Animals & Ethics 101: Thinking Critically About Animal Rights
Nathan Nobis, Morehouse College
Pub Date: 2016
ISBN 13: 978-0-6924712-8-9
Conditions of Use
The book does not offer much in the way of an index or glossary, but it is relatively short and searchable. read more
The book does not offer much in the way of an index or glossary, but it is relatively short and searchable.
The content of the book is accurate overall, and has no egregious errors. It comes across as unbiased. The approach seems to favor the thesis that harming animals is wrong, but this thesis itself, the extent to which it is true, and its possible implications are all carefully considered and up for question.
The book is meant to accompany three classic texts in the animal ethics literature. The most recent of these is from 2004 (although this is an updated version of a much earlier text, and the most recent original work is from 2002). This means that the relevant texts are not very recent, although their status as classics in the field is uncontroversial. In terms of its discussion of these classical texts, the book will not easily be made obsolete. But in terms of where the debate is moving, insofar as it no longer limits itself to classically deontological and utilitarian theories and is becoming increasingly intersectional, the book remains much more traditional. The primary issue with longevity is that there are a lot of online sources referenced that do not have a stable URL. This means that an increasingly large number of the link will cease to refer to the source listed. Although this is acknowledged in the text, it does date the work.
The book is exceedingly clear and suitable for an introductory audience in terms of its original content. The references to the other texts quickly become cumbersome to follow up on. Another potential problem is that the difficulty of some of the recommended texts far exceed the standards of the text, for instance the recommended readings on animal minds (page 50).
Overall, the text is consistent in terms of terminology and framework.
The text is relatively easily divisible into smaller sections. There is some cross-referencing that might make this process a little bit more difficult. The topics are clearly distinct, which lends itself well to a course division.
The topics are presented in a logical fashion. As noted above, some of the cross-referencing unnecessarily divides the same topic over distinct sections.
The interface is generally clear. However, it has a standard MS Word layout which means that the page-numbering is continuous and visible, even on empty pages. While this is not a big problem, it does make the book overall look less professional.
The texts contain no major grammatical errors. It has clearly been carefully edited.
The text is not necessarily culturally insensitive nor does it use offensive examples. However, the focus on traditional animal ethics theories means that the text lacks intersectionality.
(The following is my all-things-considered review of the book. Some of the comments will be repetitive given the notes above.) Nathan Nobis’ Animals & Ethics 101: Thinking Critically About Animal Rights is not a standalone book that can be used as the primary text in an animal ethics course. It is best considered as an accompaniment to three of the major texts in the animal ethical literature. It does well as a guided reading exercise for some of the animal ethics fundamentals, but it won’t meet the needs of anyone looking for a comprehensive introduction to the field. It might have been helpful for the title of the text to be more clear about the nature of the text. That being said, the rest of my commentary will judge the book as a guided reading text. The texts the book focuses on are standard in the animal ethics tradition. On the one hand, this is understandable given the introductory nature of the text. On the other hand, it presents the debate in a very one dimensional way and this trend is continued in most of the recommended reading. That is to say, the vast majority of the voices represented are white and male. The general approach of the text is to talk together a variety of other texts. This gets somewhat cumbersome. The reader is supposed to start a chapter, and then read a section from one book, another section from another, and so on, before getting back to this book from some unifying comments and further resources. These additional resources are offered in large numbers, but they are not contextualized. This means that sources that detract from the project of the book are not interpreted in the framework of the debate. The section on activism is informative and does good work at covering a generally underrepresented topic. The final discussion considers the relation between animal ethics and abortion. The differences and similarities between these two topics is mutually elucidating, although the discussion is relatively long and feels somewhat detached from the rest of the project. Finally, the text is a bit open ended. It comes across as unbiased, but being unbiased is not in every case a virtue. I think that the text could have taken a stronger position on the wrongs perpetuated against animals. The detached nature of the discussion reflects the emphasis on rationality of the classic utilitarian and deontological approaches to animal ethics. This underscores the lack of intersectionality. In short, its a decent accompaniment to some of the classical texts in the animal ethics literature, but in my view it is not sufficient as an introduction to contemporary animal ethics more broadly.
