University of Rochester
The authors of these eight essays attempt to defend animal research on moral and scientific grounds. Advocates of vivisection should find the book a serious disappointment.
R.G. Frey’s essay, “Justifying Animal Experimentation: The Starting Point,” should have been at the start of the book. Instead it is hidden as the last chapter. Frey notes that most supporters of vivisection attempt to justify it by appealing to its benefits for humans. But, he argues, this defense is subject to serious objections:
Whatever benefits animal experimentation is thought to hold in store for us, those very same benefits could be obtained through experimenting on humans instead of animals. Indeed, given that problems exist because scientists must extrapolate from animal models to humans, one might think there are good scientific reasons for preferring human subjects (200).
Frey sets the challenge for the other authors: to explain why, morally, no humans can be subject to the kinds of experiments that animals are subject to and to explain how researchers can reliably use animal models to understand and cure human disease. He thinks that the first challenge has not been met; the second challenge is, unfortunately, not directly addressed in this book.
Adrian Morrison states that he “abhors” positions like Frey’s, Peter Singer’s and Tom Regan’s. He asserts that all “human beings stand apart in a moral sense from all other species” (51) and that all are worthy of “special consideration” (50). Regrettably he fails to defend his view by identifying the morally-relevant characteristics that all humans (even those with less intelligence, sentience and autonomy than animals) possess and all animals lack that might make his claim true. That omission prevents him from rationally criticizing opposing views.
To defend vivisection, Morrison appeals to “self-preservation,” he explains (oddly), “in the larger sense, of helping the weak and the helpless from those who consider themselves competent to decide the fate of others” (51). Of course, “self preservation” might justify experimenting on humans: he never explains why that would be wrong. Animal advocates hold that all who are “weak and helpless” should be protected from those who, like Morrison, deem themselves competent to decide their fate. Morrison divines that vivisectors have “God’s blessing” (51); one wonders how he would respond to theologians who suspect otherwise.
Appeals to evolution are made to attempt to justify a moral view that is poorly disguised as a “biological perspective.” Charles Nicholl and Sharon Russell state (falsely) that, “Evolution has endowed us with a need to know as much as we can” (164). Morrison claims that, “to refrain from exploring nature in every possible way would be an arrogant rejection of evolutionary forces” (56). Is it “arrogant” then to not perform painful and lethal experiments on humans since that is a possible way to explore nature and satisfy our “need to know”? Obviously not. In fact, we are often morally required to resist “evolutionary forces.” And the way things are or have been never entails how things ought to be: evolutionary facts never, in themselves, justify moral views.
Nicholl and Russell, however, think moral arguments are “beside the point in terms of providing justification for our exploitation of animals” (150) since, they claim, this is necessary for our survival. They claim, “it is an evolutionary necessity to regard one’s own kind as more important than other species” (165). Biologically, this is false: if anything is an “evolutionary necessity,” it is that one’s own genes get passed down. No moral imperative follows from that and no constraint against using humans follows either.
Nicholl and Russell cry “double standard” (162) when animal advocates criticize human cruelty to animals but are silent on animal predation. They take moral advice from animals. They claim that, since animals cannot claim or understand the concept of rights, animals cannot have rights, but forget that some humans can do neither. Their sociological observations about animal advocates and their diagnosis that they are “adaptively unfit” (166) are irrelevant. They conclude that unnecessary animal suffering should be avoided, but just sentences earlier claim that theorizing about duties to animals is a “pointless enterprise” (168). Their and Morrison’s attempt at doing moral philosophy is a disaster. Stronger and more careful criticisms of Singer and Regan are found elsewhere, but not in this volume.
Jerrold Tannenbaum worries about what might happen if vivisectors were required to ensure animals not only “freedom from unnecessary or unjustifiable pain or distress, but to well-being, pleasure, and even happy lives” (93). This is especially worrisome, according to him, because calls for this moral consideration come from within the research community itself. He worries that more scientists will see animals as “friends,” not “research tools,” and then animal research will stop.
