DRAFT: Oct 24, 2007




Rational Engagement, Emotional Response, and the Prospects for Moral Progress in Animal Use ‘Debates’

For Animal Research in Theory and Practice, ed. Jeremy Garrett (MIT Basic Bioethics Series, 2008)

Nathan Nobis, Ph.D.

Philosophy Department

Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA 30314





VI. Why Many Arguments in Defense of Animal Experimentation are Unsound: An Application of the Three “Logical Skills”


Synopsis: Using the logical skills of developed above dozens of common arguments in defense of animal experimentation are shown to be unsound.


I now apply these logical skills to many other common arguments in defense of animal use. In each case, once we make the premises clear, precise and/or add the missing premise(s) needed to reveal the full pattern of reasoning, we see that each argument has at least one premise that is either false or in need of serious, but unsupplied, rational defense. Thus, we should believe these arguments are unsound.

My discussion may appear methodical, but this is intentional: I want to show that there is a method for evaluating moral arguments. The value of this method was confirmed through diagnosing the historical cases above and so we should see what results from applying this method to the contemporary moral issue at hand.


4. Arguments from Utilitarianism:[PM1] 


Closely related to arguments from “benefits” and “necessity” are arguments from utilitarianism. The argument is that utilitarianism is true: thus we are morally obligated to do that which maximizes utility, i.e., net happiness. Since we are obligated to take the course of action that maximizes net happiness, animal experimentation is morally required because, of all the alternative courses of action we – individually and collectively – could take, animal experimentation brings about the greatest overall net happiness. Thus, animal experimentation is morally permissible; indeed it would be wrong to not do animals experimentation.

The argument is problematic for many reasons. First, almost nobody accepts the first premise, namely that utilitarianism is true. James Rachels, who was sympathetic to utilitarianism (and an animal advocate), reports the following:


Today most philosophers think that [classical utilitarianism] is wrong, because they think that the promotion of happiness and the avoidance of misery are not the only morally important things. Happiness, they say, in only one among many values that should be promoted: freedom, justice and a respect for people’s rights are also important.[1]


Utilitarianism is not popular among moral philosophers, and is even less popular among non-philosophers, especially advocates of animal experimentation. Indeed, many animal experimentation advocates criticize Peter Singer because he claims to be a utilitarian. Singer argues, from his utilitarianism, that we are morally obligated to make serious sacrifice to aid desperately poor people, that we should be impartial in our moral judgments, and that common views about the morality of killing and letting die are mistaken.

Many animal experimentation advocates vehemently reject his conclusions and seem to think that the root problem is Singer’s utilitarianism: i.e., they don’t think that Singer is wrong in his estimations of what would maximize utility; they think his (and anyone’s) utilitarianism is false. Thus, it seems to me that most people, especially most animal experimentation advocates, are going to regard any arguments from utilitarianism as unsound, since they think utilitarianism is false. This is especially common once people have read any introductory ethics textbook’s discussion of utilitarianism, common objections and common utilitarian replies.

Setting this problem aside, arguments from utilitarianism face the same conceptual and empirical obstacles we have already seen about arguments from benefits and necessity. Suppose someone asserts that having some kinds of animal experiments (which ones?!) produced more overall utility than not having such experiments. To reasonably make that claim someone is going to have to have a method to quantify, sum and compare direct, known harms to animals, direct and indirect benefits to humans, direct and indirect harms to humans, and any benefits to any animals.

But that’s not all: utilitarianism requires that you choose the action that would produce the greatest overall net utility of all the alternative courses of action you could take. Thus, to reasonably assert that some (which?) animal experimentation is morally permissible, one would need these utility calculations for all the relevant alternative courses of action that could be taken. Insofar as one set of alternatives involves no animal experimentation but the widespread implementation of known, effective, often-inexpensive ways of promoting health and well being (some suggestions on how to do this were given above), to reasonably show that animal experimentation is justified on utilitarianism, one would have to show that this, and similar courses of action, would not yield greater overall net happiness.

It’s safe to say that nobody has ever done any of the work needed to reasonably make these claims about utilitarianism’s implications, especially when they remember the full range of possible ways to promote even just human well being. Tom Regan is right to point out that Singer and Frey’s conflicting estimations about what would maximize utility are just hand waving and/or wishful thinking.

These observations don’t show that utilitarianism is a false moral theory: perhaps it is true but it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to tell what its implications are. But this is enough to show that nobody is ever justified in believing that an argument in defense of animal experimentation from utilitarianism is sound. Since people tend to (perhaps reasonably) believe that utilitarian is false anyway, they already have reason to believe that such arguments are unsound anyway.


5. Arguments from “Evolution”:


People sometimes claim that the fact that species have evolved morally justifies animal experimentation. In their defenses of animal experimentation, veterinarian Adrian Morrison states that, “to refrain from exploring nature in every possible way would be an arrogant rejection of evolutionary forces” and biologists Carl Nicoll and Sharon Russell claim that, “Evolution has endowed us with a need to know as much as we can.”

One would hope that more scientists would have a better understanding of evolutionary theory and the nature of scientific theories in general. Evolutionary theory, simply put, is a theory that explains how living things have come to exist and have the various characteristics they have. What explains (among other data) the distribution of organisms around the globe and their various similarities and differences? Did God create them in six days, as some claim Genesis says? Or did some organisms have some mutations that better enabled them to survive and reproduce, as evolutionary theory hypothesizes, and this better explains the observed phenomena?

      What’s being explained is what is, has been (and will be), not what, morally, should be. Evolutionary theory is not a moral theory: no biology textbook has a sidebar in the text entitled, “The Moral Implications of Evolution,” because there are none: evolution in itself has no implications for the moral status of any actions[PM2] .[2] Any arguments like this – “Humans evolved; therefore, doing this is morally permissible” – are unsound. This was true when people tried to appeal to argue from evolution against helping the poor, in favor of various eugenic and genocidal programs, and this is true for arguments for animal use also. Furthermore, these arguments do not entail any moral protections for vulnerable humans either: perhaps this is why those who wished to “purify” the human gene pool appealed to evolution in trying to defend their wicked ways. [PM3] 

On related notes, Nicholl and Russell suggest that their moral view is based in something they call a “biological perspective.” Scientist Robert Speth similarly appeals to something he cryptically calls “bio-logic.” Again, biological facts, including evolutionary facts, have moral implications only in conjunction with moral principles, which science does not provide. These arguments for animal use are unsound.


6. Arguments from So-Called “Scientific” Perspectives:


It’s sometimes said that animal experimentation is morally permissible because it’s the “scientific” perspective on the issue. Arguments like these are unsound for at least three reasons.

            First, moral views are not scientific views: one’s moral views can, and often should, be informed by the relevant science: e.g., perhaps one’s moral views on abortion should be informed by scientific research on fetal development; perhaps one’s moral view on a particular case of physician-assisted suicide should be informed by the relevant science on the prognosis of the medical condition in question, etc. But, again, science does not, in itself, answer moral questions. It is partly for this reason that I have not presented detailed scientific information to support the claim that animal experimentation yields few benefits for humans, compared to other methods. Many physicians, veterinarians and scientists have made such cases but moral conclusions follow from this information only in conjunction with moral principles that are extra-scientific.

