Animal Rights Zone

Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

Transcript of Rob Garner's ARZone Guest Chat

Transcript of Prof. Rob Garner’s ARZone Chat of

11 December 2010 at:

2pm US Pacific Time

5pm US Eastern Time

10pm UK Time and

12 December 2010 at:

8am Australian Eastern Standard Time

Carolyn Bailey:

ARZone would like to welcome Professor Rob Garner as our Live Chat Guest today.

Professor Garner is professor of political theory at the University of Leicester in the UK. He obtained his BA from the University of Salford and his MA and PhD from the University of Manchester.

Prof. Garner specialises in animal rights; the focus of his principal research interest has been on the political representation of nonhuman interests, which are taken to include the interests of nonhuman animals and other non-sentient parts of nature. This is an area of study that fits into the broader subject area of environmental politics.

He is the author of 5 books in this area, including The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation?(2010) with Professor Gary Francione, Animal Ethics (2005), The Political Theory of Animal Rights (2005), Animals, Politics and Morality (2004) and Environmental Politics: Britian, Europe and The Global Environment (2000).

Professor Garner has graciously agreed to engage ARZone members today on a range of topics. Please welcome Rob to ARZone …

Carolyn Bailey:

Welcome, Rob!

Time Gier:

Hello Prof. Garner!

Roger Yates:

Welcome Robert

Erin:

Hi

Robert Garner:

Hello All...Glad to be here

Brooke Cameron:

Hi Rob, welcome!

Will:

hello

Sam Deen:

Hello, from Canada

Mangus O'Shales:

Hello

Ben Hornby:

Welcome, Professor Garner

Luna Hughes:

Hello Professor Garner

Kerry O'Brien:

Welcome from New Zealand

Carolyn Bailey:

Before we begin, I’d like to request that people refrain from interrupting Prof. Garner during the chat session, and utilise the open chat, at the completion of Prof. Garner’s pre-registered questions, for any questions or comments you may have. I’d now like to ask Professor Garner his first question on behalf of Tammy McLeod.

Hi Professor Garner, thanks for your time today. When and how did you get involved in animal protection?

Robert Garner:

Hi Tammy. Glad to be here. I was concerned about the treatment of animals quite a while before I started focusing on it as part of my academic work.

That was, I guess, when I was in my teens, too far back than I care to remember (1970s to be precise!). Unlike a lot of people, I can’t remember a particular Road to Damascus moment, but, I guess it was hearing about the suffering inflicted on animals from the media and from people I knew to the point where I couldn’t ignore it any more. I was more of a left-leaning person then but now the right/left spectrum means a lot less to me politically.

Roger Yates:

Thanks Robert. The next question comes from Carolyn herself...C?

Carolyn Bailey:

Thanks, Rog!

Could you please outline some of the improvements that could be made for other animals living today, from the perspective of those other animals, through campaigns aimed at the regulation of their treatment?

Robert Garner:

Hi Carolyn. Yes, clearly the biggest improvement would consist in not using animals at all as a source of food or as laboratory subjects.

Giving that’s not, at present, an option there are a variety of improvements that could be made, short of abolishing particular practices. The end of factory farming, or the worst excesses of it, is clearly the most important, given the number of animals involved and the level of suffering inflicted.

Some of these changes – the abolition of battery cages, sow stalls and tethers, the veal crate and so on – are beginning to happen in Europe and I think there is some movement in the States too – the success of initiatives in a number of states and the publicity given to the conclusions of the Pew Commission to name but two significant developments. There is also a great deal of scope for improvements in the way that animals are transported. This has been a big issue in the UK, particularly in the 1990s, but it is one that can only be decided at a European Union level. Indeed, it is at the supranational level where a great deal can be done. Globalization is shifting power from the nation state to international organizations and animal groups should orientate themselves to be able to respond to this

For instance, arguably the biggest constraint on those in Britain who want to see improved farm animal welfare is the World Trade Organization whose laissez faire ideology often prevents governments in Europe, or even the European Union itself, from acting to improve animal welfare.

In terms of animal experimentation, the improvements recommended will depend upon the nature of the legislative regime. In Britain, a cost-benefit clause in the legislation already allows, potentially at least, for the pretty stringent protection of animals. This should be exported to the United States where, traditionally, only the condition of animals prior to a procedure being carried out is regulated by the state.

The problem in Britain is that the process is so secretive that it is difficult to know whether the regulations have been enforced, and there is some evidence that it is not! Anti-vivisection groups have campaigned for greater transparency but with limited success.

Some important changes have happened in Britain, though, over the past decade or so, such as the ending of cosmetic testing on animals and an end to the use of wild-caught primates.

Carolyn Bailey:

Thanks for that, Rob. Tim Gier would like to ask the next question. Go ahead, Tim.

