Introduction: Animals: Mentality and Morals

Essays Presented to Bernard E. Rollin

In: Journal of Applied Animal Ethics Research
Richard F. Kitchener College of Liberal Arts, Colorado State University Fort Collins, CO 80523-1701 USA

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Individuals who have made significant contributions to the welfare of organisms need to be recognized by colleagues and friends. Bernard E. Rollin (“Bernie”) was such a person and it is our pleasure to honor him as a person and for his important scholarly accomplishments over a long lifetime in a variety of fields in philosophy, especially in Veterinary Ethics. After a long and distinguished career, Bernie retired from teaching at Colorado State University, and finally died after a prolonged illness. It thus seemed fitting to bring together personal reminiscences from his students and contributions from academicians who share in this respect for Bernie, papers relating in some way to a theme or topic Bernie has written on.

Bernie came to CSU in 1969 with his wife Linda, who also came to be a valued member of the Department of Mathematics and then the Department of Philosophy. Both remained there until their retirement in 2020.

During this period, Bernie taught a variety of courses in philosophy, developed friendships with a variety of types of individuals, and mentored numerous students. Two of them contributed their reminiscences of Bernie as a friend and teacher to this introduction. A prolific scholar, Bernie authored fourteen books and over three hundred articles and was the principal architect of 1985 federal legislation dealing with the welfare of experimental animals.

With a broad range of interests, Bernie worked both in traditional philosophy (History of Philosophy, Philosophy of Language, Philosophy of Biology) but is especially known for his work in Animal Rights and the Philosophy of Consciousness. His first books, among the first ones about animal ethics, include Animal Rights and Human Morality (1981), The Unheeded Cry: Animal Consciousness, Animal Pain and Scientific Change (1988). He also published Farm Animal Welfare (1995), The Frankenstein Syndrome: Ethical and Social Issues in the Genetic Engineering of Animals and Science and Ethics (2006). He is also co-editor of the two-volume, The Experimental Animal in Biomedical Research (1989 and 1995). A second edition of An Introduction to Veterinary Medical Ethics: Theory And Cases appeared in 2011. He published his memoir in 2011, Putting the Horse Before Descartes. His most recent book is A New Basis for Animal Ethics: Telos and Common Sense (2016).

Bernie was prominently featured in the film about speciesism, The Superior Human?, in which he analyzed the ideology of René Descartes to help show that animals can think and feel. He was also a member of the Scientific Expert Advisory Council (SEAC) for Australian animal welfare group Voiceless, the animal protection institute and a board member of Farm Forward.

Bernie is remembered by his many friends, colleagues and students. Terry Engle (Department of Animal Science, CSU) recalls his friendship with Bernie:

I first met Bernie and his son Michael in the football weight room at CSU. Bernie was teaching his 10 year old son how to power lift. After several summers of lifting together, Bernie and I became very close friends. Bernie and I kept in touch over the years. When I returned to CSU as a faculty member in the Department of Animal Science, Bernie and I began teaching and conducting research together. Over the past 21+ years I have had the pleasure of working with Bernie on animal welfare issues related to livestock production. Bernie has always had an excellent relationship with livestock producers for this reason – Bernie tells livestock producers what they need to hear instead of what they want to hear regarding animal welfare issues. This has garnered Bernie extreme respect in the livestock industry. Livestock producers might not “like” what Bernie has to say but they absolutely respect what Bernie says and often call on him for advice.

