Over 450 Academics Sign Statement Opposing Animal Exploitation


Over 450 academics, many of whom work in moral and political philosophy, have signed onto the “Montreal Declaration on Animal Exploitation.”

[painting by a rhinoceros at the St. Louis Zoo]

The declaration condemns treating animals as mere “objects or commodities” and  acting in ways that “seriously contravene their most fundamental interests.” It was the idea of three researchers associated with the University of Montreal’s Centre de recherche en éthique: Valéry Giroux, Martin Gibert, and François Jaquet (now at the University of Strasbourg).

The statement, along with its list of signatories, was published yesterday in Le Devoir, a Canadian newspaper.

Here’s the whole text:

We are researchers in the field of moral and political philosophy. Our work is rooted in different philosophical traditions, and we rarely find ourselves in agreement with one another. We do agree, however, on the need for a profound transformation of our relationships with other animals. We condemn the practices that involve treating animals as objects or commodities.

 Insofar as it involves unnecessary violence and harm, we declare that animal exploitation is unjust and morally indefensible. 

In ethology and neurobiology, it is well established that mammals, birds, fish, and many invertebrates are sentient – i.e., capable of feeling pleasure, pain and emotions. These animals are conscious subjects; they have their own perspective on the world around them. It follows that they have interests: our behaviours affect their well-being and can benefit or harm them. When we injure a dog or a pig, when we keep a chicken or a salmon in captivity, when we kill a calf for his meat or a mink for her skin, we seriously contravene their most fundamental interests.

Yet, all of these harms could be avoided. It is obviously possible to refrain from wearing leather, attending bullfights and rodeos, or showing children captive lions in zoos. Most of us can already do without animal foods and still be healthy, and the future development of a vegan economy will make things even easier. From a political and institutional standpoint, it is possible to stop viewing animals merely as resources at our disposal. 

That these individuals do not belong to the species Homo sapiens is morally irrelevant: while it may seem natural to think that animals’ interests count less than the comparable interests of humans, this speciesist intuition does not stand up to close scrutiny. Everything else being equal, mere membership of a biological group (be it delineated by species, skin colour, or sex) cannot justify unequal consideration or treatment. 

There are differences between humans and other animals, just as there are differences among individuals within species. Admittedly, some sophisticated cognitive abilities give rise to particular interests, which in turn may justify particular treatments. But a subject’s ability to compose symphonies, to make advanced mathematical calculations, or to project oneself into a distant future, however admirable, does not affect the consideration due to his or her interest to feel pleasure and not to suffer. The interests of the more intelligent among us matter no more than the equivalent interests of the less intelligent. To say otherwise would amount to ranking individuals according to faculties that have no moral relevance. Such an ableist attitude would be morally indefensible.

It is therefore difficult to escape this conclusion: because it unnecessarily harms animals, animal exploitation is fundamentally unjust. It is therefore essential to work towards its disappearance, especially by aiming at the closure of slaughterhouses, a ban on fishing, and the development of plant-based food systems. We have no illusion; such a project will not be achieved in the short term. In particular, it requires renouncing entrenched speciesist habits and transforming numerous institutions fundamentally. We believe, however, that the end of animal exploitation is the only shared horizon that is both realistic and just for nonhumans.

The statement and can also be read (and signed) here.

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Patrick S. O'Donnell
2 months ago

As for the “ban on fishing” and the “development of plant-based food systems,” we need to bear in mind that there are peoples around our planet, typically defined as “indigenous,” who live in natural environments that are not hospitable or conducive to their surviving solely on plant-based foods. Or they have traditional ways of life that have historically been subject to acts of genocide, imperialism or post-imperialist or post-colonialist behaviors that have suppressed, denied, or attempted to eliminate their unique forms of collective identity and subjectivity, ways of life in which hunting and/or fishing play a pivotal role both in terms of their diet and their spiritual or religious worldviews; worldviews in which their relation to the natural world is rather different than that found in the globally predominant industrial agricultural systems (thus, at least here, nonhuman animals are not ‘mere objects or commodities’; for a brilliant expression of this, please see Gary Snyder’s poem, ‘Prayer for the Great Family,’ which is based on a Mohawk prayer [reprinted in Turtle Island [New Directions, 1974]). In other words, these are arguable if not sound and persuasive exceptions to the programmatic ambitions of the Declaration, which I otherwise support. Please see some of the relevant discussion in my post from several years ago on “possible logical [or moral] constraints on principles in animal ethics that entail vegetarianism or veganism:” https://www.religiousleftlaw.com/2019/12/possible-logical-constraints-on-principles-in-animal-ethics-that-entail-vegetarianism-or-veganism.htmlReport