Second, scientists can be morally mistaken: their views, moral and about scientific issues, are not always correct, as history shows. And moral questions are not answered by counting heads either: even if most scientists, or any other group, are in favor of animal experimentation that does not automatically show that it’s morally permissible: groups of people can hold a position that is not backed by good reasons, as the slavery and anti-women’s rights cases above show. Moral questions are never answered by opinion polls.

Furthermore, scientists – both present and past – disagree on the morality of animal experimentation. There is no position on the issues that all scientists accept. Some scientists give reasons to think that animal experimentation is morally wrong, and they defend these reasons. When doing so, however, they are not doing science: they are doing ethics, i.e., presenting and evaluating moral arguments like we are doing here.


7. Arguments from Animals Lacking Consciousness:


It’s been said that since, unlike humans, animals are not conscious beings – they are entirely mindless and without feeling, especially the ability to feel pain – animal experimentation is permissible. While some animals are not conscious (as are some human beings), this argument is becoming increasingly unpopular. This is because of mounting scientific (behavioral, physiological, neurological, evolutionary) evidence that many animals – certainly mammals and birds – have complex mental and emotional lives: indeed, new research is showing that animals’ minds are far more sophisticated than anyone expected.[3]

Modern day Cartesians who deny that animals have minds, are hard to find[PM4] . Philosopher Peter Carruthers once argued for position like that but has since rejected his arguments as flawed.  Stuart Derbyshire claims – for unconvincing reasons[4] – that animals minds’ are “a black, silent existence . . or, at the very most, a dark murky experience.”[5] But he also inconsistently claims that animal experiments cause “distress,” which they could not do if animals were mindless.

Since animal experimenters claim that animals should be treated humanely, this implies that they believe animals have minds. Therefore, even they believe these arguments are unsound.


8. Arguments from “Pleasures,” “Interest” and Knowledge:


Some scientists try to defend animal experimentation by claiming that, for them, doing experiments is interesting, or fun, and/or it produces knowledge. These claims might be true, even if no medical benefits come from animal experimentation. But this argument is sound only if this unstated premise is true:


If an activity is interesting or fun for someone (or a group of people), and/or it produces knowledge then it is morally permissible.


If this premise were true, then doing almost anything would be morally permissible. Nazi experiments would be permissible if these scientists found their work “interesting,” or “fun” or some new knowledge came out of them, as it did. Thus most people reject general moral premises like this. They don’t think the fact that some new knowledge is gained or some scientist experiences pleasures automatically justifies harmful treatment. If these arguments are unsound for humans, but not unsound for animals, we need reasons why that explain this difference.

            Not all scientists have rejected this premise, even for humans. Scientist E.E. Slosson said that, “a human life is nothing compared with a new fact. . . the aim of science is the advancement of human knowledge at any sacrifice of human life.”[6] James Wyngaarden, former NIH Director, has said that, “science should not be hampered by ethical considerations.”[7] This provides further evidence that scientists can be morally mistaken; thus, it’s possible that scientists who think animal experimentation is morally permissible are mistaken also.


9. Arguments from Animals’ Lack of Sophisticated Mental Capacities:


As we have seen, many arguments given in defense of animal experimentation have premises that also justify human vivisection. Since advocates of animal experimentation tend to not want to support human vivisection, these arguments will not do. I now turn to some arguments that try to show why, although human vivisection is morally impermissible, animal experiments are not. These arguments attempt to point to morally relevant differences between all humans and all animals that justify harming one but not the other.

            To try to explain why animal experimentation is permissible but human vivisection is not, a long list of characteristics and abilities that humans have, and animals lack, is often presented. So, it’s observed that humans are “rational,” use language, are self-conscious, are autonomous, make moral decisions (i.e., grasp moral concepts, see the consequences of their actions for good and evil, act on moral principles, etc.), write poetry, engage in religious worship, and so on. It is then observed that animals do not, and cannot, engage in these activities or think these kinds of thoughts. It is then concluded that animal experimentation is morally permissible.

            This kind of argument has problems. First, its advocates tend to surprisingly forget that some humans – many of them – do not have these sophisticated mental abilities. They are imprecise in their use of the term “human”: some humans have these mental abilities, but not all. Second, advocates of this argument tend to not notice that they assume this premise, which must be added to complete their reasoning:


If a being does not have any (or, many) of these sophisticated mental capacities, then it is morally permissible to harm it for the benefit of others.


This premise justifies human vivisection: if it were true, then painful, terminal experiments on human babies, seriously mentally challenged individuals, and senile humans would not be wrong, despite the harms that these humans would endure.[8] Since experiments[PM5]  typically think such human vivisection is wrong, this shows that they reject this premise, as they should. Thus, arguments like these in defense of animal experimentation are unsound: the fact that some humans have sophisticated mental capacities does not justify animal experimentation.

A third problem with this argument is this: advocates of this reasoning typically accept a premise like this:


If a being has any (or, ideally, many or all) of these sophisticated mental capacities then it is morally wrong to harm it for the benefit of others.


Since many human beings have these characteristics this premise implies that it’s wrong to harm them. We might doubt, however, that having these characteristics is what, at the most fundamental, basic level, makes harming these humans wrong. Suppose you are healthy but someone decided, against your will, to perform terminal burn experiments on you or to induce a fatal heart attack. These experiments are done so that others might be helped by what is learned or to increase general knowledge or to demonstrate a new drug.

If this is wrong (and I think it is), the question is what best explains this fact. Was this wrong because (Hypothesis 1) you are (or were) a rational language-user and moral decision-maker who is self-conscious, autonomous, and able to write poetry while sitting in church? Or is it because (Hypothesis 2) treating you this way was harmful for you, bad for you, especially in that you were caused to suffer greatly and then die, thereby missing out on the good future you (hopefully) would have experienced?

I suggest that Hypothesis 2 is a better one; it provides more fundamental reasons why treating you these ways would be wrong. And, unlike the Hypothesis 1 that appeals to sophisticated mental capacities, it explains why it would have been wrong to treat you these ways when you, as an infant, lacked these sophisticated mental abilities and why it would be wrong to harm you in these ways if you were to lose your sophisticated mental capacities due to age, disease or injury.[9]

Hypothesis 2, however, suggests that all beings who can[PM6]  be harmed in these ways are wrong to harm these ways[PM7]  (although perhaps this wrongness is not “absolute”: there might be permissible exceptions in extreme cases). If this is so, then since animals can also be harmed and made worse off, it’s wrong to treat animals these ways also, unless there are good reasons to think otherwise, i.e., some morally-relevant difference that would justify thinking differently about the cases. Thus, I suggest that the more fundamental reasons to think that it’s wrong to harm mentally sophisticated beings imply that it’s wrong to harm non-mentally sophisticated beings also, including animals.


10. Arguments from Animals Lacking Moral Concepts:


Related to the arguments immediately above is the claim that since animals do not have moral concepts, i.e., they don’t have thoughts about what’s right, wrong, good, bad and so on, it is therefore permissible to harm them in experimentation. Focusing on the concept of a (moral) right, Frederick Goodwin and Adrian Morrison observe that, “Rattlesnakes and rats, tigers and sheep, and even our closest animal relatives, chimpanzees, exhibit no ability to comprehend, respect, or act upon rights.”[10] Many people think that observations like these provide good reason to think that animal experimentation is morally permissible.

