Ethics and the Exploitation of Animals
PROFESSOR PATON, in introducing Lord J Halsbury, said "It is a pleasure and privilege to introduce, as this year's Stephen Paget lecturer, our own President. Lord Halsbury has a long and varied experience of scientific research and development both inside and outside universities. To mention only a few things, he has been a member of the Advisory Council to the Committee of the Privy Council for Scientific Research, a Member of the Science Research Council and of the Computer Board. He is now Chancellor of Brunei University, and President of the National Institute of Industrial Psychology. Coming closer to animal experimentation, he has been Chairman of theInstituteofCancer Researchsince 1962. Any medically or dentally qualified person will have noted that he is Chairman of the Review Body examining the salaries of doctors and dentists in the National Health Service! This is a most varied and distinguished background with which to approach the subject of a Stephen Paget Memorial Lecture and it is with very great pleasure that I ask Lord Halsbury to give his address entitled 'Ethics and the Exploitation of Animals'."
Ethics and the Exploitation of Animals
By THE EARL OF HALSBURY, F.R.S.
Stephen Paget who is commemorated by this Annual Lecture was born in 1855 and was 71 years old when he died in 1926.
Graduating originally in Literae Humaniores atOxfordhe enteredSt.BartholomewsHospitalas a medical student, qualified and was in due course elected to Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons when he was 30 years old.
He subsequently practised in various hospitals till 1910 when he withdrew into partial private practice owing to ill health. His health continued to deteriorate until 1917 when he withdrew into retirement.
He is remembered in the Dictionary of National Biography principally as an essayist and man of letters of whom it is recorded. "The reader feels in contact with a character actuated by strong convictions but rich in judgement and sympathy and broad with sane knowledge of the world."
He is remembered here as the Founder Secretary and later Vice Chairman of the Research Defence Society, which was in some sense the continuation of a professional association of which he had been Secretary. It had been watching and reporting to Parliament on the working of the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876. When its remit was discharged it was Paget's drive and initiative that kept the team together by transforming it into an independent body.
In historical retrospect I am interested to note that my grandfather was one of the Founder members. His name appears in the membership list of 1908 in which same year I was born.
Inheriting in his own person a more than average legacy of human illness and suffering Paget regarded sickness and disease as evils to be challenged and combated at every turn. He was emphatically not one of those whose sympathy for animal suffering blinds them to the need for sympathy with human suffering.
If from the Elysian Fields his spirit were able to have surveyed the confrontation on Thames Television about two years ago, I feel he would have approved our continued willingness to take up the challenge. I believe he could have fell, as I did, that our opponents on that occasion were rather in the position of one who is busy reinventing the bicycle without being aware that it has been done before. They seemed to me to be trying to reinvent moral philosophy from scratch, as it were, without any benefit of homework in what is admittedly a difficult subject. I accordingly suggested to Council that some future Paget lecture might deal with the whole topic of Man's moral obligation to the animals he exploits and after due deliberation Council agreed to the suggestion and asked me to deliver the lecture.
My theme accordingly is the Ethics and Morality involved in Man's exploitation of his animal kin. I shall deal with it in its full generality so as to place the aspects of the problem with which we are principally concerned into perspective. They are controversial aspects and parties to controversy are not as a rule professionally qualified in Moral Philosophy. They are ethical amateurs. They attack opponents or defend their position with the most suitable weapon to their hand, usually some part of an ethical system which taken as a whole can be shewn not to be tenable. Such parts of systems are chosen to suit the religious or psychological convenience of their proponents rather than because they form parts of a consistent whole. We in the Research Defence Society are not always guiltless in this respect for we commonly defend animal experimentation on utilitarian grounds though utilitarianism has no professional support among the sophisticated.
By contrast, those who condemn animal experiments usually select some categorical imperative to which they attach overriding importance, apparently unaware that in professional circles the nature and status of the ethical judgement we exercise when moral imperatives conflict is the real unsolved heart of the problem.
Since this is not a lecture on Moral Philosophy as such. I am not going to refer to its problems save by way of a brief introduction.
First, what is Moral Philosophy about? It is concerned with the objective status of what it is good to be or right to do, equally with the status and origin of the moral judgements we make when in doubt: for example when we find ourselves in a conflict of duties and have to make up our minds which of two courses of action is more fitting or appropriate to the circumstances.
Judgement is of course subjective so that we can say that Moral Philosophy is concerned with what it is good to be or right to do or appropriate to choose, the two former being objective and the latter subjective. Unless the good and the right are granted objective status the subject collapses into a mixture of psychology and sociology.
Into any discussion of the relations between these three factors a number of other factors enter and have to be taken into account. These generate subordinate problems such as those of Free Will and Necessity, of Good and Evil, with cognate demands for the analysis of such terms as innocence and guilt, the morality of punishment and so on. I shall not be concerned with these in the sequel beyond noting here that the problem of Good and Evil is often used somewhat ambiguously to cover two quite different matters. The first is the problem of the evil will, that is to say of human wickedness, real or potential. With this I shall not be concerned. The second is the problem of apparent Cosmics indifference to suffering and of this I shall have much to say.
