Brute Ethics





Animal Ethics Encyclopedia

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 Terrorism is the systematic use by people of intimidation and violence, often against innocent people, to impel change in society. Terrorism enables small numbers of people to exert an influence on society out of proportion to their mass. A nation's security forces are feeble against a few dedicated extremists who strike anywhere and vanish to fight another day.

Terrorist organisations are small, typically with around a dozen to a few hundred individuals, occasionally a few thousand. Violent animal rights extremism has been growing in Britain and spreading abroad. Despite the press reportage they stimulate, British violent animal rights extremists are thought to total only 300 to 400 people and draw on less active support from 3,000 to 4,000 more.


In moral terms, the granting of rights to animals leads to the conclusion that direct action in their defence is not only permissible but also a moral duty, although whether this justifies some of the more extreme actions involving violence is an open question.

Robert Garner (1993): Animals, Politics And Morality. p239.


Terrorism is as old as history, but the expression terrorism originated in 18th century revolutionary France. The state ordered the arrest, torture and execution of thousands of citizens during the French revolution (1789), in the period known as the Reign of Terror, to murder political enemies and impose order on society. Robespierre (1753 - 1794), French lawyer and radical political leader, is quoted as saying, "Terror is nothing but justice, prompt, severe and inflexible." Robespierre personally ordered dozens of executions and fell prey to the terror himself when he was imprisoned and guillotined.

Terrorism is much used in modern times. During World War II the allies destroyed German and Japanese cities by bombing, deliberately killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. The Germans called the allied fliers 'terror bombers' but did not hesitate to do the same to other people.

Many people turned to terrorism after the Second World War when their nations sought independence from colonialism. Once independence was gained several erstwhile terrorists found themselves heroes and political leaders of their countries. Menachem Begin (1913 - 1992) lead the Irgun, a terrorist group fighting British rule in 1940's Palestine. One of the Irgun's acts was bombing the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the central British administrative offices, killing over 90 people. In 1977 Israel elected Begin as prime minister. Ironically, Israel then had to deal with Yasir Arafat (1929 - 2004), himself a one-time terrorist, fighting Israel for Palestinian independence, who subsequently became president of the Palestinian Authority and a Nobel Prize winner for peace.

So terrorists do not necessarily remain contemptible shadowy figures, even though terrorism is rejected with horror and aversion by most people most of the time. A well known phrase is 'someone's terrorist is someone else's freedom-fighter', that is, somebody is a terrorist or not depending on where your political sympathies lie. You can always justify your terrorist inclination by appealing to Utilitarianism - better a few die for the majority if necessary - or Duty - you must do what your duty says irrespective of the consequences.

Defining Terrorism

Terrorism causes widespread public anxiety because anyone may be injured or killed. But for Governments to fight terrorism effectively they first need to know what they are fighting. Exactly what terrorism is, however, and who is and who is not a terrorist, have always eluded clear definition. Both sides in a dispute often convincingly employ words like terrorism and terrorist to bring discredit on the opposing side.

So you must be careful when politicians and national bodies define terrorism. Who are these people and national bodies, what are their political interests and how exactly do they propose to tackle terrorism? If you are not careful they may fool and manipulate you into furthering their dubious political aims. You may find yourself sanctioning laws and actions that buttress their powers but conflict with democratic society and work against your personal liberty.

Animal Extremists & Terrorism

Politicians, the news media, and people with vested interests in animals sometimes accuse animal rights extremists of terrorism. Violent animal rights extremism is largely confined to Europe and North America but began in Britain in the mid-1970's where extremists have used the following methods to intimidate people, such as livestock exporters, fur traders, animal breeders, and animal laboratory workers:

  • Physical assault.

  • Bomb hoaxes.

  • Wrecking laboratory property.

  • Fire bombing laboratories and vehicles.

  • Setting caged or confined animals free.

  • Posting letter bombs / booby traps.

  • Damaging or ruining private property.

  • Sending threatening letters and phone calls.

  • Publishing names and addresses on the web.

