Adventures in Ethics and Science

The panel discussion took place, as planned, on the evening of Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at UCLA. The hall was well-populated, if not completely packed, with members of the UCLA community. (Honestly, for week 7 of a 10-week quarter, during a spell of lovely weather, I’m impressed they had such a high turnout of students.) There was also a serious security presence (which the university felt was needed in light of past instances where strong feelings have been displayed in more than just words).

Both Pro-Test for Science and Bruins for Animals deserve huge props for all the work they put into planning and coordinating the event. For their troubles, Bruins for Animals had to put up with a fair amount of abuse from people who were nominally on their side. Nonetheless, they stuck to their guns and worked very hard to create an event that was a dialogue, not a debate.

The event itself was videotaped (from two cameras), with the hope that the picture and sound quality will be good enough that the video can be posted online. When it is, I’ll post a link to it so you can see it for yourself. In the meantime, I’ll give you my impressions as a participant (which is to say, you shouldn’t count on my for an account that is complete in all its details or even very objective).

David Lazarus, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, moderated the discussion. To my mind, he did a really good job asking the panelists hard questions, some from the audience (written on index cards) and some of his own. What I think worked here was the hard questions weren’t “gotcha!” questions aimed at discrediting a view, but rather questions aimed at probing the basis for a view, or the consequences of a view, or the ways in which some of the diverging views voiced by the six panelists might rest on some common ground.

The format of the event involved each of the six panelists giving an “opening statement” (laying out his view on the science and/or ethics of animal research) of 15 minutes or less. Yes, in theory that’s an awful lot of talk before we actually get to the dialoguic part. I wasn’t watching the clock, but my impression is that not all the panelists used the full fifteen minutes, and in any case, people did end up being somewhat responsive in their opening statements to what folks who spoke before them said in theirs (or at least acknowledged some of these points).

I do not have anything like reliable notes from the opening statements (and my Twitter followers will notice that I didn’t live-tweet them). I have some notes in my notebook on big issues that struck me as worth discussing at more length, but even these are a little sparse. See, I came prepared with two pens. One of those was appropriated by our moderator (who, for the record, didn’t return it at the end — I haven’t forgotten, David Lazarus!). The other I ended up sharing with the panelist next to me when his pen ran out of ink.

Dario Ringach, a professor of neurobiology and psychology at UCLA, spoke first about the role basic research plays in advancing biomedical science and medicine. He emphasized the unpredictability of scientific discovery. (Dario has also posted his introductory remarks.)

Niall Shanks, a Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Wichita State University, spoke next about whether animal-based research to determine whether compounds that might be useful as drugs are toxic to humans or teratogenic to humans can properly be said to be “predictive”. There were some interesting questions here about how scientists evaluate the goodness of model systems. What I would have liked to discuss even more was the broader methodological issue of setting up experimental conditions of models that are significantly simpler than the systems “in the wild” that we really want to understand. Any model necessarily abstracts away some of the stuff from the system being modeled. The tricky question becomes how much we can abstract away and still maintain enough of the core features that we’re entitled to conclude that the behavior of the model tells us something meaningful about the system being modeled.

This is not just an issue for the biomedical sciences.

Also, I think it would have been interesting to have scientists who do preliminary screens of drug toxicology involved in the discussion so they can talk about how they design their experiments. It strikes me that the rationale for asking a particular experimental question may have a big influence on whether you’d prefer to err on the side of false positives or false negatives — and potentially, you might decrease predictive power while still getting the kind of information you need.

Colin Blakemore, a professor of neuroscience at Oxford University, went next. He spoke briefly about the history of animal activism and of regulations covering animal use in Britain. As well, he talked about the importance of openness in debate about research on animals.

The next panelist to speak was Ray Greek, president of Americans for Medical Advancement. He asserted that animals are too different from humans to tell us anything useful about humans, and suggested that this is why so few basic research studies end up resulting in knowledge or therapies that are useful in treating human patients. He claimed that while the public is broadly supportive of the use of animals in research with clear applications to human health, the public is not supportive of the use of animals in basic research — an that such research, therefore, ought to be halted.

Then it was my turn. My aim was to lay out my view of the ethics of our use of animals for scientific research. Here’s the draft of what I said:

Humans have real obligations to non-human animals. Their use has moral weight.  While I see the appeal of drawing clean moral lines that put animal use completely out of bounds, our real obligations to our fellow humans make the ethical landscape more complicated.

The special regard in which we hold non-human animals is built into the regulations governing scientific research, regulations which prioritize reduction of animal pain, discomfort, and distress. Scientists do not take animal research lightly.

But our regard for non-human animals falls short of including them as full members of our moral community.

What makes someone a member of our moral community? I think a central part of it is their capacity to be a moral actor — to be able to consider an act in advance of performing it and evaluate whether it would be right or wrong to perform it. Ideally, one wants the evaluation to inform whether the act is then performed, but messing up — either in acting in accord with one’s evaluations, or in making those evaluations — is something moral actors do. The key feature is that they have the ability to recognize certain ways of acting as “messing up.”

What about moments in history or places where some people have been judged to be outside the moral community, for example because of their race or gender? I’m inclined to say we can identify these judgments as mistaken, not just because the people being marginalized arguably had a capacity to be a moral actor, but because they demonstrated at the time that they shared the capacity (within the bounds of their imposed circumstance) to act morally in this community.

We don’t hold non-human animals accountable for making moral decision or performing moral acts — indeed, we would be wrong to do so. To the extent that non-human animals might have the cognitive powers necessary to evaluate the goodness of actions or goals, whether their own or others’, there is no reason for us to believe that their “morality” would extend to humans, that it would grant is rights or any sort of special consideration.

The human moral community is where we live. Our duties to other human, thus, are the closest to home. We should do what we can to help our fellow humans live lives that let them achieve their fullest potential. The knowledge built through scientific activity — including well-regulated research with animals — helps us fulfill this duty.

Again, this does not mean that animal use is something to be taken lightly. We do care for non-human animals, and we view their unnecessary suffering as a bad thing. But our duties to humans are stronger.

