Research Program

My primary research program addresses philosophical questions at the intersection of ethics, applied ethics, social justice, and environmental ethics. I have focused on nonhuman animal ethics, particularly the question, What is the moral significance of species membership? I have pursued these interests in a variety of specific projects which span traditional and novel areas of ethics, bioethics, social justice, and food ethics. Newer research, which will increasingly occupy my efforts in the coming years, involves questions of the relationship between social and environmental justice and our treatment of nonhuman animals, further research on the environmental impact of industrialized food production, and the development of conceptual tools for a global, species-free ethics.

The Moral Insignificance of Species Membership

Human beings routinely treat nonhuman animals in ways that would be considered morally reprehensible if they involved humans. We eat them often for no other reason than that it satisfies our palates; we hunt them for sport and wear their skins and fur for fashion; we forcibly perform painful experiments on them; we cage them in zoos and circuses; we keep them as pets. What are the ethical justifications for this asymmetry in treatment between human and nonhuman animals and are these justifications morally sound?

Most philosophers (and laypersons) believe there exists a fundamental moral boundary between human and nonhuman animals. Much philosophical work regarding the moral status of nonhuman animals involves the search for and justification of some set of intrinsic capacities intended to secure moral equality for nonhuman animals. I argue that the existence of a species boundary alone has, in itself, no moral salience. In an attempt to get beyond appeals to the mere species boundary, I work to identify the genuine morally relevant properties bearing on the moral considerability of animals, arguing that these properties are specific features of the animals’ cognitive capacities. Further, based on recent empirical findings, I argue that since there are deep and important continuities across species in these features, no fundamental distinction of moral considerability between human and nonhuman animals can be sustained. I demonstrate that the common arguments in the literature for such a distinction ultimately must fall back on appeals to the species boundary, and are, in that sense, instances of unjustifiable speciesism.

My research explores the relationship between our treatment of nonhuman animals, food ethics, and social, political, and environmental justice issues. I argue that in the interests of achieving a broader, more global, and inclusive notion of social justice, those of us living in affluent countries must seek to live as justly and compassionately as possible, and that part of that picture include obligations to nonhuman animals not to be commodified as food objects and other consumer goods.

The Public Understanding of Issues in Science and Animal Ethics

Another area of research concerns the public understanding of the science undergirding issues of animal welfare. Each year, approximately 100 billion sentient beings are slaughtered to meet human needs and desires. To gain some perspective, the number of human beings who have ever lived on planet Earth is a about 110 billion. If my arguments are sound, humans are morally culpable in a system of unprecedented carnage and devastation. My interests regarding the public understanding of science and animal ethics focus on animal experimentation, and the ethics of industrialized food production. This work includes practical research as well as a great number of public lectures and media appearances.