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Putting the Horse before Descartes

Putting the Horse before Descartes: My Life's Work on Behalf of Animals

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 285
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  • Book Info
    Putting the Horse before Descartes
    Book Description:

    When philosopher Bernard Rollin was six years old, he visited an animal shelter and was told about unwanted dogs being put to sleep. The event shaped his moral outlook and initiated his concern for how animals were treated. In his irreverent memoir,Putting the Horse before Descartes, Rollin provides an account of how he came to educate himself and others about the ethical treatment of animals and work toward improvements in animal welfare.

    Rollin describes, in witty, often disarming detail, how he became an outspoken critic of how animals were being treated in veterinary and medical schools as well as in research labs.Putting the Horse before Descartesshowcases the passionate animal advocate at his best. He recalls teaching veterinary students about ethical issues. He also recalls face-offs with ranchers and cowboys about branding methods and roping competitions in rodeos. In addition, he describes his work to legally mandate more humane conditions for agricultural and laboratory animals. As public concern about animal welfare and the safety of the food supply heighten, Rollin carries on this work all over the world-in classrooms, lecture halls and legislatures, meetings of agricultural associations and industrial settings, as well as in print.

    Putting the Horse before Descartes, ultimately, is more than a memoir. Rollin offers a wide-ranging discussion of ethical issues in many settings and he testifies to the myriad ways that people of good conscience accept their ethical responsibility in regard to animals.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-827-2
    Subjects: History, Zoology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xi)
  4. [Figures]
    (pp. xii-xii)
  5. Prologue: The Beginning
    (pp. xiii-xvi)

    I was six years old, nagging my mother incessantly to get me a dog. The response was always the same: “You can’t have a dog; we live in an apartment, and you have ellegies” (Brooklynese for “allergies,” as I discovered later). One Saturday, she agreed to take me to an animal shelter to look at the animals. I recall my unbounded joy—all those beautiful dogs!

    “What happens to them?” I asked the attendant.

    “We put most of ’em to sleep.”

    “No,” I said. “I mean when they wake up. Do people take them home?”

    “No, sonny. We put them...

  6. 1 Life in New York
    (pp. 1-9)

    My academic career path gave little if any early indication of what was later to become my passion: moral concern for animals. Through college at City College of New York, I slavishly followed the stereotyped New York Jewish yellow brick road—hard academic grubbing resulting in a straight-A average after my first year, majoring in literature and philosophy. Except for my long hair, remarkably similar to Angela Davis’s, I was my Jewish mother’s ideal. The only deviation from this trite script was my insistence that I work summers in Coney Island, both because I could work eighty hours a week...

  7. 2 Coming to CSU: The Start of My Animal Career
    (pp. 10-16)

    In the late 1960s, Fort Collins was a town of twenty-nine thousand, economically based in the university, retired ranchers, and a small group of light industries. As we drove our U-Haul into town, I was reminded of a booklet sent to me at Columbia titled “This Is CSU.” My New York colleagues and I had been vastly amused by the document. First of all, one photo showed a lecture hall full of students with a cow standing in front and no professor apparent. This photo provoked the predictable jokes about “cow college.” Even more amusing was a section titled “Your...

  8. 3 Veterinary Medicine
    (pp. 17-29)

    Following Willard Eddy’s admonition, I published extensively in Philosophy of Language and History of Philosophy and continued my quest to bring philosophy to the provinces. The problem was I had published two books and an impressive list of articles, and I had been invited to lecture on a number of occasions internationally. I should have been happy, but I was plagued with doubts. Could I really do the same sort of thing for the rest of my life? Though I had not been a student activist in the 1960s, those years had left in me a yearning to make a...

