Journal of Controversial Ideas
Controversial_Ideas 2021, 1(1), 2; doi:10.35995/jci01010002
In Defense of Direct Action
Alastair Norcross; animal ethics; animal liberation front; common sense morality; direct action; animal experimentation; civil disobedience; abnegation
It is prima facie morally permissible to use coercion to prevent puppies from being seriously and wrongfully harmed.
There is no morally salient difference between puppies and other mammals.
Thus, it is prima facie morally permissible to use coercion to prevent mammals from being seriously and wrongfully harmed.
When mammals such as cows, pigs, sheep, and mice are turned into food, clothing, or experimental research subjects, they are, in most instances, seriously and wrongfully harmed.
Thus, it is prima facie morally permissible, in most instances, to use coercion to prevent mammals such as cows, pigs, sheep, and mice from being turned into food, clothing, or experimental research subjects.
“…Fred…receives a visit from the police one day. They have been summoned by Fred’s neighbors, who have been disturbed by strange sounds emanating from Fred’s basement. When they enter the basement they are confronted by the following scene: Twenty-six small wire cages, each containing a puppy, some whining, some whimpering, some howling. The puppies range in age from newborn to about six months. Many of them show signs of mutilation. Urine and feces cover the bottoms of the cages and the basement floor. Fred explains that he keeps the puppies for twenty-six weeks, and then butchers them while holding them upside-down. During their lives he performs a series of mutilations on them, such as slicing off their noses and their paws with a hot knife, all without any form of anesthesia. Except for the mutilations, the puppies are never allowed out of the cages, which are barely big enough to hold them at twenty-six weeks. The police are horrified, and promptly charge Fred with animal abuse…”
Norcross further develops the thought experiment over several lengthy paragraphs. Here is a brief summary: Fred attempts to justify his behavior by explaining its ultimate aim—namely, to enable him to enjoy the taste of chocolate, which is one of his great passions. Due to a head injury, Fred can only enjoy chocolate when its consumption is supplemented with a flavor enhancing hormone that is no longer produced by his body. The one known replacement hormone is secreted by puppies, but only when they experience prolonged and excruciating pain. Thus, Fred devises the scheme described above as a means by which to acquire the needed hormone. His behavior is not sadistic, he claims, but in keeping with the morally benign norms of mainstream gastronomy.
F2: Fred’s neighbor Jim hears anguished cries emanating from Fred’s basement. As a result, Jim becomes concerned and decides to peek through one of Fred’s basement windows. What he sees is shocking. Fred is using a small knife to slowly mutilate a puppy, whose body is suspended upside-down from the basement ceiling. Jim quickly concludes that something must be done. He breaks into Fred’s house, rushes to the basement, and physically subdues Fred. After tying Fred to a support beam in the basement, Jim calls the police.
F3: As in F2, Jim witnesses the scene taking place in Fred’s basement. He concludes that something must be done. Jim does not believe that he can physically subdue Fred, but he does happen to be carrying a firearm. Thus, Jim breaks into Fred’s house, rushes to the basement, draws his pistol, and yells “Stop that or I’ll shoot.” After convincing Fred to tie himself to a support beam in the basement, Jim calls the police.
I expect readers will share my judgment that, given the imminent threat Fred poses to the puppies in his care, Jim’s behavior in these cases is prima facie morally permissible. Indeed, I hold that this is a pre-theoretic judgment of common sense morality.12
F4: As in F2 and F3, Jim witnesses puppies being mutilated in Fred’s basement. He concludes that something must be done. He opts to call the police. When they arrive, however, the lead officer informs Jim there is nothing she can do to stop Fred from mutilating the puppies caged in his basement. Although the officer confesses that she finds Fred’s behavior abhorrent, it turns out that the animal protection laws in Jim’s city have a loophole that exempts all animals that are used in ongoing medical research or treatment from consideration. Fred is aware of this loophole. Thus, although his aim is to merely extract a flavor enhancer with no special medicinal properties, he has procured letters of support from his physician and a medical researcher at the local university. Both letters attest to the medicinal and therapeutic value of the hormone Fred is collecting. Although these letters of support may not hold up under legal or scientific scrutiny, any adjudication process promises to be lengthy. Thus, the police leave Fred to continue his puppy mutilation and tell Jim to contact the district attorney’s office if he wants to take the matter further.When Fred leaves for work the next morning, Jim breaks into his house, rescues the puppies in his basement, and then destroys Fred’s equipment, files, research notes, and everything else that appears to support the ongoing project of puppy mutilation. Then, he breaks a sewage pipe. This floods the basement with rancid water and renders it unusable for the foreseeable future.
