Traditional morality assumes that there is something morally special about being human. The fact that someone is a human being, rather than, say, a dog or a cow, makes a big difference in how he or she may be treated. Humans have full and equal moral worth or dignity and thus may not be killed, even if doing so would promote the greater good, whereas non-human animals have a lesser moral status and can be sacrificed for even the most trivial human pleasures.
This moral worldview fits well with the Aristotelian idea of a hierarchy of being, according to which each species is a static group of organisms with a distinct essence. The philosophical line that morally distinguishes humans from other animals corresponds to the empirical line that Aristotle thought distinguishes the human species from other animal species. Since the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859, however, we know that there is no such line on the empirical side of things. We now understand that all life is interrelated, and that biological characteristics come in degrees and continually evolve as a result of natural selection. As the principle of evolutionary continuity informs us, any differences between species are differences in degree, and not in kind. The real picture looks something like this:
Horrified by the tragic loss of innocent human life in the then-ongoing Vietnam War, a young philosopher by the name of Tom Regan went to the university library and buried himself in books on war, violence, and human rights, determined to prove that the American involvement in the war was morally wrong. One day, he picked up Mohandas K. Gandhi’s autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Reading it with great care and interest, he must have come across the following lines:
The way we think about and treat non-human animals is deeply confused, and scholars are in a unique position to provide some clarity. The Bangladesh Journal of Bioethics hence decided to dedicate two special issues to the relationship between human beings and other animals, and asked me to be the guest editor.
Less than two weeks after the first issue was published, the second special issues has now been published as well, and is available here. My editorial, which includes brief summaries of the articles, is available here, and this is the table of contents:
Bob Fischer (Texas State University, U.S.A.): Wild Fish and Expected Utility
Akande Michael Aina (Lagos State University, Nigeria) & Ofuasia Emmanuel (Olabisi Onabanjo University, Nigeria): The Chicken Fallacy and the Ethics of Cruelty to Non-Human Animals
Iván Ortega Rodríguez (Universidad Pontificia Comillas, Spain): Animal Citizenship, Phenomenology, and Ontology: Some reflections on Donaldson’s & Kymlicka’s Zoopolis
Rhyddhi Chakraborty (American University of Sovereign Nations, U.S.A.): Animal Ethics and India: Understanding the Connection through the Capabilities Approach
Robin Attfield (Cardiff University, U.K.) & Rebekah Humphreys (Trinity St. David’s University, U.K.): Justice and Non-Human Animals – Part 2
Last August, I accepted an invitation to edit a special issue of the Bangladesh Journal of Bioethics, devoted to animal ethics. The interest was so great that one issue became two, the first of which has just been published.
The first special issue is available here, my editorial, which includes brief summaries of the articles, is available here, and this is the table of contents:
Robin Attfield (Cardiff University, U.K.) & Rebekah Humphreys (Trinity St. David’s University, U.K.): Justice and Non-Human Animals – Part 1
Eric X. Qi (Rice University, U.S.A.): Special Relations, Special Obligations, and Speciesism
Yamikani Ndasauka & Grivas M. Kayange (University of Malawi, Malawi): Existence and Needs: A case for the equal moral considerability of non-human animals
This presentation by Professor Tom Regan (North Carolina State University, USA) was recorded at the University of Heidelberg in Germany on May 24, 2006. It is a great resource for the classroom and anybody with an interest in animal ethics.
Abstract. Philosopher Tom Regan begins by contrasting the fact that many people make a firm distinction between the animals they live with (cats and dogs, for example) and other animals. He explains how it is that Animal Rights Advocates (ARAs) extend the same sense of compassion and respect that they feel for companion animals, on the one hand, to the other animals who routinely are turned into food, clothing, and the like, on the other. Not all ARAs, he explains, arrive at this destination in the same way. In particular, some need to be convinced; some need a logical argument. Professor Regan accepts this challenge and invites others to consider the main factual and moral questions whose answers inform the conviction that animals have rights.
