Sunday, February 24, 2008

Virtue Ethics (Not Too) Simplified

By: Philip Cafaro, 
Southwest State University

ABSTRACT: There are two basic types of ethical judgments: deontological judgements that focus on duty and obligation and eudaimonist judgements that focus on human excellence and the nature of the good life. I contend that we must carefully distinguish these two types of judgements and not try to understand one as a special case of the other. Ethical theories may be usefully divided into two main kinds, deontological or eudaimonist, on the basis of whether they take one of the other of these types of judgements as primary. A second important contention, which this paper supports but does not attempt to justify fully, is that neither type of theory trumps the other, nor should we subsume them under some more encompassing ethical synthesis.

Introduction: Virtue Ethics

There are two basic kinds of ethical judgments. The first have to do with duty and obligation. For example: "Thou shalt not kill, lie, or steal." "You just keep your promises." These judgments often uphold minimal standards of conduct and (partly for that reason) assert or imply a moral ‘ought.’ The second kind of judgment focuses on human excellence and the nature of the good life. These judgments employ as their most general terms "happiness," "excellence," and perhaps "flourishing" (in addition to "the good life"). For example: "Happiness requires activity and not mere passive consumption." "The good life includes pleasure, friendship, intellectual development and physical health." I take these to be the two general types of ethical judgment, and all particular ethical judgments to be examples of these. The main contention of this paper is that we must carefully distinguish these two types of judgments, and not try to understand the one as a special case of the other.

Ethical theories may be usefully divided into two main types, deontological or eudaimonist, on the basis of whether they take one or the other of these kinds of judgments as primary. (1) In the main, ancient ethical theories were eudaimonist in both form and content (in the kinds of judgments and terms they took as primary, and in the questions they spent the most time investigating). Most modern ethical theories have been deontological, again in both form and content. (2) Aristotle’s central question is: What is the good life for a human being? Kant and Mill’s central question is: What are our duties to our fellow human beings? My second main contention, which I cannot fully argue for here, is that neither type of theory trumps the other, nor should we attempt to subsume both types under some higher ethical synthesis.

The resurgence of "virtue ethics" in the past fifteen years has been tied in to a number of disparate projects and positions. (3) These have included rejecting the primacy of meta-ethics and the possibility of a moral calculus, and returning to the careful description of concrete moral experience (as in the work of Martha Nussbaum); developing a communitarian ethics, which limits individual rights where these conflict with the common good (Charles Taylor); questioning the scope and importance of deontological moral claims (Bernard Williams); and turning to an historicist, as opposed to an universalist, moral theorizing (Alasdair MacIntyre). (4) Regardless of their ultimate success, these efforts have reinvigorated debate within ethical philosophy and will ultimately strengthen it. Yet important as this has been, the most important consequence of the turn towards virtue ethics has been to reopen Aristotle’s question — What is the good life, and how can I go about living it? — as a major question in philosophical ethics. In reasserting the importance of the realm of judgments concerning our flourishing, excellence and happiness, virtue ethics reclaims for us this neglected half of our ethical lives for intelligent, philosophical consideration.

If we keep this in mind, it will help us avoid some mistakes. For example, for many writers, the most important difference between a virtue ethics and its Kantian and utilitarian counterparts is that virtue ethics is "agent-centered" rather than "act-centered"; (5) this emphasis has led some to develop virtue ethics primarily as a "character ethics." (6) However, a true eudaimonist ethics does not focus narrowly on character, particularly on character understood as something mental or internal, and separable from its various external manifestations. An eudaimonist ethics judges the people we are and the lives we lead. It critically evaluates lifestyles, careers, roles and achievements (as well as individual actions and character). In the end, a comprehensive account of the good life must consider both character and personal achievement, our selves and our creations. (7)

Again, the term "virtue ethics" can mislead if it is taken to mean an exclusive focus on "the virtues": those enduring character traits such as courage and moderation which foster successful achievement and help make a person a good person. Eudaimonist ethics is concerned with such character traits, and also with their opposing vices or deficiencies. But the virtues are properly defined by reference to a conception of the good, successful, or happy life. This is the more basic consideration (and thus this general approach to ethics is aptly labeled "eudaimonist"). (8) Eudaimonist judgments often refer to other aspects of our lives besides virtues and vices.

Again, many contemporary ethicists specify "the virtues" as stable dispositions to act according to duty. (9) This is in line with modern English usage, as the term ‘virtue’ has taken on a moralistic and internal sense. (10) It is helpful here to remember that the Greek term arete, usually translated by our ‘virtue’ is also often aptly translated by ‘excellence.’ In Greek ethical theory, arete embraced both intellectual and moral excellence; in common Greek usage, it embraced intellectual, moral and physical excellence, the excellence of human beings and their creations and achievements, human and non-human excellence. We may use the word ‘virtue’ as we wish, of course. The important point to remember is that a "virtue ethics" which defines virtues as stable dispositions to act according to duty is essentially deontological in content, if not in form. Such theories are not primarily concerned with human excellence, but with human dutifulness. A true eudaimonist ethical theory, contrarily, is concerned with human excellence and the good life. It does not define the good life as the dutiful life, even if it (falsely) equates the two, or (more plausibly) sees dutifulness as a necessary component of the good life. (11)

The phrase "enlightened self-interest" best defines the scope of a properly conceived eudaimonist ethics. (12)While the specification of such enlightened self-interest has until recently been neglected within academic philosophy, it has continued to occupy the thoughts of intellectuals and non-intellectuals alike. In a recent study of the ancient virtue ethics tradition, Julia Annas writes that in our society, we have to turn to popular self-help manuals to find extensive discussion of questions of the best life, self-fulfillment, the proper role of the emotions, personal friendships and commitments, topics which in the ancient world were always treated in a more intellectual way as part of ethics. (13) Along with self-help writers, Annas might have included religious leaders promoting spiritual growth, psychotherapists holding out the hope that we can uncover secrets from our early development that block the way towards happier, more fully integrated adult lives, and many other writers and "service providers." All have more or less explicit understandings of fulfilled or excellent human lives, and conversely of failed, immature, or substandard human lives. All have beliefs about what foils the achievement of a good life, and what sort of knowledge and techniques will help an individual achieve happiness. (So too do medical doctors, whether they treat sick bodies or psyches, and athletic trainers, who seek to improve physical performance.)

A revived virtue ethics may point the way towards a better philosophical ethics; one which includes a "more intellectual" yet still broadly useful consideration of the good life. Like our ancient predecessors, modern ethical philosophers may give good advice to those aspiring to live well. But we are more likely to do so, if we work to clarify and improve our and their eudaimonist judgments, rather than treating virtue ethics as primarily a new way of dealing with the meta-ethical issues which have bedeviled twentieth-century ethics or a new way to speak about moral goodness and other essentially deontological concerns.

Deontological and Eudaimonist Judgments

I began by stating that deontological and eudaimonist judgments should be carefully distinguished. Of course, ethical decisions involve both kinds of judgments, so at some point they must be related, in thought and in action. But these judgments articulate very different aspects of our ethical situation, and previous attempts at comprehensive ethical theories have often mischaracterized one type of judgment in an effort to legitimize the other. For these reasons we should first carefully characterize the two kinds of judgments, keeping an open mind as to how far they may be harmonized and a healthy skepticism regarding all comprehensive theories.

Consider an environmental example. Jim owns a 40-acre stand of second growth forest on his Wisconsin farm. It is a beautiful area, with a brook running through it which Jim, his father and his own sons have often fished. It has been the scene of family walks, birdwatching expeditions, and courtships. It also has been the source for the family’s firewood, and of extra income when sections have been sold and cut from time to time. Now Jim has had an offer from a regional timber buyer for the trees. The money, of course, would come in handy. He has a decision to make.

What might he believe to be his duties in this case? Certainly the duty to provide for his family’s well-being; perhaps also to protect the forest; perhaps to keep the farmstead in the family. He might feel as if he "ought" to do all of these things. These "oughts" limit his choices. Such duties mean that he might not get to do what he wants to do — whether he wants to sell the trees or preserve them.

What is in his "enlightened self interest"? Here he might consider what he could buy with the money from the sale; and also the various activities and enjoyments made possible by living next to a beautiful forest, as compared to living next to cut-over land. He will also consider the happiness of his family as it would be affected by one course of action or the other; and perhaps also the effects on the farmstead itself, both on the forest and on the adjoining lands (perhaps the forest serves to buffer neighboring farmlands from floods and erosion). For these other entities, too, may flourish or fail, excel or decline. (14) All of these considerations might play a part in his judgments on the advisability of one course of action or another.

Clearly there is one decision to be made here (not to say that there are only two choices: perhaps the 40-acres could be harvested in part; harvested in different ways, etc.). Also one family, one farm, and one forest. Jim’s deontological and eudaimonist judgments must both be grounded in the nature of the entities concerned and his relationships to them. But the key point is this: he cannot define his duties in terms of his enlightened self-interest, or vice versa.

Duties cannot be defined in terms of enlightened self-interest. For our duties are not merely to ourselves but to other beings, and their good sometimes conflicts with our own. Jim may come to the conclusion that the course of action which will lead to his own happiness or self-development is to sell the trees and use the money to go to college or buy a new business. Nevertheless he may have a duty to protect them, based on their intrinsic value; on their goodness, which is different than his own. He may, contrarily, decide that his enlightened self-interest dictates protecting the trees and enjoying them in his old accustomed ways. Nevertheless, he may have a duty to sell them in order to support his family. We cannot assume that our self-interest will harmonize with our duties towards others, any more than we can assume they will conflict.

To deny this is to fail to understand the nature of duty. In "Resistance to Civil Government." Henry Thoreau writes that we must consider those cases to which the rule of expediency does not apply, in which a people, as well as an individual, must do justice, cost what it may. If I have unjustly wrested a plank from a drowning man, I must restore it to him though I drown myself . . . he that would save his life, in such a case, shall lose it. (15)

The key point here is that duty overrides expediency and self-interest, by definition. This is true, whether or not duty ever calls for the absolute sacrifice of one’s life. It holds regardless of how often duty and expediency do, in fact, conflict. (It also holds, of course, whether or not Thoreau is right in this case, as to the existence of a duty to resist a government which protects slavery and promotes foreign aggression.)

On the other hand, enlightened self-interest cannot be defined by our duties. Even if we exhaustively specified Jim’s duties to himself, his family, his neighbors and his forest, we would not have specified his enlightened self-interest. For assuming that he is in the enviable position of having enough money to support his family without selling the trees, and leaving open the question of whether he has a duty to protect the trees for their own sakes, the question remains: what would be in his best interest? And if we assume that he decides not to sell the trees and instead to protect them, the question remains: how may he best enjoy the forest and get the most out of its presence? (16) Whether the answer involves hunting, fishing and skylarking, or ecological study, or painting and composing poetry, it is clear that none of these activities are duties. Still less can their proper pursuit be explicated in terms of duty. To assume that the best human life is the most dutiful one is to forget that we have freedom as well as constraint in our ethical decisions, legitimate self-interest as well as duties to others, and possibilities for excellence as well as basic injunctions to help and not harm. (17)

However, this leaves Jim with the problem of acting on the basis of these two different sorts of judgments, and the problem can become acute if they push him in opposite directions. For instance, he might come to believe that duty calls for him to preserve the trees, while his own best interest involves selling them. Conversely, he might come to believe that he has a duty to his family to sell the trees (let us say his two children need the money in order to go to college), while his own happiness and the good of the land dictate that he preserve them. How might he resolve such dilemmas?

I believe that we must leave open the possibility that these will be genuine dilemmas, resolvable in action but not in reason. There may be no best choice here, but rather a number of equally choiceworthy possibilities. Certainly choice often involves trade-offs between scarce goods, whether or not we recognize genuine ethical dilemmas. Jim might bow to paternal duty and cut the trees for the sake of his children’s education — but with the understanding that his own happiness will suffer. Or he may believe his own happiness and the preservation of the farm dictate preserving the trees, and do so — but recognize that he is failing to perform a legitimate duty, which his children have a right to demand that he perform.

But it is important to realize that even if this is true in Jim’s case, that is not the equivalent of saying "anything goes" or asserting that all choices are equally good. For we must distinguish cases where duty overrides enlightened self-interest, or vice versa, from cases where one or both are overridden by thoughtlessness or mere swinishness. It is simply not the same case if Jim sells his trees without a thought as to what they have meant to him and his family, or their role in preventing disastrous floods on his farm. Nor is it the same case if he sells them in order to buy a new Lexus, or to pay off his gambling debts, or "to cover each one of his dollars with another." (18) In none of these cases can we dignify his actions with the name of acting from duty or enlightened self-interest.

Furthermore, duty and enlightened self-interest often coincide. It may be that the money Jim would get from selling his trees would not compensate him for the pleasure, health benefits, scientific knowledge, poetic inspiration and cherished associations that he would forego if the forest disappeared; and that the intrinsic value of the forest and its many inhabitants places a duty on him not to harm them unnecessarily. Still, we may fail to do right in such cases, "through mere ignorance and mistake"; through acting complacently in "the ruts of tradition and conformity"; or through "gross feeding": the "betrayal" of our health, ideals and better selves by our "vast abdomens." (19) Here both deontological and eudaimonist considerations will condemn us.

This paper was given at the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy, in Boston, Massachusetts (August 10-15, 1998).

