Philosophy Notes:
Francione and Garner, The Animal Rights Debate
Part I: Francione's Essay

Mark Vuletic

In Gary L. Francione and Robert Garner's The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation? (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), the two—both of them proponents of extending greater protections to animals—debate one another about abolitionism. Francione argues that an abolitionist approach is morally required, Garner that it is not. These are my notes, with a running commentary, on Francione's essay. I will post notes on Garner's essay when I have finished them. These notes are not comprehensive, and are not recommended as a substitute for reading the original source. Numbers in parentheses refer to page numbers in the book. Sections in brackets and lighter font [like this example] are my commentary.


Francione's position is abolitionism: he wants to abolish all animal use. (1) [To be clear, the word "animals" designates "non-human animals" throughout these notes. Francione adopts this usage without comment.]

He is arguing primarily for a single right for animals: "the right not to be treated as the property of humans." (2) [To anticipate, he thinks all sentient beings should have the right not to be treated as property (5), so his stance on animal rights in particular is a consequence of this.]

He is not arguing that animals have all of the same rights as humans, "many of which would not even be applicable to nonhumans," (2) just that they have the one right above. [But a great deal turns on that one right.]

Francione identifies the "fundamental premise of the animal welfare approach" as the belief that "animal life has a lesser moral value than human life and that, therefore, it is morally justifiable to use animals for human purposes as long as they are treated 'humanely' ''(3). [This makes it sound as though Francione thinks welfarists view all humans as innately more valuable than all animals, and that they consider this view axiomatic. However, as his discussion of welfarist Peter Singer's participation in the Great Ape Project makes clear, he understands that neither of these necessarily is the case. What he is calling a "fundamental premise of the animal welfare approach" he should instead be calling a principle held with some qualifications and for various reasons by everyone who takes the animal welfare approach. Not as catchy, but less likely to mislead.]

(pp. 4-14)

Abolitionism cannot be reconciled with welfarism, since the latter "regards the lives of animals as having less moral value than the lives of humans" (5).

Francione offers a historical overview of the animal welfare position including a more detailed account of the views of some of its primary proponents past and present, such as Bentham, Mill and Singer. [Everything I am interested in here is repeated elsewhere in the book, so I will not summarize this part.]

(pp. 14-24)

Francione believes that sentience is a necessary condition for moral significance: "Sentience is necessary to have interests at all. If a being is not sentient then the being may be alive, but there is nothing that the being prefers, wants, or desires" (15). So far, this does not distinguish him from Singer. However, Francione thinks that the arrow of implication goes in the other direction as well: that sentience also is a sufficient condition for moral significance. His argument for this is that (i) all sentient beings have an interest in survival, and (ii) having interests is enough to give a being moral significance. His argues for (ii) from the presumed fact that sentience is an evolutionary adaptation to promote survival: "it is a trait that allows the beings who have it to identify situations that are harmful and that threaten survival. Sentience is a means to the end of continued existence." (15, italics his). [I have two concerns here. First, even if sentience is an evolutionary adaptation rather than (for instance) an epiphenomenon, it probably is too simplistic to say that its function is to promote survival. Evolution favors reproductive success, not individual survival per se, and this is borne out in many animal behaviors that risk, sacrifice, or disregard personal survival for reasons ultimately traceable to promotion of reproductive success. Taking this into account would, I think, complicate Francione's position, though he might still be satisfied with the end product. My second concern, waiving the first one for the sake of argument, is that if the reason sentience entails interests is because it is an evolutionary adaptation for survival, then it would seem that everything that has any evolutionary adaptation for survival, sentient or not, would also have interests. Plants and bacteria, for instance, would have interests on this account, and therefore rights. This actually is an argument and conclusion that some proponents of biocentric ethics promote, but as far as I can tell Francione is not a biocentrist.]