Each one of us encounters animals every day, if only as a piece of meat on a plate, and yet most of us hardly spare a thought for them. Shafayat Nazam Rasul must hence be commended for his Tuesday op-ed, in which he drew our attention to the complicated relationship between humans and other animals, and started a conversation that I think is very important. In the course of doing so, he mentioned a number of common objections to the idea that non-human animals are our moral equals and have rights. It is unfortunate, however, that these objections remained unanswered, as readers might have gotten the impression that animal rights advocates “spew an extreme,” as the author rather uncharitably stated, and do not have good arguments. By responding to some of the objections, I want to show that the philosophy of animal rights is in fact a well-thought-out moral theory worthy of our serious attention. Continue reading “Animal Rights: Objections, Myths, and Misconceptions”→
I strongly condemn today’s slaughter of thousands of dogs for the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in the southern Chinese province of Guangxi. Some dogs are being boiled alive, some are being beaten to death, and some are being skinned alive. All dogs suffer, more than anybody ever should, and all are eaten. Continue reading “The Yulin Dog Meat Festival and our double standards”→
আপনি কয়জন বাঙালীকে চেনেন যে শর্ষে ইলিশ ভালবাসে না? কাচ্চি বিরিয়ানি অথবা গরুর রেজালা ছাড়া কোন বাংলাদেশী বিয়ে কল্পনা করতে পারেন? অনুমান করতে পারি আপনার উত্তর হবে খুব বেশি না অথবা একেবারেই না। যদিও বাংলাদেশ সম্পর্কে আমার জ্ঞান সীমিত, আমি এটুকু জানি, বাঙালী মাংস ভালবাসে, মুসলমানেরা হিন্দুদের থেকে বেশি, আর সব বাঙালী মাছ ভালবাসে। সেজন্য মনে হতে পারে বাংলাদেশে প্রাণীদের অধিকার নিয়ে কথা বলা বাতুলতা। কিন্তু আমার অভিজ্ঞতা সম্পূর্ণ বিপরীত। Continue reading “নিরামিষ খাবার নিয়ে দু’টি কথা”→
How many Bengalis do you know who do not like shorshe ilish? Can you imagine a Bengali wedding without kacchi biryani, or beef rezala? If I had to guess, I would say that your answers are “not many,” and “hardly.” Even though my knowledge of Bengal is rather limited, I think this I know: Bengalis love meat, Muslims probably a bit more so than Hindus, and virtually every Bengali loves fish. One might think that makes lecturing about animal rights in Bangladesh a quixotic exercise. I found that the opposite is the case. Continue reading “Eating animals”→
গত ২২শে সেপ্টেম্বর ভারতের ভুপালে পশুপাখীর অধিকার সংরক্ষণ কর্মীরা তাজ-উল-মসজিদের সামনে, ঈদ-আল-আধাতে মুসলমানদের পশু কোরবানি না দেবার অনুরোধ সম্বলিত বাণীর প্ল্যাকার্ড নিয়ে শান্তিপূর্ণভাবে দাঁড়িয়ে ছিলেন। তাঁদের বক্তব্য ছিল নিরামিষ আহার স্বাস্থ্যের পক্ষে ভালো তো বটেই, উপরন্তু পরিবেশ, প্রকৃতি ও পশুপাখীদের জন্যেও ভালো। বেনাজির সুরাইয়া ছিলেন এই কর্মীদের একজন। তাঁর পরিধানে ছিল সবুজ রঙের হিজাব এবং লেটুস পাতা দিয়ে মোড়া পরিচ্ছ্দ। তাঁর হাতের প্ল্যাকার্ডে লেখা ছিল Make Eid happy for all- Try Vegan, অর্থাৎ ঈদ যেন সবার জন্য আনন্দময় হোক, নিরামিষ খাবার খেয়ে দেখার চেষ্টা করতে পারেন। Continue reading “পশু কোরবানি কি ধর্ম হতে পারে?”→
A few days ago, on September 22, a group of Indian animal rights activist went to the Taj-ul-Masjid in Bhopal, one of the largest mosques on the subcontinent, and tried to persuade Muslims to celebrate a vegan Eid al-Adha this year, by pointing out the many benefits of a plant-based diet for human health, the environment, and the welfare of nonhuman animals. One of the activists, a Muslim woman named Benazir Suraiya, wore a green hijab and an Islamic dress covered in lettuce leaves, and held a sign that said, “Make Eid Happy For All: Try Vegan.” The program was organized by PETA India, a Mumbai-based animal rights organization that operates under the principle that animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment, and that has organized similar programs on other religious occasions in the past, including Christmas, Easter, Diwali, and Janmashtami. This time, however, things turned violent. A mob formed and started to attack the group of female activists. The women were punched, and hit with shoes, and stones were thrown at them, prompting them to flee the scene while police tried to contain the mob. Disturbingly, some people, including members of the media, seem to believe that the women deserved to be assaulted, and the police in fact booked Ms. Suraiya and two others on charges of hurting religious sentiments. All in all, a woefully common story that would be a good starting point for a discussion of the delicate feelings and sense of entitlement of some religious folk, and the rampant disregard for the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful protest. But I do not want to talk about that here. Instead, in the spirit of the free exchange of ideas, let us have the conversation that was successfully stifled in India. Continue reading “Can slaughter be religion?”→
