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Archive for the 'Animal Studies' Category

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Michael Marder and Gary Francione Debate Plant Ethics, Part Three

Michael Marder, Gary Francione
(Photo credit: PINE FOR DESIGN)

Gary Francione and Michael Marder continue their debate around Marder’s op-eds for the New York Times and the notion of plant ethics. You can read part 1 of the debate here, and part 2 here.

What, at bottom, is the nature of the dispute between you?

Professor Marder: It is still somewhat early to offer exhaustive commentary on the nature of the dispute between us. I will limit myself to three basic points.

First, it seems that the “food chain,” at the top of which we, humans, presumably are, is the contemporary reflection of the metaphysical Great Chain of Being. In my view it is not enough to meddle with only one aspect of this structure (the relation between humans and animals), while leaving the rest intact. I would think that we need to question such hierarchical formations in all respects, and I am yet to hear my vegan friends endorse this position.

Second, Western philosophers have thought about plants at best as deficient animals, and therefore the violence against animals was magnified manifold when it came to plants. If vegans subscribe to this position, they appear still to operate in the spirit of the very philosophical tradition that has devalued animal lives.

Last is the question of strategy and of principles. It does not make sense to me to advocate something clearly unethical—a total instrumentalization of certain living beings, or plants—in the name of ethics—a complete de-instrumentalization of other kinds of living beings, or animals. In such advocacy, the end does not justify the means, but the means annul the end.
(more…)

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Interview with Matthew Calarco, author of Zoographies

Matthew Calarco

Continuing our week-long focus on debates within animal studies, we wanted to spotlight a recent interview with Matthew Calarco, author of Zoographies: The Question of the Animal from Heidegger to Derrida, that was posted on On Human-Nonhuman Relations.

Calarco’s work, as indicated by the title of his book, brings the approaches of continental philosophy to the “animal question”. As he explains in the interview, debates about animal rights have traditionally been built around frameworks within the Anglo-American analytic tradition. While Calarco praises the work of Peter Singer and others working in this tradition, he also believes that continental philosophy offers approaches distinct from the human-subject-centered stance of analytic philosophy. Continental philosophy’s questioning of the human subject itself

asks us to construct alternative concepts and alternative ways of thinking that no longer trust uncritically the categories and distinctions that have structured the dominant culture’s ways of thinking and living up to this point. This is a much more modest approach to thinking about animals, and it is one that proceeds with a keen awareness of the pitfalls of creating clean and distinct ontological and ethical lines between human beings and animals.

Calarco is asked whether this approach undermines the efforts of human social justice movements that have sought to protect groups that have been deemed “less-than-human.” While he is aware of the potential pitfalls of his approach, Calarco also cites a variety of movements (for animals and humans) that have taken an alternative, more continental approach.

(more…)

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Michael Marder and Gary Francione Debate Plant Ethics, Part Two

Michael Marder, Gary Francione

Gary Francione and Michael Marder continue their debate around Marder’s op-eds for the New York Times and the notion of plant ethics. You can read part 1 of the debate here.

Question: What would it mean for ethical eating if plants were shown to suffer pain and have feelings, even intentionality?

Michael Marder: We run the risk of caricaturizing plant intelligence studies and experiments in neurobotany when we directly translate animal and human sensorium into the sentience of plants (such as tomatoes) that, when attacked by insects, biochemically signal the danger to other specimen nearby and render their leaves unpalatable. It is, however, more productive to think about what in Plant-Thinking I termed “the nonconscious intentionality” of plants—their extended and dispersed striving, expressed in growth and reproduction. What is the moral claim of this intentionality upon us?

Ancient Greeks thought that every living being tends toward the Good, in each case appropriate to its kind of existence. It is clear that, although they might not cognitively know it, plants are and act in ways consistent with what is good for them. We must at the very least take this “vegetal good” into account in our ethical treatment of plants.

At the same time, their intentionality cannot be easily integrated into a coherent unity or a totality we usually associate with an organism. Plants are remarkable in how they may shed almost any part and still germinate from whatever remains in the loose assemblage that they are. The dispersion of vegetal intentionality shifts the moral focus onto communities of plants that disrupt all our anthropocentric distinctions between the individual and the collective.

