an owl or a rainforest more than another. Each respective valuation is the
result of the respective agentâ™s schedule of subjective values. We might
for prudential reasons tell children that âMother Earth does not like it
when you litter,â but we adults should not let ourselves be bewitched by
Persons and Animals
This means, then, that we should resist talking about the intrinsically right
or wrong way to treat animals, still less of animals having ânatural rights.â
Like all other â˜things,â™ they are valuable only as persons value them, and
persons may use them to their (the personsâ™) ends. I hasten to add two
qualiď¬cations, however. The ď¬rst is that this claim presumes a clear line of
demarcation between person and nonperson. In the case of human beings
and chickens, for example, there wouldnâ™t seem to be much difď¬culty. I
think the available evidence points against chimps, dolphins, or pigsâ”
three species some argue forâ”counting as â˜persons,â™ but I believe this is
an issue that should be settled empirically, not a priori, and so to be on
the safe side we might adopt the cautiously open-ended position of saying
that â˜personsâ™ include any and all animals possessing, or by reasonable
estimation potentially possessing (children, for example), the qualities
The second qualiď¬cation is that claiming that â˜personsâ™ may use
â˜thingsâ™ to serve their (the formerâ™s) ends emphatically does not mean
that we may be cruel to animals. Animal cruelty, like human cruelty, is
still vicious, if not unjust. We should strive to treat animals humanely, just
as we should other human beings. In the case of nonhuman animals, the
proper level of solicitude and care should be dictated by their relative
sophistication and level of sentience. So we should take far more care to
treat a chimpanzee well than we should an earthworm, more for a dog
than a mouse, more for a cat than a catď¬sh, and so on. If an animal can
26 I say this with all due respect to Plato, who, in Book III of the Republic, argues that the
leaders of his ideal societyâ”that is, the âphilosophersââ”should tell others an elaborate
myth about how the earth gave birth to them in order to instill proper patriotism or
proper obedience to the state or some other politically proper beliefs or attitudes.
Applying the Principles
in fact feel pain, it seems clear that we should, as Peter Singer argues,
recognize that fact about it and treat it accordingly.27 On the other hand,
we should not make the mistake of thinking that âall interests are inter-
ests, no matter who has them,â as some would recommend,28 because it
is simply untrue: a personâ™s interests are more important than those of a
nonperson for all the reasons given in chapter 1.29
I fear that people who, like the group People for the Ethical Treatment
of Animals, make claims along the lines of âthe billions of chickens who
are murdered in processing plants each year constitutes greater suffering
than what occurred in all of Hitlerâ™s concentration campsâ30 are actually
sabotaging the cause. Most people who hear such claims, even those who
like animals (which is just about everybodyâ”E. O. Wilson is probably
right about that), will be immediately put off by the outrageousness of the
claim. The people killed in Hitlerâ™s concentration camps were â˜persons,â™
which means that not only are we unable not to sympathize with their
suffering more deeply than we would with that of any nonpersons, but
it is also untrue, I suggest, that their suffering does not outweigh that of
the chickens. This is not a mere matter of counting up headsâ”X billion
chickens versus âonlyâ X million humans. Pain is not an independently
existing substance that can have a quantity over and above the individuals
that perceive it; thus there is no sense in speaking of âtotal sufferingâ if
by that is meant the pain suffered by more than one individual added
to the pain added to others. There are no discrete units of pain that
can be summed across individuals, in the way my baseballs and your
baseballs can all be put in one bucket of our âtotal baseballs.â Your pain
is necessarily yours, mine necessarily mine. What matters, therefore, is
the pain actually felt by the individuals themselves. The people in the
concentration camps were capable of perceiving pain far more deeply
than could chickens because the former are â˜personsâ™ and the latter are
not. So their suffering was far worse than anything chickens could possibly
suffer. Consider moreover that chickens have no ends and are not in any
27 In his Animal Liberation, chap. 1, and in his Practical Ethics, chaps. 2 and 3. See also Scullyâ™s
28 As Singer argues in his Practical Ethics, chaps. 1 and 2.
29 Itâ™s not even true that we should take all humansâ™ interests equally into account: consider,
for example, the different weightings we properly give the terroristâ™s interests and the
innocent victimâ™s interests. On this point, see Kekesâ™s âOn the Supposed Obligation to
30 See Carnellâ™s âPETA Launches â˜The Holocaust on Your Plateâ™ Campaign,â http:/ /www.
animalrights.net/archives/year/2003/000052.html (accessed December 15, 2005).
More Moral Hobgoblins: Extending Rights 299
real sense agents; and no one who has ever spent any time with them
could conclude anything other than that they are pretty far down the
evolutionary scale. Itâ™s difď¬cult indeed not to consider it an insult and
affront to the personhood of concentration camp victims to suggest any
kind of parity, which means one will probably succeed only in causing
people to dismiss one completely if one does make such a suggestion. In
this way, then, the person concerned about animal suffering is disserved
by those who make such claims.
What one should argue is not that chickens deserve human-like treat-
ment, since they are not humans, but rather that they can feel pain in
this or that limited way and that thus if there is no need for them to be
caused to feel that pain, then they should not. That is an argument with
which almost everyone will sympathizeâ”and it may provide the common
ground necessary to enable the expanding of our circles of concern, as
Singer puts it.31
In the larger scheme of things, however, I suggest that the best advice
for those of us concerned to reduce suffering in the world is to stop, or
at least put off for a while, worrying about things so far down the scale:
worry about suffering humans ď¬rstâ”of which there are plenty, enough
to occupy our efforts for some time. Only thereafter, as a distant second,
worry about chimps or dolphins or orangutans, or whatever the correct
order turns out to be, and so on down the line. To brieď¬‚y state a point that
is elaborated in chapter 9, human love and concern are scarce and limited
resources; they must therefore be carefully reserved and deployed only
in their most important uses. Consuming your limited supply by worrying
for lower animals will only diminish your capacity to address problems
higher up. My own sense of propriety makes me hesitate in making the
additional point that having the principal object of oneâ™s concern be the
suffering of chickens is a luxury consequent upon a remarkably afď¬‚uent
and privileged life: if that is all you have to worry about, your life must
be, by any worldly standard, pretty darn good. Imagine Mayan Indians in
Guatemala, who live hand-to-mouth daily from what they can scrounge
from the land, boycotting chicken farms for not taking proper care of
the chickens when their own children are undernourished from lack of
Some argue that human beings are not all that different after all from
other animals, that life on earth is on a continuum of development and
sophistication, and that there are only arbitrary lines of division between
31 In his The Expanding Circle. See also Pinkerâ™s The Blank Slate, chap. 18.
Applying the Principles
one species and another.32 Indeed, it has become among some a com-
monplace to dismiss positions such as that defended here as âanthro-
pocentricâ or âspeciesistââ”that is, as manifesting arbitrary and thus unjus-
tiď¬ed prejudice in favor of oneâ™s own kind. Putting the criticism this way
is meant, of course, to invoke images of racism, where people make sim-
ilarly (it is alleged) arbitrary prejudicial judgments in favor of their own
kind and against other kinds. But the claims in this case hold no water.