Johnson
Johnson
Reply to  Patrick S. O'Donnell
1 month ago

I agree that there are people who cannot go vegan, such as the indigenous tribes, but 98% of the population isn’t in such situations, including yourself. So, for the vast majority of people who can easily live without animal products, it’s not only morally preferable to do so, but is also an obligation.

In other words, using the marginalization of one group of beings (indigenous people) to justify the marginalization of another group (animals) is the very definition of unethical.

I mean, if you have the ability to write comments on Daily Nous about a declaration signed by 473 moral and political philosophers from 39 different countries, you have the ability to buy tofu instead of beef.Report

joe
joe
Reply to  Johnson
1 month ago

I guess you have no idea about the difficulties of growing crops (due to many environmental factors, including unsuitable, very poor soil) in esp. sub-saharan Africa or in many parts of Asia.Report

Johnson
Johnson
Reply to  joe
1 month ago

I’m aware that certain environments aren’t adequate for growing crops, but I’m saying that for people who have the ability to go vegan, they should go vegan. Not to mention, if you care about soil health, you should know that meat production is worse for soil health than any plant farming.

Crops are easier to grow than animals are to raise. You still have a moral obligation to go vegan.Report

Patrick S. O'Donnell
Reply to  Johnson
1 month ago

Have you grown crops in the desert where the Bedouin live? Has anyone? Have you grown crops in the Arctic environment of the Inuit? Has anyone? Etc., etc.Report

Johnson
Johnson
Reply to  Patrick S. O'Donnell
1 month ago

No, and that’s irrelevant. I’m not asking those people to go vegan, I’m asking you to go vegan. You’re talking to me from a phone/computer, for god’s sake. You can go vegan.Report

Patrick S. O'Donnell
Reply to  Johnson
1 month ago

I have been vegan probably longer than you’ve been on this planet. Please read what I wrote before making such statements.Report

joe
joe
Reply to  Johnson
1 month ago

You said 98% is in a situation that they can go vegan. That’s a complete nonsense. You should try to get somewhat acquainted with the problem of food production around the world before pronouncing such moral imperatives. For example, many African can neither sucessfully grow high density and yield crops nor produce meat in large quantities (in many subsaharan African countris, the most common meat snack is field mice). It’s only the very first world priviliged perspective that can explain these views. For veganism to be viable, you need soil/climate and so on, that’s not available in most places.Report

Johnson
Johnson
Reply to  joe
1 month ago

Once again, I’m not asking the Inuit or the Eskimos or the indigenous or the “Africans who can’t grow high densities of crops” to go vegan. I’m asking you to go vegan. Also, regarding your statement about how “It’s only the very first world priviliged perspective that can explain these views.

No. Veganism isn’t a privilege. Eating mock meats and cheeses? Sure. But eating plants instead of animal products isn’t a privilege. In fact, it’s the cheapest diet possible in most countries, according to Oxford University in November of 2021. [1]

Also, you say “For veganism to be viable, you need soil/climate and so on, that’s not available in most places.”

But, that’s not true. Yes, to grow crops, you need the proper conditions, but since growing crops requires so much less land and resources than growing animals, you won’t have to necessarily grow crops in every location to feed the people in that location.

For example, in 1997 (yes, a while ago), Cornell University found that we could feed ~800 million additional people just by using the grain grown in the US that we instead feed to livestock. [2] (That’s also, coincidentally, roughly how many people are currently facing hunger, worldwide.)

