More than two thousand animals – not including fish and other marine animals – are killed to produce food for human consumption per second. Many more suffer at our hands in laboratories, fur farms, zoos, rodeos, and circuses. Very much like us, these animals have a unique psychological presence in the world and are capable of having feelings. They have rich subjective lives that matter to them and can go better or worse, from their point of view. Once we acknowledge these facts, it becomes hard to ignore that morality requires us to radically rethink and change the way we treat the animals we eat, experiment on, wear, and use for entertainment.
Because non-human animals cannot speak for themselves, we must speak for them. As an animal rights advocate, I try to do that – e.g., in speeches and columns. As a philosopher, I have been interested in moral issues arising from the relationship between humans and other animals from the very beginning of my academic career. In 2005, when I was still an undergraduate student in Germany, I founded an academic society that brings together scholars and students from a wide variety of disciplines to promote the study of animal ethics. It enriches the academic life at Heidelberg University to this day. As the chairman of that society, I initiated and helped organize Germany’s first-ever comprehensive lecture series wholly dedicated to the moral status of non-human animals, and edited the papers from the series in a book, Tierrechte – Eine interdisziplinäre Herausforderung, which was published in 2007. In 2012, I co-authored, with the late Professor Tibor R. Machan, an article entitled “Innocent Threats and the Moral Problem of Carnivorous Animals,” which addresses the issue of predation and what it may imply morally. It appeared in the Journal of Applied Philosophy.
In my doctoral dissertation, I challenge the view, which has persisted in Western philosophy from Aristotle to the present, that killing a non-human animal is normally easier to justify than killing a human being. I argue that there is a mismatch between our modern scientific understanding of the natural world and the idea, dominant in philosophy and society alike, that there is a discrete hierarchy of moral status among conscious beings. The clear line of traditional morality, between human beings and other animals, is a remnant of an obsolete moral outlook, not least because it has no counterpart in empirical reality. In my current work, I am developing what I take to be an attractive alternative – radical egalitarianism. I am also currently editing another interdisciplinary book. It investigates the social, cultural, religious, and legal status of non-human animals in Africa and will be published by the University of South Africa Press in 2017.
My contributions to animal ethics have been recognized by the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, which made me an Associate Fellow in June 2012.
Here is another sad statistic: The average number of deaths from poverty each hour is roughly equivalent to the number of victims who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Most of those who die of poverty-related causes are children. From an ethical perspective, extreme poverty should be the top story in every newspaper, every day. But it is not.
The issues of poverty as well as, for example, the issues of migration and immigration, inequitable distribution of the world’s resources, human rights abuses, war, and environmental degradation all have significant moral components which are in serious need of systematic philosophical analysis. Because of their extensive training, professional philosophers are particularly well-equipped to articulate and communicate the kind of universals that can cross cultural boundaries and help us shape morally-informed foreign policies and international agreements for the betterment of this, our unavoidably globalized world.
I have published a journal article and lectured about the concept of human dignity in constitutional law, and I have written numerous newspaper columns on contemporary social and political issues. I hope to do more work in this area. As an activist, I have been working with underprivileged children in Bangladesh, and I have been actively involved in the LGBT rights movement in South Asia.
My philosophical interests further include political philosophy, logic and critical thinking, consciousness, and metaphysics, particularly the identity of individual human beings and other animals over time.
I would like to hear from you if you share my interests in any manner.