Animal Rights: Style and Substance – An Assessment Essay

The articles chosen for examination are as follows: “Why Worry About the Animals?”, Jean Bethke Elshtain (1995), “The Moral Case for Experimentation on Animals”, H. J. McCloskey (1987), and “Ethics and Animals”, Steven Zak (1992). After extracting the moral and ethical position the writer has adopted, an opinion will be offered as to which piece has had the most impact, along with how and why this result was achieved. The contention is that each article contains elements that elicit both emotional and intellectual responses and that their effectiveness depends not only on content and presentation, but also on the moral values and preconceived ideas of the individual reader.

Why Worry About the Animals? (Elshtain, 1995, pp 424-432). There is no doubt that the writer is morally opposed to the ‘use and abuse’ of animals and uses this piece to appeal on a deeply emotional level. This is made immediately apparent by the list of ‘factual’ information she presents – which succeeds at once in horrifying and shocking the reader. Rational analysis suggests this could be interpreted as a misrepresentation of references, as the statements stand alone without contextual support. However, they do signal intent and are backed up by the use of the words of an ‘expert witness’, biologist John E. McArdle (McArdle as cited in Elshtain)

“Fully 80 percent of the experiments involving rhesus monkeys are either unnecessary, represent useless duplication of previous work, or could utilizenon animal alternatives.”

The philosophical references to Descarte and Kant, and to Western rationalism are a form of ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc’, used to affect the emotions and coupled with grisly visual imagery. No matter how a reader thinks, words such as “confine, cripple, infect or dismember animals in the interest of human knowledge..” (Elshtain, 425) are emotionally loaded and very persuasive.

Historical information regarding the growth of animal welfare groups and the inclusion of feminist connections add weight to the argument in favor of abandoning practices that harm animals. This is supported by facts on animal suffering in various situations, ranging from factory farming to radiation, from laboratory conditions to the LD50 testing for household products’ toxicity. Personal anecdotal material is used to express the writer’s view; her own experience as a polio victim, the visit to the slaughterhouse are both emotional issues and images which are rationalized to contribute to the stance that,

“We humans do not deserve peace of min on this issue. “Our sleep should be

troubled and our days riddled with ethical difficulties….” (Elshtain 431)

The writer continues with more horrifying detail, to the Us vs Them discourse, by appealing to the reader as one of those ‘reasonable people’ who would not let this state of affairs continue. This is a powerful and personal piece of writing, incorporating plenty of factual material, posing the moral argument emotionally, and ultimately disturbing, while appealing to the basic ethical desire to do no harm to any living creature.

The Moral Case for Experimentation on Animals. H. J. McCloskey (1987) The article opens like a courtroom speech from a few hundred years ago; it appears as a structured defense of a concept that will be proved unquestionably innocent and right. As such, it comes across as rhetorically authoritative and sets out to convince the reader that

“the moral case…rests both on the goods to be realized, the evils to be avoided

thereby, and on the duty to respect persons and to secure them in their natural and moral rights.” (McCloskey 1987, 458)

By constant repetition of words such as ‘prima facie’ ‘persons’ and ‘justification’ the writer establishes authority, apparently in the fields of law, ethics, medicine and the treatment of animals, not to mention philosophy as a whole. By his detailed explanation of the morally correct way to treat experimental animals, he appears to be equivocating when he states,

“Experiments…notoriously fail to conform with the ethical standards laid down for experimentations in the absence of effective controls and supervision.” (459)

He further adds, as if this is a logical progression, without clarifying how the above controls can be applied:

“It is possible to ground a justification of experimentation on animals for the good of animals which conforms to ethical criteria…when it is experimentation in general as a scientific tool used to gain knowledge…” (459).

In other words, this ‘tool’ will help the animals too, and result in the “greatest balance of good over evil”, which is justification enough.

Throughout the piece, the voice of authority speaks out, supported by examples of the benefits to science and mankind achieved by animal experimentation, even citing the cosmetics industry as an innocent participant in the processes. He takes a reasonable approach, but phrases everything in pedantic and philosophical terms. Though his points are made with evident authority, the overall impression is one of confusion, perhaps bullying by use of contingency phrasing, and maybe using fear if testing is stopped, to lend power to his opinions.

There is little doubt he uses the ‘straw opponent’ tactic when discussing the ethical position of animal activist, Tom Regan. Though he does not blatantly attack Regan’s ideas, there is subtle undermining of these as he breaks matters down in the form of convoluted philosophical argument which appears to twist meanings to support his own opinion. In analyzing the meaning of “rights of recipience” (McCloskey 1987, 464) he appears to use the argumentum ad hominem fallacy thus:

“That is to say, once it is acknowledged, as it is by Regan that the rights of

mammals, if they possess rights, are prima facie rights, of recipience, the floodgates are opened to justify animal experimentation that is scientifically and ethically well planned…” (464).

As it started, the article now finishes with the legalistic and authoritative use of words, leaving the reader possibly confused as to how the conclusion relates to the whole issue, but with the final idea that McCloskey know what he is talking about. The prima facie moral points denote a circular argument, begging the question, but still, the feeling persists that only a foolish or ignorant individual would fail to agree with him.

