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October 13, 2012

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Spencer Lo

Interesting podcast, as always on Philosophy Bites—-thanks for setting this up!

There is one factual inaccuracy that I want to point out. I believe Professor Francione inaccurately described Peter Singer’s views on animal killing, when he said: “Peter has this view that animals don’t have an interest in continuing to live…[exceptions for Great Apes, dolphins]…But he thinks that as a general matter, animals don’t have an interest in continuing to live...He does not think killing them is harming them per se.” Actually, Singer believes the exact opposite. From Singer’s “Practical Ethics” (3d ed):

1. “What we are really asking is whether any nonhuman animals are rational and self-conscious beings, aware of themselves as distinct entities with a past and a future.” (94)

2. “A still more rigorous demonstration of an animal’s ability to anticipate its own future desires comes, remarkably enough, from experiment…with scrub jays.” (100)

3. “Are we turning persons into bacon? Additionally, because at least some birds appear to be persons, we should be cautious about excluding chickens, too…chickens appear to recognize one another as individuals…They also have the capacity for self-control and to envisage at least the near future.” (102)

4. “[W]e do know that the popular myth that fish can remember things for only three seconds is quite wrong – experiments have shown that they can remember the location of a hole in a net even if they have not been near the net for eleven months.” (103)

5. “Given what we know of the learning abilities of octopuses, it is not too far-fetched to interpret this behavior as indicating that the octopus is aware of its own future need for shelter and is planning ahead.” (103)

6. “If it is wrong to kill a person when we can avoid doing so, and there is real doubt about whether a being we are thinking of killing is a person, the best thing to do is give that being the benefit of the doubt.” (103)

7. “We should therefore try to give the benefit of the doubt [of self-awareness] to monkeys, dogs, cats, pigs, seals, bears, cattle, sheep and so on, perhaps even to birds and fish – much depends on how far we are prepared to go for extending the benefit of the doubt, where a doubt exists.” (119-120).

The above should make clear that Singer does not hold that animals, “as a general matter,” don’t have a continuing interest to live—-they do. Or at least: we should give animals (especially farmed animals) the benefit of the doubt that they are persons. Regarding the permissibility of killing merely conscious animals, or non-persons, Singer’s views are highly qualified; it’s not simply a matter of whether they are persons or non-persons. He explains:

“This means that in some circumstances – when animal lead pleasant lives, are killed painlessly, their deaths do not cause suffering to other animals and the killing of one animal makes possible its replacement by another that would not otherwise have lived – the killing of animals without self-awareness is not wrong.” (120)

In other words, if an animal is a non-person (i.e., lacking self-awareness), killing that animal isn't wrong if: (1) the animal has led a pleasant life, (2) the animal is killed painlessly, (3) the animal's death does not cause suffering to other animals, and (4) the animal killed can be replaced by another that would not otherwise have lived. In the real world, Singer's criteria are very difficult (perhaps impossible) to satisfy, so on the moral question of killing, there is probably very little *practical* difference (if any) between Singer and Francione.

Spencer Lo

Professor Francione said “there are lots of problems with the animal welfare approach. First it says we shouldn’t inflict unnecessary suffering,” which implies that we shouldn’t inflict suffering "for reasons of pleasure, amusement, or convenience." But if the “animal welfare approach” says we shouldn’t “inflict unnecessary suffering,” and that principle entails that we all go vegan, then what’s wrong with the animal welfare approach? On Professor Francione’s view, the alleged “first” problem entails global veganism (“that [principle] rules out about 99.9999% of our animal use”)! The real problem is with society not applying the principle correctly (or not at all)—-at least that seems to be what Professor Francione is saying.

Regarding domestication, Professor Francione is against it even an ideal world where dogs can be guaranteed loving homes and happy lives, because he believes their life-long dependency status makes bringing them into existence morally problematic. However, suppose a pregnant woman learns that her resulting child will be a life-long dependent (due to a severe disability). Would Professor Francione hold that the woman is morally required to have an abortion?

If not, and if she is permitted to raise the child, what’s the difference between brining a life-long dependent nonhuman into existence and bringing a life-long dependent human into existence? If the difference is merely one of species membership, then Professor Francione’s position is speciesist. However, if Professor Francione holds that the woman is morally required to get an abortion, would he support legislation requiring women to have abortions in these kinds of cases? Why not, if Professor Francione believes there are adequate secular grounds for thinking that abortion is morally required? Consistency would seem to require that, if bringing life-long dependent nonhuman animals into existence is wrong in an ideal world, then bringing life-long dependent human into existence is also wrong.

Regarding non-vegan cats, Professor Francione draws a distinction between moral justification and moral excuse. His example of the desert island is instructive: it would be wrong to kill the other sole human to save one’s life (even if that were excusable), which implies that the right thing to do would be to die. So according to this logic, the morally right thing to do with non-vegan cats is to painlessly kill them (and not feed them animal products)-—a hard view to swallow even given his distinction. Would Professor Francione be opposed to the idea of *encouraging* that the morally right thing be done with non-vegan cats?

Regarding eating “road kill” animals, Professor Francione said: “I want to get us away from the idea that animals are things to eat.” One objection to this view is that, unlike a live animal, the corpse of a dead animal *is* a thing—-so is a “nice warm, human arm.” The corpse of an animal (or human) has a much sentience as plants, so how could eating one be inherently wrong to it? In other words, if eating accidental “road kill”—-or animals who have died of natural causes—-is wrong, the wrongness cannot consist in any harm to the now-dead animal. So in what does the wrongness consist?

C. M. Frederick

Animal abolitionism is perhaps the most absurd stance on moral decision making I have ever come across. Animals do exist, animals do eat plants and, yes, animals eat animals. We ARE animals that have EVOLVED as omnivores. If it wasn't for the calorie-rich animals we have consumed over thousands of years our brains would not, could not, be as large as they now are. I therefore object to the notion that we can simply transcend being animals that eat animals. The only tenable way to not exploit animals is for us humans to become extinct... Problem solved!

sol

Francione's out for blood!

His zealous speaking style was a little off-putting. I understand that, from his perspective, there's certain moral urgency; he's trying to halt a global animal genocide.

That being said, it's hard for me to focus on the focus on the message being told when the way the messenger is telling it is so hyperbolic. Next time, Francione, take a deep breath or two, and leave the child molester examples out of your rhetoric.

Gio

Hi,

I just want to urge people to get informed before posting:

1) Gary F. and Peter S. have radically different opinions on animal use. Peter S. is not by any means an abolitionist and has stated very clearly that animals matter less and have not interest in living.
2) That humans evolved because of meat has been debunked loooong time ago...it's also a superficial assertion since obviously humans do not have natural ability to hunt and need tools, thus to hunt humans must have evolved B4
3) Please, set aside your emotions on the examples Gary uses when explaining the abolitionist approach. He is very logical and only uses humans as examples to make people understand better the subject...it's neuroplasticity at work.

