Brute Ethics





Animal Ethics Encyclopedia

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Bearskin Hats

Guardsmen in bearskins  Every year the British army needs 65 bears to turn into ceremonial hats. The hats, nearly half a metre (18 ins) tall and a kilogram (2 lbs) in weight, are made from bear fur and each hat requires the death of one or two black bears (Ursus americanus).

Bearskins, popularly but less correectly called busbies, are worn with distinctive red tunics by 2,500 guardsmen of the Irish, Welsh, Scots, Coldstream and Grenadier regiments. The guards wear their bearskins on duty at Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, and at the changing of the guard, all favourites with sight-seers.

Napoleon's Imperial Guard wore the bearskin, making the Guardsmen appear tall and intimidating. The British Guards adopted the head-dress in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo, the battle marking the final downfall of Napoleon. The Guards seized the bearskins straight off the heads of the beaten French.

The bears are shot in Canada.

For & Against: argue your case

Artificial Fur
  • Claim: There is no reason why the army cannot make bearskins from synthetic material.

  • Claim: After 20 years of searching for a replacement the attempt has so far failed. 'Bearskins' made from Nylon and dyed sheepskin turn out the wrong colour, distort in the rain, blow askew in the wind or attract static electricity.

  • Culling
  • Claim: Bears are not killed especially to make into hats. The pelage is a by-product of culls. Culls are called for because the bears are a danger to wildlife.

  • Claim: Culling is not a substitute for humane bear management. Profiting from culling helps perpetuate culling and should be stopped.

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Best, Steven (1955 - )

Steven Best's critics brand him as an American militant animal rights activist on the extreme animal rights fringe and a spokesman for terrorists. More sympathetic people describe him as an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Texas, El Paso, and a scholarly, although outspoken, voice on animal rights.

After leaving school Best drove trucks and worked in factories for some years. Then after studying film and theatre he took degrees in philosophy and joined the staff at Texas University. In 2002 his colleagues recognised his talents by appointing him to the chair of the philosophy department. But after three years of ups and downs they unseated him after a vote of no confidence. Best claims his reverse was owing to his animal rights activism, an assertion his colleagues reject.

The road to animal liberation began for Best one day in his mid-twenties when a revelation hit him while eating a burger at a fast food restaurant. He made the connection between what he was eating and animals and converted to veganism. Revelation struck again a few years later on reading Peter Singer's book Animal Liberation. Already a human rights activist, Best now became an animal rights activist. By working for animals, he says, he is also working for humans.

Best is a controversial figure partly because of his involvement with the British originated Animal Liberation Front (ALF). ALF is often denounced as a terrorist group by the news media and government bodies (such as the FBI and the US Department of Homeland Security) for its hundreds of actions to rescue animals and destroy the property of companies that harm animals. So when Best co-founded the North American Animal Liberation Press Office in 2004 he was a marked man. As for his academic career, he accepts that in a conservative, conformist academic world his open support for ALF will retard his prospects but be insists that academics must speak out and that it is time to show support for ALF.

Best says he supports ALF because their methods of fighting the real terrorists - the people who violate and kill animals - are effective and fair. Best professes he is not an ALF activist and that his ALF press office simply gives information on ALF activities. But he believes that educating the public and legislating for animal friendly laws cannot alone by themselves succeed in abolishing animal abuse. Animal activists, he says must attack the animal abusers directly and for justification cites the 18th/19th century human slavery abolitionists' attacks on slave traders.

So Best was surprised one day in 2005 while arranging a trip to Britain to address an animal rights meeting to mark the effective campaign of shutting down a farm that had been breeding guinea pigs for animal experimentation. The Home Office notified Best that he was banned from entering the country. On the strength of newspaper reports, the Secretary of State had listed Best as an advocate of violence and terrorism and therefore a threat to 'public order'. The ban was part of the British government's action to control extremists and terrorists as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the US. After considering an appeal by Best, however, the Home Office rescinded and let him in - but still banned his fellow animal activist colleagues from entering Britain. To Best's knowledge this was the first time anyone from the US had been prevented from entering another country for advocating animal rights.