Francione considers the counterargument that animals do not have a sense of self—that they live in an "eternal present" and therefore cannot have an interest in survival. Francione concedes that animals do not have "the sort of autobiographical sense of self that we associate with normal adult human beings" (16); however, a sentient being is "by definition the sort of being who recognizes that it is that being, and not some other, who is experiencing pain or distress" (16) and therefore must be self-aware at least to that extent. [But this isn't relevant. The counterargument does not dispute this sense of self: people who make it agree that animals have an interest in experiencing pleasure and avoiding pain. All that is relevant to the counterargument is whether sentient beings are aware of themselves as beings that persist through time.] He also argues [and this is more to the point] that even if animals did experience only an eternal present, so do humans with transient global amnesia, yet this does not mean that we think they have no interest in continued survival, much less that we can use them in the same way as we regularly use animals. [I think Singer would argue that humans with transient global amnesia actually do not have an interest in continued survival. There might still be a purely utilitarian basis for treating them differently than animals because of how they figure into the network of other people's interests, in the same way that there can be a utilitarian reason for favoring one's own children over someone else's, even though no person's children are actually any more valuable than anyone else's.]

According to animal rights proponent Tom Regan, although death is a harm to animals, it is a lesser harm to them than it is to humans. Francione dismisses this as arbitrary (17-18). [He does so without argument. It is unclear whether he thinks it is clear to the unbiased that death harms all sentient beings equally, or whether he merely thinks that in the absence of a demonstration that something harms one kind of being more than another we should act as though it harmed both equally. I think he has the latter in mind, which seems more defensible.]

John Stuart Mill argues that humans are capable of experiencing superior pleasures (the refined ones) than animals. Francione claims that the judgment that our pleasures are more "intense" (18) is question-begging and obviously motivated by pure bias in favor of humans. [Although this would might address a parallel argument made by a utilitarian in Jeremy Bentham's style (and might even be testable), it actually does not address Mill's argument, which has nothing to do with intensity.] He also thinks that putting this kind of claim into a human context shows how absurd it is, as though as the pursuits of one human could be superior to the pursuits of others. He claims that the tradition in Western philosophy that intellectual pursuits are better than non-intellectual ones was shaped self-servingly by academics, and "was not the result of any democratic or impartial assessment of competing pleasures. (18-19) [I don't understand why Francione thinks democracy is relevant here. Does he think the value of things is determined by democratic processes? Isn't that attitude precisely what has animals to be assigned so little value compared to humans? Or does he think that democratic assessment would require animals to have a say? How would that work? As for impartiality, Mill does offer an impartial—even empirical—argument based on what people in fact prefer when they are exposed to both higher and lower pleasures. Francione does not address this argument, though Mill has not escaped criticism from others.]

Francione adds rights related to sensations to the reverse arrow of implication:

To be clear: if a being is sentient—that is, if she is perceptually aware—she has an interest in continuing to live, and death is a harm to her. It is not necessary to have the autobiographical sense of self that we associate with normal adult humans. Moreover, we cannot say that her interests in her life or the quality of her pain or pleasure are of lesser moral value because her cognitions are not the same as those of normal adult humans. (20)

He concedes that animals have lesser mental capacity than typical humans, but thinks this has no bearing on the basic rights above just as it would have no bearing on the basic rights of human beings, who also vary in their mental capacity. (20).

Francione's definition of rights: "A right is merely a way of protecting an interest; the interest is protected even if the general welfare would be increased or improved if we ignored that interest" (20). [So he does not believe rights are inherent. He is talking about rights as though they are social or legal (unclear which) constructs. He appears to think that moral status is inherent, and that the only way of properly recognizing this moral status in some situations is to confer rights, but not that rights themselves are inherent. This is a surprise, but I see nothing objectionable about it: it may actually be less problematic than thinking of rights as themselves inherent.]

Francione does not contend that rights provide absolute protection for interests, but they do protect one being's interests against being set aside simply because it is of benefit to another (21). ]

He easily demolishes an absurd objection against animal rights that I have actually heard some people make:

The animal rights position does not mean releasing domesticated nonhumans to run wild in the street. If we took animals seriously and recognized our obligation not to treat them as things, we would stop producing and facilitating the production of domestic animals altogether. We would care for the ones whom we have here now, but we would stop breeding more for human consumption, and we would leave non-domesticated animals alone. (22)


In practice, animal welfare laws accept the general notion of animal use, and "defers to industry to set the standard of 'humane' care" (29). Industry does accept some "more humane" practices of its own accord, but only because they increase economic efficiency; since they do not accept practices that impose an actual net cost on them, in practice this means that animal welfare laws give animals very little protection. [Presumably, Francione thinks that even if animal welfare laws substantially reduced the suffering of animals, they still would be wrong simply because they treat animals as property to be used, but this is not his point here: he is arguing that even by the animal welfare movement's standards, animal welfare laws accomplish little to nothing.]