  • Demonstrating and jeering outside people's homes.

  • Disrupting domestic phone and email communication.

  • Reviling people as animal abusers to their neighbours.

  • Some of these activities, like arson, carry a jail sentence if convicted of them. And letter bombs and booby-traps can cause serious injury. However, although there have been narrow escapes, violent animal rights extremists have not intentionally killed anyone with such conduct. On the other hand some animal rights activists have been killed while on actions.

    Should we label violent animal rights extremists as terrorists? It makes sense to distinguish terrorist from violent extremist in order to maintain the right level of response to their acts. Terrorists, like the Irgun and today's Al Qaeda, do not hesitate to kill people deliberately. Al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four airliners and crashed three of them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon killing 3,000 innocent people in 2001. It would be an over reaction, but one often found in the news media, to lump violent animal rights extremists with terrorists.

    Does Animal Rights Extremism Work?

    No one can say with certainty whether direct action for any cause is efficacious. Discussing animal rights Richard Ryder sums it up: "Yet any historian knows that in some earlier reform movements little progress was made until illegal and sometimes violent acts occurred. Whether reforms would have been achieved without the direct action of the suffragists, for example, or whether they would have been achieved more slowly, are matters for conjecture." (In Peter Singer (ed), In Defense of Animals, 1985, 77 - 88.)

    Most people might agree that extreme action can sometimes have big effects. The Boston tea-party is an often cited case. Angered at having to pay taxes to the British crown without Parliamentary representation, Colonialists in 1773 Massachusetts flung the consignment of tea, on which tax had to be paid, off merchant ships into Boston harbour. Their act developed into the American War of Independence, changing American society forever, and led in 1776 to the world's first major declaration of human rights (see rights).

    One ingredient of the Boston tea-party that led to the American War of Independence was the publicity the action created. People delighted in reading about excessive and exceptional human behaviour - and the modern news media deluge us with it. Violence gets noticed. Quiet initiatives are seldom trumpeted. Whether publicity caused by animal rights extremism is good or bad, there is no doubt that it thrusts animal rights into the public conscience. Extreme direct action stirs up controversy, stimulates debate and keeps it alive; and when it comes to animal rights, that is good for animal rights.

    The flip side of extreme action is quietly and politely improving attitudes by education and argument, and by appealing to rationality, compassion and a sense of justice. This is slow work but effective in that it makes for a great and long-lasting change in people's attitudes.

    It is impossible to know the single best way to bring about a revolution in society. The most sensible means is probably to advance on a broad front, each of us doing the best he can in his own way.

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Theory Multiplicity

This Encyclopedia presents philosophical theories and concepts in basic form, as though they exist in no other version. But in fact every basic theory has a variety, sometimes a multiplicity, of versions as people put an original theory through a process of criticism and counter criticism so that several distinct interpretations develop from it. Take Consequence Ethics, the idea that a good moral act does not depend for doing it on your duty on your motive but depends only on its consequences. It has a number of variations, among which are:

  • Actual Consequentialism: an act is morally right depending on its actual consequences, rather than on its intended or likely consequences.

  • Maximising Consequentialism: an act is morally right depending on the best outcome of the act, not just on a satisfactory outcome or one that results in only a marginal improvement.

  • Universal Consequentialism: an act is morally right depending on the consequences for everyone, not just for a sub-set of recipients, like people being in a certain place at a certain time.

  • Hedonism: an act is morally right depending on the subsequent pleasure it brings, as opposed to other benefits it might deliver, like knowledge, freedom or long-life.

  • Therefore the basic theories and principles can be a jumping off point for further reflection.

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The ostensible worship of beings who have a mixture of animal and human form. From the Greek therion = wild beast, and anthropos = human.

Two well known mixed human-animal gods from ancient Egypt are Bastet (or Bast), a woman with a cat's head, and Anubis, the god of mummification, with a jackal's head. Therianthropes (or therians) believe they are in touch with the spirit of the animal they worship and can assume its mentality. Modern therians have assorted views, no primary doctrine and no generally recognised authority.