Jim’s behavior in F4 is clearly coercive. It involves theft, trespassing, and property destruction that jointly alter what Fred is able and/or willing to do. Although this case is more complex than F2 or F3, I expect readers will share my judgment that Jim’s behavior in F4 is prima facie morally permissible. Although the puppies Jim rescues do not face an immediate threat, his actions prevent them from being seriously and wrongfully harmed in the near future. Furthermore, Jim’s destruction of Fred’s workspace and tools pre-emptively prevents the mutilation of the replacement puppies that Fred would otherwise procure (given the state’s reluctance to interfere with his scheme). At least for a time, Jim’s coercive intervention will successfully prevent Fred from seriously and wrongfully harming puppies.
F5: Suppose that Jim has incontrovertible evidence (including clear and compelling direct testimony) that Fred intends to carry out a mass shooting at a local music festival scheduled to take place over the next several days. Unfortunately, since Fred is a beloved and respected member of the community, the police, who are very busy preparing for the music festival, do not take Jim seriously when he reports Fred’s threats of violence. Thus, Jim decides to take matters into his own hands. When Fred leaves for work the next day, Jim breaks into his house, removes or destroys all the firearms and ammunition he can find, destroys any electronic devices that could be used for planning purposes, and disables Fred’s car by severely damaging its engine.
In its most morally salient aspects, F5 is analogous to F4. Again, we find Jim destroying property that would enable Fred to seriously and wrongfully harm many others, primarily because the state is reluctant to intervene. And I expect readers will share my judgment that Jim’s behavior in F5 is prima facie morally permissible. Thus, we have additional support for the claim that common sense morality prima facie permits certain forms of preventative attacks on property.
F6: Fred’s neighbor Jim hears anguished cries emanating from Fred’s basement. As a result, Jim becomes concerned and decides to peek through one of Fred’s basement windows. What he sees is shocking. Fred is using a small knife to slowly mutilate a squirrel, whose body is suspended upside-down from the basement ceiling. Jim quickly concludes that something must be done. He breaks into Fred’s house, rushes to the basement, and physically subdues Fred. After tying Fred to a support beam in the basement, Jim calls the police.
I expect the reader will judge, as I do, that Jim’s coercive interventions in F6 are prima facie morally permissible. This suggests that the common sense moral judgments elicited by F2, F3, and F4 are not species-specific or species dependent. Given his continuing infliction of serious and wrongful harm, Fred remains liable to defensive harm even though he is now targeting squirrels. Absent countervailing moral considerations, it is permissible for private citizens to use coercion to stop people who would otherwise wrongfully mutilate squirrels.
F7: The initial details in this case are the same as in F2. As they wait for the police to arrive, Jim asks Fred why he has been mutilating puppies. In reply, Fred tells Jim that he is a retired research scientist and professor emeritus at State University. After reviewing several well-designed cutting-edge studies, he has at arrived at the following hypothesis: a hormone produced by puppies subjected to prolonged and excruciating pain can be used to enhance the ameliorative powers of a promising new cancer treatment. Unfortunately, Fred no longer has lab access. Despite making many inquiries, Fred is not aware of anyone else who is attempting to collect this hormone for use in cancer research. And he has not been able to convince his erstwhile colleagues to do the work necessary to test his hypothesis. Thus, Fred has decided to collect the hormone himself in hopes of eventually convincing someone to incorporate it in cancer research.
When compared to its antecedents, F7 is a more vexing case. Fred’s aim is not to produce a marginal benefit, but to significantly improve the ameliorative powers of a cancer treatment. Moreover, it’s hardly clear that he (or anyone) has any alternative means of producing this good. Were Fred to achieve success, the harms he imposes on puppies would help to generate a tremendous benefit for human beings and all other species susceptible to cancer. Thus, Fred may have a lesser-evil justification for his puppy mutilation.
