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« Richard Sorabji on Mahatma Gandhi as Philosopher | Main | Liane Young on Mind and Morality »

October 13, 2012


Spencer Lo

One comment about the 2006 Guardian article, where Singer said “thorough-going” conscientious omnivorism “could be a defensible ethical position.” Francione continues to regard his statement as damning or revealing, even though in the *very next sentence,* Singer explicitly says “It's not my position!” This cannot be *emphasized* enough. Since Singer unequivocally states that conscientious omnivorism is “not”—not!—his position, then why believe he thinks killing happily raised farm animals is morally *unproblematic?* Why believe Singer thinks killing them doesn’t harm them per se?

Notice that Singer doesn’t even say that “thorough-going” conscientious omnivorism *is* a “defensible ethical position,” but only that it “could be,” implying that the bar is extremely high. But let’s suppose a *rare* conscientious omnivore is truly “thorough-going” in Singer’s sense, and further suppose that Singer would regard her dietary habits as “ethically defensible.” What follows? Does it follow that Singer thinks her dietary habits are morally okay, completely unproblematic? Not at all. A position being “ethically defensible” doesn’t mean it’s "ultimately right," and conscientious omnivorism—even of the “thorough-going” variety—is not right according to Singer, for he makes clear that “[i]t’s not my position.”

Instead, Singer chooses to adopt a non-critical attitude towards conscientious omnivores who are truly “thorough-going”: “I wouldn't be critical of someone who was that conscientious about it.” Choosing not to be “critical of someone” for holding a particular view is not the same as choosing to endorse that view.


Spencer: I am asking this in all sincerity: Are you being compensated by the the large welfare corporations you so sycophantically defend to troll sites that focus in any way on Francione or are you just obsessed with Francione?

Look at how you replied to the point about Singer's fish editorial. Singer advises that fish need to be killed more "humanely," which is exactly what he prescribes for those animals who live in an "eternal present." Francione is spot on in that if Singer regards fish as having an interest in continued living, he can't regard that interest as morally significant if he offers the same normative prescription as he does for animals without that interest. It's absolutely clear beyond doubt that Singer regards animal life as having less moral value than human life. You not only do not respond to what Francione argues but your comment is silly.

I have come to the conclusion that you either get paid to engage in cluttering sites with these ridiculous screeds or you are a crank. Either way, your behaviour is deplorable and I'll not engage you further.

David (not Dave)


Dear Spencer:

I've got a great idea. Since, according to you, Singer changed his views in 2011 and now agrees completely with Francione on the matter of mental continuity, and since, according to you, Singer agrees with Francione that veganism is morally obligatory, why don't you suggest to Singer that he and Francione issue a joint statement that they agree that veganism is morally obligatory and that the animals we exploit for food are all persons who are self-aware.

Think of what that would do to make to movement come together.


C. M. Frederick

Mr. Francione (and everyone else),
You win, I lose...I cannot continue to debate with you on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Time to get a nice big juicy steak and enjoy my immorality

Spencer Lo

Professor Francione wrote: "He thinks that there are plenty of real-life cases in which it is permissible to use and kill animals for food."

I wish he would name one.

Jean Kazez

A few more points--

1. It’s misleading to say Singer sees animals as “replaceable resources” (GF's phrase) when he thinks they do count, morally, and they count as our equals. The replaceability talk in Singer has to do only with theoretically possible cases in which an animal (one with no awareness of the future) is raised happily, killed painlessly and replaced by another animal. "Resource" is a very odd word to put in Singer's mouth, considering that he thinks all sentient animals (whether aware of the future or not) do count, morally, and thinks we have to give equal consideration to their interests. That hardly makes them our "resources"! Animals have interests we must take into account, on his view, whether they have or they lack desires for the future.

2. Singer makes it quite clear in Animal Liberation that he would be against eating animals even if they were raised in a perfect setting, lacked awareness of the future, and were in principle replaceable. On pg. 159 of Animal Liberation he writes “As a matter of strict logic, perhaps, there is no contradiction in taking an interest in animals on both compassionate and gastronomic grounds. If one is opposed to inflicting suffering on animals, but not to the painless killing of animals, one could consistently eat animals who had lived free of all suffering and been instantly, painlessly slaughtered. Yet practically and psychologically it is impossible to be consistent in one’s concern for nonhuman animals while continuing to dine on them."