Stuart Zola notes that the distinction between “basic” and “applied” animal research is not clear. He expresses worries about restrictions on projects “devoted simply to increasing knowledge” that might have “serendipitous” results (90). No calculations of and comparisons to the serendipitous results from non-animal research are provided.
Baruch Brody suggests that since there are special obligations between humans (e.g., parents to children), there also are special obligations to humans that require discounting comparable animal interests. But no special obligations to our friends or family allow us to discount strangers' and even enemies' interests so much that, to try to benefit ourselves, we deliberately inflict pain, suffering and death on them and treat them as animals in laboratories are treated. He criticizes impartial moral thinking but, fairly, notes that his partialist approach requires further reflection. To avoid begging the question, it is clear that much more reflection and argument is needed.
One dissenter, H. Tristam Engelhardt, defends animal rights. These “rights,” however, include “the right to be skinned” and “transformed into fur coats [and] trimmings on hats,” used in bullfights and cockfights, and “used to produce knowledge of interest to humans, even if it will not have any practical application” (178). Animals even have a “special right to be the object of the culinary arts of Chinese and French chefs.” Furthermore, he claims, “pace Singer” (actually, Henry Spira) that it is “appropriate to blind rabbits for beauty’s sake” (193). Sometimes he advocates human enjoyment as a criterion for the rightness of causing animal suffering, other times it is necessity or usefulness. His moral principles are logically inconsistent.
There is too little discussion of the scientific issues. Remarks are scattered and, typically, underdeveloped. An important series of articles and book, which some authors surely were aware of, is ignored (LaFollette and Shanks 1993a, 1993b, 1994a, 1994b, 1995a, 1995b, 1996). One chapter is primarily historical, although as one biologist has argued:
Wind- and steam-powered vessels were certainly vital in the exploration of much of the globe, but this fact in no way indicates that they should continue to be seen as useful even as newer and more efficient technologies develop. In this regard, scientific arguments for and against the use of vivisection are best addressed in the context of modern medical research (Gregory 2000, 163).
Those who advance modern medicine through clinical and in vitro research, computer and mathematical modeling, epidemiology and other methods will be shocked by Morrison’s claim that “medicine cannot progress without animal experimentation” (58).
Readers should carefully identify the scientific objections to vivisection and the case for non-animal-based research methods (Greek and Greek 2000, 2002a, 2002b) and see if this book provides an adequate response and an independent, positive case for vivisection. The book’s value might consist in spurring others to articulate stronger reasons why vivisection matters and is morally justified, despite its high costs for animals and, perhaps, humans as well.
Gregory, T.R. 2000. The failure of traditional arguments in the vivisection debate. Public Affairs Quarterly 14(2): 159-182.
Greek C.R. and Greek J. 2000. Sacred Cows and Golden Geese: The Human Cost of Experiments on Animals. New York: Continuum.
Greek C.R. and Greek J. 2002a. Searching for Alternatives. Nature Biotechnology 20(5): 431-432.
Greek C.R. and Greek J. 2002b. Specious Science: How Genetics and Evolution Reveal Why Medical Research on Animals Harms Humans. New York: Continuum.
LaFollette H. and Shanks N. 1993a. The Intact Systems Argument: Problems with the Standard Defense of Animal Experimentation. The Southern Journal of Philosophy 31(3): 323-333.
LaFollette H. and Shanks N. 1993b. Animal Models in Biomedical Research: Some Epistemological Worries. Public Affairs Quarterly 7(2): 113-130.
LaFollette H. and Shanks N. 1994a. Animal Experimentation: The Legacy of Claude Bernard. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 8(3): 195-210.
LaFollette H. and Shanks N. 1994b. Chaos Theory: Analogical Reasoning in Biomedical Research. Idealistic Studies (24)3: 241-254.
LaFollette H. and Shanks N. 1995a. Two Models of Models in Biomedical Research. Philosophical Quarterly, 45(179): 141-160.
LaFollette H. and Shanks N. 1995b. Util-izing Animals. Journal of Applied Philosophy 12(1): 13-25.
LaFollette H. and Shanks N. 1996. Brute Science: Dilemmas of Animal Experimentation. New York: Routledge (Philosophical Issues in Science series).