At the risk of oversimplification, I would suggest that ethical eating demands that we respect plant communities, paying attention to both the methods of their cultivation and their reproductive possibilities.

Gary Francione: To answer the question, if plants were able to suffer, or had intentionality, we would be under an obligation to accord plant interests moral consideration. I have not yet seen your book but I suspect that, at best, you have provided more information about the reactions of plants. But no one would deny that plants react to stimuli. There is, however, not one shred of evidence about which I am aware that plants suffer or have any intentional states.

Let me say that even if, contrary to all that we know, plants are sentient, how would that change our moral behavior? It takes many pounds of plant protein to produce one pound of flesh. Assuming that we concluded we were not obligated to commit suicide, we would still be morally obligated to consume plants rather than consume flesh or animal products that required more plants than if we consumed those plants directly, and that also involved animal deaths.

As a general matter, you appear to be confusing being alive and having reactions to stimuli with having responses that require moral consideration. You are arguing that every life form has a “nonconscious intentionality” that requires our moral consideration. So, in addition to plants, we would have to consider moral obligations to bacteria. After all, they are alive. They have “nonconscious intentionality.” Every time we wash our faces, or brush our teeth, we are engaging in violence because we “instrumentalize” bacteria. We need to respect communities of bacteria.

Do you really believe that?

(more…)

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

Michael Marder and Gary Francione Debate Plant Ethics

Plants vs. Animals

Today we are featuring part one of three of a debate between Gary Francione, author of Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation, The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation?, and several other titles, and Michael Marder, author of the forthcoming Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life. You can find part two of the debate here, and part three here.

The debate and the questions were inspired by Michael Marder’s controversial New York Times op-eds Is Plant Liberation on the Menu? and If Peas Can Talk, Should We Eat Them? which generated a variety of responses from animal right advocates, philosophers, and others.

How does plant ethics relate to veganism?

Michael Marder: Plant ethics shares with veganism a strong commitment to justice, which is to say, to the reduction of violence humans perpetrate against other living beings. It is by no means a threat to or an invalidation of veganism. Rather, plant ethics is an open invitation to fine-tune our dietary practices in keeping with the philosophical and botanical considerations of what plants are, what they are capable of, and what our relation to them should be.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau made a useful distinction between perfection and perfectibility, arguing that the latter defines human beings. If veganism considers its moral bases to be perfectible, it will, I believe, admit plant ethics into its midst. Doubts sometimes arise as to whether or not veganism is a genuinely philosophical position when its unbending commitment is mistaken for doctrinaire rigidity, and its morality—for self-righteous moralizing. A serious engagement with plant ethics will finally dispel all such suspicions, as it will demonstrate the dynamic thinking behind veganism, ready to push its own limits.

This does not mean that, having entertained the real possibility of violence against plants, vegans would throw their hands up in despair and concede that it is pointless to alleviate animal suffering by refusing to consume animal flesh and by-products. What it implies is that they would not rest on the laurels of their accomplishments but would consider residual violence against other living beings, such as plants, thoroughly instrumentalized by the same logic that underpins human domination over other animal species.

(more…)

Monday, June 4th, 2012

Animals and Plants: A Preview of the Debate Between Gary Francione and Michael Marder

Plants vs. Animals

This week we will be featuring a debate between Gary Francione, author of Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation, The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation?, and several other titles, and Michael Marder, author of the forthcoming Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life.

The debate was inspired by Michael Marder’s controversial New York Times op-eds Is Plant Liberation on the Menu? and If Peas Can Talk, Should We Eat Them? which generated a variety of critical among animal right advocates. Marder’s argument about the sentience of plant life has been challenged by some animal studies scholars and animal rights advocates who fear it might equate animal and plant life.

We will begin the debate tomorrow and it will continue through Thursday. In the meantime, we wanted to remind you of our cutting-edge list in animal studies. We also have four forthcoming titles in animal studies coming out this fall, including:

Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human-Animal Studies
Margo DeMello

Animalia Americana: Animal Representations and Biopolitical Subjectivity
Colleen Glenney Boggs

Animal Rights Without Liberation: Applied Ethics and Human Obligations
Alasdair Cochrane

Experiencing Animal Minds: An Anthology of Animal-Human Encounters
Edited by Julie Smith and Robert W. Mitchell

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Michael Marder — Is Plant Liberation on the Menu?

