Our treatment of animals is the last moral frontier, the ultimate test of our humanity, the mirror by which we can see most deeply into our own souls.
Bernard E. Rollin
On 19th of November 2021 Bernard E. Rollin (18 February 1943), a world icon for the promotion of a new social ethic for animals and co-editor of this journal, passed away. His loss leaves an immeasurable void, but also an immense legacy to the journal. His biography is emblematic of his commitment to animals and of the inspiration behind JAAER. A graduate in philosophy from the
It is with immeasurable sadness and grief that I am writing these lines. But I find solace in the knowledge that Professor Bernie Rollin will always live amongst us, his words and actions have left their indelible mark upon this world. His work is outstanding and illustrious.
However, the aim of this letter is not to commend his tremendous work, with which all readers are most probably already familiar, but to attempt to impart as best I can the most significant and sagacious of his teachings, that, as wonderfully blessed as I am, I had the honor of receiving. Professor
Bernard Rollin’s main concerns are domestic and research animals. Such animals have endured less suffering as a result of Rollin’s seminal work. Animals are of moral concern because they have conscious interests, or telos. Rollin’s use of telos is plausible though more specialized than usual. Rollin has theoretical or in-principle ideals that are unlikely to be accepted as current practice. In result he adopts more moderate moral principles. In the fair-contract, husbandry dimension of agriculture, the farmer takes care of the cows and pigs, recognizing their rights, and then eats them, or sells them to be eaten. He reaches a strange combination of kinship and chasm separating human and animal minds. Rollin’s account of any deeper environmental ethics for a biospheric Earth is unsatisfactory, any respect for life beyond sentience, especially his concepts of global ecosystems.
Bernard Rollin taught the first class in veterinary ethics in modern veterinary history at Colorado State University in the late 1970’s as a result of his outrage at the behavior of a CSU surgeon who gave him only one option for his dog, when others were less invasive. The course, which became part of the veterinary curriculum at CSU, began with a history of the evolution of thought and attitudes toward animals from early Greek philosophy and Oriental religion, and followed it to modern times. He used the concept of telos, or nature of an animal, to develop his theory of why animals should be treated as moral objects with rights, and over the period of 40 years taught, wrote books and articles, lectured all over the world, and influenced legislation protecting animals.
In Science and Ethics, Bernard Rollin argues that ethics and values are relevant to science, that scientists have ignored these because of their “ideology,” that science is value-free, concluding that science should abandon this ideology. Value-free science rests on the fact-value distinction, defended by several philosophers. But scientists do make value judgments, something which should fall outside of science. This is reinforced by the naturalism of science. All of this leads to the question: How is it possible for ethics to find a place in science?
This three-part essay discusses the sort of pragmatic, common-practice based animal liberation philosophy engagingly developed and successfully practiced by Bernard Rollin for many decades. Part I discusses the reasoning involved in holding both of the following beliefs: first, the value of animals’ lives and experiences is not limited to their usefulness for satisfying human interests; there is also the value their experiences and lives have for the animals themselves. Second, it is morally permissible for us routinely to sacrifice their interests in using animals to satisfy human needs and wants. Part II discusses why that reasoning is seldom questioned, and part III suggests some lessons that infrequency holds for animal liberation.
Bernard E. Rollin devoted much of his life to arguing and working for compassionate attitudes toward and appropriate ethical treatments of nonhuman animals. This essay exhibits the close link he insisted on between such attitudes and treatments, on the one hand, and acknowledgment of types and degrees of consciousness in many species of such animals, on the other. Not only are many animals capable of conscious suffering in his view; they are also capable of conscious memory, regret, anticipation, disappointment, affection, delight, and the like. Rollin argues that each species of nonhuman animal has its own distinctive telos or characteristic way of living that should also elicit and demand the respect of human beings. Recognition of and respect for each animal’s way of life and extent of conscious awareness are essential to understanding how empathy and ethics are conjoined and should always be conjoined in the field of animal ethics.
This article considers Bernard Rollin’s justification of the genetic modification of the telos of livestock animals for welfare purposes. While agreeing that a pragmatic approach to animal welfare might well reach this far, the claim is that Rollin’s approach leaves some important harms out of the picture. Section (1) will outline the rationale for a pragmatic approach towards animal rights. Section (2) will outline Rollin’s telos-based argument for allowing modification. Sections (3) and (4) will draw upon analogies that (respectively) lend support to and problematize Rollin’s telos-based argument: the production of anencephalic ‘Chicken Little’ lumps of animal tissue as a way to avoid suffering; and the manipulation of preferences by ‘hypnopaedia’ in Huxley’s Brave New World. Section (5) will suggest that this does not rule out modification, but it does require us to recognize that modification involves harms, even if they are sometimes outweighed by benefits.
All my graduate students were required to take two courses. The first one was one of Dr. Rollin’s animal ethics classes and the other was a research methods class that emphasized the importance of using data from controlled experiments to make decisions about animal use. I wanted my students to experience both ends of the spectrum of thinking about how animals are used in both agriculture and medical research. Objective scientific data is definitely the right way to answer many questions, but Bernie’s class made it very clear to students that research results cannot answer all ethical questions about the