Finally, Robert C. Jones, a philosophy professor from CSU-Chico (and a friend of mine from grad school), laid out his view of the ethical terrain. He argued that there isn’t a good reason to make membership in Homo sapiens a morally relevant characteristic, any more than making race, or religion, or sex, or gender a morally relevant characteristic. In contrast, he said, sentience is a morally relevant characteristic — and one that should place all sentient non-human animals out of bounds for experimentation. Bob pointed out that it’s only been 35 years since the publication of Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation, and that this is a reasonably short time for a social justice movement; abolition, for example, took longer.

I’ll be able to say something sensible about the discussion that followed after the video is available.

One issue we did talk about a bit was what exactly we can conclude from the fact (assuming it is a fact) that the public does not support the use of animals in basic research. In particular, I’m not sure that this sentiment necessarily tells us something clear about the public’s moral commitments. After all, the public seems largely supportive of the use of animals to make Happy Meals. I wonder whether lack of support for animal use in basic research tells us more about the public’s understanding of how science works or the value they assign to building knowledge that doesn’t help them in some obvious way. (Heck, I live in a state whose people often seem unconvinced that supporting public education is of value to them. Thinking down the causal chain is not always the most pronounced skill on display.)

And, as Bob pointed out, one of the important facts of ethics is that it’s possible that widely accepted practices are simply wrong. So drawing ethical conclusions from public sentiments is already iffy.

Something we didn’t really get into that I think should be a part of future conversations about this issue is whether it’s appropriate to cast the quest for animal rights as a social justice movement that is morally equivalent to the abolition of slavery, or the fight for civil rights, women’s rights, rights for people with disabilities, etc. As it happens, I am a member of a group that has had to keep asserting that we are fully human (despite the fact of not being male), and in the light of this experience, I would be horrified not to be supportive of the efforts of others to be recognized as such, even on the basis of some characteristic I do not share. But, to my ear (and my gut), there is an important difference that undermines the analogy to animal liberation.

Articulating that difference is hard, but it’s what I tried to get at with this part of my opening statement:

What about moments in history or places where some people have been judged to be outside the moral community, for example because of their race or gender? I’m inclined to say we can identify these judgments as mistaken, not just because the people being marginalized arguably had a capacity to be a moral actor, but because they demonstrated at the time that they shared the capacity (within the bounds of their imposed circumstance) to act morally in this community.

Really, I don’t think it’s a matter of one oppressed group wanting to pull up the rope ladder after achieving its liberation. I think the proponents of animal rights could learn something useful by talking to members of other groups fighting for social justice and listening to why this comparison doesn’t always sit right for them.

Was it a perfect dialogue? No, but I don’t think anyone expected it to be? Was it a productive discussion? If the aim was to articulate differing views, to ask and answer questions about those views, and even to identify some common ground, then I think it’s fair to say it was very productive.

I hope it was also useful in demonstrating that people can hold quite different views on a subject while still doing their best to be intellectually honest. There were no monsters on the panel, and some of us on opposite sides of the issue like and respect each other quite a lot. Putting that on display can only be good for the prospects of moving forward on these issues.

* * * * *
The Nature news blog has a brief write-up of the event. However, I’m fairly sure (contra their reporting) that I never invoked animal rights. I suppose this is another place where the videotape may end up being useful.

Comments

  1. #1 Mike T
    February 18, 2010

    Thank you for involving yourself in these efforts, no matter how small progress may be at a given juncture.

  2. #2 Peace Is Coming For You
    February 18, 2010

    Dear Janet,

    Considering the argument for testing on animals based on the inability to be “moral actors”, wouldn’t requiring this qualification exclude infants, some developmentally-disabled people and coma/non-cognitive patients from moral consideration also, justifying basic research on all these groups? The “moral agent” argument doesn’t seem to stand when scrutinized in this light.

    Non-human animals have just a much right to their own lives and bodies as human animals. Does anyone really think that they care more about living and owning your life than any other animal?

    As a woman, the correlation between discrimination based on gender and discrimination based on species should be obvious. The parallels between feminism and vegetarianism/antivivisectionism are vast, as outlined by Carol Adams in “The Sexual Politics Of Meat” for example. “Is justice so fragile a commodity that it cannot extend beyond the human race?” “In suffering, animals are our equals.”

    We will never learn anything about humans by testing on animals; we will only learn about animals.

  3. #3 David Jentsch
    February 18, 2010

    Janet: Thank you so much for participating in this event and for offering your personal perspectives. I truly believe that they had an impact on those attending: whether their instinct told them to support biomedical research involving animals or to be more critical of it.

    Thank you also for summarizing many of the main points discussed in the dialogue. The video should be available soon and will allow all interested to directly experience the exchange.

    I consider the panel discussion to be a success. My personal objectives for it were two-fold. First, I thought it critical that all who attended be confronted with the idea that personal perspectives on animal research represented a continuum of beliefs (a different model than that usually sold which is that you are either an animal rights crazie or a sadistic supporter of animal torture). I believe that the discussion directly challenged the belief people sometimes have that anyone on the mythical “other side” would not be able to have any beliefs that resonate with their own. Second, I wanted to accomplish a forum that proved that those wanting to engage in an honest dialogue can and will do so, threats and intimidation be damned.

    The truth is that this issue is not about sadistic monsters versus wackanuts. It’s about people with good motivations who have different belief systems that result from different assignment of importance to facts and assumptions and philosophical viewpoints.

    We all are entitled to our questions and to the answers that come from asking them. We all are entitled to be a participant in a discussion of important social issues like animal use. We all are entitled to our opinions.

    Each of these entitlements are best expressed when others don’t intimidate or harass us out of being willing to enjoy them. The dialogue was a first step in this direction.

    Thank you to the moderator, the panelists and the audience. I am gratified to help make that step happen; I hope our dialogue continues.