There is a militant but minority school within the modern animal movement that calls itself the “Abolitionist” approach to animal rights. Championed read more
There is a militant but minority school within the modern animal movement that calls itself the “Abolitionist” approach to animal rights. Championed by legal scholar Gary Francione, the approach strictly opposes incremental animal welfare reform and takes a hard line against all forms of animal use, treating veganism as the only defensible moral baseline. It has proven to be a divisive force within the animal rights movement, challenging some key assumptions behind mainstream animal advocacy, and as such deserves consideration in any discussion of the ethics and politics of animal use. Yet it is a minority view often ignored by philosophers and activists. I was pleasantly surprised that this text names Francione and “Abolitionism,” but discussion of its dispute with “welfarist” approaches was limited to about a page and a footnote. A more extensive textual treatment may do more justice to the many deep ethical and tactical issues raised by this controversy within the animal movement. The text focuses on three main normative theories and explores their application to the human use of animals: one based on the demand for equal consideration of interests; another based on the right to respectful treatment; and another based on making moral choices via an impartial procedure. These approaches are surely different, but they do share an impartial/egalitarian thrust and an emphasis on rational procedures, rules, duties, rights, obligations, and so on. But not all moral theory (certainly not all ethical reflection) is like this, so this focus is somewhat restrictive. One ethical framework that departs from many of the assumptions underlying these three theories is virtue ethics, whose emphasis is on what character traits make one the best sort of person, whose conduct is characteristically good and conducive to a worthwhile life. The text totally ignores this theory (besides mentioning that an author mentions it elsewhere), but discussing it could help bring out important features of the main views the text considers and illuminate questions about human-animal relations from a different direction, namely by examining character traits relevant to human-animal relations and ethics generally, such as cruelty, apathy, empathy, rationality, and so on. Finally, the text ignores an extensive philosophical literature on feminist approaches to animal ethics, such as the “ecofeminist” critique of meat consumption offered by Lori Gruen, Greta Gaard, Carol J. Adams, and others. This is a significant oversight because feminist philosophy offers helpful and illuminating critiques of the commitment to liberalism (methodological individualism, ostensibly impartial, gender-neutral decision-procedures, and so on) underlying the three main normative theories the text considers.
The text does a good job of accurately describing and contrasting three normative theories as they apply to the moral relations between humans and between humans and other animals. I did not notice any mischaracterizations of the positions or arguments under discussion.
I worry that the text is apolitical in a way not helpful to students due to its tendency to avoid the intersection of animal ethics with questions about race, gender, sexuality, disability, and other embodied differences that invite comparison to supposed moral differences between species. The text offers a relatively abstract discussion of some conceptual tools commonly used by Anglo-American philosophers to analyze modern animal use (factory farming, zoos, hunting, etc.) without any systematic discussion of the history of these practices or their connection to other forms of oppression (racial, gendered, etc.). This is at least partly a question of style. But more abstract discussions of moral principle tend to involve lost opportunities to help students reflect critically and philosophically about their concrete circumstances and the social and political dimensions of the moral issues they face.
The text itself is largely clear and easy to follow. I found the “Learning Outcomes” section at the beginning of the book to be especially helpful, and think students will, too, in establishing expectations about the book’s central content and ambitions.
The “About This Book” section does a fairly nice job of laying out the project and the way there. It gives a good sense of the wide-ranging scope of the discussion, and flags some of the areas of investigation to be explored. The book's subsequent layout conforms to the expectations created by the introductory remarks (subject to a caveat I mention below under "organization/structure/flow”).
The text’s core chapters cohere fairly well but seem suitable for use separately or in other combinations. I would expect students to benefit from each of the chapters in isolation from the rest if my syllabus required doing it that way.
It was not as immediately clear as I would have liked what the primary business of the text was. The “About This Book” section mentions three main moral theories, but also a discussion of animal minds (clearly a metaphysical issue, not an ethical one), activism, some specific animal issues (wearing animals, owning pets, etc.), and other assorted topics. Looking at the table of contents, it was unclear to me where or how the three moral theories identified in the opening remarks fit into the broad structure of the text. I would have liked the introductory remarks to provide a roadmap for navigating the book that is more clearly reflected in the table of contents.
The text’s layout seems well-organized and fairly easy to navigate. Section headings are perspicuous and there are helpful “Overview,” “Discussion Questions,” and “Readings” headings to structure one’s attempt to navigate the text and find what one needs.
The text contains only a few minor grammatical and typographical errors (see e.g. p. v, vii, etc.).
Due to the text’s avoidance of feminist moral and political thought around human-animal relations (discussed above under “Comprehensiveness”), it fails to help prepare students to engage gender as an analytical category and a resource for thinking critically about, and keeping pace with, other political issues like race and sexuality with which debates about the status of nonhuman animals are interwoven. Generally speaking, the text takes seriously moral frameworks that fit comfortably within the liberal-democratic moral and political tradition to the exclusion of critical alternatives that, when contrasted with them, help illuminate their strengths and weaknesses.