Tim Gier:

I found your assessment in the essay “Animals, Ethics and Public Policy” of our failure to understand, with respect to the moral personhood of nonhumans, the import of the argument about so-called “marginal humans” quite interesting. Would you please elaborate on that point for our members?

Robert Garner:

Hi Tim. That’s a difficult question to answer briefly! Very basically, as many of you will know, the argument from marginal cases is a device used by philosophers to challenge the view that we can distinguish morally between all humans and all nonhuman animals. So, if an opponent of animal rights makes the claim that humans are morally superior because of the characteristics they possess and animals don’t, the retort is that not all humans – babies, the severely cognitively disabled etc. – actually have these characteristics. The logic, then, is to either treat these marginal humans in the same way that we currently treat animals or to treat animals and marginal humans in the same way that we would treat ‘normal’ humans. If we accept the argument from marginal cases, or at least this latter version of it, then, there seems little in the way of according humans the same moral status as nonhumans.

Tim Gier:

As a quick follow-up, given that failure & considering that the argument from marginal cases has, in your words, a “logically flawless character” what do you envision for the future insofar as the prospects for a non-speciesist paradigm shift in the broader public?

Robert Garner:

Not much, I’m afraid. The argument from marginal cases plays better in the philosophy classroom than it does in the general public.

Of course, it is, to some extent, mistaken, because we DO treat marginal humans differently, particularly when it comes to their liberty. It doesn’t seem outrageous morally, for instance, to deprive those who have severe dementia of their liberty.

The main reason for its failure to influence, though, is that it is so abstract, and doesn’t take into account the relationship that people have with other, marginal, humans. The care ethicists have got that right I think. They would say that what matters morally is the relationships we forge with other humans and non-humans, and the emotional weight we attach to them. This allows animals to be included. But the problem is what do we do with those animals we don’t have any particular emotional attachment to? The care ethic, then, seems to work quite well for companion animals but not for distant animals in factory farms and laboratories.

Tim Gier:

Thanks Prof. Garner, another professor, Roger Yates, has the next question. Roger, go ahead please...

Roger Yates:

Thanks "Time"...

Hi Robert. In your paper, “In Defence of Animal Sentience: A Critique of Cochrane’s Liberty Thesis,” you write that: “the campaigns of the animal rights movement have been based more on opposing the suffering of animals than their lack of freedom, or indeed the fact that they are killed.” You say something similar in the videocast you kindly recorded for Animal Rights November at UCD in Dublin. Is it not the case that the campaigners you refer to as animal rights advocates are people who, by and large, do NOT adhere to the philosophy of animal rights as laid out, for example, by Regan and Francione, and is it not the case that their preference to focus on the opposition to suffering as opposed to issues of freedom or killing places them as animal welfarists in orientation rather than animal rightists?

Robert Garner:

Hi Roger. Good question! I was referring to the gut instincts of some animal activists as opposed to their well thought-out moral position, if indeed they have one, not that they ought to have one of course!

Insofar as they do have a moral position which opposes the suffering of animals then I don’t think it is inconsistent with a rights position, but it is inconsistent with the rights position put forward by Regan and Francione. There is an important distinction in animal rights thinking that I’m trying to articulate here. The first position – held by Tom and Gary and a number of others – is what I describe as the use position. This argues that what is wrong with our treatment of animals is the fact that we use them. That is, to use them – as sources of food or as experimental subjects – is to infringe their rights.

This position only works if we also argue that animals have a right to life and a right to liberty.

The second position is the so-called ‘sentience’ position. This is a position that I seek to articulate but I think it has quite a long history in animal ethics – it can be found to some extent in the work of James Rachels as well as David DeGrazia and the British political theorist Alasdair Cochrane.

This position rejects the idea that animals have a right to life and a right to liberty but still insists that animals have a right against others inflicting suffering on them.

My point in the article was that adopting this sentience position can justify pretty radical changes in the way that animals are currently treated. It is absolutely not the same as welfare.

An animal welfare position does not recognize animals as having any rights. It accepts that animals have an interest in not suffering, but argues that this interest in not suffering can be overridden in order to serve human interests.

The sentience position would not allow that. If a practice causes animals to suffer it is morally illegitimate, whatever the benefit to humans. Done.

Carolyn Bailey:

Thanks, again, Rob. Jason Ward would like to ask a question now. All yours, Jay.

Jason Ward:

Thanks Carolyn

Good day Prof Garner...

Robert Garner:

Hi Jason.

Jason Ward:

As I understand the position, you don't believe that a rights-based approach to solving the problem of the exploitation of nonhumans is likely to work. But if I understand what you are advocating for, it is not merely an approach which seeks better treatment of nonhumans within the current systems of exploitation, but an elimination of the majority of those systems entirely. I am reading you correctly?