The reason that I call these problems subordinate is that they arise from a mixture of empirical and ethical facts and until we have come to terms with the latter we cannot tackle the mixture.
Ethics, then, is concerned with the relationship between what it is good to be or to experience, what it is right or dutiful or obligatory to do and what is felt to be fitting or appropriate to exercise in judgement when duties conflict.
These terms do not need definition, for you all know what they mean; they are the indefinables of the subject matter, by which we define other terms. The fact that they are indefinable does not imply that they have no meaning. Compare, for example, the word "yellow" which is not definable but whose meaning you can demonstrate by showing someone a daffodil. The acquisition of insight into their meaning is part of the process of learning our mother-tongue, not part of the process of writing a dictionary in which words are defined by other words.
Progress in moral philosophy has taken place more by way of elucidating what is untenable than by demonstrating what the true relationships of these terms are. When 1 tell you that some view or other is untenable at professional level, I must ask you to lake it from me on authority as meaning that no moral philosopher of high academic standing would try and argue it in this day and age though it may have been argued professionally in the past and could still be argued by amateurs in the present. To do otherwise would take me too deeply into the subject for my purpose tonight. I will however try and give you some examples.
Many attempts have been made to identify what is good to be or to experience with what is pleasurable in the same context. This is called hedonism and is untenable because there are good and bad pleasures. The innocent fun that children get from a game of hide and seek is clearly good. The excitement of a sadist engaged in flogging someone is just as clearly bad irrespective of his victim's suffering: for the victim might be a masochist who in some perverted way enjoyed what was painful; but we would assert that this too was bad and that the combination was possibly worse!
It is equally untenable to identify what is our duty with, for example, social conformity; for nearly all the world's moral leaders have in fact been non-conformists and have advanced morality by challenging something that society took for granted in their day.
It is also untenable to try and identify our duty as procuring what is good for others and ensuing the greatest good for the greatest number and so on. For even if we could do the calculation (which we obviously cannot) it could at most be included among our other duties of which we have many, some of which I will identify in the sequel.
Yet, though these attempted identifications cannot be made to hold water, there is some connection between our three factors though it is very difficult to formulate it satisfactorily. An action has three aspects. It has a motive, it is an experience and it issues in consequences which involve the experiences of others. Motives can be good or bad, experiences can be good or bad, and consequences can be good or bad for ourselves or others. In addition an action can be a duty. One would like to feel that some simple state of affairs was involved: for example that good motives always lead to dutiful acts which produce good consequences. This is clearly not the case. Good motives may lead to undutiful actions if duty has not been correctly identified. They can also issue in disastrous consequences. And dutiful acts can spring from bad motives (though we get no credit for them in such cases) or even from no motive at all if a duty has become a habit. We would most of us deny that a dutiful act could ever lead to wholly bad consequences but duties may nevertheless be painful to execute both for ourselves and others, and pain would generally be felt to be bad. We never of course know what the ultimate consequences of our actions will be. They spread out like ripples on water when a stone is thrown into it until we lose sight of them.
The third factor, judgement, is also connected in some way with the other two. Judgement is between conflicting duties: it attempts to assess where the balance lies. If the balance is represented by some particular objective duty then our judgement of what we ought to do can be mistaken. A statement of mind involving correct judgement would generally be agreed to be good, which provides a link with one of the other factors.
My reason for giving you these examples is to show that the subject is not at all an easy one. We have a sort of calculus involving at least three undefinable primitive terms no one of which can be reduced tenably to a compound of the remainder and between which no universal relationship can be established having the character of an axiom which could act as starting point for logical development.
It is of course easy to simplify the situation by taking some particular dictum which would be agreed to be true in many cases and then universalize it to the status of an axiom, true in all cases. I shall have more to say of this in the sequel.
At this point I should close these introductory remarks by stating that all simplistic theories are obviously false while no theory sophisticated enough to be credible is obviously true. That is not very much of a conclusion to produce after 2 millenia of philosophical investigation; but knowing that this is so acts as an insurance policy taken out against naive acceptance of falsehoods masquerading plausibly as axioms.
I want now to pass to some of the subordinate problems I referred to earlier.
The first is the problem of mortality. If there was no death there could be no birth or the world "would become overpopulated. There could be no evolution. It would be a static world in which a lot of our world's good features, mother-love for instance, would be absent. If the Cosmos is of a piece and has a certain self-consistency, the fact of mortality need not arouse our moral indignation.
