, Sartre,… I could even see making a case that Nietzsche and Sartre qualify as nut jobs …

            Sartre, probably, though in his defense didn’t he once say that he didn’t know what existentialism is? Nietzsche (god is dead!) was either the greatest satirist that ever lived – as some, improbably, claim – or he was really on to something.

            … but certainly not Rawls …

            We have no argument here.

            Not worrying about morality from the philosophical sense but about how to make people more moral (using a shared consensus definition of what that is) in specific situations such as business and law.

            This is exactly what I meant about Harris and Rawls being complimentary. I see parallels, connections even.

            Harris begins with the fact that policy is only useful if it has practical application and that, therefore, we need to think in terms of what works at the underlying philosophical level.

            Rawls’ starting point is that models of morality only work if there is agreement and that we can reach that agreement by … welI I get lost there. You appear to be saying that Rawls’ position is that we can ignore foundational philosophy? I find that difficult to believe because a philosophy underpins Rawls’ position – whether he likes it or not. Saying we can ignore it seems to be, therefore, the equivalent of dictatorship; what some minority or other says goes – now let’s get on with applying the rules?

            If I have that right, and I do not pretend to know for either, then Harris could be interpreted as providing the philosophical underpinning that Rawls attempts to side-step.

            Harris dismisses Rawls by creating reducto ad absurdem arguments that show if you use fairness you can get counter intuitive results to the question of what is good.

            Given my own limited understanding, I can see how Harris would do that.

            But you could use the exact same arguments to show that you can manufacture counter intuitive results using simply well being as well. Harris has the example of a perfectly just society where everyone is miserable. Surely we don’t want that.

            As a philosophical exercise I cannot see value in Harris’s argument (as you present it). Being practical again, I see no reason to believe that such a simplistic description would actually work in practice. I like just outcomes. I’m even prepared to give up some of my own freedoms (and therefore to surrender part of my rights to self determined happiness) to see justice done. It would make me happy to do so. Indeed, this seems to be a common feature of even poorly developed human societies?

            But how about a society where one percent of the population is happy as pigs in slop and the rest of us are pretty miserable?

            Uncomfortably close to the Real World you mean?

            It’s possible if the 1% are really psyched about their lives that the overall well being of that population is higher than a population where no one was incredibly rich but the wealth was more evenly distributed.

            Are you by any chance a member of the Tea Party?

            I think at least some people would prefer the society with less overall well being and more equitable distribution.

            Most of us lean in that direction because that is what the evidence shows. Sorry to be so practical and realistic about this but polls of peoples in different countries strongly support the latter idea precisely because those in progressive, re-distributive, societies are happier individually and in sum.

            We can argue until the cows come home about whether happiness is the best way to judge policy. In the end, I’m always attracted to Harris’s approach. Wellbeing is a subjective measure to be sure, but then so are all judgements of the outcomes of policies of ethics.

            Happiness is an outcome that is clearly desirable – even while it flirts with being nebulous and effete – trivial even.

            Actually, I went off on a tangent, my main point is that IMO BOTH Rawls and Harris ignore the really critical meta-ethical question of how you get from is to ought.

            Clearly I don’t understand your dilemma.

            To try to pull this back to the OP, we should also consider the other species. To what extent should human philosophy, and in particular ethics, apply to them?

            The position of Harris would seem to be that – assuming we accept the presupposition of speciesism – we should consider their wellbeing. While I see how that works to some degree for pigs, I struggle with haricot beans.

            Just as the modern market banana is a variety bred specifically to be consumed by us, so too with the World’s vast majority of sheep.

            Douglas Adams’ bovine that force-fed himself to make his liver delicious, and that is capable of achieving greatest happiness by shooting himself so that diners may enjoy his flesh, seems to me to be no more than the ultimate expression of inter-species development where one species has always been food for the other.

            If I was at that restaurant, Zaphod and I would have been as one.

            Arthur, meanwhile, is guilty of special pleading through an even greater crime of speciesism. He ate a salad that could not say whether it wanted to be eaten or not. At least the Bovine had the option.

            Speaking of animal welfare, I always wondered what happened to that Bovine’s Counsellor. Presumably having your patients choose suicide on a regular basis, then doing it right then and there, is so depressing that work absences are common. On the other hand, all your patients would die ecstatically happy that their life’s dream is being fulfilled. Life affirming or not? It sounds like the kind of job that would make even me consider vegetarianism … almost.

            Rawls, meanwhile, is presumably happy that we can take his conception of what is valuable in human life and apply it to all species? I’ll bet he isn’t. I’ll bet that if he was asked he would be just as guilty as Arthur Dent of special pleading and super-speciesism.

            A philosophical approach might ask if real animals bred for consumption are, in fact, happy – both in terms of lifestyle and life expectancy. Not forgetting, of course, that polling their opinions would include the prospect of children. Even if such anthropomorphism could be credited, which is a gigantic if, we might be surprised by the answer.

            Can science tell us anything new about Animal Welfare? It has been doing so for some time and – hey presto! – humans have taken the practical and pragmatic approach.

            In developed countries we have a poorly defined scale of ability to achieve a happy state for other species – and we apply laws for animal husbandry and death in an attempt to ensure their maximum happiness using a second, just as ill-defined, scale to ‘ensure’ that those at the end of the scale nearest to us get the greatest consideration. All based on science and our very limited, highly subjective and emotions-running-riot understanding of what it means to be a cow, or goose, or cabbage.

