Monday, 6 June 2016

Linking up debates with with the evidence base


Introduction


One of the most useful ways I have found to be able to turn debates online is with the well timed fact. As someone once said, people have a right to their opinions, but they don't have a right to their own facts. If people are basing their argument on an incorrect factual claim then correcting this can often be much easier than debating with someone who refuses to be logically consistent in their opinions.

So on this blog I am just going to post some links to some of the evidence base to address some of the more common factually inaacurate claims people make. Its sort of a living blog so I'll update this as I go.....


Animals aren't conscious?

Animals have episodic like memories, they remember the what where and when of events . (Why is this important? binding is a key feature of conscious, binding together sensory modalities to form a unified representation of the world. If animals have episodic memory, that is sufficient evidence that they are conscious)

Animals have cognitive biases - they experience emotional trauma that affects their cognitive judgement just like it does in human depression

Animals don't suffer when they are killed?

Up to 15% of cows are still conscious even after captive bolt, which means they are still conscious at slaughter

Between 10 and 40% of chickens are still conscious after electric stunning


Most animals these days live good lives?

82% of chickens sold in super markets have hock burns, which are caused by the animal standing in bird droppings for so long the ammonia burns through their skin

Between between 47 and 65% of dairy cows experience painful pus filled udder infections every year


Environmental impact of meat and dairy?


A vegan diet could reduce dietary GHG emissions by 70%, which monetised would save around $600 billion a year in mitigated climate change costs

An omnivorous diet uses three times more total land than a vegan diet

A vegan diet uses half the crop land of an omnivorous diet, and effectively eliminates the need to clear more rainforest to feed a growing population in the future

Crop feeds contain significant amounts of human edible grains. In standard UK feeds, human edible crops constitute 36% of dairy cow feed and 75% of chicken feed

Only grass fed beef tho?

The GHG emissions of grass fed beef are 19.2 kg of CO2 per Kg live weight. The GHG emissions of feedlot beef is 14.8 kg of CO2 per Kg live weight. The GHG emissions of soya is 2 kg CO2 per Kg of soyabeans


Health impact of an omnivorous diet?

A vegan diet would be projected to be able to save 8.1 million lives annually from early death from things like heart disease. Monetised this would save around $1trillion in avoided healthcare costs

A vegan diet reduces cancer risk by 16%, reducing prostate cancer risk by 37% and female specific cancers by 34%

A Science Based Veganism

One of the questions I have recently been thinking about is the degree to which veganism is science based. Many people try to dismiss veganism because they think of humans as omnivores, that there is scientific evidence we have evolved to eat me. To me this argument is fundamentally mistaken, but to begin I think its important to ask in what ways is veganism science based.

Veganism is scientific in the sense that it is based on the idea that both we and animals are evolutionary cousins, and in contrast to the religious beliefs that we are made in the image of god, humans are in fact not inherently special, we have no more inherent worth than any other animal. Any favour towards humans over animals then has to be the result not just of species, but on ethically relevant characteristics, such as our capacity to suffer, or intelligence or capacity for language. Since we give rights to humans who are far more lacking in these areas than animals, eg when we give rights to infants or people with severe mental disabilities who don't have moral agency, to be consistent with this we should also give rights to animals.

If we look at the arguments against this though, I think there are good reasons to reject the types of arguments I mentioned some meat eaters make about the implications of humans evolved adaptations to a eat meat. This starts with the idea that just because we have evolved to be able to do something this does not mean we should. Evolution merely selects for characteristics that promote for reproductive success within certain environmental contexts. For us, we evolved in tribal societies, and we evolved the capacity for tribal violence. But this does not mean violence right. We were also selected to be able to have as many children as possible, but that does not mean we should, particularly given our over population crisis. Humans have also discriminated against those with disabilities, and indeed many animals do this too. Should we discriminate because is natural too?