Bernie has worked with animal scientists and ranchers on alternatives to castration and branding and other issues and has helped the agricultural community in Colorado to pass the nation’s strongest “downer” bill. Since the early 1980’s, Bernie has taught a course for animal science students on ethical issues in animal agriculture, the world’s first such course. Students absolutely love this course because Bernie tackles animal welfare issues head-on in his class. He has been a leader in industry self-regulation of livestock showing. Bernie has addressed over 30,000 ranchers and farmers across the globe on animal welfare and animal agriculture issues in forums ranging from the Houston Livestock show to local extension meetings. Bernie has been invited as a keynote speaker to numerous scientific meetings including the American Society of Animal Science. He was instrumental in helping western ranchers’ voice their opposition to the USDA policy of face-branding cattle, which resulted in USDA rescinding that policy. Bernie has also served on the National Western Stock Show Association and founded their animal welfare committee. Furthermore, although retired, he was still called upon by livestock producers and organizations to assist with animal welfare issues and is often cited in publications such as Colorado Farmer and Rancher, Beef Today, Western Livestock Journal and many other agricultural publications.

Bernie is widely known as an excellent teacher, one who encouraged students’ philosophical development by employing the Socratic Method. One of his first students (and personal friend) is Lynne Kesel, who has the following personal recollection of Bernie’s influence, starting with the first class she took in Veterinary Ethics.

The course was a joy for me. I had done my undergraduate degree in liberal arts, and then took necessary science courses to apply to vet school. I was accustomed to the exchange of ideas and words in college. The first year of vet school consisted mainly of the study of anatomy, physiology, bacteriology, virology, microscopy and pharmacology, and it was taught to be memorized and then regurgitated on tests. I had begun to despair that there would be three more years of this, and considered dropping out. Then the whole class was enrolled in ethics. Bernie began with a mostly lecture class in the lecture hall. Soon the class of 135 was divided into three sections, which facilitated discussion, which Bernie masterfully led. We read selections of the history of thought about animals in original translated sources; Bernie guided us to understanding of the philosophy. In essence, in western thought animals were considered non-rational beings unworthy of rights in themselves. Bernie felt the only way to make animals of value to society was to make a case for them as moral objects (worthy of having rights accorded to them by the only moral agents or recognized moral objects, humans). We received a historical overview of philosophy as it related to animals and humans, and Bernie crafted an argument for animal rights based on telos, a term borrowed from Aristotle, which essentially means the nature of a given creature. Animals would be given certain limited rights, similar to those of human children, who are also non-rational beings. He then gave us specific situations for veterinarians to apply limited rights for them.

I had always considered myself a friend to animals, as I think most, if not all, of my fellow veterinary students did. I think most of society felt the same about veterinarians. What else would you consider a person who fights animal illness and treats animal injury? Yet we found that even our very profession had weaknesses regarding animal protection, and accepted questionable practices, especially in agriculture. I, for one, was shocked that I had fully accepted “cosmetic” surgery for dogs, not realizing that to achieve the alert-looking upright ears of Dobermans and Great Danes involved their suffering pain during healing (although they were unconscious during surgery). By the time I was in vet school, horse castration was performed under general anesthesia. However, the first horse castration I had ever seen (in my teens) was preceded by throwing the horse to the ground with ropes, and then tying his legs so he could not move. Unlike the ear-cropped dogs, the horses were given no general anesthesia, but like the dogs, were, in addition, not given analgesic drugs to control pain post-surgically. Interestingly, general anesthesia was considered mainly as restraint, and it was treated as a safety precaution for personnel dealing with large animals, and pain was largely ignored or justified (because it would allow the animal to protect a painful body part rather than use it and perhaps injure itself). Bernie’s opening of our eyes, and those of faculty and administration, to the virtual lack of analgesic, or pain-control, drugs in veterinary practice eventually led to analgesics for our recovering surgery patients, both those who were our victims while learning to do surgery (third year), and those which we performed as fourth-year students on client’s pets. I am certain that Bernie had a profound influence on the recognition of pain and pain control for the veterinary profession generally; he also was instrumental in rethinking the way live animals were utilized in the vet school curriculum at CSU and many other schools, in eliminating some labs which were of questionable value, in reducing actual numbers used, and in pain control for potentially painful procedures.