Thank You,
Gio

Sara

Morally speaking, the question that we are dealing with today is not how we evolved, it is what is the moral thing to do now. Regardless of what humans ate as they evolved, the bottom line is that we don't need them to be healthy (and indeed eating a plant based diet is increasingly being shown to prevent illnesses, etc.), so there really is no justification for killing animals or using them for other purposes.

Gio

Spencer Lo,

In your examples:

- Women, ideally, are not forced to have babies neither the babies are taken away from them. As a minimum, industry issues aside, a pet is taken away from his/her mum. We cannot ask the parents of your pet anything etc. etc. That is what Gary meant. Also your example is incorrect as the woman "discover" to have a life-long dependant baby, she did not plan it.
- There is vegan food for both dogs (very easy to grow vegan) and cats. Having said that, the right thing to do is to leave animals alone except in rare circumstances. We cannot interfere with the animal kingdom without making a mess, as we have done, at the best. We should stop bringing into existence new sentient life for our own use.
- Would you eat "accidentally road-killed" human babies? Of course, practically, eating corpses (accidentally killed) would be far less problematic. Morally, though, it is a question that we should ask ourselves.

- Again on Peter Singer:
"if someone “really were thorough-going in eating only animals that had had good lives, that could be a defensible ethical position. It’s not my position, but I wouldn’t be critical of someone who was that conscientious about it." Peter S. on The Gardian, 8th Sept. 2006

Certainly this is NOT an abolitionist/vegan approach. Not "very little practical difference" with Francione as you claimed.

Thank You,
Gio

Gary L. Francione

Spencer Lo routinely shows up on various Internet forums and misrepresents my views at the same time that he promotes and defends particular corporate welfarists. I no longer bother with Mr. Lo but as he has chosen to claim on this forum that I have inaccurately represented Singer’s views, I feel compelled to reply.

Although Singer sometimes suggests that he may have changed the Benthamite view he expressed in “Animal Liberation,” he still continues to regard animals as replaceable resources in a way that he rules out for humans, at least as a prima facie matter. He continues to state explicitly that he regards nonhuman animal life as having less value than human life for the purpose of using animals as resources and he attributes that lesser value to a lack of, or qualitative difference in, mental continuity.

In “Animal Liberation,” Singer drew a line between imposing suffering on animals and killing them. He argued that what he views as a lack of mental continuity in animals is not relevant to the suffering issue (although it may mean that animals suffer more or less than humans in particular circumstances), but is relevant to the killing issue and raises doubt about whether killing animals is per se morally objectionable. In this sense, Singer’s view is the same as Bentham’s in that the latter regarded animal suffering as morally relevant but did not see the use and killing of animals as per se morally problematic because animals were not self-aware.

In “The Great Ape Project,” Singer maintained that chimpanzees and other nonhuman great apes had mental continuity and in “Practical Ethics,” he stated that a case could be made “with varying degrees of confidence” for mental continuity in other animals, including animals we routinely eat. As I pointed out in “Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog?,” which was published in 2000, Singer’s views in “Practical Ethics” ostensibly represented a “significant development” of his views in “Animal Liberation,” but Singer was continuing to justify treating animals not as moral persons but as replaceable resources and, therefore, he did not seem to recognize that the case for mental continuity had been made.

In an interview in “The Vegan” in 2006, Singer was asked explicitly about mental continuity/self-awareness in pigs, cows, sheep, and birds. He responded: “There is ample evidence for chimpanzees and other great apes, and very strong evidence for elephants. For the species you mention, the evidence seems to me to be variable, and often suggestive rather than conclusive.” In another interview in 2009 in Indystar.com, he stated : “You could say it’s wrong to kill a being whenever a being is sentient or conscious. Then you would have to say it’s just as wrong to kill a chicken or mouse as it is to kill you or me. I can’t accept that idea. It may be just as wrong, but millions of chickens are killed every day. I can’t think of that as a tragedy on the same scale as millions of humans being killed. What is different about humans? Humans are forward-looking beings, and they have hopes and desires for the future. That seems a plausible answer to the question of why it’s so tragic when humans die.”

But the bottom line is clear: Singer continues to refuse to extend the presumption against use to nonhuman animals. That is, as I argued in “Introduction to Animal Rights,” Singer maintains that the self-awareness of “normal” humans means that death, even if painless, is a harm and Singer has what is, in effect, a presumption against using “normal” humans as replaceable resources. Indeed, in this sense, Singer is a rule utilitarian: he does not ask on a case-by-case basis whether using individual normal humans will maximize overall welfare or interest satisfaction. He presumes against using normal humans as replaceable resources because, at least in part, the self-awareness/mental continuity of humans means that they cannot be regarded as replaceable.

Singer has no such presumption for nonhuman animals. For all his talk on “benefit of doubt,” Singer continues to promote being a “conscientious omnivore” as a “defensible ethical position.” In 2006, in “Mother Jones,” he stated: “[T]here’s a little bit of room for indulgence in all of our lives. I know some people who are vegan in their homes but if they’re going out to a fancy restaurant, they allow themselves the luxury of not being vegan that evening. I don’t see anything really wrong with that.”

Singer continues to draw a distinction between killing and suffering: “[T]o avoid inflicting suffering on animals—not to mention the environmental costs of intensive animal production—we need to cut down drastically on the animal products we consume. But does that mean a vegan world? That’s one solution, but not necessarily the only one. If it is the infliction of suffering that we are concerned about, rather than killing, then I can also imagine a world in which people mostly eat plant foods, but occasionally treat themselves to the luxury of free range eggs, or possibly even meat from animals who live good lives under conditions natural for their species, and are then humanely killed on the farm.” (The Vegan, 2006)

Singer continues to promote “happy” meat and animal products; he has expressed his support for animal welfare labeling schemes.

Therefore, it is either the case that Singer really has not changed his views about animals lacking mental continuity sufficient to give rise to nonhuman personhood, or he thinks that any mental continuity in animals is qualitatively different from humans so that their lives have a lesser moral value and they can be used as replaceable resources if they are “humanely killed.” In either case, he does not think that the cognition of nonhuman animals gives rise to the type of interest in continuing to live that we associate with normal humans.

Finally, for Singer, self-awareness is an issue of whether, as an empirical matter, nonhumans have humanlike self-awareness. As I argued in “Introduction to Animal Rights” and in later work, that is not only a game that nonhumans are unlikely to ever win (whatever level of humanlike self-awareness animals have will not be regarded as sufficient or sufficiently similar), but to require humanlike self-awareness as a condition for personhood is itself speciesist. I argue that that even if animals live in an “eternal present,” they are still self-aware for purposes of establishing an interest in continuing to live (and a right not to be treated as a resource).