            I can think of no better example of how philosophers over-reach themselves. While they consider and pontificate, in depth, the rest of us muddle through to a good approximation of the best of all possible Worlds. In those places where truth and open discussion are valued only … but it’s a start.

            I’m off to cook my dinner now. I will be slashing, burning and boiling numerous babies of other species to fill my stomach. Some of them will still be alive and will, therefore, presumably (as I am so capable of accurate empathy, so in tune with their ‘vibes’) die horribly. I will have fun, they will not.

            Of course, if they had not existed they would not have known ‘happiness’ at all and they owe that very existence they enjoyed to the ensuring of my happiness. How lovely, happiness all around.

            Peace.

          • In reply to #29 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

            That contrasts with meta-ethics which is interested in the more fundamental question of what sense do ethical statements (regardless of what they are) even make? Whether that constitutes a more fundamental question is dependent on one’s position, surely?

            I didn’t mean fundamental to imply “more important” or anything like that. My only point is there are two different, although probably related questions. One question is a normative ethics question, what kind of rules, processes, education, etc. should we have to get more moral behavior in fields such as medicine. The other question (meta ethics) is about the logical and rational foundation for making ethical claims at all.

            Actually I like sticking with medicine because I think that domain in particular gives a good analogy. You can go to a therapist and not care whether she is a Freudian, Rogerian, or whatever. A lot of the basic skills for being a therapist are independent of the underlying theory. As a side note whenever I go to see a therapist I always have to remind myself NOT to ask those kinds of questions or I will end up wasting most of the session talking about the theory of psychology, which is a lot more fun to talk about then my personal problems.

            Therapists can ignore a lot of the theoretical issues and just focus on the basics of listening, showing empathy, calling people on their bullshit when appropriate, etc. But if you do a PhD in psychology you obviously want to focus on all that theoretical stuff.

            I see the difference between normative and meta-ethics the same way. Normative ethics does what Harris did in his book, assumes a definition for what things are good based on the values that the society happens to mostly share and then figure out ways to make those good qualities (honesty, empathy, integrity) more prevalent. Normative ethics is like a clinician. Meta-ethics investigates the things that normative ethics just takes for granted. Is it really so logical to make ethical statements? Are ethical statements just statements of emotions with no real rational standing? How much of ethics can be explained by looking at altruism (e.g. kin selection, reciprocal altruism). The two are mostly separate but there is a hope that at some point they will connect and the theory will provide more insights for the practice and the practice will provide empirical validation of the theory.

            Getting back to Harris, he seems to me to be doing meta-ethics although not in a very sophisticated or interesting way. He just does the same thing that i said was justified for normative ethics but clearly isn’t for meta-ethics, he assumes an answer based on his interpretation of the shared consensus of society. I think he is wrong because the way he frames it is “I have solved the is ought problem” as opposed to “I’m not interested in the is ought problem because I’m doing normative ethics” If you recall the major thesis of his Moral Landscape book was that science has something interesting to say about ethical questions. I agree with that but I think if you want to do science, that is when you can no longer just accept common sense, shared consensus answers. You have to dig deeper and question things that people normally just take for granted.

          • In reply to #29 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

            Thus, I find the philosophical conundrum posed by David Hume to be nothing more complex than asking can a crossword be solved by reviewing the clues. If the answer is no, if the is of the clues does not equal the ought of the correct answers then the words of the puzzle will never fit together. More to the point, the answer that I reach today will not agree with the Compiler’s published answer tomorrow. To put that another way: if some iss don’t at least suggest some oughts then truth is beyond our comprehension.

            If I’m understanding your point you are saying that the issue seems rather abstract and who cares we can still make moral decisions fine no matter if our logic seems a bit flawed to David Hume. And I agree with that last point.

            You could say that about most philosophical questions. A common (and I think nonsensical) reply to the question of free will is “if you don’t believe in free will why do you get out of bed in the morning?” Both that reply and I think what you are saying miss the point. Or to take something we probably both agree is interesting, I’ve heard the same quips about things like quantum entanglement. People who aren’t fascinated by theoretical physics as I am and I suspect you are don’t see what all the fuss is about. So our common sense view of causality may not work in some lab situations, who cares, that doesn’t stop me from understanding cause and effect for my life and work.

            I think these are all an example of the differences between science and common sense. We have from genetics and from society a bunch of common sense notions that we need to function in the world. If X causes Y they have to materially influence each other. Good people do good things and bad people do bad. We each make all sorts of decisions that clearly influence what we do every day.

            But when we do science we leave the world of common sense behind. We don’t take things for granted anymore. A physicist can entertain a theory where two events separated by billions of miles of space are causally connected. A psychologist can realize that humans are like all other organisms and subject to the same physical laws that determine their behavior. And a philosopher/psychologist can question if there is really a solid rational foundation for our ethical evaluations.

          • In reply to #28 by Red Dog:

            BOTH Rawls and Harris ignore the really critical meta-ethical question of how you get from is to ought.

            I think we would do far better to imagine processes that close the loop of being informed about harms, developing feelings about those harms and effecting societal changes as a result. The feelings of fully informed individuals about the actuality of harms is the best motor for needed change in democratically enabled societies.

