Cato and Ockham on Slaughter

Anything that makes life less-worse for the victims is welcome (but watch out for hidden poison that entrenches their miserable fate even deeper)

Preserving non-stun slaughter for “freedom of cult (or culture)” is an abomination: Freedom of belief, yes, but not freedom of barbaric practice (slavery, genital mutilation, animal “sacrifice,” gladiator sports, rodeos…)

And, ceterum censeo, no sentient creature should ever be harmed praeter necessitatem, i.e., beyond necessity for survival (as in the case of conflict of life/death interest between obligate carnivores and their prey, including the few remaining human subsistence hunting/fishing habitats – none of which are in the UK.


Pete Wells’s NY Times restaurant review has all the moral (and aesthetic) depth of a mid 18th-century southern US erotic cotton-underwear fancier’s sneering assessment of erotic synthetic-cotton underwear from an abolitionist manufacturer.

Age Quod Agendum (Est): Sentience and Causality

I had known about Sapolsky as a neuroendocrinologist and primatologist but had not (and have not) read his popular works. So I just looked at part of his latest podcast interview about the book he’s writing now about free will. It’s a self-help kind of book, as I suspect many of his books are. He writes about how all the genetic and experiential factors that influence what we do leave no room for free will, but that there’s still some “hope for change” because of the way that thinking, even though it is “determined,” can change brain states in ways that are not possible in other animals. I suspect this is wrong (about other animals) but it might well be another way of trying to counter depression about the feeling of helplessness. This is not the aspect of the question of free will that I (personally) find interesting. It’s the usual self-helpy, me-me obsession that not only such pop books are full of, and cater to, but I think it misses the point about what really matters, and that is not about me. 

But that’s just about me. As to free will, I agree with Sapolsky that there is no “independent” causal force – in the brain, or anywhere else – that influences the causal pattern of events. It’s all unfolding mechanically by cause and effect since the Big Bang. That it seems otherwise is probably just due to two things: 

(1) Uncertainty; there are many causal factors we don’t know and that cannot be known and predicted, so there are many “surprises” that can be interpreted as interlopers, including me and my “decisions”. The physicists say that uncertainty is not just that of statistical uncertainty (we can’t predict the weather or who will win the lottery, but not because it is not all causally determined, but just because we don’t know all the causal details); there’s supposedly also “quantum uncertainty” which is not just that we don’t know all the causal details but that some of the causal details are indeterminate: they somehow come out of nothing. (This could be true — or our understanding of quantum mechanics today may be incomplete. But in any case it has nothing to do with free will. It’s the same in all of the inanimate universe, and would have been the same even if there weren’t living, seemingly autonomous organisms — and especially one species that thinks it’s an exception to the causal picture).

(2) More important and relevant (at least in my understanding of the FW question) is the undeniable fact that FW is a feeling: Just as seeing red, hearing a loud sound, or feeling tired feels like something – and feels like something different from seeing green, hearing a faint sound or feeling peppy —  so stumbling because you lost your balance or because someone pushed you feels like something, and something different from doing it deliberately. And that same feeling (of “volition”) applies to everything you do deliberately, rather than inadvertently. That’s why I think the full-scale FW puzzle is already there in just a lowly Libet-style button press: deciding whether and when to do it, and, when you do, feeling as if “I” am the one who made it happen. It’s not a cosmic question, but a very local question, and, under a microscope, either a trivial one or, more likely, a special case of a much bigger unsolved puzzle, which is why do sentient organisms feel anything at all, whether redness, loudness, fatigue or volition? (In fact volition is the biggest puzzle, because the puzzle is a causal one, and sensations just happen to you, whereas voluntary action feels like something you are yourself causing.

The fact that there exist states that it feels like something to be in, is true, and sentient organisms all know what it feels like to feel. (That’s the only substantive part of Descartes’ “Cogito”.)

It’s also true that what has been lately dubbed the “hard problem” (but used to be called the “mind/body problem) is really just the problem of explaining, causally, why and how organisms feel. Darwinian evolution only requires that they be able to do, and be able to learn to do, whatever is needed to survive and reproduce. What is the causal contribution of feeling to the Darwinian capacities to do? What is the causal value-added of feeling? No one knows (though there are lots of silly hypotheses, most of them simply circular).

Well the FW problem (I think) is just a particular case of the hard problem of the causal role of feeling, probably the most salient case.

And it’s not the metaphysical problem of the causal power of sentient organisms’ “will” or “agency” (a misnomer) in the universe.  Organisms are clearly just causal components of the causal unfolding of the universe, not special ringers in the scheme of things.

But the puzzle remains of why they think (or rather feel) that they are – or, more generally, why they feel at all.

And that question is a causal one.