            To respond to arguments like these, we need to distinguish, on the one hand, concepts from, on the other hand, characteristics or qualities or properties. Concepts are “in the head”: they are ideas or parts of ideas. Properties, qualities and characteristics are ways things, beings and people are. We have many concepts, including moral concepts, such as the concepts of an action being right, wrong, within one’s rights, and a rights violation. Philosophers attempt to analyze these concepts, i.e., break them down into their component, hopefully more easily understood concepts

            On many views about what at least mammals’ and birds’ minds are like, these animals have some concepts, but they lack moral concepts: they don’t have ideas about actions being moral or immoral and they lack any concept of rights: they don’t think these kinds of thoughts. (There is a developing dissenting scientific literature that’s finding a moral sense in some animals[11]).

            But this implies that animals don’t have the properties of “being treated wrongly,” “having their moral rights violated,” and/or “being used in a morally impermissible manner” only if this, typically unstated, principle is true:


            If a being lacks a particular concept, then it lacks that concept’s related property.


This principle is not true: animals have, e.g., the properties of having DNA and being composed of cells, although they lack the concepts of DNA or cells. And many human beings (e.g., the very young) are such that they shouldn’t be harmed, even though they lack moral concepts and don’t entertain thoughts about what’s moral.

If someone responded by claiming that this principle holds true only for animals and moral properties and concepts, this too is false and even most animal experimenters agree. They think that animals have the moral properties of being such that they ought not to be treated wrongly, that they should be treated humanely and they should be used only in permissible manners, and they have these properties even though they lack any corresponding moral concepts. So, the fact that animals lack moral concepts does not imply anything about what moral properties they might have. These kinds of arguments are unsound.


11. Arguments from Human Beings “Creating” Moral Concepts:


A related argument is the claim that human beings “created” moral concepts and, therefore, only human beings have moral properties such as it being wrong to harm us to benefit others. This argument is very dubious. First, animal experimenters who advocate “humane” treatment think the argument is unsound: they think that animals have the moral property of being such that they ought to be treated humanely, even though animals obviously didn’t “create” moral concepts, including this one.

Second, while there might have been some first people who entertained various moral concepts, it doesn’t follow that only these people had these concepts’ corresponding properties. Some people were the first to have the biological concept of a cell, and we might even say that they “created” the concept, but it’s not the case that only these people had the property of having cells. There is no reason to think differently about moral concepts and properties: even if some first person crystallized some concept of “respectful treatment” in his or her mind, people were due respectful treatment before then.

Finally, most moral theorists would describe their investigations in terms of “discovery,” not “creation”: e.g., advocates of universal human rights do not think that they “created” the idea that all human beings have basic rights. They think that this moral fact has been discovered, buried under a long history of prejudice and discrimination. Moral concepts attempt to represent or describe moral reality, a reality that we did not create. Thus, false claims about the moral concepts “we” “create” (and who is “we” anyway?) do not justify animal experimentation.


12. Arguments from Lack of “Personhood”:


It’s sometimes said that since animals aren’t “persons,” animal experimentation is morally permissible. But what does “person” mean? When philosophers use the term, they often mean a being who is conscious, has a sense of the past and the future, and perhaps reflects on these facts: any psychologically complex being like this is a person. Depending on how complex of a mind is required for personhood, many animals – most clearly, adult vertebrates – are persons on these views. If this theory of personhood is correct, then this argument for animal experimentation is unsound.

Many people think that this concept of personhood justifies killing babies and other humans who lack sophisticated mental capacities. But this is doubtful because this premise is not obviously true:


If a being is not a person, i.e., not a psychologically complex being, then it’s permissible to harm that being for the benefit of others.


If a being – human or non-human – can be harmed, that might make it enough for harming it to be wrong, even if that being is a not a mentally sophisticated being. So this response to this theory of personhood is weak.

            Nevertheless, many people reject what many philosophers mean by “person.” Many of them agree that many animals have very complex minds, but deny that any animals are persons (“Yes, I recognize that primates and dolphins have amazing mental abilities, but they are not persons!”). And some of them think that newly fertilized human eggs are persons, even though they lack minds. Some even claim that brain-dead humans are persons.

Perhaps these people just don’t understand what it is to be a person. Or perhaps they think the philosophers’ definitions is false because, on their view, a person is, essentially, a “being of highest moral value” or something like that. On their view, human beings with sophisticated minds are persons, but such a mind is not necessary for personhood, as they believe that various mindless human entities are persons too. They might claim that animals are not of highest value and so they are not persons, despite their impressive minds.[12]

Although some philosophers might not find this theory of personhood very elegant or explanatory, i.e., it doesn’t nicely explain what characteristics persons have that make them persons, this doesn’t mean that it’s false.

However, to apply this theory to the argument above, we see that it does not help it. First, we need reasons why no animals are “as valuable” as any human persons: we don’t want to just assume this. Second, and this was discussed above, even if no animals are “as valuable” as any human persons, this doesn’t show that they are without value altogether or completely worthless. They might have enough value to make harming them in experimentation wrong, even if they are not persons. This possibility needs to be addressed. Thus, arguments from animals’ (alleged) lack of personhood are unsound. 


13. Arguments from Animals Not Being “Human Beings”:


Related here are arguments that animals aren’t “human beings” and so animal experimentation is permissible. Obviously, animals aren’t human beings, but, like humans, they can still be harmed. And this argument just assumes this premise, which is what’s at issue:


If a being is not a human being then it’s morally permissible to harm it for the benefit of others.


Deeper faults are found with this argument when we see that it’s not wrong to harm human beings merely because they are human beings. When it is wrong to harm human beings, this is not because they are biologically human, or have human DNA, or are members of the species Homo sapiens.

Indeed, there are things that are biologically human (e.g., cells, tissues, etc.) that are not typically wrong to kill or destroy: something’s being biologically human is not sufficient for it being wrong to kill. Merely biologically human entities can lack the sorts of properties that human beings have (e.g., consciousness, sentience, etc.) that make harming them wrong, when it is wrong. But since many animals also have these psychological characteristics, harming them would likewise be wrong, unless there are reasons to think otherwise. Typically, the advocate of this argument does not provide these reasons.

Although this is merely of theoretical interest, it should also be noted that a being’s being biologically human is not logically necessary for it to be wrong to harm that being either. If friendly, intelligent, space aliens exist, they too would be prima facie wrong to harm, yet they are not biologically human. So it is not the case that, necessarily, a being is wrong to harm only if it is biologically human. To respond with the observation that, as far as we know, there are no space aliens is to miss the point here, which is that it’s not true that the only beings who could exist that could be wrongly harmed are biologically human beings. Animal experimenters agree: they think that some harms to animals are or could be wrongly inflicted, despite the obvious fact that non-human animals are not biologically human.

Sometimes by “human” “person” is meant. The possibility (and, according to theists, the actuality) of non-human persons (e.g., aliens, God) makes this use confusing since t implies that these non-humans are human (or human beings). But for discussion of arguments that might be developed using a “personhood” sense of “human,” see above.


14. Arguments from What “Humanity” Has Done:


Another argument in defense of animal experimentation appeals to the admirable accomplishments of “humanity.” Stuart Derbyshire writes:


The sheer staggering scale and richness of human culture are unlike anything in any other species. The development of medicine, industry, transportation, communication, clean water, a stable food supply, and so on, are the discernible signs of culture and progress that are evidently absent from the non-human world.[13]


Perhaps the argument is that since animals haven’t contributed to this development, that’s why it’s permissible to harm them through experimentation.