However, the coupling of mortality to pain and suffering seems logically unnecessary. Pain is functionally a warning signal indicating internal or external danger. Children whose pain mechanism is defective have a low survival rate. Pain also operates in the context of penalty/ reward mechanisms involved in the process of learning. Any physiological process can malfunction and most of us have to bear a quota of pain, possibly unnecessary, during the course of our lives. The fortitude that results is generally regarded as good in the ethical sense, so that even pain can have a good aspect. In the course of acquiring fortitude we learn that very sharp pain can be endured if it is brief, especially if it is unexpected. Prolonged pain at lower levels can also be endured. The problem of acquiring fortitude is that of overcoming our natural apprehension of pain's occurrence. There are those who never overcome the fear of a hypodermic prick though after the event they will admit sheepishly that it did not really hurt.
When all this has been said, however, we are still able to feel morally indignant at the amount of apparently unnecessary pain and suffering and sorrow in the world. It appears undeserved, serves no useful purpose and exceeds in intensity and prolongation what we imagine to be bearable, though in fact it is borne.Man.alone in the Cosmos so far as he knows, can see the Heavens opened and Satan sitting on the throne of God, a situation dealt with inconclusively in the Book of Job which ends with a Voice from the whirlwind asserting that the problem is beyond mere mortal understanding. Mercifully the Diabolic Vision is a passing albeit recurrent nightmare which fades as we go about our daily work.
I should also make reference to the problems of Good and Evil in the sense of the Evil Will; and to those of Free Will, Moral responsibility, Merit, Guilt and Moral indignation, together with the objective status of "rights" and their connections with Moral obligation. If we have an obligation to animals, does this imply that they have rights over us although they do not know it and cannot express them? A tricky problem. These are an interlocking group of topics linked also to the Diabolic Vision of Cosmic indifference to suffering. A universalist Moral Philosophy cannot avoid dealing with them, but very little progress has been made in doing so though, as usual in Philosophy, such progress as there has been has exposed what is untenable rather than solved any problems. The morality of probabilistic processes, for example, is almost virgin territory.
If this were a lecture on Moral Philosophy, I should, after this brief run over the course, pick some special topic related thereto and embark upon its detailed treatment. But that is not my purpose. I want to talk about Man's exploitation of his animal kin and these introductory remarks on Formal Ethics are inserted as an insurance policy taken out against the acceptance of naive views.
In its most general sense I am going to interpret Man's exploitation of animals as an alteration in the balance of Nature undertaken by him on his own authority and for his own advantage. Put in such general terms it is not clear that it is an ethical topic at all though particular cases of it may be. Let me therefore take a particular case and consider four species in relation to one another, namely Man as the exploiter, the sheep as the exploited, the liver fluke as its parasite and the wolf as its predator. I will assume that Man exploits the total sheep for its wool, its milk and cheese derivatives, its meat and the by-products of its carcase particularly its endocrine organs which will prove important in the sequel, and that he will do it as intelligently and humanely as he can.
In consequence of his exploitation the balance of Nature will shift so that there are more men and sheep with less wolves and liver flukes in the world. It is still not clear to me whether this is an ethical topic. Let me take its components seriatim. Is it better or worse for a sheep to be killed by a man rather than a wolf? A man may use a humane killer. A wolf will certainly not. Is it worse for a wolf to be hunted and killed by a man because it kills sheep or because it kills little children? You may think of Red Riding Hood as only a fable but in the remoter parts of the world, even inEurope, even in my lifetime, wolves have killed children and are hunted accordingly. Is it better or worse or neither for a man to protect lambs from wolves than his own or his neighbours' children? If we cannot give decisive answers to these questions how far can we without absurdity consider life from the point of view of liver-flukes? Their life cycle may be of rare biological beauty but can we honestly pretend that our consciences are disturbed by our destruction of their larval forms in the interest of healthier sheep?
I cannot myself see that this is an ethical problem at all, but not everyone would agree with me.
There is a sect called the Vegans who in a spirit of chivalry regard the animals as our weaker kin and take the view that strength has a duty to protect weakness. They thus abjure for themselves, not only animal food, but dairy products such as milk, cheese and eggs, together with all the by-products of animal exploitation such as wool, leather, glue, fertiliser, and so on. Yet even Vegans draw the line somewhere. A Vegan may defend himself against attack by a dangerous animal as he may in law against a dangerous human being, and may kill in self defence if necessary. Presumably therefore they may destroy pathogenic bacteria in the cause of therapy. Vegans are a tolerant non-proselytizing group for which reason we hear little of them. It is therefore interesting to analyse their moral heroism from two points of view. First, is it possible to be a healthy Vegan and raise healthy Vegan children and grandchildren from the dietetic point of view? Secondly, is the apparent success of Veganism unconsciously parasitic upon their inclusion in a non-Vegan community? From the standpoint of animal by-products other than dairy products, a healthy Vegan can find vegetable or synthetic substitutes.
But in certain illnesses involving protein hormone deficiency there is no substitute for animal by-products. A diabetic Vegan must compromise or die prematurely. Due to the hardness of such a choice, Vegans are tolerant of those who find full subscription to the principles of the Vegan charter too hard in special circumstances.