Intelligence and Empathy

“A family of wild boars organized a cage breakout of 2 piglets, demonstrating high levels of intelligence and empathy”

The capture as well as the breeding of other sentient beings for human uses are imprisonment and slavery – involuntary – and contrary to the biological imperatives of the victims. It is anthropocentric arrogance and aggression to presume that humans have a natural (or divine) right to inflict this on other sentient beings (except in cases of vital [not commercial or hedonic] conflict of biological imperatives, such as between biologically obligate carnivores and their prey).

La capture ainsi que l’élevage des autres êtres sentients pour les usages humains sont de l’emprisonnement et de l’esclavage — involontaires — à l’encontre des impératifs biologiques des victimes. C’est une arrogance et une agression anthropocentriques de présumer que les humains ont un droit naturel (ou divin) d’infliger cela à d’autres êtres sensibles (sauf en cas de conflit d’impératifs biologiques [pas les intérêts commerciaux ou hédoniques], comme entre les carnivores biologiquement obligés et leurs proies).

*IF* plants HAD feelings, how WOULD this affect our advocacy for animals?

That plants do feel is about as improbable as it is that animals (including humans) do not feel. (The only real uncertainty is about the very lowest invertebrates and microbes, at the juncture with plants, and evidence suggests that the capacity to feel depends on having a nervous system, and the behavioral capacities the nervous system produces.)

Because animals feel, it is unethical (in fact, monstrous) to harm them, when we have a choice. We don’t need to eat animals to survive and be healthy, so there we have a choice.

Plants almost certainly do not feel, but even if they did feel, we would have no choice but to eat them (until we can synthesize them) because otherwise we die.

Critique of Bobier, Christopher (2021) What Would the Virtuous Person Eat? The Case for Virtuous Omnivorism. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

Critique of What Would the Virtuous Person Eat? The Case for Virtuous Omnivorism

1. Insects and oysters have a nervous system. They are sentient beings and they feel pain.

2. It is not necessary for human health to consume sentient beings — not mammals, birds, reptiles, or invertebrates.

3. It is plants (and microbes) that do not have a nervous system and hence do not feel.

4. What is wrong is to make sentient beings suffer or die other than out of conflict of vital (life-or-death) interest.

5. Morality concerns, among other things, not harming other sentient beings.

The rest of the proposal of Christopher Bobier is unfortunately mere casuistry.

To help the victims of plant agriculture  for human consumption, perhaps strive instead to develop an agriculture that is more ecological and more merciful to the sentient beings who are entangled in mass consumption by the human population.

Instead of fallacies like the call to consume some sentient victims so as to give further sentient victims the opportunity to become victims, it might be more virtuous to consider reducing the rate of growth in the number of human consumers.

De la casuistique d’un «éthicien» concernant la « vertu»

1. Les insectes et les huitres ont un système nerveux. Ils sont des êtres sentients et ils ressentent la douleur.

2. Il n’est pas nécesaire à la santé humaine de consommer les êtres sentients — ni mammifère, ni oiseau, ni réptile, ni invertébré.

3. C’est les plantes (et les microbes) qui n’ont pas de système nerveux et donc ne ressentent pas.

4. Ce qui est mal, c’est de faire souffrir ou mourrir les êtres sentients sans nécessité vitale (conflit d’intérêt de vie ou de mort).

5. La moralité concerne, entre autres, ne pas faire mal aux autres êtres sentients.

Le reste du propos de ce « scientifique » n’est que du casuistique. 

Pour aider aux victimes de l’agriculture des plantes aux fins de la consommation humaine, lutter peut-être plutôt pour développer une agriculture plus écologique et plus miséricordieuse envers les êtres sentients qui sont empétrés dans la consommation de masse par la population humaine. 

Au lieu de sophismes comme l’appel à consommer des de victimes sentientes pour donner l’occasion à davantage de victimes sentientes à devenir victimes, il serait peut-être plus vertueux de songer à réduire le taux de croissance du nombre de consommateurs humains…

World Happiness Report

The Hygge ladder

I think it would be more informative to ask people:

  1. whether they or their loved ones have any (a) mild, (b) moderate, or (c) grave illnesses
  2. whether they or their loved ones do not have enough to eat for the foreseeable future
  3. whether they or their loved ones do not have a place to live for the foreseeable future
  4. whether they  or their loved ones are not free, or in danger of harm

If their reply to 1-4 is no, then they should forget the 10-point Hygge ladder and count themselves as happy (and consider helping those sentient beings whose reply to 1-4 is not no).

What Matters

she is my inner pig, 

the one I consult 

to ask 

whether whatever happens to be troubling me 

at the time

(a paper rejected, a grant application denied, a personal disappointment)


She has just arrived at Fearman’s 

at the end of days of transport,

her first glimpse of light, 

thirsty, frightened, 

after the brief eternity

of her 6-month lifetime, 


in the misery and horror 

of those bolted, shuttered, 

cramped, suffocating,


cylindroid tubes we keep noticing 

in what we had imagined

was an innocent pastoral countryside. 