F8: As in F7, Fred is mutilating puppies in order to harvest a hormone that he believes will enhance the ameliorative powers of a promising new cancer treatment. This time, however, Fred is an active researcher employed by State University. He has secured grant funding for his project and is operating out of a university laboratory. In the early stages of investigation, however, Fred learns that the central claims of the research which inspired his project are actually false positives. He now knows that mutilation of the puppies in his care cannot be justified on lesser-evil grounds. Even so, in hopes of discovering something scientifically interesting, Fred resolves to continue on with the project until its funding has been exhausted, despite the fact that it is no longer reasonable to believe that it will yield beneficial knowledge.A whistleblower in Fred’s lab leaks this information to Jim, who quickly concludes that something must be done. That night, he breaks into Fred’s lab and rescues the puppies. In the process of conducting the rescue, Jim destroys Fred’s lab equipment, records, and computers. As he departs, Fred breaks a sewage pipe, which renders the lab unusable for the foreseeable future.
The laboratory setting of the puppy mutilation in F8 does not make it any less serious or wrongful than in cases F2–F4. Nor does it remove Fred’s liability to coercive intervention on the puppies’ behalf. Thus, if we judge that Jim’s coercive intervention is prima facie permissible in the antecedent cases, then, as a matter of consistency, we ought to make the same judgment in F8. Indeed, aside from the setting, the details of this case mirror those of F4 in all morally relevant respects.
Iowa Select: In the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused significant market disruption within the US meat industry. As a result, many farming companies were left with “excess” animals that could not be profitably killed in the usual way. Iowa’s largest pork producer, Iowa Select Farms, dealt with the excess pigs in some of their facilities by exterminating them en masse using a process called ventilation shut down. According to Glenn Greenwald, this involves “sealing off all airways to their barns and inserting steam into them, intensifying the heat and humidity inside and leaving them to die overnight. Most pigs—though not all—[died] after hours of suffering from a combination of being suffocated and roasted to death.”
The harms imposed in this case are quantitatively greater (involving tens of thousands of animals) and, at a minimum, qualitatively comparable to those described in F2–F8. Iowa Select thus undercuts the objection that my hypothetical cases are somehow artificial—i.e., that they are not representative of the way animals are treated, in practice, by those who harm them for human benefit. In many actual cases, businesses, institutions, and individuals operate just as Fred does in F2–F8; they wrongfully subject animals to prolonged and excruciating suffering for the sake of securing marginal benefits that could be obtained by other means.
Elkton: According to an Animal Liberation Front Communique, “…on the night of August 5, [we] visited the only known fur farm in the state of Virginia, Scott Dean’s D&S Fox Farm in Elkton. We opened every one of the few cages at D&S, giving thirteen beautiful foxes a chance at new lives in the nearby Shenandoah National Park. As we watched a few of them immediately scurry off to freedom, we damaged the machinery that allows Dean to continue his day-to-day operation confining and torturing these sensitive creatures.”
The relevant differences between Elkton and case F4 are negligible. Indeed, since (a) foxes held in captivity on fur farms face an imminent threat of serious and wrongful harm and (b) there is no morally significant difference between foxes and puppies, the action undertaken by the Animal Liberation Front in Elkton is prima facie morally permissible. Note, too, that Elkton involves preventive property damage that, by parity with our judgment about F4, is also prima facie permissible.
When I use ‘animal rights’, the term ‘rights’ is not meant to be philosophically substantive or to assume any particular theory or characterization of moral rights. For instance, I use ‘animal rights movement’ as a mere paraphrase for “the movement to secure moral recognition for and prevent wrongful treatment of animals.”
