Animal Liberation: The Definitive Classic of the Animal Movement Paperback – Illustrated, Feb. 24 2009
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- Item Weight : 295 g
- ISBN-10 : 0061711306
- ISBN-13 : 978-0061711305
- Paperback : 368 pages
- Dimensions : 13.49 x 2.29 x 20.32 cm
- Publisher : Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Reissue edition (Feb. 24 2009)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #62,492 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
“A most important book that will change the way many of us look at animals—and, ultimately, at ourselves.” (Chicago Tribune)
"This book is a must . . . not just for every animal lover but forevery civilized reader." (Cleveland Amory)
"A most important and responsible work. Everyone ought to read it, and ponder deeply whether we do not need to change our view of the world and our responsibility toward its creatures." (Richard Adams, author of Watership Down)
“This book can’t help but make you think twice about whether or not animals have rights. It is so lucid and smart and thoroughly researched, without a hint of hysteria. I couldn’t put it down.” (Rick Moody, author of The Ice Storm)
From the Inside Flap
Since its original publication in 1975, this groundbreaking work has awakened millions of people to the existence of speciesism--our systematic disregard of nonhuman animals--inspiring a worldwide movement to transform our attitudes to animals and eliminate the cruelty we inflict on them.
In Animal Liberation, author Peter Singer exposes the chilling realities of today's factory farms and product-testing procedures--destroying the spurious justifications behind them, and offering alternatives to what has become a profound environmental and social as well as moral issue. An important and persuasive appeal to conscience, fairness, decency, and justice, it is essential reading for the supporter and the skeptic alike.--Rick Moody, author of The Ice Storm
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Top reviews from Canada
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Many of these arguments are built from scratch, and so don't rely on previous social stigmas and habits to justify the cause - this is the strongest approach to the argument because relying on structural notions of right and wrong immediately fails to capture the haunting badness of farming and animal experimentation. It requires him to reconstruct the paradigm of ethical human behavior in a way that includes treatment of animals, which I believe he could have put even more effort into. It also helps him avoid using some of the more nauseating (and underwhelming) tropes like comparison to slavery, comparison to farming humans, etc. But he doesn't avoid those entirely.
I personally think that animal experimentation (as well as general animal cruelty laws) is a much smaller issue than abuse of animals in factory farms from a quantitative perspective. Singer opts to spend a similar amount of time on both arguments, in part because of the abundant, vivid imagery available in all of the unnecessary experiments
conducted on animals. Its hard for the abstract suffering of billions of farm animals to compete with a picture of a bunny rabbit's eye melted from application of toxic chemicals. Perhaps more importantly, the investigation of animal experiments is a rich insight into speciesism as Singer frames it: Humans deciding that subjecting animals to suffering will be necessary for the advancement of vital knowledge, but in the end falling short of advancing anything but vivisection technique; Omelas for the hell of it.
The chapter on factory farming give a good overview of the tortured lives of a lot of these creatures. The accounts are most powerful when they provide imagery, for example when he describes hens with feet fused to cages, with parts of their body bloody or balding from other hens' vices and rubbing against cages. If you've read some of Michael Pollan's books/essays a lot of the intensive methods will be familiar already, though its pretty awful to consider how those industrialized farming were standard practice by the 70's. Singer is admirably non-judgemental when he describes the treatment of farm animals, even going as far to use only descriptions provided by the meat/poultry industry itself, and this helps him avoid an atmosphere of vindictiveness one might otherwise expect from the author of a book called "Animal Liberation". Alongside his wide use of reference material this really elevates his case against the factor farms to a place of objectivity.
Most complaints I have about the book are minor:
- arguments in the factory farming section sometimes lean on results from animal experiments that seem designed specifically to induce suffering in animals, to demonstrate the suffering occurred (e.g. hens denied food and nests for 24 hours really, really want to nest and also eat). I think arguments against factor farming on the basis that it suppresses animals' natural behavior would benefit more from observational studies instead of the same lot of experiments that were critiqued in the first section.
- Some factory farming statistics are dubious: Water consumption in a process is hard to compare across industry (what happened to the water? How difficult was it to post-process, and how polluting was the remainder?) and statistics like 2000 gal per pound of steak are hard to believe.
- Same for nutrition arguments: Accounting for consumption/waste of (complete) plant protein in the creation of animal protein assumes they're equivalent, which is depends a lot on incomplete physiological understanding of humans. He shouldn't completely dismiss the benefits of meat in arguing for Vegetarianism/Veganism, but rather acknowledge that any advantages for the omnivore are far outweighed by the ethical misconduct they'll have to commit to serve their diet.
- Information is outdated: I would have liked if the new edition included more experimentation from decades since the 70's
Overall, in "Animal Liberation", Peter Singer constructs an ethical argument for the end of animal experimentation and farming and describes the cruelties of these practices with factual support and an objective tone. He counters arguments for continuing these practices and emphasizes solutions in the making that will help update our treatment of non-human species towards conduct much more appropriate for civilized humans.
Top reviews from other countries
AUDIENCE: For a book written by an academic, it is remarkably accessible and jargon-free. Any person interaction with animals would do well to read this book. Animal professionals must read it as it is a classic in the animal rights literature.
Style and contents
At about 250 densely packed pages, you won’t be done in a couple of days, but it’s no War and Peace either.
The book is divided into 2 chapters examining widespread abuses by the research and intensive farming industries. It also devotes a couple of chapters to the philosophical arguments supporting the equal consideration of animals. Finally, one chapter covers tips and views on vegetarianism.
