Brute Ethics





Animal Ethics Encyclopedia

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Packets of tiger bone glue    Packets of tiger glue made in China from tigers. USFWS.

People have used animals for glue since prehistoric times. Hunter-gatherers fixed arrow heads and feathers onto their arrow shafts with the gluey substance they extracted from animal tendons and sinews. Turning animals into glue developed from the 17th century into a big industry. Today the glue industry makes most animal glue from hide and bone, but also horns, hooves and connective tissue are used, collected from meat packing and tanning plants.

Animal glue has numerous uses we do not think about but are all around us. Book binding, paper sizing, sizing of yarn to add a shine and a longer life to cloth, buffing and polishing bicycle tyres, and making water-based paint for walls, are just a few of the applications for glue made from animals.

Compared with glue derived from plants or synthetic material, animal glue has the advantage of solubility in water. Solubility is invaluable when glued parts have to be dismantled at some time, such as when repairing furniture or musical instruments like violins, guitars and pianos. The craftsman loosens the glue with moisture or steam and then the furniture or instrument comes apart easily and without breaking.

Glue from old cattle hide is stronger than glue from slaughtered horse hide. Glue from the hide of younger horses and the skin of rabbits and sheep make weaker glues, advantageous for sticking together delicate objects, like fine art material. Glue from bones, hooves, tendons and sinews, although not as strong as hide glue, is excellent for other delicate bonding jobs.

Exotic animals are also turned into glue. Some people believe animals like tigers possess magic powers that are transferred in the glue to the objects they stick together. The trade in body parts of such animals is a serious threat to their species. In 1800 the tiger was 100,000 strong; in 2000 there were 5,000 left in the wild. The last tigers may perish for their parts.

The process of making animal glue involves washing the animal parts, crushing or slicing them, soaking them in a solution of lime to get rid of flesh and hair, boiling to draw out the gooey stuff then congealing and drying it. The result is a hard glue that is easy to break into usable chunks or grind into powder. When heated it becomes viscous to apply to surfaces and forms a resilient bond on cooling.

Vegetarians and vegans, especially, would find it unethical to use products made with animal glue. If they must use animal glue, one answer is to make it from discarded leather no one wants anymore. But some would see this as side-stepping the moral issue of turning animals into glue.

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The Golden Rule

A moral precept stating that you should treat others how you yourself would like to be treated. This simple rule can often resolve conflict. Diverse cultures celebrate it and major religions affirm it. In the Christian tradition it is well know by the phrase: do unto others as you would be done by.

Almost anyone can grasp and apply the Golden Rule without any special reasoning or understanding, which makes it an attractive maxim. You need to know or imagine what it is like to be the other person, ask whether you would be willing to be treated similarly, know or guess what result your action might have on that person, then act accordingly.

You can also apply the Golden Rule to communities. You could appeal to the majority to end discrimination against the minority; ask how the majority would feel if they were second class citizens (unemployed, living in run-down housing, recipients of poor health care and exposed to the whims of misfortune) then ask why they should tolerate it for others.

You can apply the Golden Rule in our relationship with animals. This is particularly easy to do with animals you find empathy with, such as the great apes and other mammals. Seeing a chimpanzee or lion in a cage prompts the question of whether you would like people to treat you that way.


You cannot be certain what someone wants or how they feel. It is even more difficult to fathom what animals feel, especially if they cannot readily indicate their needs. You would have to put yourself in their place, but empathy is fallible. So the Golden Rule is not a certain guide to identify the best action.

You can use the Golden Rule to justify doing morally wrong deeds by appealing to the supposed wishes of the other party. You might incarcerate animals (see zoos and experimentation) by assuming that what they or their species want is care, health or protection.

Multiple Safeguards
You could add clauses to the Golden Rule as safeguards against inappropriate use. But then the precept loses it simplicity and you get bogged down as the rules proliferate.

Third Parties
The Golden Rule does not tell you how to cope when third parties are involved. You might stop her shooting him, because putting yourself in his place you would want to live. But suppose he is about to derail an oncoming freight train packed with cattle and sheep. Then you would have to abandon the Golden Rule and look elsewhere for a moral principle, such as Utilitarianism - the best action benefits the majority.

Contrast with Ethical Egoism.

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Goldfish Bowl

A goldfish bowl is a symmetrical glass ornament with an interesting interior motion but many fishy problems.