Evolution is just this impartial process, it does not dictate what is or is not ethical behaviour. We should not copy lions behaviour when they kill infant lions in completion for mates. And also remember that one of the things that made us so successful as a species is our ability to reason. If we look at how the context has changed since we lived in tribes, we no longer need to eat meat to survive, but rather eating meat puts the environment at risk. A vegan diet could reduce dietary GHG emissions by 70%, and reduces the risk of further deforestation using just half the crop land(as so much crops are inefficiently fed to animals). So when we think of the harm it causes to animals, the harm it causes to the environment and to our health, the reasonable and science based thing to do is to go vegan.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Reconciling Welfare with Animal Rights

Underlying much of the animal rights debate regarding whether vegans should promote measures that would support animal welfare, such as bigger cages for chickens, is fundamentally a conflict between a utilitarian and deontological ethics. On the one side we have people like the vegan strategist who believe that promoting veganism is primarily about being able to reduce and eliminating the harm that comes to animals. As such it is the consequences of our actions that matter most, and therefore if any action could support reduction in harm then it should be supported.  In response to this on the other side of the argument are the abolitionists like followers of Tom Regan, who would respond with two points, firstly by making a deontological argument and secondly by challenging utilitarians on their own terms.
The Deontological argument
Regarding this first point, abolitionist begin by noting that consequences are only a secondary consideration, and that primarily what matters most is whether an animals intrinsic rights are being violated. Such an approach follows on from Kant’s ethics that persons should not be used as a means to an end, because by doing so we act as if they were things and not persons. For Abolitionists animals are persons in that they have fundamental rights that should not be violated, and therefore the ends of welfarism cannot justify the means if those means involve right violations. It follows from this argument that if one were to campaign for smaller cages, that one is implicitly saying that one can be justified in eating meat as long as the animal has lived a relatively good life. This may reduce the harm animal’s experiences, but because of the fundamental rights being violated in either case, advocating for harm reduction would still be wrong as it animals rights are being violated wither way.
The principle then they support is that all fundamental violations of rights are wrong, and that if one makes an analogy to humans one can see we maintain such a principle for humans. One of the many analogies they make is with domestic violence, that because all domestic violence is wrong one would not advocate for only mild domestic violence even if it reduced harm. Abolitionists would argue that the right of people not to be subjected to any such violence places on us a responsibility to not justify or normalise any such violence whatsoever. If one is to avoid being a speciesist then one must apply the same logic to animals, and not support measures that do not directly oppose fundamental rights violations.
The Utilitarian argument
Secondly, the abolitionist would also argue that even on utilitarian’s own point of view they would still be wrong, because by normalising animal eating such that some forms are seen as humane, this would prolong animal suffering in the long term, as fewer people would be convinced to go vegan comforted as they are by the notion that as long as animals are treated humanely that killing them is ok. As there is no evidence on which to base the utilitarian’s position that welfarism is effective at reducing harm, then there is no basis for utilitarian’s to actually support welfarism.
So it would seem then that the argument comes down to this, firstly does respect for animals as moral persons require one to not campaign for welfarism, and secondly are utilitarian’s even justified using their own ethical approach to say that welfarism reduces harm to animals.
Responding to the deontological argument against animal welfare
In response to the deontological argument, the philosopher Jean Kazez has noted that actually fundamental rights violations do not end with whether a person is used or not. Consider the situation for example of a political prisoner being tortured by despotic government. A human rights organisation would not just campaign for the prisoner’s freedom, but also the prisoner’s welfare, specifically not to be tortured. Kazez notes a number of other historical examples where supporting human rights included supporting welfare. We as humans have many interests, with our rights to freedom from being used being but one. We also value our right not to be tortured or be caused to suffer. By supporting such a right in animals then one is not being speciesist, one is being consistent with how we do treat humans in many situations.
What’s more by supporting such rights one is not supporting other rights to be violated. For example there are charities that exclusively campaign against torture, and one would not criticise such charities if some of those despotic regimes were to mistakenly believe that if they stopped torture they would still be justified in taking political prisoners. Indeed if one were to say that we should not campaign to end torture because it could lead to government continuing to take political prisoners, one would then be using those prisoners who have a right not to be tortured as a means to an end. This is analogous to how the abolitionist explicitly reject welfare rights to prioritise what they see as potentially normalising animal use, ie they are using animals as a means to an end. So even within a deontological framework a welfarist position can be defended. Furthermore to address the analogies between animal welfare and domestic violence, the two situations differ in many important respects. Regarding the latter, domestic violence is illegal and there are many social norms against domestic violence. That is not the case with animal use, where it is completely normalised and there is legislation to support animal use. These different contexts mean that a different approach is justified.
