Month: June 2008

Book Review: Animals as Persons

Animals as Persons: Essays on on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation was released May 23rd, but it has taken me a while to finish reading Gary L. Francione’s latest book because I’m perpetually swamped lately. However, working it into my ridiculous schedule was relatively easy, in part because the book is comprised of individual, self-contained essays that allowed me to conveniently break my reading up into manageable sessions as time permitted. You might find this helpful as well. While the essays range in length, none of them are terribly long (particularly after the first two), and together they all provide an excellent and highly readable introduction to Professor Francione’s abolitionist theory of animal rights. If you are one of those people who have put off reading his earlier books due to time constraints or for any other reason, this might be an ideal place to start.

I recommend not skipping over the introduction, particularly if you’ve never read Francione before. In it, he gets right to the pivotal assertion that the animal advocacy movement is, in effect, two very different movements: one that seeks to abolish animal exploitation by eradicating the property status of animals, and the other a movement that seeks the regulation of animal-using industries while failing to effectively challenge the property status of animals.

He expands on the core concepts of abolitionism in the first chapter, “Animals as Persons.” That essay is itself a relatively brief but thorough presentation of Francione’s theory as developed more fully in Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog? (ITAR) While it is not a substitute for reading that book, “Animals as Persons” is a very clear essay that will quickly have you up to speed on the basic concepts.

The next chapter is an essay called “Reflections on Animals, Property, and the Law and Rain Without Thunder.” In it, Francione responds to various critics who have argued that the property status of animals does not necessarily prevent advocates from improving animal welfare, and that animal welfare regulation is an effective way of moving incrementally toward recognition that animals have more than the value that we assign to them.

You don’t necessarily need to have read the two books to appreciate “Reflections,” though I’m sure I got more out of it because I had. I found the essay particularly interesting because Francione deconstructs real-world legislation such as Florida’s gestation crate ban and California’s foie gras ban. While he frequently deconstructs current events on his blog, as he did with the announcement that KFC Canada would adopt a controlled-atmosphere killing policy, these case studies offer new readers relevant and useful applications of his abolitionist theory.

In his third essay, “Taking Sentience Seriously,” Francione focuses on flaws in the “similar-minds” theory, a critical analysis all the more relevant in light of news that Spain’s parliament plans to extend legal rights to life and freedom for great apes. Based as it is on cognitive abilities rather than sentience, this pending legislation is a case in point for Francione, so you’ll definitely want to read chapter 3 if you don’t know why this seemingly good news is a bad precedent for animal rights.

Returning to his critics, chapter four’s essay, “Equal Consideration,” focuses specifically on Cass Sunstein’s review of ITAR, in which he claims that Francione fails to justify why animal advocates should not focus on regulating human treatment of animals rather than abolishing animal use. This gives Francione an excellent opportunity to point out some fatal flaws in Sunstein’s thinking, along with that of Jeremy Bentham and Peter Singer, who seem to believe that some sentient beings have no interest in continuing to live, despite the logical implication that their very sentience gives these animals an interest in continued existence.

Francione’s fifth essay examines the justifications for vivisection, which he also covers in IATR (along with descriptions of numerous specific experiments). Here, too, he observes that even if there is some plausible empirical claim for necessity, this form of animal use cannot be morally justified. “The Use of Nonhuman Animals” is one of the clearest, most concise critiques of vivisection I have read, from both the empirical and moral points of view. While the empirical section should be sufficient in and of itself to clear up any confusion as to whether vivisection is as valuable as is usually claimed, Francione footnotes our way to additional resources, and of course he follows this up with a moral critique that is impossible to refute without engaging in hypocrisy.

His next essay, “Ecofeminism and Animal Rights,” is actually a 1996 review of Beyond Animal Rights: A Feminist Caring Ethic for the Treatment of Animals, in which he examines arguments made against animal rights and for an “ethic of care.” Like Cass Sunstein’s review of IATR, essays in Beyond Animal Rights suggest that we do not need to end the institutionalized exploitation of nonhuman animals in order to include them within the moral community, and even go as far as to actually legitimize that exploitation, ironically perpetuating speciesist hierarchy at the same time that they condemn the rights view as hierarchical. Francione swiftly and effectively counters these views.