Yes, there are rudimentary biological similarities common to all animals,
but it does not follow from that that human beings are not distinct. The
claim is often made, for example, that humans share 99 percent (or
so) of their DNA with chimpanzees, a fact intended to suggest the close
similarity between the two. But that 1 percent makes a pretty big differ-
ence! Consider that the average brain size of Homo sapiens is 1400 cubic
centimeters, which is about 3.5 times that of a chimpanzee. For compar-
ison, Australopithecus afarensisâ”one of Homo sapiensâ™s earliest ancestors,
living approximately 3â“4 million years agoâ”had an average brain size of
about 400 cubic centimeters, a tad larger than the 390 cubic centimeters
of todayâ™s chimp. One can make a similar point with another example:
although many animals have noses, there is nothing in the world that
resembles the sophistication of the elephantâ™s trunk, and it would be plain
sophistry to claim that it is somehow âpachydermcentrismâ to hold that
the elephant is special in this regard. Similarly with human personhood.
To the âspeciesismâ charge: well, yes, we do favor our own kindâ”but,
as the evidence adduced earlier in this chapter seems to suggest, we are
apparently biologically programmed to do so, so no amount of condem-
nation or execration will change it. I will add that there are also good
reasons to think that we should be âspeciesist,â because this contributes
to our ability to be happy; but I will save that argument for chapter 9.
Finally, the allusion to racism is an example of what John Kekes in a simi-
lar context calls ârampant moralism.â33 The vice of racism is constituted
by holding members of other races not to be full â˜personsâ™ when they in
plain fact are. To liken that case to one in which one holds nonpersons not
to be â˜persons,â™ when they in plain fact are not, is to miss the boat entirely.
The Objection of a Thousand Pigs
The skeptic of my position asks: âAre you saying that if I wanted to get a
thousand pigs and hook them up to electrodes to torture them merely
32 See Reganâ™s The Case for Animal Rights and Singerâ™s Animal Liberation.
33 In his âOn the Supposed Obligation to Relieve Famine.â
More Moral Hobgoblins: Extending Rights 301
for my twisted amusement, I would have a right to?â”that no one would
have a right to stop me?â34 That is the wrong question to ask! Itâ™s the
wrong question because it assumes that the only recourse one could have
to condemn a reprehensible actâ”as torturing the pigs for fun obviously
would beâ”is to claim a ârightsâ violation. But as I have argued, having a
â˜moral rightâ™ to do something does not entail that it is moral to do it. That
applies to the Thousand Pigs objection: even if, strictly speaking, one had
the â˜moral right,â™ as we have deď¬ned the term, to torture the pigs, that
does not mean that it is all right to do it. Indeed it is not all right to do
it: but the reason it is wrong is not because it violates anyoneâ™s rights but
because it is cruel and inhumane. Period. Full stop.
The Thousand Pigs objection is trying to suggest that a weakness of the
view I have defended is that it seems to provide for no absolute trumpâ”
for example, no natural right (even if there are contingent legal or social
rights)â”that one can invoke to say that such-and-such treatment of ani-
mals is absolutely forbidden, and then on that basis justify forcible action if
necessary to make the person cease and desist. We would have justiď¬cation
to take coercive action if the pigs were stolen, if they were bought under
false pretenses (perhaps you told the farmer from whom you bought
them that you would let them wander freely on your land), if torturing
them violates any other contract that might have been entered into, or,
ď¬nally, if empirical evidence turns out to show that pigs (or any other
nonhuman animals) should count as â˜personsâ™ after all: in any cases such
as these we would in fact have breaches of â˜justice,â™ thereby justifying
forcible prevention. But the position Iâ™ve defended is not as weak as this
objection would have it. Even in the absence of coercion-justifying condi-
tions, my argument is that we would still have the full moral authority to
condemn behavior that is morally blameworthy. We might not be able to
tell someone he doesnâ™t have a ârightâ to do it, meaning that we could not
use that particular species of moral condemnation; but so what? Things
can be immoral, reprehensible, blameworthy, or just plain wrong for any
number of reasons. And if they are, then we have every rightâ”pardon
the expressionâ”to say so.
Thus when faced with a person who wants to torture pigs, we can pub-
licly execrate him, boycott him, and refuse to associate with him. That
is, we can bring the considerable force of our social power to bear on
him in just those ways that our judgment, based on our local knowledge
of the situation, suggests will be most punishing to him. Now, thatâ™s not
foolproof: there will always be those few among us who are immune to
34 I thank Torin Alter for formulating this objection for me.
Applying the Principles
such social pressures. But then again, nothing is foolproof against such
people. What we can reasonably hope for is to reduce as much as possi-
ble such inhumane treatment, cognizant of the fact that nothing will ever
guarantee complete eradication. Deploying our social power is remark-
ably effective, and doing so at the same time respects the personhood of
all â˜personsâ™ involved.
Private Property and Plundering the Commons
The position I have defended is therefore not as weak as the Thousand
Pigs objection presumes. Here is another consideration. I mention above
that what would constitute âcoercion-justifyingâ criteria in the Thousand
Pigs case would be the pigs having been stolen or bought on false pre-
tenses. In order for a â˜personâ™ to have a â˜moral rightâ™ to use â˜thingsâ™ as he
pleases, on my view he would ď¬rst have to own themâ”that is, he would
have to buy them with his own money, and suffer any losses or enjoy any
gains on them himself. That is not a throwaway remark. There is good
reason to expect that people treat things they own far better than they do
things they do not own. This is exhibited in the by-now famous problem
called âthe tragedy of the commons,â after Garrett Hardinâ™s 1968 article
by the same name. The argument is quite simple. If scarce resources are
held publicly or âin commonââ”that is, without clear property divisions
among private title holdersâ”then people have strong incentive to mis-
use, to exploit, and to overuse the resource in question, and they have
little or no incentive to conserve it or to worry about other peopleâ™s use
of it. If I am a logger retrieving timber from a public forest, I am mon-
etarily rewarded by taking as much timber as I possibly can. If I decide
to hold back and save some for next year or for future generations, that
only means more timber for you or other competing loggers to take at
my expense. I cannot count on your voluntarily restraining yourself, so
as a result I rush in and just take everything I can; you would do precisely
the same. This is the âtragedy of the commonsâ: since it is in everyoneâ™s
interest to get everything possible out of the resource, the resource gets
plundered without concern for others or for future generations. And
this is not a merely hypothetical scenario. It has been replayed countless
times across the world wherever a desired and sought-after resource is
not privately owned: overď¬shing in the seas, killing endangered animals
for their tusks or fur, strip-mining, clear-cutting, and so on.35
35 For good discussions, see Bethellâ™s The Noblest Triumph, esp. chap. 4, and Richard Epsteinâ™s
Simple Rules, chap. 15.
More Moral Hobgoblins: Extending Rights 303
Consider the incentives in the other case, however. If you own some-
thing yourself, then you are far more likely to care for it prudently
and husband it wisely, since if you plunder it, you will have nothing
leftâ”meaning that you yourself will have paid the price of lost value.