  4. #4 Janet D. Stemwedel
    February 18, 2010

    Peace @2:

    Considering the argument for testing on animals based on the inability to be “moral actors”, wouldn’t requiring this qualification exclude infants, some developmentally-disabled people and coma/non-cognitive patients from moral consideration also, justifying basic research on all these groups?

    Infants are presumptively on a track to develop the cognitive powers and inclinations to consider the rightness or wrongness of an act; they are in training to become full members of our moral community.

    In a similar way, developmentally disabled people ought to be treated as members of the moral community. Many have some ability to behave as moral agents, some understanding (even if not perfect) of rightness of wrongness of acts — and, given how frequently “normal” people underestimate the agency of developmentally disabled persons, I’m inclined to say erring on the side of caution (toward inclusion) here is fully warranted.

    Indeed, that pesky problem of other minds means that we’re already playing itself by assuming, on the basis of our own experience of weighing the rightness or wrongness of acts, that other beings that display behavior enough like ours are able to do this, too.

    There may be cases where some people have permanently lost the capacity to be a moral agent, or were never able to develop it. In such cases, we don’t tend to view these people as OK to experiment on. Maybe this is a glaring inconsistency. Maybe this is our way of recognizing the loss of a member (or potential member) of our moral community, felt by the family members or friends of such persons.

    While non-human animals can surely feel pain (and their pain ought to be avoided or minimized), I just don’t think that’s the same as being a moral agent — which, I think, is crucial to being part of our moral community.

    As a woman, the correlation between discrimination based on gender and discrimination based on species should be obvious.

    As I noted above, I think there’s a difference in details that strains the analogy.

    And yet, I’m still a woman.

    We will never learn anything about humans by testing on animals; we will only learn about animals.

    Given our shared evolutionary history, this claim strikes me as extremely unlikely, even before we turn to detailed evidence.

  5. #5 Pat Cahalan
    February 19, 2010

    Janet,

    As I’ve shown before, I’m clearly not an anti-test believer, but I’d be interested in seeing the pro-test community come right out and tackle this sort of thing head on:

    http://www.badscience.net/2010/01/12-monkeys-no-8-wait-sorry-i-meant-14/

    I haven’t read the study Ben cites here, but those observations seem to indicate there’s some really sloppy science going on. That doesn’t mean that the resulting studies have no value, of course, but it really damages the quality of the evidence.

  6. #6 Paul Browne
    February 19, 2010

    Pat, there is some discussion of the paper you cite on the Understanding Animal Research site at http://www.understandinganimalresearch.org.uk/latest_news/blog/show/183/bad_design_or_bad_reporting_

    I am fairly confident that the problem is more one of poor reporting of experimental design in journals rather than poor experimental design, and as I mention in the UAR discussion it probably has more to do with the cultural differences between basic research and clinical trials, rather than between animal research specifically and clinical trials. As the authors of the PLoS study themselves recognize when they state in a paragraph on previous studies that:

    “The problems with experimental design and reporting that we have identified are also in line with similar reviews of the literature in various other scientific and clinical research areas [18]–[25]. In these research areas too, the quality of reporting and experimental design has been found wanting. The entire scientific community is reliant on published experiments being appropriately designed and carried out, and accurately and transparently reported, as this has implications for the scientific validity of the results.”

    http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0007824#pone-0007824-t003

    One concern I do have is whether the authors have fully reognized that the resources, both financial and personnel, available to many scientists conducting basic research studies is a lot less than that available in clinical trials, so it is perhaps unrealistic to expect animal studies (with the exception of more immediately pre-clinical studies) to conform to the standards expected of clinical trails.

    That said they do make several good points, more needs to be done in basic scientific research to ensure that studies are designed as well as possible and reported accurately and comprehensively. This is an area where funders of research and scientific journals could make a real difference, especially not that many journals support the provision of supplementary online information.

  7. #7 Sharon Astyk
    February 19, 2010

    I’m by no means opposed to necessary animal research, and I raise animals for consumption, but it strikes me that human moral agency is a very high bar to set, and a circular one as well – because animals are animals, they do not use moral reasoning, and because they do not use moral reasoning, you can use them as test subjects. I find this intellectually troubling – because “moral reasoning” is a uniquely human consideration as we understand it – even if animals had moral considerations, they wouldn’t necessarily look like human more considerations (note, I’m not saying they do), there’s nothing we could learn about any animal, under circumstances, other than that they shared our conception of right and wrong, that would ever change the idea that it was ok to use them as test subjects.

    Like you, I have a hard time articulating why this seems wrong, but it does to me. The case for sentience as a barrier makes some sense (only, of course, with moral consideration – that is, we’re not going treat children without the capacity for full sentience like lab rats) to me, because it allows us to change our reasoning in the light of evidence. Yours doesn’t seem to.

    Sharon

  8. #8 JohnV
    February 19, 2010

    @Pat Cahalan

    With regards to that study, scientists have been attacking it since it came out. No one, besides the anti-vaccine crowd, thinks it is evidence of anything besides malfeasance. See this blog post as a jumping off point: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/02/wakefield_retracted_again.php

    @Janet

    I think surgeons who developed techniques on animals before applying them to humans would agree with the last statement in your comment.

  9. #9 Pat Cahalan
    February 19, 2010

    @ JohnV

    I’m not talking about the Wakefield study, although Ben’s blog title could lead you to believe so. Next time you should read the link ;)

    @ Paul

    Thanks for the resources, I’ll go read up. I agree with the first link, there’s a high likelihood of bad reporting being the root cause rather than bad science in some cases, and I also agree that basic research and clinical trials will have different sets of resources upon which to draw. It’s a truism in basic science research that you do the best study you can afford, not the best study you can design, and even weaker results are better than no results at all. Journal editors should take this as an incentive to require more explicit limitations sections, though.

  10. #10 Paul Browne
    February 19, 2010

    JohnV, the paper Pat Cahalan is referring to is a review of the reporting of experimental detains in animal research papers, not that horrible insult to reponsible animal researchers everywhere that Hewitson and Wakefield recently tried to publish.

