Animal Rights Zone

Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

In Defense of the Term ~ Moral Schizophrenia ~ Dan Cudahy

In Defense of the Term "Moral Schizophrenia"


Professor Gary Francione has coined the term “moral schizophrenia” to refer to the difference between what we
as a society say we believe about animals and how we actually behave
toward animals. We say that we recognize that animals are sentient and
therefore deserve moral consideration and freedom from “unnecessary”
suffering, but we often behave toward them as insentient things and
treat them in ways that are diametrically opposed to any moral
consideration of their interests whatsoever.

Critics of Gary Francione, however, have occasionally expressed their disapproval of
the term moral schizophrenia, saying that the phrase is inappropriate
for various reasons which I’ll disclose shortly.

To the best of my knowledge, Gary Francione has not written or spoken specifically in
defense of the term moral schizophrenia, other than to briefly explain
what he means by it, and if he has made a more elaborate defense, I
have not read or heard of it. This essay, therefore, is exclusively my
view and opinion on this matter, and I do not intend in any way to
write on behalf of Professor Francione, who is more than capable of
defending the term himself and in his own words, if he so chooses.

I have two motivations for making this term the topic of an essay: 1) To
provide a defense of this term primarily by clarifying
misunderstandings about its appropriateness and effectiveness in
describing our society’s relationship to nonhumans; and 2) To emphasize
that our relationship to other species is morally diseased and, like a
typical serious disease, causes tremendous misery.

I will start by stating the critics’ complaints against the use of "moral
schizophrenia" in the best light possible. I will then defend the use
of the phrase by both rebutting the critics’ complaints and by
providing additional reasons why the phrase is both appropriate and

The Critics’ Complaints

The primary complaint that I’ve read against the use of the term moral schizophrenia is that clinical schizophrenia is a widely misunderstood organic disease of the brain characterized by
feelings of paranoia, auditory hallucinations, and disorganized speech
and thinking which cause social isolation and related problems. Using
the term “schizophrenia” in contexts that don’t properly refer solely
to the clinical disease itself is inappropriate and perpetuates common
misunderstandings, adds to the pejorative and incorrect stereotype, and
negatively affects the lives of sufferers of the disease, their
families, friends, and caretakers. Further, if our relationship to
nonhumans is really an organic disease like the term implies, then we
are better off looking for organic and chemical treatments rather than
engaging in social justice advocacy and education.

A secondary complaint is that the phrase is alienating and possibly even offensive
to potential vegans. A related complaint is that while the term may be
a catchy way of capturing our society’s morally confused relationship
to animals, it is catchy for the wrong reason – that is, it takes
advantage of a derogatory misrepresentation of the word.

A Rebuttal

The critics are correct that the most common meaning of the term
“schizophrenia” (without the word "moral" qualifying it) is, to quote
Webster’s College Dictionary, “a severe mental disorder associated
with brain abnormalities and typically evidenced by disorganized speech
and behavior, delusions, and hallucinations.”

Where the critics are mistaken is that 1) this is the only meaning the word can or should ever have, and 2) using the word in any
other context than in the clinical context “adds to the
misunderstanding and negative stereotypes of the disease” or must be
“pejorative and inappropriate”.

The word schizophrenia is derived from Greek origins where schizo- means “split” and -phrenia means “mind.” Indeed, Webster’s College Dictionary has four other
entries with non-pejorative meanings starting with the combining form schizo- meaning “split” or “fission” (five entries if one includes the combining form itself as an entry in the dictionary):

1) schizocarp: a dry fruit that at maturity splits into two or more one-seeded carpels;
2) schizogony: the multiple fission of a trophozoite or schizont into merozoites;
3) schizoid: of or pertaining to a personality disorder marked by dissociation,
passivity, and indifference to praise or criticism, or of or pertaining
to schizophrenia or to multiple personality
; and
4) schizont: a cell developed from a trophozoite, which undergoes multiple fission to form merozoites.

The comparison of both the etymology and parts of the outward symptoms of schizophrenia with our split mind, dissociation (i.e. compartmentalization), and incongruent behavior regarding animals, and our distorted perception of and/or indifference toward the reality of life for nonhuman beings are striking in their resemblance.

For example, many of us love our dogs and consider them as part of the
family, while, with the help of a split and compartmentalized mind
produced by acculturation, we simultaneously stick a fork into the
flesh of an animal who was every bit as sentient and interested in
continued existence as our dog or our three year-old child. When faced
with the harsh reality of how animal products are produced, many of us
recoil at or are indifferent toward such reality and deny, disconnect,
and dissociate as psychological defense mechanisms in order to continue
with our acculturated habits. We also look to others in our society
suffering from the same split mind, indifference, and
compartmentalization and take consolation that we’re not the only ones
who deny and disconnect from the reality of animal agriculture
(including free range, grass-fed, cage free, and all of the special
marketing labels designed to mitigate our cognitive dissonance).