I would suggest either eliminating or expanding the section entitled “Religion and Ethics: A Brief Comment,” found on p. 31. The section consists of two brief paragraphs explaining why the text adopts a secular approach, largely by quoting another philosopher’s argument that religious ethics rests on a rationally indefensible appeal to authority, as opposed to reasons and evidence. Such an offhand treatment cannot help being unfairly dismissive of theistic ethics and should be replaced with either a more extensive and balanced discussion that takes seriously the moral resources of actual religious traditions or a sentence in the Preface stating that the text will only consider secular frameworks. Finally, I worry that the book may be too ambitious for its relatively short length. I do like that it strives to gather in lots of disparate philosophically important questions surrounding human-animal relations by contrasting and applying a few rival normative theories, exploring the nature of the creatures under discussion (the brief section on “animal minds”), handling specific practical issues of animal treatment as well as questions about activism itself, and so on. These are all important and related matters that raise serious questions. But in a book with roughly 100 pages of substantial discussion, it’s not surprising that (to me) much of the discussion seemed very cursory and elliptical. This is another question of style, but I find that a deeper dive into fewer topics produces better and more enduring learning outcomes for students (especially novices) than a longer series of more fleeting encounters. Teachers often have to fight for students’ attention, and students are less likely to remain engaged in any case when skimming over the surface.
The author does a good job of outline the subject and defining the central focus of the chapters. Given these parameters the book is comprehensive. read more
The author does a good job of outline the subject and defining the central focus of the chapters. Given these parameters the book is comprehensive. In the downloaded version I found a Table of Contents, however, there was no section distinctly labeled as the glossary. A unique section with definitions of terms would be useful to those new to the subject.
Readings are reasonably balanced and supported with reference and links to major works. Overall the readings made sense and were current as the time of publication.
The book includes a number of links to websites which requires vigilance to avoid broken links, failed addresses, and deleted sites. A unique section at the end of each chapter that lists sites might help with updating by putting these connections all in one place rather than dispersed throughout the text. The flow of discussion in each chapter felt natural and logical. Overall structure allows for updating as the conversation on animal use evolves.
Overall, the book is quite readable. There were a few times where definitions of terms would have been helpful. In chapter 1, I expected a description of the term "premise" but was unable to find it. Since the book appears to be a publication based on a series of lectures the author may have assumed that readers were informed about basic terms. If wider use is expected, more definitions would be a good idea.
The book is consistent and flows easily from chapter to chapter. The discussion builds well. It does have a lecture feel and references to what "we" will be doing which can be distracting.
The modularity is with distinct sections and transitions between sections. The author's argument builds from chapter to chapter so reading in the order presented is the most likely approach.
The books organization is logical and easy to understand. More description and explanation of referenced works might be helpful.
The download was a pdf file with wide margins, spacing between short paragraphs, and use of indentation to offset subtopics. Sometimes references to works outside the book were confusing and left me wondering if I'd see more about that topic within the book or would need to jump out and read it elsewhere. This is where the book conveyed a "wrote down the lecture" feel that made it seem less like a book and more like a compendium. Overall formatting could be improved with clear distinctions between text and footnotes. Perhaps a small thing, but blank pages between chapters seem unnecessary.
The book's grammar was appropriate and consistent.
Animals & Ethics is relevant, strikes a cord, and provides a strategy for reasoning that is culturally flexible. I plan to use it as a reading book for my class which, interestingly, is not a philosophy course. It establishes common ground for an animal use conversation that is pertinent to eating behaviors and food choice, which is my field of work.
I enjoyed reviewing this book. I pondered, reflected, and learned. I will be using this book with my students in a nutrition course where meat consumption is of growing concern among students and a path for a reasoned conversation is needed. Thank you!
The text provides an extensive set of links to both print and online material related to our interaction with animals. There are sections dealing read more
The text provides an extensive set of links to both print and online material related to our interaction with animals. There are sections dealing with animal minds, our various uses of animals (including eating and wearing, experimentation, hunting, pets and zoos) and activism for animals. There is no specific index or glossary, but the entire text functions as a companion to primary readings from Peter Singer, Tom Regan, and Mark Rowlands.
The primary readings come from reputable philosophers, and the author includes links to critiques of their theories. Each section contains a brief overview of the topic which is an accurate representation of these philosophers’ views. The links to support material are accurate as well.
The issue of human to human ethics goes back to Plato, and our logic goes back to Aristotle, so the topic has a long history of relevance. By drawing on an analogy of our ethical and logical relationships with animals, the author establishes the relevance for a contemporary reader. Because of the layout, necessary updates will be easily implemented.