To say that “there is probably very little *practical* difference (if any) between Singer and Francione” is really beyond absurd.

Thank you.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

Sarah K Woodcock

Gary L. Francione is right on, and he did a phenomenal job of condensing decades of animal advocacy into a short interview. I encourage everyone to explore his website www.abolitionistapproach.com for more information on his fantastic work.

Anyone who attempts to discredit him and/or his work has an ulterior motive.

I stand with Gary L. Francione and his work, in solidarity, for the rest of my life.

David

I don't know all of Francione's work but I am familiar with his views on domestication. Francione has quite clearly and, in my judgement, quite competently, dealt with the matter. He argues that domestication is problematic as a contingent matter given that only a fraction of domesticated animals have anything close to a good life. He also argues that domestication is inherently immoral because it involves an institution of bringing into existence beings who are perpetually dependent on us. When humans are perpetually dependent, we regard it as a tragedy; yet, we support institutionalised vulnerability in the form of pet ownership. I might advise the woman pregnant with the disabled baby not to abort but I certainly would not say that I am thereby committed to institutionalise the production of defective foetuses.

Francione argues that the matter of what to do about cats is one of the troubling problems presented to us by domestication (and another good reason not to perpetuate it). He argues that it is not justifiable to feed meat to a cat but he says that it may be excusable in that the culpability is mitigated. Moreover, he argues that we may be obligated to do the excusable thing because we are collectively responsible for the situation in which the cats find themselves. But he makes it clear that there is no untroubling answer here.

Regarding eating "road kill," Francione takes a position similar to Cora Diamond, who points out that we simply don't eat people. Francione is trying to get us to think similarly about animals; they are persons and we don't eat persons.

Regarding there being no or little practical difference between Francione and Singer, I actually laughed out loud.

Spencer Lo

Dear Professor Francione,

Thank you for taking the time to reply in detail to my comment on Singer. One thing at the outset, before I delve into substance: it is true that I have criticized some of your views on various internet forums, but when I do, I strive very hard to represent them accurately and fairly. I believe I have done so, and thus you may be conflating my representations of your views with the logical (and undesirable) implications that I believe follow from them. Of course, if I have misrepresented your views, it’s wholly unintentional on my part and I will issue an unequivocal apology and retraction should they be (rightly) pointed out to me.

As for Singer, what prompted my initial comment was your claim during the podcast that Singer “thinks that as a general matter, animals don’t have an interest in continuing to live...He does not think killing them is harming them per se.” But is this true? Does Singer think that “as a general matter,” killing animals doesn’t harm them? Notice that *all* of my Singer quotes, which suggest a negative answer, come from his Third Edition of “Practical Ethics,” the one published in 2011, whereas all of your Singer quotes come from interviews and writings *before* 2011. So *if* there is any prior suggestion by Singer that killing animals, “as a general matter,” doesn’t harm them per se, that has surely been superseded by his 2011 position in “Practical Ethics.” [Note: Professor David Sztybel has shown that Francione’s characterization doesn’t even accord with Singer’s *Second Edition* of “Practical Ethics” (1993): google "Francione Totally Misinterprets Singer." Sztybel received *email confirmation* from Peter Singer *himself* of his interpretation: google "Singer Thanks Me for Setting the Record Straight."]

The 2011 quotes I posted above decisively refute the notion that Singer thinks killing animals, “as a general matter,” doesn’t harm them per se. Singer explicitly subscribes to the Benefit of the Doubt Principle: “If it is wrong to kill a person when we can avoid doing so, and there is real doubt about whether a being we are thinking of killing is a person, the best thing to do is give that being the benefit of the doubt.” (103) In the same chapter, he later says: “We should therefore try to give the benefit of the doubt to monkeys, dogs, cats, pigs, seals, bears, cattle, sheep and so on, perhaps even to birds and fish…” (119-120) Since Singer thinks we should give the benefit of the doubt of *personhood* to all those animals, which include farmed animals, then he is *explicitly* rejecting the view that killing them doesn’t harm them per se. For Singer, persons are not replaceable resources, and thus it is simply untrue that he “continues to refuse to extend the presumption against use to nonhuman animals,” or that he “has no such presumption for nonhuman animals.” I welcome anyone to point to *any* passage in Singer’s Third Edition of “Practical Ethics” (2011) that would suggest otherwise. Notably, Professor Francione, you have not done so, instead relying on *earlier* statements (to which I will turn shortly).

A final quote from “Practical Ethics” (2011): “Some nonhuman animals appear to conceive of themselves as distinct beings with a past and a future, and this provides a direct reason against killing them, the strength of which will vary with the degree to which the animal is capable of having desires for the future. Our increasing knowledge of the intellectual capacities of nonhuman animals has extended the number of species to which this reason against killing can reasonably be applied.” (119) Since our “increasing knowledge” has “extended the number of species to which this reason against killing can reasonably be applied,” then Singer is (again) emphatically claiming the *exact opposite* of what Professor Francione attributes to him.

On the moral issue of killing, the distinction between persons and non-persons is highly relevant for Singer, and as we’ve seen above, he is willing to say that many animals (including farmed animals) *are* persons. Yet it is true that Singer believes there are probably animals who are not persons (“merely conscious animals”). If an animal isn’t a person at all, does it automatically follow that killing that animal is morally okay? No, it does not. Again from “Practical Ethics” (2011): “This means that in some circumstances – when animals lead pleasant lives, are killed painlessly, their deaths do not cause suffering to other animals and the killing of one animal makes possible its replacement by another that would not otherwise have lived – the killing of animals without self-awareness is not wrong.” (120) *Several* conditions must be met before killing non-person animals is morally okay. Can anyone point to a specific, real world example of animal killing (of a merely conscious being) that would *actually* satisfy Singer’s criteria? If not, then I believe my prior conclusion stands: on the *moral* question of animal killing, there appears to be very little practical difference (if any) between Singer and Francione.

Turning to your other remarks, do any of your Singer quotes, which are taken from *earlier* writings and interviews, suggest that killing animals (especially farmed animals) doesn’t harm them per se? You first cite “Animal Liberation,” claiming that “Singer’s view is the same as Bentham’s in that the latter… did not see the use and killing of animals as per se morally problematic because animals were not self-aware.” But is this true? Does Singer actually claim that farmed animals, in particular, are *not* self-aware, or that killing them is not “per se morally problematic?” I will quote extensively from Singer’s 2009 edition (“The Definitive Classic of The Animal Movement”) and readers can make up their minds.