(1) These terms come from the Greek words for necessity and obligation, and happiness, respectively. David Heyd describes this as a difference between deontological and axiological theories: "Generally speaking classical ethics . . . is axiological rather than deontological. It takes as its basic conceptual framework the notions of goodness, virtue, and perfection rather than those of duty, right, and justice. It aims at a definition of the good man and the good for man, rather than at a formulation of a system of interpersonal principles of just and obligatory action." (Supererogation: Its status in ethical theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 36) Charles Larmore makes a similar distinction, following Sidgwick: "The nature of moral value assumes two fundamentally different forms . . . depending on whether the notion of right or the notion of good is thought to be more basic." ("The Right and the Good," Philosophia 20 (1990): 15)
(2) Many philosophers will prefer to divide ethical theories into three basic types: eudaimonist, deontological and utilitarian (Aristotle, Kant, Mill). And in another legitimate usage, deontological theories are merely one among several types of theory in modern philosophical ethics: one likely typology divides ethical theories into deontological, utilitarian, contractarian, eudaimonist (back under consideration after a long hiatus) and skeptical (this last less a "theory" than a point of view). However, it is fair to say that twentieth-century moral theory has been preoccupied with the nature and possibility of "the moral ought," and to a lesser extent with a detailed specification of particular duties. It is also fair to say that it has neglected questions concerning human excellence and flourishing. In that sense, modern moral theory has been essentially deontological.
(3) Good summaries are Roger Crisp, "Modern Moral Philosophy and the Virtues," in Crisp (ed.), How Should One Live? Essays on the Virtues (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 1-18; and Gregory Trianosky, "What is Virtue Ethics All About?," American Philosophical Quarterly 27 (1990): 335-344.
(4) Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 299-306; Taylor, "Atomism," in Taylor, Philosophy and the Human Sciences (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 187-210; Williams, Moral Luck (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981), 23-26, 38-39; MacIntyre, After Virtue, 2nd ed. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 265-72.
(5) J.B. Schneewind, "The Misfortunes of Virtue," Ethics 101 (1991): 43-44.
(6) Among many examples see Harold Alderman, "By Virtue of a Virtue," Review of Metaphysics 36 (1982): 127-153; Larry Blum Moral Perception and Particularity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 148-149; Nancy Sherman, The Fabric of Character: Aristotle’s Theory of Virtue (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 1-2; David Norton, "Moral Minimalism and the Development of Moral Character," in Peter French et al. (eds.), Midwest Studies in Philosophy Volume XIII: Ethical Theory: Character and Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), 180; and Guy Axtell, "Recent Work in Virtue Epistemology," American Philosophical Quarterly 34 (1997): 2.
An emphasis on "the whole person" is perhaps a natural consequence of focusing on eudaimonist rather than deontological judgments; certainly "the good life" cannot be discussed if the sense of that life is lost in its atomization into a series of unrelated acts. (MacIntyre, After Virtue, 204-19) It is less clear that this marks an important and essential difference between eudaimonist and deontological ethical theories, because it seems that a full consideration of my duties and rights must also take an encompassing view of my life as a whole.
(7) As Amartya Sen notes, it is not clear that reason demands that we privilege either of these aspects in judging human excellence. "Three different notions may be distinguished: (1) agency achievement, (2) personal well-being, and (3) the standard of living [defined materialistically]. The distinction between agency achievement and personal well-being arises from the fact that a person may have objectives other than personal well-being." (Sen, The Standard of Living (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 27-28)
(8) Julia Annas, The Morality of Happiness (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993) 46.
(9) Annas, Morality, 49-52, and the following, all in French et al., Midwest Studies: R.B. Brandt, "The Structure of Virtue," 64; Martha Nussbaum, "Non-Relative Virtues," 35; Amelie Rorty, "Virtues and Their Vicissitudes," 137-38. For a critique of this view see Walter Schaller, "Are Virtues No More Than Dispositions to Obey Moral Rules?" Philosophia 20 (1990): 195-207.
(10) Kant specifies such a moralistic and inward, intentionalist understanding of ‘virtue’ in a very pure form: "virtue is . . . the moral strength of a man’s will in fulfilling his duty." (Kant, The Doctrine of Virtue: Part II of The Metaphysic of Morals (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1964), 66. For a defense of the Kantian conception of virtue see Onora O’Neill, "Kant’s Virtues," in Crisp, How?,77-97.
(11) Of course, we must leave open the possibility of ethical positions which are formally eudaimonist but with a strong deontological content. One may argue that human excellence consists essentially or even exclusively in acting morally, and that the best human life is one of rigorous attention to duty (even that all other considerations have no bearing on the goodness of a human life). However, it is difficult to sustain such a position.
Within an eudaimonist theory, the virtues should not be defined narrowly in terms of dispositions to act morally. For we reckon physical, intellectual and psychological qualities as virtues if they typically help people to live well and achieve great things; to create great works of art or scholarship, for example. Such achievements as these are not typically considered moral (in our restricted modern sense) or a matter of duty. Yet they are examples of human goodness and excellence.
(12) Perhaps only a minority of writers on "virtue ethics" support an eudaimonist ethics in this sense. Among them see Charles Taylor, "The Diversity of Goods" and Sabina Lovibond, "Realism and Imagination in Ethics," both in Stanley Clarke and Evan Simpson (eds.), Anti-Theory in Ethics and Moral Conservatism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989); and Richard Taylor, "Ancient Wisdom and Modern Folly," in French et al., Midwest Studies. However, the majority of the authors in these two representative collections are either critics of eudaimonist ethics or "formal" virtue ethicists who are in substance deontologists. Such for example is Iris Murdoch, the author of The Sovereignty of Good, who writes that "in the moral life the enemy is the fat relentless ego." (quoted by Lovibond, 270). Too many modern philosophers and ethical thinkers take enlightened self-interest and the desire for fulfillment as a form of "narcissism" (Christopher Lasch), hedonism (Daniel Bell) or lack of intellectual discipline (Allen Bloom). Modern philosophy has "an extraordinary inarticulacy" about these issues (Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991), 13-18).
(13) Annas, Morality, 10.
(14) Such judgments concerning the best interests of the soil or the health and biodiversity of the forest are only in Jim’s enlightened self-interest on an expansive definition of both ‘enlightened’ and ‘self-interest.’ See Arne Naess, Ecology, Community and Lifestyle: Outline of an Ecosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 8-9.
(15) Thoreau, Reform Papers (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), 68. "He that would save his life . . . shall lose it" refers to Luke 9:24. While the word ‘duty’ does not occur in the passage quoted, the previous paragraph mentions "this duty" "for honest men to rebel and revolutionize."
(16) Similarly, if Jim accepts a duty to protect the forest, the question of how best to protect it remains. This, once again, involves him in the effort to understand the excellence of the forest.
(17) Just as we cannot define duty in terms of enlightened self-interest or vice versa, so we cannot "reduce," define or explain deontological ethical concepts in terms of eudaimonist concepts or vice versa. Many philosophers have made such attempts; for example, Jorge Garcia holds that "certain virtue concepts are more basic than major deontic concepts" and that "understanding right and wrong action in terms of certain virtue concepts helps us toward understanding and defending traditional Western morality." (Garcia, "The Primacy of the Virtuous," Philosophia 20 (1990): 69) I see little value in such reductive attempts. Our concepts of duty, law and responsibility, on the one hand, and happiness, excellence and goodness, on the other, are of disparate provenience and often serve different purposes. Their conflation, far from providing guidance or clarifying ethical issues, is more likely to cover up genuine ethical dilemmas and allow for their arbitrary resolution.
The concept of ‘duty’ may be understood by analogy with man-made laws. We must follow these, or we will be compelled to do so and punished if we do not. From this we move to the idea of a moral law, which holds even in the absence of an obvious law-giver, even in the absence of coercion, even if we are not worried about being found out and punished for breaking it. The moral law holds, regardless of . . .. The concept of ‘goodness,’ on the other hand, is used to describe the physical worlds of biological organisms and human artifacts. Organisms flourish or succeed in particular environments; artifacts further their makers’ purposes more or less well. From this we move to the idea of ethical goodness, the goodness of human beings. We are another kind of thing in the world (albeit a kind of thing in which we are unusually interested, which is unusually variable in its activities and purposes, and which transforms the context in which it understands itself). Ethical goodness is the goodness of human beings in their proper context, properly described, but just what that proper context and description is . . .. There is nothing to be gained by reconceptualizing duty in terms of goodness or vice versa. Nor are we likely, by mere wordplay, to reconcile those situations where duty and happiness, or duty and the pursuit of excellence, conflict.
(18) Thoreau, Walden (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), 294.
(19) Ibid., 6; 323; 215.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Morality and emotions

By Martha Nussbaum
Emotions such as anger, fear, grief, envy, compassion, love and jealousy have a close connection to morality. Philosophers have generally agreed that they can pose problems for morality in a variety of ways: by impeding judgment, by making attention uneven and partial, by making the person unstable and excessively needy, by suggesting immoral projects and goals. The place of emotions in moral theories depends on whether they are conceived of merely as impulses without thought or intentional content, or as having some sort of cognitive content. Plato argued that emotions form a part of the soul separate from thought and evaluation, and moved, in the course of his writings, from a sceptical view of their contribution to morality to a more positive appraisal. Aristotle connected emotions closely with judgment and belief, and held that they can be cultivated through moral education to be important components of a virtuous character. The Stoics identified emotions with judgments ascribing a very high value to uncontrolled external things and persons, arguing that all such judgments are false and should be removed. Their cognitive analysis of emotion stands independent of this radical normative thesis, and has been adopted by many philosophers who do not accept it.
Modern theories of emotion can be seen as a series of responses and counter-responses to the Stoic challenge. Descartes, Spinoza, Kant and Nietzsche all accepted many of the Stoics’ normative arguments in favour of diminishing the role played by emotions in morality; they differed, however, in the accounts of emotion they proposed. Focusing on compassion or sympathy, Hutcheson, Hume, Rousseau, Adam Smith and Schopenhauer all defended the role of some emotions in morality, returning to a normative position closer to Aristotle’s (though not always with a similarly cognitive analysis).

Contemporary views of emotion have been preoccupied with the criticism of reductive accounts
that derive from behaviourist psychology. By now, it is once again generally acknowledged that emotions are intelligent parts of the personality that can inform and illuminate as well as motivate. Philosophers’ views have been enriched by advances in cognitive psychology, psychoanalysis and anthropology. Feminist accounts of emotion differ sharply, some insisting that we should validate emotions as important parts of moral character, others that emotions shaped by unjust conditions are unreliable guides.

1 Morality and conceptions of emotion

Emotions are usually considered to be distinct both from bodily appetites, such as hunger and thirst, and from objectless moods, such as irritation and endogenous depression (see Emotions, nature of). Major members of the class have traditionally been love, anger, grief, fear, envy, jealousy, guilt and pity (compassion) (see Love; Moral sentiments; Rectification and remainders). Some philosophers have adopted an account of these experiences that makes them rather close to appetites after all: emotions are surges of affect or energy in the personality, unreasoning movements that push people into acting without being very much connected to their thoughts about the world. This view is frequently connected to the idea that emotions derive from an animal part of our nature, often by thinkers who do not have a high regard for animal intelligence.

Seen this way, emotions figure in morality only as forces that either advance or impede the purposes of moral judgment or will. They can be trained and to some extent conditioned, but in a relatively mechanical manner. Thus they will never be what makes a virtuous character virtuous, though a virtuous person can take pride in having exercised an appropriate degree of discipline over them (see Self-control; Virtues and vices §3).

Other philosophical theories about emotions hold that they involve interpretation and belief. An emotion such as grief is not simply a mindless surge of painful affect: it involves a way of seeing an object, an appraisal of that object as important, and the belief that the object is lost. Fear involves the belief that bad events are impending, and that one is not fully in control of warding them off. Such theories hold that changes in the relevant beliefs entail changes in emotion: one who learns that danger is not really at hand will cease to fear. When we scrutinize the beliefs involved in the emotions, it emerges that they are of two sorts: beliefs about what is happening in the world (Is the person really dead? Is the enemy really at hand?) and evaluative beliefs (Is the person really worth getting upset about? Is the danger serious?). Many of the evaluative beliefs derive from social teaching, some of it moral in nature. We learn what insults are worth getting upset about, what losses are serious, what damages are to be avoided.

Seen this way, emotions become intelligent parts of the moral personality, which can be cultivated through a process of moral education (see Moral education §3). Such a process will aim at producing adults who not only control their anger and fear, but experience anger and fear appropriately, towards the appropriate objects at the appropriate time in the appropriate degree. Merely self-controlled persons look to these theorists like those whose moral development is incomplete or imperfect. If we find them hating foreigners, but controlling their behaviour towards them, we will judge that there is some further moral work they should be doing before they can claim to be fully virtuous.

2 Emotions and character-based theories

All moral theories have some occasion to talk about emotions, but some focus on their cultivation more than others. Theories that focus on the calculation of utility will see emotions as forces that either promote or eclipse such calculations and the appropriate acts (see Utilitarianism). Theories that focus on duty can have a substantial place for an account of emotion, since emotions will be seen as motives that either promote or impede action in accordance with duty (see Deontological ethics; Duty). But if the account of duty is not supplemented with an account of virtue, it will not be clear how these motives should be integrated into the personality. Kant’s theory of virtue (1797) shows us that a duty-based view need not neglect emotions as elements in virtue (see Kant, I. §10; Emotions, philosophy of §3). Since this theory has a noncognitive conception of emotion, and also a rather negative view of the contributions made by emotion, it gives emotions a rather restricted role; but there is nothing to prevent a virtue-theory such as Kant’s from giving more positive attention to the cultivation of emotion.

Theories of character based on Aristotle and other Greek thinkers, however, have been Western philosophy’s most substantial sources for thought about the proper cultivation of emotion within morality (see Emotions, philosophy of §2). Aristotle’s norm of a reasonable person is one whose character is infused completely by the correct reasons for action, which have shaped all their motives and attitudes. Because he aims to describe the cultivation of a whole person and way of life, rather than simply to prescribe a list of duties, he has ample scope for discussing emotional self-shaping.