So far as adult nutrition is concerned enough is now known of its principles to specify a balanced albeit monotonous protein diet of wholly vegetable origin fortified where necessary with vegetable or synthetic vitamins. Raising healthy children is more difficult but can be assisted by extending the period of lactation. The Vegans biggest danger is Vitamin B12 deficiency. All organs carry a reserve of essential metabolites which, over a period of minutes, hours, days or even months, serve to buffer an intermittent supply. The body reserves of Vitamin B12, somewhat exceptionally, are adequate for about five years' demand. For this reason a convert to Veganism (or Vegetarianism for that matter) can appear to be dietetically successful for many years while running progressively into Vitamin B12 deficiency and ultimately suffering from pernicious anaemia. George Bernard Shaw was a famous case of this kind.
Vitamin B12 was originally isolated from liver extract which had proved an empirical cure for pernicious anaemia and it was on the basis of this that knowledge of its properties and chemistry was acquired. This had no industrial implications until some quite disconnected research into poultry indicated that liver extract was a growth factor for various microorganisms in proportion to its Vitamin B12 activity. This resulted in screening microorganisms for Vitamin B12 production. It was simultaneously discovered that Streptomycin manufacture provided a copious supply and for some time thereafter Vitamin B12 was manufactured as a byproduct of Streptomycin. It is now made from a strain of Pseudomonas.
A non-animal source of Vitamin B12 is accordingly available to fortify the diet of Vegans and though some of them may suffer from pernicious anaemia they do not need to, a cure being available. This leads to my second question which is perhaps of greater philosophic interest.
It has for long been argued that man's dentition, which is genetic as opposed to his food habits which are cultural, indicates that he was originally omnivorous. Nutritional science would appear to confirm this, for it seems most unlikely that the kind of balanced protein diet together with the various sources of vegetable let alone synthetic vitamins that can now be specified by nutritionists as a basis for a successful Vegan diet, could ever have come together naturally and spontaneously as the basis of food habits in a restricted locality.
But the whole of our knowledge of these matters has been won through dietetic experiments on animals which arc a form of animal exploitation. So that the possibility of being a successful and healthy Vegan in the present is dependent on the community which includes them not having been Vegans in the past. The Vitamin B12 necessary to fortify their diet could never have been discovered by observations of streptomycal deficiency for "S. griseus" is not a component of any diet.
The answer to my first question, then, is that in health Veganism is possible, but that in some forms of sickness it is not, unless the Vegan is prepared to compromise. The answer to my second question is that the Vegans are parasitic upon non-Vegans in the past. I do not think that would disturb them and they could argue that their Veganism is a stage in Man's spiritual development to be embarked upon as soon as enlightenment shews it to be possible. I find it very difficult to fault this reply. A vow of poverty would be pointless in a totally impoverished community. In a non-impoverished community which is distributing its wealth inequitably it could well be a work of supererogation, by way of self-identification with the under-endowed. St. Francis ofAssisiacquired merit by setting other people a good example. What he required of the community was not that they should follow him in taking vows of poverty, but that wealth should be justly distributed. This left it open of course for others to follow him in setting a good example to their neighbours through self-identification with the poor.
Aeschylus wrote that Man must suffer to grow wise. It has been argued that we acquire virtue by insight into the nature of Sin: that the Road of Excess leads to thePalaceofWisdom. May it be that only through the exploitation of animals can we tread a path that leads to a happier situation in which the exploitation of animals is unnecessary? I leave this as a question to the reader.
My reason for dealing with the Vegans at some length is that as exponents of a kind of moral heroism their position appears to be unassailable so long as they remain a tolerant, non-proselytizing group.
The position of Vegetarians seems a good deal more ambiguous under either criterion and they seem to be more liable to a charge of parasitism upon a non-vegetarian community. Psychologically they are characterised by an extreme reluctance to exploit animals for food. De gusiibus non dispulandum. If anyone entertains this reluctance, let him comply with it and abstain. His nutritional difficulties will be less severe than those of Vegans because he will be prepared to add eggs and milk products to his diet. His logical and ethical difficulties will be more severe. If you sanction the killing of animals for any purpose at all it must surely cease to be an ethical matter to kill them for some other purpose. The exploitation of a sheep for wool does not involve its death, but for sheepskin and protein hormones it does. If one is prepared to wear leather boots, it is difficult to find a reason for not eating bacon.
On the issue of parasitism the Vegetarian seems more vulnerable than the Vegan. Clearly, the total exploitation of an animal will have the effect of rendering its exploitable components cheaper than the subset of components of a partially exploited animal. If we apply the Kantian test and ask "what would be the effect of everyone being a vegetarian" to the moral issue facing a vegetarian recruit and ask whether he or she would be a recruit on the basis that milk and eggs and wool and footwear would all rise in price by such and such a sum, what would the response be? I cannot pretend to know and nor could the recruits. It does, however, render their psychological attitude sensitive to considerations involving a balance of determinants, psychological and material, correlated with self interest.