  9. 4 Ethics, Veterinary Medical Ethics, and Emerging Animal Ethics
    (pp. 30-43)

    What are we talking about when we talk about “ethics”? We are talking about two related but different concepts—Ethics₁ and Ethics₂. Ethics₁ is the set of beliefs about right and wrong, good and bad, just and unjust, fair and unfair that all persons acquire in society as they grow up. One learns Ethics₁ from a multiplicity of sources—parents, friends, church, media, teachers, and so on. For most people, these diverse teachings are haphazardly stuffed into one’s mental hall closet and are not critically examined or much discussed. The chances of their forming a coherent whole are negligible. Consider,...

  10. 5 The New Social Ethic for Animals: A Philosophical Approach to Animal Ethics
    (pp. 44-52)

    When I first agreed to teach the veterinary ethics class, I realized that the biggest challenge to my thinking—and thence to my teaching—was understanding the moral status of animals. Even before I had ever dreamed of being involved with veterinary medicine, in teaching the history of philosophy I had been curious about the neglect of the question of animals’ moral status by philosophers or by their cavalier dismissal of the issues, as one found in the writing of Descartes and Kant. Since the moral status of animals seemed to me to be the chief question of veterinary ethics,...

  11. 6 Companion Animals and Animal Advocates
    (pp. 53-68)

    Given that I, like most people, had my first connection with animals through pets, it was appropriate that I gave my first public speech on animal issues to the annual general meeting of the American Humane Association (AHA). It was on companion animal issues. I found AHA people to be kind, warm, and very dedicated to dogs and cats but completely naïve about such issues as research and agriculture, pretty much replicating what I had found in local humane societies.¹ Moral thought about our obligations to animals was essentially absent; emotion was believed to be both necessary and sufficient for...

  12. 7 Creating Law for Animal Research
    (pp. 69-76)

    In 1975, when I read Peter Singer’s newly publishedAnimal Liberationand focused on the chapter chronicling animal research, mostly a litany of atrocities, I distinctly remember thinking, “Wow, worrying about rats and mice. That’s not anything I’ll ever get into.” I recall my scornful amusement when my cousin became a laboratory-animal veterinarian. What subsequently developed was a clear instance of the old Hungarian proverb “God does not punish with a stick,” for I was to become very knowledgeable about precisely those issues and even to write a two-volume reference book about them.

    It all began when, in 1976, CSU...

  13. 8 The Deeper Meaning of the Laws
    (pp. 77-90)

    The history of the regulation of animal research is, in essence, the history of the emergence of a meaningful social ethic for animals in society. For virtually all of Western intellectual history, essentially no discussions existed of ethical obligations toward non-human beings, with the exception of the writings of some isolated thinkers such as Plutarch, Schopenhauer, and Bentham. Even more important, virtually no legislative history existed of constraining actions toward animals, with the exception of the prohibitions against overt cruelty, which are clearly expressed in the Old Testament, were defended by Thomas Aquinas during the Middle Ages, and were encoded...

  14. 9 A Philosopher Looks at Scientific Ideology
    (pp. 91-108)

    Being criticized by theNew England Journal of Medicineand by the animal-activist journalAgendagenuinely surprised me. I thought that animal activists would welcome anything that improved the condition of laboratory animals, butAgendatook the position that shortrun improvements for animals’ well-being would calm protestors and slow down societal rejection of animal research. They espoused revolution. Fat chance.

    I was more astounded by the extreme language in theNew England Journalreview. I believed that we had written laws that balanced the needs of science with the demands of ethics. I did not understand how very bright scientists...

  15. 10 Ideology and Consciousness
    (pp. 109-124)

    A second component of scientific ideology that harmonizes perfectly with the value-free dictum is the positivistic/behavioristic thesis that science could not legitimately talk about consciousness and subjective experiences, which led to a question about their existence. (John Watson, the founder of behaviorism, came close to saying that we don’t have thoughts, that we only think we do.)

    It is quite perplexing that such a view should emerge at all in twentiethcentury science, which considers itself Darwinian, or that it should come from positivistic empiricism. After all, the historical ancestor of positivism, the eighteenth-century philosophy David Hume, most unequivocally affirmed the...