3 Ancient Graeco-Roman theories of emotion: Plato, Aristotle, Stoics

Plato argues in the Republic that the soul contains three distinct parts: the calculative part, the appetitive part, and the ‘spirited’ part (see Plato §14). This last part seems to be where Plato locates emotions such as anger, grief and fear. Although his account is cryptic, he suggests that the emotions differ from appetites in their responsiveness to changes in belief, and also in the fact that they are less brutish and more discriminating. But he refuses to construe them as belonging to the ‘part’ that performs evaluative reasoning. In normative terms, the Republic argues that all pity, fear and grief should be prevented from developing by a process of moral education that teaches young people that there is nothing for a good person to fear or grieve over; anger is apparently allowed to remain, but is channelled for military purposes. In the Phaedrus, Plato’s account of the emotional ‘part’ seems more positive: focusing on emotions of reverence and awe, he shows how this element in the personality makes a crucial contribution to virtue and understanding.

For Aristotle, emotions are combinations of a feeling of pleasure or pain with a belief (or perhaps a more rudimentary cognitive attitude, a seeing x as y). Fear, for example, combines painful feeling with the thought that there are bad events impending. The combination is not casual: the pain is pain at the thought of that impending danger. Therefore, changes in belief will change emotions. (Aristotle makes these arguments in Rhetoric, showing how an orator can manipulate the passions of the audience.) In normative terms, Aristotle argues that the virtuous person is one who has attained balance and appropriateness in emotion as well as action. A person who completely lacked anger at an insult to loved ones, for example, would be culpably deficient; but excessive anger is strongly criticized, and the condition to aim for is ‘mildness of temper’ (see Aristotle §§22-4).

Epicurus and his school (including the Roman poet Lucretius) presented impressive accounts of several emotions, in particular the fear of death (see Epicureanism §13). They argued that this fear poisons individuals’ lives and causes social distress. Since they agreed with Aristotle about its cognitive basis, they argued that it could be completely removed by teaching people that death is not a bad thing for the person who has died.

The Greek and Roman Stoics were the great passion theorists of antiquity. They produced impressive analyses and taxonomies of the passions, arguing powerfully in favour of the view that they are essentially evaluative judgments that ascribe to things or persons outside our control great importance for our flourishing (see Stoicism §19). This analysis is continuous with Aristotle’s, but it goes a step further, denying that there is any bodily feeling over and above the cognition that is essential to the identity of a particular emotion. This apparently counter-intuitive view is rendered plausible by extensive consideration of the power of thought to transform the personality.

One might accept this analysis of emotion and still hold, with Aristotle, that many of the judgments involved in emotions are true and appropriate: when one’s child dies, for example, it is right to think that something of enormous importance has been lost. The Stoics, however, held that all the judgments involved in all the passions are false, because all ascribe too much importance to external things and persons, making people dependent on the world for their happiness. To this argument they added several others: emotions weaken the personality, robbing it of force and integrity; they make one prone to excessive and violent acts; and, finally, they are not necessary to motivate good acts, which can be chosen out of duty alone.

Their conclusion is thus that the emotions should be extirpated from human life. Moved especially by the damage done by anger in social life, and convinced that there is no getting rid of anger without getting rid of the attachments to externals that are also involved in love and grief and fear, they came to the radical conclusion that we can stop cruelty and violence only by cultivating utter detachment from everything that used to matter to us. They then strove valiantly to show that we can motivate an active concern for humanity without relying on emotion. Removing emotions is not expected to be like removing false beliefs about more trivial matters: because the evaluations involved are transmitted early through social and parental teaching, they have become deeply habitual, and can be changed, if at all, only through a lifetime of patient effort. Their hope was that as this effort is exercised with greater success, the personality as a whole would become enlightened.

Because their analyses are so compelling and humanly rich, and because they focus with convincing examples on the depredations of emotion in politics, writers such as Seneca and Marcus Aurelius continue to make this radical thesis compelling.

4 Modern supporters of the Stoic normative thesis

The Stoics set the agenda for early modern moral theories of emotion. Most thinkers, though not all, accept some version of the cognitive Stoic analysis of passion; they then differ sharply over the normative thesis. Descartes (1649) modified the Stoic analysis to fit into his divided account of mind and body, but his definitions of the passions are related closely to those of the Stoics; his normative judgments, while not quite as severe, are similar (see Descartes, R. §10).

Spinoza accepted the Stoic analysis and the radical normative thesis, holding, with Seneca, that philosophical therapy can free us from bondage to our emotions (see Spinoza, B. de §9). He gave the normative programme new urgency by insisting that all strong attachments are essentially ambivalent: we love an external person or thing because we find that it assists our efforts to flourish. But anything that can assist us, so long as it is separate from us, can also frustrate us; so all love is mixed with hate. Like the Stoics, Spinoza held that there is a type of joy that is not an emotion in the sense that it is not based on a overvaluation of the significance of externals; it is the contemplative joy with which one regards the deterministic system of the universe as a whole. Like the Stoics, Spinoza identified that order with god; thus the good state is designated the ‘intellectual love of god’.

Kant did not accept the Stoic analysis of the passions. Oddly enough, he presented no arguments against it, and no substantial analysis of his own; but he plainly conceived of passions as pre-rational, impulsive and undiscriminating. Thus, the only role he saw passions playing in virtue was a rather mechanical one, as forces that either aid or impede duty. In general, he thought they impede it, and he therefore conceived of virtue as a kind of strength of will, in which the will maintains its control over the potentially disrupting passions.

Kant was well aware of the Stoic normative view. To a great extent he shared it, praising the Stoics for cultivating detachment from passion, and for promoting active beneficence rather than relying on compassionate emotion. But he showed considerable ambivalence, and was unwilling to dismiss compassionate emotion utterly. He understood that it may be difficult to motivate beneficence without this emotion, that motives of duty by themselves may not suffice. He therefore urged people to seek out experiences in which they will naturally be moved to compassion, so that their beneficence will have the strength of passion behind it.

A surprising ally of the Kantian position was Nietzsche (1881), who objected to pity as an emotion that insults the dignity of the suffering person by implying that this is a person who really needs the things of this world. Equipped with a rather romantic picture of strength and self-sufficiency, Nietzsche believed that the truly strong can rise above life’s ills through will, and therefore do not need compassion, grief or fear. Citing the Stoics, Spinoza and Kant as his predecessors, Nietzsche denounced the Christian/democratic tradition of praising compassion as a basic social motive.

5 Modern anti-Stoics: the defence of sympathy

Opposition to the Stoic normative thesis began in the ancient world, with Augustine, who insisted that the goal of self-sufficiency was an inappropriate one for a Christian to pursue. Characterizing the ideal Stoic wise man as obtuse in his detachment from longing and pain, he concluded: ‘The fact that something is tough does not make it right; and the fact that something is inert does not make it healthy.’ Subsequent Christian views have agreed in characterizing moral error as due to wrongly placed love, and in making love itself an essential ingredient of the cure. Dante’s Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy) (1313-21) famously ends with the visionary experience of a harmony of emotion and will. Because emotional error is understood (in an anti-Stoic fashion) to be rooted in the body itself and its sexuality, it is expected that this perfected state will arrive only in paradise, after the purifications of purgatory. Most important Christian thinkers make pity or compassion central parts of Christian life, arguing that these emotions are appropriate expressions of and responses to our vulnerable and imperfect earthly condition.

The eighteenth century saw the flowering of a number of distinct approaches to the sympathetic emotions. Although Christian views did not cease to exert an influence, the notion of original evil was contested increasingly in favour of a view of natural goodness in which basic emotional equipment played a salient role. Hutcheson and Hume made the capacity for sympathy a basic part of human nature (see Hutcheson, F. §2; Hume, D. §3). Hume (1739/40) made many valuable observations about the role of sympathy in motivating moral conduct (see Moral motivation §6). But his conviction that desires and passions are basically noncognitive, and that reasoning is capable only of devising means to ends set by desire, led him to short-change many aspects of the passions that even his own concrete analyses at times acknowledge. Although he connected passions with a characteristic object, he seems not to have treated the connection as essential to the identity of the passion: a passion is simply a particular type of impression caused by the object. Hume’s enormous influence has led to the sharp split between passion and cognition that characterizes much modern Anglo-American thought (see Emotions, philosophy of §§3-4).

Rousseau gave the emotion of pitié, compassion, a central role in social morality (see Rousseau, J.-J. §4). Describing the education of young Émile (1762), he shows that the experience of being astonished and pained at the pain of another is an essential foundation for all society. Compassion leads us to recognize the vulnerability that all humans share, and to appreciate the pain that disasters of various types cause others. Thus, the emotion leads us to be sceptical of distinctions that situate some people as high above others, their fortunes as vastly more secure. Rousseau evidently thought that emotions, involving complex imagining and thought, convey moral information that it would be difficult to obtain in any other way. Accepting a version of the Stoic idea of original human innocence, he seems to have held that excesses in self-love derive from experience of unequal social conditions.

Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) provides one of the modern tradition’s most detailed analyses of the moral contributions of emotion. Heavily indebted to the Stoics, Smith develops a richly detailed account of the cognitive content of passions such as anger and sympathy. He differs with the Stoics on the normative question, taking up a more Aristotelian view about attachments to family and loved ones. His device of the ‘judicious spectator’, modelled on Stoic conceptions of self-scrutiny and conscience, gives the moral agent a way of estimating the point of propriety in passion: we are to ask what a concerned spectator, not personally involved, would feel at the events, and this will help us identify bias and irrationality deriving from our own personal immersion. Despite his positive view of sympathy and other emotions, Smith thought them inconstant and unreliable as guides to social choice, since he observed that we are most easily moved by events closest to ourselves: an earthquake in China means less to a person than an injury to his own finger (see Smith, A. §§2-3).

Another philosopher who defended the fundamental role of compassion in morality was Schopenhauer (1840). Criticizing Kant, he argued that all genuinely moral action must be grounded in other-directed emotion (see Schopenhauer, A. §6). Imagining compassion as involving a mysterious union of the self with the other, he leaves the reader unclear as to precisely why it is not, therefore, a form of self-concern. Schopenhauer’s account had, nevertheless, tremendous influence in a culture dissatisfied with duty-based views.

6 Contemporary views: influences from psychology and anthropology

The middle of the twentieth century saw the rise of noncognitive views of emotion in both behaviourist psychology and in Freudian psychoanalysis (see Behaviourism, methodological and scientific; Freud, S.; Psychoanalysis, post-Freudian). Philosophers such as Anthony Kenny, Robert Solomon, Robert Gordon, William Lyons, Ronald de Sousa and Michael Stocker have by now demonstrated the poverty of such accounts and our need for some type of cognitive view (see Emotions,nature of §2). (Kenny also in the process offered cogent criticisms of Hume’s elusive and influential account.) During this period, cognitive psychology was itself evolving. By now, psychologists no longer expect to be able to give purely behavioural accounts of emotion in terms of stimulus and response, and most of the dominant accounts hold that emotions are a form of intelligent interpretation in which an animal takes in news of how things are in the world with respect to its most important goals and projects. Richard Lazarus (1991) has argued that emotion’s evolutionary contribution is best explained this way: emotions give animals information that is essential to survival. Psychologists generally agree that we have reason to credit many animals at least with the capacity for complex appraisals suited to this account of emotion. Their work has enriched the philosophical debate.

At the same time, anthropologists have produced fascinating accounts of the role played by social norms in shaping the emotion-categories of different societies. These accounts raise questions about the extent to which an emotional repertoire is malleable; at least with respect to specific sub-types and internal demarcations within categories, there appears to be considerable cross-cultural variation in emotion-types, and also, presumably, at least some variation in emotional experience (see Moral sentiments §3; Morality and ethics §4).

This returns us to the moral problem with which the Stoics grapple: for if we see that emotions are learned with the learning of social norms, and we are convinced that our society is not perfect, then it might be unwise to trust the emotions too much as guides to conduct. One society described by anthropologist Jean Briggs (1971), the Utku Eskimos, actually embodies a relatively successful Stoic programme for the elimination of anger, thus prompting us to ask how we should think about our own goals and moral projects.

7 Feminist accounts of morality and emotion

Women have frequently been devalued on the grounds of being emotional and making decisions by consulting emotion. This has led many feminist thinkers to defend the contribution that emotions might play in moral reasoning, arguing that it is the (male) denigration of emotion that is mistaken. Philosophers such as Annette Baier, Lawrence Blum, Sara Ruddick, Virginia Held and Nel Noddings have defended a normative ethical view in which care for others plays a central role, and have seen this as a way of promoting feminist goals (see Feminist ethics).

On the other hand, feminists who consider the social origins of the appraisals involved in emotion have reasons for doubt. If women have a great propensity to care for others, is this always a good thing? Is it not the case that men have standardly urged women to see themselves as care-givers, rather than as sources of worth and agency in their own right? J.S. Mill (1869) argued that even women’s desire to please men has a social origin and is a legacy of women’s subordination. This line of argument has been continued recently in the work of Catharine MacKinnon (1989), who argues that women’s emotions and desires are in significant ways created by inequality and injustice, and that we should therefore be highly sceptical of the claim that women’s instincts of care are always trustworthy and morally valuable.

It is not necessary to choose between these extremes. We can hold that many emotions are valuable parts of the moral life without giving implicit trust to any that have been shaped in imperfect and unjust social conditions - judging, with Aristotle and Adam Smith, that emotions can be good guides as elements in a life organized and examined by critical reflection.