If, pursuing the components of the spectrum of attitudes that I am analysing, I pass to the antivivisectionists I have again to note a certain lack of logic in an antivivisectionist who is neither a Vegetarian nor a Vegan. I can respect the Vegans who draw a line at the ultimately tenable position, the right to protect oneself from danger, involving killing if requisite. A Vegetarian who is not a Vegan or an antivivisectionist who is not a Vegan or even Vegetarians who are not antivivisectionists or antivivisectionists who are not Vegetarians seem to me to occupy an ethically ambiguous position. They are neither flesh, fowl nor (if the Vegans will forgive me) good red herring. I can discern nothing in their attitudes but psychological involvement of a slightly obsessive character coupled to whatever is superficially arguable as opposed to what is basically tenable.
I confess however to a certain psychological sympathy with the attitude (as apart from its defensibility) of antivivisectionists of a certain high calibre. On the basis of "Tout comprendre, c'est tout pardoner”, I believe I understand their psychology. I have referred to one factor onto which formal ethics abuts, namely moral indignation against a Cosmos which permits suffering with apparent indifference. I believe it to be possible to be so overwhelmed by this meritorious indignation that a confrontation with human suffering becomes psychologically intolerable. Anyone so sensitized can open his mind to animal suffering but will close it to human suffering which he finds it impossible to contemplate. He will thus endeavour to terminate all animal suffering and his determination will be curiously and anomalously insensitive to human suffering in consequence. On no other basis can I comprehend the closed minds of those antivivisectionists of admittedly high character, not lacking general experience in the difficult field of moral decision, who place a mental embargo on all animal experiments, an embargo so total that one cannot persuade them to interpret Home Office statistics in terms of the criteria which they set forth, or persuade them to compare their moral valuations on this topic with those they and others accept universally in other contexts. I will give two examples.
"Pain is an unmitigated Evil". This is an example of the type of proposition we are asked to accept. It is an example of a plausible falsehood masquerading as an axiom which I must insist on rejecting. Pain is not an unmitigated evil. It is mitigated by the fortitude that enables us to bear it coupled to the fact that it is borne. Fortitude is generally accepted as good in human, though it may be irrelevant in animal contexts. Pain is also mitigated by the fact that it can be functional if it is part of a learning process which leads me to my next example of a plausible falsehood masquerading as an axiom.
"It is our duty in all circumstances to avoid the infliction of pain.” This is clearly not universally true. We may have to smack our children for their good, just as a cat cuffs its kittens, though we inflict no severe pain in doing so. But the fact of my needing to qualify the word "pain" by the adjective "severe" demonstrates that I am exercising an act of judgement. Somehow or other I balance the pain I inflict against the value of the lesson taught. Somewhere between the extremes of what is obviously excessive and what is just as obviously ineffective I decide intuitively on what is appropriate. There are tremendous difficulties involved in rationalising this process over a community. If A has toothache and B has ear-ache and C has both, it is easy to see that C suffers more than A or B, but can we equate his to their joint suffering? Is a situation in which A has toothache and B has ear-ache better or worse or equivalent to one in which they have neither but C has both? Utilitarian theories of Ethics always collapse in the face of this difficulty. You cannot quantify pain and pleasure for individuals and integrate the result over a community without regard to its quality or distribution. The situation where A suffers that B may benefit is one we may commend or condemn according to circumstances. If A is a consenting party we may commend it because As altruism is felt to be good. If A is a non-consenting party in the power of B we would condemn it on the grounds that B's selfishness is bad. These are not the only possibilities. A and B may both be unaware of their interconnection. How does this situation differ ethically from that in which there actually is no connection? If the situation were simply that A suffered and was unhappy while B was in the reverse situation, we would be landed back to the problem of apparent Cosmic indifference to suffering and the recurrent nightmare of the diabolic vision. The situation so far as animal experimentation is concerned is that B is aware of the situation while A is not and unable either to give or withhold consent. How do we fit this into whatever ethical judgement we make in the other cases? Our judgements may differ widely according as to whether we are Christians or Buddhists. A Buddhist would not close his mind to the possibility that an animal experimenter moved by compassion for his fellows could be purging his Karma of a failure to exercise moral responsibility in a previous and higher incarnation, while the animal, the subject of the experiment, might be similarly purging his Karma of cruelty in a previous incarnation by acquiring insight into the nature of pain! A Christian might ask: "How on earth can you know all that?'" The Buddhist could answer: "In the same way that you claim to know the truth of Christianity." An informant of mine who actually embarked on such an argument told me that he found it a most difficult business and counter-productive of any conclusion at all. There was just no meeting of minds with respect to first principles.