(1) “The wrongness of killing a being is more complicated.” (17) [Note: In fact, the wrongness of killing is a *very* complicated philosophical issue—see Jeff McMahan’s “The Ethics of killing.”]

(2) “Adult chimpanzees, dogs, pigs and members of many other species far surpass the brain-damaged infant in their abilities to relate to others, act independently, be self-aware, and any other capacity that could reasonably be said to give value to life.” (18)

(3) “[S]ome severely retarded infants can never achieve the intelligence level of a dog.” (18)

(4) “A chimpanzee, dog, or a pig, for instance, will have a higher degree of self-awareness and a greater capacity form meaningful relations with others than a severely retarded infant or someone in a state of advanced senility. So if we base the right to life on these characteristics we must grant these animals a right to life as god as, or better than, such retarded or senile humans.” (19)

(5) “This argument cuts both ways. It could be taken as showing that chimpanzees, dogs, and pigs, along with some other species, have a right to life and we commit a grave moral offense whenever we kill them, even when they are old and suffering and our intention is to put them out of their misery. Alternatively one could take the argument as showing that the severely retarded and hopelessly senile have no right to life and may be killed for quite trivial reasons, as we now kill animals.” (19-20)

(6) “What we need is some middle position that would avoid speciesism but would not make the lives of the retarded and senile as cheap as the lives of pigs and dogs now are, or make the lives of pigs and dogs so sacrosanct that we think it wrong to put them out of hopeless misery.” (20)

(7) “In general, though, the question of when it is wrong to kill (painlessly) an animal is one to which we need give no precise answer. As long as we remember that we should give the same respect to the lives of animals as we give to the lives of those humans at a similar mental level, we shall not go far wrong.” (21)

(8) “But in the absence of some form of mental continuity it is not easy to explain why the loss to the animal killed is not, from an impartial view, made good by the creation of a new animal who will lead an equally pleasant life. I still have doubts about this issue.” (229)

(9) “On a purely practical level, one can say this: killing animals for food (except when necessary for sheer survival) makes us think of them as objects we can use casually for our own nonessential purposes…So it might be best to make it a simple general principle to avoid killing animals for food except when necessary for survival.” (229) [Note: Another piece of evidence to suggest that on the *moral* question of killing, there is very little practical difference between Singer and Francione.]

(10) “At most, the argument from the benefit of bringing a being into existence could justify continuing to eat free-range animals (of a species incapable of having desires for the future), who have a pleasant existence in a social group suited to their behavioral needs, and are killed quickly and without pain.” (229-230) [Note: I welcome anyone to point to a “free-range animal” “incapable of having desires for the future.”]

(11) “Those who use this ingenious defense of their desire to eat pork or beef rarely follow out its implications…the argument may be turned on its head, to the discomfort of its original proponent. Since more humans may be fed if we do not feed our grain to livestock, the upshot of the argument is, after all, that we ought to become vegetarians!” (230) [Note: Singer is emphatically suggesting that replaceability in theory does not translate to replaceability in fact (quite the opposite).]

Professor Francione also references Singer’s 2006 interview in “The Vegan.” In that interview, does Singer claim that killing farmed animals doesn’t harm them per se? The relevant quote: “But a lot will depend on what you count as evidence of awareness over time…For the species you mention, the evidence seems to be variable, and often suggestive rather than conclusive.” [Contrary to Professor Francione’s claim, the species “explicitly” asked about by the interviewer were *not* “pigs,” “cows,” and “sheep,” but “rats, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fishes”—-but that’s a minor quibble.] Thus in 2006, Singer believed there was *some* evidence suggestive of “awareness over time” in “rats, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fishes,” which is hardly the same as claiming that killing those animals doesn’t harm them per se. That would be like saying Professor Francione thinks killing insects harms them per se, when in reality he said something to the effect of, “I don’t know, so I avoid doing so.”

In that same 2006 interview, Professor Francione finds the following quote problematic: “If it is the infliction of suffering that we are concerned about, rather than killing, then I can also imagine a world in which people mostly eat plant foods, but occasionally treat themselves to the luxury of free range eggs, or possibly even meat from animals who live good lives under conditions natural for their species, and are then humanely killed on the farm.” Does this suggest that Singer thinks killing farmed animals doesn’t harm them per se? No, it does not. Notice here that while Singer is focused on the problem of alleviating animal suffering—-for that is his primary concern, given the sheer enormity of the problem—-he describes the matter in conditional language (“If it is the infliction of suffering we are concerned about...then”); he doesn’t *actually* claim that animal killing, apart from suffering, isn’t a concern at all. Moreover, it should be emphasized that these are Singer’s words from a *popular* interview, not from a piece of scholarly writing, and so they can easily lend themselves to misinterpretation.

Professor Francione references Singer’s 2009 interview in Indystar.com. In that interview, does Singer claim that killing farmed animals doesn’t harm them per se? The relevant quote (which Francione helpfully provided): “Then you would have to say it’s just as wrong to kill a chicken or mouse as it is to kill you or me. I can’t accept that idea...I can’t think of that as a tragedy on the same scale as millions of humans being killed. What is different about humans? Humans are forward-looking beings, and they have hopes and desires for the future.” Although Singer is claiming here that killing a typical human is *more* wrong than killing a chicken or a mouse, he is *not* claiming that killing the latter isn’t wrong at all-—only that it wouldn’t be ‘just as wrong.” The difference is crucial. However, Singer’s last sentence may give the impression that he thinks chickens aren’t forward-looking beings at all, having no hopes or desires for the future. This is one possible interpretation, but another possible interpretation (which is more charitable, IMO) is that Singer thinks humans are typically *more* forward-looking than other animals, which better accords with his view that personhood is a matter of degree. It should again be noted that Professor Francione quoted Singer from a *popular* interview, and *not* from a scholarly work where Singer is able to clarify the various nuances of his position in greater detail.

Professor Francione references a 2006 Guardian article, where according to him, Singer "continues to promote being a ‘conscientious omnivore’ as a “defensible ethical position.’” But does Singer actually do this, and do any of his remarks suggest that killing farmed animals doesn’t harm them per se? Here is the relevant quote: “It's pretty difficult to be a conscientious omnivore and avoid all the ethical problems, but if you really were thorough-going in eating only animals that had had good lives, that could be a defensible ethical position. It's not my position.” Apparently, what Professor Francione left out is that Singer also said: (1) “It’s pretty difficult to be a conscientious omnivore and avoid all the ethical problems”; (2) that a thoroughly conscientious omnivore “could” (this small qualification is important) “be a defensible ethical possible”; and (*most* importantly) (3) that it’s “not my position.” When Singer says being a conscientious omnivore—-while it “could” be ethically defensible,” and that it would be “pretty difficult” to avoid “all the ethical problems”-—is “not my position,” I leave it to readers to judge whether saying that (“It’s not my position.”) somehow equates to either: (i) “promoting” conscientious omnivorism, or (i) claiming that killing farmed animals doesn’t harm them per se.