Robert Garner:

I’ve provided some of the answer to your question in my response to Roger’s question.

I hope that after explaining my argument it might become clear why I think adopting a rights position based on sentience might justify abolitionist objectives.

This is entirely a factual question rather than a moral one. That is, if animal agriculture can remove suffering it is morally legitimate. The same applies to animal experimentation.

In the former, for instance, if an extensive system of animal agriculture removes the suffering associated with factory farming it becomes preferable morally.

Whether it could remove all suffering is doubtful though. Likewise, if animals avoid suffering in the course of a laboratory procedure then it is morally legitimate. Issues of liberty and life do not apply. Done.

Roger Yates:

Thanks Robert. Next up is another question from Carolyn - ahimsa C....

Carolyn Bailey:

Thanks for that, Rog. Bless you!

Hi again, Robert. In the videocast you prepared for Animal Rights November in Ireland recently, you asked if it were possible that, as almost all of the large animal advocacy organisations advocate for reforms of the treatment of other animals, which falls short of abolition, could all of the big orgs be wrong in their advocacy. You suggested it would be possible, but unlikely.

Could you please explain why you feel it's unlikely that the large orgs could all be wrong, when some may suggest the large orgs may in fact be part of the problem hindering the abolition of exploitation with their poverty of ambition and reluctance to ask for anything more than regulation of treatment?

Robert Garner:

I think it is unlikely they are wrong Carolyn simply because of the number of people involved in these organizations and their experience of animal advocacy.

Remember that some of these organizations – I’m thinking, for instance, of the anti-vivisection organizations in the UK – make it clear that they are totally opposed to the use of animals, and the politicians and civil servants with whom they have contact know this and some may well respect them for it. These anti-vivisection groups also know that they would get absolutely nowhere if they sought to ask governments for too much.

I think a study of animal protection politics supports this. In the run up to the passage of the 1986 Act on animal experimentation in Britain, for instance, there were those groups who made it clear they wanted much more. They became irrelevant to the negotiations.

Of course, some national organizations are moderate anyway, and no-doubt others are too timid. But all of them?

Of course, it is a different point to say that the animal movement should not involve itself in this kind of politics and simply become a moral crusade attempting to influence the public directly. I have argued against this strategy on a variety of grounds. Put starkly, there is absolutely no evidence it will work and, in the meantime, attempts to improve the welfare of animals in a gradual way will be sacrificed.

Jason Ward:

Thanks for that Robert... Next we have a question from Tim Gier. - Whenever you are ready Tim, the floor is all yours.

Tim Gier:

Thanks Jason, and thank you Prof. Garner for providing such detailed answers...

In your essay, “Political Ideology and the Legal Status of Animals”, you argue that while a full recognition of animals' rights is not possible while nonhumans remain the property of others, abolishing their property status would be neither necessary nor sufficient “in order to ensure a high degree of animal protection.” Instead, you suggest that what is required is a shift away from thinking of nonhumans in ways which are for humans, “self-regarding” towards ways which are “other-regarding”. It seems incongruous to imagine any meaningful “other-regarding” of those who remain little more than things in the eyes of the law. Would you explain what you mean?

Robert Garner:

Hi again Tim. Another really difficult question to answer briefly!

What I was arguing is that it is not the property status of animals as a legal construct that is preventing their better treatment, but rather a more general ideology that regards intervention to restrict what owners do to animals as illegitimate. It is not the case that animals are regarded in law as mere things. All animal welfare statutes in the Western world recognize the intrinsic value of animals. Insofar as these statutes aren’t enforced, the explanation doesn’t lie in the property status of animals per se but rather in the wider political, cultural and economic climate in which they operate.

To illustrate this point, a piece of legislation aimed at ending the property status of animals wouldn’t have any effect without wider support for the objective.

More to the point, it wouldn’t happen anyway without a general waning of the view that animals are ours to do with as we please. Done.

Tim Gier:

Thanks again...Another quick follow-up...

Considering that what Francione suggests is that legal protections for nonhumans cannot occur in any meaningful way until a critical mass of vegans exist in the population vegans who presumably would be “other-regarding” with respect to nonhumans, are the two of you saying essentially the same thing?

Robert Garner:

A very interesting point! Gary won’t like that!!

No, we are not saying the same thing, I should quickly add!

in the sense that in my view it would not require a critical mass of vegans to effect any meaningful change, but rather a wide-spread acceptance that animals have interests which deserve to be considered. I would argue that there is, perhaps, a greater acceptance of that in the UK and some other countries in Europe, than there is in the United States.

There is much stronger support for libertarianism in the United States. People there, I suspect, are much less likely to be prepared to accept the limitations on individual freedom that we accept in the UK. Twice in the 20th Century, for instance, the government in Britain cancelled elections and imposed enormous restrictions on individual liberty in order to fight world wars. Done.

