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Dr. Gary Steiner - A Vegan Diet is a Moral Obligation    Part 2   
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As we recognize more and more the similarities rather than the differences between humans and animals, the idea of a dividing line between the two becomes more and more obscure and difficult to draw. The difference between humans and animals is not at all clear.

Halo thoughtful viewers, and welcome to Animal World: Our Co-Inhabitants. On today's program, we meet Dr. Gary Steiner, a John Howard Harris Professor of Philosophy at Bucknell University, USA and author who strongly believes that animals merit a moral status comparable to that of human beings.

He has written several books including “Descartes as a Moral Thinker,” “Anthropocentrism and Its Discontents” and his most recent work, “Animals and the Moral Community: Mental Life, Moral Status, and Kinship.” Dr. Steiner considers himself an “ethical vegan” and now describes what is meant by this term.

People come to veganism for different reasons. Some people do it because of health concerns, some people do it for environmental concerns, and some people do it, because they feel that we have specific moral obligations toward animals. People who are ethical vegans believe that we have the obligation not to eat animals, not to use them.

Depending upon how strict a vegan a person is, they might decide not to wear leather, not to wear silk, not to wear wool. Then of course this opens up the door to all sorts of other sorts of products, like medications and cosmetics that might involve animals in their production or in the composition. So to be an ethical vegan is to recognize, as a specific direct duty to animals, to treat them with kindness and to employ the principle of ahimsa or non-violence toward them.

For Dr. Steiner, becoming an ethical vegan was a gradual evolution, with refinement coming over the course of many years.

What led me to ethical veganism was a long process in my life. It started from a very early age with simply loving animals, having a real feeling of kinship with animals. And as I got older and went into my adolescence, and into my 20s, I started thinking more seriously about the contradiction between loving animals on the one hand, and eating them and wearing them and so forth. And so I stopped eating meat one day, and I just never ate it again. So I went vegetarian first of all.

But I was still thinking about other things like eggs and dairy products and the fact that the production and consumption of those sorts of substances requires viewing animals and using animals in certain ways. I decided that it was something I couldn’t participate in any longer. I stopped eating all animal products at that point.

And then over a period of years I started thinking more and more about the fact if I am not going to eat animal products, I have to start thinking about wearing them, and doing other things that involve the uses of animals as basically objects for the satisfaction of human needs. More recently it has moved on to things like cosmetics, medications and other things.

After a period of time, Dr. Steiner felt it was not enough for him to simply live an ethically vegan lifestyle. He decided get his students at Bucknell University thinking about society’s views of animals and how animals see the world.

I teach a variety of different types of philosophy courses, and starting about 10 years ago, I started to teach some courses specifically on, or related to, questions about animals and the relationship between human beings and animals, questions about the nature of animal cognition or the mental or subjective experience of animals, and, how those types of experiences are related to the moral status of animals.

Dr. Steiner now shares how the students have responded to these courses.

When students are college age, and when they’re in college, they’re probably at the most curious they’re going to be in their adult lives, before they start formulating and establishing certain sorts of convictions and ways of looking at the world. They are relatively open-minded when they’re in college.

And I’ve had a surprising number of students who’ve responded in a very positive and curious and concerned way about the work that I do on animals. I have heard from present and former students as well as a lot of other people. And, some students remain fast in their convictions.

In response to the growing interest, Dr. Steiner began offering even more courses about the relationship between humans and animals, and our moral obligation towards animals.

I taught an introduction to philosophy course, just this past semester, under the title “Gods, Humans and Animals.” And this is something I I just thought would be an interesting thing to do, partly because that would have me addressing primarily not college seniors but brand new college students, first-semester college students.

And I wasn’t really sure how they would react, and this is what happened. I thought they would be taking the course because they wanted to spend time learning about the western conceptions of God, particularly in the Christian tradition, and also about western conceptions of humans. What ended up happening was that the students seemed the most intellectually engaged by the last part of the course, which was on views about animals.

And I was fascinated to find that these students have been very curious. The discussions have been extremely lively.

I’ve always been a little bit inhibited about sharing my views about animals. I never thought about myself as an activist or anything like that. I think of myself as a philosophy professor who writes books for other philosophers about animals.

And what I’m just beginning to find out is there are people out there, including my students, who have a real fascination with this, that they’ve never thought about these questions before, and they realize that they’re very important questions, and they want to think about them.