Again this scenario is constantly realized. Logging companies that take
timber only from their own land employ careful reseeding programs;
catď¬sh producers who take only from their own lakes carefully restock
their supply; and African villagers who have been given private prop-
erty rights over wild animals have discovered they can make moneyâ”
usually from Western touristsâ”by tending them and nurturing them
rather than by killing them, so they have done so, and with great
Bring the logic of the commons versus private property closer to home:
Ask yourself whether you are more likely to pick up trash in a public park
or in your own front yard. How likely are you to repair and repaint a water-
damaged wall in your apartment, as opposed to in your own house? Which
do you take better care ofâ”a rental car or your own car? Which part of the
fraternity house do you think will be cleanerâ”the common living area
or the individual, padlocked bedrooms? To make the same point from
a different direction, one might point out that it is in precisely those
countries where the state controls most of the resourcesâ”places such
as former members of the Soviet Union, for exampleâ”where pollution
is worst, where natural resources have been most proď¬‚igately misused,
and where chronic shortages of things such as arable land, livestock,
and potable waterâ”not to mention an abundance of trash, human and
animal waste, and thus diseaseâ”are most acute. And it is in those places
where private property has been relatively more extensively realizedâ”
such as the United States, for exampleâ”where overall levels of pollution
are lower, where resources are better managed, and where trash, disease,
and so on are under better control.37
What exactly does this âlogicâ of the commons versus private property
suggest about the treatment of animals? Given human natureâ”given, that
is, that human beings naturally tend to care far more about something
that is their own than about something that belongs to others or is held
36 See, for example, Alessiâ™s âPrivate Conservation and Black Rhinos in Zimbabwe,â Hecoxâ™s
âWildlife Management: A Comparative Analysis of Protection versus Utilization, Kenya
and Zimbabwe,â and Rihoryâ™s âHSUS vs. CAMPFIRE.â
37 As Julian Simon, for example, has shown in his edited The State of Humanity, the differ-
ences in this respect are quite stark. BjĂ¸rn Lomborgâ™s The Skeptical Environmentalist makes
the same case again, though without intending to do so. For further recent evidence,
see Haywardâ™s 2004 Index of Leading Environmental Indicators.
Applying the Principles
âin commonâ38 â”one important step we should take if we want to increase
the chances of animals being properly cared for is to allow, even demand,
that people own them.
A speciď¬c example illustrates the argument. Through much of the
latter half of the twentieth century, a thriving world-wide market in ivory
was leading to the killing of elephants and to their numbers dwindling
precipitously. Everyone deplored this; the question was what to do about
it. East Africa made the decision to outlaw ivory trade, to nationalize the
elephants, and to prohibit killing them. What were the results? In the
ten years after the ban, the number of elephants in East Africa actually
declined by half, from 866,000 to 404,000. In Zimbabwe, by contrast, the
decision was made to give individual villages private title to elephant herds
that roamed over their lands. Suddenly, the elephants there had a value to
them when they were alive, not just when they were dead, and the number
of elephants there more than doubled from 32,000 in 1960 to 77,000 in
1992. Rhinoceroses, particularly black rhinos, have seen a similar history.
South Africa, for example, now has scores of private rhino farms, where
the rhinos are grown for their horns (which are now removed carefully,
without leading to the animalâ™s death), for tourist visitation and viewing,
and even for controlled hunting safaris. Because of these private efforts,
their numbers too are now reversing the decades-long trend and are
beginning to climb.
Given what I have suggested about the disparate incentives involved
in private versus public ownership, and the tendency to take better care
of what one individually owns than of what one jointly owns with many
unknown others,39 the explanation is clear. As long as elephants, rhinos,
lions, tigers, and other scarce resources belong to nobody in particu-
lar, poachers and exploiters will try to get as many as they can regard-
less of the long-term consequences; they know that if they do not get
them, some other poacher will. Once they are a privately owned asset,
however, they cannot be treated with the same reckless abandon. If I have
to spend my own hard-earned money to acquire rhinos, or if I can now
earn money from their being alive rather than dead, suddenly my tune
changes dramatically: I now have the strong incentive to do my best to
38 See Richard Pipesâ™s Property and Freedom for further evidence of this.
39 It is more accurate in most cases of âpublicâ ownership to say that the state owns it, not
âthe people.â If you are unsure about this, consider how difď¬cult it is for you to use
âpublicâ property for your own purposesâ”consider the required permissions, permits,
authorizations, etc. Try going into a national park, for example, and camping or hiking
wherever you please.
More Moral Hobgoblins: Extending Rights 305
make sure they stay alive and are used properly. As Arthur Young said in
the eighteenth century, âGive a man secure possession of a bleak rock
and he will turn it into a garden; give him nine yearsâ™ lease of a garden
and he will turn it into a desert.â
There are many other examples one could site of tragedies in the com-
mons and of successes with private property. Tom Bethellâ™s The Noblest
Triumph is a good place to start, and further reading is in the bibliog-
raphy at the end of the chapter. But making animals privately owned
will not solve all problems, of course. Animals may still be misused,
neglected, exploited, or inhumanely treatedâ”just as humans, too, are.
Think, for example, of dogs owned and used for ď¬ghting. Sadly, there will
always be those among us who exploit others for their own enjoyment.
As Theodore Dalrymple writes, while discussing the character Macbeth
in Shakespeareâ™s play by that name,
Original sinâ”that is to say, the sin of having been born with human nature that
contains within it the temptation to evilâ”will always make a mockery of attempts
at perfection based upon manipulation of the environment. The prevention of
evil will always require more than desirable social arrangements: it will forever
require personal self-control and the conscious limitation of appetites.40
Thus no system of âsocial arrangementsâ can guarantee elimination of
evils such as animal mistreatment. Aristotle was right, however, when he
argued in criticism of Plato that what private ownership does is increase
the incentives for taking better care of things.41 Incentives are not guar-
antees, and not everyone responds to them the way we might like or
predict. But incentives do increase chances, especially âon the margins,â
as the economists say. Public, common, or no ownership, on the other
hand, provides a different set of incentives altogether, and it has histor-
ically allowed just what would be predicted, namely, far more extensive
exploitation of resources and decimation of species.
Remember moreover that the more we legally restrict supply of some-
thing that is desired, the higher its price goesâ”which creates all that
much more incentive for black markets and illegal suppliers. So one
should think very carefully before calling for legal bans on owning or
exchanging natural resources. The 1973 Endangered Species Act in
America, for example, has in many instances created the perverse incen-
tive that is popularly, though clandestinely, known as âshoot, shovel, and
40 In Our Culture, Whatâ™s Left of It, pp. 35â“6.
41 In his Politics, bk. 2, chaps. 1â“5.
Applying the Principles
shut up.â42 That is, because the presence of, say, an âendangeredâ bird on
oneâ™s property can lead the federal government to take control over all
of the property and forbid the owner from proď¬ting from or even using
it, owners now suddenly have the incentive to make sure that no one
discovers the bird on their property. There have been numerous cases of
owners who actually wanted to provide havens for animals or to protect
them in various ways, only to have the Fish and Wildlife Service discover
their efforts, decide, as it inevitably does, that they were somehow lack-
ing, and then take all of the property in question out of the hands of
the owners. This not only leads to owners being understandably resent-
ful of the federal governmentâ™s intrusion, but it also leads, tragically, to
the practice already mentioned: if they see an âendangeredâ animal, they
shoot it, bury it where no one can see it, and dare not breathe a word.
