Ethics and the Beast: A Speciesist Argument for Animal Liberation

Ethics and the Beast: A Speciesist Argument for Animal Liberation

Ethics and the Beast: A Speciesist Argument for Animal Liberation

Ethics and the Beast: A Speciesist Argument for Animal Liberation


Many people think that animal liberation would require a fundamental transformation of basic beliefs. We would have to give up "speciesism" and start viewing animals as our equals, with rights and moral status. And we would have to apply these beliefs in an all-or-nothing way. But in Ethics and the Beast, Tzachi Zamir makes the radical argument that animal liberation doesn't require such radical arguments--and that liberation could be accomplished in a flexible and pragmatic way. By making a case for liberation that is based primarily on common moral intuitions and beliefs, and that therefore could attract wide understanding and support, Zamir attempts to change the terms of the liberation debate.

Without defending it, Ethics and the Beast claims that speciesism is fully compatible with liberation. Even if we believe that we should favor humans when there is a pressing human need at stake, Zamir argues, that does not mean that we should allow marginal human interests to trump the life-or-death interests of animals. As minimalist as it sounds, this position generates a robust liberation program, including commitments not to eat animals, subject them to factory farming, or use them in medical research. Zamir also applies his arguments to some questions that tend to be overlooked in the liberation debate, such as whether using animals can be distinguished from exploiting them, whether liberationists should be moral vegetarians or vegans, and whether using animals for therapeutic purposes is morally blameless.


“SPECIESIST-LIBERATIONISM” seems a contradiction in terms. Yet this book offers an elaboration of precisely this position, presenting it as the one that liberationists and nonliberationists should endorse. Calling this a “defense” of speciesist liberationism would somewhat misrepresent the book's argument, since I avoid showing why speciesism is itself justified. My concern is, rather, 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 merely 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. I begin 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.

Throughout this book the terms “animal” and “nonhuman animal” will refer to all
nonhuman animals that humans have (companion animals, zoo and circus animals), use
(farm animals), or kill (for food, scientific knowledge, product safety, and hunting). I will
not distinguish between high and low animals (so my discussion covers practices relating to
fish and crabs). I will say little about insects, not because they are not animals, but because
they are relevant only to the morality of “pest” control, a discussion that in my opinion we
are presently ill-equipped to develop. Anatomically, the terms animal and nonhuman ani
mal will cover entities possessing nervous systems, rudimentary as well as complex systems,
that may indicate the existence of pain or suffering.

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