A Response to: “So Why Does Animal Experimentation Matter?” by Stuart WG Derbyshire, October 14, 2002.
Nobis has written a short review of the essay collection, Why Animal Experimentation Matters, edited by Paul and Paul. I have the book on order and Nobis does a good job of making me wish I hadn’t. It certainly sounds like another failed attempt to use the “benefits argument” in defense of animal experimentation. Animal researchers are either not listening or just don’t get it. The benefits of animal experiments are beside the point if experimenting on animals is immoral; just as the benefits of instrumental human experimentation never make it right to use humans instrumentally. Nobis clearly gets this, good for him.
It also sounds as if Why Animal Experimentation Matters engages in some dubious theological argumentation and philosophizing based on evolution. For a scientist to claim “God’s blessing” is just embarrassing even if he or she believes it and I shudder to think what has happened to anyone’s faculties when attempting to appropriate evolution into a moral framework. We might as well ground our moral philosophy in gravity, bad pun intended, or in the chemistry of uranium or whatever natural process takes your fancy. The point is that these things fail to provide moral guidance because they are accidental and natural expressions of the world we inhabit. Human beings may behave morally, or not, evolution, gravity and so forth just are.
Nobis provides reasons why I might not get too much out of my forthcoming reading experience but he does a very poor job of explaining why I should really care. He laments that Morrison fails to adequately explain why humans are special but what is to explain? It is almost ludicrous to point out that animals are lacking in discernible signs of culture and progress. The sheer staggering scale and richness of human culture are unlike anything in any other species. The development of medicine, industry, transportation, communication, clean water, a stable food supply, warm habitats and so on do rather speak for themselves. Anyone who maintains a modicum of perspective will not fail to see that it is humans and not apes that have provided all developments, good and bad, upon planet earth. In sum, humans are special-COMMENT, time to get over it and move on. Perhaps all I should do is cancel my order and forget about the whole thing?
Perhaps, there is something to be said for ignoring a fatuous argument, but if scientists are going to engage this debate it would be more useful to do it well. The separation of human and animal has become confused and it is rather important and fundamental. Simply put, the ability to develop our species and ourselves is the morally-relevant characteristic separating human and animal. -COMMENT If Nobis has an alternative morally-relevant characteristic, which humans and animals share, he does not divulge it.-COMMENT
The lack of detail as to what Nobis believes and the content of his argument is a constant irritation. Nobis wants to see the calculations and comparisons of serendipitous results from animal and non-animal research but doesn’t bother to say why. I assume he thinks the justification of animal research may lie within more or better serendipitous results but it may lie in greater convenience or lower cost or all of these or something else. Besides, if the calculations are so important why not just provide them and spare us the sneering? Nobis does it again when championing non-animal research in response to Morrison’s claim that “medicine cannot progress without animal experimentation”. No context for the quote is supplied and Nobis does nothing except assert it to be incorrect. -COMMENT There is not even an example of a medical development without use of animals leaving us with stalemate; Morrison makes one statement and Nobis makes another. The gentle reader is set adrift to lament the loss of ten more minutes of life.
 These accomplishments only show that humans (and only some humans, since not all humans participate in the activities mentioned and many cannot) have abilities that animals don’t. Fine, but many animals have abilities that humans don’t, so they are “special,” in that sense of the term as well. If by “special” Stu means “morally superior and entitled to exploit non-humans,” he would need to defend explain why the fact that some humans have made these accomplishments entitles them to exploit animals (and why it doesn’t entitle them to exploit humans who haven’t made such accomplishments). NN
 Some humans have the abilities to “develop” themselves and the species (i.e., contribute to overall human flourishing?). Some humans lack these abilities as well. Stu gives no reason why those who have that ability are not entitled to exploit those who don’t. NN
 Here are some common proposals: sentience—the ability to experience pleasant and unpleasant mental states, interests, the capacity to be harmed, being a subject of a life, having inherent value. NN
 I did not “assert” that. That’s clear if you re-read the sentence. NN