Steven Best is a philosophy professor who lives with his nine rescued cats. But his objective is revolutionary politics to annihilate social injustice and humanity's lethal control over animals and nature that, he says, are intrinsic to capitalism and civilization. He wants to wake up people to action and motivate them to transform the world into a true democratic, libertarian and socialist society.

Best says:
I always prefer a conversation to a war, but we are in a battlefield not at a bargaining table.

The Epiphanies of Dr Steven Best, Claudette Vaughn of Vegan Voice, 2004.
But critics say:
What makes Best a caricature rather than a serious dissident is not his intellectual vapidity, colossal as it may be, but his unwillingness to distinguish between the life of a human and that of a rodent.

The Daily Iowan, Staff Editorial, January 2005. Accessed online February 2007.
Best's animal liberation books are: Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals, (editor with Anthony J Nocella), 2004; Animal Rights and Moral Progress: the Struggle for Human Evolution, 2006; Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of Mother Earth, (editor with Anthony J Nocella), 2006; and Animal Rights and Moral Progress: the Struggle for Human Evolution, (forthcoming).

Sources include interviews with Steven Best: Igniting A Revolution: Voices In Defense Of Mother Earth, Claudette Vaughan, Abolitionist Online, 2005. The Epiphanies of Dr Steven Best, Claudette Vaughn of Vegan Voice, 2004. All accessed online February 2007.

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Humans having sex with animals. See Zoophilia.

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Behaviourism is a method of doing psychology, the study of mind and behaviour. Behaviourism was a major influence in science, particularly when thinking about the nature of animals. It flourished especially from the 1920's to the 1960's and its ghost still influences the attitude of scientists, and through them the attitude of the public, about the nature of animals.

Behaviourism made invaluable contributions to the understanding of behaviour. But its dogmatic tenets had a dramatic deadening effect on behavioural science and on the budding research of animal minds in the 20th century. Serious scientists were so influenced by behaviourism that they rejected studying the thoughts and feelings of animals. Science abandoned its research into animal minds for most of the century. Furthermore, psychology so relied on laboratory based research - on pigeons, rats and just a few other species - that it almost completely neglected the countless animal species living in their natural environment.

The study of animal minds was rekindled only in the closing years of the 20th century by a few independent minded scientists. Only now is science again beginning to explore in depth the mental life of animals. Yet even today many scientists still find it hard to accept that animal minds are a province for research.

Behaviourists saw the purpose of psychology as predicting and controlling behaviour, holding out the prospect that society could be changed for the better by changing people's behaviour. To achieve this, according to behaviourism, the proper study of psychology had to be confined to gathering facts about what can be observed and measured. The study of invisible, inaccessible and apparently unmeasurable entities, like minds (cognition, consciousness, subjective thoughts, emotions, personality, and so on), had to be ignored as having no place in serious science.

Behaviourism originated in the US and its leading exponent was American psychologist John B Watson (1878 - 1958). Watson disparaged as unimportant alternative approaches for understanding behaviour. He dismissed the role of heredity for determining the potential of behaviour, disagreed with Freud's abstract views of the psyche, and maintained that exploring the mind by examining your own subjective thoughts and feelings, up to then in vogue, was worthless. Watson believed animals and humans are complex machines that learn to respond to new experiences and believed that all behaviour is explicable in terms of learned responses.

Another leading behaviourist was American psychologist Burrhus Frederic Skinner (1904 - 1990). Skinner is famous for likening animals and people to black boxes. Animals and people are like black boxes, he maintained, in that what ever happens inside them, like emotions and mental processes, is of no significance. Indeed, there is no point even looking inside a black box because you will not see anything (they are black - unfathomable). Instead, in order to understand or manipulate an animal or human, you need to know what happens on the outside, ie the environmental stimuli a subject responds to, plus the subject's objective responses.

Behaviourists celebrate Skinner for developing the 'Skinner box', a small chamber for studying and shaping the process of learning. The classic animals studied in Skinner boxes are rats and pigeons (although the chamber was adapted for other animals including primates and humans). An animal in the chamber has to push a lever to get a reward, like a pellet of food, for choosing the correct response to a stimulus, and thus learns a new behaviour. The control of the chamber and all responses by a subject are automatically controlled and recorded, so the experimenter does not even need to be present to see what is happening. Thus the study of animals in psychology became remote and detached from life.