Positively understood, the project of plant liberation would allow plants to be what they are and to realize their potentialities, often in the context of cross-kingdoms co-evolution.
–Michael Marder

Michael MarderYesterday, the New York Times published a second editorial by Professor Michael Marder on the ethical problems raised by new plant science: “Is Plant Liberation on the Menu?“. Marder is the Ikerbasque Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country in northern Spain, and is the author of the forthcoming CUP book Plant Thinking: Toward a Philosophy of Vegetative Life, in which he addresses many of the same issues he raises in his article.

In this new article, Marder addresses the questions, concerns, and criticisms raised in the comments section on his first article concerning the ethical issues raised by plant thinking, “If Peas Can Talk, Should We Eat Them?.” First of all, he explains in greater detail the research he discussed in his original article and makes clear what he means by “plant thinking”:

Contemporary research into plant intelligence, spearheaded by Anthony Trewavas (University of Edinburgh), Stefano Mancuso (University of Florence) and Richard Karban (University of California, Davis), among others, complicates this tripartite division. For example, studies have found evidence of “deliberate behavior” in plants: foraging (note that the botanists themselves use this word usually associated with animal behavior) for nutrients, the roots can drastically change their branching pattern when they detect a resource-rich patch of soil, or they can grow so as to avoid contact with roots of other members of the same species, in order to prevent detrimental competition. Of course, plants are not capable of deliberation or of making decisions in the human sense of the term. But they do engage with their environments and with one another in ways that are incredibly sophisticated, plastic and responsive — in a word, intelligent, though not perhaps conscious.

(more…)

Monday, May 7th, 2012

Anat Pick — Pt. II of Fleshing out the Morality of Meat: Thoughts on the New York Times’s contest “Calling All Carnivores”

Anat  PickThe following is the second half of a post by Anat Pick, author of Creaturely Poetics: Animality and Vulnerability in Literature and Film.

Pick is, in part, responding to Calling All Carnivores, a contest from The Ethicist, a feature in the New York Times Magazine. The judges for the contest—Peter Singer, Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Jonathan Safran Foer and Andrew Light—will select the best essay on why it is ethical to eat meat.

As Timothy Pachirat recently argued in Every Twelve Seconds, it is not quite the case that if slaughterhouses had glass walls everyone would be vegetarian. The “new moralists,” those who portray the consumption of animal flesh as an enlightened and conscientious choice, sensitive to both the lives of animals and to the higher value of human culinary discernment—namely Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and their American counterparts—have put slaughter on primetime television, proving that killing itself can be made to disappear in the act. This is one of our dubious powers: to remain blind in full view of reality. Blindness ensues from the new moralists’ refusal to question the morality of killing, the fact that animal life is subjected again and again to human whims. Somehow, somewhere along the way, the moral conversation turned into something else, bracketing off the fundamentals and magnifying incidental details—the hows and wheres of killing—turning the obvious commonplace that it is preferable for sentient animals to die without having suffered unimaginably before into the entire moral debate.
(more…)

Friday, May 4th, 2012

Anat Pick — Fleshing out the Morality of Meat: Thoughts on the New York Times’s contest “Calling All Carnivores”

Anat  PickThe following is the first half of a post by Anat Pick, author of Creaturely Poetics: Animality and Vulnerability in Literature and Film.

Pick is, in part, responding to Calling All Carnivores, a contest from The Ethicist, a feature in the New York Times Magazine. The judges for the contest—Peter Singer, Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Jonathan Safran Foer and Andrew Light—will select the best essay on why it is ethical to eat meat.

