"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
equal to ours (Singer)
- 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(?) 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.
- “Once as a college youth I killed an opossum that seemed sluggish and then did an autopsy. He was infested with a hundred worms! Grisly and pitiful, he seemed a sign of the whole wilderness, . . . too alien to value.” (Holmes Rolston, III)
- The wilderness teems with its kinds but is a vast graveyard with a hundred species laid waste for one or two that survive . . . Wildness is a gigantic food pyramid, and this sets value in a grim, deathbound jungle. All is a slaughterhouse, with life a miasma rising over the stench. Nothing of the compassion or morality that we value in culture is found there (Rolston, 1986, p. 129).
- Animals--if they could choose--would prefer life in the barnyard (free food, shelter, and security) to life in the wild.
- Sagoff could get by with a much weaker premise than this one by pointing out simply that nature treats animals badly and that 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 activist 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)
- But such a proposal is an anti-environmentalist conclusion
- 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 say the above, but it is suggested by his article.
For a journal article on "Policing Nature" click here.
- Is it true that life in nature is worse than life in a lab or a factory farm?
- Which is better for animals? A domestic easy life or tough wild life? What would
animals prefer? What is most in their interests? (Might these diverge?) Which animals (wild or domesticated)? Is the integrity of
animals undermined by the domesticated life?
- *Can animal activists respond by claiming they oppose only human caused animal
suffering and killing? What could be the justification for this restriction? Can only humans violate rights, but not nature? (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.)
- Do (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.
- What should animal activists think about the value of predation in nature? Bad? Evil?
Can they believe it is neutral? (No?)
- Should they support contraception for overpopulated species?
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
|Extent of moral standing: Stops at mammals (or 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 degradation of ecosystems)
|Focus on domestic animals
||Focus on wild animals
|Cows and grizzly bears are equal
||Cows and grizzly bears are not equal
|Focus on plentiful species like deer (as important as endangered species)
||Focus on e ndangered 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
|So 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