            I have long claimed that the epidemiological approach to healthy societies is the rational and potentially most effective one. Measuring continually every conceivable parameter of individual happiness, societal robustness, capacity for engaging talent, problem solving capacities and flexibility etc. etc. so we can all see how we feel about these things and negotiate on these measures and not on the basis of dogmatic/philosophical compliance, we will get better societies faster.

            The sheer complexity of the situation presented by ethical considerations debars ethics from direct use. Humans have behavioural heuristics in relation to morality, grown out from utilitarian requirements of “not killing kin” and the like. For various evolutionary reasons (and their second order effects) the moral mode of “not killing as-if-kin” has turned out to be very rewarding in allowing bigger and bigger societies with their enhanced and desirable capacities of creativity and intellectual multiplication. But we are hitting the buffers of these moral heuristics and their capacity to steer us optimally. Pushing the guy off the bridge to flip the points and save the five about to be killed by the runaway train is too much for us as individuals. The act is entirely moral at the level of saving lives but corrosive in transgressing our personal moral heuristics. (The pusher’s life may be blighted by his lifesaving/murderous act. The saved may be saved but at what cost when they contemplate their unwilling saviour and his family? Does this become a sociopath’s license? Does a 99% effective heuristic get damaged by two or three percent in its effectiveness by being seen as a mere heuristic and not an imperative?)

            Turning moral heuristics into philosophical entities is no help at all. Lived morality needs to spring from a maximally informed (from statistics, from reports of experience, from…..soap opera) and fed into a collective negotiation. We need a society that develops an acute sensitivity, a self consciousness, of the results of its own actions. As with the concept of value for things in economics, values for this or that in moral considerations only achieve a practical significance when laid in the balance, one with another, and transactions made. The better path is always a subjective call.

            Measuring incessantly, and with reliable consistency, the harms (and the boons) experienced by individuals and theirs societies, noting the deltas, and making those available to all allows policy making to move from the narrow dogmatically informed process towards the more pragmatic one akin to evolutionary processes, where course corrections that are successful in “improving the numbers” in an agreeable way will tend to be preferred over others. Empirical model making may emerge from all this data to allow a more intelligent design to societies but if not producing positive results we still have the back stop of random change and watching the dials to see the results.

            The idea of dials for outcomes that may have moral import can apply to animals, perhaps even be made literal. What if we implement as a matter of policy regular assessments of animal distress? Heart rate, cortisol sampling and the like and looked at over a lifetime. Compare it with similar animals in the wild? Lifespan and suffering indices attached to the food that you eat may not put an end to meat eating but it has every chance of consistently improving the quality of sentient lives and minimising suffering.

  19. Anyway, to the question. Science cannot prove to me that a salmon feels the hook or a cat is distressed when its tail is caught in a door. But it can show me that they have nerve systems that connect to brains that model the world. The understanding is then up to me. And creatures that yelp, shriek and otherwise convince me more than the most searing Mahler Adagios, well, that these are minds in discomfort, these bodies would rather be elsewere, that is my own conclusion. Comparative studies of human and human/animal cries of pain don’t lead me to disagree with what I have automatically presumed since chlidhood to be correct – animals feel and cruelty to them is cruelty.

    Is this science? This interpreting of world experience? It seems more basic yet. But judging by the trouble some religions have in even accepting that other humans suffering, the sympathy instinct can still be silenced. The largely right-wing, RC supporters of bullfighting here in Spain is just one portrait of this happening.

  20. In this conversation, I tend to agree with Red Dog. It is common ground that science can indeed inform about ” harms and the boons” of various situations, measure them, etc….This should indeed be pursued. But the point still stands that one cannot objectively deduct (logically derive, prove) a particular recommended course of action (which necessarily involves a value judgment -perhaps based on prejudice, traditions, etc- ) from any number of facts. Red Dog rightly quoted a number of western luminaries ( Kant, Rawlings, etc…) who don’t agree with each other. He could quoted others like Spinoza and some pre.-Socratic Greeks, but also many of the eastern philosophies ( Taoism , Aurobindo, etc..)
    One hesitates to disagree with such a brilliant mind as Harris on this. I thought at one point he was a Utilitarian, (” greatest happiness for the greatest number”) but I see that he denies it ( not clear why?). Sometimes he seems to be saying something as “un-profound” as ” It is better to be rich and in good health, than poor and sick”.
    To come back to the specific subject of this thread, how could one logically and factually counter ( rather extreme) Jains who use a small brush to clear the seat they are about to sit on for fear of crushing tiny living beings, and others who wear masks not to risk inhaling and killing invisible organisms? and, in westernized societies, what facts could one bring forth to justify eating say horse or goat meat and not cats and dogs ? ( leaving aside the vexed question of pig meat! )

    • In reply to #34 by catphil:

      In this conversation, I tend to agree with Red Dog. It is common ground that science can indeed inform about ” harms and the boons” of various situations, measure them, etc….This should indeed be pursued. But the point still stands that one cannot objectively deduct (logically derive, prove) a p…

      I couldn’t disagree more. If you observe how “values” work and are treated by people in reality as opposed to how the word is often bandied around in philosophy discussions, then you would see that the fact-value distinction is a category error, no more profound to my perspective than invoking a distinction between facts and Mexican cuisine. To say you value something is to make a claim about that something and/or its properties, yourself and/or your own properties, and both of those things (the valued thing and yourself) in relation to each other, albeit probably unconsciously or while taking those things for granted.