As word of his course became known, he was asked to speak on veterinary ethics and animal rights at every, or nearly every, veterinary school in the US and Canada, as well as abroad, for the most part invited by student organizations, but also by administrators. Most vet schools instituted their own ethics courses in the following years. In 1981 Bernie published Animal Rights and Human Morality, which set down, in plain language, his arguments for animal rights that we had heard in class. Bernie became an international lecturer in veterinary ethics and animal rights; he espoused a moderate concept of animal rights where people could use animals for their own enjoyment or even for profit, as long as the animals’ basic needs and interests are met, and pain and suffering were controlled or eliminated.

Bernie was the major author of animal legislation in Colorado, which became federal law as a major amendment to the Animal Welfare Act, giving more protection to laboratory animals. He also testified before Congress about reasons the legislation was needed. He started writing a regular ethics column for the Journal of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, where vets in practice could write in to ask him to analyze an ethical dilemma that they experienced. The closing two decades of the 20th century were a heady time for the animal movement, with many other authors taking up the cause, and with infiltration of animal facilities and farms by moderate as well as radical animal advocates, and resulting exposés. Perhaps the most striking of these was the secret filming of callous researchers roughly handling and ignoring the basic requirements of aseptic (germ-free) surgery in the Silver Springs Head Injury monkey lab.) Bernie spoke to ranchers and livestock producers about practices which could become targets of the movement because of society’s conception that they were questionable. He and an Animal Science colleague created a popular course in ethics for the Animal Science department at CSU. When he became aware of a questionable situation in any aspect of animal use, from crating and artificially feeding only milk to calves months beyond their normal weaning time, to dog fighting, to horse show abuses, to killing unwanted baby chicks with wood chippers, to amputating the ends of the tails of dairy cattle, etc., Bernie would always join the fight with written or spoken word. He wrote reams of journal articles and opinion pieces in defense of animals, and several books during this period, mostly about applied animal situations, rather than theoretical or philosophical themes. A great deal of improvement for animal conditions occurred during this period due to Bernie’s and others’ actions, and this continues to the present.

But my favorite of his books remains Animal Rights and Human Morality, and I still treasure the animal ethics he taught, which have enriched and enabled me in my personal and professional life.

My own personal memory of first meeting Bernie was at the Department of Philosophy’s annual Fall social “get together” at the Ft. Collins Country Club in 1970. Willard Eddy, Chair of the Department at that time, was a member of the Country Club and I was a brand-new hire. By nature, philosophers are not the type to frequent country clubs but Willard was kind enough to invite us to share in his membership and so we did. At that time I didn’t even own a suit as I recall. My wife and I walked in and encountered this man who had a massive Afro haircut and probably wearing cowboy jeans. I eyed him suspiciously and he returned the favor, but we started talking and immediately knew we were of a kindred spirit. We became good friends from that time on.

Bernie had such a quick and probing mind that I took advantage of him over the years, asking him to read and critique my papers. He was always kind but firm as he raised all those embarrassing questions I had overlooked but which needed to be discussed. He always encouraged me to continue, helping me through the hurdles of getting published. We often laughed about the absurdities of the publishing game but continued to play. What a rare colleague and friend.

I am confident that the papers contained in this Special Issue also attest to the same kind of influence and respect for Bernie that I have. They cover a cluster of philosophical issues dealing with the nature of animals from a moral point of view. Lynne Kesel provides an overview of the history of Veterinarian Ethics placing Bernie at its very start. Holmes Rolston documents some of the conflicting claims arising in Environmental Ethics and Animal Welfare. Steve Sapontzis and Tony Milligan are concerned with issues arising in ethics theory as they relate to animals, whereas Don Crosby addresses the question of animal consciousness, another topic Bernie pursued. The importance of an animal’s telos seems central to understanding our obligations to animals, with Peter Markie pointing out his worry about this. Finally, I explore the issue of science and ethics in the context of the Fact-Value distinction, pointing out the complexity of finding a place for ethics in science.

Richard F. Kitchener

College of Liberal Arts, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1701, USA

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