Finally, Professor Francione references Singer’s 2006 “Mother Jones” interview, where Singer said: [T]here’s a little bit of room for indulgence in all of our lives. I know some people who are vegan in their homes but if they’re going out to a fancy restaurant, they allow themselves the luxury of not being vegan that evening. I don’t see anything really wrong with that.” Does this suggest that Singer thinks some non-vegan indulgence is morally unproblematic, or that killing farmed animals doesn’t harm them per se? Here are the next two sentences that Francione left out: “If what they’re doing nine days out of ten is good, I’m not going to criticize them for being less than perfect on the tenth day. Sure, you’ll make mistakes, but don’t flagellate yourself if you do.” In other words, Singer thinks that some non-vegan indulgence is “less than perfect” but it isn’t “really” wrong, where “really wrong” means “seriously wrong”--*not,* not wrong at all. Singer is simply choosing not to criticize imperfection or “mistakes” when individuals act rightly the great majority of the time. Now, perhaps Singer’s non-critical attitude towards such persons (imperfect vegans) can itself be criticized, but that view is *very* different than claiming that killing farmed animals doesn’t harm them per se.

Summary

It should be clear that based on Singer’s Third Edition of “Practical Ethics,” which was published in 2011, he does not hold the view – attributed to him by Professor Francione – that killing animals, “as a general matter,” doesn’t harm them per se. Singer clearly extends the Benefit of the Doubt Principle to farmed animals. On the issue of killing non-person animals (“merely conscious animals”), Singer’s position is highly qualified. Professor Francione chose to quote Singer’s *earlier* statements, such as those from popular interviews, but they lend no support to the claim that Singer thinks killing farmed animals doesn’t harm them per se. But even if they did, any such prior statements do not reflect Singer’s *current position* as outlined in his Third Edition of “Practical Ethics” (2011) Professor Francione, I want to thank you again for writing a detailed reply which gave me the opportunity to respond to it.

C. M. Frederick

Not to be flip, but let humanity first gain tihe ability to stop exploiting each other. Secondly, we humans are not the end all be all of life on this planet, and probably not in the rest of the Universe either. We have had our time and will eventually become extinct. You should all watch the Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man" to see what one possible fate of humanity might just be...

Cheers!

Jean Kazez

I think Singer's official position is just as Spencer Lo explains, and he does make it just about as difficult to justify eating meat as Francione does. But here's the difference: Singer is a utilitarian, and he has to confront a problem with many utilitarian positions--that they're very demanding. Singer is well known for thinking we should "give "to the point of marginal utility" to help people living in extreme poverty. That's very demanding. People won't give anywhere near that much, because there's a natural tendency to be ego-centric. How does a utilitarian deal with that problem? By transmitting a message that will increase giving as much as practically possible. This is a more forgiving, flexible message. You can see that "toning down" in Singer's recent book "The Life You Can Save." The same thing is going on in Singer's writing about veganism. While his official position is very demanding, making it almost impossible to ever justify eating meat (see Lo's quotes in the comments above) he does convey a more forgiving, flexible message when he's writing for the public. He says he's not completely certain the Michael Pollan type humane omnivore is wrong, expresses tolerance for the lapsing vegan, etc. This is no different from his tolerance of people who donate to charities at less than ideal levels.

One other observation--I think Francione is someone who thinks he has figured out the ethics of killing animals (vs. humans). He has total certainty of his position. Reading what Singer has written over the years, you get a very different impression. This is someone who finds the ethics of killing deeply perplexing, and who has moved a little bit in this direction, and then back in that direction, in response to new information about animal psychology, new thoughts about the best form of utilitarianism (the total view? not the total view?), new thoughts about value, etc. This isn't a flaw--it's simply thoughtfulness.

Anyway--great interview, and the comments have been wonderful too.

Dave

Spencer, a few questions.

1. Singer and Francione have different standards by which they determine, as a theoretical matter, whether killing an individual is a harm *to that individual*. Francione uses the standard of mere sentience, whereas Singer uses a standard that involves more complex cognitive and mental machinery (since he is concerned to locate a specific kind of future-oriented preference). Is this correct? If so, this is an important theoretical difference. Do you agree?

2. As I understand it, what you call the 'Benefit of the Doubt Principle' is a principle to be used in moral decision making, but it is not itself a principle concerning which beings it is, in fact, wrong to kill (or which beings it is a direct harm to kill). For example, he is not committed to dogs having the relevant cognitive capabilities (and, so, the relevant future-oriented interests), and so he is committed neither to the wrongness of killing them (per se) nor to their personhood (nor to it being a harm, to them, to kill them). He gives them the 'benefit of the doubt' in the sense that, for practical purposes, he will assume that they have the relevant cognitive abilities and so will assume that killing them is a direct harm to them, and so forth. But this seems to be very different than Francione's position. For instance, say that Singer and Francione both agree that dogs are sentient, and share uncertainty about their other cognitive abilities (and inabilities). In such a case, while Francione will be theoretically committed to the dogs' personhood (and to the harm [to them] of their death, and so on), Singer will merely have a practical presumption that death causes the dogs a harm, and so on. And the same would be true of farmed animals. Am I right? This, again, seems to me to be a rather *striking* difference.

3. It may be that Singer's views about which animals (do, do not, are likely to, are not likely to) have the relevant cognitive capacities have been updated in his 2011 edition of _PE_. I've not read it. But it sounds like these would be purely empirical, rather than theoretical, revisions. Is this true

4. I am confused by your reading of Singer in the Mother Jones interview. You seem to be reading Singer as merely thinking that it would not be right to *criticize* people for the occasional consumption of animal products. But given that (in the answer immediately following the answer you've quoted!) Singer says that he is "largely vegan", and a "flexible vegan", and that he is "quite happy to eat vegetarian rather than vegan" when he is "traveling", I'm finding it difficult to agree with your reading. Francione and Singer seem to have very different views about what is permissible. What do you think?

Dave

Jean Kazez

Dave, Francione and Singer obviously do have theoretical differences, as one is a utilitarian and the other is a rights theorist. What I think Spencer is saying is that they make it just about equally difficult to justify eating animals. Singer thinks veganism is obligatory, just as Francione does. Different arguments, same conclusion. On the other hand, Singer has a somewhat different view of how to regard failing in our obligations. We all fail all the time, if you are an act utilitarian like Singer. Since Francione is not an act utilitarian, he isn't under the same pressure to carve out a category of "tolerable wrongdoing", so to speak. I think Singer sees the lapsing vegan (whether others or himself) as a tolerable wrong-doer, no better (but no worse) than someone who gives 20% rather than 25% of income to Oxfam.