Tim Gier:

Thank you Prof. Garner. Brooke Cameron has the next question. Whenever you are ready Brooke...

Brooke Cameron:

Thanks Tim. Thanks for taking my question, Professor Garner.

Tasmania, Australia made a decision this year to ban sow stalls after 2017. My experience has been that the general public, once hearing this decision, are now comfortable resuming their pig flesh consumption. Animal welfare orgs' claims of "victory" seem to allow many people to believe that pigs now walk into the slaughterhouse in excitement that they're about to be slaughtered, after leading a utopian existence to that point. This all seems to happen despite the ban being in only 1 state, being phased in on a voluntary level after 2014, and being more than likely subject to future challenge. Are these kinds of actions in keeping with your idea of Animal Protectionism? As a general matter, should they be considered "victories" for other animals or not?

Robert Garner:

Hi Brooke. I maintain that each welfare measure should be judged on its merits. This one, in terms of the phase in period and its geographical coverage, seems very limited, and the animal protection movement ought to say so. I still maintain, though, that having no sow stalls is better than having them. As part of your question, you raise the issue that Gary and I discuss extensively in our book the issue over whether welfare reforms are counterproductive because they make meat eating more acceptable. I haven’t got the time here to repeat that debate in detail but I will make a couple of general points.

First, it might be argued that some welfare reforms are ethically desirable irrespective of the degree to which they are a stepping stone to more radical measures.

Second, the counterproductive argument is based on the assumption that the best way of achieving a vegan future is to make things so bad for animals that people react against it, and refuse to eat meat.

I have a number of responses to this. Can factory farming get much worse? Has it stopped people from eating meat? Is it morally valid to let animal suffering increase and do nothing to support measures to reduce it?

My answer to all three questions is no.

Brooke Cameron:

Thank you for your time.

Robert Garner:

You are welcome

Carolyn Bailey:

Thanks again, Rob. Tim Gier has another question next. Thanks, Tim.

Tim Gier:

Your position seems to hinge on the notion that sentient beings can have an interest in not suffering, while not have a concurrent interest in a continuation of life. I would perhaps phrase such a position as to say that, for instance, a chicken would care how big the cage she spends her life in is, but she wouldn't care about her life itself. If that admittedly simple example speaks adequately to your position, can you help me understand why it isn't a contradiction? Why would she care how she spends her life if she cares not for her life in the end? -done-

Robert Garner:

It is not so much that animals don’t care for their lives. What I’m getting at Tim is the view that the interest that animals have in continued life is less than humans. This is not a particularly contentious position to hold. There is actually a consensus amongst animal ethicists (Regan, Singer, DeGrazia to name but three) that the lives of humans are worth more than those of non-humans, that the cost for humans of dying is greater than the cost for non-human animals.

So, I am not saying that nonhuman animals lose nothing by death. To be harmed by death requires only sentience given that death prevents the future possibility of pleasurable experiences

So animal lives matter and I wouldn’t want to give the impression that they don’t. And this complicates things ethically, and I was trying to simplify things a bit by emphasizing the importance of sentience. It is also politically important to make the argument as basic as possible, and I think focusing on the capacity to suffer does the trick. I think at heart too most animal advocates are really driven by the suffering of animals as opposed to their deaths or lack of liberty

But if you want me to elaborate on the exact ethical consequences of this slightly revised position I’m happy to do so.

Carolyn Bailey:

Thanks again, Rob, for taking the time to reply to some excellent questions. Your responses are very helpful and very much appreciated. This concludes the formal session for Rob's chat today. I would now like to open the chat up. If there are any further questions for Rob, please send myself, Roger or Tim a message.

First I’d like to ask a question on behalf of Gary Francione who was unable to be here today, but sends his best wishes.

In our co-authored book, The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation? you state that animals have a right not to suffer "unacceptably." How do you determine what levels of suffering are "acceptable"?

Robert Garner:

Of course, Gary is right to say that a great deal depends on the ability to quantify what degree of suffering is acceptable

This is not, however, an exact science

I still maintain though that we can talk sensibly about degrees of suffering. Clearly, all of us suffer to some degree! But we all know what the difference is between a great deal and a little and we should aim to only accept minimal suffering

Tim Gier:

Thanks Prof. Garner, Kim Stallwood has a question for you next....Kim??

Kim Stallwood:

Thanks

Robert Garner:

Hi Kim

Kim Stallwood:

Hey Robert. Is animal rights a moral crusade or a political social movement or both? If both, how does it implement a strategy utilising both?