An additional point of contention is with regards to the nature of some welfare campaigning. Many welfare campaigning will seek to promote changes that reduce animal suffering such as reducetarianism. At core reducetarianism is about reducing ones consumption of animal products due to concerns about animal welfare, the environment and health. Abolitionist have criticised reducetarianism because on the reducetarian website it does not state that eating any meat is wrong, and the website provides meat containing recipes where the author says "use as much meat as you want". So it is argued that if being reducetarian requires one to believe that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with eating meat, then it is not compatible with veganism and so vegans should not advocate for reducetarianism. However the question is whether reducetarianism is merely about reducing meat consumption or does it at core also include beliefs that eating meat is not wrong. I would argue that while some reducetarians believe that eating meat is not  in itself wrong, other reducetarians believe it is wrong. And indeed it also states on the reducetarian website that they consider vegans to be a type of reducetarian too as they have reduced their animal consumption to zero. As such if a vegan is to be called a reducetarian, at core reducetarianism must be about reducing consumption, with the rightness or wrongness of whether any meat consumption at all is wrong left to each reducetarian to decide for themselves. As such promoting reducetarianism can be consistent with veganism, and as it is a way of reducing the number of animal exposed to the horror of factory farms, it also supports animals welfare rights.
Abolitionists are right about one thing
However, just because I think the abolitionist argument is incorrect with reagrds to animal welfare, does not mean I support the utilitarian argument put forward by people like the vegan strategist. While I think he may be right that welfare does reduce harms, he has no firm evidence basis for this, and the opposing view put forward by abolitionists that by normalising animal use one is causing more harm in the long term is plausible. The vegan strategist may reject such an argument, but in doing so he is not appealing to any firm evidence base, he is merely using his own set of prejudices he developed through the course of debating against abolitionists who can at times be particularly confrontational. It’s a bias on his part, and I think that by taking an animal rights position one would not only be able to argue in favour of many of the approaches he supports through the use of Kazez’s arguments, but it would also enable him to be more honest about the state of the evidence base.
Kazez goes too far
While these are very important arguments by Kazez, I also feel I should say that there are many aspects on which I disagree with her. For example Kazez is not a vegan, but a vegetarian defending this on the grounds that she would find it too inconvenient and she enjoys things like cheese too much to go vegan. Now the argument commonly used against such a justification is that inconvenience and pleasure are not sufficient to justify violating animal rights. To this she argues that one can imagine a situation where one is so inconvenienced and lacking in pleasure that one is no longer able to function. As such pleasure and convenience can form a necessity, just as a vegan’s need for plants, which can involve the killing of some animals during crop harvesting, is a necessity. The problem here is that such a justification could be used to justify any harm to an animal no matter how harsh, just because on enjoys it. Where then is the line over what pleasure and level of inconvenience is a necessity? Kazez has no answer, but I think the only way we can judge this is by looking at people’s behaviour in the population. Are there people who go vegan but can still function in society, and is it realistic to expect someone to give up something and still be able to function. One can do studies on populations and ask does going vegan deprive people to such an extent of pleasure that they start to get increased risk of depression, and experience other health problems as one would predict if veganism really was cause of such asceticism. The answer to that is no, it does not, indeed veganism in general is associated with mental and physical health benefits. So I would say to Kazez, that while her argument is correct about welfare rights, her argument about necessity and inconvenience as a defence for not going vegan is not borne out by the evidence, and indeed would not provide any defence against people who would abuse animals for fun.
One final point about Kazez. In an interview she notes that she does not quite understand why there is a degree of frustration expressed by vegans as to why she is vegetarian, as she is an advocate for animal rights and believes that veganism adheres to our obligations to animals to a greater extent than vegetarianism (though albeit she believes these are supererogatory obligations). She is after all doing a lot more to support animal rights than your average meat eater, so why the frustration. The problem is that she is not just some individual vegetarian, she is a leader in animal rights philosophy, and she is a published author whom others, like it or not, will follow. If even she cannot adhere to a vegan diet because she cannot bear the inconvenience or lack of easy food options, then why should any of the people so inspired by her work to respect animal go vegan either? She therefore has a responsibility to go vegan, and she has a responsibility to recognise where she uses weak arguments to justify her own behaviour. It is this clash of expectation and responsibility that causes many vegans to become frustrated.
Reconcilliation
In conclusion I think we can take both the deontology of the abolitionists and the concern for welfare from the utilitarians like vegan strategist, and reconcile these views to support animal rights in a way that is both effective and just. We can take the parts of Kazez’s philosophy that is useful and disregard what is not. It is through this approach that I think the animal rights movement can get past the abolitionist/welfarist split, supporting welfare reform through animal rights.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Should Vegans Reject Single Issue Campaigns?