This article originally appeared in Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

References and further reading

Aristotle (c. mid 4th century BC) Nicomachean Ethics, trans. with notes by T. Irwin, Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1985, books II-IV.(On the role of passions in virtue.)
Aristotle (c. mid 4th century BC) Rhetoric, trans. G. Kennedy, Aristotle on Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse, New York: Oxford University Press.(Illustrates Aristotle’s view that, since emotions are combinations of a feeling of pleasure or pain with a belief, changes in belief will change emotions.)
Baier, A.C. (1994) Moral Prejudices: Essays on Ethics, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.(Discusses the role of care in moral theory.)
Blum, L. (1980) Friendship, Altruism, and Morality, London: Routledge.(Defends the role of compassion in moral judgment.)
Briggs, J. (1971) Never in Anger, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.(Anthropological study of a society that removes anger.)
Dante (1313-21) Divina Commedia, trans. J. Ciardi, The Divine Comedy, New York: E.P. Dutton, 3 vols, 1989. (Highly influential medieval Christian account of love, which ends with the visionary experience of a harmony of emotion and will.)
Descartes, R. (1649) Les passions de l’âme, trans. The Passions of the Soul, in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, ed. and trans. J. Cottingham, R. Stoothoff, D. Murdoch and A. Kenny, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, vol. 1, 1984.(Analysis of passions in accordance with mind-body dualism.)
De Sousa, R. (1987) The Rationality of Emotion, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.(Excellent account of the cognitive content of emotions and its evolutionary role.)
Gordon, R. (1987) The Structure of Emotions, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.(Valuable philosophical analysis of emotion/cognition relationship.)
Held, V. (1993) Feminist Morality: Transforming Culture, Society, and Politics, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.(Care ethics and social justice.)
Held, V. (ed.) (1995) Justice and Care: Essential Readings in Feminist Ethics, Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
(Collection of different feminist viewpoints on care ethics.)
Hume, D. (1739/40) A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. L.A. Selby-Bigge, revised by P.H. Nidditch, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2nd edn, 1978.(Influential account of the relationship between emotion and action.)
Kant, I. (1797) Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Tugendlehre, trans. J.W. Ellington, Metaphysical Principles of Virtue, Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1964; repr. in Immanuel Kant: Ethical Philosophy, Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1983.(Discussion of role of emotions in virtue; critique of pity as moral emotion.)
Kenny, A. (1963) Action, Emotion and Will, London: Routledge.(Influential and devastating critique of behaviourist and Humean conceptions of desire.)
Klein, M. (1921-45) Love, Guilt, and Reparation and Other Works, 1921-45, London: Tavistock, 1985.(Central psychoanalytic account of emotion and morality.)
Lazarus, R. (1991) Emotion and Adaptation, Oxford: Clarendon Press.(Critique of behaviourism and account of the field’s return to cognitive conceptions of emotion by leading cognitive psychologist.)
Long, A.A. and Sedley, D.N. (1987) The Hellenistic Philosophers, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2 vols.(Basic sources for Hellenistic views of morality and emotion, with fine commentaries.)
Lutz, C. (1988) Unnatural Emotions: Everyday Sentiments on a Micronesian Atoll, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.(Valuable anthropological study of role of social norms in emotion.)
Lyons, W. (1980) Emotion, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.(Well-argued defence of a cognitive-Aristotelian account.)
MacKinnon, C. (1989) Feminism Unmodified, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.(Argues that women’s subordination to men has shaped their emotions and desires.)
Mill, J.S. (1869) The Subjection of Women, in J. Gray (ed.) On Liberty and Other Essays, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.(Argues that women’s emotions are shaped by unjust social conditions.)
Nietzsche, F. (1881) Morgenröte, trans. R. Hollingdale as Daybreak, ed. M. Clark and B. Leiter, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.(The central locus for Nietzsche’s attacks on pity.)
Noddings, N. (1984) Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.(Argues that women’s experience of maternal care should be the basis for ethics; opposes abstract principles.)
Nussbaum, M. (1994) The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.(Discussion of ancient Graeco-Roman views of passion and morality.)
Oatley, K. (1992) Best-Laid Schemes: The Psychology of Emotions, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.(Valuable account by a cognitive psychologist.)
Plato (c.386-380 BC) Symposium, trans. A. Nehamas and P. Woodruff, Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1989.(Describes the ascent of love to contemplation of the immortal form of beauty.)
Plato (c.380-367 BC) Republic, trans. G.M. Grube, Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1992, book IV. (Account of the structure of the soul and the role of the passions in virtue.)
Plato (c.366-360 BC) Phaedrus, trans. A. Nehamas and P. Woodruff, Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1995.(Illustrates how emotions play a positive role in connecting the person to beauty and truth.)
Rousseau, J.-J. (1762) Émile: ou, de l’éducation, trans. A. Bloom, Emile: or, On Education, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991, book IV.(Contains a fundamental account of compassion’s role in social morality.)
Ruddick, S. (1989) Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace, Boston, MA: Beacon Press.(Balanced account of the moral importance of maternal care.)
Schopenhauer, A. (1840) Über die Grundlage der Moral, trans. E.F.J. Payne, On the Basis of Morality, Providence, RI and Oxford: Berhahn Books, 1995.(Argues that all proper moral action must be grounded in other-directed emotion.)
Seneca, L.A. (before AD52) On Anger, in J.M. Cooper and J. Procopé (eds) Seneca: Moral and Political Essays, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.(Influential account of the removal of anger as social goal.)
Sherman, N. (1989) The Fabric of Character: Aristotle’s Theory of Virtue, Oxford: Clarendon Press.(Excellent account of role of emotion in virtue.)
Smith, A. (1759) The Theory of Moral Sentiments, ed. D.D. Raphael and A.L. Macfie, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976. (Rich account of balance in passion, and of role of sympathy in morality.)
Solomon, R. (1976) The Passions: Emotions and the Meaning of Life, Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company; repr. 1993.(Influential philosophical account of emotion.)
Spinoza, B. (1677) Ethica Ordine Geometrico Demonstrata (Ethics Demonstrated in a Geometrical Manner), trans. E.
Curley, Ethics, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996.(Analyses our ‘bondage’ to passions as cause of strife, urges a therapeutic programme to remove passions.)
Stocker, M. (1996) Valuing Emotions, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Valuable analysis of evaluative dimensions of emotion.)

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Can the Treatment of Animals Be Compared to The Holocaust?

By: David Sztybel


The treatment of animals and the Holocaust have been compared many times before, but never has a thoroughly detailed comparison been offered. A thirty-nine-point comparison can be constructed, whether or not one believes that animals are oppressed. The question of whether or not the comparison ought to be expressed merely brings into question whether animal liberationists have liberal-democratic rights to express themselves, which they surely do. Four objections are considered: Is the comparison offensive? Does the comparison trivialize what happened to the victims of the Nazis, overlook important differences, or ignore supposed affinities between animal liberationists and Nazis? These four lines of attack are shown to fail. The comparison stands to help us to reflect on the significance of how animals are treated in contemporary times.

I. Introduction

The comparison of animal treatment and the Holocaust recently came into the public eye with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' "Holocaust on your Plate" exhibit, with large photos comparing how animals are treated and how Jews were treated in the Holocaust. It is not often known that the very term, "Holocaust," intrinsically involves a comparison to animal exploitation. Boria Sax points out that the term, "Holocaust," originally denoted "a Hebrew sacrifice in which the entire animal was given to Yahweh [God] to be consumed with fire" (Sax 2000, 156). In a twist of history, then, a form of animal exploitation became a metaphor for what happened to the Jews at the hands of the Nazis. It is asked if the Holocaust can be compared with animal exploitation, even though the very term involves such a comparison, albeit metaphorically. However, we are inquiring to see if the Holocaust can be compared to contemporary forms of animal exploitation more generally.

Although nothing occurring in the realm of oppression is ever quite the same as anything else, I hold that, in certain relevant respects, both broad and detailed comparisons can be made between the Holocaust and what I refer to as the oppression of animals. The real issue is not whether the comparison can be made, in fact, because I offer a thirty-nine-point comparison to prove that it can be made: the real question is whether we should dare to make the comparison, or to voice our opinions that there are chilling similarities between how Jews were treated in the Holocaust and how animals are treated in the present day. This is perhaps equally a matter of ethics pertaining to humans as it is of ethics pertaining to animals, since the comparison involves treating Holocaust victims in a certain way, that is, as comparable to nonhuman animals. Some might say that it is even chiefly a matter of human-centered moral concern, if they hold that the comparison wrongs human beings, who are usually assumed to be of superior moral significance relative to nonhuman animals. Indeed, some would say that only human beings have moral standing (i.e., deserve basic practical respect), in which case the comparison almost entirely constitutes an offense against people. However, we will not make any assumptions about these philosophically moot points, and in any event resolve to take seriously the comparison itself.

The comparison between the Holocaust and the treatment of animals is especially dramatic when offered by culturally eminent Jews, or else actual Holocaust survivors. One of the most often-quoted writers who voices the comparison is Isaac Bashevis Singer, who writes: "In their behavior towards creatures, all men [are] Nazis" (Singer 1990, 84). This is an emotionally-charged statement, and that is what it is meant to be. No one could lucidly maintain that everyone is oppressive towards animals, and furthermore, it is obviously not suggested here that anyone who is a speciesist is also a racist (nor, indeed, that it is only "men" who oppress animals). All that is truly being indicated, I think, is that severe oppression is equally present on both sides of the comparison.

Mark Gold relates the perspective of Edgar Kupfer, a survivor of the Dachau death camp. Kupfer was moved, after his liberation, to "furtively scrawl" the following message on the wall of a hospital barrack:

I refuse to eat animals because I cannot nourish myself by the sufferings and by the death of other creatures. I refuse to do so, because I suffered so painfully myself that I can feel the pains of others by recalling my own sufferings.(Gold 1995, 25)

Others, of course, may have developed a hardened view of the world as a result of their sufferings, but Kupfer, instead, empathetically could relate to the suffering of animals. Gold also notes that a group of Warsaw ghetto survivors formed the Tivall company in Israel. It was founded in the Kubbutz Lochene Hagetaot (which means "survivors of the ghetto"). The founders "came to believe that the animal market and abattoir were uncomfortably reminiscent of their own experience" (Gold 1995, 25). These survivors, too, were moved by an extraordinary empathy for nonhumans who suffer under routine forms of exploitation. We know that these Jews make the analogy with utter seriousness, and that they, at least, in no way feel slighted by the comparison. Still, we need to examine the comparison for adequacy. Have these survivors developed a form of false consciousness—or not?

I myself take the comparison very seriously. I am a child of a Holocaust survivor. My family on my father's side, in a very dark hour in 1939, had good enough sense to flee the town of Zamosc, in eastern Poland, literally just as it was being bombed by Nazi planes. They knew that this latest wave of anti-Semitism was in deadly earnest. My father's sister recounts holding my father's hand, when he was little more than a toddler, running with desperate speed through a field to flee from the explosions. They left virtually everything behind as they ran into the woods. Many relatives were also left behind. They are presumed lost. My father's father's brother was very exceptional in that he was taken captive to a concentration camp, and then escaped, after being mistakenly presumed dead under a pile of corpses. The flight of my father's family was not from any sort of paradise, either, since the family's small grocery store was said to have been boycotted by Poles out of growing anti-Semitic hatred. My grandfather had to rely more and more on his custom-tailoring in order to eke out a living for his family. Needless to say, I contemplate the Holocaust itself with the utmost gravity. Certainly, it has had and will continue to have very significant implications for both me and my family. I would never lightly compare the Holocaust to anything else, and will always be respectful that there is, and never could be, anything else quite like it. Even if anything can be compared to the Holocaust in some respects, nothing can be equated with this historical phenomenon.

I am deliberately keeping the sense of "animal liberation" broad, because negatively criticizing the comparison in question is presumably said to count against any variety of such liberationism: whether based in the works of Singer, Regan, Rollin, Sapontzis, Pluhar, certain ethics of care feminists, and so forth (Singer 1990; Regan 1983; Rollin 1992; Sapontzis 1987; Pluhar 1995; Donovan and Adams 1996). I will also keep the sense of "oppression" broad, since the authors who are objected to, and also the objectors, may have different notions of discriminatory oppression, in particular. "Speciesism" is alleged to be a form of unjust discrimination on the basis of species membership, or perhaps characteristics associated with a given species, such as rationality, autonomy, language usage, and so forth. These characteristics are said, by animal liberationists, to be just as morally arbitrary and irrelevant as skin color. However, whether or not such attributes are morally relevant is not at issue in this paper. All that is needed here is a sufficiently broad understanding of discriminatory oppression, for the purpose of this analysis. It seems fair to say that discriminatory oppression involves a willingness to harm a given class of beings, on the basis that those individuals are different in some specified way. Some anti-oppression theorists might indicate that the harm can be of any sort, although not all forms of harm need be equally severe. Others might specify only certain kinds of harm, including, but not only, insults to autonomy, freedom, or perhaps the infliction of unnecessary suffering. However that may be, it is sufficient to distinguish that discriminatory oppression involves harm—however specified—on the basis of an allegedly irrelevant criterion.

My own comparison will deal especially with how Holocaust-era Jews were treated by Nazis, on the one hand, and how animals are treated in modern-day intensive confinement, mass slaughter, burgeoning animal experimentation industries, and so on, on the other hand. Although the comparison is hardly the same in every detail, nonetheless, the concept of oppression as such can intelligibly be applied alike to both cases. Reality is composed of details, so a specific comparison seems to recommend itself, although I do not see how it would be possible to make any sort of "exhaustive" cross-comparative analysis, or even to understand the meaning of such a term in this context. An illustrative portrait on both sides of the comparison will have to suffice.

After my own analysis, which above all seeks to convey a sense of the many different aspects that can be compared, I will duly ask, in particular, whether that comparison: (a) is a moral offense against victims of the Holocaust and humanity in general; (b) trivializes the overwhelming significance of the Holocaust; (c) obliterates important differences between Holocaust victims and animals; (d) ignores the allegation that it is animal rights proponents, rather, who can be said to be Nazi-like in their promotion of vegetarianism, anti-vivisection, and use of propaganda. The first objection is most important, and has led to fever-pitched emotions on virtually all sides of the debate. Rather than tread on such territory, people have chosen to allow the matter to remain remarkably under discussed. Some would have it that people should not feel free to speak about the comparison even though, as I substantiate, the comparison can be made.

