Ethics and the Beast: A Speciesist Argument for Animal Liberation

Monday, November 22nd, 2010, 03:38 WIB
Ethics and the Beast: A Speciesist Argument for Animal Liberation
Name of Book :  Ethics and the Beast: a speciesist argument for animal liberation

Author :  Tzachi Zamir

Publisher :  Princeton University Press, 2007

Pages :  159



Tzachi Zamir is chairman of the English Department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His book provides much fresh insight about the relationship--specifically, the compatibility--between pro-human bias and animal liberation. It also explains several specific issues concerning animals, such as what ought to count as exploiting them and when using them is morally acceptable. And the discussion of animal-assisted therapy is especially welcome given its neglect in the literature.


Zamir further argues that what we lacked was not an acknowledgment of some basic equality between people and animals. Nor was it our speciesism that was at fault. We were simply the standard stone-hearted products of a society for which the living animal is merely a transition phase on the way to becoming food. The fierce opposition of the animal registered something that slipped through the overarching instrumentalization and objectification that we imposed on it, something that we were unprepared to digest, which is what, perhaps, may have imprinted this memory in me.


Through this book, he wants to show how a detailed case for reforming our attitude toward nonhuman animals need not involve abandoning widely shared speciesist intuitions. Deradicalization of the theoretical underpinnings of liberationism is important not simply because it is philosophically correct, or because it trims the debate over animal ethics of surplus detailed arguments. The more significant benefit of a theoretical minimization of the case for reform is tapping a broader consensus. Weighty practical ramifications follow from conservative, widely shared, moral beliefs.


The book’s first two chapters rework the more abstract considerations underlying liberationism. Zamir begins by showing that speciesism contradicts liberationism only under an overly strong and unintuitive rendering of the term. After claiming that liberationism is continuous with virtually all of our speciesist intuitions, the next chapter pinpoints another unfortunate detour that currently burdens reform: the case for the “moral status” of animals. The chapter aims to rid liberationism of the need to establish such “status.” After rewriting the case for reform, the book proceeds to detailed examination of particular practices in which animals are either killed or used. The third chapter presents a defense of moral vegetarianism that does not rely on the vegetarian’s capacity to influence large-scale outcome. My argument against animal-based experiments (chapter 4) utilizes the speciesist-liberationist position by showing that the speciesist assumptions that typically justify research can themselves be accepted, yet doing so is consistent with a rejection of vivisection.


The book’s final part, on using animals, formulates and defends a distinction between exploitation and use (chapter 5). The use/exploitation distinction then mobilizes a response to two questions that have received scant attention in the past. The first is whether liberationists should be moral vegetarians or moral vegans. Chapter 6 examines the moral viability of using “farm animals” even if they are not killed for their flesh. The next question is whether employing animals as therapeutic means is morally blameless from a liberationist perspective (chapter 7). The book closes with a rejection of the welfare-based defense of zoos.


Ethics and the Beast is a significant contribution to the literature on animals and how we should treat them. It introduces new and distinctive arguments in an important area of applied ethics. It seeks to show that it is possible to reach radical conclusions about the treatment of animals--that we should not eat them, or use them in biomedical research--while using arguments that, for the most part, take our common attitudes as they are.


This is a delightful little book, which covers a great deal of ground in a small space and with utmost clarity and simplicity of style. I should at once qualify that last phrase as meaning that the book would be simple and clear to someone who is at ease reading analytic philosophy. The book's methodology is another attractive feature for its relative novelty, for the author minimizes the importance of defending some supreme principle of morality in favor of arguing on the basis of widely shared assumptions about right and wrong. This is definitely a selling point for a work than deals with a topic of urgent practical importance, like this one on the human treatment of other animals, since there isn't going to be any agreement about the supreme principle of morality any time soon. Despite the pragmatic bent, however, this book is jam-packed with subtle theoretical insights. It's really a wonderful book, and to invert a Groucho Marx (via Woody Allen) joke: I recommend this book because it is very satisfying to read and it's so short!


Summary by Cut Mita