In December last year Vegfest, which organises a number of major vegan festival in the UK, announced that it would change its criteria by which it invites speakers to talk at their events, Specifically this change banned groups that did not advocate veganism as a "moral baseline", such as single issue campaigns(SICs). These groups traditionally are set up around some aspect of animal cruelty to lobby others to address these concerns, and indeed take direct action to support animals, an example of these could include anti-fox hunting campaigns.

So why the change? This decision was made by the organiser of the festivals, Tim Barford, as he transitioned to become a supporter of Gary Francione's abolitionist approach. Now, Francione's has many criticisms of singles issue campaigns (SIC), but the foremost one of these from an ethical point of view is that he believes SICs are speciesist, as they pick out one aspect of animal abuse to be worse than another, and some animals are of more value than others. However if any use of animals is a violation of its fundamental rights, as Francione argues, then all uses are equally bad. So what's speciesism got to do with it? Francione's argues that when it comes to humans, fundamental violations of rights are regarded as equally wrong. For example, all murder is equally wrong, regardless of the cruelty of the murderer. By not translating this principle to animals, Francione's argues that this is speciesist, and so all single issue campaigns should campaign with the clear expression that the response to particular injustices should all be the same, to go vegan, not just help enact one small bit of change. According to this view vegans should reject single issue campaigns, and it was this belief that motivated VegFests change in policy to exclude these speakers.

So what's wrong with this argument?

Well, the problem is that fundamental rights violations are indeed excusable in some circumstances according to Francione. Imagine for instance we are on a deserted island, stranded with another human. There is no food. Are you justified in killing that human to survive? Francione's response is that while not justifiable, it is excusable. Now this seems like quite a farfetched analogy, but there are actual situations that Francione also discusses. For example in his blog about pets, Francione states that adopting animals that would otherwise be killed in animal shelters, although involves a violation of the animals rights (because the animal has to live purely at the behest of the human), is the best thing to out a range of bad options. Importantly despite Francione stating that rights violations are only excusable, he actively advocates for animals to be adopted. (He also uses the same argument to say feeding meat to cats is excusable).

The principle here is clear, in the face of acting to violate fundamental rights, that it is excusable to violate them if in doing so we are saving lives and it is the best of bad options. This is exactly what SIC are doing when they campaign to reduce animal suffering. Now maybe campaigning on veganism would be more effective, but meat eaters themselves say that while they are not willing to go vegan they are willing to join in campaigns against things like anti fox hunting. We are faced with an impossible situation, we live in a world that refuses to go vegan, but we can make sure that at least some of those animals are saved. As Francione says, supporting things that are the least bad option is excusable if it saves lives. This is exactly also the same issue regarding vegan organisations that support reducetarianism I mentioned in my last blog. They do so to save animal lives, making a compromise just like Francione does when he advocates for animals to be adopted.

Where SIC, and indeed the vegan society when they advocate reducetarianism, differ with Francione and Vegfest is not on a matter of principle. The question then is whether purely vegan campaigns are just more effective. There have been some studies on this, however these are not conclusive. What is certain however is that there are meat eaters who say they would not go vegan, but would support SIC and would try to reduce their meat consumption. Are they all lying? Perhaps they are just confused, but regardless where the approaches differ is not on a matter of principle.

Now there are additional arguments that Francione uses, such as that some SIC are racist. One example of these might be single issue campaigns against the Taiji dolphin hunt. I think Francione is right that we need to make sure that these campaigns are supported by some within by those within those communities to promote change that does not lead to an increase in xenophobia. However the fact that a campaign identifies particular practices by others which might lead to xenophobia if the campaign is done poorly are uses poor language, does not mean we should absolutely not campaign on those issues if they are done well. For example the fact that Saudi Arabia is an Islamic country does not mean that white people should not campaign to end the war in Yemen. We can do so in a way that is not xenophobic, persuading our Government to take action about these issues.