At the end of the day, eating meat, or not eating it, are both moral choices we are required to make. The difference is that eating meat, the default position, has until recently in the West been largely morally invisible. Meat eaters fall into three categories: the “defaulters” who take what is and what ought to be as one and the same; the “new moralists,” Michael Pollan among them, who portray the consumption of animal flesh as an enlightened and conscientious choice, sensitive to both the lives of animals and to the higher value of human culinary discernment; and “bravado eaters” who insist on meat eating as an expression of manly superiority. The last two categories are defensive; the first is ostensibly neutral and relies on what the novelist J. M. Coetzee calls “willful ignorance.” None of the three can claim the moral high ground, though one—the middle one—has tried and, to some extent, succeeded to occupy the ethical discourse around food. The proof? The New York Times’s much talked about Calling All Carnivores: Tell Us Why It’s Ethical to Eat Meat . For what is the competition itself if not the product of the new moralist discourse promoted by foodies and gourmands?

(more…)

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Michael Marder Responds to Criticism

Michael MarderThis past Sunday, Michael Marder, the Ikerbasque Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country and author of a forthcoming Columbia University Press book, published an op-ed in the New York Times examining ethical questions that might arise from new research into plant “thinking.” In this article, titled “If Peas Can Talk, Should We Eat Them?“, Marder asked readers to consider whether it is “morally permissible to submit to total instrumentalization living beings that, though they do not have a central nervous system, are capable of basic learning and communication? Should [plants'] swift response to stress leave us coldly indifferent, while animal suffering provokes intense feelings of pity and compassion?”

Many readers made it clear, both in the Times and in other forums, that they believed that Marder was attacking or marginalizing the moral reasoning behind vegetarianism, veganism, and various animal rights movements. In an upcoming article for the New York Times, Marder responds to these critics, claiming that it was not his intent to in any way minimize animal suffering in discussing new research about plants. We have a brief excerpt from this article, in which Marder clarifies his stance on dietary ethics.

Dietary ethics attuned to vegetal life does not imply that we should start eating more animal flesh, or, for those who are neither vegans nor vegetarians, continue consuming it in good conscience. Plant stress certainly does not reach the same degree and does not express itself the same way as animal suffering—a fact that must be reflected in our practical ethics. Nevertheless, the commendable desire to ameliorate the condition of animals, currently treated as though they were meat-generating machines, does not justify strategic argumentation in favor of the indiscriminate consumption of plants. Ultimately, the same logic submits to total instrumentalization the bodies of plants, animals, and humans by setting them over and against an abstract and rational mind. And this means that the struggles for the emancipation of all instrumentalized living beings should be fought on a common front.

For the full article, keep an eye on the New York Times’ philosophy op-ed section, The Stone.

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

Michael Marder on the Ethical Implications of Plant Communication

“Is it morally permissible to submit to total instrumentalization living beings that, though they do not have a central nervous system, are capable of basic learning and communication? Should [plants'] swift response to stress leave us coldly indifferent, while animal suffering provokes intense feelings of pity and compassion?”
–Michael Marder

Michael MarderOn Sunday, the New York Times published an editorial by Professor Michael Marder on the ethical problems raised by new plant science: “If Peas Can Talk, Should We Eat Them?“. Marder is the Ikerbasque Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country in northern Spain, and is the author of the forthcoming CUP book Plant Thinking: Toward a Philosophy of Vegetative Life, in which he addresses many of the same issues he raises in his article.

In his editorial, Marder introduces and discusses new research that shows that “a pea plant subjected to drought conditions communicated its stress to other such plants.” Moreover, this research indicates that plants are able to create “memories” of stressful conditions and of the best ways to react to these conditions. Marder thinks that the discovery that plants have the ability to not only react to environmental pressures and stresses but to remember the most successful reactions and to communicate these reactions to plants around them raises potentially thorny ethical questions about the way we treat plants, just as discoveries about the complex mental states of animals raise questions about the way we treat animals.

Evidently, empathy might not be the most appropriate ground for an ethics of vegetal life. But the novel indications concerning the responsiveness of plants, their interactions with the environment and with one another, are sufficient to undermine all simple, axiomatic solutions to eating in good conscience. When it comes to a plant, it turns out to be not only a what but also a who — an agent in its milieu, with its own intrinsic value or version of the good. Inquiring into justifications for consuming vegetal beings thus reconceived, we reach one of the final frontiers of dietary ethics.

