“As The Doctors Study, The Patient Dies”

Day 26 Blog Post

The views of Peter Singer and Tom Regan have some pretty demanding intentions when taken to heart, so to examine how better to treat animals caught up in our modern day world we look to a more stratified outline on the possible ways we can legally reform such treatment of animals. Donald VanDeVeer (one of the authors of our textbook) and J. Baird Callicott offer two critical modifications of animal rights ethics that stand to be seen.

This gives us some new ethical “-isms” to look at; one being ethical humanism, which equates higher mental/psychological functioning with moral standing. This is, essentially, glorified speciesism. Then there’s humane moralism, which gives moral standing to humans regardless of previous criteria but also determines capacity for pain and pleasure to be the ultimate factors for morality. This is where hints of Bentham’s utilitarianism peek through. And then there’s Leopold’s Land Ethic, which stresses the importance of the health of the biotic community as a whole. With the land ethic, the study of ecology made it possible to see land as a third order. But this also means that it holds the interests of the collective over the interests of the individual in what we can see becomes a paradox. Since biodiversity is key to a healthy ecosystem, a pure land ethic would advocate the removal (or death) of humans before that of an endangered species, so as to promote the welfare (biodiversity) of the whole ecosystem. Also to keep in mind is that, ecologically, the greater the population size, the less important the individual. This is a common argument on behalf of animal testing to use rabbits, hamsters, and mice because they are so renewable. But, then again, so are we.


Callicott’s modification of the land ethic gives degrees of ecosystem importance as moral relevance. He advocates for very strong reform to the land ethic, and his main principle is to consider the animals’ role in the ecological community rather than value the life of each organism as the same. Callicott would have us make a hierarchy of importance in ecology. Keystone species are detrimental to ecosystems – without bees we probably couldn’t exist, yet there is no law preventing harm to bees. Callicott also says that Leopold’s land ethic is majorly based on human admiration of the “beauty” of nature – a human interpretation – biased toward our interests and poetic license. But he says skip the Sierra Club small talk because this won’t hold up, and rather we should call what we mean by its real name – intrinsic value – so that the argument has more argumentative worth. Ultimately, Callicott says we can still eat animals, but we need to reform the way we treat our ecosystems, like in implementing only small, organic farming rather than destructive monocrops. In his “The Conceptual Foundations of the Land Ethic” he says that “the implication of [Leopold’s maxim] includes the clear prospect that the individual may be sacrificed for the greater biotic good…” Regan calls this “environmental fascism” in that it leaves no room for individual rights in a world governed by one’s relationship to another. After getting called out, Callicott reformed his position.


VanDeVeer’s main modification of Singer’s Animal Liberation is that degrees of sentience should determine moral standing. He believes that the ability to reason contributes to higher sentience, almost in a way that John Mills describes. He holds weak hierarchical positions for certain kinds of interspecific interests and offers a break down of different types of relationships humans have with other species. Radical speciesism is the nonsense that Descartes ranted about; claiming that animals are mechanic automata without thoughts or capacity for pain. VanDeVeer says there are no legitimate premises strong enough to entail radical speciesism as plausible, obviously. Then there’s extreme speciesism, which allows anything so long as it promotes some peripheral human need. This is also indefensible as the threshold for cruelty is not determined. The “interest sensitive” speciesism occurs when interests of similar importance are at stake, for example the human keeping of birds as caged pets. The humans benefit from having the bird as a pet and the bird benefits from being fed, though is still caged and under the control of the human. But, two factor egalitarianism, he says, is the trickiest relationship because it’s weighing the calculated interests of both parties. VanDeVeer “alleviates” conflict by offering higher psychological capacity as the criterion for whose interests are more important to maintain – essentially throwing the interests of “lesser” mentally capable species under the bus. But, he says, the difficulty is in weeding out the trivial wants from the basic needs that are obtained from unfavorable treatment toward the other species. This can be killing an elephant for its ivory tusks, pitting the human interest to have classy piano keys over the elephant’s tusks, and life. But the use of animals as food also falls under this relationship. It’s in this cross-benefit analysis of weighed interests that we find no solid line to draw a right or wrong. VanDeVeer also suggests that we consider people’s ability to retain memory and capacity for psychological pain to go into the negotiation of whose interests are put before others’.


Personally, I find this part of his argument difficult to follow.  Rather than dissect our theories and make fight over nitty gritty contingencies, we need to look to what we know is true and valid. We know that other animals (dolphins, elephants, cats, etc.) have feelings, memories, and other traits we associate with what gives humans their humanity; but it’s also to say that with all of our cognitive powers and rational abilities, we as members of one species are inherently unable to truly sympathize with the worldview of other species, let alone another person. But just because we can’t really walk in another’s shoes/paws/hooves/fins doesn’t mean we shouldn’t treat them with respect and allow them to live a happy life.

Paws and Think

Day 25 Blog Post

Following the previous entry’s topic of the moral standing of animals, a breath of fresh air comes with the works of Peter Singer and Tom Regan. I’m in three classes that have all talked about Peter Singer for more than a week’s worth of their curriculum, so I’ve been living and breathing animal morality and consideration (unfortunately around the holidays, when extensive meat-eating for my family is as basic as wearing pants). Peter Singer is known for his work on making people consider our treatment of animals, and Tom Regan is responsible for the developments of the animal rights movement. The cruelties toward animals at the greedy hand of man is just another example of environmental injustice.

Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation implores us to come to terms with our treatment of fellow sentient beings as morally as wrong as racism or sexism. He claims under utilitarian grounds that our justification for such horrid treatment of animals is based in nothing but speciesism, the idea that we can treat a different type of species different merely based on the fact that they are a different species than our own, or just because they’re not homo sapiens. “If we have learned anything from the liberation movements, we should have learned how different it is to be aware of the ways in which we discriminate until they are forcefully pointed out to us,” and so animal liberation is a demand that we cease to regard the exploitation of other species as naturally inevitable, and that, instead, we see it as a continuing moral outrage. Peter Singer is a utilitarian, and urges us to realize that animals do in fact feel pleasure and pain, just like us. It doesn’t take much veterinary science to know that most animals, especially mammals, have very similar physiologies and anatomical structures. And it’s even more obvious to anyone who’s seen even one dog at least once in their life that animals do in fact feel pain and happiness as well. Based on this indisputable fact, the school of utilitarianism would tell us that we must eliminate that which causes suffering and choose that which maximizes pleasure. Again, it’s not rocket science to come to the conclusion that chickens do not like being held upside-down, having their heads plunged in electrified baths, and so this behavior should be eliminated because it is morally wrong. Even more unacceptable is the fact that experimenting on animals for academic and commercial ends is a huge industry. Estimates suggest that around 80 million animals suffer at the hand of testing, mostly for non-vital, trivial experiments. I think we know not to get shampoo in our eyes, the endless blinding of animals needn’t occur for our shockingly superficial tastes. Also, experiments are often supported by public funds and can even be found in most scientific journals. All of this is evidence of our speciesist disregard for the immense and totally preventable pain and slowly induced deaths of millions of animals. However, being that Singer is a utilitarian, he is not saying that it is necessarily wrong to eat animals – just that to cause them pain (mainly under industrial conditions) is immoral. Similar to this idea is the Humane Society’s three Rs: reduce the amount of meat you consume, refine where you purchase your meat from, and replace meat with substitutes wherever possible.  Even Bentham wished to extend the pleasure-pain principle to animals, since many are sentient and therefore fall into the category of beings whose pleasure should be maximized.

Since one must live under a rock to not realize that animals suffer intensely under the institutions we’ve set up, the real evil is in our permissibility to allow these things to go on. Singer says a proposal to revamp the farming conditions was sent through the British government stating “Any animal should at least have room to turn around freely” and was rejected on the grounds that it was too idealistic. This is insane. It is even more frustrating when people understand that these animals are sentient, capable of feeling pain, and acknowledge that factory farm conditions are the way they are, but try to brush it off because “they’re going to die anyway” or “it’s not wrong if it’s done humanely” (humanity doesn’t exist in the factory farming system). There’s no comfort in any way shape or form, it’s too costly to give the animals enough room to turn around. And as for the argument that “we need to eat meat,” this is just false. We’ve known that our bodies don’t need meat, and that we can get our protein from grown sources like beans that don’t come with all the unhealthy fats and chemicals in industry raised meat. As a matter of fact, factory farming reduces the amount of farm-grown protein plants because they give such large reserves to the animals who metabolically use up 90% of the protein. So, just like most of pillars of the American economy, the food industry creates it’s own downward-spiraling system that traps us into doing exactly what’s easy and cheap, but harmful, to ourselves (and the animals).

I actually recently saw Peter Singer at a panel at school where he and other speakers discussed the morality of animal treatment, although it was most focused on the religious angle of the issue. But Singer made an important point that’s worth taking home: “I don’t live in a world that makes my existence dependent on the suffering and death of others.” There really is no solid, large-scale reason for the mistreatment of animals… other than the money we give to support it. The right answer to most problems in our society is be a wise, public citizen over being a mindless, private citizen.

In Tom Regan’s The Case for Animal Rights, the animal rights movement has three main goals: 1) total abolition of the use of animals in science, 2) total dissolution of commercial animal agriculture, and 3) total elimination of commercial and sport hunting and trapping. It argues that the whole system is wrong, and that we can’t change unjust institutions by “tidying them up.” Like Singer, he argues that the fundamental wrong is the system that allows us to view animals as resources, that they exist to serve us. The Kantian cruelty-kindness view states under deontological grounds that we have a direct duty to be kind and not to be cruel to animals, and this is where we get organizations like PETA. Under the similar utilitarian premises as Singer states, the fact that animals are sentient beings capable of pleasure and pain puts them on the same grounds for treatment as us. You would come off as scum of the earth if you denied someone fair treatment based on the color of his or her skin, so why not the same for another fellow sentient being, who happens to be of a different species? The rights view says that to treat another in ways that disrespect the other’s inherent value is to act immorally, to violate the individual’s rights. This is what the movement is calling for, an extension of the moral community (which we’ve only recently granted to women and minorities legally) to our friends with tails and feathers.