Finally, Francione turns his attention to perhaps the world’s best-known animal rights author and philosopher, Tom Regan, who in his seminal The Case for Animal Rights makes a sustained, comprehensive, and complex philosophical argument for animal rights. In the course of his argument, which can be seen as a case for which criteria are valid for inclusion in the moral community, he presents the “lifeboat case” as an example of a conflict between rightholders. The lifeboat case is a hypothetical scenario Regan resolves in part by claiming that death is a greater harm to humans than it is to nonhumans such as dogs. Francione critiques this view with “Comparable Harm and Equal Inherent Value,” a 1995 essay updated with a 2008 postscript to respond to the new preface Regan wrote in 2004 for the second edition of The Case for Animal Rights, in which he responded to critics of his lifeboat example.

One of the few drawbacks of gathering together all these different essays is that, even though the case studies and responses to specific criticisms may prompt you to understand Francione’s abolitionist theory more clearly, you frequently end up reading the same thing you’ve read elsewhere in his work, including other essays in this book, and sometimes nearly even verbatim. However, it is that very deja vu experience that reminds you how so many supposedly different debates always come back to the fundamentals, which we would do well to learn… and that may just be the reason Francione keeps repeating them.

In recapping his abolitionist animal rights theory and defending it with such precision, clarity, and authority, Gary Francione successfully reasserts the view that nonhuman animals will not be meaningfully protected from unnecessary harm so long as they are considered human property, and that welfare reforms or variations on the theme are incapable of leading to their emancipation. Animals as Persons is a must-read for anyone claiming to support or to even simply be interested in animal rights. Right now you can purchase it and all Columbia University Press animal studies titles at a steep 50% off until August 1st.

While you await your copy, you can read the publisher’s interview with Francione and listen to his most recent interview (part 1) on Vegan Freak Radio (part 2).

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Animal Rights 101, part two: Rights


The term “rights” is widely misunderstood. It will be helpful here to distinguish between moral and legal rights. These classes of rights are similar in at least one respect: in both cases, a right protects a person’s interest by providing that person with a claim against any party who interferes with the satisfaction of the person’s protected interest.

An example

Let’s look at an example in which a person is protected by both kinds of rights.

Person A is an average human being whose interest in continuing to live we can hopefully agree is important enough that it should not be arbitrarily ignored by any other person. When we say that Person A has “a right to live,” we are more or less stating that Person A’s interest in continued existence is protected by a “claim” against any person and/or actions that would prevent Person A from continuing to live. Another way of looking at this is that the right protecting Person A’s interest in continued existence imposes a duty on other people not to ignore this interest.

Of course, there are limitations on this protection. If Person A attempts to kill another person, then most people would not object to the other party defending herself with lethal force, or to Person A being shot and killed by an officer of the law. Person A’s interest in continuing to live has not evaporated, but his actions have provided appropriate justification for ignoring that interest.

With this example in mind, let’s take a look at the difference between legal and moral rights.

Legal rights

The law identifies that certain interests ought to be protected, even if infringing upon those interests would serve the interests of another person, or the interests of the greater good. When a person’s legal right is violated by another party, then the right provides the person with a justified legal claim against the violating party.

Valid legal claims can lead to various legal sanctions against the violating party, including financial penalties and/or imprisonment. Legal rights are generally codified and enforced by a political institution, such as a government, and they are held by certain entities functioning as legal “persons,” such as humans and corporations.

Moral rights

Moral rights derive from objective morality, not from governmental authority. They can be understood to have approximately the same logical structure as legal rights, but they are not backed up with the same sort of protection offered by legal rights. However, the claim a person has against another party who infringes upon a moral right is no less valid. Consequences for violating moral rights can range from a personal demand for an apology to being ostracized by one’s community.

The relationship between moral and legal rights

Moral rights and legal rights are distinctly different, but they are closely related. We can think of a moral right as an underlying, pre-legal form of a right. Whatever moral rights a being holds will ideally (if not now, at least some day) be reflected in the legal system. For instance, our moral right to liberty is reflected in our legal right to that liberty. As public opinions about right and wrong shift, laws generally evolve along with them. Humans enslaved in the United States before 1865 had the same basic moral rights as every other human, but these moral rights were not reflected in the law until the 13th Amendment was passed.