II. The Comparative Literature

There is a paucity of systematic, point-by-point comparisons between animal liberation and the Holocaust. Even a recent book by Charles Patterson, Eternal Treblinka, (Patterson 2002) does not simply investigate how many points of comparison can be made. Nor does it directly respond to many objections that have been made against offering the comparison. It is a valuable book, but is often indirect in its approach, offering a contextualized study of oppression throughout history, such as that faced by black Africans, Indians massacred by the Spanish, a study of eugenics, a study of Chicago slaughter practices and how they inspired Jewish slaughter. He also offers a biography of Jewish activists who have backgrounds related to the Holocaust, and biographies also of German animal rights activists who lived through Nazi Germany. Most of the comparison focuses on how animals are slaughtered for food, with incidental mentions of how Jews were experimented upon by Nazi doctors. Peter Singer, in Animal Liberation, offers a more extensive discussion of how the Nazi experiments are like experiments done on animals. However, Patterson's book is well-documented, and ground-breaking for a book-length focus on what has been considered a "taboo" topic.

As well, there is no shortage, in the animal liberationist literature, of haunting references to the German genocidal campaign against the Jews and others, including, but not only, gays, gypsies, the mentally challenged, and political objectors. Animal liberationist writers in general make use of the comparison. Michael W. Fox, for example, refers to "the holocaust of the animal kingdom" (Fox 1990, 242). Tom Regan, self-conscious of the gravity of making the comparison, which offends many people, asks: "Do we dare to speak of a Holocaust for the animals? May we depict the horror they must endure, using this fearful image of wanton inhumanity, without desecrating the memory of those innocents who died in the death camps?" (Regan 1987, 76–77). He replies to this rhetorical question in the affirmative, citing yet a different I. B. Singer quote than that which I reproduced above: "for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka" (Regan 1987, 76–77). (Obviously this last quotation was the inspiration for Patterson's book title.) Sue Coe, who authored a book which features artistic depictions of what she viewed in slaughterhouses and stockyards throughout North America, also compares this treatment of animals to the Holocaust (Coe 1995, 72–73). Jim Mason, one of the early expositors of the facts concerning "factory farming" (which he chiefly drew from agricultural trade journals), writes that to "a growing number of people, [our way of dominating both nature and each other] looks like a global suicide course with a nonhuman holocaust thrown in for good measure" (Mason 1993, 48).

It seems that the particular practices which most invite this controversial comparison are the oppression of animals in laboratory experiments, intensive farming, and the so-called "pet" industries. I will discuss these areas of practice in the order just given. Gold laments that "German Nazi doctors considered Jews, gypsies, communists and mentally handicapped people as suitable subjects for painful experimentation in much the same way as animals are used now" (Gold 1995, 37). Deborah Blum reflects on the use of monkeys and other animals in research. She cites a relevant comment from Roger Fouts, a researcher of primates who is known for his work with chimpanzees who speak through American. Sign Language, and also advocacy for protections for primates. He notes the practice of not identifying by name the millions of animals used in experimental research every year. Rather, numbers are displayed on tags around the neck, or are tatooed onto the skin. States Fouts: "Without names, they become faceless, lose their identity. It's extreme exploitation, the same as in the labs of Nazi Germany" (Fouts in Blum 1994, 6). Even though the animals themselves might retain some shattered form of identity, animal liberationists would say that it is certain that the researchers in question do not deeply identify with the experimental subjects in any meaningful sense.

Certainly, too, the rationale for using animals in laboratories is comparable to that which was used for subjecting Jews and others to "scientific" experimentation. As Richard Ryder notes, Nazis, like animal experimenters, also pointed to the many potential benefits that might result from the knowledge gained by such research (Ryder 1991, 40). However, as Lawrence and Susan Finsen warn, "we do not reject the Nazi experiments on unwilling concentration camp victims as a model for procuring future experimental subjects solely because the Nazi experiments were scientifically unsound" (Finsen and Finsen 1994, 279). In fact, it is quite conceivable that scientifically, many objectively-based medical benefits could result from ruthless investigations with human prisoners (which would not have the disadvantage of profoundly different results in nonhuman species). For a discussion of the difficulties of cross- species comparisons in medical research see Robert Sharpe's excellent book, The Cruel Deception (1988). In any case, the quest for knowledge is not the sum total of the rationale for treating Jews, and others, in this horrific manner. Also, "Nazi doctors did practice vivisection on Slavs [and others] partly on the theory they were like animals . . ." (Watson 1992, 110). In other words, the Nazis objectified their victims in the way that nonhuman animals are often conceived.

Singer notes how widespread was experimentation on the Nazis' human prisoners, and how no German scientists uttered even a murmur of protest, perhaps from fear of the deadly retribution of the Nazi juggernaut:

Under the Nazi regime in Germany, nearly two hundred doctors, some of them eminent in the world of medicine, took part in experiments on Jews and Russian and Polish prisoners. Thousands of other physicians knew of these experiments, some of which were the subject of lectures at medical academies. Yet the records show that the doctors sat through verbal reports by doctors on how horrible injuries were inflicted on these 'lesser races,' and then proceeded to discuss the medical lessons to be learned from them, without anyone making even a mild protest about the nature of the experiments. (Singer 1990, 83)

Again, the Nazis viewed their human prisoners all too much like objects, thus seeking to eliminate any conceivability of identifying with them. We see this reflected in the dispassionate language of Nazi decompression experiments (which are still practiced on nonhuman animals):

After five minutes spasms appeared; between the sixth and tenth minute respiration increased in frequency, the TP [test person] losing consciousness. From the eleventh to the thirtieth minute respiration slowed down to three inhalations per minute, only to cease entirely at the end of that period. . . . About half an hour after breathing ceased, an autopsy was begun. (Singer 1990, 84–85)

The same sort of indifferent language is used for the detailing of animal experiments, many of which involve extremes of suffering, and are published in learned journals.

Singer is careful to qualify the comparison here. Neither he nor I wish to imply that ordinary people, today, are just like Nazis:

[O]ur sphere of moral concern is wider than that of the Nazis, and we are no longer prepared to countenance a lesser degree of concern for other human beings; but there are still many sentient beings for whom we appear to have no real concern at all. (Singer 1990, 84–85)

When he claims that many have no "real" concern for animals at all, we may interpret that he means no adequate form of direct concern. After all, those who would use animals for various standard purposes may still express "real concern" that certain kinds of aggravated forms of suffering not occur. Nonhuman animals are also indirectly cared for as property, or as entities that people affectionately or otherwise care about, such as pets, zoological curiosities, charismatic species members, "practicing dummies" for developing moral virtues, and so on. Much more to the point, some direct moral concern for many animals, and not just apes and dolphins, may be accorded—although to a lesser degree—by people who hold a human-centred ethic. In any case, following former animal experimenter Don Barnes, Singer calls both Nazis and animal experimenters "victims of conditioned ethical blindness" (Singer 1987, 42).

As for intensive farming, Mason draws an evocative comparison based on observations that he made in Dubuque, Iowa:

Every few miles, [along U.S. route 20] the road is shrouded in a breath-stopping, rancid smell from some nearby animal factory. It is a sickly, deathly smell (if you have been around healthy animals fed on hay or pasture you know the difference), like the smell of a concentration camp. Which, of course, the factory farm quite literally is, because it concentrates a large number of animals indoors and feeds them a steady diet of grain concentrates (the agribusiness word for corn, soybeans, and energy-rich seed parts of other plants). In addition, it is a factory in which energy and nutrients from the sun and soil are concentrated by animals and turned into meat, milk, and eggs. (Mason 1993, 118–119)

He calls "factory farms" literal concentration camps, which are comparable to Nazi concentration camps. Mason is not alone in his mode of viewing these large-scale facilities. In an interview, Ingrid Newkirk, co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (the largest animal rights group in the world, with more than half a million members), recounts the following:

The memories of one Maryland chicken slaughterhouse will always be with me. It was summer, 90 degree heat, humid, no shade, and the chickens were in stacked crates. As we walked in, we were breathing the palpable stench of warm, dying bodies. It soaked through our clothes and skin. We took some birds out of the crates, and they tried to drink melting ice from our hands. They were too weak to keep their heads up. They would have stayed there until the next morning, dying of heat prostration, respiratory failure and so on. We made the security guards call in the manager to finish them off. It's the closest I've ever been to Auschwitz. (Newkirk in Schleifer 1985, 63)

Anyone who has seen films of the emaciated bodies of starving, heat-stroked, frozen, or otherwise physically traumatized victims of concentration camps, in Nazi Europe, should be able to relate to the imagery that Newkirk offers us here. Hence, Sapontzis concurs that much of our treatment of animals "resembles that which has faced those who liberated concentration camp victims and other human victims of severe physical and psychological deprivation and abuse . . ." (Sapontzis 1987, 86).

Let us now briefly consider the "science" of factory farming: an attempt to perfect, or to make more efficient, the old ways of animal husbandry. The Nazis, for their part, were obsessed with perfectionism, efficiency, and utilizing technology towards these ends. Unrestrained scientific pursuits certainly have their critics in animal liberationist quarters, including Brigid Brophy: "Sometimes we are even told we mustn't resist [factory farming] because it is an 'advanced' method—a theory on which we ought to have welcomed Auschwitz as a great step forward in gas technology" (Brophy in Wynne-Tyson 1989, 29).

Our treatment of so-called "pet animals" also reminds various commentators of a time not too long ago. A particular raid on a dog dealer is described in just these terms. A 1966 raid by the Maryland State Police on a dog dealer's facilities was described by Life magazine with the caption, "Concentration Camp for Dogs." The dealer collected stray dogs in order to supply animal research laboratories, both university-based and pharmaceutical (Jasper and Nelkin 1992, 61). Note that the event just related took place four years before the term "speciesism" was even invented by Richard D. Ryder (1998, 320). One does not need to coin a special label for the oppression of animals in order to draw relevant parallels here.

Even the language that is often used in reference to "pet overpopulation" may seek to blame the victim, as Rollin implies with the following:

In actuality, talking about the 'pet problem' is another piece of verbal lubrication, legerdemain that serves to suggest that here is something intrinsically problematic about these creatures, as when the Germans spoke of the 'Jewish question.' The problem is not with the dogs and cats, of course; it is with human beings. (Rollin 1992, 216)

Mason provides an example of the "pet trade" which may remind us of the Nazis' obsessive drive for the "perfect" breed of human being. The author and lawyer notes how animal breeders refer to "purity" of blood, perfect purebreds, and how they express contempt for mongrels and mutts, who are labeled "junk" by pure-breeders:

[Racist hatred] draws on the breeder's ideologies of bloodline and purity, as it did in Nazi Germany and the segregated South; as it still does today among neo-Nazis and white supremacists. The rhetoric of all these racists speaks of the breeder's obsessions, and the extremity of their actions speaks of the depth of their fear and hatred of 'lower' nature: The Nazis ranted against Jews, gypsies, Poles, and other 'mongrel races' and then methodically tried to exterminate them. Southern segregationists preached against 'race mixing' and used lynchings, mob violence, and terrorist campaigns to keep people of color 'in their place.' (Mason 1993, 218–219)

Discriminatory oppression has a common element of favoritism. Certain kinds of beings are preferred even more in their allegedly "pure" form. Prejudicial favoring of human over nonhuman beings leads to forms of exploitation, degradation, and horror that can arguably be compared to the Holocaust. J. M. Coetzee also likens what occurs to animals in laboratories and factory farms to what Jews endured in concentration camps, and compares those who live near such facilities with ordinary Germans who lived near the camps (Coetzee 1999, 19–22). While isolated sketches effectively serve to hint at this comparison, I wish to show that an intelligible comparison can be made in many different aspects between the Holocaust and animal treatment.

III. The Holocaust Compared to Our Treatment of Animals

How might an animal liberationist make the comparison that can be made, if we dare to do so? We shall make a systematic comparison, in terms of comparable (A) degradations and destructions, (B) apparatus for the implementing of these, (C) forms of agency involved, and (D) associated worldviews and discourse. The aspects of the comparison stand on their own, but especially in concert, where the large numbers of overlap suggest a strong pattern of similarity. However, comparing and contrasting different things is in order, otherwise they would not be truly different.