Robert Garner:

I think it has to be both. There is no substitute for political action. The danger of focussing on the moral crusade aspect is that politicians can wash their hands and ignore it. In addition, moral crusades in liberal societies presuppose an alternative moral position. The state in liberal societies can then deny responsibility for what is essentially a matter of individual conscience. As an academic with a background in politics you would expect me to say that being involved in politics is crucial for a social movement

Kim Stallwood:

Thanks!

Carolyn Bailey:

Thanks again, Rob. Jason Ward would like to ask another question now, please go ahead, Jay.

Jason Ward:

Hi professor. In a chat a couple of weeks ago some people said that stuff like breaking into mink farms to let the minks go free is a good thing to do. What do you think?

Robert Garner:

Hi Jason. I think that direct action that doesn’t involve threats of violence to people should be considered, but each case ought to be considered on its merits.

Questions like: Is it going to work? How many animals will be saved? What will the public reaction be? Are key ones for me.

Bearing in mind that you are not going to be able to rescue all of the animals kept, for instance, in mink farms, you need to consider whether rescuing some is going to hinder or help the campaign against mink farms.

I think the answer will depend on a variety of things, such as the nature of the issue, the type of activity and the sympathy of the media. Done

Carolyn Bailey:

Thanks again, Rob!

Jason Ward:

Thanks!

Robert Garner:

You are welcome

Carolyn Bailey:

Roger Yates would like to ask another question now, the floor is yours, Roger

Roger Yates:

In your recent paper, “Animals, Ethics and Public Policy,” you note the irony of Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation being regarded as the “bible of the animal rights movement.” Would it be an advantage for the case for animal rights, in your view, if the animal protection movement did not characterise Animal Liberation as a work of animal rights theory – and would it be useful for the theory of animal rights if organisations that follow Singer’s philosophy, like Vegan Outreach and (particularly) PETA, were not identified as animal rights groups?

Done and ahimsa

Robert Garner:

Hi again Roger. I don’t think it will make much difference to be honest. Singer has explicitly stated that he is not an advocate of rights but he has also said that rights are a useful rhetorical device. At a theoretical level, it is important that Singer’s view is distinguished from a rights view but at a practical level it doesn’t, in my view, matter that much

Of course, if you think, like Gary does (and you may well too) that Singer provides a version of animal welfare, then you might disagree with me.

I would dispute this interpretation of Singer. Of course, Singer’s emphasis on sentience, and his tendency not to advocate an abolitionist position, means he is closer to me ethically than Gary and others are! Done

Carolyn Bailey:

Thanks, Rob. Tim Gier would like to ask a question, which is a follow up to the last question in the "formal" session. Thanks, Tim.

Tim Gier:

Thanks. You said that the lives of other animals do matter morally, and that this complicates things a bit. You offered to elaborate on the ethical consequences of this, so, it you have time remaining, would you please?

Robert Garner:

Sure Tim.

I think the 'enhanced' position I advocated later, which recognises that animals have an interest in life is more ethically desirable

This position would be more stringent. It would, for example, rule out animal experimentation and the raising and killing of animals for food unless human life were at stake.

The position based entirely on sentience would only prohibit these things if suffering was involved, its a bit more complex than that but it's difficult to do it justice here.

Carolyn Bailey:

Thanks, Rob.

For the last question for today, we have one more from Gary Francione, which will be asked on his behalf by Roger Yates. Thanks, Rog.

Roger Yates:

Thanks C - and thanks to Robert for his time...

Although you think that factory-farming cannot be morally justified, if animals could be raised in a pleasant way with minimal suffering and killed in a relatively painless way for food, or if animals could be used in experiments with minimal suffering and significant benefits for humans, you could not object, could you?...

Let's take a very clear example: I have a cow who lives in the back garden. I treat her very well. I shoot her (one bullet; instantaneous death) and kill her and eat her. Have I done anything morally wrong?

Robert Garner:

According to the position I have elaborated to Tim such an action wouldn't be morally justified, because the animal is not being killed (in the case of the cow) to save human lives.

Holding a pure sentience position would be different in that animal lives are not part of the equation. The final point I would make here though is to suggest that basing animal rights on sentience alone is easier to grasp, and represents a sea-change in the way animals are treated. Animal rights advocates have, in my view, to be constantly aware of the environments within which they are operating.

Carolyn Bailey:

Thanks again, Rob!

At this time, I’d like to sincerely thank Rob for being very generous with his time today and for replying to excellent questions with insight and clarity. ARZone very much appreciate your time today, Rob, you’ve been awesome!

Robert Garner:

You are welcome. It has been a pleasure to be on here

Carolyn Bailey:

It's been our pleasure to have you here, you've been wonderful!

Will:

ta! Robert

Tim Gier:

Thank you for your time, this has been very interesting and informative.