      If you want to explain what a value is, you have to invoke known facts from within a field, in this case biology, or more narrowly the field concerned with sentient organisms, their experiences, and their interactions with one another. We’ve barely tapped the surface of the fields of sociology, neuroscience, psychology, and the game theory models of evolutionary agents, so it’s not all that surprising that ethics contains multiple contradictory ideas; it’s a science way, way too early in its infancy, that has to build on sciences that themselves are in their (relative) infancy.

      It certainly doesn’t help that our dualistic intuitions about the mind give rise to the objective-subjective objection, a distinction which is obsolete in the modern era of neuroscience and other mind or cognitive sciences. Thinking about it, it’s equivalent to saying that science can tell us about electromagnetic radiation, systems involving the use of colours, optical principles, and how the mind processes what comes through the eye, but cannot discuss “colour”: with this much information, this objection has no practical merit, is semantic sidestepping, and follows the same structure as the No True Scotsman comeback by disassociating itself from a valid rebuttal.

  21. To extend the argument against the direct utlity of ethics I want to note the variability of our personal values beyond
    the given data of harms and boons we are led to consider.

    Whilst I shun declaring, as I once used to, that I am left of centre politically (because the dogma of prepackaged solutions is
    a nonsense), I am happy and keen to admit that my (just can’t help myself) moral values have a lefty pro-social bias rather
    than a pro-individual, libertarian one. I am in awe of our collective abilities and in certain endeavours am happy to be an
    intellectual sheeple amongst sheeple. However, and somewhat conversely, as a little bit Aspie, and low in the emotional
    empathy stakes, I find many hyper-pro-social types bizarrely exercised over the imagined harms done to others. Their
    intuition of harms I can see no reason to find reliable. From either side of the empathy bell curve we stare puzzled at each
    other and with no hope of real agreement over possible shared values….only, perhaps, an agreement that where we must
    present a moral front collectively we must be prepared to negotiate a workable consensus, a compromise of all involved.

    The morality of a race of super corvids would be entirely different to that on the hippy Planet of the Bonobos and different
    again to the uncannily intelligent and intricate micro-plasma Sworlz on the gas giants circling Betelgeuse. The Aspie and the
    Hyper-Pro-Social naked Ape share some of that inevitable latitude in moral values.

    Throw in the life preferences of an animal whose (!) various desires to eat, live pain free, hump, nurture young and feel the
    wind in its fur, or live at all, can only be guessed at or at best crudely assessed and we can see that only an empirical and
    engineering solution has any viability. The only moral computer of values are those minds capable of value judgment. The
    only levers to pull to alter these are ethical musings (no more) and a shed load of data (the more the better). And given all
    that, we still need to conclude the negotiation between between our differing judgments. Moral planning derived from
    whatever source, ethical dogma (for such it will remain for the forseeable future) or empirical, informed negotiation, that rides
    roughshod over feelings is doomed to fail.

  22. Horse slaughter on u.s. soil has stopped in its tracks, for now. Language to not issue permits for slaughter plants (specifically, IA, MO, NM) was included in recently signed budget. No permit = no inspection = no slaughter for export.

    There is no good option; horse lovers favor no slaughter yet, now the horses might go to Mexico and/or Canada where humane disposal is questionable.

    Bureau of Land Management has a limit of 33,000 horses to care for (Mustangs). All this does not include abandoned horses (starvation and cold), due to high expense of keeping a horse.

  23. I would read this question as – in the lack of belief in a religion (aided by science), how does one form an opinion about animal well-being, and our equation with other animals on this planet. (And I was really excited to see this on RDFRS, given one of the questions I’ve been grappling with is, do atheists around the world detest industrial meat, i.e. meat produced through industrialisation of animals’ lives?)

    The lack of any preached or “written” rules about animal treatment in an atheist’s world-view would, and should lead to the logical understanding that humans and other animals, are, in essence, animals. Equals. Some more advanced in certain parameters, than others (humans more advanced in the scheming and plotting and being nasty dimension, and albatrosses way more advanced in the flying-around-the-world dimension). And if that is true, then, we should treat them as they treat each other (not as we treat each other as humans, bound by a law which is protective of human life, and holds it sacred in some way), but the law of the jungle – survive, and kill to survive, when hungry (very simplistically put). When translated to our world, this would mean, hunt if you want to eat meat, but do not make slaves out of animals (any domesticated, bound animal, IS a slave), and do not take over their life aspirations by making them into cosmetic testing surfaces, entertainment providers, etc. However, given our technological advances, and the subsequent expansion of the land area we use, and the resultant minute populations of most animals (due to lesser living area for them), even hunting animals wouldn’t be practical, as it would lead to rapid, multiple extinctions. But, given the human species is to blame for this state of affairs, it can only be concluded that the human species must go vegan and leave the animals alone, and stop any form of animal usage in our lives, especially for commercial purposes.

    Some would argue that medical advances (among other ‘critical’ issues) do require the expending of other animal lives, however, that’s a dictatorial, master-slave view, where the ‘slave’ doesn’t have a say, and here, the other animals literally do not have a voice to speak out against our actions. And hence, even in such situations, the first priority should be given to testing on humans. I don’t have a solution here as to who should be selected to be tested upon, but that’s our problem, not the rats’ or the fishes’!

