Ethics and the Beast: A Speciesist Argument for Animal Liberationby Tzachi Zamir
Many people think that animal liberation would require a fundamental transformation of basic beliefs. We would have to give up "speciesism" and start viewing animals as our equals, with rights and moral status. And we would have to apply these beliefs in an all-or-nothing way. But in Ethics and the Beast, Tzachi Zamir makes the radical argument that animal/i>… See more details below
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Many people think that animal liberation would require a fundamental transformation of basic beliefs. We would have to give up "speciesism" and start viewing animals as our equals, with rights and moral status. And we would have to apply these beliefs in an all-or-nothing way. But in Ethics and the Beast, Tzachi Zamir makes the radical argument that animal liberation doesn't require such radical arguments--and that liberation could be accomplished in a flexible and pragmatic way. By making a case for liberation that is based primarily on common moral intuitions and beliefs, and that therefore could attract wide understanding and support, Zamir attempts to change the terms of the liberation debate.
Without defending it, Ethics and the Beast claims that speciesism is fully compatible with liberation. Even if we believe that we should favor humans when there is a pressing human need at stake, Zamir argues, that does not mean that we should allow marginal human interests to trump the life-or-death interests of animals. As minimalist as it sounds, this position generates a robust liberation program, including commitments not to eat animals, subject them to factory farming, or use them in medical research. Zamir also applies his arguments to some questions that tend to be overlooked in the liberation debate, such as whether using animals can be distinguished from exploiting them, whether liberationists should be moral vegetarians or vegans, and whether using animals for therapeutic purposes is morally blameless.
George S. Matejka
"The impressive philosophical force of the arguments for animal liberation seems to be somewhat detached from reality and its struggles. One must thus welcome the appearance of a book that not only reweaves theory and practice, but also gives centre stage to problems of implementation, or even of strategy."--Paola Cavalieri, Iyyun
"I have been able to productively use Zamir's insights in the presentation of my class material. For philosophers who have lamented the lack of a more analytically-based presentation of the ethical issues regarding humans and animals, I believe that you will find Zamir's text to offer an analysis with a philosophical rigor that is both engaging and persuasive."--George S. Matejka, Teaching Philosophy
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Read an ExcerptEthics and the Beast A Speciesist Argument for Animal Liberation
By Tzachi Zamir Princeton University Press
Copyright © 2007 Princeton University
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Chapter One IS SPECIESISM OPPOSED TO LIBERATIONISM?
Ever since ryder and singer introduced the term, "speciesism" has been seen as the arch opponent of those who strive to reform our relations with animals. While much is achieved by compelling people to critically evaluate their species-related biases, my contention in this book is that allowing the speciesist/nonspeciesist opposition to govern the call to rethink the moral status of animals is significantly misleading, unnecessary, and detrimental to this important cause. Throughout this chapter I will attempt to distill a sense of "speciesism" that actually opposes the pro-animal claim. It will be shown that endorsing the more intuitive meanings of speciesism should not trouble liberationists. Consequently, there is no need to replace speciesist intuitions in order to support reform. Speciesism becomes a target for reformers only under an overly strong and unintuitive sense.
"Speciesism" and "Liberationism"
I need to begin by clarifying what the terms speciesism and liberationism mean throughout this book. "Speciesism" has not been used in a uniform sense in the literature. The term goes back to the beginnings of liberationist literature in the 1970s. R. D. Ryder gives the following characterization: "Speciesism and racism are bothforms of prejudice that are based upon appearances-if the other individual looks different then he is rated as being beyond the moral pale. Racism is today condemned by most intelligent and compassionate people and it seems only logical that such people should extend their concern for other races to other species also." Peter Singer's introduction of the concept also appeals to prejudice: "Speciesism-the word is not an attractive one, but I can think of no better term-is a prejudice of attitude of bias toward the interests of members of one's own species and against those of members of other species." David DeGrazia too perceives the notion as referring to "unjustified discrimination against animals." Tom Regan uses the term less to describe prejudice, and more as a way of dissociating animals from moral entitlement: "A speciesist position, at least the paradigm of such a position, would take the form of declaring that no animal is a member of the moral community because no animal belongs to the "right" species-namely, Homo sapiens." Mark Bernstein's characterization of the term ties species membership with morally relevant properties, which, in turn, legitimates discounting interests of nonmembers: "Speciesists believe that membership in a particular species is morally relevant. Morally relevant properties entitle their possessors to have their interests considered preferentially relative to those individuals who lack that property." These senses overlap but are not equivalent, and throughout this chapter I will attempt to distill a precise sense of the term that contradicts liberationism.