Jason Ward:

Thanks Professor- I've garnered lots from this chat with you today :-)

Erin:

Thanks

Roger Yates:

Much appreciated Robert.

Trent Englehart:

Thanks, great chat =D

Brooke Cameron:

Thanks for your time, Robert. This chat has been excellent!

Robert Garner:

Thanks Carolyn and everyone. Good night..It's gone midnight here!

Mangus O'Shales:

thank you!

Douglass ÜberVegan:

I have a quick question for Professor Garner, is that possible?

Ben Hornby:

Thanks Rob!

Will:

a...him...sa!!!! :-*

Robert Garner:

Quickly Douglass

Douglass ÜberVegan:

Professor Garner, are you Vegan?

If you are Vegan, please consider going Vegan.

Robert Garner:

I am 99% vegan. Occasional lapse with cheese!

But no milk!

Douglass ÜberVegan:

Thank you, Professor Garner.

Robert Garner:

You are welcome

Carolyn Bailey:

Thanks again, Rob. Great chat!

Roger Yates:

ARZone exists to promote rational discussion about our relations with other animals and about issues within the animal advocacy movement. Please continue the debate after a chat by starting a forum discussion or by making a point under a transcript.

Roger Yates:

Don’t forget to check out the new ARZone Q&A site, Words to Inspire: http://animalrightszone.blogspot.com/

Roger Yates:

Animal Rights Zone on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_Rights_Zone_%28ARZone%29

Kim Stallwood:

Thanks Carolyn and Roger. Good night all.

Carolyn Bailey:

Thanks Kim!

Roger Yates:

Night Kim

Kim Stallwood:

good debate!

ARZone exists to promote rational discussion about our relations with other animals and about issues within the animal advocacy movement. Please continue the debate after a chat by starting a forum discussion or by making a point under a transcript.

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Comment by Tim Gier on December 13, 2010 at 6:45

When Garner says I think the 'enhanced' position I advocated later, which recognises that animals have an interest in life is more ethically desirable,” he is saying that it is better to hold, as a moral or ethical position, that sentient nonhumans have interests in liberty and life which deserve to be protected by the recognition of rights. This is the rights-based argument of abolition. However, he also believes that as a practical matter, given certain cultural, societal and political realities, that making such an argument outside the halls of philosophy departments would be mostly futile. Instead, he argues that his position based on sentience, which requires that humans refrain from causing suffering in sentient beings, when such suffering is not necessary to some important human ends, is adequate to end most of the abuses visited upon other animals.

I have five objections to Prof. Garner’s position.

First, it is somewhat elitist to suggest that most people cannot or are unwilling to carefully consider the rights-based argument. The rights-based argument is not that difficult to either articulate or understand, and most people are perfectly well equipped to comprehend it. Here it is:

Nonhuman animals are like human ones in morally relevant ways and because of that, they should not be treated exclusively as the means to an end. They should not be considered as the property of others, but should be respected as the owners of their own lives. Abolishing the exploitation of other rights-holders is a moral imperative – regulating or reforming current systems and methods of exploitation is unacceptable. Becoming vegan is the single most important action which any of us can undertake to respect the rights of others and to abolish exploitation.

Perhaps such an argument will not fit on a bumper sticker, or make for a good “sound-bite” for some politician, but it is not that hard to understand.

Secondly, his position necessarily creates ambiguous criteria by which we ought to judge morally correct behavior. This was noted by Prof. Francione in his question to Garner,“How do you determine what levels of suffering are ‘acceptable’?”. In other words, which uses of nonhumans by humans are necessary? Considering the use of humans by other humans, we accept that there are no uses, that is, no exploitation, of humans that we deem morally acceptable. Why should we consider that any use of nonhumans would be acceptable then?

Third, Garner’s “position from sentience” necessarily means that there are uses of nonhumans which are acceptable. Any use that did not involve “suffering” would necessarily not be immoral use. So, rather than abolishing use, this position legitimizes at least some use, and as seen above, which use (or uses) would be legitimate would be subject to ambiguous, and almost certainly arbitrary, criteria.

Fourth, what are we to make of this: “It is not so much that animals don’t care for their lives. What I’m getting at…is the view that the interest that animals have in continued life is less than humans.”? Prof. Garner suggests that this is not a contentious position to hold, and he is right, it isn’t. But that a position is not widely contended does not adequately speak to either its value or its veracity. I am sure that the consensus view of well-educated and intelligent physicists before Einstein was thought to be the reasonable and appropriate one. After Einstein, we now know that the consensus view was also quite wrong. So, we need more than just majority opinion to guide us. Do have what we need?