    Finally, given this topic has been raised, compared to the relatively few decades or centuries of similar atrocities commited by humans against other humans, e.g., slavery in the USA, in Europe etc., what we have done as a species to other animals stretches back centuries, and requires a mighty big apology. Larger than any apology that we, as a species, have the capacity and capability to offer.

  24. Can’t blame nature for creating us, all we can do is to improve. This is how our specie looks like and the behavior didn’t changed that much comparing to animal adaptions from the point we start to “organize”. It went pretty “well” let’s say for at least 100,000 years but i’m not sure that the most powerful persons our groups, minds or countries, thought just 1 minute to embargo Denmark or Japan for slaughtering wales and dolphins. I beg science to find out how in the hell, this nations which are far ahead with other ” activities”, let this happen. I couldn’t stop it. The line is straight and the future is dark for all animal kingdom, if not a virus stops our existence and only affecting us with an antidote found only in the last parrot of his specie, caved in one particular bedroom of o retarded blonde in Paris.

  25. In reply to Zeuglodon #34 by catphil:

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply. This is encouraging me to reconsider. However, I doubt this fundamental question can be settled here, on the back , as it were, of animal welfare, It seems the jury is still out . I just wanted to ensure you and others interested have seen ” In Pursuit of Positive Skepticism” , by Massimo Pigliucci , “About Sam Harris’ claim that science can answer moral questions
    Can neurobiology substitute for ethics?”
    April 22, 2010

    • In reply to #41 by catphil:

      In reply to Zeuglodon #34 by catphil:

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply. This is encouraging me to reconsider. However, I doubt this fundamental question can be settled here, on the back , as it were, of animal welfare, It seems the jury is still out . I just wanted to ensure you and others inter…

      Thank you in turn for bringing an alternative position into this discussion. Sadly, I was unable to locate it on the web (it is a full book rather than a short article, isn’t it?), but I was able to locate this for the time being.

      About Sam Harris’ claim that science can answer moral questions

      Can neurobiology substitute for ethics?

      Harris also answers responses to his TED talk here, in which he elaborates on his points. I bring this up because I was interested in seeing what Harris made of such points, and this was the closest I could find.

  26. Hi , new to posting, but longtime reader of this site.

    In regards to the cattle industry. I live close to the Rockies and often hike and bike in the foothills. My exposure to the cattle industry while out recreating is of encountering herds of cattle living their lives in summer in close to idyllic mountain meadows contentedly munching on grasses, etc. These animals would not exist but for the cattle industry. They’re deriving their sustenance in places largely unsuitable for anything else. Perhaps if you could ask them, given that they wouldn’t exist otherwise, maybe they’d accept their lot in life….

    • In reply to #43 by axiology:

      Hi , new to posting, but longtime reader of this site.

      In regards to the cattle industry. I live close to the Rockies and often hike and bike in the foothills. My exposure to the cattle industry while out recreating is of encountering herds of cattle living their lives in summer in close to idyllic…

      “Waste of the West: Public Lands Ranching” by Lynn Jacobs is an excellent resource to understand how ranching in western public lands is the single-largest threat to biodiversity in those areas. In many places cattle eat up to 95% of all the available forage and crowd out other herbivores. They greatly exacerbate erosion, species loss, and water pollution. In addition USDA’s Wildlife Services traps, poisons, shoots, and otherwise kills millions of other wild animals to ostensibly protect the cattle grazing down native plants in those public lands. As if that weren’t enough, ranchers and BLM use herbicides and tractors to clear away native trees and shrubbery to create more ranch land. Generally speaking, the cattle placidly munching away are crowding out all the animals (and plants) who rightfully belong there. The only reason those cattle exist is because they have been bred for a meat industry that, in turn, does not need to exist.

  27. PEOPLE MAY STILL NEED (HUMAN) MEAT TO SURVIVE

    Recently I heard a friend of mine say that some people around the world still need to eat meat to survive. What kind of meat, I didn’t ask, but we do know that in some parts of the world the killing of human and non-human animals is rampant.

    Could it be possible that killing and exploiting animals as well as killing and exploiting people are the only means of survival for some people? This may be possible in very extreme cases. However, the justification of killing for purely survival reasons is a topic best left for a future discussion. The question I would like to address here today is this one:

    Why do we condemn people who kill (and exploit) other humans but not if they kill (and exploit) animals?

    First we need to address how our “special” treatment of humans is an arbitrary concept.

    Here’s what I mean:

    We are humans (assuming you’re a human reading this ;-) ) so we are biased towards seeing those most similar to us as having higher worth (this is a common psychological bias also known as prejudice; more specifically, seeing human animals as having higher worth than non-human animals is a form of prejudice called speciesism).

    “The question is not, can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But, can they suffer” – Jeremy Bentham

    “We may look different but in our capacity to suffer we’re all the same”. – Evolve Campaigns

    In other words, human as well as non-human animals equally have the capacity to suffer and all desire to live. This has been scientifically shown over and over again and most of us tend to know this quite intuitively as well. Therefore, since all of us possess “sentience”, no animal (human or non-human) should have more or less of a right to live and be free of torment.