This is the opposite of what the act was hoping to accomplish, but it is an
understandable consequence nonetheless.
Private ownership would remove these perverse unintended incen-
tives, and a growing number of studies have suggested that granting pri-
vate property rights goes a long way toward solving a host of environmen-
tal problems, from overď¬shing to pollution to water scarcity to protecting
endangered wildlife and wetlands.43 I leave it to you to investigate why
this would be so, exactly how such solutions might work, and what their
relative strengths and weaknesses would be.
Consistent with what I have argued elsewhere in this book, however,
I would argue that if you or I think that certain habitats or areas should
be off-limits to people to farm or build on or otherwise exploit, then
we should do the honest thing and put our money where our mouths
are: we should buy the habitat in question and maintain it the way we
judge proper. Claiming that we do not have enough money to do so is
no excuse. Hereâ™s why: there is no end to the things I would do if I did
not have to spend my own money to do itâ”but by using other peopleâ™s
money for my ends I disrespect their personhood. There is a great deal
of popular support for environmental causes in the West today. The best
42 See Epstein, Simple Rules, chap. 15, and Simmons, âFixing the Endangered Species Act.â
For a powerful, if polemical, presentation of the argument, see Suprynowiczâ™s The Ballad
of Carl Drega, chaps. 3 and 4.
43 See Adlerâ™s âBad for Your Land, Bad for the Critters,â Anderson and Lealâ™s Free Market
Environmentalism, Kay and Simmonsâ™s Wilderness Ecology, Schmidtz and Willottâ™s Environ-
mental Ethics, Simmonsâ™s Endangered Species, Simonâ™s Ultimate Resource 2, and the Wall Street
Journal editorial, âA Fish Story.â
More Moral Hobgoblins: Extending Rights 307
way to capitalize on it, and all the while respect everyoneâ™s personhood, is
to take private donations, buy the land or animals we want to protect with
the pooled money, and thereby place that land or those animals beyond
the reach of encroachment.
If the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and other similar organizations took
the money they spent on lobbying political bodies and funding protests
and boycotts, and instead spent it on actually buying up acres of wetlands,
natural habitats, and so on, my guess is that everyone concerned would
be shocked with just how much they could come to own in no time at all.
The Sierra Club has 700,000 members, Greenpeace claims 2.8 million
members, and there are of course hundreds of other environmental orga-
nizations around the world.44 That is a lot of potential. Ted Turner himself
owns approximately two million acres of land in North America45 â”and
that is just one person, albeit a very wealthy one. The Nature Conser-
vancy, an organization that does what I recommend here, namely buy-
ing acres of land with its own privately donated money, currently owns
116 million acres worldwide and boasts one million supporters.46 Another
such organization is the Montana Land Reliance.47 It focuses on buying
up land in and around Montana and keeping it clean and protected for
the native wildlife. They do it not by blowing up buildings or lobbying
Congress, but by taking private donations and buying easements and land
with their proceeds. They currently own and have thus protected approx-
imately 500,000 acres. Still another organization is Vital Ground, which
buys the natural habitat of North American grizzly bears to protect the
bears and allow them to continue living on their previously dwindling
territory.48 Vital Ground was founded in 1990 and currently owns and
protects more than 120,000 acres of land in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho,
and Alaska. They want to buy a lot more, of course, but they have done
much already; and the point is that they could do a lot more if con-
cerned individuals concentrated their efforts in places such as this. The
Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Montana, is a
think tank dedicated to ď¬nding ways to protect the environment while
44 See http:/ /www.greenpeace.org/international en/aboutus (accessed December 15,
45 See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted Turner (accessed December 15, 2005).
46 See http://nature.org/aboutus/ (accessed December 15, 2005).
47 See http://www.mtlandreliance.org/who.htm (accessed December 15, 2005).
48 See http:/ /www.vitalground.org/vital ground/mission.html (accessed December 15,
Applying the Principles
respecting private property and personhood: contact them to ď¬nd out
more, or about more such organizations.49 And just imagine what could
be accomplished if more people with similar concerns put their heads,
and their wallets, together.
Testing, Research, and Other Uses
It follows from my argument that human beings may use animals (and
land) for testing and research. I believe that is a good consequence of the
argument, since so many of the medical treatments and everyday products
we depend on today would have been impossible without prior testing
on animals, and one can only guess just how much human suffering and
death has been avoided thereby. But my argument does not imply that
people should do just anything they want with any animal they want.
Indeed, several qualiď¬cations apply.
First, owning an animal does not give one a moral blank check to do
whatever one wants with the animal. Even if a person owns an animal and
therefore would commit no â˜injusticeâ™ by treating it badly, that does not
mean he should do so, that he is not vicious if he does so, or that the
rest of us have to stand by silently while he does so. Here as elsewhere
we can remonstrate with him, make public our judgment of his actions,
refuse to buy his products, encourage others to similarly refrain, and so
on. Here is yet another opportunity for us to exercise our social power
Second, basic decency requires that people treat animals with as much
solicitude as their sophistication and ability to suffer indicates,50 and the
relative level of sophistication of an animal dictates the relative level of
importance that a reason must meet if we are to use the animal for testing
and research. What that means in practice is, for example, that although
one need not reserve testing on mice or rabbits for only extremely impor-
tant research, one should use chimpanzees only for research that cannot
be conducted on other, lower animals. The reason in both cases relates
to the respective animalsâ™ actual, empirically determined, capacities for
pain and suffering. Humane treatment is indicated in all cases, but we
should reserve most of our worry over quality-of-life issues for the higher
animals since it is they who can most enjoy it or suffer from the lack of
it. We should therefore not take the position that all animal testing is
49 See http://www.perc.org/about.php?id=700 (accessed December 15, 2005).
50 I think Scullyâ™s argument in his Dominion is compelling on this point.
More Moral Hobgoblins: Extending Rights 309
bad, end of discussion. Such a rule is simple at the price of being simplis-
tic, papering over both the relevant differences among animals and the
important purposes that scientiď¬c research serves.
Understanding our relationship to and use of animals in this wayâ”
as a matter of wise use circumscribed by honest estimations of the ani-
malsâ™ conditions and ability to enjoy or suffer from those conditionsâ”as
opposed to seeing the relationship as one of adversarial natural rights
claims has several further beneď¬ts. It allows, ď¬rst, some progress in the dis-
cussion. Instead of merely trading respective absolute injunctions based
on assertions of ď¬xed natural rights, we can instead engage argument
about exactly how much this or that animal is able to suffer, exactly
how much this or that procedure causes suffering, exactly how important
this or that use is, and so on. Here too there will be disagreements, of
course, but this at least holds out the possibility of progressâ”we might well
come to appreciate the relevant trade-offs and thus reach compromisesâ”
whereas little hope for compromise is possible when one person claims a
natural right that another claims does not exist. Moreover, once the issue
is taken out of the political realm, we no longer have to fearâ”and hence
ď¬ght ruthlessly overâ”a single, one-size-ď¬ts-all, coercively enforced polit-
ical decision. Once a law is passed, it is enormously difď¬cult to change,
amend, or challenge it. And woe to you if your opponent gets his posi-
tion written into law and you do not. If we take this issue out of politics,
however, and instead put it in the hands of private property owners, then
even if there are some who treat animals in ways you or I disapprove, not
everyone will do so; and we can build on those who do things the right
way by giving them our encouragement, our business, our money, our
good press, and so on.