Another concern expressed by Francione is that SIC reinforce the misconceived idea that as long as one uses animal “humanely” is permissible and rather it is abuse which is wrong. On the contrary, SIC say that by extending concern for animals, so it promotes veganism in the long term through a gradual approach. This is again is an empirical question and not matter of principle. Again if we actually listen to many vegans, they themselves say that this is what happened to them, they first got involved in SIC, met some vegans, widened their sphere of moral concern and became vegan. Maybe Francione is right, but I have seen no evidence for it. Regardless, again note that this a matter of fact, not principle.

Vegans Don't Need to Reject Single Issue Campaigns

Hopefully I have managed to convince you that whatever the disagreements between the sides in this debate they are not matters of principle, and not as Francione says because his opponents are speciesist. Vegans don't need to reject SIC, indeed supporting them is an expression of their veganism. SIC and vegan campaigns are singled out by Francione as being speciesist, but both sides of this debate are acting on the same principle, to do whatever they can to help animals. Francione in his debates with these groups makes it seem like all violations of rights can never be excusable, yet is happy to excuse his own violations for the causes he supports such as adopting pets, or feeding meat to cats. It is this inconsistency that makes it appear like he is only opposing these organisations to be divisive, as it splits apart the animal right movement, turning vegans against one another. Whether we are involved in SICs or are involved with vegan education through the Abolitionist Approach or indeed the Vegan Society, we are all still vegans, acting in the best way we can see fit to save animals and we should be united by this.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

On speciesism and making compromises to support animal rights


In my last post I mentioned that even if one agrees with the arguments against speciesism, that one need not commit oneself to agree with other arguments that anti-speciesist such as Gary Francione, express. In contrast to this, Gary Francione has gone on record that if one rejects speciesism then one must also agree that any use of animals is wrong. It then follows, says Francione, that vegan organisations, such as the Vegan Society, are also wrong when they promote reducetarian approaches when people say they will not become vegan, because they are in effect saying that some uses are better than others when, according to Francione, all uses are equally wrong. This leads him to conclude that the Vegan Society is speciesist.

So how does Francione come to this conclusion? Through analogy. Francione says that if we accept that some rights are absolute for humans, such as the right not to be a slave and be treated merely as property, and if we are not to be speciesist, then we must also apply this same principle to animals. Furthermore, one would not accept people advocating for only a little bit of slavery, or good living conditions for slaves. Rather we should advocate for the complete abolition of things that violate these basic rights. He makes other ethical analogies too, such as our approach to murder; no one would advocate for murderers to be less cruel in their “murdering”, all murder is equally wrong and so the principle must be that all violations of basic rights are equally wrong, making the position of vegan organisations that also campaign for better treatment for animals equivalent to those who are apologists for slavery.

The problem with this argument is that there are examples where many do feel we have a responsibility to compromise on basic rights in a strategic way to support those rights in the long term. For example, the realities of our electoral system means that we have to make compromises no matter who we vote for. Francione himself makes this compromise when he adopts pet animals who would be killed otherwise, he makes a compromise to accept pet ownership when it is in a context that the animals’ rights would be violated anyway. Now it may be the case that Francione disagrees that by adopting pet animals he is making any compromise with regards to the pet’s rights, and indeed he calls them companion animals rather than “pets”. However, when one thinks about what a companion is, a companion makes a free makes free choice of association. However, the power dynamic with-in the relationship between pet owner and pat, and companion animal and human is exactly the same. The human pays for food, healthcare, shelter, every aspect of its life is ultimately decided of it. Now Francione may say that this is the only option available for the animal, as it would otherwise be killed. However I am sure that vegan organisations would argue that when they convince meat eaters, when they would not go vegan, to instead at least to reduce the amount of animals they kill, that by doing so this was the animals only opportunity to survive.

At this point, it becomes clear that we can support abolition while at the same time making these compromises, and in a way that is not speciesist. What matters is the context, does compromising in the purity of the message achieve a positive outcome in the long term. With murder, there is consensus that this is wrong, it is illegal and so no compromise is required. It is possible to convict every murder. It is not possible to convict every meat eater! With regards to slavery, that was within a particular historical context, and indeed there where many abolitionists that argued that slavery was inefficient and bad for the economy. Should they not have argued this as it implied that slavery could have been justified if it was good for the economy? No, this is a good compromise because it enabled us to bring slavery to an end.