As for "liberationism" (reaching back to Singer's Animal Liberation, a book that has revived the modern version of animal ethics), I shall use "liberationists" and "liberationism" as umbrella terms covering many distinct views that have in common:
A. The belief that nonhuman animals are systematically expelled from the pale of substantial moral consideration either by objectification or by downplaying the manner by which moral concerns ought to inform our animal-related conduct. B. The sense that numerous animal-related practices ought to be substantially reformed or eliminated. C. An undertaking of a transformation in one's own personal conduct in relation to animal-related practices. For example, boycotting some commodities, or modifying one's diet, clothing, footwear, or choice of cosmetics (all or some of these are sufficient for C).
To be less abstract, the term "liberationists" includes philosophers such as Singer, Regan, Godlovitch, Ryder, DeGrazia, Sapontzis, and Cavalieri as well as other philosophers who write on behalf of animals and are less widely known. I am thinking, too, of numerous nonphilosophers who are advocating a general and substantial reform in our conduct to animals.
Speciesism is sometimes identified with believing that membership in the human species is a morally relevant property. Liberationists have no cause to object to this sense because it is not exclusive: a speciesist of this kind can also believe that being a nonhuman animal is a morally relevant property as well. Such a speciesist can even be an active liberationist. Should liberationists oppose a formulation of speciesism according to which humanity is the only species in which membership constitutes a morally relevant property? They should not. This formulation too can be digested by a liberationist, who can accept humanity as some special category, distinct from all other species, yet also hold that moral consider-ability should extend to any being who possesses a capacity for negative experience. This would mean that, unlike humans, it is not by virtue of species membership that animals should not be treated in certain ways, but due to their capacity to suffer or be deprived of valuable experiences. The mere identification of species membership as a morally relevant property should not bother liberationists.
Similarly, a mere assertion of human superiority should not, on its own, bother liberationists. Say that someone holds the following (highly popular) position:
Speciesism (1): Humans are more important than nonhumans because they are human.
Let us ignore possible justifications for this position and focus on what it entails. Liberationists can wholeheartedly agree to (1), yet refuse to see why or how this self-commending assertion is connected to any discounting of animal interests. In fact, forging a link between this definition and overriding interests is possible, but not immediate. The greater value of humans is sometimes taken to be identical with claiming that human interests override the interests of nonhuman animals, as if they mean one and the same. But this identification is mistaken. There exists no simple semantic equivalence between greater value and trumping interests. Some of the things we value have no interests at all (e.g., works of art). Of the things that do have interests, it is possible and plausible to sometimes allow the interests of the less valued entity to overmaster the interests of the more valuable one. One can, for example, agree that the value of the lives of numerous strangers living in some distant country outweighs the value of the life of one's child, yet still allow the interests of the latter to take priority. A factory may value Bill more than other workers yet refuse to discount the interests of other workers when they clash with Bill's.
"Greater value" (leaving the nature of this open) does not simply mean discounting interests. But perhaps weaker connections than semantic equivalence are able to tie value to trumping interests. Does the greater value of A over B entail the devaluing of B's interests when these conflict with B's? Or, short of logical necessity, does greater importance make such favoritism plausible? If the above counterexamples to semantic equivalence make sense, then the answer is negative here too. Susan will save her aging father before she rescues an important scientist even if she admits that the latter's life is more valuable. Greater value (even if it can be conclusively determined) is only one of several considerations that jointly determine whose interests come first. Consider, too, the opposite direction: preferential policies hardly ever appeal to importance, and they can easily belittle the importance of importance. Countries, for example, are obliged to help their own citizens before they assist others. Yet this preferential policy does not stem from a belief in the greater value of these citizens, and it may even be endorsed by a government that, for some bizarre reason, believes that its own citizens are less important. The assumptions that appear relevant here relate to what being a citizen means and the special obligations that this imposes. In sum: greater importance does not hook (logically or probably) onto a discounting of interests.
A critic can object to these counterexamples. "Ideally," the critic may argue, "Susan should save the scientist rather than her father, and parents ought to discount the interests of their children if they substantially compromise the well-being of numerous strangers." The critic will go on to say that the inability to comply with moral demands in the tough cases above merely indicates that we are willing to forgive some discrepancies between morally ideal and actual conduct. Excusing such behavior should not be confused with annulling the connection between superiority and trumping interests: the interests of the important scientist or those distant valuable strangers should still morally precede the interests of less valuable entities. "Moral saints"-the Agamemnons of this world who are willing to sacrifice their Iphigenias in order to save their armies-would act accordingly.