In reply, it should be observed that not all humans have contributed to the broad development of human culture: some humans are very needy throughout their entire lives and do not contribute much to the “common good[PM8] ,” But we tend to not think that would justify experimenting on them[PM9] ; indeed we think vulnerable humans deserve special protection. Thus, we think this premise, a version of which Derbyshire seems to assume, is false:


If an individual does not contribute to the development of culture, then it is permissible to harm him or her for the sake of others. 


In response to observations like Derbyshire’s, a parallel argument can be given that focuses on the evils of “humanity.” In opposition to optimistic claims, it begins with a pessimistic observation like this:


Humans lie to each other, betray each other, and kill each other for needless purposes; they torture each other; they allow each other to die when they could easily be saved; they knowingly peddle harmful products; they brutally murder children in front of their parents, they discriminate and kill on the basis of race, sex and other irrelevant characteristics; they devised the Holocaust and other acts of genocide and terror; they obstruct justice and fairness; they generally will do anything to get ahead, at any expense for others.


If any interesting moral conclusions follow from Derbyshire’s observations, then perhaps these observations suggest opposite conclusions?

I suspect no interesting conclusions follow from broad generalizations like these. All they suggest that, again, we need to be specific about which humans we are considering: some humans did (and do) acts like these above, but not all of them. Thus, nothing in these false generalizations provides any support for animal experimentation.


15. Arguments from Ad-Hoc, “Kind” and Group-Based Inferences:


The dialectic above has proceeded as follows: animal experimentation advocates claim that animal experimentation is morally permissible, if not obligatory. We ask them why this is so, what the reasons are that make this so, in light of the serious harms done to animals. They reply that it’s because animals lack various properties that involve advanced cognitive capacities, such as being rational, having moral concepts, being self-conscious, and so on. They either claim outright or tacitly assume that it’s impermissible to harm an individual only if he or she has these characteristics. But we then point out that many human beings do not have these characteristics, yet it seems to many (at least to many animal advocates) that it would be profoundly wrong to experiment on them in the ways animals are experimented on, detailed above.

Thus, we show that these arguments in defense of animal experimentation are unsound by showing that their premises morally “justify” human vivisection. If we reasonably believe that human vivisection, especially of weak and powerless humans, is wrong then we have reason to reject these kinds of arguments in defense of animal experimentation.

            One response to these arguments is to argue that an individual doesn’t have to have a sophisticated mind in order for it to be wrong to vivisect it: consciousness and sentience are enough to make that wrong. But this isn’t a theoretical option for animal experimentation advocates, since this is a position of animal advocates: it implies that both human and animal vivisection is wrong. So they must find another way to respond.

Some philosophers who advocate animal experimentation, such as Carl Cohen, Tibor Machan, and others, have developed arguments designed to get around this objection to common arguments in defense of animal experimentation.[14] In their view, animal experimentation advocates who also argue (rightfully, in their view) that human vivisection is wrong make a mistake in insisting that, for it to be wrong to harm an individual human, that individual must have sophisticated mental capacities like those mentioned above.

They claim that the right way to think about things is to focus on the group(s) that the individual is member of. They claim that if an individual is a member of the right “group,” then it’s wrong to harm that individual even if that individual lacks sophisticated cognitive capacities (and, perhaps, lacks cognitive capacities completely). Candidate “groups” include the species Homo sapiens, a group of beings where the “normal” or “ideal” members have sophisticated minds, a group of beings who could have sophisticated minds or have the potential for such minds, and various “kinds” or classes of beings who have such mental capacities.  They claim that all human beings – even those who lack sophisticated minds – are of the right group and that no animals are; thus, animal experimentation is morally permissible but human vivisection is wrong.

This sort of reasoning is typically presented in sketchy, imprecise ways: the form of the argument is not explicit. If we examine these arguments carefully we see that are all unsound because they all have unstated premises that are false. First, someone might argue like this:


(P1)     It’s wrong to seriously harm “normal” (non-consenting) adult human beings.

(C)       Therefore, all human beings are wrong to harm.


Advocates of this kind of argument argue that (P1) is true because such human beings have sophisticated mental capacities. But how might this argument show that human beings without such sophisticated minds are also wrong to harm? Perhaps with this unstated premise:


(P2)     If it’s seriously wrong to seriously harm “normal,” non-consenting, adult human beings then all human beings are wrong to harm.[PM10] 


The question is someone who accepts the defense of (P1) above can say [PM11] in defense of this premise, since not all human beings have sophisticated mental capacities.

One could argue, as many animal advocates do, that (P2) is true because all these humans are conscious and sentient. But this defense is not an option for animal experimentation advocates since it suggests that experimentation on conscious, sentient animals is also wrong.

To defend (P2) and see the basic structure of the argument we must reason more abstractly. Let “property W” be the property of being wrong to harm or the property of having sophisticated mental capacities that make someone wrong to harm. Our advocate of (P2) might think that a general premise like (P3) or (P4) is true and justifies (P2):


(P3)     If “normal,” humans have property W then all human beings have property W;




(P4)     If human beings “as a species” have property W, i.e., human beings typically have property W, then all human beings have that property.


Again, the suggested inference is that since “normal” human beings have those “W” properties, all human beings have them.

            The problem is that (P3) and (P4) are not true. There are many properties that “normal” humans have that “not-normal” human beings lack, e.g., the properties of being able to walk, being able to do basic math, being able to autonomously direct their own lives, and on and on. Yet many non-“normal” human beings, especially those who lack sophisticated mental capacities, lack these properties. It is not true that, in general, non-normal human beings will have all the properties that “normal” human beings have: if they did, then they would be “normal” human beings!

There is a logical leap from (P1) to (C) above. A premise (or premises) needs to be added to make that leap and reasons need to be given in defense of that premise: without this premise a critical thinker is given no clue as to why these facts about “normal” humans are supposed to show that non-“normal” humans deserve moral protections. But it appears that any such premises will be false and offered on an ad-hoc basis: there is nothing in general to recommend them and so they do not support (P2).

            Another possible premise is this:


(P5)     If non-rational human beings could have sophisticated mental capacities or have the potential to have such capacities then all human beings are wrong to harm.[PM12] [PM13] 


This premise might imply that animal experimentation advocates must oppose (all?) abortions; that might make some difference to whether they’d accept this premise. But this premise too is ad-hoc with nothing to recommend it: there are many properties that non-rational humans could have or have in potential. And there are other characteristics that depend on such potential properties. But these humans surely lack these latter characteristics, despite these potentials: e.g., although some non-rational human being could be a college graduate or has, in some sense, the potential to be one, and many other characteristics follow from this (e.g., meeting some job or graduate school qualifications), this human needn’t have these latter properties. So, as in abortion discussions, arguments from potential given to defend animal experimentation seem to fail.