I admit, it may be that partially supporting reducetarianism is just a poor compromise because it is simply more effective to have purely vegan campaigns. That however is an empirical question, with evidence on both sides of that debate. It is not a question of morality. As such it is simply not the case that the vegan society is abandoning its principles in partially advocating for reducetarianism in the way it does. Just the opposite it is upholding the principles of abolitionism by try to promote any change it can to how people view animals, to as quickly as possible convince people to go vegan.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Five questions for Gary Francione

Following on from my previous post about the problems of Francione’s Abolitionist Approach I would like to put the following questions to Gary, and to anyone who is an adherent to Francione’s version of animal rights.
His argument is centred around two main tenets. The first of these is that speciesism is wrong and indeed equivalent to other “isms” such as sexism, as they are all based on essentialism.  The second tenet is that if you believe animals matter morally then you must also accept his animal rights theory is correct, specifically that animal sentience, which Francione believes is the foremost morally relevant characteristic, means they have the right not to be used as property, a right that comes before all other rights. The questions below challenge these arguments and have never as far as I can tell been addressed in his writing
1.       Underlying your argument is we should give animals the right not to be treated as property based on their sentience and have interests. Is not this purely based on a moral intuition?

2.       Why do you believe your moral intuition that interests = rights is logically more valid than the utilitarian intuition that animal suffering and wellbeing is what matters most?

3.       Do you agree that ascribing moral worth to Human vs non-human animals based on moral intuitions is no more essentialist than ascribing moral worth to sentient vs non-sentient animals?

4.       Do you agree that deciding what is, and is not a morally relevant characteristic, and what rights they entail, is purely based on morally intuition and only invalid when held inconsistently or is based on a factual misconception (such as when racists hold moral intuitions against races based on biased factual misconceptions about  racial “inferiority”?

5.       Given your lack of advocacy to give wild animals all the rights we give to children, specifically the rights we give to infants to have their basic needs satisfied, does that make you a speciesist?



These questions are so important because of the effect they have on the debate within the animal rights movements. Francione uses arguments about speciesism and his version of animal rights to effectively divide vegans against each other, whether that be against major vegan campaign organisations or against others such as vegan feminist groups. He uses inflammatory language, and then falls back on mischaracterising what his opponents think, such as that they think he is somehow an ableist, sexist or racist for holding his views against speciesism or even just his particular brand of animal rights.

This is absolutely not the case. By and large accusations are made against him due to the language that he uses, for example when he argues that his opponents need to take medication or have "moral schizophrenia". There are many theories on animal rights, and even if one accepts his arguments against speciesism, this does not require one to hold his other particular views on animal rights. And even if you accept his arguments on animal rights and against speciesism, you don't have to believe it in the fundamentalist way that leads to Francione belligerently rejecting other vegans moral intuitions that lead them to give partial support for reducetarianism to reduce animal suffering, even if you disagree with them. I ask you to think about the above questions and avoid getting bogged down in his divisive campaigns against vegan groups such as the vegan society, which have done and continue to do so much good. Go vegan and but don't be driven by fundamentalism.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

On Speciesism, Gary Francione, and the Great Vegan Schism


Is speciesism equivalent to racism? Should vegan campaigns never advocate for reducetarianism and instead only campaign for veganism?
That is the question posed by Gary Francione and the Abolitionist Approach that has led to a fracture through the animal rights movement, polarising opinion for and against. If you are not familiar with his work I suggest you read some of his blogs on his website such as his blog post "Essentialism, Intersectionality, and Veganism as a Moral Baseline". By focussing on some of the philosophical errors as I see them in Francione’s approach I hope to convince you that racism is not the same as speciesism, and that there are serious logical flaws in the approach advocated by Francione.

Additionally I will discuss how Francione uses arguments that do not acknowledge the presence of hidden premises and of moral intuitions which play a central importance in allowing us to judge what is and is not moral. His arguments obscures these intuitions through rhetorical devices such as through comparisons to racism and slavery that many find offensive, and cover over logical gaps in these arguments. Finally I will make the case that the problems with anti-speciesism as a position are so problematic that Francione is himself a speciesist.