3. There’s a lot of talk in various people’s comments about how Singer thinks animals have lives with less value if and when they lack awareness of the future, but this is not quite right. He does say in many places that he thinks animals have lives with less value, but he says that’s because of a lot of things about their lives. Even animals who do have desires for the future would have lives with less value because of these other things. (He mentions meaningful relations with others, language, and abstract thought -- see Animal Liberation pg. 19). You shouldn't painlessly kill and replace a dog, on his view, assuming the dog has desires about the future. Nevertheless, if you must choose between saving a dog and saving a normal adult human being, you should save the human. He says that especially clearly in the J.M. Coetzee volume "An Animal's Life."

4. I already said this above, but will just repeat--Singer has written in many places about what we are required to do, but also about second best, laudable efforts. That’s the approach in his recent book The Ethics of What We Eat. He couldn’t have been more clear there that the “humane” farms he visited had lots of problems--they're not "happy farms"--but he does say they’re better than factory farms. That “better” talk shouldn’t make anyone think he’s not promoting veganism. His support for "humane omnivores" like Michael Pollan is exactly parallel to his support for Bill Gates, who gives a lot but at less-than-required levels, in his most recent book, The Life You Can Save. Supporting them very clearly does not mean he doesn't think Pollan should be a vegan, or that Gates should give to the point of marginal utility.


So, Jean, are you going to tell us how an act utilitarian could conclude that veganism is morally obligatory? See my comment from the last page, in case you missed it.

Jean Kazez

Dave (or rather David, right?), I don't see the point of my repeating the act utilitarian argument for veganism, as it's all over the place in the literature. If you are worried about why an act utilitarian would be consistently vegan (instead of going case-by-case and sometimes making exceptions) I think #2 in my comment above is relevant.


Jean, so you are claiming that across real-world circumstances, it is always utility-optimific to not-consume-animal-products? Are you making that claim? (Otherwise, the act utilitarian argument for veganism fails.)

Again: are you making that claim?


(What's funny here is that the literature is actually filled with utilitarians of different stripes struggling to reconcile their personal commitment to non-animal-use with the fact that their theory does not seem to demand it straightforwardly. This is true even of two-level utilitarians, and scalar utilitarians, who both have a much easier time. So the thought that there is just some magical act-utilitarian argument for veganism is... well, it's news to me. And everyone else.)

Jean Kazez

Dave/David (not sure who), No, I'm not claiming that across real-world circumstances, it always maximizes utility to be a vegan. I don't think it maximizes utility for an Eskimo to let herself starve rather than eat fish. But I think you can argue on an act utilitarian basis that the vast majority of us, in western countries, should adopt a vegan diet.


Well, you "can" argue just about anything that you want. But why not tell us how the argument would go? It would be a breakthrough in the debate, so I'd like to see it.

For the sake of ease, let's just use your case. Just explain to me why it is, in your case, in day to day circumstances, *always* optimific to abstain from consuming animal products.

Dave (not David -- that is a different person, who I don't know)


Hello, everyone--

I have read this entire thread now and I must say that it is intriguing. It is clear that Singer has (1) taken different positions over time on the mental continuity issue as an empirical matter and (2) taken conflicting positions on what mental continuity means in terms of normative obligations. He has certainly taken the positions that Francione ascribes to him on both (1) and (2) and, if Spencer is accurate, the 2011 edition of Practical Ethics represents a change of Singer's position and Singer now rejects that view.

But, as Francione points out, Singer is still seeming to promote the use of farm animals as replaceable resources. To the extent that he is doing this in popular writing as opposed to scholarly writing, Spencer and Jean dismiss this and claim that Singer's views are just too nuanced to explain in popular writing. I would, however, have to say that I see it as *particularly* problematic for Singer, given the authority with which he speaks on animal issues, to say what he says in popular writing that can only fairly be read as promoting the humane consumption approach.