One ď¬nal thought. Making this an issue of private property keeps every-
body honest. Because the government will not subsidize them and pick
up the tab for more animals and equipment, scientists and researchers
cannot afford to be proď¬‚igate in their use of animals or to not worry
about their treatment. They will have to take care of those they have
because, since they must pay for them on their own nickel, they will not
have an unlimited supply. Thus the benevolence they probably already
feel toward their animals will be supplemented and strengthened con-
siderably by their own self-interest. And environmental activists, for their
part, will not demand the moonâ”to which they might feel entitled if
âthe governmentâ bears the costsâ”but instead will make schedules of
priorities and pursue goals in light of the scarcity of resources, unavoid-
able trade-offs, and second-best solutions that characterize real-world
Applying the Principles
possibilities. Instead of trying to hammer each other into submission
with the coercive ď¬st of the state, then, we are required to consider the
actual consequences and costs of our views and of our actions, and thus
use and appeal to one anotherâ™s judgment.
Keeping Everybody Honest
The people in organizations called Earth First!, Earth Liberation Front
(ELF), and others like them are little better than thugs and terrorists,
whatever they try to convince themselves of. I say this not only because
their typical modus operandi is destruction of private property in the dead
of night but also because if they were serious about preserving forests or
other land, they would buy it, and if they were serious about helping
animals, they would begin by adopting and neutering the thousands and
thousands of animals euthanized in animal shelters around the country
every year. Instead, they burn down logging company workersâ™ houses,
live in other peopleâ™s trees for months on end, and ď¬rebomb science
laboratories.51 Thus they wish to impose their own valuations of nature
and natural resources, and to some extent their economic worldviews, on
others by mere use of force or intimidation by threatening force. That
makes them enemies of civilized society, and if anything it should galva-
nize others to oppose, not support, them. In addition to their assaults on
â˜justice,â™ then, they systematically disrespect the personhood of everyone
who disagrees with them. Ironic for organizations that claim, as ELF does,
to be âin defense of all life.â
It must be said, however, that in this they are not just crazies who
can be summarily dismissed: they have merely taken the mindset of state
action to its logical extreme. The existence and ready availability of a
state apparatus to enforce certain worldviews about nature, animals, and
so on is premised on the idea that people holding the correct view are
entitled to force everyone else to agree with their position. But of course
the âcorrectâ view in this case is determined by political dynamics, not by
actual argument, evidence, or, for that matter, good judgment. And polit-
ical dynamics are, at bottom, merely the more powerful group forcing
its view on the weaker groups. Hence the eco-terrorists can be forgiven
51 See, for example, Schabnerâ™s âAlready Active ELF Extending Range,â http:/ /
abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=90151&page=1 (accessed December 15, 2005). ELFâ™s
own site is available at http://www.earthliberationfront.com/main.shtml (accessed
December 15, 2005). Earth First!â™s site is available at http://www.earthď¬rst.org (accessed
December 15, 2005).
More Moral Hobgoblins: Extending Rights 311
if they decide to cut out the middlemanâ”that is, the stateâ”and assume
this role themselves. However repugnant we rightfully judge the methods
of these groups to be, it is hard to see how we can consistently condemn
them and yet at the same time endorse asking the state to enforce our
Instead, let us avoid such unbecoming conduct altogether and resolve
not to subsidize loggers or scientists or environmentalists or anyone else
through government taxation. Make the loggers buy the land they want
to deforest; make the scientists, pharmaceutical companies, and so on
buy the animals and equipment they want to use in their experiments;
make environmental groups buy the land they want to preserve unspoiled
by mankind. Grant titles back to the ranching and farming families who
had been using and caring for land for generations before the govern-
ment took it from them. Allow sport hunting to take place, but only
on privately owned preserves. To make all this possible, take those hun-
dreds of millions of acres of land the federal government has unilaterally
decreed ownership of and currently uses as so many political footballs,
and instead sell it to private use. That will have the simultaneous beneď¬t
of immediately removing the âtragedy of the commonsâ logic that leads
to exploitation and overuse, and making both the conservationists and
the users face the actual, real-world consequences of what they propose to
do with the resources in question. Resources are scarce and cost money.
Wishing that were not so, or transferring the costs of oneâ™s own use onto
others, does not make those costs go away.
In an imperfect world whereâ”excuse the redundancy, but it bears
repeatingâ”perfection is impossible, we must instead search out the best
among less-than-ideal policies. Private property ownership, by maintain-
ing the connection between freedom and responsibility, has proven again
and again to be the best among those imperfect solutions. It has proved
its ability to do this even in the issues of environment and animals we
are considering here. We will never all agree on how animals and natural
resources should be used, but if we make people pay for their respective
uses themselves, there is no question that we would see an increase of
careful consideration about how best to use, nurture, and preserve these
resources for the futureâ”human ingenuity in the face of adversity and
necessity is, after all, as Julian Simon called it, our one true âultimate
resourceââ”and at the same time we would see a great decrease in wan-
ton neglect, callous disregard, and pointless cruelty or endangerment.
That is all that one can hope for, I believe, in an imperfect world ď¬lled
with imperfect human beings. On the other hand, to accomplish even
Applying the Principles
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What Is Good for the Goose
Throughout this book I have used the dread word happiness, and I think an
impartial spectator would judge that fact to impose upon me an obligation
to say something substantive about what exactly the word means. I have
several times talked about happiness. I have argued, for example, that
people must ď¬nd their own paths to it and that no two peopleâ™s paths will
be exactly alike, claims that together constitute a large part of the reason
why a wide scope of individual freedom is necessary. Indeed, most of the
argument of this book has explicitly or implicitly assumed that happiness
is everyoneâ™s ultimate goal, that, as Aristotle put it, happiness is the one
good that is desired for its own sake and not for the sake of anything
else.1 These should not be left to stand as mere assertions, however. That
means that the time has come for me to put my money where my mouth
is and say something about what I believe human happiness actually is
and how it might be achieved. My argument that there is no single good
for all people carries with it the implication that one cannot give a single
account of âthe good,â and that might provide an excuse for me to avoid
having to address this topic. But that would be a rather weak evasion,
I think: if I did not want to address this topic at all, I shouldnâ™t have
mentioned it throughout the book!
the good and the happy
I would like to begin by taking up the question of whether a person who
is âgoodâ or does âgoodâ things is necessarily happy. But before I can
1 In his Nicomachean Ethics, bk. 1, chap. 7.
address that I must ď¬rst avert a common and easy mistake. Despite the
impression one might get from the way we sometimes talk about such
matters, speaking about âthe goodâ makes as little sense as speaking
about âthe happyââ”as if there were, in either case, some Platonic entity
out there in which all good things or all happy people, actions, or events
participated. I do not believe in any such entity, principally because
there is no good reason to do so. One does not have to believe in them to
be able to use and understand terms such as good or happy; the Platonic
argument that such terms could derive meaning only by reference to
some transcendent, ď¬xed, and absolute standard turns out simply to be
mistaken. An initial piece of evidence for that is the fact that you and I
use and understand those terms all the time without having any idea at all
about any transcendent, ď¬xed, or absolute standard they might relate to.