  11. #11 padraig
    February 19, 2010

    First, Janet, thanks again for standing up as a voice of reason and civility.

    Second, as an older sibling of a Down Syndrome individual who has dealt with her legal and societal issues, I’d like to address part of PICfY’s contention, regarding the developmentally disabled:

    ‘Considering the argument for testing on animals based on the inability to be “moral actors”, wouldn’t requiring this qualification exclude infants, some developmentally-disabled people and coma/non-cognitive patients from moral consideration also, justifying basic research on all these groups? The “moral agent” argument doesn’t seem to stand when scrutinized in this light.’

    The answers are that:
    1) Developmentally disabled humans are still human, and are still (depending on degree of disability) able to act as moral agents.

    2) Developmentally disabled humans are given human rights up to their ability to participate in society. For example, my sister can read and write, ride a bicycle, etc., but managing finances is largely beyond her, and she cannot hold a driver’s license. At one point we went through a competency determination proceeding that determined to what extent she can manage her own affairs, and set up essentially her own system of rights and responsibilities under family members’ guardianship. Under that aegis, she could in fact participate in a research study, but it would require both her consent and ours.

    So, in essence we treat all humans as part of our society, or moral community, but we adjust their roles according to their ability to participate. But even those completely unable to participate, such as the comatose, are afforded some protection.

  12. #12 Megan Wyeth
    February 19, 2010

    Thank you for helping to make the panel such a success, Janet.
    Here is a link to the video:
    http://www.vimeo.com/9566306

  13. #13 inverse_agonist
    February 19, 2010

    The animal activists really have do have a point with the argument from marginal cases. If the reason not to use adult humans as test subjects is that they have some level of cognitive sophistication, and the reason to use animals is that they lack this sophistication, it must follow that testing on disabled, senile, or brain dead humans is acceptable. This is not where the problem lies.

    The problem lies with the assumption that consistent ethics are possible or even desirable. Humans have morality because we evolved it. It’s something that happens in our brains, not an objective feature of the world. Certain emotional tendencies are agreeable, and others are aversive. Which is which has been determined by our evolutionary history. It’s helped us to cooperate, and so forth.

    There is some regularity in our moral views, because the selection pressure on our social behavior has been regular. From this regularity, we can make abstractions like consequentialism or deontology or whatever. We have an aversion to seeing others in pain, and animals in pain have similar features that we also find aversive. Ducks have also imprinted on humans, and some humans are also sexually aroused by drawings.

    Doing animals research often IS unpleasant for the researchers. In the same way that some animals evolved the ability to run at great speed, humans have an elaborated prefrontal cortex that allows us to suppress our impulses. This ability allows us to shock little bunny rabbits, and it also allows us to suppress our natural tendency to use animal products.

    The bottom line is that animal activists are more sensitive to animal suffering than other people. People killing animals (for food or knowledge) have emotional investments in their goals that outweigh their emotional aversion to animal suffering. By the same token, animal activists are less moved than other people by appeals to whatever suffering or ignorance we would incur by ceasing to use animals. The issue is polarizing because anyone that doesn’t share my revulsion at ________ is a monster.

    None of these preferences are rationally justifiable or even consistent with other emotional reactions. Emotions (and therefore ethics) exist because they kept us alive and reproducing in our natural environment, not because they reflect fundamental and objective facts about the universe.

    My diet is vegan, and I feel strongly that anyone eating meat that knows where it comes from is incredibly callous and lacking in principle. I’m also very curious, so I’m less upset by a picture of a rat with electrodes in its head. I would argue that animals are necessary to answer certain important questions, while eating factory-farmed animal products is absolutely unnecessary and bad for you in any case. It’s perfectly straightforward to me, but I doubt it’s going to convince many other people. Other people don’t tend to be moved by questions like “do CA1 and CA3 differ in their propensities toward pattern separation and pattern completion?”

    Dialogue is good (I was raised to eat McDonald’s), but I don’t think we’re ever going to get anywhere talking about predictive validity and the like. It might be helpful if you could rely on people to understand science (or even logic), but hell will freeze over long before that happens in America. We could learn everything there is to know about molecular biology and people would still say “animals aren’t people, so how can you apply that to people?” They’d say it indignantly, too, just like the people that deny global warming because it snowed yesterday.

  14. #14 Robert C. Jones
    February 19, 2010

    padraig,

    If someone were to ask in 1840 Mississippi, “Why are all whites—regardless of their education, social rank, gender, cognitive abilities, etc.—afforded higher moral status than all blacks,” answering, “Because they’re white” fails to answer and begs the question.

    Similarly, if someone asks, “In virtue of what are all human beings—regardless of their cognitive capacities—afforded higher moral status than all animals,” answering, “Because they’re human” fails to answer and begs the question.

    You write:

    “But even those completely unable to participate, such as the comatose, are afforded some protection.”

    But that’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? Why are even those “completely unable to participate” (e.g., anencephalic children) still “afforded some protection” while animals of equal or greater capacity afforded none? Answer that question satisfactorily without saying “Because they’re human” (or something like that), and you will have refuted all of Peter Singer’s (an my) arguments.

    Hey Janet, great to see you Tuesday. It was fun. And thanks for having such a cool blog!

    -Bob

  15. #15 Dario Ringach
    February 19, 2010

    Robert,

    It was a good discussion. Thanks for visiting UCLA.

    I thought we all agreed moral boundaries are dynamic and what is acceptable at one time may not be in the future. We also agreed that is up to society to decide where they want these moral boundaries placed — recent examples of such moving boundaries include stem cell research and abortion.

    Now, I wanted to follow up on some points as I learn more about the ethical and philosophical arguments against the responsible use of animals to advance medical science and human/animal health.

    I said that a conflict seems to exist between requiring internal consistency of a moral theory and one that is also practical in real life. Developing a set of criteria that could apply to individual organisms/objects to decide if they are worth of moral consideration does not make much sense (as you are not going to be testing each of your individual you cross in the street to see if they all are worth of moral consideration).