This criticism should be rejected. To begin with, the criticism rests on a crude utilitarianism that would be dismissed not only by nonutilitarians, but also by contemporary, nuanced utilitarian positions. Contemporary utilitarians strive to respect a detailed and complex interplay between maximizing value and responding to particular attachments, trying to accommodate these attachments as part of what "maximizing value" should mean. The assiduous efforts on the part of utilitarians to show that they are not necessarily committed to forsaking their kin or friends on behalf of some important stranger in themselves register the desire to maintain utilitarian decision making free from some automatic linkage between import and discounting interests. Nonutilitarians, on the other hand, would find such reasoning to be not merely counterintuitive, but also oblivious to our moral commitments to family members. It is morally desirable that people save their relatives rather than act according to import. The ties between obligations to family and one's conduct are stronger (and ought to be so when preventing impending harm) than the link between relative importance and conduct. Saying that we are "morally excused" when acting in accordance with such commitments, that ideal or supererogatory conduct does call for such sacrifice, is implicated in a theoretical insensitivity to these particular obligations. Moreover, even if the critic is right about ideal morality, s/he is (ultimately) wrong in terms of the criticism's objective in our context. Significantly, the capacity to seriously question whether or not ideal morality prescribes sacrifices in "Iphigenia cases" registers indecisive links between import and discounting interests. Accordingly, the connection between superiority and trumping interests is not immediate on the level of either moral conduct or ideal moral conduct.
The critic can now reformulate the objection: the examples above merely show that the connection between superior value and trumping interests is defeasible through the workings of special overpowering considerations-not that it is not there at all. Some considerations (familial attachment, national solidarity or loyalty) can annul the linkage between superiority and trumping interests, a connection that is there all the same. Put another way, the examples prove that we are willing to refrain from advancing the interests of entities that we value more when these clash with very strong attachments and commitments we have to particular people. In the case of nonhuman animals, however, such attachments are beside the point. We not only disvalue them relative to humans, but we have no real reason to abandon our predilection to favor interests of the more valuable entities, namely, ourselves. Our conclusion should have been that, all things being (in some undefined sense) equal, if A is superior to B, A's interests should be preferred. In the context of defining speciesism, we thus reach the following:
Speciesism (2): Humans are more important than nonhumans because they are humans, and therefore, all things being equal, their interests should be preferred.
Let us avoid harping on the vagueness of "importance" and "all things being equal" or pressurizing the "because they are human" clause (this last construction being a favorite target of liberationists). Considerations going back at least to Plato's Gorgias will show that this definition, even if the central operators in it can be unpacked in a credible way, is still insufficient in generating antiliberationism.
Suppose that I am having A and B to dinner, and that all of us, including B, recognize A's superiority over B and myself (say that A has just received a Nobel Prize, and that B and myself wholeheartedly believe that this constitutes a reason to regard him as categorically superior in value to us). Moreover, we all agree that this means that "all things being equal," A's interests ought to take priority over our own. The vagueness in (2) relates to the inability to stipulate credible links between such beliefs and particular decisions regarding specific clashes of interests. For example, should A receive larger portions of food because of his relative importance? Should he have the last slice of pie, which all of us have been coveting, due to his seniority? Should he be the one that gets to determine the temperature level of the air conditioning system? The sense of ridicule stems not only from our inability to seriously fathom the idea that one human being is superior to another, but from the intrinsic improbability of meticulously tying greater value and consequent belief in trumping interests with specific entitlements. Even if all three of us agree both that A is superior and that this should entail some kind of promotion of his interests over our own, this admission does not tie up neatly to favoritism of a particular kind.
Noting the lacuna between some general favoritism and particular entitlements is important. Liberationists can endorse the second version of speciesism above, accepting both the idea that humans are more important as well as the idea that human interests come first, yet, because this definition does not determine which animal interests should be disfavored, add that accepting such beliefs still coheres with abolishment of virtually all animal-related exploitative practices (the definition obviously does not commit one to saying that any human interest overrides any nonhuman one). Accepting the second definition of speciesism does not, for example, entail that particular human culinary interests justify killing animals in order to satisfy those interests. Nor does it support the notion that human research interests exonerate killing and confining millions of rodents (I shall discuss life vs. life conflicts below). Moreover, "trumping" or "coming first" are importantly vague.
Brody has profitably distinguished between two forms of the "trumping human interest" claim. The first is categorical: any human interest, regardless of importance, overrides any animal interest (Brody calls this "lexical priority"). The second is weaker: some human interests carry more weight than some animal interests (Brody calls this "discounting of interests"). Important animal interests (their interest to live or avoid pain) should trump minor human interests. Brody uses this distinction in his mapping of policies for restricting animal-based experiments (associating U.S. policies with lexical priority; European ones with discounting). I add that the categorical (lexical priority) version can be broken down further into qualitative and quantitative aspects: for advocates of the qualitative categorical position, any human interest overrides any nonhuman interest, regardless of the relative importance of the particular interests involved. For defenders of the quantitative categorical variant, any human interest overrides the interest of any nonhuman entity, regardless of the number of beings whose interests are affected.
Excerpted from Ethics and the Beast by Tzachi Zamir
Copyright © 2007 by Princeton University. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are saying about this
Peter Singer, author of "Animal Liberation"
David DeGrazia, author of "Taking Animals Seriously"
Dale Jamieson, author of "Morality's Progress: Essays on Humans, Other Animals, and the Rest of Nature"
Meet the Author
Tzachi Zamir is assistant professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of Double Vision: Moral Philosophy and Shakespearean Drama (Princeton).
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