"Animal Liberation and Environmental Ethics: Bad Marriage, Quick Divorce"
Sagoff's argument for why Animal Activists can't be Environmentalists and vice-versa:
- According to animal activists, animals have rights (Reagan) or interests in not suffering (Singer)
equal to ours.
- Nature treats animals worse than does humanity: "Mother nature makes Frank Perdue
[the chicken magnate] look like a saint."
- Nature undermines the rights of animals by killing them in far greater numbers
than do humans; nature "ruthlessly (!!-can nature be ruthless?) limits animal
populations by killing virtually every individual before maturity."
- "Few organisms survive to reach sexual maturity; most are quickly annihilated in the struggle for existence.
All species reproduce in excess, way past the carrying capacity of their niche. In her lifetime a lioness might have 20 cubs; a pigeon, 150 chicks; a mouse, 1000 kits; a trout, 20,000 fry a tuna or cod, a million fry or ore; an elm tree, several million seeds; and an oyster, perhaps a hundred million spat. If one assumes that the population of each of these species is, from generation to generation, roughly equal, then on average only one offspring will survive to replace each parent. all the other thousands and millions will die, one way or another."
- Nature visits animals with suffering that exceeds animal suffering at the hands of
humans: predation, starvation, disease, cold, parasitism, etc.
- Animals--if they could choose--would prefer life in the barnyard (free food and
shelter) to life in the wild.
- This premise may not be needed for Sagoff's argument. All he needs is the claim that nature treats animals badly (and not that nature treats animals worse than does humanity). Even if humans treat animals worse than does nature, if nature treats animals badly we could mitigate that treatment (and should--Sagoff argues--if we are animal activists)
- Thus to protect their rights and interests in not suffering, animal activists should be
committed to getting animals out of the wild.
- For example, animal activists should provide animals with contraceptive care,
heat animals' dens, and put out food to keep them from freezing and starving in
- Animal activists should lobby to replace wilderness areas and national parks
with more managed and humane environments (farms and ranches).
- Animal activists should try to prevent predation:
- One animal activists philosopher explicitly realizes this: Steve Sapontzis (editor of
Between the Species) says: "We are morally obligated to prevent
predation whenever we can do so without occasioning as much or more
unjustified suffering than the predation would create." Morals, Reason,
and Animals (1987)
- For a journal article on "Policing Nature" click here
- But such a proposal is anti-environmentalist
- It sacrifices the authenticity, integrity, and wildness of whole ecosystems (the
concern of environmentalists) to protect individual animals (the concern of
- Therefore, animal activists can't consistently be environmentalists and vice-versa.
- Additionally, since the policy recommendations that follow from animal activists'
theories (about the moral status of animals) are outrageously silly and absurd, these
theories of animal rights (Regan) and animal equality (Singer) are false.
- Sagoff does not explicitly make this last claim, but it is suggested by his article.
- Is it true that life in nature is bad for animals?
- Which is better for animals? A domestic easy life or tough wild life? What would
animals prefer? What is most in their interests? Which animals (wild or domesticated)? Is the integrity of
animals undermined by the domesticated life? Is animals' autonomy from humanity an important value of animals?
- *Some animal activists respond to this type of criticism by claiming they oppose only human caused animal
suffering and killing? What could be the justification for this restriction?
- 1) Tom Regan argues that because
we only have a duty to prevent rights violations, we only have a duty to prevent
human-caused animal suffering and death, because only moral agents (i.e., humans) can violate rights, not nature
- 2) Some argue that (wild? domesticated?) animals have only negative rights (to not be interfered with) but no positive rights (to be
provided assistance). If so, we could have a duty not to kill them, but no duty to come
to their assistance in the wild. But then the rights of humans and animals would seem to be quite different as most think we do have positive duties to provide assistance in the case of humans.
- What should animal activists (and others) think about the value of predation in nature? An unfortunate thing? A good thing? Can they believe it is neutral? (No?) For an article arguing in favor of "lamenting" predation click here.
Differences between Animal Activists and Environmentalists
|Animal equality and animal rights
|Humanitarian ethics of concern for animal suffering and death
Ecological ethics/environmental ethic: Respect for and admiration for functioning of natural systems
|Moral standing only for the higher animals such as vertebrates
||Moral standing for animals, plants, ecosystems, species, natural processes, nature, Earth herself
Individualism (happiness and welfare of individual animals-e.g., this California Condor)
|Holism (nonindividuals like populations, species and ecosystems are what is important)
||Pro-hunting (if helps prevent degraded ecosystems)
|Focus on domestic animals
||Focus on wild animals
|Cows and grizzly bears are equal
||Cows and grizzly bears are not equal
|Plentiful species like deer (as important as endangered species)
||Endangered species like red wolves (are more important)
|Animal suffering and death an evil
||Animal suffering and death not an evil as a fundamental part of a valuable nature
|Predation is a bad thing? Oppose predator restoration?
||Predation is good; we need to reintroduce predators
|Favor contraceptive care for wild animals?
||Oppose contraceptive care as would undermine nature's integrity and independence
Study questions on Sagoff’s Animal Liberation and Environmental Ethics: Bad Marriage, Quick Divorce
1. State and explain Mark Sagoff's criticism of animal activists (such as Peter Singer and Tom Regan).
2. Is Sagoff right that an animal liberationist can't be an environmentalist and vice-versa? Why does he claim this? State and evaluate his argument for this position.
3. Discuss some of the potential differences between animal activists and environmentalists (and mention specific groups that fall into each camp).
4. What does Sagoff mean when he says that Mother Nature makes Frank Purdue look like a saint? Is he right about this? Why or why not?
5. How should an animal activist (e.g., one who believes in animal rights or that animal suffering is equally important to human suffering of the same extent) respond to the suggestion that we reintroduce predators to control ungulate populations? Can an animal activist positively value predation?
6. Does it make sense for a utilitarian like Singer to oppose human inflicted suffering of animals but not naturally occurring suffering of animals?
7. Explain and evaluate the following responses that an animal activist might give to Mark Sagoff's criticisms: (1) Animals have only negative rights (not to be interfered with) but no positive rights (to assistance); (2) Only moral agents can violate rights, and because nature is not a moral agent, when nature causes harm to animals, no rights are being violated. Humans only have a duty to prevent rights violations. Thus animal activists only opposed human caused suffering and killing.