Ethics and Animals. Steven Zak (1992). The first technique to engage the reader is the historical and anecdotal information, expressed in a reasonable and apparently non-judgmental way. Yet there are immediate images which rouse emotion and signal the intent of the writer, already it is obvious where he stands on the issue. This is seen with the description of animals in ‘isolettes’

“Some sit behind glass on wire floors, staring blankly. One rocks endlessly,

banging violently against the side of his cage. Another lies dead on his cage’s

floor.” (Zak 1992, 459)

Such short, sharp sentences and stark imagery, the personification of the animal, all combine to shock and sadden. Zak presents the feelings of animal-rights activists (a possible face value process, based on his own beliefs), following up with the history and more anecdotes, showing favor for the animal-rights agenda.

The article calls upon philosophical principles when discussing the morality of it, namely utilitarianism, putting both sides, asking metaphorical questions, after first establishing his own authority by the knowledgeable explanations he offers.

“Rights thought dictate that we cannot kill one rights-holder to save another –

or even more than one other- whether or not the life of the former is ‘different’

from that of the latter.” (1992)

This writer puts a persuasive and well balanced argument forward in favor of his own stance on the matter, which, after all the information and philosophical discourse from Aristotle to Bentham as to which animals deserve rights, is that animal experimentation is ethically wrong if rights thought is to apply. The piece is littered with intent signals, personal and other anecdotes, appeals to reason, which work as a powerful persuasive force on an audience whose ego may be massaged by the rapport the writer has established so well. He uses these words of absolute certainty to state his case

“Barriers against the exploitation of animals ought to be erected in the law, because the law not only enforces morality but defines it.” (469)

It can be seen clearly that Zak is firmly opposed to animal experimentation, )note the use of ‘exploitation’), asking for consideration of other means to acquire scientific knowledge, explaining why, with persuasive rhetoric, animal- rights movements’ activities are to be understood, rather than condemned. There may be a touch of logical fallacy in his final words, but there is not doubt as to the sincerity of his beliefs.

Conclusion: All three articles, in both content and presentation, put forward apparently rational arguments for their own side and effectively arouse intellectual and emotional responses which are probably contributed to by the reader’s own moral values and preconceived ideas. McCloskey’s presentation, as mentioned earlier, is legalistic and philosophical to the point of obscuring the case at times, but his attack on Regan, and the repetition of the concept of greater good for the most people prevent the piece from winning over anyone who wants to exercise their own judgment. Because of the language and meandering style of the whole, this article would be unlikely to appeal to a wider audience, and from a personal viewpoint, it is more likely to confuse and anger than to influence. It is pompous and patronizing, and is the least effective of the three articles.

On the other hand, Elshtain’s opening gambit of the list of horrors tugs at the heart strings, for no matter what rationale is applied, or preconceived ideas held, a reader is bound to be shocked and to start to think more deeply about the issue. The title itself, put as a question, then answered fully and assertively by the writer, has great impact on influencing emotion and perceptions. By the end of this piece, the awful detail, interspersed with genuine sincerity and personal anecdote, leaves us shocked and saddened, but possibly better informed and certainly questioning the strength of the case for animal experimentation and other ‘abuses’ and also their own moral values. This is a strong contender for ‘most ‘effectively presented’. By the simple, direct approach taken and despite use of emotional language and imagery, it is easy to see how this would connect with a wide audience.

However, it is Zak’s article that pulls everything together in a more rational and thought-provoking way. His opening paragraphs powerfully engage the reader, both emotionally and intellectually, establishing rapport and signaling intent. He covers everything from the history of animal welfare movements to the philosophical origins of the morality question, includes personal material and argues with authority and conviction. His metaphors and absolutes are convincing, whether or not they need further investigation.

In reading this article, there is no impression of being patronized; he establishes rapport by assuming the audience to be both intelligent and right thinking and aware of most major issues. The tone implies that the writer knows he is addressing the work to a reader who is already ‘coming from’ the same place, all he wants to do is ‘clarify the ‘facts’ by detailing and expanding the argument for the good of both of them – reader and writer. This works because he has made his opinions clear from the outset, and asks the audience to consider sharing them, rather than forcing them to do so. It is the ‘coulds’ and ’maybes’ that seem to put the decision making power back to the reader. This could be said to leave us with the double bind of law-breaking radicals or a morally deficient population if the animal experimentation issue is not addressed in the way he thinks it ‘could’ be. From a personal viewpoint, Zak’s piece is the best presented and most effective, as it encourages one to question processes and beliefs, to learn more, and finally, to most probably agree with all he has written.

Reference List

Elshtain, J. B. (1995) Why Worry About the Animals? Editor, McKenzie, N. R.

Science and Technology Today: Readings for Writers. (pp. 424-432) New York. St. Martins

McCloskey, H. J. (1987) The Moral Case for Experimentation on Animals.

The Monist 70 (1) January 1987. (pp. 64-82) [and pp. 458-465]

Zak, S. (1992) Ethics and Animals. Eds. Winterowd, G. R. and W. R. The Critcal

Reader, Thinker and Writer. (pp. 459-469). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.