Francione goes on to argue at length that as an empirical matter, attempts at reform along welfarist lines do not actually work. The measures actually implemented do not mitigate the suffering of animals at all, and even if they did to the extent that the welfarists think, it is the equivalent of replacing one form of torture with a slightly less form of torture. [I will not try to summarize the details here, but I encourage everyone to look at them in the actual book.]


The measures, and the accolades welfarists give to industries that make incremental changes, merely encourage the public to become more comfortable with the exploitation of animals [and presumably with a level of suffering that is still unconscionably bad, even if one rejects Francione's rights perspective]. There is no evidence that welfarism works over the long run: animal exploitation has simply become worse over time. [I wonder if he would agree that welfarism has at least slowed down the acceleration of animal exploitation.]


Francione is not against incremental change: "The new welfarists are certainly correct to say that abolitionists want to end all animal exploitation and would like to see it all end tomorrow, or even later today. But no one thinks that is possible, and the welfarists are wrong to say that abolitionists reject incremental change. The abolitionists reject regulatory change that seeks to make exploitation more "humane" or that reinforces the property status of animals; they instead seek change that incrementally eradicates the property status of nonhumans and recognizes that nonhumans have inherent value" (61).

Abolitionism promotes ethical veganism as opposed to practices that attempt to strike some ethical balance that allows for some use or consumption of animals under appropriate conditions. Devotion of resources to promotion of veganism instead of incrementally more ostensibly [but presumably not really, and problematic even if really since they are still exploitative] would result in incremental elimination of the use of animals altogether.


Welfarists are against strict promotion of veganism. Francione considers several arguments along these lines, offers several counterarguments and makes a few direct arguments of his own against the welfarist position. I ignore or separate out tangents in his discussion.

1. Welfarism does not, in practice, actually reduce suffering. They do increase efficiency and public comfort with animal exploitation. [Promotion of veganism, presumably, would be a more effective way of reducing both suffering and exploitation.]

2. Welfarism [contrary to veganism] accords animals less value than humans by assuming that there is nothing wrong with the mere act of killing them. Francione has critiqued this position earlier.

3. Welfarists promote vegetarian as morally superior to meat-eating, but it is at best unclear that this is correct, since raising animals for dairy and eggs [which veganism forbids] may well cause more suffering than raising them for meat.

4. Welfarists argue that perfect veganism is impossible because animal products saturate civilization, with animal byproducts even present in "bicycle tires and road surfaces" (72), and because even raising crops causes the death of animals. This first concern, however, is irrelevant, because the fact that vegan choices are not always possible does not mean that we should not make them whenever they are possible. [Presumably, they are available in most cases. Although this seemed like an airtight counterargument at first, I am less sure about it as time goes on. One the road surface issue, for instance, Francione does have the option of retreating to some rural commune where only dirt roads exist and people fashion everything only from vegan materials. Is the fact that this would be incredibly laborious and substantially hamper his vegan outreach efforts relevant? Is there a threshold of convenience or long-run moral efficiency for the sake of which even an abolitionist can make compromises?] The second concern is also irrelevant because the animals killed in crop production are killed incidentally rather than intentionally. [So double-effect reasoning, which utilitarian's reject, is legitimate to Francione. Though he does not talk about this, his position seems to commit him against using pesticides. I imagine, though I am not sure about this, that he also would be opposed to importing natural predators to handle pest species, since this would necessitate displacing the predators from their initial habitats and using them as tools. He definitely is against domesticating any animals, including predators. This brings me back to my question about the first point: it is likely that very few moral crop sources exist by these criteria, and that most people who try to establish and live off of such sources will end up dying of malnutrition, but is this morally required of abolitionists? Is it morally required even though it is likely to be one of the least effective ways of promoting abolitionism to the rest of the world? Are abolitionists allowed to make any such compromises for the sake of promoting their cause, or even for the sake of preserving their own lives?]