When we return, we will hear more wise thoughts from Dr. Gary Steiner about the moral status of animals. Please stay tuned to Supreme Master Television.

The first thing one has to see is that sentient creatures and chickens are much more intelligent than we give them credit for. They have very elaborate social systems, social organization, they have a very good sense of what's going on. And we not only show them no respect but we're committing, I think, a real sin by killing them.

Welcome back to Animal World: Our Co-Inhabitants, as we continue our interview with Dr. Gary Steiner, a John Howard Harris Professor of Philosophy at Bucknell University, USA and the author of several thoughtful books including his latest: “Animals and the Moral Community: Mental Life, Moral Status, and Kinship.”

In your latest book, you argue that animals merit moral status comparable to that of human beings. Can you tell us more about that?

Yes. The idea is this: the Western philosophical tradition going all the way back to the ancient Greeks, has taken the view that human beings are fundamentally superior to animals. And they gave a variety of arguments or reasons for that.

One is the idea that God or the gods created nature to satisfy human beings, they created animals and plants and so forth for the sake of human beings, specifically for us, which means we can do anything we want with them, and we don’t have to worry about the moral implications.

Another traditional line or argumentation has been that animals are inferior to human beings in terms of their cognitive abilities. And that translates into the idea that human beings are morally superior and that we can use animals and that the animals… are not morally comparable to human beings.

Dr. Steiner is challenging this traditional belief system by asking society to look at our animal co-inhabitants from a different perspective.

What philosophers have traditionally argued is animals can't think of themselves as individual selves among other selves. They can't think about the idea that they have obligations or that they have rights, anything like that. And all of these things have led philosophers in the West traditionally to the conclusion that animals don't really have any kind of moral status, certainly nothing comparable to that of human beings.

And in my work on animals, what I started to recognize and what I’ve argued for is this: differences in intellectual ability and differences in cognitive ability don't have any moral significance whatsoever any more than they do among humans. So the fact that there are people out there who are smarter than me doesn't mean that they're morally superior to me.

And by the same token, the fact that or the supposed fact that I'm somehow smarter than my cat, Pindar, has nothing to do with whether I have a right to use him or treat him like a toy or own him as property or anything like that. What's important, moral status is not how smart you are or how sophisticated your cognitive abilities are but rather the notion of sentience, which is the ability to feel pleasure and pain, the capacity to suffer and so forth.

And these I think are, capacities that go together with consciousness. And that I think is what’s decisive morally. Pindar’s subjective life is really no different than mine. And I don't see how my ability to do math or write philosophy books or to employ language in the way in which human beings use it has any significance whatsoever for the relative moral status of myself versus, say, a cat or a dog or any other sentient creature.

Dr. Steiner says that by recognizing that sentience is paramount, we will always respect and protect all animal life.

So, if we could agree that sentience, rather than cognitive ability, is really what's important as a criterion and for moral status then I don't think there's any way that somebody could say that objectively my life matters more than Pindar’s. My life matters to me exactly as much as Pindar’s matters in the following sense. His life matters infinitely to him and mine matters infinitely to me.

So, from that standpoint, I don't think there's any way of saying that my life matters more than his. And so his (life) should be considered from a moral standpoint to be every bit as significant as mine. And I think that's true for any being that is sentient. My own view is, we, animals and humans are morally comparable to one another and, I should add, human beings are after all, animals.

How do we ethically justify keeping animal companions while consuming the flesh of other animals? How can we live and eat more consciously? Please join us again tomorrow for Part 2 of our program as the insightful Dr. Gary Steiner answers these and other important questions.

For more details on Dr. Steiner, please visit www.FacStaff.Bucknell.edu/GSteiner
Books by Dr. Steiner are available on Amazon.com

Thank you for joining us on today’s Animal World: Our Co-Inhabitants. Coming up next is Enlightening Entertainment after Noteworthy News, here on Supreme Master Television. May we all grow each day in wisdom, grace, and compassion.

Why is it important to refrain from animal-based products?

Once you start learning more about animal rights, you really can’t not be vegan. As soon as you start reading about the dairy industry and the egg production industry, there’s no choice, you can’t go back….

Hear some useful tips on selecting food, clothing, cosmetics, and other items that are compassionate to animals on “Living the Cruelty-Free Lifestyle” Monday, February 22 on Healthy Living.