Marder claims that it is too early to make any definite claims about the ethical implications of discoveries about the ways that plants “think.” We are still in the early stages of the necessary research. However, he also believes that it is not too early to begin thinking about the potential moral ramifications of our inquiries into plant “thinking.”

Ethical concerns are never problems to be resolved once and for all; they make us uncomfortable and sometimes, when the sting of conscience is too strong, prevent us from sleeping. Being disconcerted by a single pea to the point of unrest is analogous to the ethical obsession, untranslatable into the language of moral axioms and principles of righteousness. Such ethics do not dictate how to treat the specimen of Pisumsativum, or any other plant, but they do urge us to respond, each time anew, to the question of how, in thinking and eating, to say “yes” to plants.

Edit: Professor Marder responds to criticism of his piece here.

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

James McWilliams on the Myth of Sustainable Meat in the New York Times

A Revolution in Eating

“After all, it’s not how we produce animal products that ultimately matters. It’s whether we produce them at all.” — James McWilliams

Last Friday, the New York Times ran an op-ed by CUP author James McWilliams, author of A Revolution in Eating and American Pests, entitled “The Myth of Sustainable Meat.” McWilliams is an associate professor of history at Texas State University-San Marcos and a recent fellow in the Agrarian Studies Program at Yale University.

In his editorial, McWilliams claims that, while “factory farming is the epitome of a broken food system,” nonindustrial food sources–typically small, organic farms–are not a significantly better way to convert animals into food for humans. Throughout the article, he addresses and rebuts various arguments that are commonly used to support small-scale farming operations, from claims that nonindustrial farms are more natural: (more…)

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Animal Studies Continues to Grow

Animal Studies

A recent article in the New York Times explored the immense intellectual energy currently driving animal studies. We’ve been publishing in animal studies for several year now, including our most recent title Species Matters: Humane Advocacy and Cultural Theory, edited by Marianne DeKoven and Michael Lundblad.

Similar to our list in animal studies, the field itself has expanded to include works coming from a range of fields in the humanities, including philosophy, art, literature, film, theater, and religion. The expanding number of classes and programs in the field consider issues ranging from the treatment of animals and the ethical questions that raises to exploring what animals think and what they have to “say.”

Among the various scholars interviewed about the nature and direction of animal studies is Kari Weil, author of the forthcoming book, Thinking Animals: Why Animal Studies Now?. In the article Weil considers how environmental science had laid a foundation by giving humans “the sense that we are a species among other species and [are] subject to the forces of nature.”

(more…)

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Kelly Oliver on Pet Lovers, Pathologized

Kelly Oliver, Pet Lovers Pathologized“Within our philosophy and within our culture, we cannot take seriously our love and dependence on animals without turning them into medicine and making ourselves sick.”—Kelly Oliver

“To love animals is to be soft, childlike, or pathological. To admit dependence on animals — particularly emotional and psychological dependence, as pet owners often do — is seen as a type of neurosis,” writes Kelly Oliver, author of Animal Lessons: How They Teach Us to Be Human, in a recent essay for the New York Times website, The Stone. Oliver argues that we have a complicated relationship with animals, one in which pets are cherished “property” and the act of hunting by presidential candidates symbolizes their ability to keep the nation safe.

Our society now gives legal approval for the use of animals for illness, handicap, or stressful situations to provide emotional support. Courts now allow children to have their pet by their side when called upon to give difficult testimony and doctors write prescriptions for people to bring animals to work for emotional or psychiatric reasons. However, these new regulations reflect our conflicted treatment of animals as well as those who rely on them:

The regulations are very clear: these animals are not pets. They are “serving” an essential therapeutic purpose. The fact that these relationships are circumscribed by laws relegate animals to the role of tools or medication, an act that also pathologizes the people who rely on them. Animals, then, can enter our intimate family units only as pets, which is to say property, or as a result of trauma, disease or disability. This cultural attitude suggests that people who are dependent upon their animals for anything other than amusement or entertainment are abnormal or unhealthy. Loving animals as friends and family is seen as quirky at best and at worst, crazy.