See Werewolves & Lycanthropy and Wolf Children for related subjects.

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Thinking Through Moral Issues

Our attitude influence our relationship with animals, but confused beliefs, inaccurate views and misconceptions fill our minds. The distinguished French writer Francois-Marie Arouet (1694 - 1778), popularly known as Voltaire, is credited with saying, "If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities." False beliefs pervade history. The Nazis worked to death, starved, shot and gassed millions of people in the Holocaust, believing they were sub-human and of no significance.

People have a disturbing tendency also to treat other species as worthless, only to use as they see fit. One of the most disturbing visions in human history is the spectre of the early vivisectors nailing live animals to dissection boards and slowly cutting them open to see how they worked - before the era of anaesthetics (before the late 19th century). The vivisectors conveniently believed that animals do not feel pain even if they behave as though they do. We still commit countless errors of belief today. An erroneous confidence on a global scale is that nature is a vast and endless resource we can never use up and that we have no responsibility to animal life and the biosphere (see Deep Ecology).

So what is the best attitude regarding animals? Surely it is always one that questions what we know, tries to understand what we do not know, examines all our beliefs and has a healthy scepticism about what we are told. How do we get the right attitude and how do we know it is right? Right attitude demands work. We must constantly question our beliefs, especially when we think we are right, and never be complacent.

How can we set about getting a good attitude for animals?

  • Recognize a Moral Problem
    Are you or other people doing something injurious or unjust to animals? Moral problems often arise when people do not realise the significance of their actions (for example mass extinction, fox hunting, meat consumption).

  • Get the Facts
    Get as many relevant and accurate facts as you can from different perspectives. Moral issues often generate conflict between people because people get their facts wrong or are biased. No one can know everything, but we can try to be as knowledgeable as possible.

  • Start Thinking
    Facts tell us only what is and not what we ought to do. Compare and contrast Consequence Ethics, Duty Ethics and Virtue Ethics (see Ethical Frameworks). How do they help you think about a particular animal issue? Are you a consequence ethicist, duty ethicist or a virtue ethicist? You do not have to be one or another; you can pick and mix as much as you want, when ever you want.

  • Keep an Open Mind
    If you are committed to a viewpoint about a moral issue bear in mind you may be mistaken. Someone said, "Don't die for your beliefs - they may be wrong". So keep thinking and change your mind when necessary. Some people spend a lifetime killing others or die themselves acting on wrong beliefs - a tragic and futile waste.

  • Evaluate
    You have made a decision on a moral issue and have acted on it. Has your action turned out well for all concerned? If you could do it again, what would you do differently? Is your attitude sound?

  • Three Moral Assertions

  • Moral questions have only one true answer!

  • Answers to moral questions are indisputably knowable!

  • Answers to moral questions do not conflict with one another!

  • Contemporary thinkers question these ancient assumptions. Some thinkers say that ethics embraces a range of often conflicting beliefs within and across cultures, that philosophical thinking affirms we are mortals with unreliable and limited knowledge and that if there is a single truth it might be that we shall never discover certainty. So do not be discouraged if you cannot find a single truth. We must be aware, be wary of people who claim a monopoly on truth, and endeavour to think clearly. It is often said that the most we can hope for is not to find right or wrong answers but to hit on increasingly better ones.

  • Also see Activism and Ethical Monism / Pluralism.

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Think Like an Animal

 Our use of language enables us to label ideas and think about them. A widely held belief is that animals have no language and therefore cannot think. But thoughts need not be based on human language. After all, how do people think who are completely deaf from birth and have never heard a spoken word? If you accept that thoughts can be based on a notion, image, intention, anticipation, insight or voiceless acknowledgement of a feeling, then you must believe that at least some animals can think.

How many kinds of thought are there? We are so used to human-style thinking that you may not realise our language-based system is not the only method. If animals do not have language and yet think, then they must think without words. They think in some kind of non-linguistic, non-verbal thought.