Fabrice Nicolino of France has recently written a book documenting the horrors of factory farming in France.

It’s a book that I’ve really dedicated explicitly to the animals, dead without having lived, and that’s very important for me. There is this sentiment that obsesses me, a real sadness. I tell myself, “Why have we humans dared to treat animals in this way? How do we dare treat them like that?”

Please watch Part 2 of “Stop Animal Cruelty: Fabrice Nicolino, Author of ‘The Meat Industry Threatens Our World’” today on Supreme Master Television.
I really want to separate the question of what people feel like doing or what people think they can accommodate in their lives. I want to separate that kind of question from what I think is a moral question, which is, do we have a right? Are we entitled to eat animals? And I want to be very, very clear that in my judgment we don’t have that right.

Halo, intelligent viewers, and welcome to Animal World: Our Co-Inhabitants. On today's program, we feature Part 2 our interview with Dr. Gary Steiner, a John Howard Harris Professor of Philosophy at Bucknell University, USA and author who calls himself an “ethical vegan,” meaning that he has adopted a vegan lifestyle because he believes animals are sentient beings and we have a moral duty toward them.

He has written several books including “Descartes as a Moral Thinker,” “Anthropocentrism and Its Discontents” and his most recent work, “Animals and the Moral Community: Mental Life, Moral Status, and Kinship.” Dr. Steiner now explains why he uses the word “moral” when discussing the relationship between animals and humans.

I think the reason it's important here is because it carries a weight that a lot of other words that we might use don't carry. So, here's an example. Sometimes people think: you shouldn't go out of your way to be cruel to animals but there's nothing that you really owe them in terms of moral obligations.

But I think the idea of a moral obligation is something that's very important. To say that we have a moral obligation means there's something like a brick wall there that we're not supposed to breach. And I think once we're able to say that we have moral obligations towards animals, that's something like a kind of armor that animals get to wear that says, there are certain things we must never ever do.

And I think that the notion of a moral obligation toward animals is exactly that. It's a very powerful kind of commitment that we ought to recognize ourselves to have. If we recognize that animals and humans are really comparable to each other morally then we have to recognize that we have the same sorts of obligations of non-harm and non-violence and obligations of respect toward animals that we have toward humans.

Dr. Steiner explains that, like humans, animals have deep emotions and a great capacity for love.

Pindar is a rescue cat. I got him a couple of years ago. I wasn't really looking for another cat. I had had a couple of cats for a long time and I loved them very much and had, what I felt was a very, very intimate bond with them. A kind of bond that I think, it was very much like the bond that many people have, say with their children. So, these two cats had lived a long life with me and they had both recently passed away of old age and then this rescue cat got sort of presented to me, foisted upon me.

So I took this cat in and after he got healthy again, this wonderful personality emerged. And he turned out to be this really, really gentle, wonderful creature. And I would say that there is a kind of love bond between us. It seems very clear to me that Pindar has a loving feeling toward me. And it might be the kind of loving feeling that a little child has when it's two or three or four years old towards its parent.

I don't think anybody would say that little human children are incapable of love even though they can't think about their love. And I think that what's going on in Pindar is something like that. And I think in many animals there's all sorts of signs of affection and regard that animals show toward each other and that they show toward humans.

For many people there is a sad contradiction present in their relationship with animals. Dr. Steiner provides his perspective on this inconsistency.

It’s a very, very troubling reality that there are these contradictions and conflicts in people’s lives. The pet industry is a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States. And people who have pets quite often love them almost like a family member, and are very upset when bad things happen to their pets, and if they are in a financial position to do it, will spend an enormous amount of money on their pets, on treats and toys and high quality food and go to great lengths to lavish love and consideration on their pets.

So it’s particularly conspicuous and troubling that the very same people, or many of the very same people, who love their pets, are willing to gamble on dog fighting, or cockfighting show a pretty blatant disregard for animals, in being willing to subject them to experiments that are pretty gruesome.

When we return, we will learn more from Dr. Gary Steiner about the moral obligation of humanity to adopt the vegan lifestyle. Please stay tuned to Supreme Master Television.

We need to be able to find a way to articulate clear principles about the rights of animals, not to be used by human beings, establishing clear legal and moral principles that tell us it’s wrong to inflict violence or inflict harm on animals.