    Prejudice has been discussed for centuries but let’s review how it applies here. If we give human animals a higher right in life than non-human animals because human animals are most similar to us, then it must follow that you should also give your race a higher right than other races since your race is most similar to you (a form of prejudice called racism). As well, it also must follow that you should give your sex a higher right than the other sex for the same reason (a form of prejudice called sexism). Once again, it must also follow that you should give your nation a higher right than other nations since they’re most similar to you (a form of prejudice called nationalism; I was a victim along with many other people, of a war caused by this exact type of prejudice).

    Some people like to use the (prejudiced) argument that we have a right to “use” (including kill) animals since we’re more “intelligent”. If this is true, then adults have a higher right to a life free of exploitation (including being killed) than children since children are “less intelligent”. Also, most average people in that case would have a higher right to a life free of exploitation (including being killed) than mentally challenged people. Of course, in that case, most intelligent people in the world can look down on all of us so if you’d like to know if you’re safe under this type of prejudice, ask yourself: “Am I the smartest person in the world?”. If you’re not sure or if your neighbor doesn’t think you’re smarter regardless of your own opinion of yourself, run for your life.

    Jokes aside, since none of these concepts are acceptable in our society, then the argument of intelligence has no merit here either. We do not have the right to “use” (or kill) animals because they’re “less intelligent” or because we perceive them that way.

    Humans have killed (as well as eaten and exploited) other humans for thousands or even millions of years if we refer back to the Homo Erectus which existed as far as 1.8 million years ago. Even modern humans, Homo Sapiens, which have existed since 200,000 years ago were in constant conflict with other humans. Human cannibalism was present ever since (hu)man has existed. Rape, murder, oppression have all existed as well.

    In modern day however, we aspire to live in a civilized world and we are moving in the direction of eliminating horrific behaviors we have exhibited throughout our evolutionary history. We now look at rape, murder, and oppression as something that needs to be eliminated if we are to live in a civilized world. We have made child molestation a crime, we have legally banned slavery, we have given women the right to vote, we condemn homosexual discrimination and hate crimes… We are fighting to evolve by eliminating all forms of prejudice because this is the only way we can live in a kind world which all of us long for (unless you’re a sociopath in which case the only world you’d like to live in is the one that serves only you at the expense of everyone else).

    So we come back to the original question: “Why do we condemn people who kill (and exploit) other humans but not if they kill (and exploit) animals?”

    The reason why we do so is because of a prejudice called speciesism. All sentient beings have the capacity to suffer so in sentience, we’re all the same. Killing and exploiting a human animal cannot be any more morally wrong than killing and exploiting a non-human animal. And if we feel it’s unacceptable to us that human animals are ever killed and exploited, then it must follow that killing non-human animals is unacceptable as well. Along with all other forms of prejudice, speciesism needs to be eliminated if we are to live in a truly congruent, peaceful world.

    Furthermore, the enormous environmental damage caused by fishing and animal agriculture has been well documented. As the UN’s Nobel Prize winning scientific panel on climate change warned – people need to stop eating meat if we are to avert an ecological disaster.

    Additionally, the problem of world hunger is made worse by animal agriculture as well. It takes several pounds of plant protein fed to an animal to get just one pound of animal protein. This plant food is taken away from the poorest on the planet. Six million children die of starvation every year for this very reason.

    The question I pose to myself is: What I am going to do today to make this world a better place?
    Off to eat some kale then and party up with some stylish non-leather boots!

    ~ Andrea Kladar

    Original article can be found at: http://100for100.me/2013/06/07/people-may-still-need-human-meat-to-survive/

  28. Science teaches us that dominion is dead. By rejecting dominion, we challenge the last great form of human oppression against “inferior others.” By rejecting dominion, we acknowledge our respect for and sovereignty of other species and the natural world. By rejecting dominion, we also reject all unnecessary animal exploitation, because we have other options, because exploiting animals for reasons of profit and pleasure is immoral. By rejecting dominion, we realign ourselves with our core belief that harming animals unnecessarily is fundamentally wrong. If it is wrong for me to kick my neighbor’s dog, then it is (at least) equally wrong for me to pay someone else to harm an animal because I like the way his thigh tastes, particularly when I have an abundance of other options. If we take the issue of moral consideration of animals at all seriously, then this belief must be applied consistently, rather than arbitrarily, in the same manner we apply it to human beings.

  29. “All tetrapod vertebrates (amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals) have brains that – despite enormous differences in outer appearance, overall size and relative size of major parts of the brain – are very similar in general organization and even in many details (Wullimann 2000). More specifically, all tetrapod brains possess a median, medial and lateral reticular formation inside the medulla oblongata, pons and ventral mesencephalon, including a noradrenergic locus coeruleus, serotonergic raphe nuclei and a medial ascending reticular activating system. There is a corpus striatum, a globus pallidus, a nucleus accumbens, a substantial nigra, a basal forebrain/septum and an amygdala within the ventral telencephalon, a lateral pallium, homologous to the olfactory cortex of mammals, and a medial pallium, homologous to the hippocampal formation (at least Ammon’s horn and subiculum). This means that all structures required for declarative memory (or its equivalent in animals), emotions, motivation, guidance of voluntary actions and evaluation of actions are present in the tetrapod brain. These structures essentially have the connectivity and distribution of transmitters, neuromodulators, and neuropeptides in the different groups of tetrapods.”