Can YOU think without words, without language? You can. Simply suppress your urge to think in words. Suppress the stream of words constantly running through your head by thinking over and over to yourself a short repeating rhythm, like "one, two". Or if your are musically inclined repeat to yourself two or three musical notes. You will find that, as long as you keep this up and do not let your mind stray, you can pay attention to and explore your non-verbal thoughts. Keep going for as long as you can. You may then be thinking more like an animal, say a cat, horse, whale or an elephant, than like a human.

Whereas your use of language enables you to excel at abstract thought, your non-verbal thoughts may incline you to a greater awareness of stimuli external to yourself, or how your body feels, or to visual images, emotions and notions of incipient activity. Think non-verbally of an everyday practical problem and then solve it by non-verbal reasoning or by insight.

We should credit animals for analysing problems and solving them mentally by their imagining courses of action and then carrying them out. A reason why animals are seldom credited for thinking is that few if any people master the art of thinking like an animal.

Also see Thinking Animals.

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Thinking Animals

Do animals think? Take a wolf for example. When a wolf sits and looks, is he contemplating what he knows, his aims, desires, the other wolves around him and what he will do next? Do such mental states exist only in human minds?

An Exclusive Human Trait?

We usually think of thought as a defining human trait. Picking out human characteristics and claiming they are the essence of what it is to be human is a constant theme running through human-animal relations. Someone chooses a characteristic he thinks clearly sets humans apart from animals, such as a soul, bipedalism, tool use, large brain, language, reasoning or thinking. Then he claims its possession makes humans unique and special. This line of reasoning is weak because people choose these characteristic for the special purpose of setting humans apart from animals. These characteristics do not naturally arise from objective analysis. Therefore they are likely to be wrong. So thought may not be a defining characteristic unique to humans. Are there any non-arbitrary pointers indicating that animals can also think? There are at least two reasons to believe animals can think.

Why Animals Might Think

1) Evolutionary Continuity
Evolution of species has continuity. Species do not materialise from nothing but evolve from pre-existing species. Brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, skeleton, their structure and function, are not invented anew by each species but are inherited from a pre-existing species. Humans share many of the features of other animal species - features they inherited. Therefore, if humans can think, it is logical to believe that a form of primitive thought already existed in some other species. Thought did not suddenly appear complete and from nowhere in humans alone.

However, this does not mean the capacity for thought in other animals is as broad and deep as in the human mind. The capacity for thought has apparently developed further in humans. Whereas human minds can summon up abstractions and range far and wide, other animal minds appear to dwell more narrowly on the concerns of their present, recent past and immediate future.

2) Ecological Lifestyle
Humans are genetically closer to chimpanzees than to any other living species. About 98 per cent of the genes of humans and chimpanzees are identical. Gorillas and orange are also genetically very close to us. Chimpanzees, gorillas, orangs and humans all evolved from the same line of animals, the apes. So it is often suggested that we should look to the apes for comparison and contrast when trying to understand human thinking abilities.

However, some biologists make an alternative suggestion, that human nature may be more similar to the social-living, group-hunting, meat-eaters, like wolves and lions, than to the more solitary and herbivorous apes. Wolves and lions have a lifestyle closer to our own, even though they are more distantly related to us, than the apes. And biologists now recognise that ecological lifestyle (such as living and hunting in social groups) is an important factor that shapes mental ability. Therefore we should look to wolves, lions and the other social-living predators as exemplars of thought. Now stand this argument on its head. If humans think then wolves and lions should do so too - in some way and to some extent. And if these species think then it is likely that many other species also think, at least mammals and probably birds.

Opening the Mind's Lid

Wolfgang Kohler (1887 - 1967) was a primateologist interested in chimpanzee cognition. In 1925 Kohler set up what became a classic cognitive experiment. He suspended fruit above chimpanzees and watched what they did. They tried jumping up to get at it but it was too high. Eventually one chimpanzee stacked up some crates lying about, climbed on top and got the fruit. Kohler guessed the chimpanzee had thought about the problem and had the idea of stacking the crates. Kohler claimed the chimpanzee's behaviour is evidence for insightful thinking in a non-human species.