Dave

Jean, what I pointed out in (1) and (2) need not have anything to do with the rights-theory/utilitarian-theory distinction. The core issue in those points is what constitutes a harm to an individual, and when/whether death constitutes a harm. Their different standards could be employed in quite different theoretical frameworks. (One could have Singer's view about future-oriented interests and the harm of death, but put it to use in a rights-based framework, and so on.) So it seems superficial to me to characterize the difference as, at root, one having to do with the rights/utilitarianism divide. (Of course, the fact that they have different moral theories in mind is a further different, and complicates their disagreement [e.g., once we start talking about wronging, rather than just harming]. But my point is that there are core disagreements that have nothing to do with rights or utilitarianism.)

Also, I'm not sure why you think that act utilitarians must carve out a category of tolerable wrongdoing, whereas others must not. Many non-consequentialist frameworks are exceptionally demanding. (Many take contractualism to have exceptionally demanding implications. Kantianism, and Kantian constitutivism, arguably set standards that are *in principle* not reachable by imperfect rational agents. And so on.) Nothing about being an act utilitarian requires that one be "soft" on impermissible actions, and nothing about being a non-consequentialist (of any variety) requires that one not be soft.

Dave

Jean Kazez

Dave, I think you misunderstood me (my fault, probably). You seem to be pressing Spencer to admit that there are certain theoretical differences between Singer and Francione. I was merely trying to point out that this is of course true--and Spencer no doubt knows it's true. He is only saying that Francione and Singer reach the same verdict on real-world cases of using animals for food, not that they reach it from the same premises. I was highlighting the biggest difference (utilitarianism vs. rights) to support "of course there are theoretical differences", not because I was trying to say this one difference explains all the other theoretical differences.

As to "tolerable wrongdoing"--I did not say that only act utilitarians need that category orthat they necessarily want it. I think there's just particular pressure on them to carve out such a category. Take the issue of giving to the poor. Francione does not think we have the sort of strong duties to give that Singer does. He doesn't think we are constantly doing wrong, every time we buy luxuries for ourselves. This is not to say we are never in situations where morality is demanding, from other perspectives. The classic case of the murderer at the door is one where an agent will find morality difficult, from a Kantian perspective. I think it's fair to say, though, that daily life is more relentlessly full or moral demands, from an act utilitarian perspective, than from a rights perspective like Francione's. I do think Singer's flexibility & tolerance with respect to lapsing vegans (and people who don't give at ideal levels) has to do with this general issue about act utilitarianism.

C. M. Frederick

Apparently I am the only omnivore posting here. My comments are seemingly inconsequential to this discussion. The pretentiousness and self-righteousness of the Vegan stance is too much for me to bear. There is nothing I can add to this ivory tower debate. Meat is murder. Case closed. I am a murderer. Hopefully one day there will be a prison for my kind so that those in the Vegan community can finally be at peace...

David

I agree with Dave that the points he made in his comment need not have anything to with any deontological/consequential distinction.

I have also not read the 2011 edition of Practical Ethics although I did read the 1993 edition and I agree with Francione's observation in 2000 that any change in Singer's theory as of that time was merely a matter of admitting an empirical possibility of mental continuity in animals and that Singer was still supporting treating animals as replaceable resources.

I also agree with Francione that it is either the case that Singer either still maintains that most animals have no interest in continuing to live or that any interest animals have is different in kind from the interest that normal humans have so that it does not give rise to the same sorts of obligations about use.

It is just silly to say that Singer's views are so "nuanced" that he's unable to say outright (if he believes it) that we have a moral obligation to be a vegan and, instead, must, because common folk are not able to understand his "nuanced" views, say the things he says that very clearly indicate that we don't have an obligation to be vegan.

If Singer has in fact has changed his views about animal mental continuity further in the new edition of his book, then, given the things that Singer says about being a conscientious omnivore and the "luxury" of eating animals, etc., I would suggest that his views are not "nuanced"; they are incoherent.

David (not to be confused with Dave)

Gary L. Francione

As to Singer:

It is clear that:

1. As a general matter, Singer regards animal life as having less moral value than human life. He thinks that killing (most) nonhuman animals is not nearly as morally wrong as killing humans.

2. Singer regards animal life as having lesser moral value because either: (i) animals do not have an interest in continuing to live; or (ii) to the extent that they do, they have a qualitatively different interest in continuing to live that does not result in the same sort of interest that we attribute to humans, which grounds a prima facie obligation not to use humans as replaceable resources. So they either don't have an interest or they don't have a morally significant interest.

3. Singer rejects the notion that even if animals live in an "eternal present," they are still self-aware for purposes of having a morally significant interest in not being used as a replaceable resource;

4. Singer regards being a "conscientious omnivore" as a "defensible ethical position" and his advocacy efforts constantly reinforce this view. He thinks that there are plenty of real-life cases in which it is permissible to use and kill animals for food. He does not, and has never, advocated abstaining from all animal-using foods let alone all animal-using activities/products. Indeed, he specifically says that he's "happy" to eat animal products when he's away from the house.

5. I agree with David that the notion that Singer's view is so "nuanced" that he can't say what he really means in a non-scholarly context is ridiculous. Here is an example: We are being told above that Singer recognizes that fish have mental continuity. Fine. Then why did Singer, in an editorial *he* wrote about the horrors of fishing in 2010, not even mention that we shouldn't eat fish at all? Instead, he maintained:

"We need to learn how to capture and kill wild fish humanely – or, if that is not possible, to find less cruel and more sustainable alternatives to eating them."

Toronto Globe and Mail, September 13, 2010

His theories are too "nuanced" for him to say "we have an obligation not to eat fish"?

That's not a matter of "nuance." It's a matter of nonsense.

6. In the 2006 interview in "The Vegan," Singer's response that the evidence of mental continuity was "variable, and often suggestive rather than conclusive" was in response to the question: "Many animals that are farmed for meat such as pigs, cows, sheep and even birds demonstrate behaviours that suggest that they are aware of themselves existing over time: does this make them people?"

The question was not, as stated above, with respect to "rats, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fishes." That was an earlier question in the same interview.

Therefore, it is absolutely clear that Singer was saying that the evidence for mental continuity in pigs, cows, sheep, and birds" was "variable, and often suggestive rather than conclusive."

With respect to his answer on "rats, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fishes," which was asked in the context of why Singer "favours the protection of certain select animals such as primates and dolphins over" these other animals, Singer replied:

"I do think that there are morally relevant differences between various species, because the cognitive capacities of beings are relevant to, for example, the wrongness of killing them. I think it is worse to kill a self-aware being, that is, a being who is aware of its own existence over time, and is able to have desires for the future, than a being who may be conscious, but is not self-aware and lives in a kind of eternal present."