Ludwig Wittgenstein elaborated the argument in the ď¬rst half of the
twentieth century by repeatedly asking philosophers not to ask what
âmustâ be the case about such-and-so, but, rather, simply to look and
see what in fact is the case.2 Plato had thought that the resemblance
among various uses of words such as good implied their reliance on one
ď¬xed, ideal standard and that our ability to use such terms in a variety
of cases meant that all such uses âmustâ rely on such a standard: this was
the genesis of Platoâ™s famous theory of âforms.â3 Wittgensteinâ™s sugges-
tion, however, was that words gained their meanings simply from the ways
they are used. Since the word good, for example, is often used in similar
ways, its meaning in particular usages often overlaps with its meaning in
other particular usages. Wittgenstein suggested the felicitous term âfam-
ily resemblanceâ: a wordâ™s meaning in various usages might bear certain
familiar similarities, as the members of a family do to one another, but
there may be no single feature that all usages have, just as there may
be no single physical feature that all members of a family share. Thus
we can use and understand different uses of the same word by habitual
associations based on this rough familiarity, but they do not necessarily
require or depend on any strict logical or rational relationships. So, for
example, the phrases âgood watch,â âgood meal,â âgood wife,â and âgood
manâ might use the word good in related ways, but they need not; and we
can use and understand these terms regardless.
2 He makes this argument in several places. One should perhaps start with his Blue and
Brown Books and his Philosophical Investigations. See also Taylorâ™s Good and Evil.
3 For Platoâ™s presentation of his argument, see, for example, the Republic, bks. 5 and 6, the
Euthyphro, or the Meno.
What Is Good for the Goose 321
Wittgensteinâ™s suggestion is simpler and more plausible than Platoâ™s,
and a number of people have made the same argument, and in more
sophisticated fashion, since then. It is by now a commonplace. If you are a
stickler about such things, however, I suppose I should say that although
there could possibly be Platonic âformsâ that exist in the âintelligible
realm,â there is nonetheless no reason to assume that there are and no
reason to believe there must be. Following Ockhamâ™s Razor, which holds
that we should not needlessly complicate our explanations, I think we
can safely shave away Platoâ™s mysterious metaphysics.
Hence to begin a discussion about happiness and goodness by ask-
ing about âthe goodâ and âthe happyâ is to begin on quite the wrong
foot. Instead of asking whether happiness is connected with goodness,
we should ask whether a person who does what is good (for him) will
be happy. This question is still a general one, but it narrows its focus to
individuals rather than to hypothetical collectives or ideal entities. My
deď¬nite answer to this more tractable question, then, is: it depends. It
depends, that is, on what we mean by the terms good and happy.
I have used the term good in this book to refer to what satisď¬es individ-
ualsâ™ interests. So accepting a job offer is a âgoodâ decision if it promotes
the person in questionâ™s interests, âbadâ if it does not; the exchange was
a âgoodâ one if it satisď¬ed the interests of the people in question, not
if not. In this way happiness will bear the simple relation to goodness
that we can presume that if a person manages to successfully promote
his interestsâ”that is, achieve âgoodsââ”then he will probably be happy.
In his Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle seemed to think that a good person
would therefore be a happy one, a âgood personâ for him being one
who, among other things, exercised his rational abilities and his uniquely
human phronesis or judgment.4 This is a quite pedestrian conception and
use of âgood,â we must admit, and one might think indeed that it is overly
pedestrian: canâ™t one after all speak of a âgoodâ painting or a âgoodâ
book, without meaning thereby only that it serves this or that personâ™s
interests? And by the way, who says that promoting peopleâ™s interests is
necessarily a good thing to do? Some people have pretty nasty interests,
This is why I said this was a âdreadâ topic. We now enter into a hornetâ™s
nest of difď¬cult issues, most of them outside the scope of this book to
resolve, not to mention probably beyond my competence to address. But
4 See the Nicomachean Ethics, bk. 1 and bk. 10, chaps. 6â“9. For an excellent discussion of
this notion of judgment, see Fleischackerâ™s A Third Concept of Liberty, esp. chaps. 1â“4.
let me hazard a preliminary stab nonetheless. Yes, we can talk about a good
painting or book, but it is somewhat misleadingly put that way because,
again, it seems to imply that there is a transcendently ď¬xed standard being
adverted to. I suggest on the contrary that what constitutes the standard
of goodness in these cases is pragmatic and empirically grounded. It is
the answer to the further question, ââ˜Goodâ™ at what?ââ”which will then
entail providing a description of the kind of thing we are talking about.
If we are talking about a book, for example, the criteria for âgoodâ in
this case will depend on what a (or this kind of) book is, what it is for,
what it should do, and so on. My suggestion is that these are all empirical
mattersâ”to be discovered by actually looking to see what (these kinds of)
books are, what they are for, what they should do, and so on, rather than
by sitting in oneâ™s ofď¬ce and excogitating imaginary idealized standards.
I suggest the standards are thus âpragmaticâ in the sense that they are
linked to and driven by the details of the case in question, and they are
âempiricalâ in the sense that they are discovered by actual experience
with cases like the one in question and not invented or apprehended by
a disembodied rational intellect.5
That does not mean that these pragmatic, empirical standards are arbi-
trary, howeverâ”far from it. They are objective in that they are dependent
on the actual facts of the matter, facts such as what actually constitutes
human nature, what actually constitutes human experience, what actual
ends people pursue and what means to those ends are actually better
or more efď¬cient than others, what are the actual historical facts and
events that have given rise to usages, beliefs, and practices, and so on.
I apologize for repetition of the word actual, but the point is frequently
mistaken and therefore needs to be emphasized. These facts are often
dependent on the actions and beliefs of individuals, but they are not for
all that arbitrary or determined by any single individualâ™s idiosyncratic
beliefs. So, for example, when I walk into a store in Hong Kongâ”a long
way away from where I live, where I do not speak the language and they
do not speak mine, where I do not know the shopkeeper and he does
not know meâ”I can nevertheless hand him a little piece of plastic and
he in turn lets me walk out with some of his things. How is that possible?
Well, it is possible because of the objective existence of a large web of
beliefs and practices concerning what certain pieces of plastic represent
and how they are used, how banks operate, what currencies are and what
5 See Richardsâ™s âA Fitness Model of Evaluation.â Much of my discussion here also draws
on Taylorâ™s excellent Good and Evil.