A. Comparable Degradations and Destructions

1. Vivisection. Scientists often tend to regard animals as objects, and this parallels the objectifying language of the Nazi scientists, as in Singer's earlier-cited example. Such a manner of speech conduced to the using not only of animals, but also Jews, in medical experimentation, as we see in the following example offered by Hitler's biographer, Alan Bullock:

Among the other uses to which concentration-camp prisoners were put was to serve as the raw material for medical experiments by S.S. doctors. None of the post-war trials produced more macabre evidence than at the so-called 'Doctors' Trial. All the experiments were conducted without anaesthetics or the slightest attention to the victims' sufferings. Amongst the ordeals to which they were subjected were intense air pressure and intense cold until the 'patient's' lungs burst or he froze to death; the infliction of gas gangrene wounds; injection with typhus and jaundice; experiments with bone grafting; and a large number of investigations of sterilization (for 'racial hygiene'), including castration and abortion. According to a Czech doctor who was a prisoner at Dachau and who personally performed some seven thousand autopsies, the usual results of such experiments were death, permanent crippling, and mental derangement. (Bullock 1962, 700)

Just as many scientific experiments carried out on nonhuman animals are done out of curiosity, without any practical benefits in mind, so useless experiments were visited upon people who were considered disposable, for example, gypsies were tested to see how long they could live on sea water (Shirer 1960, 1275). Even aside from the abhorrent nature of such a procedure, it was already well known that sea water is never a viable option for satisfying human thirst.
2. Genetic engineering. A Nazi obsession with genetic engineering and eugenics mirrors the way nonhuman animals are extensively exploited for such purposes now, along with the related obsession concerning the finding of "pure breeds." Currently, there is an interest in experimenting with animal genes for medical purposes, and also for the end of producing more useful species of animals. For example, farmers dream of enormous meat animals that can better endure intensive, disease-ridden farming conditions, although the random and unpredictable injection of genes of current experiments often results in disfunctional, painfully deformed, mutated life forms (Rifkin 1998; Fox 1999; Rollin 1995).
3. "Vermin." Jews were exterminated from Europe, even as so-called "vermin" animals, in general, are the object of human lethality. For example, Hitler refers to Jews as "maggots," "scum," among other things, in Mein Kampf (Hitler in Shirer 1960, 47–48). A school essay printed in readers' letters to Der Stuermer, January 1935, also brings this point home. The letter states: "Unfortunately, many people today still say, 'God created the Jews too. That is why you must respect them also.' We say, however, 'Vermin are also animals, but we still destroy them'" (Schoenberner 1985, 10).
4. Hunting. Refugees were hunted down by heavily armed Nazis, or their collaborators, just as animals are preyed upon by people who are unfairly armed with lures, automatic weapons, and more. Kuper asks, "Who would have believed that human beings would send out mobile killing units for the slaughter of unarmed men, women and children in distant lands?" (Kuper 1981, 121). Here we can draw certain parallels with safaris, although the latter seem casual and leisurely by contrast. Yet, who is to say how racist killers viewed their "duties," or how obsessive trophy hunters regard their kills? Whatever the views of the hunters, the consequences for the hunted is, very often, devastation.
5. Skinning. Some Jews' skins were preserved by the Nazis, for example, to be used for lampshades (Shirer 1960, 1280). Obviously, animals are themselves skinned for furs, feathers, and leather.
6. Hair. The hair of many Jews was collected and used as pillow stuffing, and many animals' parts, including down, lanolin, and so on, are used in comparable ways.
7. Tallow. The Jews' remains were sometimes melted down as tallow, to be used as soap, and this is true of the remains of nonhuman animals. My father, in a German refugee-relocation camp after the war, recalls the local discovery of a crate of soap bars made from human remains. The refugees buried the container by performing Jewish rites for the dead.
8. Parts used or "wasted." Jews' teeth were mined for gold. Gold fillings, and other valuable objects, such as wedding rings, were taken from Jews, and were supposed to be delivered to the German Reichsbank. "Who would have believed that human beings . . . were capable of organizing, on the model of a modern industrial plant, killing centres which processed their victims for slaughter, as if on a conveyor belt; eliminated waste, gathered in, with careful inventory, their few possessions, their clothes, gold teeth, women's hair, and regulated the distribution of these relics?" (Kuper 1981, 121). Similarly, any animal parts of value are not generally—or "ideally"—discarded in slaughtering and rendering houses. At the same time, there is also arguably much "waste" of remains, from the points of view of Nazis and animal exploiters, respectively, on both sides of the comparison. For example, seal penises and other wild animal parts, such as rhinoceros horns, and the tusks of elephants, are often hacked off, and the rest of the body is left to rot where it was felled.
9. Slave labor. Jews were enlisted for slave labor, even as many animals are forcibly pressed into the service of humans, as in cart horses.
10. Entertainment. A selection of Jews were coerced into entertaining their tormentors, just as many animals are now compelled to perform for human amusement with unnatural behaviors induced by negative reinforcements (you can be sure that circus elephants do not enjoy standing on their heads, and that many abuses of these and other animals, including in aquaria which keep sea mammals, have been well documented).
11. Displacement from homes. Jews were systematically expelled from urban settings, villages, and rural areas even as nonhuman animals are typically made unwelcome especially in our cities, or are otherwise excluded from their own habitats when they come into apparent conflict with our own:

'Resettlement' was a constantly recurring procedure. As the latest ghetto was established, the first ones were already being broken up and combined in the next, larger town of the district, until finally the last journey began. At the time when the ghettos in the big towns were still temporarily in existence, in the country whole Jewish communities were already being transported to the death camps. (Schoenberner 1985, 46)
12. Nowhere to go. Jews who fled Germany by boat were often turned away by other countries, just as animal refugees are often adrift, in need of a home, but are denied shelter, habitat, and sustenance even by affluent humans, or their societies, which hold that they invariably have much higher priorities.
13. Concentration and degradation. There was crowding, confinement, rampant diseases, and filthy conditions in concentration camps. For example, at Krupp armament factories, enslaved Jews were often forced to go to work without shoes, medical care, with a lack of rest, food, water, and with filthy lavatories (Shirer 1960, 1238). This treatment parallels how many animals are treated in factory farms, and so-called "puppy mills," operated by ruthless breeders who raise sickly animals under woeful conditions of deprivation and squalor.
14. Separating parents from offspring. One of the most poignant images from Holocaust history is that of a Nazi doctor, such as Dr. Josef Mengele, standing before a seemingly unending column of people, ushering some to the left, and some to the right. He had no explanation to those staggering before him, just arrived from the cattle cars. However, he did mandate death by shooting, gassing, or cremation for one group, and slave labor until physical exhaustion and death for the rest (Shirer 1960, 1260). Children were not allowed to stay in German camps, except in ghettos (Goldhagen 1997, 308). The significance of tearing parents from children in this murderous way cannot be overestimated. Male dairy calves, for their part, are sent off to auction a day old, barely able to stand, with part of the umbilical chord still attached (Robbins 1987, 112). If it is doubted that animals are attached to their offspring, consider the statement by Dr. Jack Albright, Professor of Animal Science at Purdue University, and consultant to the veal industry, which argues that it is important that calves not be allowed to bond with their mothers. Otherwise, "the cow will cause a great deal of trouble and even try to break down fences to be with her calves" (Robbins 1987, 114).
15. Death by starvation. Jews of the Holocaust were often allowed to starve to death under varying circumstances, as are animals in various experiments, or on the traplines.
16. Voicelessness and disenfranchisement. Animals as victims are often "voiceless," with little or no attempt by others to advocate on their behalf. Historically, the Jews, for their part, were often silenced, ignored, and disenfranchised.
17. Mass graves. After Jews were killed, their remains were commonly interred in mass trenches (Bullock 1962, 702). This mirrors, in a sense, the purely pragmatic concern for the disposal of nonhuman animal remains. Animal remains are often sent to rendering plants, or are treated as garbage. On mink farms, killed mink are fed to those mink who still live.
18. Seemingly unending numbers. It may be suggested that unimaginably large numbers of violated, suffering, and murdered beings are involved both in the Nazi Holocaust and what is visited upon nonhuman animals. The overwhelming numbers involved in the Holocaust include an estimated 6 million dead Jews, out of 8.3 million who stayed in German-occupied Europe after 1939 (Kuper 1981, 124). In other terms, 72% of the Jews of Europe were wiped out. This makes the Nazi genocidal campaign dangerously "successful." Literally billions of animals are killed each year for the sake of human enjoyment and convenience alone, although the exact toll is not known, for lack of precise record-keeping.
19. Genocide. Hitler aimed for a genocide of the Jews. Humans, through hunting, capturing, and habitat destruction have already ensured de facto genocides of countless species of animals around the world. Consider that a 1999 World Wildlife Fund report presents an estimate that the world has lost 30% of its biodiversity in the span of a generation, 1970 to 1995 (Wood, Stedman-Edwards, and Mang 2000, 2). It is impossible to imagine or to conceive how many forms of species life have been lost to the world, and how many more will be consumed as a result of unfettered human growth on this planet.

B. Comparable Apparatus

20. Secrecy. The Holocaust was kept very secret, and this may well remind one of the high security and exclusion of public scrutiny concerning slaughterhouses and animal laboratories, where, arguably, some of society's most systematic and heinous injustices against animals occur.
21. Namelessness. Nonhuman animals and Jews caught in the concentration camp system often remain nameless, in order to maintain a distance from the objects of exploitation and/or destruction:
The Germans almost never took pains to learn the names of a camp's inmates; in Auschwitz, they denied the very existence of a prisoner's name—this mark of humanity—tattooing each with a number which, with the exception of some privileged prisoners, was the only identifying label used by the camp's staff. In Auschwitz, there were no Moshes, Ivans, or Lechs, but only prisoners with numbers like 10431 or 69771. (Goldhagen 1997, 176)

Goldhagen theorizes that "[d]ehumanizing each person by robbing him of his individuality, by rendering each, to the German eye, but another body in an undifferentiated mass, was but the first step towards fashioning their 'subhumans,'" (176) which is how the Nazis conceived of the Jews. It is harder to empathize with a nameless person than one with a definite, particular individual whom one can more easily single out and relate to.
22. Bureaucratization. Animal exploitation is now so institutionalized that it has long been substantially bureaucratized, for the purposes of state sanctioning, regulation, and the management of resources. The Nazi mass murders, for their part, embodied an almost Kafkaesque spectacle of bureaucracy. Leo Kuper observes that "to use bureaucratic planning and procedures and regulation for a massive operation of systematic murder throughout a whole continent speaks of almost inconceivably profound dehumanization" (Kuper 1981, 120). There was a distancing from the victims, and a concern, instead, for procedures, and the language in which they were to be formulated:

Though engaged in mass murder on a gigantic scale, this vast bureaucratic apparatus showed concern for correct bureaucratic procedure, for the niceties of precise definition, for the minutiae of bureaucratic regulation, and for compliance with the law. The law was, of course, no obstacle, but an instrument of policy. . . . (Kuper 1981, 120)
23. Quiet complicity in the education system. The Nazification of the education system was virtually complete, and it is noteworthy that, although the treatment of animals is a vital topic to debate, it is generally not part of the public school curriculum. Out of sight, out of mind—one might say that thus is a form of oppression kept "invisible."
24. A mockery of justice. The Nazis had "Kangaroo Courts," and animal rights activists sometimes protest that they are often brought up under false or trumped-up charges for their acts of protest against aspects of the social order which support animal oppression (Montgomery 2000, 29–36). Also, animals are often treated in exceedingly cruel ways that go unpunished—I speak here not only of sadists but, for example, the billions of animals who languish on factory farms.

25. Efficiency of killing. The Nazis switched to gassing their victims of genocide, because bullets were deemed to be too valuable and expensive (they used Zyklon B, made from prussic acid crystals) (Litvinoff 1988, 360). Moreover, "[f]or a time there was quite a bit of rivalry among the S.S. leaders as to which was the most efficient gas to speed the Jews to their death. Speed was an important factor, especially at Auschwitz, where toward the end the camp was setting new records by gassing 6,000 victims a day" (Shirer 1960, 1260). Kuper recounts: "Industry's influence was felt in the great emphasis upon accounting, penny-saving, and salvage, as well as in the factory-like efficiency of the killing centres" (Kuper 1981, 121). Similarly, "humane slaughter" is often denied to animals because the machinations would be too expensive (Singer 1990, 153).
26. Profiteering. The lucrativeness of the Nazis' stealing of Jews' funds and pillaging of their property compares, in some fashion, with the inestimable profits made from exploiting animals in multifarious ways.
27. Cattle cars. Jews were transported via "cattle-trucks," and then cars on railways, to slaughter at the death camps. Other unfortunate people were also "resettled" in a like manner from the Warsaw ghetto (Litvinoff 1988, 364) and other locations. Cattle-cars are still a common means of transporting animals to killing sites, so that they may there be reduced to "meats." In both cases, those transported endure(d) extremes of exposure to the weather, crowding, filthy conditions, and protracted periods without food or water.

C. Comparable Forms of Agency

28. Ordinary perpetrators. The Holocaust was carried out largely by "ordinary" people, even as speciesism is massively favored by human populations of the present day. On July 31, 1932, 14 million ordinary Germans, or 37.4% of voters, buoyed Hitler into the office of Chancellor, as he had the largest share of the votes. On March 5, 1933's vote, his supporters expanded to 17 million, or 43.9% of the vote, even after the Communist party was banned by the Nazis, and violent intimidation of their opposition became widespread (Goldhagen 1997, 87).
29. Disowning of responsibility. There is frequently a determined denial of personal responsibility for the fates of the victims. At Nuremberg, films allow the many "Nicht schultig" [Not guilty] pleas of the prominent Nazis on trial to echo down to us today. (Genocide 1981) These men often denied that they were guilty, because they "were only following orders." People often evade responsibility for the animal-based foods that they put on their plates, even just by refusing truly to think about it. Instead, they just go along with the social order, as they perceive it, and let others do the "dirty work"—and the thinking—for them. Making the false claim that we need to eat meat may simply serve to disguise oppressive choices in the matter.
30. Deniers. Certain oppressors deny that the Holocaust ever took place. Bernard Lewis writes that the "denial of the Holocaust is . . . a favorite theme of pro-Nazi and neo-Nazi propaganda" (Lewis 1986, 162). Many of those who are sometimes called "speciesists" are keen to nay-say—for perhaps specious reasons—that animals endure any significant, let alone extreme, form of oppression (Carruthers 1992; Frey 1980; Leahy 1991).
31. Minimizers. The Holocaust is often minimized by anti-Semites, such as claims that there were Olympic-sized swimming pools at Auschwitz. For his part, Frank Perdue calls his factory farm a "chicken heaven," (Robbins 1987, 52) when an opposite metaphor might well be more apt. Perdue's operation "processes" 6.8 million birds per week, and keeps 27,000 of the animals in sheds that are 150 yards in length (Singer 1990, 105–106).
32. Conditioned indifference. People are conditioned to be indifferent to the animal suffering that is part of our network of social institutions. This applies not least of all to scientists, who standardly use objectifying language with reference to animals. Certainly, the denial of identifying with victims is a patent part of Nazi rhetoric. For example, Hans Frank, Hitler's Governor General of Poland, told his cabinet, in 1940 Cracow: "Gentlemen, I must ask you to rid yourself of all feeling of pity. We must annihilate the Jews" (Shirer 1960, 876). What better way could there be to manufacture psychopaths, or to reinforce that pathology, than to kill any chance of any real identification with potential victims, by openly and systematically denying such a process? S.S. Captain, Josef Kramer, whose "duty" it was to exterminate prisoners with gas, was asked about his feelings regarding his "work": "I had no feelings in carrying out these things because I had received an order to kill the eighty inmates in the way I already told you. That, by the way, was the way I was trained" (Shirer 1960, 876). Lack of empathy was conscientiously ingrained in Nazi officers.