    –Gerhard Roth, Biologist

    Emphasis Added

    Evolution is a continuum, and of it, we are but one small part. An acquaintance of mine, a paleontologist, has equated speciesism to creationism, and it is an appropriate comparison. Speciesism is the withholding of moral consideration towards animals as a result of ignorance concerning the realities that non-human animals possess the same, or similar, characteristics whereupon our ethical obligations to our own species are founded. Creationism has exacerbated speciesism by embedding a false hierarchy onto society: that is- god above (hu)men, (hu)men above animals. By believing that the Earth is only 6000 years old, one truncates evolution entirely. With hundreds of millions of years of shared evolutionary history abolished, this adulterated hierarchy that separates humans from other animals is further accepted. Thus, specieism is allowed to flourish unhindered. However, both the foundations of speciesism and creationism are false. The human-animal and non-human animals are not so different as to not apply equal moral consideration where pain and murder are concerned.

    “I sense that without sensitivity to physical pain and pleasure, men… would not have known self-interest;… and consequently no just or unjust acts; thus physical sensitivity and self-interest were the authors of all justice.”

    –Claude-Adrien Helvetius, De’lesprit (“On the Mind”), 1758

    Take a moment to consider this question carefully: why do you refrain from killing your neighbor? Go on now, reflect. Am I correct in assuming that such answers as ‘s/he is capable of utilizing language,’ ‘s/he has a keen knack for reason,’ or ‘s/he is a quantum physicist or is a musical genius’ didn’t come to mind? Of course they did not. It is these human traits, however, that are placed on a pedestal to justify the moral permissibility of slaughtering animals!

    Now, you probably thought something more along the lines of ‘s/he has the desire for life,’ ‘the act may cause him/her pain,’ or ‘his/her loved ones would suffer emotionally.’ Such sentiments can be applied to both human-animals and non-human animals. All animals value life and will fight and/or struggle to the bitter end. Similarly, as indicated by the presence of a nervous system, all non-human animals possess the capability to experience pain. Non-human animals and their companions are also known to grieve. A 30 year study on baboons has illustrated how there is an increased level of glucocorticoid hormones, hormones associated to grief in humans, for a month after a mother loses her baby. This same hormone is also elevated in her closest companions for a month, but in lesser quantities. Not only does the mother mourn, her closest companions share in her anguish. What more needs to be said? By revoking non-human animals’ moral consideration from the very same sentiments that form the foundation for our ethical basis to each other, an extremely brutal double standard is being committed.

    Furthermore, it is a common misconception that non-human animals are as automatons. That their every action concerns nothing more than procreation as a means to continue genetics and the survival of the species. Nothing can be further from the truth.

    Consider this, there are 300 known mammalian species who practice homosexuality. Surely there is no direct evolutionary benefit for such actions. As ethologist, ethology being the scientific study of animal behavior, Jonathon Balcombe states- “[d]aily existence is colored by immediate experiences, not ultimate goals… When an animal…eats, she is satisfying a basic need of survival: to sustain herself. But in choosing, seeing, smelling and tasting food, she also experiences it. The physical pleasures of life – like the pains – are current, even though they have evolutionary significance. It is these experiences, not the evolutionary forces underlying them, that put wind in the sails of [said animal's] existence.” For example, 90 percent of the bird species are monogamous and 50 percent mate for life. Bernd Heinrich, author of 18 books on animal adaptions and behavior, says “I suspect they fall in love like we do, simply because some kind of internal reward is required to maintain a long-term pair bond.” Like humans, these pleasant emotional stimuli are what guide, shape and motivate animals’ moment to moment actions. Like us, they seek of experiences of pleasure and joy.

    “The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but Can they suffer?”

    –Jeremy Bentham

    In his book “Pleasurable Kingdom,” Balcombe not only gives credence to the ability to suffer, he also emphasizes the importance of how non-human animals have the capability to experience pleasure. Throughout his book he cites examples of play, mischief, a sense of fairness, thrill-seeking, anticipation, the appreciation of food, sex, touch, aesthetics, and of love. He also devotes a few pages discussing how non-human animals go out of their way to get ‘high’ or intoxicated. How can an individual, for that is surely what animals are, appreciate psychadelics without a psyche? What use are these subjective experiences if they are not to enrich a personal point of view? Knowing that non-human animals possess this vibrant internal world which they value, how can we take it away from them for such an unnecessary, trivial matter as palate preference? Non-human animals deserve our compassion. We all are, after all, on the same evolutionary continuum.

    Note We do not need animal products for health purposes. [Link removed by moderator]

  30. To answer this question I think the first thing that should be acknowledged is that we, humans, are also animals. As Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha so succinctly put it in “Sex at Dawn”:

    “Forget what you’ve heard about human beings having descended from the apes. We didn’t descend from apes. We are apes. Metaphorically and factually, Homo sapiens is one of the five surviving species of great apes, along with chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans (gibbons are considered a “lesser ape”). We shared a common ancestor with two of these apes—bonobos and chimps—just five million years ago. That’s “the day before yesterday” in evolutionary terms. The fine print distinguishing humans from the other great apes is regarded as “wholly artificial” by most primatologists these days. If we’re “above” nature, it’s only in the sense that a shaky-legged surfer is “above” the ocean.”