    It seems that, in practice, there is no alternative but to refer to the properties of different categories. Not all members of a category will necessarily have a fixed set of attributes, so we are bound to deal with probabilistic information – such as what the likelihood that a random member of each category will have property X?

    I thought you acknowledged that this is in fact what we all do in our daily life. Did you not?

    Categorizing objects is natural for our brains and required to organize information in some meaningful way. Chairs, animals, cars, toys, rocks are all categories. When faced with a situation where I have to steer my car over a piece of furniture or a dog, my brain can quickly make an appropriate decision (i.e., don’t kill the dog).

    When you stated “we all know it is Ok to kick a rock, but not Ok to kick a cat” you were effectively applying such probabilistic reasoning to categories and their properties (cats usually feel pain but rocks don’t). Yet, you where not accused of “rockcism”. Species are natural members of such categorial organization of information, but only one of many. However, as soon as species becomes a category everything turns into “speciesism”

    If we have to split the universe into categories, is there any way of doing it that will be immune to the criticism that you are “discriminating” one category vs another no matter how the categories are selected?

    If not, then you are back to square one, having to live a paralyzing life subject to a moral ethical theory that will demand you check that speck of dust in front of you is not really conscious or sentient before you take your next step.

    It is likely many of these arguments have been discussed before in the literature. I’d be glad for pointers on where to read more.

  16. #16 et
    February 20, 2010

    @inverse
    You write: “People killing animals (for food or knowledge) have emotional investments in their goals that outweigh their emotional aversion to animal suffering.” Not necessarily true. I help raise animals for meat & eggs. My animals do not suffer at any point in their lives. They live and die at home and never fear death before they die. I have a strong aversion to animal suffering and am emotionally invested in my animals. They are born to die (as you and I also are), my role is to make their lives a good as possible. I don’t eat the meat but will eat the eggs.

  17. #17 Mike T
    February 20, 2010

    Professor Jones,

    To me this focus on cleanly defining boundaries on the rarest case is an adolescent conceit. I don’t know what other areas of philosophy you concentrate on but perhaps you can indicate some other areas where the deep philosophical thinking hinges on making absolute distinctions from a messy set of distributions.

    My view is that for anything really important there will always be the exception that appears to violate the core principle. I feel it betrays very underdeveloped sophistication of thought to insist on absolute purity….which never exists, of course. Save in artificially constructed systems like fundamentalist theology….and even then…

  18. #18 david
    February 22, 2010

    Not in response to any particular comment or to the blogger, but on subject:

    Sadly, I see people as meaner, more deceitful, and downright cruel than most sci bloggers see them, I see larceny and murder in the heart of every man, somewhat controlled. And that difference in matching makes a difference in conclusions reached sometimes, and this is one of those times.

    Most of the discussion is gone I suspect, but time needed please to mull this discussion with various names, so here are some questions and here are some answers, and some just questions, and some just answers, and if I’m talking to myself it’s okay with me.

    Q Why won’t this situation become clear for all concerned?
    A I propose that because it’s not about dialogue but about plot, unless the dialog is about plot.

    Q Huh? And what plot is that, it must be unmentionable?
    A Yes, it is, it’s the foreshadowing of death. Either way the animals end up dead, either eaten or used for testing. Behold, they are as good as dead now already.

    Q Ha! But you mentioned it!
    A Yes, for animals, now for humans : including your sons and daughters, your loved ones, you, and all those you see. Behold, they are as good as dead already. I think you don’t like that.

    Q Well if the foreshadowing of death is central to the plot then it is a type of religious discussion?
    A That would be up to you.

    Q Not a matter of whether, but how and when, death comes for both animal and human?
    A Is roast pig better if beaten to death with a whip?

    Q So are we looking for a ceremony a la Shakespeare and Joseph Campbell?
    A Some type of ceremony legitimizes, or not, does it not?

    Q&A Art for art’s sake exists more than we acknowledge in the forms of torture.

    A only: Perhaps remembering the two world wars will help, or a killer.

    A few available references, no experience required : Mark Twain, ‘The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg’; Cormac MacCarthy, ‘No Country for Old Men’; Susan Sontag ‘On Photography’ and popular lyrics sometimes should be credited, such as sung by the Mamas and the Papas : ‘I got a feelin’ you been a-stealin’ all the love I thought I was giving to you.’ : ) We recall I’m sure that The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells is about this, and on the side point of what is a sentient being, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

  19. #19 Corinne Titus
    February 22, 2010

    Thank-you Janet Stemwedel,

    Good for you and your efforts. I think it’s great that you participated in getting the topic of animal experimentation discussed. I have been trying to get UCLA to debate for 6 years, even offering to drop a lawsuit if they would. While a discussion is not a debate, it’s certainly better than nothing. Maybe Chancellor Block will have the courage to come forward and hold a debate now, that would be so exciting. Too bad I don’t have a Bruins card because I could not understand a word Dario Ringach said between his accent and the quality of the film. I will try to get a copy and listen again.

    Check out my myspace page http://www.myspace.com/uclacoverup

    Ringach quit experimenting on monkeys the same day I told UCLA I finally had a lawyer.

    Thanks for fighting torture to animals and fraud to human beings.

    Sincerely,
    Corinne Titus

  20. #20 Robert C. Jones
    February 23, 2010

    Mike T.

    To answer your question about “other areas where the deep philosophical thinking hinges on making absolute distinctions from a messy set of distributions”, well, I’m not sure what areas of philosophy you yourself are familiar with, but I can tell you that most of analytic philosophy hinges on attempting to make “absolute distinctions” of the kind you characterize as an “adolescent conceit”. Here are some examples:

    -Plato
    -Aristotle
    -Descartes
    -Locke
    -Kant (especially his ethics)
    -Mill
    -Russell
    -Carnap

    The list goes on and on. In any event, I agree, systems are messy and perhaps the best we can do is formulate some kind of Wittgensteinian “family resemblance”. I don’t deny that. All I demand is internal consistency. And when that is missing as in the case of the asymmetries between the moral considerability and treatment of animals, I think criticism of a lack of a clearly defined principle of justice to account for such asymmetry is far from “underdeveloped sophistication.” Quite the opposite. I find it interesting that my ability to clearly articulate and argue for my position is interpreted as “unsophisticated”. Believe me, I’m not looking for some “fundamentalist core principles”. Requiring a set of just principles that aspire to an ideal, as messy as real life is, is certainly a fruitful endeavor. I think that, for good or for bad, the history of philosophy is certainly on my side on this one.