Empathy, as we have already seen from the examples of certain Holocaust survivors, can be a lesson which one learns from the Holocaust. Gerhard Schoenberner offers the following grim meditation, opposite a photographic image of dead, starved, and incredibly emaciated bodies, literally strewn over the grounds of a death camp:

As you view the history of our time, turn and look at the piles of bodies, pause for a short moment and imagine that this poor residue of flesh and bones is your father, your child, your wife, is the one you love. See yourself and those nearest to you, to whom you are devoted heart and soul, thrown naked into the dirt, tortured, starving, killed. (Schoenberner 1985, 193)

It is left as an open question, for the purposes of this study, whether an ethic that encourages respectful empathy would permit our current treatment of nonhuman animals. In any event, both Jews of the Nazi era and animals today are very far from that ideal: they are often quietly excluded from "polite conversation."
33. A hypocritical commitment to "humaneness." Cattle are routinely and legally branded by hot irons, castrated, tail-docked, and birds are de-beaked all without anesthesia. This makes a mockery of modern practices which lawfully claim to avoid "unnecessary suffering." Patterson notes how the Nazis' concern with humaneness was limited to finding ways of killing the Jews which were not so stressful to the killers, since it was observed that S.S. gunning down Jews so that they fall into mass graves were becoming mentally disturbed (Patterson 2002, 131–132).
34. Compromising moral respect for "marginal humans." When recognizing the moral status of nonhuman animals is in jeopardy, that of so-called "marginal humans" (e.g., senile, mentally challenged, or disturbed people who are often comparably cognitively limited) may also be imperiled. Certainly, the denigrated so-called "races," species, and marginal humans were all victimized in Nazi Germany. It is clear how Nazis would respond to what is now known as "the argument from marginal cases" (i.e., roughly, if we give full moral consideration to marginal humans, then we must do likewise with animals). In 1939, Hitler gave Reichsleiter Philip Bouhler "the responsibility of ending by euthanasia [sic] the existence within Germany of all mental defectives and the incurably sick" (Litvinoff 1988, 334). By August 1941 alone, 60,000 "mental defectives" had been dispatched by "euthanasia" (Litvinoff 1988, 335). The Nazis ended up killing 70,000 recorded cases of people deemed to have "life unworth living" because of mental infirmity or congenital physical defects, although these killings were ended due to widespread German protests (Goldhagen 1997, 119). The same protests were not made on behalf of Jews. This ambivalence about human marginals occurs in animal ethics, as well. The most ideologically committed advocate vivisecting human marginals that are cognitively equivalent to animals, on utilitarian grounds, and R. G. Frey is a prominent contemporary example of this idea (Frey 1987, 89). As in the case of the human marginals of the Nazi era, however, most ordinary people balk at the idea of treating these vulnerable humans in this manner, even if it might be more ruthlessly ideologically consistent to do so.

D. Comparable Worldviews and Discourse

35. Jews as "animals." The Nazis often denigrated the Jews as mere "animals," or "subhuman," and indeed, the Jews themselves often protested that they were treated like mere "animals," or as one would expect an animal to be treated. A letter by Holocaust survivor Zlata Visyatskyaya, who witnessed mass murders states: "like pups, they were thrown into cesspools—live children thrown into ditches" (Genocide 1981). Leon Kahn witnessed, over a graveyard wall, a mass atrocity of rapes and slayings of Jews in a graveyard. He thought at the time, "Didn't they know what they were doing? These were human lives! These were people, not animals to be slaughtered!" (Genocide 1981). Richard Dimbleby, a BBC correspondent, voiced the following just after the war: "This is what the Germans did—let there be no mistake about it—did deliberately and slowly to doctors, authors, lawyers, musicians, to professional people of every kind whom they turned into animals behind the wire of their cage" (Genocide 1981). Elie Wiesel, in his autobiographical essay, Night, gives a number of examples of Nazis calling Jews "dogs" (Wiesel 1960, 34). Stating that a being is "only an animal" implies it belongs to a class of beings which may acceptably be harmed, or allowed to suffer. In some instances, the Jews themselves felt like "animals," in the sense of "lower" beings:

In the wagon where the bread had fallen, a real battle had broken out. Men threw themselves on top of each other, stamping on each other, tearing at each other, biting each other. Wild beasts of prey, with animal hatred in their eyes; an extraordinary vitality had seized them, sharpening their teeth and nails. (Wiesel 1960, 102)

Along the same lines, Wiesel describes his father receiving some hot coffee with "animal gratitude" (Wiesel 1960, 108). Patterson notes comparison of Jews to animals at length in his book (Patterson 2002, 44–48). In spite of these imputations that humans are animals as a form of degradation, in actual fact, humans are animals in a straightforward, biological sense. Indeed, if the Nazi-era Jews were treated in accord with animal rights ethics, there could not have been any Holocaust.
36. Demonization. Animals and Jews are both demonized by oppressors in elaborate propaganda and myth. Goering, on September 10, 1938, refers to "the eternal mask of the Jew devil" (Shirer 1960, 519). More generally, Goldhagen notes: "To the large extent that the subject of the Jews was part of the public conversation of society, German writers and speakers discussed them overwhelmingly in a sinister, if not demonic, light, in the racist, dehumanizing idiom of the day" (Goldhagen 1997, 73). Notions of animals as "violent beasts" are commonplace, and the common imagery of the devil as having horns, hooves, a tail, wings, fangs, serpentine eyes, and so forth, also unduly implicates the nonhuman world in the mythologies of devilry.
37. Hell. Nazi concentration camps, intensive farming operations, animal experimentation labs, and other settings for animal usage, are all compared to "hell" by various commentators. Consider the following account, from Kuper's book, of Auschwitz, 1944. At the time in question, Hungarian Jews were being killed so quickly that the "usual" gas oven processes were supplemented by pits in which the victims burned alive:

The burning had reached a pitch that night. Every chimney was disgorging flames. Smoke burst from the holes and the ditches, swirling, swaying and coiling above our heads. Sparks and cinders blinded us. Through the screened fence of the second crematory we could see figures with pitchforks moving against the background of the flames. They were men from the special squad turning the corpses in the pits and pouring a special liquid so that they would burn better. A rancid smell of scorched flesh choked us. Big trucks passed us trailing a smell of corpses. (Kuper 1981, 123)

Moreover, Elie Wiesel offers the following hellish image, "[Wiesel] had seen his mother, a beloved little sister, and all his family except his father disappear into an oven fed with living creatures" (Wiesel 1960, 8). These images may be compared to the hell imagery in Sue Coe's lurid book of art, reflecting her impressions of the realities of animal transport and slaughter (Coe 1995).
38. Inspiration from the Bible. Part of the anti-Semitism which the Jews faced was motivated by Christianity (e.g., Peter addresses the Jews and accuses, in the immortal words of the King James Version, "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father will ye do.") (John 8:44) Traditional attitudes engendered by the Bible—for example, its notion of a dominion over animals that will cause them to live in "fear" and "dread" of humans (Genesis 9:2)—also motivate much contempt for nonhuman creatures.
39. Racism and species discrimination. Daniel Goldhagen explains that the Holocaust was only possible due to widespread anti-Semitism, (Goldhagen 1997, 9) and it equally can be said that what may be called the "animal holocaust" is only conceivable in the context of a nearly all-pervasive speciesism.
There seems, in short, to be no outright unintelligibility about offering many relevant comparisons of detail between the Holocaust, and what animal liberationists consider to be oppressively discriminatory treatment of animals. It can be contended that harmful treatment results from arbitrarily favoring one group (be it race or species) over another. An obvious question remains as to whether harmful discrimination against animals, in particular, is arbitrary, but that is a distinct question from objecting to the comparison per se, and therefore goes well beyond the scope of this paper. If grounds could be adduced to show that discrimination against nonhuman animals is fully justified, then presumably those grounds would not intrinsically make any reference to the historical event known as the Holocaust. All of the points of comparison, both verbal and nonverbal, persist no matter what view one takes of the worth of animals, with perhaps one exception: the charge of speciesism, and whether it is justified. Even that, however, can remain in a more muted form, if it is pointed out that people commonly decry forms of oppression when examining the Holocaust and also how animals are commonly treated. That is a matter of sociological fact. Why, then, might anyone put stock in objecting to the comparison itself? Is it not stemming from comparisons of in-some-ways-similar, and in-some-ways-dissimilar matters of fact? It turns out that objections to the comparison proper are rooted in at least four major considerations.

IV. Objections to the Comparison

Objection A. Making the comparison in question is a moral offence against Holocaust victims.
Reply to A. Observers of this debate might ask whether animal liberationists commit a moral offence, in that their position directly leads to comparisons between how animals are treated, on the one hand, and how Holocaust victims were degraded and destroyed, on the other hand. It does not matter whether or not this comparison is explicitly acknowledged by animal liberationists (as it often is), since it seems to be virtually entailed by their views. Is the dignity of Holocaust victims unjustly degraded by animal liberation, or even unduly brought into question? This is the most frequently stated objection to the comparison, and so it deserves some careful attention. I will first sort out some ways in which this question ought not to be answered. We must not assume from the start that human dignity is violated by the comparison, for that assumption would preclude the entire debate as to whether or not the animal liberation position—with all that it entails—is morally offensive in the way specified. We also must not make claims that the comparison is offensive because it does not allow the preserving of our memory of Holocaust victims, since the comparison, if anything, calls for a re-examination of the Holocaust in a putatively non-prejudicial light. Nothing in the comparison stands in the way of remembering how humans fell victim to, perpetrated, abetted, or witnessed the Holocaust. Those interested in comparing and contrasting, as any realist must be, have no interest in distorting what happened to any human being. Moreover, we are speaking of a possible moral offence, and not a criminal offence, so I do not address the question of whether a religious offence is involved in the comparison, such as might be implied by the phrase "desecration of the memories of victims." However, if there is no moral offence, there could be no religious offence.

In a free society, people must have freedom of speech and thought, and that means that people must be totally free to be animal liberationists. If people who are animal liberationists are to be tolerated—and they ought to be in a liberal society, especially given that arguments by animal liberationists still await a convincing answer, if any is to be had—then comparisons to the Holocaust also ought to be tolerated, so long as they are offered as respectfully as possible. For comparisons to the Holocaust logically follow from an animal liberationist standpoint. It would be morally and politically offensive, on the contrary, to be intolerant of a philosophical and ethical position that is well-defended and academically established.

However, tolerance works both ways. Animal liberationists must tolerate those people who reject animal liberation, and who consequently value humans far more than animals, and so they must tolerate, accept, and respect that some people will be upset by the comparison. But we must not be one-sided in being considerate of human upset, setting aside just for a moment considering the torments that animals inconstestably endure at human hands. Human-centered thinkers must accept the fact that animal liberationists are upset by how animals are treated, in ways that demonstrably can be compared to the Holocaust, and are also upset by the fact that infringing freedom of thought, freedom of association, freedom of speech, and academic freedom sometimes arises in debates of comparing animal treatment to the Holocaust. A certain amount of upset with those who disagree is part of a liberal culture of toleration and respect of differences, and cannot be used as a grounds to silence any given side of an honest debate.

I also do not deny that there are, indeed, offensive ways of comparing animal treatment to the Holocaust, although perhaps all of these can be avoided. For example, consider: (a) stating that the Holocaust is less significant than what animals suffer, because so many more animals are killed, or because the discrimination against animals is much more pervasive; I believe it is best to say that the Holocaust is of the utmost moral gravity and of maximal emotional significance, and any comparative numbers cannot change that; (b) making the comparison in a way that dismisses or discounts the unique affective ties that survivors have to family, friends, and loved ones who perished; these ties may well be absent in relation to animals used for social purposes, although that does not straightforwardly, I hold, affect the question of justice, and moreover, animals are often torn from their own families and social bonds through our treatment of them; animals undoubtedly can have deep social ties (Masson and McCarthy 1995); (c) stating that, unlike the ill treatment of animals, the Holocaust is in the past, and we should focus instead on the present and the future. History remembered is or should be a lively part of the present. All of these forms of comparison belittle some aspect of what happened to humans in the Holocaust.

Any adequate answer to the charge in question would have to show there is no moral offence in terms of (1) being unduly offensive to actual Holocaust survivors and supposedly "right-thinking" people in general, (2) possibly distorting or perverting the general and monumental significance of the Holocaust. The latter is understood as an abstract consideration which goes beyond the contemplation of individuals per se. Notice, too, that this test for moral offensiveness does not raise awkward questions about the welfare of the dead, focusing, as it does, on survivors and also ongoing moral and historical significance. We are also concerned not with whether anyone happens to find it offensive, nor even if whether that is understandable given any given person's history (that may very well be the case, but is not relevant here). Rather, we are concerned with whether taking offense is justifiable. Whether it is justifiable is a moot point, because the debate over animal liberation is far from absolutely settled.