            Finally, there is the claim that non-rational human beings are of a “kind” of being that has sophisticated mental capacities, and so it’d be wrong to vivisect them, but that animals are not of a “kind” of being that has such capacities, so experimentation on them is permissible. An important question for such arguments is what “kind” of being these humans are and how being of this “kind” makes vivisecting them wrong. Advocates of this reasoning provide no such explanation, but it appears that they are thinking something like this:


Mentally sophisticated human beings are wrong to harm because of their mental capacities, in particular their ability to make moral judgments. These human beings, of course, are of the “kind” human being: they are members of the group “human beings.” Humans who are not mentally sophisticated and lack the ability to make moral judgments are also, of course, are of the “kind” or group “human being.” Since these non-mentally sophisticated humans are of the same “kind” or “group” as the rational humans and it’s wrong to harm these rational humans, it’s therefore also wrong to harm non-sophisticated humans because they are of the same “kind” as the rational humans.


This pattern of reasoning is entirely ad hoc: as far as I can tell, it is never used in any other context and it doesn’t appear to be valid for any other characteristics.[PM14]  If an animal experimenter insists that it’s a valid pattern of reasoning, animal advocates can reply by using the pattern to “defend” their views too. They can reason this way:


Suppose mentally sophisticated human beings are wrong to harm because of their mental capacities, in particular their ability to make moral judgments. These human beings, of course, are of the “kind” conscious, sentient vertebrate. Animals who are not mentally sophisticated and lack the ability to make moral judgments are also, of course, are of the “kind” conscious, sentient vertebrate. Since these animals are of the same “kind” or “group” as the rational humans and it’s wrong to harm these rational humans, it’s therefore also wrong to harm animals because they are of the same “kind” as the rational humans.


In reply, animal experimentation advocates might insist the only “kind” this argument works with is the kind “human.” But we’d want reasons why this is, especially since the advocate of this argument does not claim that the mere fact that someone (or something) is biologically human is what makes, e.g., killing, that individual wrong (this is a wise move since there are many things that are biologically human that are not wrong to kill or destroy: e.g., biologically human cells, organs, etc.). They claim it’s being of the right “kind” of being in relation to rational moral agents. How this is supposed to work is very unclear though.

As further evidence of the invalidity of this kind of reasoning, we can see how [PM15] this form of argument can surprisingly also be used to “defend” human vivisection:


Suppose animals are permissible to harm because they lack sophisticated mental capacities, in particular their ability to make moral judgments. These animals, of course, are of the “kind” conscious, sentient vertebrate. Humans who are not mentally sophisticated and lack the ability to make moral judgments are also, of course, are of the “kind” conscious, sentient vertebrate. Since these animals are of the same “kind” or “group” as animals and it’s not wrong to harm these animals, it’s therefore also not wrong to harm these humans because they are of the same “kind” as animals.


Thus, I find nothing in these forms of arguments to recommend them. Carl Cohen, the main advocate of arguments like these, has repeatedly refused to respond to objections and questions about this kind of reasoning. Until someone does, and presents and defends these “kind” arguments in careful, precise ways, we should regard them all as unsound since that’s what close examination reveals.


16. Arguments from “Moral Partiality” and Burning Buildings:


Sometimes an analogy from human-human morality is given to try to defend animal experimentation. The claim is while morality often requires us to be “impartial” and give equal consideration to everyone affected by our actions, sometimes “partiality” is justified: it’s morally proper to give some people special consideration because they are our friends, relatives or loved ones. Our special relationships can justify special consideration in their favor, perhaps even at some expense of others.

            A burning building case illustrates the view. Suppose two very similar people are in a burning building and you only have time to save one before it collapses. Each person is equally accessible: the risks and chances of a successful save are equal. Who should you save? If both are strangers to you, you should be impartial and choose randomly: that would be fair. But suppose one of the people is your child and the other is a child who you do not know. Advocates of moral partiality say that it’s permissible to save your child because he or she is your child.[15]

            Another case is this: you have only one dose of a life-saving medicine. If there are two needy strangers, you should flip a coin to decide whom you should give it to: anything else would be unfair and wrong. But if you had to choose between saving your spouse or a stranger, advocates of moral partiality say that it’s permissible to save your spouse because of your special relationship.

            Suppose we accept these moral judgments and these partialist intuitions. Does this analogy from human-human partiality help defend animal experimentation? It’s hard to see how it does. For someone to argue that animal experimentation is morally justified because it’s analogous to some morally permissible human-human relation (or treatment), we’d need a human-human case that involves actively, intentionally seriously harming a stranger to benefit a loved one.

To alter the drug case above to use as a model, we would need you “actively” killing the stranger to save your spouse, not just letting the stranger die. Actually, to make the case analogous to a case of animal use, you would need to take a healthy stranger, actively harm him or her to save your spouse and then claim that this is morally justified because you are emotionally closer to your spouse than you are to the stranger![PM16]  For the burning building analogy to apply to animal experimentation, we would have to claim that it’s morally justifiable to actively put this strange child in harms way (indeed into the burning building) to save your own child.

Most philosophers who are sympathetic to moral partiality deny that partiality justifies allowing actively inflicting grave harms on innocent strangers to try to benefit loved ones. Since this is just what’s involved in animal experimentation, it seems that there are no morally permissible human-human cases to model a view on animal experimentation on.

Admittedly, most philosophers might be wrong here, especially since these cases depend on answers to controversial moral and metaphysical questions about the differences between doing and allowing, harm and benefit, active and passive action and omission and other ideas well developed in the euthanasia literature. But at least Baruch Brody, one philosophical advocate of animal experimentation, has said about these arguments that they require “much more reflection” [get exact quote]. I suspect he is right.


17. Arguments from Who “We” Care About More:


Related to arguments from partiality is the claim that “we” care more about humans than animals and so animal experimentation is morally permissible. This argument assumes this premise:


If “we” care about a certain kind of being, then it is permissible to harm beings that we care less about (or not at all), especially to benefit the kind of being we care about more.


To evaluate this premise, we need to think about who “we” might be. Suppose “we” were racists or sexists. Then “we” might think it’s permissible to harm people who aren’t of our preferred race or sex. Insofar as we think racism and sexism are morally objectionable, we must think that this premise is false. Some kinds of preferential “caring,” especially those that lead us to harm those we don’t care much about, can be morally unjustified: it’s possible that this is true about many people’s attitudes towards animals.

In reply, someone might suggest that the premise be changed to assert that if “we” care about humans more than animals, then it’s permissible to harm animals. This move would then just assume the moral view that’s at issue, not give reasons in its favor.

It’s also worth recalling (e.g., from discussion above) that insofar as many philosophical and scientific animal advocates call for increasing our most effective efforts at addressing human misery, and argue that funds for animal experimentation should be diverted to these known, efficient methods, a case can be made that many animal advocates seem to “care” more about humans than many advocates of animal experimentation do.

            Finally, it’s especially worthwhile to ask why we care about the humans we care about and, in particular, why we want them to not be harmed. It seems that the most basic answer is that we care about humans, especially vulnerable ones (e.g., babies), because they are conscious, can experience pleasure, joy, happiness, love and sadness, depression, neglect and so on. In short, their lives can go better and worse from their own point of view. It’s because they are like that that we care about them. We care about them because they have an experiential welfare; they don’t have such a welfare because we care about them.

But, of course, many animals are like that as well. So, it seems that the characteristics and capacities that humans have that prompt many of us to care about them are characteristics and capacities that many animals have also. If we should care for one, then it seems we should care for both, unless there is some reason to think otherwise, which we have yet to find.