  16. 11 Ethical Issues in Animal Research and the Research-Animal Laws: Successes and Inadequacies
    (pp. 125-138)

    Before I discuss the effects of the laws on research and on the scientific ideology just examined, I should identify the ethical issues occasioned by animal research. I believe that one can find three layers or levels of ethical issue in the activity of animal research. Unfortunately, our laws address only the last, and the least profound, level, but we can hope that the unraveling of scientific ideology will make the research community more receptive to the other two. In any case, it is likely that, as animal ethics evolves in society, these other issues will be addressed.

    The most...

  17. 12 Pain and Ideology
    (pp. 139-162)

    Pain, as one recent book on the history of anesthesia called it, is “the worst of evils.” This is made plain in many ways: People commit suicide to avoid torture; people seek assisted suicide to avoid unalleviable pain and the attendant degradation and loss of self that follow in its wake. One of my friends, a highly successful food-animal veterinarian and department head, has told me that, when he is stricken by lower back pain, he is no longer a veterinarian or academic or administrator. Heisthe pain.

    The impact of the second component of scientific ideology—agnosticism or...

  18. 13 Biotechnology
    (pp. 163-178)

    At about the same time that I was working on the laboratory animal laws during the late 1970s and early to mid-1980s, biotechnology was emerging as a major scientific modality and powerful tool for doing research and changing the nature of life itself. I was fortunate to get in on the ground floor of ethical discussion regarding a field that many feel will dwarf the computer in terms of changing our lives.

    In 1985, I received a call from J. Warren Evans, a dean of agriculture at Texas A&M University, who asked me to keynote the first international congress ever...

  19. 14 Animal Agriculture: Cowboys and Husbandry
    (pp. 179-198)

    During the early 1980s, although I was mostly too busy to think about anything besides learning biomedicine and veterinary medicine and articulating animal ethics, I still made time for self-doubt, the plague that God forgot to afflict the Egyptians with but left for the Jews. In particular, I worried about not doing “real philosophy,” about not plowing the same ground as my peers, about not aspiring to leave CSU and get back to the East. This was not helped when I received a visit from one of my friends from graduate school, who said, “You have too good a mind...

  20. 15 Industrial Agriculture
    (pp. 199-224)

    If my work in agriculture had ended with dealing with ranchers, it would have been easy. But in the early 1990s, I was called on to turn my attention to industrial agriculture, popularly known as “factory farming,” which contained a far more serious and difficult set of issues.

    I became aware of industrial agriculture in broad outline in the 1980s but was not familiar or knowledgeable enough about it to include a discussion of it inAnimal Rights and Human Morality(Rollin 1981). I was not comfortable writing about areas in which I did not have firsthand knowledge, and my...

  21. 16 Changing Industrial Agriculture
    (pp. 225-237)

    European society has been far more concerned than U.S. society about industrial agriculture, perhaps because agriculture there is more visible. In any case, there was an unbroken chain of social concern from Ruth Harrison’sAnimal Machines(1964) and the Brambell Commission to a very dramatic event in Sweden, orchestrated by the veterinarian Kristina Forslund, with Astrid Lindgren, author of the Pippi Longstocking books and, until her death, essentially the Swedish national grandmother.

    Kristina is a brilliant, forcefully charismatic woman who befriended Astrid. She is also a large-animal veterinarian and a member of the faculty at the University of Uppsala, Sweden’s...

  22. 17 Odds, Beginnings, and Ends
    (pp. 238-262)

    The preceding chapters describe the major areas in animal welfare that have occupied my attention over the past thirty years, including the use of animals in research, animal agriculture, animals in teaching, veterinary ethics, animal law, animals’ pain, animals’ minds and consciousness, biotechnology, the construction of a philosophical basis for the moral status of animals, animals’ distress, and issues surrounding companion animals. But these are by no means the only issues I have engaged. As one of very few people doing what I do, I get many strange issues to work on. In this chapter, I talk about some of...

  23. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 263-266)
  24. References
    (pp. 267-272)
  25. Index
    (pp. 273-286)
  26. Back Matter
    (pp. 287-287)