- Paradigm shifts in human thought always depend on iconoclasts who are not afraid to challenge conventional wisdom. Although our thinking in the past generation about the moral status of animals has advanced in certain respects, its fundamental presuppositions have suffered from a debilitating stagnation. In contemporary thought no individual has been doing more to challenge these presuppositions in a fruitful than Gary Francione.
- The past generation of thinking about animals has been dominated by the thought of Peter Singer and Tom Regan. Indeed, Singer's and Regan's work on animals has been so influential that few thinkers have been willing to question their basic assumptions. Singer takes a utilitarian approach derived from Bentham and Mill, while Regan takes a deontological approach inherited from Kant. Both seek to refine and improve the views of their historical forebears, and both have done a great deal to draw attention to the plight of animals. But as Francione has shown through his meticulous and critical examination of their work, neither Singer nor Regan has succeeded in overcoming the anthropocentric limitations of traditional Western philosophical thinking about the moreal status of animals. Nonetheless, Francione has succeeded in rethinking the tenets of utilitarianism and deontology so as to develop an entirely new approach that identifies sentience as the necessary and sufficient condition for the possession of rights. Specifically, he argues that all sentient beings, those capable of experiencing pleasure and pain, have a fundamental interest in avoiding suffering and continuing to exist. We protect (at least in theory2) the right of all humans not to have to suffer the deprivation of their fundamental interests by being used as the resources of others. In other words, all humans have the right not to be treated as the property of others. Francione contends that there is no reason not to accord this right to nonhuman animals as well. Once we recognize this right, we must abolish our institutionalized exploitation of animals, which rests on their status as economic commodities.
- Francione has argued for this conclusion at length in numerous essays and in his books, Animals, Property, and the Law (1995) and "Francione (Gary) - Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog?" (2000). Central to Francione's critique of Singer and Regan is his rejection of "similar-minds theory," the view that animals must be cognitively like3 human beings in order to possess inherent moral worth (see "Francione (Gary) - Taking Sentience Seriously" in this volume). The dominant assumption in the history of Western philosophy has been that only those beings capable of reason and language can have full4 moral worth. Thus animals would have to be rational and linguistic in the same sense as humans in order to merit moral respect and to have the right not to be mere resources. Like Bentham and Mill before him, Singer proceeds from the idea that sentience is the only capacity relevant to considerations of moral worth, and concludes that human beings enjoy certain moral prerogatives over animals on the ground that our superior cognitive capacities make it possible for the future to matter to us in ways that it cannot matter to animals5. Humans, like nonhumans, have an interest in how they are treated, but unlike animals, humans also have an interest in life per se. Thus Singer ultimately reinforces an anthropocentric hierarchy that subordinates6 animals to the interests of human beings and accordingly focuses on the treatment, not the use, of animals. Similarly, Regan argues that animals (at least mammals over one7 year of age and perhaps other animals as well) have inherent moral worth equal8 to that of humans but concludes that in unavoidable conflicts of interest between humans and animals, the interest of humans should prevail because our superior cognitive abilities give us greater opportunities for future satisfaction than animals can have. Francione challenges the basic assumptions behind these conclusions and rejects the idea that the inherent worth of human beings is any9 greater than that of animals (see "Francione (Gary) - Comparable Harm and Equal Inherent Value: The Problem of the Dog in the Lifeboat" in this volume).
- The crux of Francione's challenge to Singer and Regan is the proposition that any being that is sentient necessarily has an interest in life because sentience is a means to the end of continued existence, an idea expressed in a number10 of essays in this book. Once we acknowledge that a being has an interest in life, we must recognize that this being also has a right to life and the avoidance of suffering that is equal in principle to the right to life enjoyed by any other sentient being. We may not make quantitative or qualitative distinctions among sentient beings in regard to their right to life. If a being has a right to life, then that being also has a right not to be property. This right is basic in the sense that it gives rise to important subsidiary rights, such as the right not to be killed for food, experimented upon, or used for entertainment. As Francione argues in the essays in this volume, these rights are shared equally by human11 and nonhuman animals; they have a categorical force that forbids us to subordinate the interests and fortunes of animals to those of humans.