18. Anti-Golden Rule Arguments:


Sometimes animal experimentation is defended with this question, “Would you want to be the first one to take a new drug or undergo a new surgical procedure?” The answer is supposed to be, “No,” and this is taken to show that animal experimentation is permissible: you and no other human being wouldn’t want to be experimented on so, therefore, animals should be experimented on.

            There are many variants on The Golden Rule, but they often come down to this:


If you would not want to be treated in a certain way, then it would be wrong for you to treat others in that way.


The Golden Rule requires that you recognize that others are relevantly similar to you and thus that if you have reason to not want to be harmed in various ways then those same reasons apply to others as well, insofar as they share the characteristics that you have that would make harming you wrong.

The reasoning above, however, is a gross perversion of the Golden Rule. It says this:

If you would not want to be treated in a certain way, then it is right for you to treat others in that way.

In practice, it comes down to an admission that you would not want to be harmed so someone else should be harmed instead! Since this kind of anti-Golden Rule style of reasoning is worthy of rejection in all other cases, it should be rejected here also.


19. Arguments from Religion, The Bible and God’s Will:

·         People tend to think that one view is “the” religious view; this is false. There are animal advocates from all religions. Challenge for religious people: find those who disagree with you and seek out their reasons. Dominion, Robert Wennberg, Matt Haltemann

·         Religions already accept some constraints ….

·         Euthyphro problem and divine omnipotence: what reasons would God have for thinking animal experimentation is permissible? If God wanted to heal someone, he could, right?

·         Many controversies… encourage exploration..


20. Arguments from Animals’ “Weakness”:

Sometimes it’s claimed that since animals are weaker than humans, animal experimentation is morally permissible. This argument assumes this premise:

If an individual is weaker than someone else, then it is permissible to harm that weaker individual.

Of course, we would reject this premise if it were offered in defense of human vivisection. If we should think differently about animal experimentation, we need reasons why.


21. “Animals were bred and raised for experimentation” arguments:


Sometimes it’s said that animals used in experiments are raised for these purposes and wouldn’t exist without if they weren’t bred for these purposes, so experimentation is permissible. Of course, this isn’t true about all animal used in experimentation, but more importantly, this assumed premise is false:


If an individual is bred and raised for a specific purpose, then it is permissible to use that individual for that purpose.


Of course, we would reject this premise if it were offered in defense of “breeding” (non-rational) humans for vivisection. If we should think differently about animal experimentation, we need reasons why.


22. “Animals would experiment on other animals” arguments:


Sometimes it’s said that animals would experiment on animals if they could and animals harm other animals and thus it’s OK for us to do so. Experiments have shown that some animals will go without food to avoid harming their kin and so it’s not true that all animals will experiment on other animals. But this argument advises us to take moral advice from animals in assuming this premise:


If animals do something, then it is permissible for humans to do it.


This premise is false and selectively applied: some animals eat their excrement, eat their young, and sometimes kill each other, but it would be wrong for us to imitate animals in these ways. The moral advice that we should “act like animals” is ill founded. If this argument is reformulated with the claim that “humans are animals,” the same objections apply. Human beings are animals, but many human beings – unlike most animals – have the ability to understand that that our actions have moral consequences. We should use this ability to reason about moral questions, not rationalize our selective, self-serving desires to behave like animals. Thus, these arguments are unsound.


28. Arguments from Contractarianisms (add in far above):[PM17] 

Only a few moral theories have been used to argue in defense of animal experimentation. These theories generally have their roots in “contractarian traditions,” On this kind of view, we are morally permitted to do anything that we would agree to in a “contract” designed to protect the interests of those who develop and agree to this agreement. These theories imply that there are no moral duties to animals, but not because they are animals, but because they are not self-interested contractors involved in such agreements: they cannot retaliate if we treat them badly. So there is no self-interested reason to write them into the contract for their interests to be protected, no reason for humans to treat them well.[16]

These theories, however, also imply that there are no moral duties owed to humans who are powerless and can be dominated since there easily can no self-interested reasons to treat them well. So, if someone stands to benefit from harming a vulnerable human (even if the benefit is only the pleasures such an individual might get from doing so) and can get away with it, these theories offer no moral condemnation. The only reason to not such vulnerable humans would be based in the fact that big, strong people might care about these humans and so retaliate on their behalf.

Feminist philosophers, who perhaps have more experience as caretakers of babies, children, sick people and aging, enfeebled parents, have joined animal advocates to argue against these theories in light of their implications. Since most animal experimenters would reject these theories because of their implications for vulnerable humans, I will not discuss them further. I will only note that these theories have been improved to eliminate their prejudice against vulnerable humans and that these improvements have resulted in elimination of bias against animals.    


23. there are more important things to worry about… human problems

24. Animals are used for far more frivolous purposes (but see NAAI: fur trappers see themselves as "of a kind" with animal experiments.. city mouse vs. country mouse). [17]


25. Arguments from the Alleged Wrongness of Killing Living Things:

Sometimes people think that if it’s were wrong to experiment on mammals and birds, then it would also be wrong to experiment on plants, bacteria, amoeba and cells and tissues because all these things are living. They argue that it’s not wrong to experiment on plants and bacteria, so it’s also not wrong to experiment on animals, and thereby refute the premise that all living things are wrong to harm.

This argument, however, fails to address anyone’s position since no serious animal protectionist or human-rights advocate claims that it’s because humans and animals are alive that they shouldn’t be harmed: rather, it’s when, and because, these beings are vulnerable to physical and/or psychological harm that makes them worthy of protection. Yes, a being must be alive to be like that, but not all living things are like that. So this argument does not address the issues.


26. Bumper Sticker / Argument Stopper Responses:

  • People should be able to choose what to do… free choice .. academic freedom .. need to have a job
  • "live and let live" / shouldn't criticize others
  • right to an opinion .
  • don’t do it if you don’t like it.

27. Name-Calling Arguments:

  • animal advcoates are unreasonable; emotional; "adaptively unfit".. various name calling
  • animal advocates are "terrorists" ; ALF
  • anti-human / anti-science
  • some animal advocates believe bad things (e.g., Singer on "killing babies")
  • the Nazi's opposed AA (that idiot at CFI)


30. Conclusions:

In conclusion, I have rationally evaluated many dozens of the most common defenses of animal experimentation. To do this, I applied the logical skills of identifying precise and clear conclusions and premises and, when needed, added missing premises to make the entire pattern of reasoning explicit. Doing this reveals that all these arguments have at least one false or unjustified premise and so that the arguments are unsound. The logical methods used were developed, and their value confirmed, through evaluating some historical moral arguments. My discussion has been rather thorough, but I cannot evaluate all (possible) arguments for animal experimentation here. My conjecture, however, is that applying these methods to other arguments will yield the same results, revealing that these arguments are also unsound. I hope these methods will be used: perhaps we will find an argument that isn’t so easily refutable. Another tactic would be to argue that these methods shouldn’t be used; to do this, I suspect these methods would have to be used…


VII. A Cumulative Case for the Immorality of Most, if not All, Harmful Animal Experimentation


Synopsis: Thinkers from nearly every moral-theoretical perspective have defended reasons to think that most, if not all, all animal experimentation is morally wrong.


