Halo, philosophical viewers, and welcome to Animal World: Our Co-Inhabitants. Is it justified that we love and cherish our dog companion and then eat the flesh of a cow? Is it ethical to keep an elephant in a cage and make her perform in a circus? Is it morally right to feel superior to animals and treat them however we want? These questions are currently being asked more and more frequently on university campuses, and on today’s program, we hear answers from two experts in the field of animal ethics.

Dr. Joseph Lynch is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo in California, USA and the editor-in-chief of “Between the Species,” an online academic journal which “focuses on philosophical issues related to animals and the animal-human relationship.”

Brianne Donaldson is a PhD candidate in Process Philosophy at the Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, California, USA. As part of her research work, she also investigates how society relates to our animal co-inhabitants. Since her youth, Ms. Donaldson has noticed that the way people treat animals often conflicts with their moral principles.

I came from a rural area where lots of people were involved with animals in different ways. So, for example, many of my peers were involved in 4-H (youth farmers club) and raised farm animals that they would show at the fair. And I knew they were really attached to those animals. But they would raise them and they would go to the fair and they'd be sold for meat.

And I saw over the years my peers struggling with this. They were attached to the animals. And yet the selling of them was necessary for their college education fund or things like this. I realized that sometimes as I heard other people talking about their relationship with animals, I knew that I was feeling differently than how they felt.

Having a natural love for animals, Brianne Donaldson wanted to help them, and as a teenager did volunteer work at an animal shelter in Michigan, USA. The experience of caring for animals later prompted her to change her diet.

When I was 20, I decided to try being vegetarian. At some point, I think I began to make the connection between the dogs and cats that I had been working with throughout my teenage years and other animals that I didn't live with but that I had been eating as part of my rural diet. So I thought I would try to move toward vegetarianism.

Ms. Donaldson believes that one of the key issues related to our treatment of animals is the fact that we’re taught to categorize things and make assumptions about them from early childhood.

I think a lot of this is about our categories of thought. Think of the way that we learn language. I was just with my only niece who is two. And she is learning to speak. And her mother talks to her saying, “This is a cat. And a cat says ‘meow’.” And, “This is a cow, and she says ‘moo’.” And so she begins to differentiate the world in these categories of thought. But Darwin himself said that we should maybe speak less of species or categories, and just speak more of variations. And I think this is a really essential way for us to re-enchant the world.

When we come to another being, let’s say we come to a dog, if we think that all dogs are similar, then we come with our expectations already conditioned. We already anticipate that dogs are already less than us, that dogs are already maybe less intelligent. So we come to that moment with everything that goes into the category of “dog” already conditioned, rather than coming with this openness and expectation that we are meeting a particular being that’s radically unique.

So while we can speak of “human” or “animal,” it's really more appropriate I think even in the tradition of Darwin, to speak of “this being” and “this (being)” as opposed to human or animal.

How do we better understand the position of our animal friends? Brianne Donaldson says that one of the simplest ways we can learn greater respect for animals is to “put ourselves in their shoes” and try to see the world through their eyes.

Even watching an ant. If I could imagine just not looking at that as an ant, like any other ant. But if I really could maybe shrink down and see her reality, and understand her in a different way, I recognize that that opens up my realm of reality. Even if I just do a little.

I begin to think about, “What is an ant and why does she live here in California?” and “How does she relate to these others? And where did she come from? What is her purpose?” Even if I did some quick Internet searches about this, all of a sudden my world begins expanding incrementally. So there are multiple ways that, in our time of information, we have the ability to empathize and expand our own reality through trying to understand the reality of others.

Regarding treating animals ethically, Ms. Donaldson feels there is one basic right of animals that we all must consider.

I think what it's about ultimately is freedom. It's about preserving the freedom of other beings, and sometimes that’s a physical freedom, sometimes it's the freedom of discourse or language. And I think the work I've been doing most recently within the animal liberation movement, and the animal welfare movement, our focus is mostly about liberating animals from physical confinement, opening up the cage doors.