  21. #21 Robert C. Jones
    February 23, 2010

    Hi Dario,

    Thank you for participating in the panel. I think it was very fruitful in no small part to your contributions. Let me address your points one by one:

    I thought we all agreed moral boundaries are dynamic and what is acceptable at one time may not be in the future. We also agreed that is up to society to decide where they want these moral boundaries placed — recent examples of such moving boundaries include stem cell research and abortion.

    I agree that moral boundaries are, in practice, dynamic. But to be clear, that is not the same thing as saying that what is right and wrong is relativistic. As I thought I made clear on the panel, I reject the notion that it is solely up to society to decide where these moral boundaries fall. Let me clarify. Yes, in practice, society will decide where moral boundaries will fall. This is, as a matter of fact, true. But it does not follow that where society draws such boundaries justifies drawing them where it does. One needs only to look to the history of slavery in this country. There was a time when moral boundaries where drawn by society based on a morally irrelevant characteristic, namely, race. In that case, what I want to say is this: Society decided where to draw this moral boundary but society was wrong. So, from the fact that most of the culture thinks that stem cell research or abortion or animal experimentation or slavery is right or wrong it does not follow that it is that way. I am not a moral or cultural relativist. That’s a bankrupt view. I’m not implying that you are, I’m just pointing out that the way that you are expressing your view might easily be confused with a relativistic position. I just don’t think that morality is a democratic endeavor. We don’t go, “How many of you think slavery is wrong?” and then count hands and then say, “Well, okay, that settles it!” I doubt that you agree with Prop 8, do you? Sometimes when “the people” speak, they’re just plain wrong.

    Now, I wanted to follow up on some points as I learn more about the ethical and philosophical arguments against the responsible use of animals to advance medical science and human/animal health.

    I think part of the question is whether there is such a thing as the “responsible” use of animals, so I would resist even your characterization of the practices. Small point, but, you know, I’m a philosopher. We’re nuts about things like language and meaning!

    I said that a conflict seems to exist between requiring internal consistency of a moral theory and one that is also practical in real life. Developing a set of criteria that could apply to individual organisms/objects to decide if they are worth of moral consideration does not make much sense.

    I don’t see why not. Yes, there are certainly many, many situations in life when determining important morally relevant properties of individuals is entirely impractical. Yes, if I saw a boy and a dog drowning and had only a few seconds to rescue only one, it is certainly rational to go with your gut (which, I believe, is based ultimately on a kind of probability calculation heuristic based on inference to the best explanation from past events) and save the boy. I don’t see why we can’t have both internal consistency and practical real-life applications. Don’t we do this all the time? Don’t we say, in legal settings for example, that adult humans are blameworthy and praiseworthy for their actions? But when we see someone behaving in an immoral way and then we learn further that this person is mentally disabled, we say, “Oh, yeah, they’re not blameworthy”. Why? Because we have a legal theory that is both internally consistent and practical when it comes to considered moral judgments regarding certain individuals. I’m not sure your “we need to generalize or else” critique stands up.

    It seems that, in practice, there is no alternative but to refer to the properties of different categories. Not all members of a category will necessarily have a fixed set of attributes, so we are bound to deal with probabilistic information – such as what the likelihood that a random member of each category will have property X?

    Exactly. See my comments about the boy v. the dog above. But it does not follow from the fact that often we need to act based primarily on probabilistic assumptions that we should set social and institutional policy on such assumptions. Societal practices that are institutionalized (like slavery or education or meat-eating or animal experimentation) are not the same as everyday on-the-spot decisions that we must make based on some probabilistic calculus of the sort you describe.

    I thought you acknowledged that this is in fact what we all do in our daily life. Did you not?

    Yes. However, see above.

    Categorizing objects is natural for our brains and required to organize information in some meaningful way. Chairs, animals, cars, toys, rocks are all categories. When faced with a situation where I have to steer my car over a piece of furniture or a dog, my brain can quickly make an appropriate decision (i.e., don’t kill the dog).

    Just because something is “natural” does not make it just. Just look at the debates that have revolved around evolutionary psychology. I would agree that the ability to make sense of the world and to recognize patterns and make generalizations provided Homo sapiens with a selective advantage. I am not denying that. I think we’re on the same page about that. But, as you know, these kinds of “modules” are course-grained heuristics that are, well, sometimes disadvantageous. From the fact that you swerve away from the dog and over the chair and that this may be beyond your conscious deliberation at the moment, it does not follow that all such behavioral generalizations are “good”. Humans have been wrong in the past about their generalizations when it comes to really important things. I’m not sure that’s an argument you want too hang your hat on.

    When you stated “we all know it is Ok to kick a rock, but not Ok to kick a cat” you were effectively applying such probabilistic reasoning to categories and their properties (cats usually feel pain but rocks don’t).

    The thing is, no rocks are sentient. Not a one. But most cats are. The reason I am not a “rockcist” is because being sentient is a morally relevant property when it comes to kicking. Remember how speciesism is defined:

    The belief that members of one’s own species are more valuable than (and morally superior to) members of another species based on a morally irrelevant property (species), often leading to discriminatory prejudice and practices favoring the interests of the members of one’s own species and opposing the interests of members of another species.

    If you were to ask me, “Why can you kick rocks?” and I said, “Because they’re rocks”, that wouldn’t be an answer. Maybe I would be a rockcist then. But the reason really is that rocks don’t feel pain. That’s not rockcist.