However, a widespread and growing view at the time was that exploring subjective thoughts and feelings was a worthless pursuit. Some scientists argued that proper scientific study must be limited to acquiring solid facts by quantifying observable behaviour and not by making guesses about what you assume is going on in the mind - out of sight, inaccessible and unmeasurable. This new intention of doing science got known as behaviourism.

Behaviourism made many good contributions to knowledge but had a downside. Its powerful dogma had such a forceful impact on scientists that they practically abandoned research on animal thought and animal minds for most of the 20th century.

Back to Thinking Animals

Over the years, however, even as behaviourism flourished, observational evidence on animal behaviour accumulated. Just by observing animals it is obvious that they are more complex than can be explained by behaviourism's method of quantifying only observable acts. Animals adapt their behaviour to novel and unpredictable situations and seem to anticipate and plan for the future. Their versatility is evidence of calculating minds. For example, wolves cruising about their immense territories are hypothesised to navigate by learning mental maps of the land (so called cognitive maps). The idea of mental maps helps explain how wolves can take short cuts, mentally steering themselves through regions of their territories they have never previously explored.

As the 20th century was drawing to a close some scientists managed to break free from behaviourism and rekindle research into animal minds. Thus, science has only now begun to explore in depth the mental life of animals - cognition, consciousness and emotions.

Significance of Thinking Animals

No one can understand humans isolated from other animals. Studying other species' minds is important for a complete understanding of humanity - and of course of animality. On the moral sphere, you might hold that it does not matter much how you treat animals if they cannot think and reflect on what is happening to them. Alternatively, you might believe you are bound to treat animals with more consideration the more you know they are aware and can reflect on their lives. A down side is that you might feel you have fewer obligations to animals who turn out to have relatively little awareness. But then again you might argue that all animals, no matter how aware, deserve our respect and consideration.

Also see Think Like an Animal.

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Three R's

The Three R's are meant to prod scientists who use laboratory animals for experimental research into causing the animals minimal distress. The Three R's stand for reduce, refine and replace:

  • Reduce the number of animals used per experiment to a minimum.

  • Refine experiments to reduce the suffering of animals.

  • Replace experiments using animals with non-animal alternatives when possible.

  • The Three R's were defined by William Russell and Rex Burch, two British scientists studying the ethics of using animals in biomedical research, in their 1959 book The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique.


    Ways of reducing animal numbers (it does not mean reducing the number of animal experiments) include using just a sufficient number of animals - using too many animals is needless but using too few may mean the experiment has to be repeated; using genetically identical animals - experimental results might be obscured by variations between individuals and necessitate more experiments; and ensuring laboratories are hygienically sterile - fewer animals need to be used if infections and illnesses are minimised.


    Refinement usually means making animals less uncomfortable. This can be done by such means as the use of pain killers if the animals are going to suffer pain in an experiment; by killing animals early, when experiments cause infections or illnesses, instead of waiting until animals are clearly dying; and by enriching the animals' environment, for instance keeping animals in social groups with things to play with, such as bedding material and boxes for rabbits; swings, ropes and platforms for monkeys, human company for dogs, and making animal diets less monotonous.


    Replacing animals with non-animal alternatives has had a little success. Substances tested for contamination on rabbits can now be tested on white blood cells in a test tube. Testing the purity of insulin and calculating the correct dosage for diabetics can be carried out on an instrument instead of using mice and rabbits. Computer modelling of drugs is another successful alternative application. But no alternatives have been developed that can replace animals generally. Progress is slow and disappointing.

    For & Against: argue your case

    3R's Right & Wrong
  • Claim: The Three R's are right because they will lead to better welfare of laboratory animals.

  • Claim: The Three R's are wrong because they reinforce the public's view that laboratory animals need protection and that scientists are sinister and experiments are evil.

  • Weak Welfare vs Strong Science
  • Claim: The Three R's are weak welfare. The only way to prevent animals suffering is by abolishing experiments on animals.