What Is Good for the Goose 323
they do and how they are exchanged, and on and on. All of these beliefs
and practices are the result of human action and are thus in some sense
âsocially constructed,â but they are not up to and cannot be changed by
any individual.6 And they are certainly not arbitrary. If you do not believe
me, try taking your green piece of paper with the symbol 20 written on
it and telling the merchant in question that it is actually worth one thou-
sand Hong Kong dollarsâ”and see how far you get. Or take driving on
the right (or left) side of the road: it does not matter which is chosen,
but once a choice is made you had better not decide all on your own one
day to ď¬‚out the rule.
Moreover, if it is true that human practices are largely the results of
peopleâ™s trial-and-error investigations into how to achieve their ends in
cooperation with others, then those practices will in fact have something
else to recommend them besides being merely what everyone currently
believes: utility. As people ď¬nd ways that allow them to successfully nego-
tiate interactions with others, their successes, as well as their failures,
are precedents that they will follow in future similar cases. Their success
will also be imitated by others who observe them and also want to suc-
ceed in similar circumstances. It is in this way that social practices are
born, become habits, and sometimes coalesce into principles and rules.7
If people do come to follow them or view them even as (moral? Godâ™s?
the godsâ™?) rules, then it will be because they served peopleâ™s interests or
allowed people to promote their interestsâ”which means they fostered
peopleâ™s welfare and thus served utility. This process of historical winnow-
ing of practices is what ultimately underlies the system of moral concepts
that is the foundation of this book, including those political principles
that others are inclined to describe as ânatural rightsâ issuing from ânat-
So a communityâ™s long-standing rules of morality or etiquette will
reď¬‚ect the experiments into what is conducive to utility that its mem-
bers have conducted over many generations. This is the sense in which
these rules are not arbitrary: they will bear an actual connection to actual
lived experience (that word actual again), they will embody the accumu-
lated wisdom of previous generations, and they therefore should not be
6 See Searleâ™s The Construction of Social Reality.
7 See Hayekâ™s The Constitution of Liberty, chaps. 3 and 4, and The Fatal Conceit, chaps. 1â“3;
Hocuttâ™s Grounded Ethics, pt. 1; Ottesonâ™s Adam Smithâ™s Marketplace of Life, chaps. 5 and 7;
Taylorâ™s Good and Evil, chaps. 2 and 3; and Wilsonâ™s Consilience, chaps. 8, 9, and 11. For
classic accounts, see Smithâ™s Theory of Moral Sentiments, pts. 1â“3, and Humeâ™s Treatise of
Human Nature, bk. 3, pt. 2, secs. 1â“3.
taken lightly or ignored for transient reasons.8 Of course, since human
experience changes over time, and this process of discovery is a product
of experimentation and will tend to yield better results over time, the
authority of a communityâ™s long-standing rules of morality and etiquette
is presumptive but not absolute. These standards thus enjoy a âmiddle way
objectivityâ: they are not arbitrary or dependent on any single personâ™s
private beliefs, but they are also not eternally ď¬xed by any transcendent
standard.9 They are the joint or macro product of individual or micro
action.10 Prudence therefore suggests that while one might test their
limits, one should think long and hard before, and have good cause for,
disregarding them. John Locke captured this sentiment in his 1690 Second
Treatise of Government. In response to the charge that his endorsement of
the possibility of justiď¬ed revolution could lead to instability and even
anarchy, Locke writes:
[S]uch Revolutions happen not upon every little mismanagement in publick affairs.
Great mistakes in the ruling part, many wrong and inconvenient Laws, and all the
slips of humane frailty will be born by the People, without mutiny or murmur. But
if a long train of Abuses, Prevarications, and Artiď¬ces, all tending the same way,
make the design visible to the People, and they cannot but feel, what they lie
under, and see, whither they are going; â™tis not to be wonderâ™d, that they should
then rouze themselves, and endeavour to put the rule into such hands, which
may secure to them the ends for which Government was ď¬rst erected. (chap. 19,
Â§225; emphasis in original)
Thomas Jefferson echoes Lockeâ™s sentiments in the 1776 Declaration of
Independence: âPrudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long
established should not be changed for light and transient Causes.â
Lockeâ™s and Jeffersonâ™s pointsâ”as well as Burkeâ™s, Flewâ™s, Hayekâ™s,
Hocuttâ™s, Humeâ™s, Ottesonâ™s, Smithâ™s, Taylorâ™s, Wilsonâ™s, and so onâ”
are that long-standing social institutions have a presumptive authority
grounded on their connection to and dependence on lived experience.
Adam Smith makes the case by means of three interlocking arguments.
First is the local knowledge argument, which we have encountered before:
given that everyone has unique knowledge of his own âlocalâ situation,
including his goals, desires, and the opportunities available to him, each
individual is therefore the person best positioned to make decisions for
himself about which courses of action he should take to achieve his goals.
8 Edmund Burke makes a similar argument in his 1790 Reď¬‚ections on the Revolution in France.
9 See Flewâ™s Social Life and Moral Judgment, chap. 3, and Ottesonâ™s âAdam Smith und die
ObjektivitÂ¨ t moralischer Urteile: Ein Mittelweg.â
10 I adapt this terminology from Schellingâ™s Micromotives and Macrobehavior.
What Is Good for the Goose 325
Here is the argument in Smithâ™s words: âWhat is the species of domestick
industry which his capital can employ, and of which the produce is likely
to be of the greatest value, every individual, it is evident, can, in his local
situation, judge much better than any statesman or lawgiver can do for
himâ (Wealth of Nations, p. 456).11 Second is the economizer argument, which
holds that as each of us seeks to better his own condition (however each
of us understands that), each of us will therefore be led to seek out the
most efď¬cient uses of our resources and labor so as to maximize their
productive output and return on our investment. Here again are Smithâ™s
The uniform, constant, and uninterrupted effort of every man to better his condi-
tion, the principle from which publick and national, as well as private opulence is
originally derived, is frequently powerful enough to maintain the natural progress
of things toward improvement, in spite both of the extravagance of government,
and of the greatest errors of administration. (Wealth of Nations, p. 343)12
Third and ď¬nally is the invisible hand argument, which holds that as each of
us strives to better his own condition, each of us thereby simultaneously,
though without intending to do so, betters the condition of everyone
else. This happens for at least two reasons: one, when we specialize or
concentrate our efforts on some small range of tasks or talents, we usually
produce more of it than we can ourselves consume or use, which means
we have a surplus that we can trade or sell awayâ”which in turn means
that the overall stock of goods and services increases for everyone; two,
we seek out behaviors, policies, protocols, forms of contract and trade,
11 Smith continues: âThe statesman, who should attempt to direct private people in what
manner they ought to employ their capitals, would not only load himself with a most
unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only
to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be
so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy
himself ď¬t to exercise itâ (Wealth of Nations, p. 456).
