Are you an animal lover if you dote on your cat but then happily tuck into a plate of chicken or pig? Do horses and apes have equal rights to humans? We spoke with Jean Kazez author of Animalkind: What We Owe to Animals about her exploration into the ethical tensions between animals and humans.
The Philosopher’s Eye: Why did you decide to write Animalkind?
Jean Kazez: I got the idea to write this book when I was working on my first book, The Weight of Things: Philosophy and the Good Life (Blackwell 2007). There are a few pages in there about what it is for animals to live good lives. I wanted to write more about that–“The Good Life for Dogs,” maybe? As I got started, the subject gradually changed. The truth is, billions of animals in the world are living very bad lives as a result of human decisions. I wound up writing a book that’s about animal lives, but also about our decisions.
PE: What’s the central concern of the book, and why is it important?
JK: Most people are repulsed when they learn about our modern treatment of animals in factory farms. The problem is that the repulsion can be transient (and ineffective) if you can’t answer very basic questions—like whether animals are really our “equals” or we should be concerned about them even if they’re not.
I argue for the second option—that we have to be concerned with animals even if they’re not our equals. Most animal ethicists embrace equality in some sense, so this marks a departure from the norm, but I think it’s a good departure. Over 10 years of teaching an animal rights class, I’ve realized that most people cannot take seriously any view that sounds remotely like “cats are people too.”
PE: And what is it that draws you (personally) to this topic?
JK: There’s the desire to make a difference for animals, but also a deep puzzlement I feel about the status of animals and their place in our lives. When I think about all the different ways people have depended on animals over time (and still do), I can’t bring myself to think it’s all been bad. We need to know how to draw the line between justifiable and unjustifiable uses.
PE: What sort of reaction do you hope it will get?
JK: It would be great to convince skeptics and people who never took animal issues seriously before. It would also be terrific to think I’ve given advocates something to think about, and on that front things are looking good so far. I’m delighted that people as diverse as Temple Grandin, Peter Singer, and Marc Bekoff have endorsed the book, all saying (roughly) that it’s thought-provoking.
PE: What sort of audience did you have in mind when you wrote it?
JK: I was thinking of someone who is drawn to animal causes, but puzzled about the whole animal question. Animals aren’t people, and they aren’t rocks or plants. Where do they fit into the grand scheme of things? My ideal reader would be troubled by that question and not over-eager to wind up with any particular answer. The book crosses all sorts of terrain—anthropology, ethology, geography, as well as philosophy. So I also presuppose lots of curiosity about people, places, things….and animals.
PE: Is there another book you wish you could claim credit for?
JK: I’d love to have written The Philosopher and the Wolf, by Mark Rowlands. It’s a memoir about his relationship with a wolf intertwined with very interesting reflections about animals and ethics. We all love to read narratives, but it’s rare for a narrative to really combine interestingly with philosophy. He makes this work and achieves something I aspire to—genuinely enjoyable writing.
PE: What’s your current project? What’s next?
JK: Since having children, I’ve been accumulating material about the ethical and philosophical issues people run into as parents. This may be my wolf book, if my kids don’t veto all the stories I could tell.