5. Welfarists argue that there is an obligation not to be vegan in situations where it would discourage others from becoming vegan by making veganism seem too fanatical or too inconvenient. Francione counters that behaving this way would only reinforce the attitude that there is nothing wrong with animal exploitation. Compromising on veganism for bridge-building reasons would put one in a position equivalent to raping a child in order to build a bridge to pedophiles or marching in a white power march to build a bridge to racists.

6. Welfarists contend that veganism is a "a matter of personal choice or lifestyle and should not be identified as a baseline moral principle of the rights movement" (73). Francione counters that those who make this claim are hypocritical, since they would not say the same thing about "rodeos or hunting or animal fighting" (73). The claim also is morally equivalent to saying that owning slaves or paying one's male and female employees equally is a matter of personal choice. Exploitation, in short, is not a matter of personal choice. [His first counterargument, unfortunately, is an ad hominem: a statement is not automatically made false by the fact that a hypocrite states it.]

6. Francione claims that rejection of veganism "is also related to the purely pragmatic self-interests of large, wealthy animal organizations that are more concerned with the size of their donor bases than with the moral message that they promote" (74). For instance, he seems to take the mere fact that PETA is half-nonvegetarian as evidence that it acts for the sake of self-interest rather than morality: "[Its ability to draw donors from vegetarians and "compassionate" omnivores] may make terrific business sense for PETA, but it does nothing to stop animal exploitation" (74). [This is quite a contrast with his earlier "I do not in any way question the personal sincerity of those who support the welfarist perspective" (3). His claim may (or may not) be correct, but his argument for it here is inadequate. To establish that PETA acts for essentially mercenary reasons, Francione has to show not merely that welfarism is ineffective, but that PETA knows it is ineffective yet promotes it anyway purely to draw donors. The mere fact that PETA contains many nonvegetarians does not establish any of this unless Francione wants to claim that nonvegetarians generally are insincere.]


Francione is opposed to single-issue campaigns, including ones that seek abolition of some types of animal use (production of fur across the board) because he thinks they create the sense that some forms of exploitation (whatever is being identified in the campaign) are worse than others, which is incorrect. Moreover, he thinks such campaigns have, in practice, been ineffective, in part because people realize that there is no real difference between the practice targeted and more widespread practices (such as meat consumption) that are not being targeted in that campaign. [But wouldn't that mean that such campaigns are perceived by the public to be equivalent to promoting veganism? What would direct promotion of veganism accomplish that this would not? Francione seems to accept two contradictory things here: (1) that the public accepts fur because the it believes using fur and using wool are morally equivalent, and (2) that the public accepts wool because it does not realize that using fur and using wool are morally equivalent.]


Francione is against having pets ("companion animals"), because the way they are treated varies, and even the ones who are treated well are dependent on humans, live unnaturally, and are viewed as property. He favors taking care of the ones that exist now, but not bringing more into existence [as he does for domesticated animals in general.]


Francione opposes violence as a means of promoting change in the animal rights arena. Violence tends to be directed against producers, but the producers are only reacting to demand: ultimate responsibility rests on all non-vegan consumers. Even vivisection exists as a medical research practice only because of irresponsible choices people make about their health (many of them presumably caused by eating animal products) and because of irresponsible choices made by legislators about what kind of medical research to fund (irresponsible because there presumably are more effective lines of research that do not involve vivisection). Violence on behalf of animals rights is counterproductive in a world where meat eating is nearly universal: it will only harden attitudes against animal rights by associating it with criminality. Violence carried out against humans by non-vegans is particularly hypocritical.


Unlike some leaders he has met of the animal rights movement, Francione thinks animal rights and human rights are tightly linked. "Speciesism is objectionable because, like racism, sexism, and heterosexism, it deprives beings with interests of equal consideration of their interests based on irrelevant criteria" (83-84). The general anti-discrimination premise logically entails support for human rights, and animal rights are not likely to be granted while human rights are ignored.


Also of interest

I will take and post notes on Garner's essay in the book later. In the meantime, if you are interested in this topic, you may also be interested in my notes on Peter Singer's essay "All Animals Are Equal."


Last updated 16 Dec 2014

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