One of the most common aquarium fish is the goldfish. The Chinese bred them from carp over a thousand years ago and kept them in large earthenware pots. But many people today stick them in glass bowls. Goldfish are reputed to live for decades, but 'bowled' goldfish, from water pollution, lack of oxygen and even boredom, are soon inert belly-up floaters.

Fish release liquid and solid waste into the water so the water quickly becomes deadly. The water will also get too warm. The warmer the water the less desolved oxygen it has for the fish to breath. The water in a bowl has a small surface area so not enough oxygen can dissolve into the water from the atmosphere. Life-support systems in bowls are difficult to maintain, so fish are poisoned and suffocated.

Fish in a bare bowl cannot conceal themselves from staring eyes outside the bowl or shelter from other fish within it. They cannot satisfy their natural instinct to search for food or swim into crevices and explore. Monotony extends in every direction. All their lives they can only swim round and round.

Goldfish are often sold as juveniles but can grow quite large. And being social animals they should not be kept alone. All goldfish need lots of water plants to search and hid in and to aerate the water, plus a gravel substratum for rooting about. A minimum starting point for very small goldfish is a rectangular tank of at least 60 x 30 x 30 cm (24 x 12 x 12 inches). For about five goldfish measuring up to 20 cm (eight inches) long try a minimum of 100 x 50 x 50 cms (40 x 20 x 20 inches). Better still, and certainly for more and bigger goldfish, a deep garden pond is roomy.

A goldfish cannot hold up a placard telling you what he demands. We have to be conscientious, observant and knowledgeable about their needs. Some people simply want to buy a pretty ornamental gift and not all fishstore staff are conscientious and well-informed. So every year endless bowled goldfish are sold and innumerable goldfish die.

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Great Ape Project

A scheme to give the great apes, humanity's closest living relatives, the same basic rights as humans. The great apes are bonobo (Pan paniscus), chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus) and gorilla (Gorilla gorilla). A fifth great ape, the human (Homo sapiens), already enjoys many rights and is not included in the Great Ape Project.

Humans often kill the great apes, destroy their social relationships, imprison them for life and expose captive individuals to physical and mental depravation and harm (for instance see Animal Experimentation). The Great Ape Project demands our reassessment of their moral and legal status. Three basic rights proposed for the great apes are the right to life, protection of individual liberty and prohibition of torture. The scheme is an example of tackling speciesism internationally.

The non-human great apes possess many attributes we value as morally important for ourselves. Like us, the great apes appear self-aware, use language, think, have diverse emotions and get board. Like us they form life-long relationships, build emotional bonds, grieve when bonds are broken and suffer anxiety and mental illness. Like us they anticipate the near future and make plans, intentionally mislead others (cheating is an important human trait) and remember individuals absent for years. And they possess intellectual abilities comparable at least to young human children.

The Great Ape Project was set up in 1993 by eminent authorities from diverse fields and several nationalities (for instance Peter Singer). It is said that conferring the great apes with the same basic rights as humans would bring them within the community of equals (see Expanding the Circle), the category of persons, of non-property.


The great apes are our closest living relatives genetically. But as George Schaller, the American zoologist pointed out, humanity is closer to the social-living carnivores, predators like wolf, lion and African wild dog. Our closeness derives from our shared ecological adaptations. Social-living carnivores and humans have evolved to live in much the same ecological niche, as group hunting predators. For example, group members hunt together and also raise their offspring within the group. Therefore, if we give the great apes basic rights we should also give them to the social carnivores. The case for giving animals rights then extends further than the great apes.

See Great Apes Survival Project

Web site: Great Ape Project

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Great Apes Survival Project

The Great Apes Survival Project is a UNEP and UNESCO program to prevent the imminent extinction of the great apes, bonobo chimpanzee, orang-utan and gorilla, humanity's closest living relatives.

The Great Apes Survival Project (not to be confused with the Great Ape Project) was launched in May 2001, following the success of slowing the rapid decline of black rhinoceros populations. Many leading great ape research and conservation organisations are cooperating in the project to take its message to the topmost levels of governments.

Great ape populations are disappearing because of habitat destruction and the commercial bushmeat trade. Small numbers and fragmented habitat make long-term survival of the non-human great apes doubtful.

UNEP is the United Nations Environment Programme, established in 1972 to promote the wise use and sustainable development of nature. UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, set up in 1945 to further these activities worldwide.

© 2004 Roger Panaman All rights reserved