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Bentham, Jeremy (1748 - 1832)

 English professor of law at Oxford University and a leading nineteenth century philosopher. Member of a circle called the Philosophical Radicals who influenced social and political change in England. Worked out the principle of Utilitarianism, that your action is right if it increases the happiness, pleasure and good of the greatest number of people. Bentham is much quoted in animal rights and welfare for stating:
"The question is not can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But can they suffer?" (J Bentham: An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. 1789, xvii 311.)
He is saying the capacity for suffering and not any other criterion is the essential characteristic entitling an animal to equal consideration.

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Biomedical Research

See Animal Experimentation.

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Brain, Milestones Of Understanding

Human brain The brain is the chief mediator of thoughts, feelings and behaviour in animals and humans. Therefore the brain is the physical seat of ethics and we cannot understand our relationship to animals until we know what is going on in their brains and can compare them with our own.

Discovering how the brain works began slowly and only recently have we begun to grasp its workings. Scientists discovered how it functions only last century. It sends electrical impulses along fibres with chemical transmission between fibres.

When reading any history of milestone of discovery about the brain (of which only a few are recorded here) bear in mind the pain and suffering endured by vivisected animals - as well as by people until human vivisection was banned - and especially before pain killers were discovered in the 19th century and developed.

Circa 4,000 BC
The first known record about the brain, or at least about an influence on the brain, is a description about the feeling of well-being after swallowing parts of the poppy plant. Someone wrote it in cuneiform on tablets in Sumeria in the Middle East. The opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, was grown from early times as a source of opium and is now cultivated around the world for its mind-bending euphoric influence.

2500 BC
First written account of the brain, in ancient Egyptian on papyrus. An anonymous physician composed it who describes in a rational, non-mystical, way the anatomy of the brain, cases of injury to it, resultant changes to other parts of the body, and treatment of these injuries. The document is called the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus after the American Egyptologist who discovered it in Luxor, Egypt, in 1862. Smith's papyrus itself dates from the 17th century BC and is a copy of an earlier manuscript from about 2500 BC.

450 BC
Alcmaeon, a physician and philosopher living in the foot of Italy, is one of the first people to base his ideas on animal vivisection. He concluded from his dissection work that the brain is the main organ of thinking and feeling (hitherto these jobs had been assigned to the heart), an idea which Plato accepted.

300 BC
Herophilus and Erasistratus, of Alexandria, wrote a detailed account of the anatomy of the brain. They vivisected criminals and were the first to compare dissections of humans with animals. Herophilus discovered the nervous system and distinguish sensory and motor neurones. The study of anatomy stopped after they died, perhaps because people thought the dissection of humans debased the dead.

Post Roman Era to 10th Century
At the end of the Roman Empire the Church banned human dissection and the study of anatomy. Discoveries about the brain largely cease until at least the 10th century and essentially for a number of centuries more.

Andreas Vesalius (1514 - 1564), a Fleming, published an early text book on neuroscience, De Humani Corporis Fabrica (On the Workings of the Human Body). One of his discoveries is that animal brains have the same ventricles (certain cavities) as humans. For centuries people had assumed these ventricles were the base of mentality. Vesalius reasoned that since animals have no soul the ventricles cannot be involved in 'higher' functions, like memory and emotion. Vesalius dissected away entire live animals as well as dead humans and is looked upon as the founder of modern anatomy. His illustrations are still prized today.

Thomas Willis (1621 - 1675), a professor at Oxford University, published the first monograph, Cerebri Anatome, on the structure and function of the brain and central nervous system. According to Willis, thought is a product of the cerebral hemispheres and other parts of the brain control movement, like eating and walking.

Luigi Galvani (1737 - 1798) was a surgeon and a physiologist at the University of Bologna. Following his study of twitching in legs detached from dead frogs, he proposed that electricity flows through nerves to make muscles contract. He claimed nerves were not pipes or channels, as contemporaries thought, but were electrical conductors. This marks the beginning of our understanding of electricity in the nervous system.