    Therefore if science has something to say about nonhuman “animal” welfare then presumably it can’t be very different from what it has to say about the human animal’s welfare. If science says that human animals should be treated with respect and empathy because they feel pain, think, feel, and suffer then why would the same not be true for nonhuman animals?

    As Gary Yourofsky quite astutely said, ““I understand that we are all on a journey in life. We all have different likes and dislikes, different nationalities and religions too, but there is one thing that we need to have in common with each other, and that’s peace. Genuine compassion and genuine peace for our planetary companions. Contrary to political and religious dogma, animals do not belong to us. They are not commodities, they are not property, and they are not inanimate, stupid objects, who can’t think and feel. That Descartes’ Cartesian way of looking at animals, like they’re machines – it is outdated, and quite frankly, 100% insane. Because, if we all understand that animals use their eyes to see, ears to hear, noses to smell, mouths to eat, legs to walk, feathers to fly, fins to swim, genitalia to procreate, bowels to defecate, I’m always perplexed that most people don’t believe that they can also use their brains to think, feel, be rational, be aware and be self-aware. Am I supposed to believe, that every body part of an animal functions just like it’s supposed to, except the brain?”

  31. What science tells me about animal welfare is that human illusions of superior moral worth are simply that–illusions. Even those who claim to shake off theistic influence will often reveal it without knowing it–by adhering to a belief that humans are superior, or more evolved, or “fittest,” all terms that indicate an attitude that is merely a secular version of the Great Chain of Being. Nature cannot be observed to care or make judgement calls. What we know is that humans are mortal like other beings, and weather and other phenomenon do not give humans special treatment. More so, we know that the same technology humans have used to increase their ability to exploit the world, has also been used to exploit other humans. Nature does not stop this. Because humans are not superior in worth according to any Nature standard, then moral claims of superior worth of humans becomes just another form of bias and excuse to justify systemic discrimination and exploitation of those that can be exploited. There is racial supremacy beliefs, gender supremacy beliefs, cultural supremacy beliefs–a never ending list of beliefs people will use to justify the exploitation of humans. All biased personal opinions not absolute objective truth. Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle was known in ancient times as a mystical truth summarized by the expression “for every why there is a because, for every because, another why.” In philosophy of religion mystic religious thought completes the triad of religious systems–the other two being theism and secularism.
    In the final analysis, this means that if one truly wants a fair moral code, one has to give equal consideration to nonhumans. If one puts up an argument to systemically discriminate against them–whether based on secular or theistic world views–it will always leave a loophole due to that problem of being able to question and doubt the standard, characteristic, or criteria as objective absolute truth that would allow the systemic exploitation of humans. In other words if you want human rights you must have nonhuman rights.

    Only humans can be shown to use laws in an effort to control their behavior thus they are the only ones obligated to follow them, nonhumans benefit without needing to reciprocate out of fairness and consistency, since punishing them for being unable to follow human laws when you know they cannot would be like punishing a blind man for not reading warning signs or an armless man for not grabbing a drowning swimmer.
    Moral perfection is impossible; you only do the best you can in any given situation. The failure to stop homicide or child abuse does not justify concentration camps, thus the failure to stop the accidental death of microbes or plants etc. does not justify vivisection labs or farms.
    Science backs up what some observers in the ancient world knew, we are part of the same world, and interconnected. If humans continue along the path of arrogance and a belief in supremacism (whether adjusted to species, race, gender etc) we will drag ourselves down alongside those species we often consider ourselves superior to.

  32. I heard Marc Bekoff commenting that Europe has more legislation to protect animal welfare, while legislation in USA protect scientists ? What possibly does this mean, that science doesn´t protect animal welfare?
    Doctor Melanie Joy pointed out the USA legislation keeps animal conditions hidden from the population while veterinarians here-in Portugal- apply welfare criteria to the conditions in which animals live in farms, it cannot be hidden.

    Opposing to the creation of the largest european vivarium that keeps animals for laboratorial use, scientists are from both sides, Marc Bekoff himself regrets from killing an animal just to observe a neuronal change on it´s brains after an experiment (the same can be confirmed in the brains of children without killing them).
    So, is science on the both sides of the battlefield too?

    anti vivarium protest

  33. I dare to add that this relation (politics) towards science maybe deeply ingrained in religious mindset, as to regard science as a kind of salvation, no matter what is at stake and the unuseful “sacrifice” that it may represent.
    (sorry not to name of the philosopher of science-sociologist- I have been reading because the merit of the useful idea is not mine).

  34. After reading a few comments I realize we are all concerned about animal welfare, however since we are part of the animal world we are just following natural order, eat or be eat, in other words survival of the fittest, our ancestors going back to cave dwellers did just that, so what is our purpose on earth? Well to realize these ancient rules, there are really only three basic rules for survival and that is no. 1 and in order to survive we must eat, 2. Propagate, and 3.claim our own space. Why is that so complicated? Live and let live. If I had my choice of when I was born, I would have chosen to be an American Indian before the settlers arrived; these civilized religious settlers almost decimated the peaceful American Indians. Our so call civilized country which says it is based on Christian principals are now able to destroy the whole earth with it’s insane Politicians who hate everything that isn’t Christian, all because they think they are going to a better place!, example the GWB doctrine nuke them before the nuke us. What a bleak and frightful future.

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