(more…)

Friday, July 29th, 2011

Anat Pick on the BBC’s The Big Questions

The following is a panel discussion on animal rights that appeared on the BBC which included Anat Pick, author of Creaturely Poetics: Animality and Vulnerability in Literature and Film:

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Interview with Anat Pick, author of Creaturely Poetics

Creaturely PoeticsThe following is an interview with Anat Pick, author of Creaturely Poetics: Animality and Vulnerability in Literature and Film.

Question: Your title, Creaturely Poetics, does not explicitly mention humans or animals. What or who is “creaturely” and how does speaking about creatures differ from speaking about humans and animals?

Anat Pick: There are a number of reasons for speaking about creatures instead of humans and animals. The creaturely includes both human and nonhuman life. Creatureliness is intended to replace the so-called human condition, which implies the “inhuman condition” as somehow inferior and excluded from life’s existential adventure and, most significantly, excludes animals from the moral community. The creaturely is primarily the condition of exposure and finitude that affects all living bodies whatever they are. The materiality of life turns us all into creatures sharing in a common embodiment and mortality. Recent scholarship, especially in the area of biopolitics, has turned its attention to the state of bodily exposure. But unlike Giorgio Agamben’s bare life or Judith Butler’s precarious life, which remain within the confines of human life, creatureliness applies across the range of living beings and draws on the predicament of animals as in some sense exemplary of precarity as such.

There is, furthermore, a kind of provocation in the term “creature” because it hints at a certain animalization (or—to use a loaded term—“dehumanization”) of the human, and, conversely, a certain humanization of the animal. It is an egalitarian term that refrains from simply extending moral consideration to animals based on capacities similar to our own that we grant they possess and which therefore entitle them to (certain limited) rights. Instead of extending such consideration to animals, I wanted to contract humanity. This is a recurring idea in the book, and it is partly achieved by thinking of human beings as creatures. The creature speaks universally, without erasing or flattening out the differences that clearly exist between different living beings. The question is an ethical one: what value do we attach to the differences between humans and animals and what are the moral consequences of such differences? Contrary to some work in animal ethics, I do not concede a moral difference between humans and animals; I do not recognize a difference in the intrinsic value between human and nonhuman life.

(more…)

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Gary Francione Interviewed in The Believer

Gary Francione“The best justification that we have for killing billions of animals every year is that they taste good. That simply cannot suffice as a moral justification.”—Gary Francione

This month’s issue of The Believer includes an excellent interview with Gary Francione, most recently the co-author of The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation? and the author of Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation.

Deb Olin Unferth, who was the interviewer, writes that Francione has developed what is “universally acknowledged as the most original and consistent theory of animal rights produced to date.” In the interview, Francione, whose absolutist position on animal rights has often put him at odds with the mainstream animal rights movement, explains his views on vegetarianism (he’s against it and in favor of veganism), humane farming (against it), and keeping pets (he’s against the breeding of animals for domestication.)

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

On Michael Vick:

We all condemn Michael Vick for sitting around a pit and watching dogs fight because he derives pleasure from doing so. The rest of us sit around the barbecue pit and roast the bodies of animals who have been tortured as badly as—if not worse than—Vick’s fighting dogs, because we enjoy the taste. That’s moral schizophrenia. We treat some animals as members of our family, and we stick forks into other animals who are no different from our nonhuman family members. That’s moral schizophrenia.

(more…)

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Clare Palmer on Animal Ethics in Context

Clare Palmer
In a fascinating essay published in Rorotoko, Clare Palmer recently wrote about the aims and arguments of her new book Animal Ethics in Context . As the title of her book suggests, Palmer is interested in exploring the argument that our responsibility toward animals depends on context. Thus, our responsibility toward animals in the wild are quite different than those we have domesticated or whose environment we have altered. Palmer hopes her book will open up a series of new questions about when it is appropriate to help animals as well as when it’s permissible to harm them. Her focus, therefore, is not only theoretical debates in animal ethics but also on practical concerns about the treatment of animals.