Richard Watson generally finds "insulting" all comparisons between human oppression and the alleged oppression of nonhumans (Watson 1992, 119). Similar reactions which have found their way into print are expressed in the writings of Carl Cohen, Steven Rose, and Leslie Francis and Richard Norman, who also find such comparisons to be offensive (Cohen 1986, 867; Rose in Benton 1993, 6; Francis and Norman 1978, 527). However, it comes down to this: extreme forms of harm to animals are noted here, which appear to be visited upon the creatures just because they are different in variously specified ways. And it is always implied that animals being different entails a license to harm them, although it is never explained, in all of the philosophical literature on animal ethics, just how that entailment might work. It is right to at least suspect that there is no link between being different and having a license to harm those who are different, yet such a conclusion is always sought: harming animals is standard practice. It is never an "insult" to decry an oppressive practice. All that the liberationists seek to do is to overthrow all oppression—that, at least, it is not intended as an "insult" to anyone, but rather, to preserve whole classes of beings from both egregious and subtle insults. It simply begs the question to allege that any insult is being made, or that there is any "obscenity" in making the comparison. People feel insulted by the comparison partly because they use "animal" as a term of contempt, to refer to beings who may be virtually harmed at will, otherwise they might not be so offended. Yet animal liberationists argue that "animal" should not be a term of contempt, but a term of description, denoting a class of beings who should be treated with respect. However, it may be thought that the comparison makes too much of animals and too little of human beings, which leads to the next objection.
Objection B. The comparison trivializes the Holocaust, and all of the immeasurable suffering that its victims lived through and died from.
Reply to B. This objection works in tandem with the first, for to trivialize someone's suffering would be morally offensive. Francis and Norman beg the question, repeatedly, in their claim that, among other things, the comparison "trivializes" what they consider to be "real" liberation movements:

By equating the cause of animal welfare with genuine liberation movements such as black liberation, women's liberation, or gay liberation, Singer on the one hand presents in an implausible guise the quite valid concern to prevent cruelty to animals. At the same time the equation has the effect of trivializing those real liberation movements, putting them on a level with what cannot but appear as a bizarre exaggeration. Liberation movements have a character and a degree of moral importance which cannot be possessed by a movement to prevent cruelty to animals. (Francis and Norman 1978, 527)

While it is true that the authors of this passage give an argument against animals having moral standing, I would suggest that it can accurately be summarized as simply applying stipulated "social sophistication" criteria of moral standing which nonhuman animals do not possess, and inferring from this that we have a license to harm nonhumans on a routine basis (again, however, the question of moral standing per se does go beyond the bounds of this paper). To deny that the animal liberation movement is "real" or "genuine," and to call the comparison a "bizarre exaggeration," then, can be said to beg the question against animal liberationists. Moreover, it is a mischaracterization to state that Singer "equates" the different liberation movements. He neither states nor implies that these movements are the same, but rather distinguishes them, noting that animals, unlike humans, cannot advocate for themselves (Singer 1990, v). Instead, Singer analogizes the different causes. To insist that animal liberation lacks "moral importance" seems to be nothing more or less than a naked assertion of anthropocentrism.

Robert Nozick asserts that animal rights "seems a topic for cranks. . . . The mark of cranks is disproportionateness. It is not merely that they devote great energy to their issue. . . . They view the issue as far more important than it is, more pressing than others that, in fact, are more significant" (Nozick 1983, 11, 29–30). Sapontzis, in my view, offers an outstanding rejoinder to any attempts to belittle the importance both of what animals, as oppressed beings, endure, and of the corresponding need to liberate them:

If we were to judge by the number of suffering individuals involved, then the animal liberation movement is more serious than any human liberation movement. We kill approximately five billion mammals and birds annually in the United States alone. That is many times the number of women and people of color in the United States. If we are to judge by how fundamental the interests being violated are, then once again, liberating animals is very serious business, since they are routinely tormented and mutilated in laboratories, are denied any sort of normal, fulfilling life in factory farms, and have their very lives taken from them in a vast variety of situations. Women and minorities do not suffer such routine, fundamental deprivations. If we are to judge by the moral, legal, cultural, and individual life-style changes that would be occasioned by the success of the movement, then, once again, animal liberation is at least as serious an issue as the extension of equal rights to minorities and women. Liberating animals would directly affect our eating habits, clothing preferences, biomedical research industry, sporting business, and land use, thereby changing our current way of life at least as pervasively as have the civil rights and women's liberation movements. (Sapontzis 1987, 84–85)

I would agree with Sapontzis that nonhuman animals' well-being and autonomy are violated more than that of any other sort of being. As he indicates, the radical implications of the animal liberation movement are also far from "trivial." If any trivializing is occurring in this context, it is rather in the objector's trivializing of the interests of animals, and of their ongoing violation. Also, there is a trivialization of freedom of belief, and of argumentative reason, in implying that people ought not to be free to think along animal liberationist lines. Animal liberation could only justly be accused of trivializing human concerns if it were misanthropic, or otherwise offered only a petty consideration of human concerns. However, animal rights views, animal utilitarian views, and animal liberationist ethic of care views all give full moral consideration and respect to human beings, so it cannot be said that such a philosophical standpoint inherently trivializes human concerns.
Objection C. Any pointing out of alleged similarities overlooks many differences between the Nazi Holocaust and the way animals are treated.
Reply to C. I readily concede that there are many relevant differences of detail. For example, the Jews have been liberated from the Holocaust (although the world has not yet been saved from racism), whereas the animals are very far from liberated. Jews suffered discrimination on the basis of their religion, whereas that consideration seems obviously inapplicable to nonhumans. The Jews' general relationship to the Nazi police state is of a very different character than animals' general relationship to humans. There are any number of other differences of detail. The point is that none of them erase the prominent similarities which give point to the comparison in the first place. No analogy is perfect. It is remarkable how harsh and systematic discrimination can have chillingly comparable forms, even when the victims are of different species. In any case, it can be noted, once again, that the pattern of discriminatory oppression underlying all of the oppressive details is the same. There is the constant of presuming a license to harm others merely because they are different in some way.

There are innumerable differences of detail between racism and sexism, as well, but both are still considered to be forms of oppression. For instance, skin color is irrelevant to sexism per se, and also, rights to abortion are not a focal point in race debates. Of course, there are also similarities between racism and sexism, such as marginalization, economic and political discrimination, infringement of basic liberties, and so forth. We can even find cases linking the Holocaust, racism, misogyny, and speciesism, all in one bundle of horror: "At the Ravensbrueck concentration camp for women, hundreds of Polish inmates—the 'rabbit girls' they were called—were given gas gangrene wounds while others were subjected to 'experiments' in bone grafting" (Shirer 1960, 1275). The point is, it can well be argued that these are all forms of oppression, and it remains an open question as to how many parallels exist in the details.
Objection D. Far from the use of animals being comparable to the Nazi Holocaust, it is rather the case that animal activists themselves can be compared to Nazis in their tactics. Indeed, the Nazis themselves were animal rightists.
Reply to D. Certain critics have actually maintained this. John M. Orem, a vivisector, offers the following comment:

. . . there are parallels between the techniques of Nazi Germany and those of the animal rights movement. This movement uses propaganda to accomplish its goals; it cares nothing about the truth and is even attempting to rewrite the history of science to discount the role of animal research. The movement has infiltrated our schools; it condones terroristic acts as a means to its end; it uses legal bullying to silence its critics; it is anti- intellectual and anti-human. (Lutherer and Simon 1992, x)

Rather than drawing any concrete parallels between any supposed oppressiveness on the part of animal liberationists and the Nazis, instead, would-be comparisons are made between the racist, vilifying propaganda of the Nazis, and the propaganda of the animal rights movement. Animal liberationist propaganda is like that of any movement: some is emotionally evocative, some is more informational, but all of it seems to be geared to fighting what it identifies as real oppression. To my knowledge, no animal rights campaign per se has sanctioned any of the known oppressions in any way. To indicate that animal liberationists "care nothing about the truth" or are "anti-intellectual," or are in any way intellectually suspect for holding such a position is simply a prejudicial slur. Animal rights propaganda does not promote hatred at all, but rather universal respect.

Many opponents of animal liberation have also indicated that Nazi Germany was somehow animal rightist, and therefore, animal rightism is associated with Nazism. Both the inference and the initial premise are mistaken. Let us examine why some have thought otherwise:

There were 679 animal protection societies in Germany in the early 1930s, and many philosophical treatises projecting their views. In August, 1933, Hermann Göring, then chairman of the Prussian ministerial cabinet and later the author of the 'final solution' of the Jewish question, issued an order prohibiting the vivisection of animals in Prussian territory. 'To the Germans,' he declared in a public broadcast, 'animals are not merely creatures in the organic sense, but creatures who lead their own lives and who are endowed with perceptive faculties, who feel pain and experience joy. . . . An absolute and permanent prohibition of vivisection is not only a necessary law to protect animals...but it is also a law for humanity itself.' Any person engaged in such practices would be 'removed to a concentration camp.' Bavaria soon issued similar prohibitions, and in 1934 the national government prohibited unnecessary torment of animals. In Nazi eyes, biomedical science was a heavily Jewish—that is, polluted—profession, while, in contrast, animals were symbols of nature and purity. (Jasper and Nelkin 1992, 23–24)

If the Nazis cared so much for creatures with "their own lives" and "perceptive faculties," why did they not care for the Jews, who, like all humans, are animals—and whom the Nazis themselves often compared to animals, even to "vermin"? What is so "animal rightist" about such Nazi practices? The Nazis glutted themselves on hypocritical and self-aggrandizing propaganda, and their statements are hardly to be accepted at face-value. Opposing vivisection because it is "heavily Jewish" does not sound like any kind of anti-oppression view. Indeed, Nazis probably felt they could "afford" not to vivisect nonhumans (and thus, to appear "good" in many people's eyes) because they planned all along to experiment on live human beings as part of their schemes for conquering "inferior races." Indeed, if one already experiments on humans, testing on nonhuman animals for medical purposes is most certainly a very expensive and inefficacious waste of money, time, and resources. In the case of putting limits on vivisection, the Nazis did not love animals that much, but rather, they hated the Jews that much. Certainly, the Nazis were very far from abolishing meat-eating, or hunting, or even laboratory experiments with animals, among other practices. Hitler is sometimes reputed to be a vegetarian, although he was not entirely—still there was Nazi propaganda to this effect (Arluke and Sanders, 1995, 148). However, Hitler believed that eating meat was contaminating because of the mixture of animal and Aryan blood (Arluke and Sanders 1995, 150). Thus animals were not revered but regarded with contempt. Even if Hitler had been a vegetarian, that would not logically entail that vegetarianism is morally wrong. Any cults of "nature worship" in Nazism were connected, again, with their oppressive ideology of finding pure breeds, and with their pseudo-Nietzschean admiration of predatory animals, who exemplify the strong dominating the weak. The Nazis did have laws regulating vivisection in ways comparable to Britain, but fell short of abolishing animal experimentation (Arluke and Sanders 1995, 134–135). If Nazi Germans' softening of so-called "heavily Jewish" vivisection was the extent of their "animal rightism," then they remain as they were—Nazis—and the people who compare animal rightists to Nazis emerge as they are: slanderous, superficial, and reactionary.

V. Conclusion

More or less detailed comparisons can be and are made by animal liberationists between animal exploitation and the Holocaust. In fact, the comparison can be illustrated not only in terms of specific activities such as intensive confinement, live experimentation, skinning, hunting, and so on, but in terms of more general features on both sides, such as the unimaginable numbers of victims, ruthlessness, exploitativeness, and harsh discrimination. Indeed, further comparisons could be drawn between those who resisted the Holocaust (the underground railroad, harborers of Jews and partisan fighters) and those who liberate animals from oppressive confinement in laboratories, or who wreck machinery which torments and destroys them. However, resistance to oppression is not a part of any comparison of these forms of oppression themselves.

As well, forms of resistance are highly disanalogous when comparing responses to the Holocaust and to the oppression of animals. Violence and killing were common in resisting Nazi oppressors, however, while a very few animal activists use violence, this is very exceptional behavior. See generally the collection of essays, Terrorists or Freedom Fighters, (Best and Nocella 2004) for a discussion of the incidence and ethics of nonviolent and violent tactics in the animal rights movement. The Animal Liberation Front, for example, is committed to rescuing animals from labs and exposing abuses that are hidden from the public, but they are sworn to nonviolence. This predominance of nonviolent tactics is different from resistance to the Nazis, but although there are sociological and philosophical reasons for this difference, I will not explore them in detail in this paper.

Briefly, however, some reasons for the widespread nonviolent approach of animal rightists include: (1) wars involve soldiers sacrificing their own lives, and also the lives of those they kill, but even animal rights philosophers such as Tom Regan agree that in general we should preserve human lives when given choices between saving a human or, say, a dog on a lifeboat (Regan 1983, 324); (2) animal rights is a nascent cause with relatively little public sympathy, and animal activists engaging in violence would cause a severe loss in sympathy and defensiveness; (3) the ultimate goal of animal rights is to create a peaceful world, through education, and violence interferes with such goals; (4) people are often innocent in their use of animals in the sense of being non-malefactors, so it would be unfair to judge them too harshly; (5) liberal democracy permits both animal liberationist stances and non-animal-liberationist stances, and it would be a departure from liberal democracy, and a step in the direction of totalitarianism violently to foist animal rights on others; (6) animal rightists often reject utilitarian morality which is often used to justify violent means towards ends that are supposedly justified by aggregating welfares; (7) pragmatically, even if activists could rationalize to themselves the waging of a war, even a guerrilla war, against animal abusers, they could not hope to win such a war.

The comparison in general, to the extent that it can be illuminated, cannot successfully be impugned by alleging that it glosses over particular differences, is insulting, trivializing, or put forward by those who are "Nazi-like." Certainly, it would be viciously circular to assume that animal liberation is mistaken from the start, which makes the comparison offensive, and which in turn is supposed to prove that animal liberation is wrong. I conclude that if all other objections against animal liberation fail, objecting to the Holocaust comparison by itself will not vindicate the case for anti-animal-liberation. I submit the possibility that some people are deeply offended by the comparison because they are profoundly prejudiced against animals and in favor of human beings, and intolerant of those who hold opinions that are reflective of animal liberationist tendencies. If there were no such thing as discriminatory oppression, there never would have been a Holocaust, but neither could there be what animal liberationists refer to as speciesism. Far from the comparison being intrinsically objectionable, it is potentially useful and illuminating, and may help to underline the gravity of our oppression of nonhuman animals.

This article originally appeared in Ethics & the Environment 11.1 (2006) 97-132


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