Welcome back to Animal World: Our Co-Inhabitants as we continue our interview with Dr. Gary Steiner, a John Howard Harris Professor of Philosophy at Bucknell University, USA, author, and a pure vegan who has chosen this lifestyle for ethical reasons.

Cognitive dissonance is a term from psychology which describes a condition where anxiety is created when there is a gulf between what one believes and one’s actual actions. Previously Dr. Steiner gave the example of people who adore and shower affection upon their animal companions being inconsistent when they view other animals as merely objects for consumption, experimentation or entertainment.

They find themselves able to turn a blind eye towards what really goes on in the production of the meat that they eat and so forth. And I think that there is a kind of cognitive dissonance there. They can’t allow themselves to acknowledge the reality of what goes on. And also they’re coming out of a very, very long history of practices, such as meat eating.

So I have not infrequently encountered people who’ve said: “Boy, I’ve heard that the way that veal is raised, or the way that chickens are raised, or the way that pigs are raised, is kind of gruesome. So I don’t really want to know anymore about that.”

I think the only thing that’s going to get people to overcome that sort of contradiction or tension, is a willingness to look at the facts and really think about the inconsistencies in their own behavior. That thinking has to get to the point of altering our feelings, so that when I start to think about the fact that the food on my plate is essentially the same as me, it might make me feel differently about eating that food. Only when that happens, I think will people really recognize this contradiction and try to resolve it.

In Dr. Stein’s view what is our foremost obligation in fulfilling our moral duties toward animals?

I think that we have obligations toward animals. Our obligation, I think first of all is to lead a vegan lifestyle at the very minimum. There's no justification for inflicting the terrible harms that things like factory farming and experimentation on animals and all sorts of other things that we do.

So from square one, I think the first thing that we have is an obligation not to harm animals, not to exercise violence or visit violence upon them. And the, the most straightforward way to understand that obligation is to become vegan and to stay vegan.

So being a vegan I think is a very important thing.

On December 1, 2009, the Lisbon Treaty came into effect and per Article 13 the European Union now formally recognizes all animals as sentient beings. We asked Dr. Steiner about the role of government in regulating the relationship between humans and animals.

Professor Francione at Rutgers (University USA) argues that if it were possible through legislation to abolish the property status of animals, that’s the single most important thing that either government or the law or the legislation could do.

Because in the Anglo-American legal tradition going back centuries, animals have been classified as property, they are things that we own; they’re chattel. And that enables people to do all sort of things because you can destroy your own property. It might not be a smart thing to do, but there is no law prohibiting you from doing it.

And that means you can raise animals and kill them for human consumption, you can sell them, you can use them, you can experiment on them. If it were ever possible to classify animals legally as non-property, as something like legal persons, then that would prevent people from killing animals, experimenting on them and so forth.

It would essentially put animals in the situation of really being considered morally comparable to human beings, in the sense that if you can’t do it to a human being, you’re not going to be allowed to do it to an animal. I think that’s the best thing that either government or legislation could possibly do is abolish the property status of animals.

According to Dr. Steiner, if we truly care for our planet, each one of us must take personal responsibility to lead more thoughtful and conscientious lives. I think all the things that we do that inflict violence upon animals in nature and perhaps to ecosystems, that’s something that we have to think very, very carefully about.

So anytime, I buy something that involves packaging, things like that or anytime I consume something that’s going to end up polluting the waterways or wetlands, I have to be thinking very carefully about all of those things. But square one, the starting point, I think, is our relation to sentient life, to animal life. And I think the first thing that most people can do, is to become vegan. And be a strict vegan.

Be Veg, Go Green, Save the Planet.

We deeply thank Dr. Gary Steiner and all those like him who not only live the vegan lifestyle, but also seek to raise the awareness of others regarding our moral duty toward our animal friends, thus saving countless numbers of their precious lives. We look forward to the day soon in coming where all sentient beings on Earth live in harmony and peace.

For more details on Dr. Steiner, please visit www.FacStaff.Bucknell.edu/GSteiner
Books by Dr. Steiner are available on Amazon.com

Thank you for joining us today on Animal World: Our Co-Inhabitants. Coming up next is Enlightening Entertainment right after Noteworthy News, here on Supreme Master Television. May joy and tenderness fill your heart each day.

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