The book in itself is a gem. It is THE classic in the animal rights’ literature and is on every animal rights and bioethics course reading list. These were some of the tidbits that I found particularly interesting:
The chapters detailing the abuses of the research industry were shocking and depressing. Knowing what I know of ethics committees in the EU and UK protecting mammals at least (except rats and mice…), I think things have changed a lot there. Not enough, but a lot. Sadly, not much has changed in the intensive farming industry, where regulatory bodies are more committed to pleasing crowds than effective action.
His chapter on animal research gave me pause, particularly the species-specific idiosyncracies that are discovered after the fact again and again. Take the fact that morphine is a neurostimulant for mice (it is a neurodepressant for us)! Countless products have been tested on animals and have been revealed, come human trial times, to have paradoxical effects in humans. The fact that promising animal models have to be taken lightly was not news to me, but the book opened my eyes to the horrifying scale of the problem. A ‘sad tale of futility’, as he calls it.
His reviews of the futile psychology experiments also made for depressing reading: studies on maternal deprivation, stress, learned helplessness/experimentally induced neurosis are classics in our field. Little did I know that so many subsequent – and useless – variations were carried out, putting millions of animals through unspeakable suffering for no reason.
I loved the passages on influential thinkers’ views through the ages. Having taken my last history course on the topic ages ago, it was a welcome refresher on the views of Descartes, Montaigne, Rousseau, Hume, Bentham, Thomas of Aquina, etc.
I was surprised by the list of animal-based products. I had never stopped to consider whether my candles, soap bars and perfume bottles had been were ethically sourced. Like I needed something else to feel guilty about.
As a veggie, I am wary of having to justify my dietary choice all the time, particularly from people who imply you are an irrational softie for caring about killing animals. He has a great way around that. He just says he is boycotting the intensive farming products. Effectively, unless you are getting your animal produce from your cousin or your neighbour, it means you are a veggie.
It was interesting to see that these assumptions were STILL being made by many meat eaters and needed addressing…
That you supposedly need meat to live (patently untrue)
That all veggies oppose the killing of animals to eat (I certainly don’t. I oppose their life of suffering and painful death)
I liked that he called meat ‘flesh’. It is less easy to hide from the horrifying truth when you don’t use an impersonal word.
An interesting passage on plants and pain, and the methods used to gain our knowledge (neurology, evolutionary function and behaviour)
Possible points for optimization
Stupidly, I read the 1995 edition instead of the 2015 one. That’s how long it had been on my ‘to read’ shelf… So I don’t know whether what I point out below has drastically changed in the latest edition.
I found the chapter on vegetarianism out of place. It fell into prosaic topics like how easy it is for friends to accommodate for your change of diet and that really vegetarian recipes are more diverse, if anything, than ones based on meat. I am a veggie myself so this argument doesn’t come from some defense mechanism or anything. The chapter was simply not intellectually interesting – nor logically or factually rigorous.
The logic (and realities) underlying his equal consideration arguments was occasionally weak, and it was a little repetitive. This is disappointing considering he is a professional ethicist. Take these examples:
Comparing speciesm to racism doesn’t hold water not just in degree, but also in kind.
Dodgy logic (p. 92) arguing that relying less on experimentally induced disease (on animals) would have somehow changed the focus of medicine towards prevention and healthy living. Yes, it would have, as a necessity. Surely he is not arguing that we should forego researching treatments and ONLY focus on prevention? For every disease?
On p. 229, his logic becomes outright tortuous. This is the predictable product of hard utilitarianism.
He says that the only defense of speciesm (namely to privilege members of our own group), is unjustifiable. It only is if you are a hard-line utilitarian. Take the classic thought experiment where you know your brother is evading his taxes on a grand scale, and you are asked whether you would report him. Of course the circle of empathy rings deeper the closer the person is to our inner circle: immediate family, friends, community, country, species. Whilst I tend to abhore nationalism, I can still see the evolutionary function of this selective empathy along lines of closeness to oneself.
A couple of statements are factually incorrect.
On p. 222, for example, he claims that no other animal, aside from man, prolongs the suffering of their prey. I can think of two counter-examples in less than a second: cats and killer whales.
I was surprised that he did not mention cognitive dissonance. Sure (most of) his arguments supporting vegetarianism are sound (better ecologically, medically and ethically). But the problem isn’t the weight of the arguments, it’s cognitive dissonance. Meat eaters are so committed to the idea that any argument opposing their worldview will just entrench them further.
Whilst I also (still) eat eggs and drink dairy product, I am aware of my hypocrisy. He, on the other hand, conveniently breezed over the horror that is the egg and leather industries when discussing the impracticality of veganism and not wearing leather.
He does not condemn the free-range egg industry explicitly enough, nearly trivializing its abuses (male chicks are still crushed alive by the millions).
The book is a classic and must be read by every professional working with animals, and even by laymen.
Sometimes his arguments smacked of post hoc rationalisations and got tangled up by his hard line utilitarianism, but the central point is valid: we should view speciesm critically (he would like us to condemn it altogether, which I find neither feasible nor desirable). We should grant animals equal consideration of interests.
---I would have preferred to see the unedited text of the original edition with comments in brackets or at the end of each section about what has changed since then rather than a completely updated work.
---The chapters, especially 2 and 3 are very long and could have been broken up, e.g. with spaces or stars or lines simply, to give a place to break them up.