Aside from Steve Best, no contemporary philosophers have, to my knowledge, directly and explicitly defended, even to a limited degree, the moral permissibility of using coercion against those who would otherwise seriously and wrongfully harm animals. See Steve Best, “It’s War,” in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters: Reflections on Animal Liberation, eds. Steve Best and Anthony Nocella (New York: Lantern Books, 2004), 300–40. Moreover, Best’s defense of coercive tactics is situated within a polemical argument for revolutionary political violence that aims at a profound reordering of human social and political life. Best (ibid., 335) assumes, for instance, that “the animal rights community can no longer afford to be a single-issue movement, for now in order to fight for animal rights we have to fight for democracy.” Indeed, Best’s political project is broader in scope and more radical in character than the kinds of political projects ordinarily championed by animal rights activists and the philosophers who share their convictions. For other work that addresses issues adjacent to those discussed in this essay see: Ned Hettinger, “Environmental Disobedience,” in A Companion to Environmental Philosophy, ed. Dale Jamieson (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), 498–509; Steve Cooke, “Animal Rights and Environmental Terrorism,” Journal of Terrorism Research 4 (2013): 26–36; John Hadley, “Animal Rights and Self-Defense Theory,” Journal of Value Inquiry 43 (2009): 165–77; CE Abbate, “The Search for Liability in the Defensive Killing of Nonhuman Animals,” Social Theory and Practice 41 (2015): 106–30; Michael Allen and Erica von Essen, “Are Illegal Direct Actions by Animal Rights Activists Ethically Vigilante,” Between the Species 22 (2018): 260–85. All of these papers make interesting contributions to the literature, but none presents a direct and unequivocal argument for the moral permissibility of using coercion to defend animals against wrongful harm.
I purposefully use the phrase ‘inclined to oppose’ rather than more direct language. This is because both Singer and Regan have been guarded in their pronouncements on this subject. For their tacit opposition, see, for example: Peter Singer, “Introduction,” in In Defense of Animals: The Second Wave, ed. Peter Singer (New York: Wiley, 2006), 1–10; Tom Regan, “How to Justify Violence,” in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters: Reflections on Animal Liberation, eds. Steve Best and Anthony Nocella (New York: Lantern Books, 2004), 231–36.
In what follows, I use ‘animal’ to pick out all and only mammals, although I often use the former term for stylistic reasons. I restrict my argument to mammals because doing so makes its key premises easier to defend. This is because there is widespread agreement that mammals are sentient. Furthermore, it is not uncommon to assign them some degree of self-awareness (although this is a more controversial position). Both of these attributes are ordinarily taken to be sufficient for possession of moral status.
Support for premise (2) can be found in numerous philosophical works, including: Peter Singer, Animal Liberation (New York: Harper Collins, 2002); Tom Regan, “Empty Cages: Animals Rights and Vivisection,” in Contemporary Debates in Applied Ethics, eds. Andrew I. Cohen and Christopher Heath Wellman (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2019), 77–90; Mylan Engel, “The Commonsense Case for Ethical Vegetarianism,” Between the Species 19 (2016): 2–31. Support for premise (4) can be found in numerous philosophical works, including: Singer, Animal Liberation; Regan, “Empty Cages”; Mylan Engel, “The Commonsense Case against Animal Experimentation,” in The Ethics of Animal Research, ed. Jeremy Garrett (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012), 215–36. I regard it as beyond dispute that most common animal rearing, slaughter, and experimentation practices seriously and wrongfully harm animals. Confinement, mutilation, and death are, in most instances, seriously harmful. And, granting the possible exception of some harms imposed by medical researchers, these harms are imposed unnecessarily and therefore wrongfully.
Alastair Norcross, “Puppies, Pigs, and People: Eating Meat and Marginal Cases,” Philosophical Perspectives 18 (2004): 229–45.
This literature begins with Robert Nozick, “Coercion,” in Philosophy, Science, and Method: Essays in Honor of Ernest Nagel, eds. Sidney Morgenbesser, Patrick Suppes and Morton White (New York: St. Martin’s Press), 440–72.
For more on this linguistic debate, see: Steve Best and Anthony Nocella, “Introduction,” in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters: Reflections on Animal Liberation, eds. Steve Best and Anthony Nocella (New York: Lantern Books, 2004), 30–34.
For instance, although they claim to use only nonviolent tactics, one prominent group of militant activists operate under the name Direct Action Everywhere. Their website is www.directactioneverywhere.com.
Norcross, “Puppies, Pigs, and People,” 229.
Although there is debate about the details, there is a near consensus that animals should receive some degree of legislative protection. For instance, a recent Gallop poll shows that only 3% of Americans believe that “animals don’t need much protection from harm and exploitation, since they are just animals.” See: Rebecca Rifkin, “In U.S., More Say Animals Should Have Same Rights as People,” Gallup, May 18, 2015, http://www.gallup.com/poll/183275/say-animals-rights-people.aspx.