The author provides numerous examples to illustrate any of the technical terminology, and the text is jargon free. He also clearly states that instead of using the ambiguous term “morally right” it is of more value to use the terms “morally permissible,” “morally obligatory,” and “morally impermissible.”
Since it is a companion text, it is internally consistent in relation to the terminology encountered in the primary readings.
After Chapter One, each of the chapters could be included in a course independently. I could picture the chapter on activism for animals, for example, being used in an English composition class dealing with persuasion.
Again, since it is a companion text, there is a necessity to list the readings required for each chapter. Placing them at the end of the chapter would have given a better sense of flow. Being consistent with the discussion and paper topics was very helpful in terms of structure.
Since the text was entirely print in format, there were no issues with the interface. The font was fine.
It was discouraging to find a grammar error in the opening sentence of the Preface. There were similar errors on pages 23,46, and 57, to name a few. The text would benefit from a much closer proofreading.
The book deals with a controversial topic, but it does so in a respectful manner. There will obviously be cultural differences in how we feel animals should be treated, and these differences are taken in to consideration. The final chapter, a comparison of animal rights and abortion, shows the similarities between these two controversial topics.
Since the text is only 125 pages long, it is well worth a look if the topic is a part of your curriculum.
Comprehensive would be an understatement as this text goes extremely in depth to explore and discover all aspects of how we as a society approach our read more
Comprehensive would be an understatement as this text goes extremely in depth to explore and discover all aspects of how we as a society approach our rights, responsibilities and dangers of our interactions with animals. At times, this becomes very heavy reading as the author takes the reader into deep philosophical thought processes of each and every approach to a particular situation. I might have preferred to not get so bogged down with so much preparatory reading prior to getting to discussing the actual issue. It did give the reader a better idea of ALL points of view,but it often became burdensome to read all of this.
The book tends to make a lot of assumptions when discussing theories. The author seemed to lean slightly towards more protection for animals. Often there would be multiple approaches to a moral dilemma and the assumption made was for a protectionist viewpoint. I did not see over population control brought up during the discussion on the moral right/obligation to kill animals.
The judgements of the public on a particular issue can be changed almost overnight now. Harambe became a household name after being killed to protect a young boy who had fallen in the enclosure. This book wouldn't necessarily change a mind as much as confirm what you already thought. The moral issues aren't going away anytime soon so the longevity of discussion should maintain over time.
Text was heavy, with lengthy meandering discussions on different approaches to a topic that were too in depth before even discussing the actual topic. By the time I got to the topic, I hadn't digested the preamble yet. Many sentences could have been phrased in a way that would be much easier to understand what the author was trying to say.
Format was similar throughout the book. There was a preparation to discuss the topic,then the actual discussion followed by some moral questions followed by a written assignment of the expository type.
The first chapter was much more difficult than the rest of the chapters. The author proposes some theories like Regan's for example, be prepared to be referred back in the book so you must read the book sequentially to grasp the intended intent. Each chapter is it's own discussion in and of itself but requires understanding of previous chapters content.
The book was so comprehensive, it covered all contingencies. I don't think there was any particular flow to organizing the chapters that would be better than any other.
I did not notice any and I usually catch grammatical errors.
There is a movement right now to move to protect animals, be it a crackdown on sales of ivory, or the removal of elephants from a zoo, there are more people talking about animals rights right now than at any time in history.This book is very relevant to what is happening and will encourage more discussions hopefully.
Be ready to think, hard, while you are digesting the text of the book. Get through chapter 1 and the rest of the book becomes much easier to read.
Table of Contents
- Chapter 1: Introductions to Ethics, Logic and Animals & Ethics
- Chapter 2: Animal Minds
- Chapter 3: Defending Animals
- Chapter 4: Defending Animal Use
- Chapter 5: Wearing & Eating Animals
- Chapter 6: Animal Experimentation
- Chapter 7: Pets, Zoos & Hunting
- Chapter 8: Activism
About the Book
This book provides an overview of the current debates about the nature and extent of our moral obligations to animals. Which, if any, uses of animals are morally wrong, which are morally permissible (i.e., not wrong) and why? What, if any, moral obligations do we, individually and as a society (and a global community), have towards animals and why? How should animals be treated? Why?
We will explore the most influential and most developed answers to these questions – given by philosophers, scientists, and animal advocates and their critics – to try to determine which positions are supported by the best moral reasons.
About the Contributors
Nathan Nobis, PhD is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA. He has taught courses, given lectures and published articles and chapters on a wide variety of topics concerning ethics and animals, bioethics, ethical theory and other topics in philosophy.