- A related aspect of Francione's iconoclasm is his absolute rejection of animal welfarism. In Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement (1996) and in "Francione (Gary) - Reflections on 'Animals, Property, and the Law' and 'Rain Without Thunder'" in this volume, Francione distinguishes between animal welfarism and abolitionism. Welfarists take the view that using animals to satisfy human desires is acceptable, and they emphasize the need to treat animals well in the process of using them. Welfarists often argue that killing and eating animals is permissible as long as we raise them in comfortable and healthy circumstances. For example, we are entitled to kill and eat chickens as long as they are allowed free-range living conditions. Abolitionists, on the other hand, see any such uses of animals as a fundamental violation of their right not to be property, and they argue that all uses of animals to satisfy human desires must cease altogether. Francione argues that we have no moral justification for continuing to bring domestic animals into existence12 for human use. One focal point of his work has been his effort to demonstrate that there are now more animal welfare regulations in place than ever before, and yet there is more13 exploitation inflicted on more animals today than ever before. In effect, animal welfare regulation simply permits human beings to feel better about exploiting animals.
- Recognizing that abolition will not occur immediately, Francione focuses on the incremental eradication of the status of animals as property and on the importance of veganism14, the complete rejection of the use of animals for food or other purposes. As he describes it, veganism is the application of the principle of abolition to the life of the individual. For Francione, perhaps more than any other contemporary figure since Donald Watson, who founded the Vegan Society in Britain in 1944, veganism must be the guiding conviction in all discussion of animal ethics.
- I have often heard it said that the kind of radical change in the moral and legal status of animals envisioned by Francione will never take place. What Francione shows us, however, is that animals have the same right as human beings to live their lives, free from ownership and exploitation, quite apart from speculations about what may or may not come to pass. The fact that we humans tend to be comfortable with a regime of animal exploitation dating back thousands of years is not a justification for our continued subjugation of animals. It is an obstacle that we urgently need to overcome. To this end, what we need more than anything else is thinkers with the courage and the determination to break the images in the temple. Gary Francione is doing exactly that.
- Department of Philosophy, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, October 17, 2007
Footnote 1: Foototes are my comments.
- Indeed – but this has nothing to do with pseudo-slavery, but rather with wage-slavery (or other ways of earning a living).
- There are no free lunches, unless you are a companion animal, for human beings or other animals. Most human beings spend most of their lives doing things they’d prefer not to. That’s life.
- “Like”is a weasel word.
- The contention isn’t really that their cognition be like ours in the sense of “similar” (any more than an alien’s cognition would need to be), but that it has a degree of sophistication.
- Reason, yes; language, no.
- Also, “full” is an all-or-nothing term. It implies equality, which cannot be the case for all sentient beings.
- If your arguments imply otherwise, they have gone wrong.
- Again, this is all-or-nothing. How do we know that no animals think of the future?
- That said, anticipating the future, and making sacrifices to improve it, gives some sort of moral right not to have it cut short.
Footnote 7: Where does this come from?
- Well, this is just how it is – we just happen to be at the top of the food chain.
- Animals subordinate one another and often treat one another (whether of the same species or others) horribly.
- Now the fact that we human beings have to a degree escaped our evolutionary heritage gives us the opportunity to make things better for those that haven’t.
- But – while we may have a duty to do this – nonhuman animals don’t have a right that we so do.
Footnote 8: Tosh.
Footnote 10: Hopefully not, as the idea is muddled at best.
- However much you sympathise with the general principle that all sentient beings have moral worth, and that the effect on their “senses” should be taken into account in our moral calculations, this “any” just opens up the position to ridicule.
- Forget the dog and the child – what about the dog and the chimp, or other pairs of animals with different cognitive or sensory capacities?
- It’s not even clear (to me) that all human beings have equal moral worth.
Footnote 12: Even, presumably, if their lives for them – irrespective of their value for human beings – has positive utility on the whole.
- The point is not to count heads, but to compare cases.
- There are more human beings, and technology has moved on. What would the situation be – given these changes – in the absence of the animal welfarist movement?
- What’s wrong with eating eggs from your own hens?
- They lead happy enough lives and die natural, if not happy, deaths.
- Presumably the objection would be that for each hen there’s a cockerel that’s been liquidated?
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