I adopt the operative notion of common sense morality from Michael Huemer, who says that it consists of a collection of judgments about particular cases and non-theoretical general principles that “the great majority of people are inclined to accept, especially in my society and societies that readers…are likely to belong to.” See: Michael Huemer, The Problem of Political Authority (New York: Palgrave, 2013), 15. Huemer also makes a similar point about coercion: “In common sense morality…coercion requires a justification…one legitimate justification is self-defense or defense of innocent third parties: one may harmfully coerce another person, if doing so is necessary to prevent that person from wrongfully harming someone else.” See: ibid., 10.
Renford Bambrough, “A Proof of the Objectivity of Morals,” American Journal of Jurisprudence 14 (1969): 37–53.
In my view, our judgments about F2 and F3 are also immediate, in the sense that we do not arrive at them by conscious inference from other beliefs. For this reason, I would categorize them as moral intuitions. I follow Jeff McMahan in thinking that “a moral intuition is a moral judgment—typically about a particular problem, a particular act, or a particular agent, though possibly also about a moral rule or principle—that is not the result of inferential reasoning. It is not inferred from one’s other beliefs but arises on its own. If I consider the act of torturing the cat, I judge immediately that, in the circumstances, this would be wrong.” See: Jeff McMahan, “Moral Intuition,” in The Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory, eds. Hugh LaFollette and Ingmar Persson (Oxford: Blackwell, 2013), 104–5. Perhaps more controversially, I also think we are prima facie justified in endorsing the contents of these intuitions simply in virtue of the fact that they appear to us to be true. For a defense of this position see: Michael Huemer, Ethical Intuitionism (New York: Palgrave, 2005). Since I do not think they have direct bearing on the central arguments of this essay, I will not attempt to defend my views about the immediacy of or the source of justification for our judgments about F2 and F3. I make these views explicit in order to provide the reader with a better sense of the epistemological background commitments that influence my understanding of common sense morality.
See, once again, Rifkin, “More Say Animals Should Have Same Rights…”
Indeed, as Huemer notes, “every [inquiry] must begin somewhere, and beginning with such [common sense judgments] as that under normal conditions one may not rob, kill, or attack other people seems reasonable enough. This is about the least controversial, least dubious starting point…I have seen.” See Huemer, The Problem of Political Authority, 179. Readers may also wish to compare my discussion of “judgments of common sense morality” with Timmons’ “considered moral beliefs” and Cuneo and Shafer-Landau’s “moral fixed points.” See: Mark Timmons, Moral Theory: An Introduction (New York: Roman and Littlefield, 2002); Terence Cuneo and Russ Shafer-Landau, “The Moral Fixed Points: New Directions for Moral Non-naturalism,” Philosophical Studies 171 (2014): 399–443.
The recent philosophical literature contains a wealth of material on self- and other-defense. Some highlights include: JJ Thomson, “Self-Defense,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 20 (1991): 283–310; Jeff McMahan, Killing in War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); Seth Lazar, “Necessity in Self-Defense and War,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 40 (2012): 3–44; Helen Frowe, Defensive Killing (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). Much of this material has bearing on my claims about the necessity and proportionality of the coercion Jim employs in F2 and F3. This material is also relevant to the examples I describe and claims I make in sections three, four, and five. Some contributors to this literature—including Hadley, “Animal Rights and Self-Defense Theory” and Abbate, “The Search for Liability”—have even explored the applicability of self-defense theory to issues in animal ethics. Even so, I will not directly engage with this literature. A central aim of this paper is to show that we need only appeal to common sense morality to defend the prima facie permissibility of using coercion against those who would otherwise harm animals. Thus, I do not want the claims I defend to be conditional on the acceptance of specific theoretical commitments concerning self- and other-defense or specific philosophical analyses of such notions as necessity, proportionality, and liability. Indeed, rather than taking a top down approach focused on applying theoretical principles and analyses to the examples under consideration, I take a bottom up approach focused on eliciting intuitions about specific cases. These intuitions can then be used to support more general theoretical claims. Going forward, I make no assumptions, aside from those I believe to be embedded in common sense morality, concerning the conditions under which an agent is liable to defensive harm, the criteria for the necessity and proportionality of defensive harming, or about self- and other-defense in general.
