Speaking of Morality

It was with the goal of sharing my personal views on the ethics of animal research that I recently published a manuscript on the topic. I also participated in two separate, public debates with animal rights philosophers Gary Francione and Nathan Nobis.

Briefly, my position is based on the notion of graded moral status.  I believe we owe moral consideration to all living beings, but not in equal degree.  This idea is direct conflict with those that promulgate that all living beings have the same basic rights to life and freedom. Thus, it is no surprise that in a recent post, Rick Bogle, an animal rights proponent and former advisor to the Animal Liberation Front Press Office, takes aim at such ethical positions.

He should know it was not an animal researcher that concocted the idea of graded moral status. The notion is one that has been discussed by moral philosophers for some time.  It is a theory that is accepted as a valid and defensible position in the literature, and I cited the work of David DeGrazia as one example.

To the proponents of animal rights the notion of graded moral status cannot be accepted at any cost.  Any such acceptance would amount to accepting a version of animal welfarism.  Instead, they are of the belief that all living beings have the same basic rights to life and freedom.


Mr. Bogle explains:

It seems to me that in times of great danger, the desires and interests of humans and members of many other species are exactly the same. If threatened, we run or hide.


In these fundamental matters […] our interests are identical.

In short, Mr Bogle thinks that any organism that runs or hides when threatened must be considered to have the same mental states, the same interests in life and freedom and, as a consequence, the same moral status as that of humans.

One may point out that that even single-cell organisms will “run away” from “threats” — such as the movement of bacteria by chemotaxis.  And one may wonder if Mr. Bogle believes that bacteria have the same moral status as a humans.

Indeed, he thinks we ought to give the bacteria the benefit of the doubt:

We don’t have a testable theory to explain mind. In the absence of such, all we have is observable behavior. When mollusks, bees, monkeys, or foreigners behave as if they are acting with intention, a consistent moral course demands that they be given the benefit of the doubt.

In other words, when a single cell moves towards glucose Mr. Bogle suggests we interpret the behavior as intentional: “the cell enjoys glucose and makes a voluntary decision to seek places where it can be found in high concentrations.”


In a nutshell — Mr. Bogle demands society to stop all biomedical research with animals aimed at the continuing advancement of medical knowledge, human and non-human health because “it seems” to him that “the desires and interests of humans and members of many other species are exactly the same”.

And this is, of course, how he justifies his support of violence against scientists.

Rick Bogle
One of multiple articles where Bogle justifies the use of violence against scientists.

Mr. Bogle, at the same time, is also the Executive Director of Alliance for Animals, an organization that supposedly “advocates for non-violence and respect”.  And yet, he is neither non-violent nor respectful.

If your moral intuition and reason tell you to be suspicious of Bogle’s animal rights claims, you would be right to do so.  Given the serious implications that stopping the work would have on human and non-human suffering, scientists and the public are likely to demand a more reasonable objection. Specifically, those that oppose the research must justify the morality of inaction.