Now, given that the question was why Singer distinguished between primates and dolphins on one hand, and rats, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes on the other, his response certainly suggests that he regards these other animals as living in an "eternal present." If that were not the case, why didn't Singer just say, "I regard these other animals as having mental continuity as well"? Or how about, "I do regard these other animals as having mental continuity as well but as not have a morally significant interest in their lives because their mental continuity is different in kind from that of primates and dolphins and that accounts for differences in protection"?

Or would either of those responses have been too subtle, too "nuanced," to be grasped by the unwashed masses?

7. Singer apparently talks out of many sides of his mouth into which he places animal foods from time to time because he regards being a consistent vegan who maintains that veganism is an unequivocal moral baseline as "fanatical." (Satya, October 6, 2006)

As to Jean Kazez:

You state: "Take the issue of giving to the poor. Francione does not think we have the sort of strong duties to give that Singer does. He doesn't think we are constantly doing wrong, every time we buy luxuries for ourselves."

What on earth are you talking about? If you think that this follows from my having a deontological view about animal issues, then I respectfully suggest that you are in error.

As to C.M. Frederick:

I am sincerely sorry you feel left out but what exactly do you want in the way of a response? There is quite a bit of controversy about what our ancestral diet was. See, e.g., Rob Dunn "Human Ancestors Were Nearly All Vegetarians," Scientific American, July 23, 2012. In any event, even if you are correct in what you state on that matter, it has no bearing on the moral issues we are considering now.

Please know that I am not in favor of prisons for those who consume animals. I am in favor of their having a revolution of the heart that leads them to reject the killing of the vulnerable to satisfy interests so trivial as palate pleasure and fashion sense.

Gary L. Francione
Rutgers University

Dave

Jean, could you maybe say more about how an act utilitarian could possibly reach the conclusion that we are obligated to be vegan? I'm assuming that by 'vegan' you mean, roughly, someone who (at least) abstains from using blatant animal products in day-to-day circumstances.

Are you making the empirical claim that, in day-to-day circumstances, it is *never* the case that not-using-animal-products fails to maximize utility? (To the act utilitarian, if there is a case in which not-using-animal-products fails to maximize utility, then one would be obligated to not not-use-animal-products [i.e., one would be obligated to use animal products], and so one would be obligated to not be vegan.) If you are making that empirical claim, then I have to disagree. It seems like a totally wild and implausible claim. I'm quite sure that there are plenty of real-life cases in which the utility-optimific action is one that involves using animal products. And so it seems rather obvious that the act utilitarian has absolutely no way of concluding that anyone ought to be vegan.

So what do you mean?

Spencer Lo

Hi Dave, thanks for responding. I second everything Jean Kazez said, especially her insightful comments on Singer’s views regarding our demanding obligation to alleviate extreme poverty (see his "Famine, Affluence, and Morality," available online). I’ll reply to your questions in order but will address (2) and (3) together.

1. Yes, there are important theoretical differences between Singer and Francione on (i) why killing is harmful to the individual killed, and (ii) why killing that individual is morally wrong, even though the harm of death and wrongness of killing often go together.

2-3. Apart from the Benefit of the Doubt Principle (BDP), Singer clearly believes, based on the evidence, that there are nonhuman persons in his sense—not just great apes, dolphins, and elephants—which makes killing them harmful per se. I believe I demonstrated this above (“…and this provides a direct reason against killing them…”), but here are some more quotes from PE (2011):

(A) “I think we should conclude, on the basis of the evidence just summarized, that some nonhuman animals are persons, as we have defined the term.” (100)

(B) “So if some nonhuman animals are persons, they also have a special claim for their lives to be protected.” (101)

(C) “The great apes may be the clearest cases of nonhuman persons, but as we have seen, there is evidence of future-directed thinking in several other species.” (101)

A fair reading of PE (2011), IMO, should convey the impression that Singer *does* believe that farmed animals are persons (where personhood is a matter of degree), apart from his reliance on BDP, which although cautionary, is still *extremely* important. So Singer’s clear objections to killing farmed animals isn’t based *merely* on “a practical presumption,” for he thinks doing that *is* harmful per se and therefore wrong (assuming no overriding justification). [Btw: Francione even *denies* the significance of Singer’s “practical presumption,” claiming that “Singer continues to refuse to extend the presumption against use to nonhuman animals,” and that he “has no such presumption [of self-awareness/mental continuity] for nonhuman animals.”] Since you mentioned dogs, here’s what Singer *himself* said about them: “Since Sztybel mentions dogs in this context, let me say emphatically that I am not saying that dogs have no future-directed preferences” (google “Taking Life: Animals,” and then scroll down to the comments.).

About the BDP principle, I’ll offer some more quotes from PE (2011):

(D) “If it is wrong to kill a person when we can avoid doing so, and there is real doubt about whether a being we are thinking of killing is a person, the best thing to do is give that being the benefit of the doubt.” (103)

(E) “The rule here is the same as that among deer hunters: if you see something moving in the bushes and are not sure whether it is a deer or a hunter, don’t shoot!” (103) [Note: Francione adopts the *exact same* rule on insect killing, when he said he doesn’t know whether they’re sentient but avoids walking on grass anyway. Would it be fair or accurate to say that Francione thinks killing insects doesn’t harm them per se, or that he thinks there’s nothing morally problematic with that?]

(F) “On these grounds [referring to the above], much killing of nonhuman animals is open to objection.” (103)

The view that “much killing…is open to objection,” including the killing of farmed animals, is *worlds apart* from the view that such killing is not “morally problematic because animals [are] not self-aware,” or that “as a general matter, animals don’t have an interest in continuing to live.” If you know where Francione got his understanding of Singer that would suggest the latter, I’d like to see it. Furthermore, Francione finds it “really beyond absurd” my suggestion that there is very little practical difference (if any) on the moral question of animal killing. So here’s my challenge: provide specific, *real-world* examples of animal killing that Francione would find morally problematic but Singer would find morally unproblematic. Can anyone do this?

Recall what Francione said in the podcast: “He (Singer) does not think killing them is harming them per se. It’s that sort of thinking that leads to the happy meat movement…” So according to Francione, Singer would *not* find it morally objectionable to kill farm animals who live happy lives and are painlessly killed. But this is false, as demonstrated by all of the above quotes, so what *real-world* instances of animal killing are left that Singer would think is morally okay? *That* is the challenge, and it should be pretty easy to meet if my contention is “really beyond absurd.”