Phineas Gage (d 1860) was a railway worker in Vermont, USA. He survived an iron bar piercing right through his head in the front of his brain after an explosion at work. The bar was 25 mm wide, over a metre long and weighed 6 kg (1 inch x 3+ feet x 13 lbs). Subsequently he suffered severe personality changes and this suggested personality is influenced in the front of the brain.

Richard Caton (1842 - 1926), a British physician, published the results of his discovery of electrical activity in the brain after exposing the brains of animals and exploring them.

Santiago Ramon y Cajal (1852 - 1934), a Spaniard, applied a method to show the existence of brain cells. He was the first to isolate nerve cells and their connections on the surface of the brain and showed they are the basic units of the nervous system. For his research he won the Nobel Prize.

Following on from the findings of Richard Caton in 1875 (above), the first electrical signals from a human brain were transcribed and recorded by Hans Berger (1873 - 1941), a German psychiatrist. He found some signals were associated with mental concentration and others with sleep. Berger coined the name electroencephalograph, or EEG, for the apparatus which picks up, amplifies and records electrical signals from the brain.

John Carew Eccles (1903 - 1997), an Australian physiologist, and co-workers shared the Nobel Prize for showing how an electric impulse can travel along a nerve fibre. An electric impulse in a neurone stimulates the release of a substance (a neurotransmitter) into a tiny gap between it and neighbouring neurones, thus transmitting electrical impulses through the brain. Release of a different substance into the gap inhibits transmission between neurones.

Julius Axelrod (1915 - 1998), American biochemist, shared a Nobel Prize with British and Swedish co-workers for discoveries about the storage, release, and inactivation of substances (neurotransmitters) which carry a signal from one neurone to the next. Their work was substantial for understanding the transmission of signals in the nervous system between neurones and between neurones and organs, like skin and muscles.

1970's Onwards
Now we are able to see inside the living working brain. CAT (Computerised Axial Tomography) takes x-ray images of different layers of the brain. MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) employs radio waves and powerful magnets to show the brain in action when the subject does something. PET (Positron Emission Tomography) shows up areas of the brain receiving more blood, as when the brain performs certain functions. Computers convert electrical impulses from these tools into pictures for inspection and interpretation.

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Paint brushes Most people have heard of fur coats, but have you heard about brush fur? Fur brushes are used in the fine arts and cosmetics industries by artists and beauticians.

People turn killed wild and farmed animals into brushes. Is this necessary? Many people would say that a good artist can paint with just about anything and that beauty should be cruelty-free.

The Forgotten Fur

The animal that artists prize most for making the best - and most expensive - paint brush is the Siberian weasel (Mustela sibirica). The weasel lives in Siberia, China and other parts of Asia. The fur trade commonly calls the weasel a kolinsky. A kolinsky fur brush has unequalled springiness, responsiveness and long life. It is the pre-eminent art brush, allowing an artist extremely fine application control.

Siberian weasels wear russet coloured fur, live throughout the taiga's forested river valleys and swim in its lakes. They are about as long as two A4 pages are wide (40 cm or 16 ins) - plus a long bushy tail. They eat rabbits, rodents, insects and fruit and can live up to six years, but do not usually survive more than two years in the wild. They are cousins of the wolverine, badger, mink, sable and stoat.


Trappers have caught Siberian weasels for the fur industry since the 16th century and the animals are much sort after by the trade. The weasels must live in the freezing Siberian climate for their fur to grow to the right length and thickness required by the fur trade; fur from farmed animals in warmer climates is inferior. Trappers set out lines of leghold traps or snares all around and by morning many weasels are frozen dead.


Brushes are made by hand. A fur dealer receives the pelts and tails, cleans, cuts and grads the fur and sends bundles to the brush manufacturer. The brushmaker carefully sorts the hairs, picks out and discards poor individual hairs, and packs the right quantity into a ferrule, the small metal cylinder of a brush, ready for the stick to be added. A big manufacturer of fine art material can produce 30,000 brushes a week.