No. When we think about the interests which nonhumans have in the continuation of their own lives, we necessarily must be thinking in terms of what we, as human beings, value in our own lives. We have no way of knowing what a rabbit or a rattlesnake thinks about his or her own life, or the interests they may have or not have in them. Thinking that rabbits and rattlesnakes don’t have interests in their own lives and their own liberty can only be justified when we use human criteria to judge such interests. For example, we could say that since rabbits don’t bury their dead, or celebrate in song the lives of those lost to death, that they don’t value life as we do. But, saying that only recognizes that rabbits cannot act in the same ways that humans act, it doesn’t elucidate what rabbits think about their own existence.

Beyond that, as an objective matter, there are beings who struggle mightily to stay alive, and to reproduce. Unless we assume that sentient lives are automatons, nothing more the Cartesian biological machines, then it’s safe to assume that sentient beings who strive to stay alive have an interest in staying alive. Whether that interest is the same as our interest, on our terms, is one question. Whether that interest is valuable to them on their terms is another altogether. Given that none of us can immediately know the contents of another mind, whether that mind is human or nonhuman, it seems that to discount the interests of other animals based solely on observable characteristics, or the lack thereof, can only be because of a speciesist perspective.

Fifth, and finally, Prof. Garner’s position from sentience appears to be based on a inconsistent definition of suffering. Garner admits elsewhere that suffering is not limited to physical pain. Most people accept that fear, boredom, alienation, despair, anguish and some other mental states are each properly understood as forms of suffering. Animal welfare laws recognize and protect “species specific behaviors” and animal’s “well-being” beyond mere physical health and safety.

In what sense then, can we understand the various mental states of nonhumans, and protect their interests relative to them, while at the same time that we deny that it inflict death is to cause suffering? It seems that we cannot, accept insofar as to say that if we kill another without inflicting physical pain and if we kill another in such a way as they don’t see it coming, and if they would not otherwise strive to stay alive, only then can we say that we cause no suffering by killing them. That is to say, there can only be no suffering in death when the physical pain of the killing is absent, when the psychological dread of death is unknown, and when an interest in a continued life is nonexistent. Otherwise, death necessarily involves suffering.

Given that Prof. Garner admits that nonhuman individuals do have at least some interest in their lives, the he must also accept that even his position from sentience, which requires that we not inflicting suffering on other sentient beings, requires that we not deprive them of their lives either.

What we are left with then, is as Prof. Garner himself says, that the position “which recognises that animals have an interest in life is more ethically desirable.” Since it is more a ethically desirable position, it is what a moral person, and a moral society, ought to aim for. To aim for less would be an injustice.

Comment by Eric Prescott on December 13, 2010 at 3:53

@GLF: Thanks for bringing his formal positions to the fore here. I have read the book, and I remember this inconsistency there, too. I'm looking forward to discussing The Animal Rights Debate with others at a reading group in January. I hope others who read the book will be struck by these incoherencies, particularly the incoherence of recognizing as a fundamental basis for one's position that animals are sentient while denying their interest in (and a corresponding claim to) continued existence (i.e., the moral right to have that interest in continued existence protected).

Comment by Gary L. Francione on December 13, 2010 at 3:45

More comments:

Robert says: "the counterproductive argument is based on the assumption that the best way of achieving a vegan future is to make things so bad for animals that people react against it, and refuse to eat meat."

No, it is not. The "counterproductive" argument is based on two notions, neither of which Robert refutes.

First, it is based on the notion that welfare reform does little more than make animal exploitation more economically efficient and does not provide significant increases in protecting animal interests.

Let me put this point another way: if there were a Government Department of Efficient Exploitation that employed agricultural economists who did not give a toss about animal welfare except in so far as it promoted efficient animal use, that Department would make the same recommendations as these welfare groups promote in their campaigns. The supposedly wonderful welfare campaigns that are presently ongoing: CAK, gestation crates, etc., involve, for the most part, changes that will probably increase production efficiency and will not in any significant way increase production cost. Robert talks about the EU regs on battery cages. Putting aside that the chances that those reforms will be implemented by 2012 is somewhere less than than 1%, all they require is "enriched" cages that increase cost by about .01-.02 per egg. Given the inelasticity of egg demand (price increases, unless very great, do not affect demand), producers will be able to charge a considerable increase and demand will not be affected. In sum, the "happy" egg campaign has shown producers that there was a *more* economically efficient way to exploit battery hens. 

It is pathetic when the entire "animal movement" takes a position that, in effect, is indistinguishable from what a rational agricultural economist would propose.

Second, welfare reform is counterproductive because it makes people feel more comfortable about exploiting animals (even though it does little or nothing to increase protection for animals) and actually increases net suffering. I have *never* said that we ought to allow things to get really bad so people stop eating meat. I am not sure why Robert continues to make that point as I have never said it and I stared that explicitly in our book.