Animals are the weakest members of our society. They cannot vote, they cannot call hartals, and they cannot hold rallies. They have no legal rights, and – even if they had – they could not go to court and demand that their rights be enforced. They have no voice and cannot speak for themselves. Animals are subject to our whim, easy to exploit and even easier to abuse. If we do not abuse them and instead treat them with the respect they deserve, it is not because of their economic or political clout, but because of our good will, and our compassion. The true test of our humanity hence is not how we behave when dealing with the powerful and privileged, but how we behave when dealing with animals. Mahatma Gandhi must have been thinking along these lines when he famously said, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Continue reading “Katabon: A moral disgrace, and a chance”→
Many know Leonardo da Vinci as the Italian Renaissance genius who painted the Mona Lisa. Few are familiar with Leonardo’s moral views. Not only was he a generous humanitarian, but he also cared deeply about animals. One of his earliest biographers, Giorgio Vasari, assures us that Leonardo was “fond of all animals, ever treating them with infinite kindness and consideration.” As proof, Vasari recounts stories of encounters Leonardo had with bird traders in the market. On such occasions, Leonardo would often buy birds, and then release them into the sky. He could not bear to see an animal of the air confined to a small cage. Leonardo’s compassion was not restricted to birds though. It is said that he abhorred violence toward any animal. The Italian explorer Andrea Corsali, in a letter to his patron, reported that the members of a people he came across on a trip to pre-colonial South Asia “are so gentle that they do not feed on anything which has blood, nor will they allow anyone to hurt any living thing, like our Leonardo da Vinci.” Leonardo himself wrote that, rather than being the king of all animals, man is the king of all beasts, as he has made his gullet “a tomb for all animals.” From this, and other historical evidence, we may conclude that Leonardo was an ethical vegetarian. He refused to be a party to the unnecessary killing of animals, repulsed by the thought of other sentient beings having to surrender their precious and unique lives for his palate. This view was radical in Renaissance Italy, probably even more radical than it is in most societies today. Continue reading “A New Year’s resolution: Dare to be kind”→
There is the kind of slavery that is confined behind closed doors: the doors of garments and leather factories, or the doors of our homes. Of course, we all know what happens behind these doors. Yet, we choose not to think about it too much, because we know it would upset us, because it would disturb the idyllic image we have of society. But sometimes, when a human slave is thrown into the public eye, we are forced to pay attention – as happened recently when Aduri was thrown into a dumpster. If that happens, we are outraged, as if we had not already known what happens in our neighbours’ houses. Part of what makes that inhumanity possible is the fact that “they” – domestic workers, garments and factory workers, etc. – are widely considered less-than-“us”. They are mere means to our ends, and their interests are somewhat less important than ours. That’s what too many of us think, or – at the very least – that’s how too many of us act. Continue reading “The Slave Market of Katabon”→
On October 14, the Dhaka Tribune published an open letter, in which my co-authors and I, along with dozens of signatories, urge Muslims in Bangladesh to reconsider the practice of animal sacrifice on Eid al-Adha . Six days later, the same newspaper published a response to our open letter by Muhammad Shafiullah (subsequently referred to as “the author”) who is pursuing his Ph.D. in Economics at Griffith University in Australia . As both publications received a lot of attention in Bangladesh, particularly on social media, and raise fundamentally important questions about the relationship between humans and other animals, I decided to write this rebuttal. What follows are my personal thoughts which do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of those who signed or co-authored the original open letter. Continue reading “The exploitation of animals: bad for us, bad for the environment, and bad for animals”→