4. Regarding the 2006 Mother Jones interview, consider again the fact that *immediately* after Singer said “I don’t see anything really wrong with that,” he said: “If what they’re doing nine days out of ten is good, I’m not going to criticize them for being less than perfect on the tenth day. Sure, you’ll make mistakes, but don’t flagellate yourself if you do.” Is it really *not* clear that when Singer is talking about making “mistakes” and “being less than perfect,” he is specifically describing non-vegan indulgence? I interpret “not really wrong” to mean “not seriously wrong,” *not* “not wrong at all.” For if Singer were saying that non-vegan indulgence isn’t wrong *at all,* then why would he say, immediately after, anything about making “mistakes,” “being less than perfect,” and “don’t flagellate yourself?” To interpret Singer as claiming that non-vegan indulgence, on the order he’s talking about, isn’t *wrong at all* is not remotely plausible or charitable, IMO.

About his flexible veganism, here’s the quote: “I don’t go to the supermarket and buy non-vegan stuff for myself. But when I’m traveling or going to other people’s places I will be quite happy to eat vegetarian rather than vegan.” So when Singer buys food for himself, he’s all vegan, but when he’s “traveling or going to people’s places,” he’s willing to be flexible. Why? Is it because he thinks killing certain farmed animals is morally okay? Not at all. For him, it’s an advocacy issue—-he doesn’t want to turn non-vegans off by forming bad impressions. Consider what he said in a 2006 interview with Sayta:

“I think animal people should think more about the impression they’re making on others because my ethics are based on the consequence of what you do…So when you’re eating with someone at a restaurant, and you ordered something vegan but when it comes there’s a bit of grated cheese or something on it, sometimes vegans will make a big fuss and send it back and that might mean the food is wasted. And if you’re in company with people who are not vegan or not even vegetarian, I think that’s probably the wrong thing to do. It’d be better off just to eat it because people are going to think, ‘Oh my god, these vegans…’

This is an issue about eating *in the company* of non-vegans and (especially) omnivores, not strictly about animal killing, even though eating and killing are obviously tightly connected. Singer apparently thinks it’s sometimes better for vegans to be flexible, in certain situations, when being inflexible could turn people off from thinking ethically about animal consumption. I understand Francione takes an “inflexible” position on the matter, which is fine, but the difference between him and Singer on *that issue* isn’t a difference between them on the moral issue of animal killing in the *real world.* Moreover, let’s assume for the sake of argument that when Singer goes non-vegan, he is flexible for indulgence purposes rather than for advocacy purposes. What follows from this? Nothing, as far as Singer’s *intellectual position* is concerned, which has been articulated in PE (2011) and PE (1993) (see my above reference to David Sztybel’s posts). All that follows is that Singer is imperfect, someone who isn’t fully consistent with his own (often extremely demanding) ethical views—-but surely there’s nothing interesting or earth-shattering about that!

I believe any *serious* attempt to demonstrate the accuracy of Francione’s representations of Singer must involve a thorough engagement with Singer’s PE (2011). To my knowledge, Francione has not done this.

Spencer

Jean Kazez

Gary, What on earth am I talking about? Well, I'm talking about the fact that I don't see you saying we have positive duties to the extent that any act utilitarian will say we do. Most of your focus is on not eating animals (a negative duty), though I follow you on twitter and can see you want people to adopt animals at shelters. That's a positive duty. Yet, do you really think we must actively address all of the world's problems (animal, human), to the point of marginal utility, as Singer does? I know Singer thinks so, and believe that tends to make him more forgiving when giving advice to the public. All of his public writing is like that--there's an obligation to give at staggering levels, yet he extends support for people who give much less. I think his stance on veganism is about the same. There's an obligation to be a vegan (supported very differently than the way you support it), but support for people who do much less. The tolerance for under-achievers (in both cases) shouldn't be confused with moral approval.

Gary L. Francione

Clarification:

In my previous comment, when I said that in his 2010 editorial about fishing in the Globe and Mail, Singer does not mention that we should not eat fish at all, what I was meaning to say was that if, as is claimed, Singer regards fish as having mental continuity and an interest in continued living that is morally significant, then he should conclude that we should not regard fish as replaceable resources and we should just stop eating them. Period.

Therefore, to the extent that Singer regards fish as having an interest in continued life, he does not regard that interest as morally significant because he is saying that what we ought to do is to find a way to kill them "humanely," which is the *same* thing that he prescribes for animals who live in an "eternal present" and have no interest in continued life. If "humane" killing is not possible, he thinks we should look for "less cruel and more sustainable alternatives to eating them." But again, if fish have mental continuity and a morally significant interest in continued life, they are "persons," and the solution is not "humane" killing; it is no killing.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

Spencer Lo

Professor Francione,

I believe addressed most of your substantive contentions in my previous remarks, so I’ll just briefly say two things here.

1. You are 100% correct in stating that in Singer’s interview with “The Vegan,” he was explicitly asked about pigs, cows and sheep—my error. However, that still doesn’t lend any support to your reading of Singer. Consider how Singer began his response: “If the behavior really does demonstrate that they are aware of themselves as existing over time, then yes, they are “persons” in the sense in which I…use the term.” Because the evidence *does* demonstrate precisely that, then Singer is *committed* to thinking that pigs, cows and sheep are persons, and he certainly seems to think so in PE (2011), published years after his 2006 interview.

Now consider Singer’s subsequent remarks in that interview: “For the species you mention, the evidence seems to me to be variable, and often suggestive rather than conclusive.” Notice how cautiously Singer worded his statement—“seems to me.” (Perhaps the evidence "seems" far more conclusive to someone more knowledgeable on the science). Sure, it’s not a ringing proclamation of animal personhood (in 2006), but that’s still very different from claiming that killing pigs, cows and sheep doesn’t harm them per se or is morally unproblematic.

2. About Singer’s 2010 editorial on fish, nothing in his remarks suggest that killing fish, apart from suffering, doesn’t harm them per se or is morally unproblematic. Obviously for Singer, he’s more concerned with the problem of animal suffering than the problem of painless animal killing, so his editorial focused on the former. Thus we need to understand Singer’s statement from that perspective. Consider what he said several paragraphs earlier: “In most of the world, it is accepted that if animals are to be killed for food, they should be killed without suffering… Not for fish.”

*If* animals are to be killed for food, they should be killed without suffering. So when Singer says we need to learn how to “capture and kill wild fish humanely,” he’s not suggesting that killing fish for food is perfectly fine, but only that *if* they are to be killed (and in the real world, that’s not going to stop any time soon), then they should be killed without suffering. Singer’s editorial is a call to drastically reduce suffering--but that doesn’t imply (in any way) that he thinks killing fish, apart from suffering, is morally unproblematic. If you disagree, please explain why.

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