So what’s Francione philosophy about?

Non-Speciesism is a central tenet of Francione’s argument, which begins by asking how we decide who counts as a "person" and so who has all the rights of personhood that go along with this. He argues that there are two main ways that we can potentially use to attribute personhood. The first way many people use to ascribe rights is to appeal to our species. All individuals of whom we are certain are persons are members of the same group, i.e. Homo sapiens. Therefore some people allocate "personhood", and the rights that go along with this, to anyone that is simply a human. The second way to attribute personhood is to appeal to the morally relevant characteristics that each individual holds. Francione rejects the use of species membership as relevant to the attribution of personhood and instead advocates for this second way.
Regarding group membership, he argues that to give rights based on group membership, for example because we are all human, is to commit the same error as racists. Specifically, Francione argues that the error here is one of essentialism, which is the idea that the ethical worth of any group is not dependent on any characteristic they hold, but rather that each member of a group is possessed of an essence which in itself has moral value. Such a belief is expressed by racists with regards to ethnicity, sexists with regards to gender, and speciesists with regards to species. Therefore Gary argues such that if one is to maintain that one is not racist one then must also adhere to anti-essentialism. This is further reasoned by Francione that if one admits that it is justified to limit personhood to group membership based on species, then on what basis do we have to argue against racists who limit rights to those of a certain race. As we are all part of many different groups, it seems arbitrary to select species as being the group along the lines of which we allocate rights. We belong to many groups, why not all primates, why not all mammals, why not community or family or indeed ethnicity? Lacking any means to decide why we should pick one group type over another to allocate rights then, Francione argues we must reject speciesism, just as we have rejected racism.
What are the results of this according to Francione? Well, lets then consider how we allocate rights based on the characteristics individuals actually hold. The principle by which Francione primarily uses to consider which characteristics are relevant is that they must be consistent with the way we currently allocate basic rights to all humans, including infants and people with mental disabilities, who are sentient yet have a drastically limited set of cognitive abilities. The unifying characteristic then of all those that we give rights to cannot be those complex cognitive skills which we hold in such high esteem, such as our capacity for language, self-awareness, advanced social learning or culture. If we did limit rights to those with more complex cognitive skills then we would be forced to deny rights to those humans who, while sentient, lack these skills. Rather Francione states that we should give rights to those that are sentient. Our sentience is so important, he argues, because our capacity to experience suffering and joy allows us to have interests, and it is the possession of interests by animals which confer on them both personhood and rights. The most basic interest we have is to continue to live and express those interests. As such, to act in a way where those who are sentient are treated as if they were merely means to our ends, i.e. as property and so to have no basic rights, is in effect to act in a way contradictory to their ability to have interests. Therefore in according rights to all those who are sentient, and in such a way that avoids speciesism, this obliges us to give to animals the same basic rights we accord to all humans. Specifically this would mean that we are obliged not treat animals as property, requiring us all to be vegan.

What’s wrong with vegan campaigns advocating for anything less than veganism?

Some vegan campaign groups, such as the vegan society, advocate that in addition to supporting veganism, we should also target those people who are unwilling to go vegan with campaigns to convince meat eaters to reduce the amount of meat they eat, eat meat that has not been factory farmed, and try to go vegetarian (at least some of the time e.g. meatless mondays) (all these approaches are wrapped up in the idea of reducetarianism). Francione maintains that all acts that violate an animal's basic rights, which are conferred on them by the possession of sentience and interests, are all equally bad, regardless of whether one act causes less suffering than another. The analogy here is that of slavery, hence Francione’s group being called the Abolitionist Approach. He argues all slavery is equally wrong, regardless of the fact that some slaves were treated better than others, and so by extension that is how we should regard use of animals. One could make other analogies too, for example with murder. All murder is wrong, regardless of how cruel the murderer was. There are other arguments Francione uses too regarding the efficacy of campaigns that focus purely on veganism, compared with those that also advocate reducetarianism, however such arguments are lacking on evidence on either side, so I will stick with the main ethical argument he makes against reducetarianism campaigns.
In sum, these arguments have created the current schism as it stands, with Francione denouncing many vegan campaign groups such as the Vegan Society, and vegan campaign groups denouncing Francione for his particularly inflammatory language (no one is going to like being compared to a racist when, from the vegan campaigns groups’ perspective, they are acting to reduce animal suffering in the best way they can)

Where are the problems with Francione’s argument?