Now she is 45 minutes 

before being brutally thrust into the CO2 chamber, 

and then the foul sabre

that will sever her larynx,

and the drop

into the scalding water

to disinfect her sullied flesh,

to make it worthy

of our plates and palates.

Her answer is always the same.

No, it does not matter.

None of that matters.

Save me.

My Inner Pig

Animal Cruelty in Retail Supply Chains in UK

1. How common is animal cruelty in supply chains within retail? 

The cruelty and suffering endemic to the entire animal supply chain — from breeding, to rearing, to transport to slaughter— is unimaginable to the consumer. It is now being documented worldwide, including in the UK. Inasmuch as the UK supermarkets have direct control or indirect influence on the elements of this chain, it is indeed a problem within retail.

2. To what extent is this true within the UK retail sector, especially with supermarkets and grocers?

By the time the animal product reaches the grocer or supermarket, most of the cruelty and suffering has come to an end, because the animals are dead. But, as noted, inasmuch as the UK supermarkets have direct control or indirect influence on the elements of this chain, it is indeed a problem within retail. In addition, any live animals, such as fish and lobsters sold in supermarkets are still suffering. So are those animals sold in live markets, such as chickens and rabbits.

3. Do you think activist groups are too harsh on retailers or are the attacks justified?

The cruelty and suffering that goes into animal products is enormous, and consumers have no idea of how terrible it is. It is concealed from consumers by the animal production industry, and that is what activists are trying to expose. Since consumers only come into contact with the product at the end of the animal supply chain (the supermarket and grocery) that is the only place activists can bring it to consumers’ attention. This is not done because the supermarket itself is the main locus of the cruelty and suffering, but the cruelty and suffering throughout the chain is all done for the sake of the retail end-product. Hence, again, i inasmuch as the UK supermarkets have direct control or indirect influence on the elements of this chain, it is indeed a problem within retail, and if the measures described below are not adopted, the activists actions against the supermarkets are both justified and essential.

4. What measures can retailers take to ensure animal cruelty doesn’t occur in its supply chains?

First of all, supermarkets should exert all control they possess on the supply chain, and take responsibility for alle evidence of the cruelty and suffering in all four stages of the animal supply chain of which they ae the endpoint. Apart from providing as much as possible by way of plant-based alternatives, retailers can help a great deal by prominently displaying the images of the cruelty and suffering that has gone into the retail product. If retailers did that, honestly and openly, activists would have no need to demonstrate at the retail outlets and could concentrate on gathering the evidence in the supply chain, and doing their protests at the four main points in the supply chain where the cruelty and suffering occur: breeding, rearing, transport and slaughter

5. Is it retailers responsibility to check the practices in their supply chains? If yes/no please explain why.

Yes, and the activists will undoubtedly be very willing to provide the evidence to document it. The reason is to inform the consumer of what has gone into the animal product they are buying. Then the consumer can choose. If this full disclosure is not provided voluntarily by the retailers then not only does the unimaginable cruelty and suffering continue unchecked, unknown to the consumer, but it leaves activists with no choice but to provide the evidence themselves, at the  point of purchase.

6. Do you think both Brexit and the pandemic have had an affect on how supply chains in retail are currently running?

It is too early to say. The EU is trying to take legislative steps against the cruelty and suffering, and so is the UK, a populace historically concerned about animal suffering. The pandemic has helped alert the populace to the growing danger of zoonotic (animal-borne or mediated) illnesses to human health — not only from “wet” markets, but, even moreso, from intensive farming conditions that are proving to be generators and incubators of zoonoses (Jones et al. 2013; Wiebers & Feigin 2020; Meurens et al. 2021).

7. Do you think sanctions should be put in place for those retailers found to be facilitating animal cruelty?

There should certainly be sanctions for cruelty to live animals at the retail point to the animal supply chain (involving live chickens, rabbits, fish, lobsters, etc.) but just as important is prominently displaying the images of the cruelty and suffering that has gone into the retail product and the provision of non-animal alternatives. Inasmuch as the UK supermarkets have direct control or indirect influence on the elements of this chain, sanctions should be put in place on the entire supply chain, including the supermarkets.

Jones, B. A., Grace, D., Kock, R., Alonso, S., Rushton, J., Said, M. Y., … & Pfeiffer, D. U. (2013). Zoonosis emergence linked to agricultural intensification and environmental change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(21), 8399-8404.

Wiebers, D. O., & Feigin, V. L. (2020). What the COVID-19 crisis is telling humanity. Animal Sentience 30(1)

Meurens, F., Dunoyer, C., Fourichon, C., Gerdts, V., Haddad, N., Kortekaas, J., … & Zhu, J. (2021). Animal board invited review: Risks of zoonotic disease emergence at the interface of wildlife and livestock systems. Animal, 15(6), 100241.