My focus here has been on showing that the arguments given in defense of animal experimentation are unsound, why this is so, how one shows this and how one would try to deny this with reasons. I suspect that many people assume that the arguments in defense of animal experimentation are strong. I hope my discussion shakes them of that assumption.

Ethicists from nearly every moral-theoretical perspective have given and defended reasons to think that most, if not all, all animal experimentation is morally wrong. David DeGrazia notes that, “The leading book-length works in this field exhibit a near consensus that the status quo of animal usage is ethically indefensible and that at least significant reductions in animal research are justified.”[18]

So, cases have been made from utilitarianism and other consequentialisms, rights-based deontology, ideal-contractarianisms and golden-rule ethics, virtue ethics, common-sense morality, religious moralities, feminist ethics, among others.[19] Ethical theories provide answers to the question, “What makes right actions right, and what makes wrong actions wrong?” They offer general hypotheses for what the fundamentally morally-relevant properties are that explain which actions are right, which are wrong, and why. These above theories’ answers are the most widely accepted: for almost any moral philosopher, if he or she accepts an ethical theory, or has sympathies toward one, that theory has been used to argue in defense of animals.  


An interesting fact is that very little has been said by philosophers that provides positive moral defense of the status quo: very few of the pro-experimentation arguments above are defended by philosophers. This might seem surprising since moral questions about animals are often assumed to be so “controversial”: since many controversies have many advocates on both broad “sides” of an issue, we might expect this about animal experimentation. But this isn’t the case with this issue. The book flap of a 2001 collection entitled Why Animal Experimentation Matters: The Use of Animals in Medical Research is said to provide a “vigorous and long-overdue defense of animal experimentation” and provide a “much-needed corrective to an extremist cause that has up until now been too rarely challenged.” These authors thus acknowledge the lack of serious defense of the status quo regarding animal experimentation. Philosopher Michael Allen Fox wrote a pro-experimentation book XXXXX, but “renounced” his defense of animal experimentation soon after his book’s publication.


Why are the arguments against animal exp. no good?

·               they are "forcing" their views on us [no they are not; reverse the objection]

·               AA's don't understand the science: if they did...

·               animal advocates disagree about why aniaml exp. is wrong [reverse the objection]

Objection: An abundance of resources is a philosophical embarrassment?

“Many philosophers argue that animals are treated wrongly, but disagree on why (e.g., Peter Singer ‘demolishes’ Tom Regan and Regan ‘demolishes’ Singer). Therefore, there is no justification for thinking that animals are treated wrongly.”

Adrian Morrison; Richard Vance, JAMA

A parallel argument:

Many thinkers argue that animals are not treated wrongly, but disagree on why (e.g., Carl Cohen ‘demolishes’ Jan Narveson & Narveson ‘demolishes’ Cohen). Therefore, there is no justification for thinking that animals are not treated wrongly.”


The false, unstated assumption:

If you believe p, and for reasons X, Y, & Z, but others believe p for reasons A, B, C, etc. and these reasons are logically incompatible (and you recognize this), then either you have no (good) reason to believe p or there is no good reason to believe p.

At the very least, this principle isn’t one typically accepted or universally applied (e.g., global warming is bad).

·               hypocrisy, integrity... AA's don't practice what they preach...

·               because no moral arguments are any good: it's all just emotion ([false, we don’t believe it, but reverse the objection—their views are just emotional] rollin, p. 21..

·               "extremism" - extreme views are false...

·               people should be more emotional .. reason leads them astray in this case (David Detmer, mentioning Bonnie Steinbock)





Balcombe, Jonathan. 2006. Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good. New York: Macmillan.


Elliot, Carl, “Throwing a Bone to the Watchdog,Hastings Center Report, March-April 2001. Available at http://www.tc.umn.edu/~ellio023/documents/Bone.pdf


Garrett, Jeremy, "Moral Partiality and Animal Experimentation" (unpublished).


Graham, David and Nobis, Nathan. 2006. “Putting Humans First? Review of Putting Humans First: Why We Are Nature's Favorite by Tibor Machan,” The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, Fall 2006, Vol. 8, No. 1, 85-104. Available at http://www.NathanNobis.com


Graham, David and Nobis, Nathan. 2007. “Reply to John Altick’s Rejoinder to Graham and Nobis’s Review of Putting Humans First by Tibor Machan,” The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, Spring 2007. Available at http://www.NathanNobis.com


Machan, Tibor. 2004. Putting Humans First: Why We Are Nature's Favorite. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield


Nobis, Nathan, “A Rational Defense of Animal Experimentation,” Ethics in the Life Sciences, ed. Frederick Adams, special issue of the Journal of Philosophical Research, 2007 (forthcoming). Available at http://nathannobis.com


Nobis, Nathan, “Feminist Ethics without Feminist Ethical Theory (or, more generally, Φ Ethics Without Φ Ethical Theory)” in Ethical Issues for the 21st Century, ed. Frederick Adams, special issue of the Journal of Philosophical Research, 2005, pp. 213-225. Available at http://nathannobis.com


Nobis, Nathan, “Carl Cohen’s ‘Kind’ Argument For Animal Rights and Against Human Rights,” Journal of Applied Philosophy, March 2004, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 43-59. Available at http://nathannobis.com


Levy, Neil, “Cohen and Kinds: A Response to Nathan Nobis,” Journal of Applied Philosophy, August 2004, vol. 21, no. 2, pp. 213-217. Available at http://nathannobis.com


Nobis, Nathan, “In Defense of ‘How We Treat Our Relatives’,” American Biology Teacher, November / December 2004, pp. 599-600. Available at http://nathannobis.com


Nobis, Nathan, “Animal Dissection and Evidence-Based Life-Science & Health-Professions Education,” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 2002, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 155-159. Available at http://nathannobis.com


Nobis, Nathan, Why Animal Experimentation Matters: The Use of Animals in Medical Research, American  Journal of Bioethics 2003, Vol. 3, No. 1. Available at http://nathannobis.com


Regan, Tom. 2003. Animal Rights, Human Wrongs: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.


Regan, Tom. 2004 (1983). The Case for Animal Rights, updated edition. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Wilson, Scott. 2005. "The Species-Norm Account of Moral Status", Between the Species: An Electronic Journal for the Study of Philosophy and Animals. Available at http://www.cla.calpoly.edu/%7Ejlynch/wilson.html




[1] James Rachels, “The Morality of Euthanasia,” in The Right Thing to Do, 4th Ed. , ed. James Rachels and Stuart Rachels (McGraw Hill, 2007). This quotation is from page 154.

[2] See James Rachels’ Created From Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism for careful discussion. Rachels argues that simple moral arguments from evolution are unsound. But Darwinism is morally relevant because evolution suggests that species will share many characteristics, some of which are morally relevant.

[3] For discussion and information see Colin Allen’s “Animal Consciousness” entry at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/consciousness-animal/

[4] He seems to claim that animals are not conscious because they are not self-conscious. But human babies are conscious even though they do not reflect on the distinct fact that they are conscious. Derbyshire’s discussion in favor of his views is muddled and poorly argued.

[5] Why Animals Rights Are Wrong. 47

[6] Regan, Patterns of Resistance, p. 131)

[7] (19-20), in  Rollin.