So, trust me, we have enough food to feed the entire human population, and then some. We just need to be responsible about how we do it.

Lastly, for anyone reading this and still disagreeing about the actual ethics regarding animal product consumption, please watch this YouTube video (A Meat Eater’s Case For Veganism): youtu.be/C1vW9iSpLLk

At the time, he was a meat-eater, but since he was into philosophy, he decided to look at veganism from a philosophical standpoint. Since making that video, he’s gone vegan and is now an advocate for veganism. That video is one of the most powerful I’ve ever seen for any topic, let alone veganism. So, please, if you’re confident that I’m wrong, give it a watch.

This was long, but thanks if you read all of it.

[1]: https://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2021-11-11-sustainable-eating-cheaper-and-healthier-oxford-study

[2]: https://news.cornell.edu/stories/1997/08/us-could-feed-800-million-people-grain-livestock-eatReport

Karen Rubio
Reply to  joe
1 month ago

Why is it when the word “vegan” is mentioned, people reliably come out of the woodwork to talk about the Arctic and sub-saharan Africa. For the vast majority of people in the world, plant-based is doable. In fact, most diets in African are naturally plant-based.
Talking about the outliers is an easy way to escape the main conversation – which is, we have a moral obligation to animals *and the planet itself* to eat plant-based.Report

Patrick S. O'Donnell
Reply to  Johnson
1 month ago

I have was a vegetarian in my early 20s, in the late 1970s, 20 years ago I became a vegan. Our children were raised as vegetarians. I was not writing about myself and I did not attempt to justify the marginalization of animals: you do not read carefully (as I said, save the exception, I supported the Declaration, so what is the complaint?). I have a bibliography that is often cited as one of the most comprehensive on animal ethics, rights, and law. Read the post I referenced/linked to and consider the argument without indulging in a fallacious ad hominem. See: https://www.academia.edu/4843888/Animal_Ethics_Rights_and_Law_bibliographyReport

Gertrude
Gertrude
Reply to  Johnson
1 month ago

He said “exception”, didn’t he?Report

Gradanon
Gradanon
Reply to  Johnson
1 month ago

Nowhere in the comment you are responding to does O’Donnell, as far as I can tell, make an exception for himself. He states there ought to be exceptions for those who share some relevant set of properties, but I cannot find anywhere where he states that he himself has those properties. In fact, in the piece of writing he linked he states that he follows a vegan diet. So I think your response is a bit unfair.

As I read it, O’Donnell’s point is not that he has, or ought to be granted, the right to fish. He argues only that some people, who are not like him in some relevant respect, should. We can still question that, but making a strawman out of his position and then raising an ad hominem objection to it is off base.Report

Andy Lamey
Reply to  Patrick S. O'Donnell
1 month ago

Discussions of the relationship between indigenous peoples and animal rights often overlook the perspectives of indigenous animal rights supporters. Keeping their perspective in mind is, among other benefits, a helpful corrective to the overly conservative view of indigenous cultures that can sometimes creep into these discussions.

A nice example of a piece of scholarship by an indigenous animal rights proponent is “There’s No Respectful Way to Kill an Animal,” by Muscogee Creek-Cherokee literary scholar Craig Womack:

https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5250/studamerindilite.25.4.0011#metadata_info_tab_contents

Two other academics who embrace animal rights from indigenous perspectives are Margaret Robinson (Mi’kmaw) and Ruth Koleszar-Green (Mohawk). They both contributed to the book Critical Animal Studies: Towards Trans-species Social Justice:

https://bit.ly/3CbOBW1

I’m unaware of any similar articles by indigenous philosophers, but Will Kymlicka and Sue Donaldson give a good overview of the relevant issues in their paper, “Animal Rights and Aboriginal Rights”:

https://www.academia.edu/6514868/Animal_Rights_and_Aboriginal_Rights_2015_

As they note, there are genuine points of disagreement between proponents of animal rights and indigenous rights, such as over some traditional indigenous hunting practices. But where a lot of discussions stop there, they also point out the many areas where the two frameworks agree. As they write:

“We then note the overlap between our account and traditional Indigenous views on human–animal relations, including the shared opposition to the instrumentalist and property-based assumptions that underlie the current legal framework [regarding animals]. On many dimensions, recent AR theories are much closer to Indigenous perspectives than to the instrumentalist perspective that defines contemporary Anglo-American law.”Report

Patrick S. O'Donnell
Reply to  Andy Lamey
1 month ago

No doubt these academic indigenous scholars have comparatively easy access (and sufficient income) to shop at grocery stores (or farmers’ markets, what have you). As for the last paragraph, that is true enough.Report

David L.
1 month ago

Regarding the first few comments, there doesn’t seem to me much that is puzzling about “Johnson’s” views. If Johnson is indeed way off with their 98 percent figure, then whatever percentage it actually is should use less animal products. If only the “privileged” are capable of using less, which is probably a lot of readers of the post as Johnson implies, then I think the “privileged” should use less. If only 1 person out of 8 billion could reasonably use less, then I think that 1 person should use less. Or is the idea that we need to be clear about an exact percentage first (I personally think it is 23.3333 percent could use less animal products reasonably)?Report

Patrick S. O'Donnell
Reply to  David L.
1 month ago

We should be thinking, arguing, and discussing (availing ourselves of the virtuous forms of rhetoric) what might be the most effective means by which we might persuade people to make what are, after all, quite dramatic changes in their eating and buying (consumption) habits, which is incredibly difficult given the global penetration of capitalist industrial agricultural production and trade (please see https://www.academia.edu/12376054/Beyond_Capitalist_Agribusiness_Toward_Agroecology_and_Food_Justice_A_Basic_Bibliography) and its prevailing corresponding amoral or immoral ethos which, it is safe to say, has saturated everyday life to such an extent most people cannot imagine any alternative. Self-righteous moralizing from the rooftops might have a trickle down effect (among academics and intellectuals), but in an apocalyptic-like time of accelerating climate change, ecological destruction, and environmental degradation (please see https://www.academia.edu/4844016/Ecological_and_Environmental_Politics_Philosophies_and_Worldviews_a_basic_bibliography), with its predictable and frightening effects on Liberal and constitutional principles, republican governance, and democratic values and practices, we require revolutionary or radical changes of the sort that are all-too-rare, and understandably so. It is likely that all sorts of means and strategies may have to be enlisted toward our ends, even if they are not always doctrinally or ideologically consistent. Here is where we might learn from the history of the Left, from laudable communists, principled Marxists and socialists, democratic socialists, anarchists, and others, including those of religious suasion, like Left evangelicals and radical Catholics, so-called engaged Buddhists and others whose spiritual practices have egalitarian and emancipatory sensibilities and orientations that are supportive of secular democratic politics. Our advocacy and struggles will be both within and outside formal institutions and will require individuals, groups, and social movements capable of practicing what what they preach and engaging in what we used to call prefigurative politics. Neither Marxists nor Gandhians should have a monopoly on means and methods, be they reformist or revolutionary (piecemeal and incremental changes are ruled out for reasons proffered by Robert E. Goodin and Jon Elster). In other words, we require wholesale changes in our understanding and relations with the natural world and the creatures that populate it, and such changes are at the level of ideology, worldviews and lifeworlds (the latter being the individual and idiosyncratic versions of the former, which are often less consistent and coherent than their more ‘official’ or authoritative or institutional counterparts). I suspect there will be (if there not already is) an ineluctable utopian dimension or flavor to our politics if only for motivational reasons (please see https://www.academia.edu/11803308/Utopian_Imagination_Thought_and_Praxis_A_Basic_Bibliography), which, all things considered, is aiming toward Eunomia, the good order, no longer confined to our ideal political relations but extending throughout political economy, society and culture, which will now be deliberately intertwined with the natural world (of which we can only be stewards or trustees, not owners).Report