    Yet, you where not accused of “rockcism”. Species are natural members of such categorical organization of information, but only one of many. However, as soon as species becomes a category everything turns into “speciesism”.

    No, speciesism arises when one is involved in a particular deliberative, considered decision-making procedure that involves the potential for harm to a given organism (that is, when one is making a moral decision) and one includes in the decision-calculus the species of the individual when that is not relevant. That’s speciesism. Tuskegee is a great example when it comes to race. To decide that race is relevant when deciding who gets treated for syphilis is racist, no? Well, the same applies to species. Am I being speciesist when I rescue the boy over the dog? Maybe.

    Here’s a thought experiment. The data indicate uncontrovertibly that in the US, black males between the ages of 18-25 commit more violent crimes than any other group. If I had to interact with a black male or a white male, both of whom were unknown to me, and I used those statistics (and some probabilistic calculus of the kind you suggest) to justify my actions in choosing the white male, would I be being a racist? These are complicated questions, but it’s certainly not clear that I’m not being racist and that’s all that matters for my case.

    If we have to split the universe into categories, is there any way of doing it that will be immune to the criticism that you are “discriminating” one category vs. another no matter how the categories are selected?

    Well, as I said that night, I think sentience is a pretty important property such that if an organism possesses it, then that makes a moral difference. I don’t see all properties as arbitrary or equal. There are principled reasons why we value some properties over others: the ability for reciprocity, the ability to reason morally, and…sentience. I do not see these as arbitrary categories as you seem to imply. Some “discrimination” is warranted and some is not. But just because (as you point out) any categorizing will lead to some sort of discrimination it dos not follow that all discrimination is equal.

    If not, then you are back to square one, having to live a paralyzing life subject to a moral ethical theory that will demand you check that speck of dust in front of you is not really conscious or sentient before you take your next step.

    This is not a fair analogy. Yes, if that speck of dust is sentient, then, yes, it has intrinsic moral worth. But to institutionalize moral practices based on generalizations is, as I have been arguing here, unjust.

    It is likely many of these arguments have been discussed before in the literature. I’d be glad for pointers on where to read more.

    As for reading, I suggest you read Bernard Rollin’s Animal Rights & Human Morality and his The Unheeded Cry: Animal Consciousness, Animal Pain, & Science (two masterpieces), chapter 3 of Peter Singer’s Practical Ethics, Tom Regan’s The Case for Animal Rights, and my doctoral dissertation(!) (The Moral Significance of Animal Cognition).

    The bottom line (for me) is this: Some practices that humans institutionalize are morally wrong. And the use of sentient creatures as unwilling subjects in experimentation for the benefit of humans is one of them. There are good, sound reasons why it’s a practice that should (and will, someday) be eliminated. It’s just a matter of time. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but someday, we will see these practices disappear for ethical reasons.

    In any event, I would love to dialogue with you more about this. I can tell you one thing, namely, that philosophers who do animal ethics are not lunatics. We are often painted that way, but it’s becoming a pretty respected and popular field. Lemme know any time you might want to get coffee and talk more about this stuff. I am in LA quite frequently. Thanks, Dario.

  22. #22 david
    February 23, 2010

    @ Robert C. Jones

    Dr. Free-Ride’s position is that ethics are pre-existing*** I presume that one is linked with another and we just gather them in, just find where and what they are*** that they are determined by a ‘society’ or by a ‘moral community’ which I presume is a smaller unit of society.

    You, however, have found ethics to be institutionalized, so we would gather them from this institution to see what they are. We would compare them with our own ethics for similarity then contrast.

    [In neither position is it a matter of 'situation ethics,' which could yield ground, but rather of absolute ethics which should not.]

    Indulgence asked: this is tedious observing: These differences in position are huge, so that in practice one could easily be using the same words but be talking about two different things. In other words, the two positions don’t mesh, real argument is not taking place, and both sides are left with the less satisfactory ‘dialogue,’ less satisfactory because it does not itself lead to action. The dialog favors the status quo, in other words institutions.

    Your position is that we should press on to inspect the ethics of these institutions. Yet, we do not have access to them, they are protective, we only have these outlier spokesmen who are basically saying “trust me.”

    So observing: institutions and money are troubling aspects of this discussion, and because the money comes from the government, every person has standing to inquire.

    I assume you want to have the argument, and win it, because you feel you are right. To do so you will have to clearly demarcate what is institutional, and in what way a position is tied to institutional money, and clearly demarcate both sides, theirs and yours. Otherwise they are going to slow-walk you to death, having all the time available to a perpetuating institution.

    Your case starts with what are the ethics of the institution, then where’s the money. The philosophical arguments quickly become ethereal beside the practical questions.

    Observing.

  23. #23 david
    February 23, 2010

    @ Dario

    It seems that I have misunderstood you and I am a pretty damn good reader.

    However, the burden of clarity is on you.

    It seems you have purpose in wanting to move the argument into ethereal zones.

  24. #24 Robert C. Jones
    February 23, 2010

    @david

    The institutional approach is just one of many. I do not utilize those kinds of arguments exclusively. I do think that utilizing that paradigm can be empowering. The literature in the philosophy of race regarding the differences between overt and institutional racism (see, for example, Gertrude Ezorsky’s work) is an effective model for understanding the complexity of phenomena such as racism. I think it works well for sexism and speciesism as well. Liberation for animals will occur as the result of a confluence of forces and differing points of view. The institutional approach is just one of them.

  25. #25 Mike T
    February 24, 2010

    Prof Jones @#20

    I can tell you that most of analytic philosophy hinges on attempting to make “absolute distinctions” of the kind you characterize as an “adolescent conceit”. Here are some examples

    Well if this is the case perhaps much of philosophy is an adolescent conceit. Your reference to long dead dudes fails to address the question. Dr. Stemwedel’s blog is my most recent brush with the philosophical mindset and I find her to not suffer from absolutist errors in the least. She consistently tries to incorporate the real world into her thinking and allows for fuzz and shades of grey. I find this approach to be realistic and mature.