For interesting recent research on problem solving and memory in squirrels see: Pizza Ka Yee Chow, PWW Lurz and Stephen E.G. Lea, “A battle of wits? Problem-solving abilities in invasive eastern grey squirrels and native Eurasian red squirrels,” Animal Behaviour 137 (2018): 11–20; Pizza Ka Yee Chow, Stephen E.G. Lea, Natalia Hempel de Ibarra and Theo Robert, “Inhibitory control and memory in the search process for a modified problem in grey squirrels, Sciurus carolinensis,” Animal Cognition 22 (2019): 645–55.
Norcross, “Puppies, Pigs, and People,” 235.
Some would argue that puppies and dogs are special because human beings can enter into reciprocal social relationships with them. Is this a morally relevant difference? I should think not, largely because many kinds of non-domesticated mammals can (and occasionally do) enter into reciprocal social relationships with human beings. For one interesting example, which documents 18th century Americans’ fondness for keeping squirrels as pets, see: Katherine Grier, Pets in America: A History (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2016). Note, too, that the special relationship between humans and dogs has not prevented researchers from subjecting dogs to seriously harmful and probably wrongful experiments. For example, Syd Johnson describes experiments in which ischemic strokes are induced in dogs; as with many other kinds of harmful animal experiments, these experiments have not produced any clear ameliorative benefits for human beings. See: L. Syd Johnson, “The Trouble with Animal Models in Brain Research,” in Neuroethics and Nonhuman Animals, eds. L. Syd Johnson, Andrew Fenton and Adam Shriver (Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2020), 281.
A question for the reader: can you imagine even considering the possibility, were you to find yourself in Jim’s position, that Fred might be conducting legitimate and potentially beneficial scientific research by mutilating puppies in his basement?
Derek Parfit distinguishes between fact-relative, belief-relative, and evidence-relative senses in which an act can be wrong. See: Derek Parfit, On What Matters (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), Volume I, 150–51. If one’s actions are wrong relative to both the evidence and the facts, as Fred’s actions are in case F7, this suffices to render one liable to defensive harm. However, in cases where one’s actions are wrong relative to the facts but not relative to one’s evidence, things appear to be more complicated. In many such cases, one has an excuse that would shield one from liability. For instance, to borrow an example from Parfit, suppose a doctor’s evidence suggests that drug A will help patient X, but actually it makes patient X’s symptoms much worse. The doctor nevertheless seems to have an excuse for prescribing A to patient X, even though doing so is wrong relative to the facts.
There are interesting questions about when and whether medical researchers have an excuse for conducting animal experiments that are wrong relative to the facts. Although I cannot explore these questions in detail, it nevertheless seems to me that such excuses are likely to be in short supply. This is because, given the high stakes of error for both humans and animals, medical researchers ought to be aware of the poor track record of animal experiments (which I discuss in more detail in section four); to put it another way: if they do their due diligence, there will not be many cases where animal experimentation is going to be wrong relative to the facts but justifiable relative to the researcher’s evidence. Supposing, however, that a researcher does have an excuse, they are probably not liable to be harmed. Even so, animal defenders may have a lesser-evil justification for using limited and proportionate forms of coercion against them.
A caveat on animal experimentation: much like the pleasure Fred experiences when he eats flavor enhanced chocolate, knowledge acquired via animal experimentation has (at least in my view) intrinsic value. Even so, this value does not thereby justify the harm imposed to produce it. Indeed, I should think it uncontroversial that there are moral limits on the harms we may impose to harvest knowledge for its own sake. I do not intend to identify these limits. Certainly, however, common sense morality forbids accosting you on the street and hitting you in the face with a hammer just for the sake of collecting data about fight-or-flight responses in human beings. The (putative) intrinsic value of the knowledge obtained does not outweigh your suffering, override your interests, or trump your basic rights. To justify doing serious harm to others for the sake of knowledge acquisition, we should need to be able to show that the knowledge in question will have significant instrumental value and cannot be acquired by alternative means.