Gary L. Francione

Professor, Rutgers University

Comment by Gary L. Francione on December 13, 2010 at 2:45

In response to Eric Prescott:

Robert's "enhanced sentience position," which prohibits use even if there is no suffering (unless it is necessary to save human lives), and his "sentience position," which maintains that animal use is morally permissible as long as there is no "unacceptable" suffering, are two *very* different position.

In our book, Robert argues in his essay for the "sentience position." In the discussion section, at page 200, he articulates the "enhanced sentience" position. That is not the position that argues for in his essay in the book and I find it difficult to understand how he can even maintain the "enhanced" position given that he explicitly claims that animal lives have a lesser moral value than human lives and that a right not to be used cannot be plausibly defended based on what he views as relevant cognitive differences between humans and nonhumans.

In any event, these are two very different positions.

Gary L. Francione

Professor, Rutgers University

Comment by Eric Prescott on December 13, 2010 at 1:20

"According to the position I have elaborated to Tim such an action wouldn't be morally justified, because the animal is not being killed (in the case of the cow) to save human lives."

Robert's response here seems inconsistent with his position that animals do not have an interest in their own lives (he also adjusts this position elsewhere to say that their lives are less important, though he doesn't mention who judges that or how).

Either animals have an interest in their own lives, or they don't. This wouldn't be contingent upon whether killing the animal has some human benefit. And if they do have an interest in their own lives, which seems apparent enough, then we have no justification for killing them for trivial purposes.

Comment by Gary L. Francione on December 12, 2010 at 23:55

A few comments:

1. Robert says: "in the sense that in my view it would not require a critical mass of vegans to effect any meaningful change, but rather a wide-spread acceptance that animals have interests which deserve to be considered."

My response: What? There *has* been widespread acceptance that animals have morally significant interests in not suffering for about 200 years now. If there is any moral norm that ubiquitously shared in western culture, it is that animals are "partial" members of the moral community. But there are more animals being used now in more horrific ways than at any time in human history.

2. Robert says, in response to a question about large organizations pursuing welfare reform: "I think it is unlikely they are wrong Carolyn simply because of the number of people involved in these organizations and their experience of animal advocacy."

My comment: He argues this in the book. I found it remarkable then and I find it remarkable now. This begs the question on many levels, including that the big dollars are in promoting welfare reform and single-issue campaigns that do not require much change on the personal level. Frankly, I find this sort of argument no different from maintaining that any political or economic entity is right because "that's the way they do things."

3. Roger asked on my behalf: "In our co-authored book, The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation? you state that animals have a right not to suffer "unacceptably." How do you determine what levels of suffering are "acceptable"?"

Robert answers: "Of course, Gary is right to say that a great deal depends on the ability to quantify what degree of suffering is acceptable. This is not, however, an exact science. I still maintain though that we can talk sensibly about degrees of suffering. Clearly, all of us suffer to some degree! But we all know what the difference is between a great deal and a little and we should aim to only accept minimal suffering."

My comment: This is the new welfarist position that is promoted by many of the large organizations, Singer, etc. This is the thinking that motivates the quest for "happy" meat and animal products. Putting aside the moral issues involved, this is a position that makes people feel better about consuming animals because they believe that we can reach the magical "acceptable" level so they'll continue to consume "approved" products along the way and support "happy exploitation" reforms.

4. Robert says: "I hope that after explaining my argument it might become clear why I think adopting a rights position based on sentience might justify abolitionist objectives."

My comment: A position that advocates "acceptable" suffering is not going to lead to abolition. It can't. The modern "happy exploitation" movement is proof of that; if you think that sort of approach is going to lead to abolition, I strongly disagree.

5. Robert says "I am 99% vegan. Occasional lapse with cheese!"

My comment: That surprises me as in our book, I ask him that question and he replies: "I have been a vegetarian throughout my adult life, and I am currently a dietary vegan, and I do not wear leather." (page 257). Maybe he meant "flexible vegan." I shall have to ask him!I

I could make more comments but I will suggest that those of you interested, go read the book as these issues do not lend themselves to internet-box analysis and these are precisely the issues we discuss throughout the book. Robert states: "I am accepting the view that, all things being equal, nonhuman animal life (of most nonhuman species at least) is of less moral value than human life." (p. 187) I disagree. That disagreement is the focus of disagreement between abolitionists and welfarists/new welfarists.

 

Gary L. Francione

Professor, Rutgers University 

Comment by Carolyn Bailey on December 12, 2010 at 18:13

You're very welcome, red dog. We're glad you find the chats useful!

 

 

Comment by red dog on December 12, 2010 at 17:10

Thanks as always for organizing these chats. They're very helpful.

 

Regarding the cheese, my guess is that the "99 percent" response was a joke ... maybe Professor Garner was giving the OTT character "Douglass" the cliché answer he was looking for?

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