A recent press release announced the launch of the “ground-breaking” new Journal of Animal Ethics. It is the product of collaboration between the University of Illinois Press and the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics (not affiliated with Oxford University). It aims to be “journal of inquiry, argument, and exchange dedicated to exploring the moral dimension of our relations with animals”. Fantastic! Well thought out ethical discussions on the use of animals (both animal research and their wider use and ownership in society) is exactly what need to take place to enhance human understanding on this issue.
The value of such discussion is only as good as the forum in which it can happen, and the Journal of Animal Ethics is showing many signs of not being one of them.
Let’s start with the editors, who are also the Director and Associate Director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics (OCAE), Revd Professor Andrew Linzey and Professor Priscilla N. Cohn.
Prof Andrew Linzey (pictured) has written and edited a multitude of books which defend animal rights – generally from a religious (Christian) perspective. His biblical view on ethics can be quite difficult to counter if you reject his base premise – that all rights are derived from God. This is especially important when you consider that atheism and agnosticism are much more prevalent among the scientific population than among the general populous.
The second editor is Prof Priscilla N. Cohn is also a proponent of animal rights, having published several books on the issue. Prof Cohn has also founded PNC Inc, “a non-profit animal rights foundation”, and been a board member of Humane USA
The Consultant Editors, those people who help advise the above Editors on potential submissions, are almost entirely (47 out of 48) Fellows or Associate Fellows of the OCAE. Now this would be fine if the Centre itself did not have a bias on the issue of animal ethics, but in truth it has more than a slight animal rights bent. David Sztybel, a Fellow of the OCAE, described the centre as an “animal-rights-friendly organization whose Director is a known animal rights philosopher”
The language used by the Centre’s website is confused – it aims to make “an effective ethical case for animals”, but doesn’t explain the meaning behind this. One can make an ethical case for animal research, one can make an ethical case for animal rights, however you cannot make an ethical case “for animals” anymore than you can make an ethical case “for humans” or an ethical case “for tables” – it makes neither grammatical, nor philosophical sense.
Returning to the new Journal and some other concerns begin to arise such as the submissions guidelines, which include:
In addition to the normal policies against libelous and discriminatory language, all authors should avoid derogatory or colloquial language or nomenclature that denigrates animals (or humans by association), such as: beasts, brutes, bestial, beastly, dumb animals, sub-humans; companion animals should be used rather than pet animals, and free-living or free-ranging rather than (or in addition to) wild animals. [My highlighting]
Why is a Journal that should be discussing ideas of Animal Ethics demanding its authors use the lesser used “companion animals” over “pets”. The former has heavy connotations of animal rights language (especially groups like PETA). This would seem a great issue to discuss in the journal, but not something one should take for granted. The difference between the two terms lies with the nature of ownership of pets – something which should be accepted as a divisive issue.
Reporting in the Telegraph newspaper, the editors said:
“Despite its prevalence, ‘pets’ is surely a derogatory term both of the animals concerned and their human carers,”
“Again the word ‘owners’, whilst technically correct in law, harks back to a previous age when animals were regarded as just that: property, machines or things to use without moral constraint.”
“We invite authors to use the words ‘free-living’, ‘free-ranging’ or ‘free-roaming’ rather than ‘wild animals’”
“For most, ‘wildness’ is synonymous with uncivilised, unrestrained, barbarous existence.”
“Owners” may well have certain connotations, but also helps realise certain truths – that I (legally) can’t (and morally shouldn’t) take home any dog from the park, regardless of how willing it is to come with me.
In the Daily Mail’s article, one reader made the following incisive comment (albeit rather sardonically):
I asked my pet cat and she has stated categorically she doesn’t want to be a companion, she expects to have her every need catered for and companion sounds like she might have to put some effort into this relationship.
Although I applaud the concept of a new Journal to investigate issues of Animal Ethics, I am not sure this will be the one to do it. The heavy Animal Rights orientation of those behind it (both editors and advisers) is already showing its agenda – even before the release of the first edition.