It is possible for legal rights to clash with moral rights. For example, some animal rights advocates believe that all sentient beings have at least one basic moral right: the right not to be treated exclusively as a resource by others. This moral right conflicts directly with the morally indefensible legal right humans have to own nonhumans.

Other considerations

A right typically does not need to be understood by someone who possesses that right in order to receive its protection. For example, the interests of children and mentally incompetent persons are protected by rights. Claims to these rights can usually be made on their behalf.

Because nonhuman animals are legally classified as property instead of persons, they cannot possess legal rights.


In my next post, I will describe animal rights. It will be helpful to keep in mind the above discussion as we consider what interests nonhuman animals have.

Next post: Animal Rights

Previous post: The Need

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Vegan: It’s what’s for breakfast – "real" cinnamon rolls

This is going to be a pretty lousy food post, since I don’t have any pictures to show for my wife’s culinary adventure. Yup, she picked up my slack.

I’ve been wanting to make cinnamon rolls for weeks, but I have been so busy (and I have a really hard time waking up early on weekends… or any day, for that matter), so Dr. Prescott took it upon herself to make this happen for us. The results weren’t as photogenic as the pictures in Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s The Joy of Vegan Baking, but they looked very similar. My iPhone simply isn’t a good substitute for a real camera with the lighting in our apartment, and my other camera, as mentioned previously, is dying a sad death.

But, man… Oh, man. Up until recently, I had not eaten a vegan cinnamon roll that tasted anything like the cinnamon rolls I remember from Cinnabon, et al. Certainly there are plenty of other vegan goodies to distract me. Far too many, really. I’ve managed to cut back at least a little on indulging my sweet tooth these past couple of months.

But all along, I periodically would try a commercially available vegan cinnamon roll and think to myself, “C’mon. How hard can it be? I mean, really, is it just that the people making these cinnamon rolls have simply never had the good stuff, or are vegan cinnamon rolls doomed to be like vegan “cheese,” a pale imitation of the original recipe?” Okay, my thoughts weren’t that coherent, but they more or less covered the same ground.

Fortunately, I remembered I owned The Joy of Vegan Baking, so I looked up cinnamon rolls. Voila! Colleen never lets me down.

Ironically, I didn’t actually try her recipe, though I’m sure it’s great. Everything I’ve tried from that book has been delicious so far. Fortunately, Colleen is focused on making sure vegan baked goods taste amazing, not on making sure they are made with fruit juices and bran fiber (thank you, Colleen). However, her recipe requires significant dough rising time, which is hard for me to come by, as mentioned above.

My friend, Kristin (who writes a blog called Beans and Greens), let me know about a recipe she modified with great success, and recommended it because it uses instant yeast, saving oodles of time.

However, the recipe Kristin posted called for corn syrup to make the icing. We don’t have corn syrup and we don’t want any. Dr. Prescott had the brilliant idea to combine recipes. We used the instant yeast goodness of Kristin’s find (which still took a while to prep, unfortunately), and iced those rolls with the frosting from Colleen’s book… I tell you, people: They tasted amazing (sugar rush!), so they are worth a little effort, especially if (unlike us) you actually have a rolling pin!

If you want the recipe, visit Kristin’s write-up. She posted enticing pictures to go with it, which more or less represent how ours turned out as well.

Riding your coattails, ladies… Many thanks to both my wife and Kristin for my cinnamon roll heaven this past weekend.

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Animal Rights 101, part one: The Need

This is the first in a series of posts I am writing to introduce readers to the most basic fundamentals of the abolitionist approach to animal rights as laid out by Gary L. Francione. I have also read works by Joan Dunayer and Lee Hall but, for my purposes here, Francione’s body of work currently offers the most thorough and original explication of abolitionist animal rights and our duties as animal rights advocates.

Though this blog is obviously not the best forum for me to be completely comprehensive, that is not my goal. If you’re looking for that, you should be reading the following books anyway: Rain Without Thunder, Introduction to Animal Rights, and Animals as Persons. Instead I will attempt to distill in my own words the basics of abolitionist animal rights advocacy that I have learned over the past 18 months or so. I will work through the basics, beginning with an understanding of the term rights, and working through what it means to be an animal rights advocate.