The acceptance of a categorical "Thou shalt not kill'' can lead to religious principles which sometimes strike one as absurd. A Jain, for example, will employ a servant to sweep the ground ahead of him lest he tread on an insect. It is obvious that the servant could not be a Jain orhe would need to be preceded by someone sweeping the ground ahead of him to ensure that in sweeping the ground for his master he did not tread on an insect himself. And that pre-sweeper could not himself be a Jain or he would
Need etc. Thus Jains to be logical must be parasitic upon a community of non-Jains in which they are included. A finite and closed community of Jains would be confined to walking round in circles, each member sweeping the ground ahead of him. It would be a contradiction in terms, an absurdity.
Religious practices, rules and rituals often seem to be based on taxonomic or physiological mistakes. Warm blooded animals may be protected where cold blooded are exploited, or fish may be protected but shell fish exploited. Ignorance can easily suppose an oyster to be a vegetable or blood to be uniquely identifiable with life so that white meat may be eaten but not red meat and so on.
These examples are a warning against uncritical adoption of arbitrary rules, even from the best of motives. The mere existence of so large a plurality of them, not all of them being consistent with one another, illustrates how easily our moral judgements can make mistakes.
There is an interesting passage inButler's Erewhon describing the fate of a community which tried to base dietetics exclusively on logic. No sentient being, animal or vegetable, could be eaten unless it had died by accident and was found dead subsequently. The result was that large numbers of animals and vegetables mysteriously started dying by accident and the community became diseased through eating bad food until commonsense came to the rescue and accepted Man's predatory status.
I must now trouble you with two technical terms. Ethical theories based on the primacy of what it is good to be are called Axiological. Those based on the primacy of what it is right to do are called Deontological. There is a very big difference between them. The adjective "good'' in the moral sense refers to states of sentient beings. It is states of mind and experiences that are good. We may call a knife good if it cuts well, meaning that it is functionally effective, but this is not to use the word "good" in its ethical sense. Axiological propositions are all expressed in the indicative mood, and take the typical form of an assertion such as "X is good" where X is some category of experience.
Any such statement has a truth-value. It is true or false. Its truth or falsity is established in relation to some matter of objective fact. No fact can ever contradict another fact. Axiology is therefore potentially self-consistent if correctly formulated. The situation in Deontology is absolutely different. Deontology is concerned with commands in the imperative mood: "Thou shalt ...!": "Thou shalt not ...!": "Do this ...!”: "Do that...!" Imperatives have no truth values. They are not true or false. They are not verifiable in relation to matters of fact which cannot be in contradiction. Imperatives from different sources can readily conflict and only too often do. The essence of moral judgement is that it copes with imperative conflicts. The late Sir David Ross advanced Deontology considerably by introducing the concept of 'Prima Facie Duty'.
A prima facie duty is one of a list of duties which becomes absolute in the absence of a conflict with any of the others but which has only relative status when any of the remainder are relevant. He listed eight, namely: (1) Telling the Truth; (2) Keeping Promises: (3) Implementing Gratitude: (4) Offering reparation for wrong done: (5) Exercising Justice (the distribution of good according to merit): (6) Beneficence: (7) Non-maleficence: (8) Self-improvement.
With this much preamble let me consider the alternative defences that can be made to the thesis that animal experiments involving pain are immoral. The attack is usually axiological. based on the proposition that pain is bad. The traditional defence meets the attack on the same terrain and argues axiologically usually in utilitarian form. The end is argued to justify the means. This defence has two weaknesses. First of all. utilitarianism is not a tenable, credible or self-consistent philosophy. Secondly, the concept of the end justifying the means is, in popular parlance, a misuse of a formula which has a strict technical meaning. Some actions are morally neutral. It has long been held that a morally neutral action can acquire a morally positive flavour by reference to its consequences and the intention to ensue them. This is what is meant by the end justifying the means. Now the pros and cons of animal experimentation are not morally neutral. Animal experimentation is strongly felt to be either right or wrong. In popular parlance the justification of the means by the end does not bear its original technical meaning: it is a soft paraphrase of an altogether different principle, namely that we may do evil that good may come. I have explained earlier that the goodness or badness of motives, experience in action and consequences, are not related in any simple way to the question of whether the given action is our duty but that duty is objective and not simply dependent on our motives or the consequences of our actions. The statement that our duty can be modified in relation to its consequences denies it any objective status and cuts the ground from underneath its feet. This is why the principle that we may do evil that good may come is objectionable and must be ruled out of court.
Suppose, however, that we decline to fight on axiological territory and maintain a deontological defence instead; a much simpler situation arises. Let me trace out the argument starting with our moral indignation at Cosmic indifference to suffering. We might well argue that we have two prima facie duties involved. First the duty of beneficence: to relieve suffering wherever we can. Secondly the duty of non-maleficence: to do nothing to make the situation worse. A possible way of making it worse in some cases is to do nothing at all, i.e. to allow human and animal suffering to proceed unchecked by any counter action on our own part to advance medical or veterinary science.