Underlying Francione’s approach is the belief that if one accepts that animals matter at all, then one must be vegan and ascribe to all the rest of his views to be logically consistent. The first problem with this is that there are some unacknowledged premises in his arguments. The first I would like to address is when he makes the argument that because we give rights to children, we must also give rights to animals. Underlying his acceptance of the rights for infants is that the moral intuitions we have about this are correct and are non-arbitrary. Why does he believe so? Because children have interests. But why should having interests mean they should be respected? There is an is-ought gap here that he just does not acknowledge. There is no logical necessity that an animals possession of sentience and interests imply rights at all, it is a moral intuition. As such one cannot just claim that interests mean rights, it is an intuition for which he is unable to justifiably say to others that they are logically obliged to agree with him. And if we agree that such intuitions are valid, then why should other intuitions not also be valid? Indeed why should the vegan campaigns intuition, that animal suffering is what matters more than a violation of an animal’s right to life if the later is going to be violated anyway, not be just as valid as Francione's intuition?
The only way the intuition the vegan campaign groups hold could be invalid is if it was based on some logical inconsistency. Francione would have us believe that speciesism is that inconsistency, such that because we give absolute rights to children we must give them to animals. However the argument against speciesism is one based on a comparison to racism, one which I do not believe is apt. Why? Because this comparison operates as a rhetorical device, not a logical argument. There are many arguments used to support racism, and what they are primarily based on is not that some ethnicities are just of lesser moral value, but rather they are of lesser moral value because they (supposedly) lack certain characteristics. Racists will say all sorts of things about other ethnicities, such as that they are inherently more prone to criminal behaviour, or sexual “deviance”, or are less intelligent. The important point about these arguments is that they are factually wrong! There is just no evidence to back up these points. By accepting speciesism, that infants do indeed have rights animals do not, we are not committing the same error as racists, because they are committing an error of fact.

Furthermore, it is not like Francione even holds speciesism consistently. Consider all the rights we give to infants. If parents cannot provide for a child’s basic needs then this support is provided by the government. If a child does not receive such care from its parents, they can be prosecuted. To be consistent with non-speciesism then we would have to offer the same rights (such as food, healthcare, shelter, protection from foreseeable harm) to all wild animals. The fact that the child is a member of a family or community is irrelevant, as relational duties would have to be view as essentialist according to Francione to be consistent with non-speciesism. Yes by rejecting non speciesism it would be a loss of an ability to use that one argument against racists, but there are still many other arguments against racists, and we can use these arguments without leaving ourselves open to being inconsistent. By only applying anti-speciesism when it suits him, Francione is then himself a speciesist.

Francione ascribes to a type of moral realism in his arguments that does not acknowledge the presence of moral intuitions and the central importance they play in allowing us to judge what is and is not moral. His argument obscures these intuitions through rhetorical devices such as through comparisons to racism and slavery. At the heart of the issue though is that he has a moral intuition about animal rights, whereas those running the vegan campaigns that he opposes have intuitions with regards to the reduction of animal suffering. In the comparison he makes to slavery, Francione states that slavery is wrong all the time and so we should oppose it all the time, regardless of their being better or worse forms of slavery. In the comparison to sexism he states that sexism is wrong all the time, and so we should oppose sexism all the time. He then extends this argument to animal use stating that it is wrong all the time, and so we should oppose it all the time and not advocate for reducetarianism. But this argument is only valid if we accept that animals have the same hierarchy of rights that humans do, such that the violation of an animals rights to life overrides the violation of other rights such as avoidance of the many forms of abuse that happen on a factory farm but not on other types of more “humane” farms. Such a belief again is based on non-speciesism which even Francione cannot hold consistently. And once you reject the idea that speciesism is wrong or in some way equivalent to racism or sexism, his whole argument crumbles.

I would not say which is right or wrong beyond what my own intuition tells me, but by claiming that the vegan society position is logically invalid Francione is in error, and merely pushes the animal rights debate towards fundamentalist positions with one group of vegans claiming that another group are not “true” vegans. It’s divisive and should stop.