Post One:  The Need

The animal rights “movement” has been diluted by welfare-oriented advocacy to such an extent that the term “animal rights” has come to be widely understood merely as a catch-all label that refers to any activity carried out on behalf of animals, whether the activity is related to the moral or legal rights of animals at all. Most often it is not. 

“Animal rights” advocacy has for years had little to do with the moral rights of animals. Instead advocates have often focused on how animals are treated. In other words, they have concerned themselves with how humans treat their animal property, not whether or not the animals are rightfully considered the property of others in the first place. 

For instance, the media and many activists frequently call efforts to get hens out of battery cages “animal rights” campaigns, but these activities are focused entirely on the treatment of animals (i.e., their welfare), and not on their use (i.e., their right not to be used merely as a means to human ends). Hens in cage-free operations still suffer and are still bred, mutilated, confined, dominated, and killed for the sake of human pleasure and convenience. These are trivial interests when compared to a hen’s rather significant interest in staying alive.

Animal welfare campaigns do not address the underlying premise that allows humans to take the lives of nonhumans at will: hens and other animals belong to humans. Even if these campaigns succeed in regulating a specific activity, like caging animals, many other harms would continue to be permissible, and welfare advocates would continue to push until they found themselves at a point where average people simply didn’t see the harm anymore. After all, by then they will have succeeded in getting rid of the most egregious cruelties, which is all they ever cared about anyway.

Of course, even if reforms succeeded in ending every imaginable physical form of abuse to nonhuman animals and their lives were all terminated through some painless process, every animal on every farm would still be unnecessarily–and thus unjustly–imprisoned and killed, as the co-founder of the Vegan Society observed over 80 years ago after visiting his Uncle George’s farm : 

the idyllic scene was nothing more than Death Row, where every creature’s days were numbered by the point at which it was no longer of service to human beings.

Further, when a supposed “animal rights” group favors one type of confinement or killing over another, it implicitly (and even explicitly) condones using animals for human benefit (so long as it is done less cruelly). This of course runs counter to animal rights advocacy, which seeks to liberate hens and other nonhumans from human oppression altogether.

It is vital that the core of the animal rights movement–the abolitionists–reclaim “animal rights” for what it is. How? By widely and clearly restating the animal rights position, which is what I intend to do over the course of this series. As we come to understand the basis for the human oppression of nonhuman animals and the changes required to liberate those animals from this oppression, the path forward becomes much more focused and even simpler than many would have you believe.

By reclaiming, clarifying, and amplifying the abolitionist position on animal rights, we draw attention to what we specifically mean when we say “animal rights,” defining better for ourselves and others what exactly it is we seek on behalf of nonhuman animals. In returning to our basic mission, we refocus our efforts and the public eye on what is ultimately at stake: the interests of nonhuman animals in not being used exclusively as a means to human ends. That is an animal rights movement. 
After all, if we do not talk in terms of rights, then how can we even call ourselves animal rights activists? By openly, actively, and intelligently promoting animal rights and the abolition of animal exploitation, we have the potential to move the dialogue on animal rights forward in a meaningful way.

With greater clarity, precision, and stronger claims-making, our movement will be more coherent as it strikes at the roots of animal exploitation, rather than spending vast resources on efforts for nonhuman beings that on the surface seem good, but which ultimately do very little for them individually and may well further entrench their status as property for humans to use for the foreseeable future.

The goal of this series of posts, then, is in line with the mission statement at Francione’s own website:

to provide a clear statement of a nonviolent approach to animal rights that (1) requires the abolition of animal exploitation; (2) is based only on sentience and no other cognitive characteristic, and (3) regards veganism as the moral baseline of the abolitionist approach.

Next Post: Rights

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Thought for the Day – Lincoln

This seemed appropriate to vegan advocates promoting animal rights:

With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed. Consequently, he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions.

~ Abraham Lincoln

Remember, we’re looking for lasting change. We need to change hearts and minds. The laws will follow.

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