The critics also imply, if not state explicitly, that where clinical
schizophrenia is an organic disease, our relationship with nonhumans is
not such a disease, and should not be compared to one. While the
critics are correct that our societal and personal relationships to
nonhumans (i.e. our moral schizophrenia) are not organic
diseases of the brain, they are incorrect if they assume that our
nonhuman relationships are not a severe moral and cultural disease that
causes the symptoms of unimaginable suffering, deplorable environmental
degradation, and widespread obesity, high cholesterol, and other
serious health problems. Although clinical versus moral schizophrenia
refer to two very different conditions: one organic, neurobiological,
and chemical, and the other moral and cultural, both are very serious
problems that cause vast suffering. Nobody is trivializing
schizophrenia or using it in a derogatory or pejorative way by applying
the concept of "split mind" and dissociation/compartmentalization to
our treatment and use of animals. Indeed, the pain and misery nonhuman
beings endure is beyond our imagination in its severity and quantity –
it is anything but trivial.

Further, our language is nuanced enough that intelligent people can discern that we are not “poking fun
at schizophrenics” when we use the term “moral schizophrenia”,
but rather are saying that our moral relationship to nonhumans is very
confused, rationally inconsistent, and diseased and is rooted in,
again, a morally split mind (the difference in what we say
and do; and the difference in the moral status of a dog versus that of
a chicken or pig when any such difference is not based on relevant
criteria) that is disconnected from reality (the reality of animal
agriculture and slaughterhouses versus how we say we believe animals
should be treated). Our society is morally diseased in its treatment of

Finally, I cannot speak for others, but when I first encountered the phrase moral schizophrenia in Gary Francione’s Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog, I did not find it at all offensive or confusing. I knew what Francione
meant by the term: a morally split mind and moral compartmentalization
– what we say versus what we do; how we treat a dog versus how we treat
a chicken. In fact, Gary doesn’t even go into a defense of the use of
the term in the book presumably because it seems that it would be
obvious to most readers who know the word’s general meaning and
etymological roots and see the qualifier "moral" why he uses it after
they read the first two paragraphs of the first chapter of the book.
The use of the word is rhetorical, but it is not derogatory or
pejorative. Further, any intelligent and reasonable person would
conclude that Gary is clearly not referring to the clinical,
organic disease, but to the inconsistencies to which he refers in the
context of the book. It seems to me that any confusion on this matter
is something manufactured by those critical of Gary Francione's
abolitionist approach in general.

Real Misuse of Words

Ironically, I imagine that some of the people who criticize the use of the term
“moral schizophrenia” take the unwarranted liberty of using terms like
“humane” and “compassionate” and “conscientious” to refer to the
slaughter and exploitation of animals. If there are any words being
tossed around a bit too loosely, it would be “humane” and
“compassionate”, no? How about “humane rapist”? How about
“compassionate gas chamber”? Note that the etymology and meaning of
schizophrenia connotes a split between our words and/or actions.
Humane, conscientious, and compassionate do not connote anything having
to do with killing and simply don’t belong in the same semantic
neighborhood as slaughter and exploitation.

The Solution

If critics don’t like the use of a term like “moral schizophrenia”, the
optimal solution is to eliminate the condition from society. If we live
in a vegan society, all we can say is that there was a time when we
suffered from moral schizophrenia regarding our relationship with
nonhuman beings, but that time is past us. If you are not vegan, then
go vegan. If you are vegan, try to persuade others to go vegan also.
It’s easy; it’s healthy; it's consistent with what we say we believe
about nonhuman beings; and it’s the right thing to do.

Edit to add on August 5, 2008:

I received an email today from Bea Elliott that included this video . The video communicates our society’s moral “split mind” quite well. Go vegan and cure moral schizophrenia.

Dan Cudahy ~ Unpopular Vegan Essays ~

Views: 106

Add a Comment

You need to be a member of Animal Rights Zone to add comments!

Join Animal Rights Zone


  • Add Videos
  • View All

ARZone Podcasts!

Please visit this webpage to subscribe to ARZone podcasts using iTunes


Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Follow ARZone!

Please follow ARZone on:




A place for animal advocates to gather and discuss issues, exchange ideas, and share information.

Creative Commons License
Animal Rights Zone (ARZone) by ARZone is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

Animal Rights Zone (ARZone) Disclaimer

Animal Rights Zone (ARZone) is an animal rights site. As such, it is the position of ARZone that it is only by ending completely the use of other animal as things can we fulfill our moral obligations to them.

Please read the full site disclosure here.

Animal Rights Zone (ARZone) Mission Statement

Animal Rights Zone (ARZone) exists to help educate vegans and non-vegans alike about the obligations human beings have toward all other animals.

Please read the full mission statement here.





© 2020   Created by Animal Rights Zone.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service