Brute Ethics





Animal Ethics Encyclopedia

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Naturalistic Fallacy

Appealing to facts to make value judgements. Facts are facts, value judgements are value judgements, and you cannot always argue from one to the other.

  • "Among all animals, humans excel at reasoning (fact); thus, humans are especially important (value judgement)."

  • You cannot argue that humans excel at reasoning and therefore are especially important. Being good at reasoning does not mean humans are more important than other animals. The fact has no bearing on the value judgement.

  • "People have always eaten animals (fact); therefore, you should not be vegetarians (value judgement)."

    That our ancestors ate animals does not mean we cannot exercise a moral choice on whether or not we eat animals.

  • "According to natural selection, well adapted species survive and those not well adapted go extinct (fact); therefore we should not try to conserve species because only the best species will then survive. (value judgement)"

    Species go extinct (fact) but it does not mean we should ignore them (value judgement), especially if we are responsible for driving them to extinction in the first place.

    If you argue from fact to value judgement you will be committing the naturalistic fallacy. The fallacy is often encapsulated by saying you cannot derive ought from is. That is, you cannot say what you think should be from what actually exists.


  • You cannot argue from facts to value judgements; nevertheless, you often have to weigh up facts to make a value judgement. The death penalty is wrong (value judgement) because innocent people have been executed (fact) and the penalty does not prevent murder happening (fact).

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    Natural Selection

    A theory explaining how species originate. It replaces the idea that each species is specifically created by God and shows that humanity evolves in the same way as other species.

    See Darwin, Charles.

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Newkirk, Ingrid (1949 - )

Animal rights activist, sometimes militant - arrested over 20 times, and co-founder and president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said to be the world's largest and most prominent animal rights organisation.

Born in Britain, Newkirk was schooled and brought up in India an only child and insatiable animal eater; by age 19 owned her own fur coat (squirrel). Her adult life has been spent in the eastern United States where she became aware of animal suffering after taking some cats to a shelter thinking they would be cared for. They were killed instead. A career change led her to become a deputy sheriff handling cases of animal cruelty. After sliding towards vegetarianism for some years she finally committed herself one day when, with a pork chop scheduled for supper, she saved a gaunt starving pig, the only survivor of animals abandoned at a farm. But Newkirk is no namby-pamby; she has also been a poundmaster, which meant she had to kill hundreds of stray animals.

One day she met Alex Pacheco, a volunteer at the animal shelter where Newkirk was working. Pacheco was a university student and already an established animal rights activist. He gave her a copy of Peter Singer's book Animal Liberation. Newkirk's work with animals and Singer's book coalesced and she and Pacheco founded PETA in 1980 working from her then home in suburban Maryland. Dedicated to establishing and defending animal rights, their goal was to influence as many people they could about animal suffering. That is still PETA's goal today except their audience has grown considerably and PETA is based in Norfolk, Virginia, has over a million members, hundreds of staff, and affiliates abroad.

While a university student Pacheco took a voluntary job at the Institute for Biological Research, Silver Spring, Maryland. He witnessed and reported abuses he saw there of primates that contravened animal cruelty laws. Subsequent litigation against the laboratory generated large amounts of publicity and a change in animal welfare law. Pacheco and Newkirk dedicated themselves to PETA for many years. Eventually, however Pacheco left PETA to explore new areas of animal rights leaving PETA and the personality of Newkirk to become synonymous.

As president of PETA Newkirk speaks internationally on animal rights issues. She believes that animals have intrinsic value, that they are sentient and need equal consideration of interests with humans, and compares humanity's treatment of animals with the Holocaust.

Newkirk is a board member or supporter of a number of animal rights organisations, such as EarthSave International and United Poultry Concerns. She also openly supports the Animal Liberation Front, often branded by detractors and in the news media as a 'terrorist' group. Among other things, Newkirk has assisted in the legal defence of ALF activists, which has brought PETA to the attention of the FBI.

PETA focuses on a number of areas but primarily on factory farms, laboratory animals, animals in the clothing trade and animals in the entertainment industry, because, as Newkirk says, these areas have the greatest numbers of animals who suffer the most for the longest time.

Newkirk's method is to outrage and repel people. She says PETA is the biggest animal rights group because it succeeds in getting attention by doing outrageous things. As an outrage directed to herself, and to remind us of what humanity is doing to animals, she directed in her will for some of her skin to be barbecued and eaten, other parts of her skin to be made into leather goods, and her feet should be scooped out and turned into umbrella stands.

Critics of Newkirk claim she made PETA a lean radical abolitionist group but let it degenerate into welfare group. Newkirk responds by saying that PETA is abolitionist but on the way to abolition if you can easy the suffering of animals then you should not turn your back on them. Newkirk says:
"The opportunities for activism are all there and I believe every single part is vital, because all the spokes in the wheel are needed in order for the wheel to go around." Ingrid Newkirk interviewed by Catherine Clyne, Satya, 2000.
Newkirk has written Kids Can Save the Animals: 101 easy things to do (1991); You Can Save the Animals: 251 simple ways to stop thoughtless cruelty (1999); 250 Things You Can Do to Make Your Cat Adore You (1998), the first animal rights cat-care book; Free the Animals: the story of the animal liberation front (2000); Making Kind Choices: everyday ways to enhance your life through earth and animal friendly living (2005).

Sources include interviews with Ingrid Newkirk: PETA at 20 Years & Activism and Controversy, Catherine Clyne, Satya 2000. Ingrid Newkirk - taking on the critics, Animal Liberation NSW, 2001 (originally for Vegan Voice). We're stunt queens. We have to be. Gary Younge, Guardian, 24 February 2006. All accessed online January 2007.

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Number Fallacy

Some animals are plentiful, like kangaroos, pigeons and foxes. The number fallacy says because there are lots of them it is all right to kill them.

This mistaken belief is especially entrenched among conservationists and hunters. Fox hunters say it is all right to kill foxes because they grow like weeds (Table 2, Fox Hunting With Hounds). No mention is made of the suffering inflicted on individual foxes or of the morality of cutting short a potentially long life span. Wild foxes can live for seven plus years but few live beyond 18 months of age where humans constantly kill them, as in Britain.

Even vast numbers of animals are not an infallible guide for sport killing and conservation culling. The bison (Bison bison) in North America covered the plains in their millions and the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) flew overhead literally in their billions. There were so many bison and pigeons they seemed without number and people killed and killed them. Belated thinking eventually saved the bison from extinction when down to the last few hundred individuals. The passenger pigeon went extinct. The last one died in an American zoo in 1914.

Also see Umwelt.

© 2004 Roger Panaman All rights reserved