The change in venue in F8 also raises questions about the degree to which institutions are liable for the wrongful behavior of individuals who operate under their aegis. I will not attempt to answer this difficult question. Still, I should note that in the cases under consideration the institutions in question are actively sanctioning and supporting Fred’s puppy mutilation. Thus, they too appear to be liable to defense harm (though perhaps not to the same extent as Fred). If a property owner knowingly allows their property to be used to wrongfully harm animals, this renders them at least somewhat liable to defensive action. If they do not know that their property is being used for this purpose, they may not be liable to having it damaged or destroyed. However, the property owner’s lack of liability is not sufficient to show that destruction of their property is impermissible. To illustrate this, suppose that in cases F2–F4, the basement Fred uses to mutilate puppies is rented from Jane. Even if Jane is an absentee landlord who has no idea what Fred is doing, Jim seems to be prima facie justified in damaging her basement if doing so is necessary to stop Fred’s imminent threat. Of course, Jane may be owed reparations for the damages Jim causes. It seems, however, that Fred is the party who would be responsible for making reparations, since it is his wrongful behavior that ultimately brought about damages to Jane’s property.
Glenn Greenwald, “Hidden Video and Whistleblower Reveal Gruesome Mass-Extermination Method for Iowa Pigs Amid Pandemic,” The Intercept, May 29, 2020, https://theintercept.com/2020/05/29/pigs-factory-farms-ventilation-shutdown-coronavirus.
For recent discussion of the many harms associated with factory farming, see: Matthew C. Halteman, “Varieties of Harm to Animals in Industrial Farming,” Journal of Animal Ethics 1 (2011): 122–31; Stuart Rachels, “Vegetarianism,” in The Oxford Handbook of Animal Ethics, eds. Tom Beauchamp and RG Frey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 877–905; Jonathan Anomaly, “What’s Wrong with Factory Farming?” Public Health Ethics 8 (2015): 246–54; Christopher Bobier, “Varieties of the Cruelty-Based Objection to Factory Farming,” Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 32 (2019): 377–90.
“ALF Releases Captive Foxes,” Animal Liberation Press Office, June 1, 2019, https://animalliberationpressoffice.org/NAALPO/2012/08/05/alf-releases-captive-foxes-from-farm-in-northern-virginia-this-morning.
I would like to thank an anonymous reviewer for raising the second objection.
For a useful historical overview of ALF lab raids see: Peter Young, Liberate: Stories and Lessons on Animal Liberation above the Law (Warcry Communications, 2019). For a detailed perspective on several early ALF lab raids, see: Ingrid Newkirk, Free the Animals: The Amazing True Story of the Animal Liberation Front (New York: Lantern Books, 2012).
I am not aware of any philosophers who have explicitly defended and articulated this view. I think, however, that it would not be unfairly attributed to Carl Cohen on the basis of (a) his utilitarian argument for markedly increasing animal experimentation and (b) his specific remark that “the wide and imaginative use of live animal subjects should be encouraged rather than discouraged.” See: Carl Cohen, “The Case for the Use of Animals in Biomedical Research,” The New England Journal of Medicine 314 (1986): 868. Moreover, the low-threshold-for-likely-benefits view seems to me to be implicit in the thought and practice of a substantial number of the people who fund and conduct animal experiments. For instance, many of Harry Harlow’s maternal deprivation experiments, which involved placing baby rhesus monkeys in solitary confinement devices to simulate the effects of depression, are difficult to justify in terms of any expected or actual therapeutic benefits. Martin Stephens’ early review of the literature on isolation and deprivation experiments concluded that “over 7000 animals were subjected to procedures that induced distress, despair, anxiety, general psychological devastation, or even death…[the results of which] have had little impact on clinical practice, and the potential for future advances seems limited.” See: Martin L. Stephens, “Maternal Deprivation Experiments in Psychology: A Critique of Animal Models,” A report prepared for the American, New England, and National Anti-Vivisection Societies (1986), 81. Despite this, some researchers continue to run maternal deprivation experiments. For one example, see: Daniel Gottleib and John Capitanio, “Latent Variables Affecting Behavioral Response to Human Intruder Test in Infant Rhesus Macaques (Macaca mulatta),” American Journal of Primatology 75 (2013): 314–23.
Johnson, “The Trouble with Animal Models,” 272.