And I think that's an absolutely essential way, especially for beings that are caught in really dreadful situations, like factory farming or labs, animal testing, fur farms, puppy mills; these sorts of situations where the confinement is so visible and visceral. And this idea of opening up the cage doors as a mode of freedom has been, I think, one of the main currents of the animal liberation movement. I’m becoming more convinced that unless we start freeing animals from our categories of thought, that freeing them from cages is going to be curtailed in its efficacy.

Like Brianne Donaldson, as a youth Dr. Joseph Lynch felt sorry when animals were mistreated or killed. While in university, he also became interested in animal ethics and today follows a meat-free diet.

When I was an undergraduate we read a book called “Practical Ethics” by Peter Singer, who you may know wrote a work earlier called “Animal Liberation.” And Peter Singer probably is the first person to popularize the animal liberation movement by his broadly utilitarian arguments that the suffering by animals means that we have an obligation to them. He advocated avoiding harming sentient beings.

And I had some kind of rough intuitions about this throughout my life. I had a couple of friends when I was in high school that gave up eating meat. It just matched my intuition. It was a matter of sympathy. So a large part of my own philosophical interest has revolved around issues involving animals. And I’ve made it a part of my personal life too. So my older son who just graduated from college never had meat. And he has become an excellent vegan cook, which I enjoyed in a surprise visit on Father’s Day just recently.

According to Dr. Lynch, we would treat our co-inhabitants more ethically if we understood that the animals we eat have the same nature as those we cherish as loving companions.

Like when Michael Vick, the football player was convicted for his dogfighting ring, and everybody got very upset. We find that kind of violence to these dogs intolerable because we keep them as pets. But violence much worse than that goes on in factory farms all the time for the food that we eat.

And what’s the difference between a dog and a cow?) Right. That’s right. If you can open the door to take animals seriously, they’re not like one of these books or just some object like this desk or this microphone that we use in whatever way that we see fit. That they are beings that have their own conscious states. They can feel pain or pleasure. Maybe they can’t formulate a life-plan, but they have things that matter to them, right? And if you begin to see that they are subjects of a life, then that’s going to grant them some kind of moral standing.

For the individual, she or he just has to think about, “If I take that seriously, how is that going to affect how I live in this life? How I relate to this or that animal? How I relate to my food? How I relate to my entertainment,” and so on. Just to get that point. They count. Take them seriously.

A dedicated vegan, Brianne Donaldson served two years as the Southern California outreach coordinator for Vegan Outreach, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending the suffering of farm animals by promoting the plant-based lifestyle. During this time she experienced firsthand how many young people are questioning the morality of eating animal products.

Hundreds and thousands of students I think are resonating with wanting to change. There’s actually something about change that really inspires people. They want the experience of transformation. And I encountered this in students quite often. And they were really thinking through what are the costs in terms of diet. What are the costs, if I consider the freedom and the suffering and possibilities of other beings?

And I really do feel a strong openness. And I think in terms of my own work in outreach, of Vegan Outreach, it’s really about preserving freedom. It’s about preserving freedom of all beings including those who make the choices, including those who are in the cages and the narrative of meat, the aspect of animals that renders them always as less, as lower, as eatable. I want to shift this.

Many thanks Brianne Donaldson and Dr. Joseph Lynch for sharing your insights on the ethical treatment of our animal co-inhabitants. We’re grateful that you’re sharing your benevolent thoughts with others, helping to usher in a more harmonious, peaceful world. May Heaven bless you in your future, noble endeavors.

For more information on the individuals featured on today’s program, please visit the following websites:
Brianne Donaldson www.VeganOutreach.org/enewsletter/brianne.html
Dr. Joseph Lynch www.CalPoly.edu/~jlynch
To read articles from the journal “Between the Species” please see www.DigitalCommons.calpoly.edu/bts

Thank you for joining us today on Animal World: Our Co-Inhabitants. May we forever respect, protect and love all animals.