If Singer really does think that most animals have mental continuity and he regards their interest in continued living as morally significant, then he has an obligation to state that clearly, and state that he regards most animals (and certainly most of the ones we eat) as having the moral status of the great apes--persons that cannot be treated as replaceable resources. In short, he really has to stop promoting the 'Paris exception' and humane use. He has to stop characterising people who take veganism seriously as fanatics. He has to stop saying that consuming humanely treated animals is morally defensible just as he would reject that using chimpanzees humanely in experiments is morally defensible.

Jean and Spencer seem not to appreciate that when someone with Singer's visibility talks about the 'luxury' of eating animal products, the 'Paris exception,' etc. he is saying to the public the exact opposite of what Spencer and Jean claim is Singer's position.

Singer can, of course, say that it's better to be more humane than less humane. But he also has to be clear that no use at all is the basic normative position. If that is his view, he ought to say it. That is, of course, Francione's view (more or less).

Neither Jean nor Spencer has addressed the excellent example from 2010 involving the fish. That was an essay Singer himself wrote. Singer certainly would not have employed the same analysis were chimpanzees involved.

I have two concluding comments. After reading this thread, I spent an hour or so looking around various sites and I am forced to agree with Dave, David, or whomever said it, that Spencer appears to be somewhat obsessed with Francione. I also saw on one site a statement that Spencer is not a vegan. That explained to me Spencer's strong attraction to Singer. Singer allows for Spencer's not being a vegan. What fascinates me is that Spencer does not seem to appreciate that the reason that Singer can get Spencer off the moral hook is precisely the reason that Francione and others regard Singer's views as troubling.

I also agree with whomever challenged Jean to explain to us all how an act utilitarian can promote veganism. I am puzzled by that as well. I am disappointed that Jean would not reply but I will consult the ubiquitous literature that she says exists. Everything that I have seen to date seems to acknowledge the problem that she dismisses.

I appreciate the comments from everyone and I have enjoyed the opportunity to think about these matters in this way.


Spencer Lo


Although Singer has changed (and updated) some of his views in PE (2011), as far as I can tell (and demonstrated above), he never held the position on animal killing that Francione ascribes to him—that painlessly killing farmed animals, in the real-world, is morally unproblematic. That position certainly doesn’t appear in the popular writings and interviews which Francione frequently quotes to support his reading.

Elizabeth Collins

" The tolerance for under-achievers (in both cases) shouldn't be confused with moral approval."

What if the issue in question were child molestation? What is your view on the sexual torture of children, Jean?

David (not Dave)

I found this blog essay responding to Jean Kazez's ludicrous statement that Francione "wants to keep animals in the worst possible condition in order to rally people to the cause of totally changing the status of animals."

To say that Kazez is confused is the best thing one could say about her.

And I do hope that Kazez will respond to Dave's questions about act utilitarianism.

David (not Dave, Jean, and I am sorry that this distinction confuses you)

Spencer Lo

Hi Steve,

Prior to Singer’s PE (2011), he never said—as far as I can tell—that real-life cases of killing farmed animals for food is morally unproblematic. I addressed every example Francione brought up, including Singer’s fish editorial (see prior comment from October 18, 2012 at 05:26 PM). If you think Francione’s examples support his interpretation, I welcome you defend them and address my counterarguments. In particular, I welcome you to explain, using specific quotes, why you think Singer has ever “promoted” “the use of farm animals as replaceable resources.” Where has he done that? As Jean pointed out, there seems to be a basic confusion here between not being overly critical of a practice and agreeing with that practice. For example, in an interview Singer gave, he said:

“The vegan diet, especially buying organically produced plant foods, does solve more of the ethical problems about eating than any other. But I admit that it is not for everyone, and it will take a long time before it becomes widespread. So I don’t want to give the impression that it is the only thing one can do to eat ethically. Just avoiding factory farmed products is a big step in the right direction, even if you continue to eat a moderate quantity of organically produced,pasture raised, animal products.”

Francione interprets Singer as *claiming* that "it is a morally good thing to consume “happy” meat and animal products" (see Francione’s “Peter Singer, Happy Meat, and Fanatical Vegans”). But this conflates the distinction between: (i) it is a morally good thing to *avoid* factory farmed products, and (ii) it is a morally good thing to *consume* non-factory farmed products ("happy meat"). Singer agrees with (i) but not (ii)---and yet Francione thinks Singer asserting (i) is *equivalent* to him asserting (ii), which is patently fallacious. IMO, this is a perfect example of failing to recognize and appreciate the relevant distinctions.