    In any event, I agree, systems are messy … I don’t deny that. All I demand is internal consistency… I think criticism of a lack of a clearly defined principle of justice to account for such asymmetry is far from “underdeveloped sophistication.” .. Believe me, I’m not looking for some “fundamentalist core principles”.

    Which is it? are you allowing for imprecision or are you insisting on “internal consistency”? Your fundamental critique appears to be the *lack* of consistency from how I read you.

    Requiring a set of just principles that aspire to an ideal, as messy as real life is, is certainly a fruitful endeavor. I think that, for good or for bad, the history of philosophy is certainly on my side on this one.

    The current conduct of animal research aspires to many ideals including the cessation of such work if there were any other way to accomplish the goals. There is not, as yet. Your principles may aspire to a *different* ideal but they do not differ from Prof Stemwedel’s principles in any structural sense. Yet you appear to be arguing on the basis of some structural superiority (internal consistency, aspire to ideal, etc).

    Now, with respect to “internal consistency” this is a good opportunity for you to abandon the ivory tower approach and follow the implications of living internally consistently. ARA extremists and mere apologists alike should, by your principles, act with scrupulous internal consistency or it invalidates their general philosophical stance. Right? Just trying to get your principle of consistency and aspiration to ideals straight here.

    Obviously, the first step is aspirational rejection of all benefits and uses of animals on the part of the AR folks. If they cannot do so, each and every one, this invalidates the position- again, just going by your logic here.

  26. #26 Cleveland
    February 24, 2010

    Some practices that humans institutionalize are morally wrong. And the use of sentient creatures as unwilling subjects in experimentation for the benefit of humans is one of them.

    How much time have you personally spent working with
    1) dolphins
    2) Chimpanzees or other great apes
    3) monkeys
    4) rats
    5) mice
    6) fruit flies

    How much time have you personally spent working with children or adults with Down Syndrome or other mentally incapacitating conditions?

    (and how do you define sentience because I saw one or two hints that you nutters equate sentience with the mere ability to feel pain- this diverges quite significantly from what most people understand this concept to be)

  27. #27 Robert C. Jones
    February 24, 2010

    Mike T @ #25 & Cleveland @ #26:

    Your posts have degenerated into ad hominem arguments, so I am disengaging.

    Thanks, Janet, for what is, overall, a great blog. See you soon.

    -Bob

  28. #28 jemand
    February 26, 2010

    “But that’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? Why are even those “completely unable to participate” (e.g., anencephalic children) still “afforded some protection” while animals of equal or greater capacity afforded none?”

    That is not actually true, companion animals ARE afforded a greater protection, and if someone kidnaps a companion animal for research or food, than actions which could have been done ethically and legally if it were another animal, are immoral and criminal. It’s a crime, because of the deep connection of that companion animal to it’s human companion, which IS a moral agent. When human parents make a decision to gestate an anencephalic child to term, it is a connection on par to the owner and the pet. Even though the child has no “moral agency” to justify it’s inclusion and protection on it’s own, it has a deep connection and bond to another member of the human community which IS conscious, sentient, and morally reasoning.

  29. #29 Robert C. Jones
    February 27, 2010

    jemand

    As you point out, I wrote:

    “Why are even those “completely unable to participate” (e.g., anencephalic children) still “afforded some protection” while animals of equal or greater capacity afforded none?”

    True, some animals, namely, those that we (moral agents) deem worthy due to their special relations to us, are afforded some (but not equal) protection. But all humans, regardless of their relations to any moral agent, are afforded basic protections. So, no, what I have written remains true.

    Here’s a thought experiment for you. Take an anencephalic child whose mother dies in childbirth, whose father is dead, and who has no relatives. Would you argue that this anencephalic orphan has robust protections against certain kinds of treatment? On your view, if the real factor that is doing all the moral work here is this special relations to moral agents, it’s not clear you have an argument for inclusion of the anencephalic orphan into the sphere of those things that are robustly morally considerable. Now, you might want to say that humans have moral sentiments towards other humans (such as the orphan) that they don’t toward animals who are strangers to them, but that’s a different argument. That’s not your argument. On the other hand, you might want to respond by saying that we moral agents hold some special relation(s) to the anencephalic orphan that we don’t to the feral cat. And perhaps that relation has something to do with being human. But that begs the very question I am asking. My question is why are all and only humans morally special in this kind of inviolable way? To answer, “Because all humans are related to each other in special ways that they are not to animals” fails to address the question. To go, for example, from genome to moral considerability requires argument. And I see none.

    Further, if special relations to moral agents is what is doing all the moral work here, an account of exactly which things are allowed to count as objects of moral concern and which aren’t is needed. What does that account look like? What if I, a “conscious, sentient, and morally reasoning” agent, decide that I hold quite a “deep connection” to a favorite childhood doll such that it has, to me—a moral agent—more value than the kid who lives down the block? To me, the special relations view is simply another manifestation of speciesism.

    Lastly, you are correct, the reason that it is a crime if someone kidnaps a companion animal for research or food, currently, is because of the deep connection of that companion animal to its human companion, who is a moral agent. But this just another version of the (mistaken) Kantian distinction between (merely) means and ends-in-themselves, and direct versus indirect duties. The bottom line is this: The reason why it should be a crime to kidnap a companion animal for research or food is because it harms the animal! IMHO, moral systems based solely or primarily on special relations to moral agents are, for these reasons (and others), morally and philosophically bankrupt.

  30. #30 Corinne Titus
    March 5, 2010

    Hey, discussion is great but now how about a debate? Be sure to check out my myspace page. http://www.myspace.com/uclacoverup. Hope all you vivisectors like my new song by Eminem.

    Thanks!
    Corinne Titus

  31. #31 Corinne Titus
    March 5, 2010

    Hey,
    Discussion is great but how about a debate. Be sure to check out my myspace page http://www.myspace.com/uclacoverup.

    Thanks for efforts to expose vivisection. Hope all you vivisectors like the new song I posted by Eminem.

    Corinne Titus
    Anti-vivisection Activist

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