Animal experimentation would thus involve us in that conflict of prima facie duties, the duty of beneficence and the duty of non-maleficence typical of this and many other deontological situations, leaving judgement to find a balance between them. Ross attached a higher weighting to non-maleficence than to beneficence. If we accepted this weighting then judgement could allow animal experiments within limits as permissible in some cases, though not all judgements might issue in the same sense and might assign limits at different points.
This is very much the situation in which we find ourselves and I believe that a deontological defence may be more relevant to the situation than an axiological one. 1 have dealt with this at some length because there seems to be an impression that unless we defend ourselves rather uneasily on axiological terrain there is no alternative. But there is.
I come next to the operation of judgement. Anyone who makes moral judgements in the difficult field of animal experimentation has a duty to undergo a course of self-preparation. A judge should undertand the case. In the first instance we have to contemplate the relevance of the Cosmical facts. There is the fact of mortality. For the higher animals death is never a question of 'whether' but of 'when and from what cause'. Linked to this is the fact that death, in Nature, is by some form of violence or malfunction with an attendant legacy of pain and suffering, hopefully brief. Linked to both is our moral indignation at Cosmic indifference to this and to the challenge of undeserved suffering. It may be a factor in our judgement but should not be allowed to swamp it to the point where other factors do not receive proper consideration. The next set of facts are psychological. We have to learn that what makes us squeamish to witness is not for that reason, and of necessity, wrong. Probationer nurses and young medical students commonly faint in the course of witnessing their first amputation. This implies no moral condemnation of the surgeon who may be operating from the best motives, dutifully and with conspicuous success. The experience merely overwhelms the trainees and they have to be taught to stand up to it. There is no evidence that doing so blunts their other sensitivites. Next we have, by introspection, to study the pains we have ourselves borne and try to separate them into physiological pain as pain, and the psychological concomitants of apprehending its occurrence and anguish at the prospect of its continuance. We have then to form a judgement as to the bearability of pain in the case of an animal which has no apprehension of what is to come and probably no conceptual mechanism for comprehending the passage of time; so that it is thought by animal psychologists to live much more in an eternal present than we do. The third set of facts we must learn is legal. We must know the difference between an experiment under licence only, and one under licence with any of the certificates A, B, C, E, EE or F. The fourth set of facts we must study are laboratory facts. We must know enough of the stages of anaesthesia to distinguish reflex actions from others and of the use the experimenter makes of them to control the depth of anaesthesia, failing which we shall come to wrong conclusions as to whether an animal is conscious or not. We must witness animal experiments and form a judgement of whether, in a survival experiment, the animal actually demonstrates any sign of pain and inconvenience as judged by its behaviour. The recuperative power of animals appears much greater than our own. A man with a tumour which represented a significant proportion of his body weight would be in very poor shape. A rat in the same condition will apparently lead a normal life, snuffling about its cage with the curiosity characteristic of rats, eating, drinking and copulating as occasion arises, apparently unconcerned with its tumour which seems to embarrass it no more than a rucksack would embarrass a man going for a walk. Knowing these matters we can then form a judgement as to where the-line should be drawn remembering always that the economics of animal experiment bias the system in favour of alternatives such as tissue culture which are usually cheaper; but that it is only with the aid of still more animal experiments that the advance to alternatives can take place. This must be emphasised for it is important.
I would like here to make a brief comment on Plato's Republic. It is a disquisition on Justice to which is prefixed an earlier dialogue on the same subject between Thrasymachus and Socrates. Thrasymachus is in a semantic confusion between natural law and positive law with its three branches of customary law, statute law and equity, enforced obedience to which is the business of justice. Natural law states what happens on every occasion. Positive law states what is commanded on every occasion. Moral law states what ought to happen on every occasion, but neither Socrates nor Thrasymachus was familiar with this third idea. Greek Philosophy had not got beyond the point of postulating morality as the positive law prescribed by the Gods for Man coupled to asking without answering the question of who prescribed positive law for the Gods. A dialogue which needed three terms therefore had to take place with only two. Thrasymachus argues that since natural law entails domination of the weak by the strong and justice entails obedience to law, then justice is to be equated with the interests of the stronger. Socrates succeeds in upsetting this by exposing the confusion underlying it. Having established what justice is not, the rest of "The Republic", which is not a true dialogue but an exposition, is concerned with what it is.
Socrates explains that justice in the human soul might be more readily definable if it were examined in the context of something larger and more tangible, a just city, for example. He regarded a city as composed of groups of specialists, each capable of perfoming valuable services for the others, but whose interests were just as capable of conflicting with one another and with the welfare of the city, i.e. of all. He therefore postulated a group of specialists called the Guardians whose function it was to harmonise the conflicting interests of the citizenry, a just city being one in which the Guardians were in effective control. By analogy with this city the human soul was seen as a community of various passions, instincts and interests which needed harmonising by the rational intellect, the analogy of the Guardians. The intellect was therefore the Guardian of the soul and the just man one in whom the rational intellect was in effective control.