(As for my current non-vegan status, that has everything to do with my current living situation and nothing to do with my views on veganism—I think it’s morally obligatory, in part *because* I’ve read Singer. I also think Francione is completely wrong on Singer, and his mistake isn’t trivial. My pointing this out has everything to do with my belief that it’s a *significant* error, one which hurts the animal movement IMO, not because I’m somehow “obsessed” with Francione. Would it be fair to suggest that Francione is somehow “obsessed” with Singer, who he has written extensively about both in numerous online writings and scholarly publications? Think about that the next time you're tempted to launch this accusation at someone - I don't know what purpose it serves except to shut down discussion.)

Jean Kazez

David, If you don't want to be confused with Dave, you could always use your last name.

Funny that you would quote me and link to a response, but not to my own blog. Here's a discussion of that quote--

Elizabeth, You seem to think you can just skip over all my points and demand a response to yours. Strange.

For all who want to read utilitarians on animal ethics, I recommend Alastair Norcross and Bart Gruzalski, and wait a minute, there's also Peter Singer! Happy reading.


Dear Spencer--

As for interpreting Singer, I note that Jean Kazez says that Singer:

"does say in many places that he thinks animals have lives with less value, but he says that’s because of a lot of things about their lives. Even animals who do have desires for the future would have lives with less value because of these other things. Even animals who do have desires for the future would have lives with less value because of these other things. (He mentions meaningful relations with others, language, and abstract thought -- see Animal Liberation pg. 19)."

So even if Singer regards animals as having an interest in continued living, he does not regard that interest as morally significant as he fails to accord to other animals the same sort of protection that he accords to nonhuman great apes, dolphins, etc. So you are simply wrong to say that Singer regards these other animals as "persons" in the sense that you do.

To be frank with you Spencer, your failure to acknowledge that Singer's writings on these issues are, at best, extremely confused and conflicting, makes you lack all credibility on this point as far as I am concerned. But I recognise that continued engagement with you on this will result in multiple and lengthy, but not responsive, replies. So I will not engage you further.

But I want to ask a question. You say: "As for my current non-vegan status, that has everything to do with my current living situation and nothing to do with my views on veganism—I think it’s morally obligatory, in part *because* I’ve read Singer."

Would you mind sharing with me the "current living situation" you have that prevents you from doing something that you regard as morally obligatory? (I note from reading the essay that David provided the link to that Jean Kazez is apparently also not a vegan.) I would appreciate knowing why you can't do what you regard as morally obligatory.



Gary L. Francione

Promoting the consumption of "free-range" or "humanely" produced animal foods as an "ethical" way to eat is like promoting not beating a rape victim as an "ethical" way to engage in rape.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University


Jean, I actually did read your response to the criticisms that you received about your claim that Francione supposed wants to keep animals in the worst condition possible and it is clear that you either don't understand what Francione is saying or you chose intentionally to mischaracterise him.

Francione maintains that welfare reforms do very little if anything to improve animal welfare and they are cost-efficient, which means that, putting aside intra-market differences (e.g., involving differences in capital investments for equipment), these changes will occur anyway. You mention the American Humane Slaughter legislation. Francione specifically addresses that, arguing that the law was passed because stunning reduced worker injury and carcass damage. This is all discussed in the 2010 book Francione co-authored with Robert Garner. He even discusses the California Proposition 2 matter, which you quite remarkably seem to think well of.

You say: "I said Francione wants to keep animals in the worst possible conditions to achieve abolitionist goals. Well, yes. At least he wants to keep them in much worse conditions, and part of the reason is to achieve abolitionist goals."

You either do not understand Francione's view or you have chosen intentionally to misrepresent it.

I am disappointed, but not surprised, that you cannot answer Dave's question about act utilitariansm. As I noted in my comment to Spencer, I see that you are also not a vegan. That also does not surprise me.