[8] Fredrick Goodwin and Adrian Morrison offer an argument like this above. A critic pointed out that their argument justifies human vivisection. Matt Zwolinski argues that their account of rights, “Even if it succeeds in justifying animal research, it fails in a broader sense, for it justifies involuntary research not only on animals, but on human beings as well. If the reason animals lack rights is that they are incapable of "comprehending, respecting, or acting" upon rights, then infants, the retarded, and the comatose (to name but a few) lack rights as well.” http://www.reason.com/news/show/27912.html Their response, that if their critic “cannot reason that a human infant is worthy of more protection than a rat or a monkey, we cannot answer him,” failed to address that objection.

[9] On some metaphysical views, “you” – the person reading this – were never an infant and you will never become senile and lose your higher abilities to reason, strictly speaking. According to these views you are essentially a rational being and so anything (or anyone) that is not a rational being is not identical to you. Thus, since infants and very senile individuals aren’t rational beings, you could not be (or have been) one of them. Whatever the metaphysical merits of such a view, the moral question of what is morally permissible treatment of conscious, sentient but non-rational beings remains.

[10] http://www.reason.com/news/show/27820.html Science and Self-Doubt

Why animal researchers must remember that human beings are special.

[11] Balcombe..

[12] We could ask whether Gods and intelligent extra-terrestrials would be persons on their view. Their answers might be interesting.

[14] For futher discussion see my  ____..For discussion of philosophers beyond Cohen and Machan, see Scott Wilson’s “The Species-Norm Account of Moral Status,” Between the Species: An Electronic Journal for the Study of Philosophy and Animals, 5 (2005)  at http://www.cla.calpoly.edu/~jlynch/wilson.html

[15] There are “impartialist” explanations for why it would be permissible to save your child also. For discussion, see Jeremy Garrett’s “Moral Partiality and Animal Experimenation”.

[16] Some might claim that there’s a reason because those who harm animals harm themselves in the process. This reply is inadequate. First, harming animals doesn’t always, much less necessarily, harm humans. Second, the obvious reason that harming animals – or, to use a morally neutral description, “destroying animals” – would harm the human who are treating the animals these ways would be because the humans think that they are doing something morally objectionable. But if contractarianism is true, then the well being of the weak is of no intrinsic moral significance: contractarians should advise those squeamish of “animal cruelty” that their moral views about animals are mistaken.

[17] See Empty Cages p. 172. By comparison, in the US, over a million animals – mostly chickens – are killed each hour to be eaten. Some animal experimentation advocates  respond to this fact these ways:

(1)     since this greater number of animals are killed to be eaten, surely a “less important” use of animals compared to experimentation, animal experimentation is morally permissible,


(2)     since this greater number of animals is killed to be eaten, surely a “less important” use of animals compared to experimentation [Animal experimenters {and others} in agribusiness might disagree!], animal advocates should focus on that bigger issue – animal agribusiness – and leave the experimenters alone.  

Regarding (1), the motivating idea seems to be that if a “problem” is “bigger,” i.e., it affects more beings, then smaller “problems” are not problems at all. Or perhaps the idea is that if some kind of harm affects more beings, then a similar harm that affects fewer beings is a permissible harm. Whatever the idea is, the motivating assumption is mistaken: drunk driving, for example, I suppose aversely affects fewer people than robbery or rape, but that doesn’t imply that drunk driving is not a problem or is morally permissible. (Of course, drunk drivers respond this way when arrested: “Why aren’t you police out solving murders instead of arresting me?!). Just because there are “bigger” or, in some ways, worse moral problems, does not imply that “smaller” problems are not problems or that the actions are morally permissible.

                Regarding (2), perhaps from an animal advocates’ point of view, there are strategic and/or moral reasons for focusing on animal agribusiness if doing so will lead to, say, fewer harms to animals overall. But that doesn’t change the facts that arguments have been given for the conclusion that animal experimentation is wrong and that, it seems, people should have engaging responses to these arguments. Thus response (2) is an attempt to avoid addressing the issues. And some people are in a better position to engage animal experimentation issues than animal agribusiness issues. Furthermore, one might see that both issues arise from a common cause: REGAN QUOTE so to address either (or any) animal issue is to address the root cause of the problem.

[18] DeGrazia, “The Ethics of Animal Experimentation: What are the Progress for Agreement?” p. 25

[19] For representatives of these various perspectives, see, among others, Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, 3rd Edition (Ecco, NY, 2002), Tom Regan’s The Case for Animal Rights, 2nd Edition (University of California, Los Angeles, 2004), Mark Rowlands’ Animals Like Us (Verso, London, 2002), Rosalind Hursthouse’s Ethics, Humans and Other Animals (Routledge, New York, 2000), David DeGrazia’s Taking Animals Seriously: Mental Life and Moral Status (Cambridge University Press, New York, 1996), and Andrew Linzey and Tom Regan’s Animals and Christianity : A Book of Readings (Crossroads, New York, 1988).

 [PM1]For the obvious reasons of space and the fact that, as you admit, this argument is not likely to have many proponents (either because utilitarians like Singer will not want to be vigorous champions of AE or because such champions will not be utilitarians [even if they do cite the benefits argument]), I suggest cutting this section from the paper.

 [PM2]This claim seems in tension with the last sentence in endnote 52.  Since species will share many characteristics, one implication is that an action that will harm one species will likely harm those species nearest to it in the evolutionary chain.

 [PM3]This point could be made more explicit and tied in with the earlier (ridiculous) quotes – e.g., if it would be arrogant for us not to do Animal Vivisection as a way of knowing nature in every possible way, then it would be similarly arrogant of us not to do Human Vivisection (at least in cases where we cannot get consent, etc.).  Since these people do not think we ought to pursue HV, they presumably think that their (again, ridiculous) claims are limited by morality.  But, if that is so, then why can’t moral claims limit AV?  Again, and as you point out elsewhere, they seem simply to assume that AV is permissible rather than argue for this.

 [PM4]Again, for this reason and reasons of space, I don’t think this section should be included.  I know you want the article to be exhaustive, but we simply have to leave some things unaddressed here.  This is easily one of the safest places to do so – no one reading the book is likely to doubt animal consciousness.


 [PM6]can be

 [PM7]I’m not following this sentence – what are you saying here exactly?


 [PM9]I would say: But we tend to think that would not justify experimenting on them.

 [PM10], then it is wrong to harm all human beings

 [PM11]Something is wrong grammatically here.

 [PM12], then it would be wrong to harm all human beings.

 [PM13]Actually, now that I look more closely, this entire sentence doesn’t make much sense to me.

 [PM14]I agree with you that this response seems ad hoc.  But it is used in other contexts.  One with which I am very familiar are arguments which cite the special value of heterosexual marriage deriving from its procreative potential (a property they think will exclude same-sex marriage).  When it is pointed out to the advocates of such arguments that many heterosexual couples (including all couples past menopause) are sterile and do not have procreative potential, these advocates resort to pointing out that their sexual behavior is still of a kind that is normally sufficient for procreation.

 [PM15]How this

 [PM16]Actually, you would need to lock the stranger up in a cage for all or most of his life, routinely inflict him with harmful (often excruciating) or noxious stimuli, and then kill him (and that is a relatively mild way of putting it).

 [PM17]Note that Andrew I. Cohen, from Georgia State, has a piece in a recent issue of the Journal of Applied Philosophy arguing that contractarians ought to take animals as being owed various direct duties.