  • Claim: Instead of abolishing experiments we should focus on animal experiments done properly. If minimally stressed animals increases the accuracy of experiments, then researchers will minimise stressing animals, and that will increase the animals' welfare.

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Tragedy Of The Commons

The idea and the predicament that users eventually destroy a limited supply if everyone takes from it and no one looks after it. For example, everyone grazing their sheep and cattle without restraint on open range will create a desert. Succinctly, limited resources cannot meet boundless demands and everyone's business is no one's concern.

The concept of the tragedy of the commons helps us understand why humanity is on the edge of numerous environmental catastrophes. Many catastrophes are not created by environmental forces but are man-made. Being aware of these disastrous situations might motivate people to prevent them by protecting nature and life.

The allusion tragedy of the commons is to land in Britain held in common by villagers for grazing their livestock. Each villager has free grazing rights to the common land or the commons. But suppose some villager puts more sheep on the commons than his fair share allows. Everyone else will be tempted to do the same - because no one is responsible for the land and each wants to get the most for himself out of it. This is the tragedy of the commons. Everyone is locked into a system of unrestrained short-term gain for himself that destroys the long-term benefit for all. If they keep taking without replenishing, the land will turn to dust, the sheep will die and the people starve as the economy collapses.

As easier transportation opens up more free resources, and as the human population increases explosively, the tragedy of the commons is happening on an ever Earth-wide scale. There are many kinds of 'commons':

  • The teeming buffalo of the North American plains; hunters massacred them down to a few hundred survivors.

  • The highways; they are jammed and polluted by motorists.

  • The woods and forests; they are despoiled and destroyed with their accompanying wildlife.

  • The seas and oceans; they are fished out and whales and sharks slaughtered en masse.

  • The ultimate tragedy of the commons is dumping carbon and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere thereby causing climate change leading to wholesale destruction of life (see Global Warming).

  • American ecologist Garrett Hardin (1915 - 2003) popularised the term Tragedy Of The Commons in a 1968 article with this title. He argued that man has a natural tendency to destroy common resources that no one looks after. Hardin built upon the perception of William Forster Lloyd, a 19th century British economist, who reflect on the poor condition of livestock on common land in contrast to the healthy beasts on nearby privately managed land.

    Harding thought that limiting consumption or access to resources that are otherwise freely open to everyone might avert tragedies of the commons. People who pay can use the resource and those who do not or cannot pay go without it. For instance, Harding suggested that privatising roads and imposing tolls would restrain motorists and reduce congestion and pollution. The rationale of the tragedy of the commons is often cited to support the idea of sustainable development by combining protection with financial interest.

    Some regimes for the Tragedy are:

  • Each Grab All
    Everyone grabs as much as they can of a common resource, for instance grazing land, ocean fisheries or whales, before they destroy or completely consume it.

  • Cooperation
    Local people cooperate to protect and manage a local common resource, for instance wild animals like bushmeat or timber from a forest, by not taking out more than it can give them without becoming exhausted.

  • Private Enterprise
    A single person or a company owns a common resource, for instance a forest, a mineral mine, or a water spring, and manages it as they see fit: to make a profit, sell it or hand it on to their heir or successor.

  • State Control
    The state controls a common resource, for instance a lake, hunting rights, or a toll highway, through a government agency for the benefit of the people.

  • For & Against: argue your case

    Developed Constraint
  • Claim: Societies develop institutions and sanctions to restrain foolish use of resources. Sustainability! is our watchword and we have nothing to fear.

  • Claim: These constraints are superficial and short-term. In the long-term Earth's resources are still disappearing and there are no new lands we can migrate to.

  • Technology
  • Claim: When resources go short technology has always stepped in to save the situation and make more for everyone. So we have nothing to worry about.

  • Claim: Technological solutions makes matters worse in the long-run. For example, growing more food in developing countries increases the birth rate so that more people use more resources. And in First World countries, making more roads ends up with more cars on the road, which also uses up more resources.

  • © 2004 Roger Panaman All rights reserved