In the following excerpt from the essay, Palmer zeroes in on how a contextual approach to animal ethics might reveal itself:

I suggest that we have conflicting views about the kinds of responsibilities we have to animals. So, for instance, every year more than a million wildebeest migrate across Kenya’s Mara River. In the process, a number of them—sometimes thousands of them—drown. This mass migration, and the deaths that follow, has become a tourist spectacle. But no one argues that the tourists or media pundits standing by should intervene to help the drowning wildebeest, even if their suffering is intense or long lasting. We don’t say, in this case, that there’s a moral problem of “animal neglect.”

On the other hand, if domesticated animals are left to suffer—I cite a well-known case in the UK where a herd of domestic horses developed dehydration and untreated infections—there’s a moral outcry. We react differently to animal suffering in different contexts: the idea that we can have different responsibilities towards animals with whom we have different relationships is already widely accepted.

(more…)

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Gary Francione on the Abolitionist Approach

Gary FrancioneOn his blog Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach, Gary Francione, most recently the author of The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation, writes a series of commentaries/podcasts.

In the most recent installment, “The Animal Rights Debate,” the Abolitionist Approach Discussion Forum, and a Response to Nicolette Hahn Niman, Francione discusses among other issues Niman’s recent article in The Atlantic, Dogs Aren’t Dinner: The Flaws in an Argument for Veganism. In the article, Niman justifies the eating of certain kinds of animals, killed under certain conditions. Francione challenges Niman, arguing:

Ms. Niman denies that we suffer from moral schizophrenia when we treat some animals as members of our families but stick forks into others. Her analysis, in a nutshell, is that, as a cultural matter, we have a different relationship with dogs than we do pigs.

That is precisely the problem: as a cultural matter, we treat some sentient nonhumans as things and some as persons. But cultural norms cannot serve as any sort of justification of cultural norms! If they could, then racism, sexism, and all sorts of discrimination and human rights violations would be justified.

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Critical Persepctives on Animals — Gary Francione and Gary Steiner

Over the past few years perhaps no field in the academy has been as vibrant or ambitious as animal studies. Scholars have examined the question of the animal and the relationship between animals and humans from a variety of fields from philosophy and law to literary studies and religion.

Columbia University Press has been publishing in animal studies for a few years now and is now working with Gary Francione and Gary Steiner, two leading scholars in the field on new series, Critical Perspectives on Animals.

Here is a description of the series from the editors:

With this series we seek to promote and give crucially needed direction to the emerging interdisciplinary field of animal studies. A generation ago the tendency in scholarship was to focus questions pertaining to animals within narrow disciplinary boundaries. This tendency has been replaced by an increasing recognition of the importance of crossing disciplinary boundaries and exploring the affinities as well as the differences between the approaches of fields such as philosophy, law, sociology, political theory, ethology, and literary studies to questions pertaining to animals. At stake in these explorations is an appreciation of the subjective experience and the moral status of animals as well as of the nature and place of human beings.

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Friday, February 5th, 2010

Gary Francione on Animals as Persons

Francione

In a recent essay for Rorotoko, Gary Francione writes about his book Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation.

His essay explains his rejection of conventional animal welfare reform and his belief in the abolitionist theory of animal rights. Francione argues “that we cannot justify using animals as human resources, irrespective of whether our treatment is ‘humane’” and that animals should not be kept as chattel or property.

Francione also suggests that we suffer from a kind of “moral schizophrenia” when it comes to nonhuman animals. In one of the more provocative portions of his essay, he writes:

Our moral thinking about animals is confused to the point of being delusional. We say that we regard as morally wrong the imposition of “unnecessary” suffering and death on animals. Whatever the finer points about the meaning of necessity, if it means anything at all in this context, it must mean that we cannot justify imposing suffering and death on animals for reasons of mere pleasure, amusement, or convenience. We excoriated Michael Vick for participating in dog fighting because the dogs suffered and died only because Vick and his friends derived pleasure from this activity. But how is Vick any different from those of us who eat meat and animal products?

We kill and eat approximately 56 billion animals annually, not including fish. There is no doubt that the overwhelming majority—almost all—of these animals have absolutely horrible lives and deaths and are treated in ways that clearly and undisputedly constitute torture. The animal you ate for dinner last night—even if raised in the most “humane” or in “free-range” circumstances—was treated as badly if not worse than Michael Vick’s dogs.

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