In seeking to do Platonic justice to animals Parliament has delegated its function of exercising rational control on behalf of the Nation to a kind of Platonic Guardian in the form of a Home Office Inspectorate which sits in judgement on the various hmnan and animal interests which need harmonising and which exercises a final verdict on where lines are to be drawn. For nearly a century it has operated under the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876 whose principles seem excellent and have been endorsed by the authors of the Littlewood Report as having worked pretty well. The legislature and government have both proved unenthusiastic about amending it and it may well be on the Statute Book for a long time to come. To say that if the Act were drafted today, some features of the 1876 Act would appear differently, is not necessarily to argue strongly for a new Act now. The Act gives special protection to dogs, cats, Equidae and so on, based on sentiment in 1876. I think that in 1972 we would probably add the highly intelligent and friendly Cetaceans to the list of animals enjoying special protection, and we might need to rethink the position of intelligent and sensitive invertebrates such as the Octopus. To make provision for growth of knowledge and understanding, we might in 1972, list the specially protected animals in a schedule to which the Minister would have powers of addition. Meantime the certifying authorities would surely respond to informed public opinion by declining to issue certificates in certain cases. They too are Platonic Guardians in a way.
Nothing of course works perfectly and that admirable body, the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, includes members who are concerned to improve our supervision over unnecessary duplication of experiments, and unnecessary statutory requirements arising out of other legislation together with a more critical approach to the valuation we put on our different human purposes. It is widely argued that the advancement of medical science occupies a high level of valuation and the commercial interests of the cosmetic industry a low one apart from its connection with, e.g. dermatology. I am sure you will not accuse me of desertion in the face of the enemy if I state that none of these views provokes me to any considerable disagreement. Due weight should be paid to them by the certifying authorities.
Religious prejudice placed an embargo on the dissection of human cadavers. In consequence there grew up the much worse practice of grave robbing. Nothing but good motives inspired the 18th Amendment to the American Constitution and the Volstead Act. The resulting prohibition of alcoholic consumption corrupted American morals irreversibly and was a public disaster. Its consequences are with us half a century later. Total prohibition of experimentation on animals would just as probably drive it underground or overseas where it would be under no control at all. This is a further factor I have to remember in making the act of judgement which enables me to accept the system of 1876 and the Home Office Inspectorate as the keeper of my conscience.
Such are my conclusions on animal experimentation regarded as part of the more general subject of animal exploitation considered from the standpoint of such progress as has been made during recorded history in the field of Ethics and Moral Philosophy. The word "conclusion" is itself a little ambiguous. A chess match is concluded when one of the players checkmates the other. This may mean no more than that the winner has made fewer mistakes than the loser. One may conclude an argument in much the same way without necessarily reaching truth. A mathematical proof concludes with the words Q.E.D. and the conclusion is accepted as true because it follows from the axioms. The conclusion I come to in this paper differs somewhat however from either of these other usages. It is an act of judgement made by a faculty whose origin is obscure and mysterious; but if I were to deal with the origin and status of moral judgement I should find myself embarking on a further lecture. And that, as Kipling would say, is another story.
The Chairman called upon Sir John Boyd to pass a vote of thanks.
"Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am sure that you, like me, have listened with fascination to the most interesting and erudite lecture from Lord Halsbury. I have attended a large number of Stephen Paget Memorial Lectures and in the main these have been delivered by biologists who at one time or another were involved in research and animal experiments. In consequence their lectures conformed to a more or less common pattern, a justification of animal experiments by recounting their experiences and experiments and by detailing the benefits derived there from. I think it is quite indisputable that the most effective methods in the prevention and treatment of disease stem, not from intelligent guesswork, but from carefully controlled experiments and particularly from experiments which involve animals. The sum total of these benefits is enormous and this is the justification that 1 think most of those who carry out animal experiments claim for their work. Putting it in other words—the end justifies the means. Neither of these arguments satisfy the antivivisectionists. They hold that the conclusions which have been drawn from animal experiments are in many cases false. This is something with which 1 think the biologists would not agree, and a contention which they can readily counter. The antivivisectionists also say, and this is much more difficult to refute, that the ethics of the statement that the end justifies the means are open to criticisms.
Lord Halsbury tonight has approached our problems from a different angle. He has. I think, shown us that the problems of animal experiment can be justified on an ethical level. His lecture has provided many points of great interest and much ammunition which can be used by those whose duty it is to wage a battle with the antivivisectionists. I feel that this is a very poor appreciation of this very wonderful lecture which you have had from Lord Halsbury and I ask you to join me in a very hearty vote of thanks ".
Last edited: 26 May 2015 11:05