Spencer Lo

Hi Steve,

My personal living situation is not open to public discussion, but I will briefly address your Singer comment and you can judge whether my reply is “responsive.” You are incorrect to infer that Singer views the lives of animals as morally insignificant. For Singer, although animal lives have (typically) less value than human lives, it doesn’t follow that the former have insignificant value, nor does it follow that painlessly killing them for food doesn’t harm them per se or is morally unproblematic. Two further observations:

1. It is clear in PE (2011) that Singer regards the painless killing of farmed animals as morally problematic and harmful per se. Although Francione called my suggestion “really beyond absurd,” it is also clear that there is very little *practical* difference (if any) between him and Singer on the moral issue of killing. My earlier challenge (from October 18, 2012 at 04:39 PM) stands unanswered. In light of PE (2011), I wonder whether Francione will continue to repeat his claim that Singer thinks painlessly killing farmed animals is morally unproblematic.

2. It is clear that none of Francione’s examples, taken mostly from prior interviews, support his interpretation of Singer—even before PE (2011). I addressed every example raised but have yet to see any rebuttal to my counterarguments. In light of this, I wonder whether Francione will continue to use those examples to repeat his claim that Singer thinks painlessly killing farmed animals is morally unproblematic.

Spencer Lo

Professor Francione,

You continue to conflate the distinction between promoting the *avoidance* of factory-farmed products with promoting the *consumption* of free-range products—what’s “ethical” is the former, not the latter (see my comment from October 21, 2012 at 06:00 PM).

Andrew H.

If all consumption or use of animals is so bad, and we know this, are we under some moral obligation to stop it all? If so why wouldn't this include the deliberate extermination of all carnivores? What does an animal abolitionist think we should do about the absolutely horrific ways animals are used and consumed by other nonhuman animals?

Spencer Lo

Professor Francione,

Participating in this thread has been very stimulating and enjoyable, but I want to emphasize that my criticisms are not simply intended as an academic exercise to point out your serious errors on Singer—for I think they actually harm the movement. I say this as someone who hopes to devote a large part of his career (after passing the bar) to animal advocacy. So, I think it’s important for me to explain why I believe your errors cause significant harm and offer a constructive suggestion.

According to you, Singer is part of the problem (in part) because he doesn’t promote a vegan-only message—rather, a “softer” reductionist message—and his statements encourage people to think it’s morally okay to buy and consume “happy animal products.” Because Singer is such a visible, authority figure, his words often carry a lot of weight, and if he says it’s okay to consume “happy meat,” that’s what some people will do. Perhaps it’s likely that many readers have this impression. However, as Jean and I have demonstrated in this thread, this impression is false: people who understand Singer this way are *misunderstanding* Singer, which is unfortunate. But even more unfortunate is the fact that you have *contributed* and *perpetuated* this misunderstanding, leading readers to believe (falsely) that Singer thinks painlessly killing animals for food is morally unproblematic.

For instance, many people (for whatever reason) view Singer as the “real” authority on animal ethics rather than you, thus preferring to follow what he says. If they get the idea from you that Singer thinks consumption of “happy meat” is okay, that could lead them to *act* on that misimpression—which came from you and not Singer. If it’s problematic that people get that misimpression from Singer, then it’s also problematic—perhaps more so—when they get it from you *about* Singer.

So here’s my suggestion: rather than relentlessly criticize Singer for “promoting” “happy meat”—which isn’t true—or his lack of emphasis on painless animal killing, (1) reinforce the plenty of obviously *right* things he says about animal suffering, etc, (2) clarify that Singer does *not* actually “promote” the notion that it’s morally okay to consume “happy meat”—contrary to what some might think—and (3) supplement Singer by emphasizing the problems with “happy meat,” etc.

(1) Reinforce
(2) Clarify
(3) Supplement

This way, people who (for whatever reason) view Singer as the “real” authority but acquire much of their understanding of Singer from you are less likely to act on false beliefs but true beliefs—and therefore more likely to go vegan. Moreover, wouldn’t a “united front” present a more powerful pro-animal message than a divided one? I see no reason why prominent advocates who mostly agree on critical ethical issues should appear as if they don’t. *That's* confusing to the public.


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