Other Brush Animals

The type of hair that brushes are made from in the cosmetics trade is never printed on brush handles, so it is difficult to know what a brush is made of just by looking at it.

Things are slightly easier in the arts world as brushes often bear labels painted on their handles. However, in the arts world not all brushes labelled kolinsky, or a variation of the name, are necessarily Siberian weasel; a brush may hold fur from related animals, for instance sable, marten or mink, and may or may not have some kolinsky fur mixed in.

Another animal-in-a-brush is sable, the next best fur to kolinsky and sometimes confused with it. Brushes labelled sable may comes from a sable or from a related animal, like marten or mink. These animals are trapped in the wild like the Siberian weasel or grown on fur farms.

Other animals turned into brushes are as diverse as mongoose, hog and goat. Brushes with the name sabeline are nothing to do with sables but are made from cattle hair. So-called camel brushes do not come from camels but from ox, pony, squirrel, sheep or some other creature.

Synthetic Brushes

Bushes made from synthetic fibres, such as nylon or polyester, form a large and growing market. Brushes with synthetic fibres are much less expensive than fur brushes, but animal hair may be mixed in with some of them. To confuse matters, some synthetic brushes are labelled with animal or animal-like names, for instance White Sable, Golden Sable and Erminette.

So do good artists need animals to paint with? Must beauty be based on dead animals? People who frown on wearing fur seldom check their brushes.

To test for real or synthetic fur see Fur Test.

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Bushmeat Bushmeat is the meat of wild animals hunted and killed for food and trade.

Indigenous peoples have eaten wild animals for ages. However, a commercial trade has developed and opportunists make big profits in illegal bushmeat trading. Now animals are hunted in ways that threaten the survival of their populations: from elephants, crocodiles, guinea fowl, porcupines, monkeys to great apes. The killing for bushmeat of great apes is an outstanding threat to wild ape survival in Africa (bonobo, chimpanzee and gorilla) and south-east Asia (orang-utan). Apes are shot or snared and their infants are orphaned when their mothers are killed.

Bushmeat is especially an issue in Africa. An estimated one to five million tonnes of wild animals are taken annually as bushmeat from the Congo basin alone in West Africa. The commercial bushmeat trade can be a major economic factor in local economies and in west Africa it is a multi-million dollar industry.

The bushmeat trade is emotive and pictures of dead animals in bushmeat markets can be disturbing to Western eyes. Some people assert that Western organisations focus mainly on the unfavourable side of the bushmeat trade to discredit it in favour of animals and their conservation. They argue that the trade in bushmeat has several positive benefits for local economies and the poverty stricken. They claim that the bushmeat trade for people is:

  • A source of protein.

  • A means of diversifying income.

  • Minimal investment of time and money.

  • High earnings for occasional labour.

  • Work that fits into the agricultural cycle.

  • An easily transportable product where transport is difficult.

  • Advocates for bushmeat say impoverished young men in bushmeat regions of Africa go hunting for bushmeat to save money and set up in a trade. They claim that bushmeat is an opportunity for young men to advance up the prosperity and social ladder, and if bushmeat hunting is denied them then they remain in poverty and may turn into a social problem.

    However, conservationists say species may go extinct because of over-hunting, the viability of forests will be disrupted, and then the livelihood and quality of life of people across the region will be in jeopardy. They say the apparent advantages from commercialised bushmeat can be gained in other less destructive ways. While some conservationists argue for an outright ban on commercial bushmeat, other conservationists go for management of bushmeat as a sustainable resource for local people.

    A problem that receives little if any mention in the economics versus conservation debate is the disruptive consequence that sustained high rates of slaughter have on the lives of individual surviving animals. Social structures take a beating. Populations are in constant flux as animals are killed and survivors have to reorganise themselves. Instead of well marked out territories, territorial boundaries are constantly shifting as individuals who hold territories are all the time being killed for bushmeat. Similarly, youngsters who live in family groups have suddenly to fend for themselves or die when their parents are killed and parents are bereft when their family is wiped out.

    © 2004 Roger Panaman All rights reserved