See: Mylan Engel, “Epistemology and Ethics of Animal Experimentation,” in Applied Epistemology, ed. Jennifer Lackey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021), 92. Engel argues as follows: First, he notes that both internalist and externalist epistemologists agree that if a method of belief formation is known to be unreliable on the basis of track-record evidence, then beliefs produced by that method are not justified. He then demonstrates that animal experimentation in biomedical research has an extensive track record of unreliability. Since methods known to be unreliable are not sources of justification and since animal experimentation is known to be unreliable, animal experimentation is not a source of justified belief or knowledge. But if animal experimentation has any benefit for humanity, it must be an epistemic benefit, since the point of carrying out these experiments is to acquire instrumentally valuable knowledge that can be applied to treat or prevent human ailments. On these grounds, Engel concludes that it is not reasonable to believe that animal experiments are a necessary evil.
For instance, R.G. Frey accepts that many (perhaps most) harms imposed on animals for human benefit are morally unjustifiable. But he is a consistent defender of animal experimentation in medical research. For one recent work where he outlines these views, see: R.G. Frey, “Animals and their Medical Use,” in Contemporary Debates in Applied Ethics, eds. Andrew I. Cohen and Christopher Heath Wellman (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2019), 91–104.
I can imagine someone who agrees that the research in F8 is morally unjustifiable nevertheless saying something like the following: “Sure, Fred is liable, in some sense, to defensive harm…but we can’t have people assaulting scientists and destroying their labs whenever they judge that their research is immoral…allowing even a little bit of that would undermine the work of the university, which we all agree is one of society’s most important institutions.”
I assume here that most readers will be members of democratic political communities.
Kimberly Brownlee provides a helpful overview of the philosophical discourse on civil disobedience and a discussion of the conditions under which it is justifiable. See: Kimberly Brownlee, “Civil Disobedience,” in ed. Edward Zalta, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Fall 2017, https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2017/entries/civil-disobedience.
For additional information on the Birmingham bombings and their aftermath, see: Doug Jones, Bending Towards Justice: The Birmingham Church Bombing that Changed the Course of Civil Rights (New York: St. Martins Press, 2019).
For an influential defense of this view, see: John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), 363–91.
See: Kimberly Brownlee, Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012); David Lefkowitz, “On a Moral Right to Civil Disobedience,” Ethics 117 (2007): 202–33; Piero Moraro, “On (not) Accepting the Punishment for Civil Disobedience,” Philosophical Quarterly 68 (2018): 503–20.
A point of comparison: Henry Shue claims that a similar burden should fall on those who justifiably use torture—which, he argues, should never be legal—for the sake of preventing a catastrophe, such as the detonation of a ticking time bomb in a major city center. These persons should willingly accept punishment for the sake of upholding the rule of law and ensuring that the use of torture as an interrogation tactic remains taboo. Even so, Shue thinks the balance of reasons would typically support issuing suspended sentences to justified torturers. Perhaps the same is true in cases where activists justifiably use coercion to defend animals. See: Henry Shue, “Torture,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 7 (1978): 143.
It is worth noting, in addition, that the coercive interventions considered here have a very different goal than paradigm cases of justified of civil disobedience. While the latter are largely focused on the communication of grievances, arguments, and critiques, the former are focused on rescue and prevention (although communication of grievances might be an expected benefit or a secondary aim of these actions). Their fundamentally different aims may ultimately yield different conditions on their justifiability; I presume, for instance, that the direct prevention of imminent harm usually has greater moral significance than the civilly disobedient activists’ expression of, say, his opposition to a political figure. While communicating a grievance may prevent wrongful harm in an indirect way, rescue and sabotage, when successful, do so directly. Thus, although I cannot sort out the details here, I think that there are less stringent conditions on the justifiability of illegal acts that aim at rescue from and/or direct prevention of wrongful harm.
See, for instance: Matthew Feinberg, Robb Willer and Chloe Kovacheffa, “The Activist’s Dilemma: Extreme Protest Tactics Reduce Popular Support for Social Movements,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 119 (2020): 1086–111; NY Bashir, Penelope Lockwood, Alison Chasteen, Daniel Nadolny and Indra Noyes, “The Ironic Impact of Activists: Negative Stereotypes Reduce Social Change Influence,” European Journal of Social Psychology 43 (2013): 614–26.
Cara C. MacInnis and Gordon Hodson, “It Ain’t Easy Eating Greens: Evidence of Bias Toward Vegetarians and Vegans from both Source and Target,” Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 20 (2015): 721–44.
Best, “It’s War.”