12 Smith also writes: âBut though the profusion of government must, undoubtedly, have
retarded the natural progress of England towards wealth and improvement, it has not
been able to stop it. The annual produce of its land and labour is, undoubtedly, much
greater at present than it was either at the restoration or at the revolution. The capital,
therefore, annually employed in cultivating this land, and in maintaining this labour,
must likewise be much greater. In the midst of all the exactions of government, this
capital has been silently and gradually accumulated by the private frugality and good conduct
of individuals, by their universal, continual, and uninterrupted effort to better their own condition.
It is this effort, protected by law and allowed by liberty to exert itself in the manner that
is most advantageous, which has maintained the progress of England towards opulence
and improvement in almost all former times, and which, it is to be hoped, will do so in
all future timesâ (Wealth of Nations, p. 345; emphasis added).
and so on that serve our local interests, but others will learn from us and
imitate our successes and avoid our failures, thereby saving themselves
time and energy, thereby enabling them to go yet further than we did
in securing theirâ”and thus, indirectly, everyone elseâ™sâ”ends. Here is
Smithâ™s phrasing of this argument:
As every individual, therefore, endeavours as much as he can . . . to direct [his]
industry that its produce may be of the greatest value; every individual necessarily
labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He gener-
ally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much
he is promoting it. . . . [H]e intends only his own security; and by directing that
industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends
only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible
hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. (Wealth of Nations,
Note that the argument is not that the unintended social orders
that are produced by this invisible-hand mechanism guarantee beneď¬-
cial results. People can make unwise, imprudent, or downright immoral
choices, and they can lead to habits, protocols, and standards that are
not in fact conducive to everyoneâ™s best interests. We are fallible crea-
tures, after all. But given that weâ™re fallible, the argument focuses not on
what is ideally best but rather on what is the best among what is actually
possible. And the argument is that the best way to ď¬nd that out is by
allowing the invisible-hand mechanism to work itself out, and by grant-
ing the results of this trial-and-error process of winnowing and culling
presumptive, if again not absolute, authority. This invisible-hand mech-
anism is what Smith describes as âthe obvious and simple system of nat-
ural liberty.â A ď¬nal passage from Smith. Here is how he concludes the
All systems either of preference or of restraint, therefore, being thus completely
taken away, the obvious and simple system of natural liberty establishes itself of
its own accord. Every man, as long as he does not violate the laws of justice, is
left perfectly free to pursue his own interest his own way, and to bring both his
industry and capital into competition with those of any other man, or order of
men. The sovereign is completely discharged from a duty, in the attempting to
perform which he must always be exposed to innumerable delusions, and for
the proper performance of which no human wisdom or knowledge could ever
13 Smith continues: âNor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it [i.e.,
his intention]. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society
much more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known
much good done by those who affected to trade for the publick goodâ (ibid.).
What Is Good for the Goose 327
be sufď¬cient; the duty of superintending the industry of private people, and of
directing it towards the employments most suitable to the interest of the society.
(Wealth of Nations, p. 687)
back to happiness
But how does the discussion of middle-way objectivity, unintended order,
and invisible hands relate to the questions about goodness and happiness?
Standards of goodness that might apply to books or paintings or music
or anything else are pragmatic, empirical standards, but they are not
arbitrary or subjective. They occupy the middle-way objectivity, which
means that we can indeed speak of âobjectiveâ standards of goodness, as
long as we (1) understand that these standards are still pragmatic and
empirical, (2) regard them as having historically presumptive authority
that is nevertheless always subject to testing and revision, and (3) are
dependent on and indexed to the particular thing or kind of thing in
question. Because the way such standards are generated means they will
typically have an ultimate connection to utility, it may be that the sense
of âgoodâ at work in discussions of books, paintings, and so on might end
up issuing from a shared source or justiď¬cation. If they do, although that
fact might be consistent with Platoâ™s view, it would not be evidence for it;
and in any case whether they do or not is yet another matter that can be
determined only by empirical, not a priori, investigation.
Similarlyâ”and here we ď¬nally get back to our original subjectâ”what is
good for a person is a matter of empirical, not a priori, investigation, and
yet it is not arbitrary, even if it cannot be merely apprehended intellec-
tually or known in advance. That is one reason I argued in Part I for the
General Liberty principle, that you must be given a broad and wide scope
to act freely, using your judgment on your local knowledge, to discover
and act on what will, and what will not, promote your interests and thus
be âgoodâ for you. The rules and advice and received wisdom of your
community should be your starting point, and your community, starting
with your parents, has the obligation to pass on and train you in its col-
lected wisdom so that you do not have to start from scratch. You have
the same obligation toward others in your community, starting with your
children. Contrary to what some well-intentioned but misguided parents
think, allowing children to do whatever they want and to come up with
whatever rules they happen to hit on is doing them no favor; it is like
putting a child out in the woods and hoping it ď¬gures out how to survive
on its own. The whole point of having parents is so that children do not
have to run these same experiments all over again, just as the whole point
of taking a physics class is so that future physicists do not have to start by
wondering, as Thales did in the sixth century b.c., whether everything is
really made up of water. We would never get anywhere that way. If you
had good parents, they schooled you in what they and their community
had already ď¬gured out. As you got older, however, and began to develop
your own judgmentâ”and thus became your own â˜personâ™â”you probably
did what you should have, which is take those rules as guidelines or rules
of thumb and tried them out.
What will be good for you will most likely bear a resemblance to what
has been good for others, but you will have to discover exactly how close
the resemblance is and exactly how you should depart from the course
others have charted. Although what turns out to be good for all indi-
viduals will, because of common features in human nature, bear a family
resemblance, nevertheless the exact signature of each individual personâ™s
good will be unique. And that means that the exact signature of each indi-
vidual personâ™s happiness will also be unique.
so what is happiness?
As is implied by the discussion above, oneâ™s happiness is intimately con-
nected with oneâ™s relative success at promoting oneâ™s unique schedule
of interestsâ”that is, with achieving oneâ™s good. In fact, let me make the
stronger statement that a personâ™s happiness is ultimately constituted by
his having successfully promoted his interests or good. So you are happy
if you are living a successful life, and unhappy if you are not.
Now that may be true, and I think it is, but it is only a starting point. It
still does not ď¬ll out a substantive picture of what the happy human life
is. Is there nothing more concrete that we can say? Unfortunately, not
really. I can no more tell you exactly what happiness will be for you than
I can tell you whom you should marry or what book will be your favorite.
But that does not mean that we canâ™t say anything at all. Given some
general facts about human nature and the human condition, it is possible
to discover some guidelines about what would be obstacles to happiness,
and we might be able to make some general hints or take some educated
guesses about in what human happiness may consist. These will be about
on a par with your doctor saying to you something like: I canâ™t tell you
exactly what food you should eat, but I can say that you should absolutely
not eat glass or drink Drano; and I can also say that most likely you will
be healthiest if you eat a variety of foods, not too much of any one thing,
What Is Good for the Goose 329
and make sure you get enough protein. That still leaves quite a lot for you
to discover on your own, obviously, but it is giving you some guidelines.
Without knowing much about you, then, or about what exactly makes
you tick, I can make similarly general recommendations that will provide
some measure of guidance despite their generality. I thus make a series
of assertions now without a whole lot of supporting evidence. But they
are offered as prospective descriptions of human reality, so you can test
them against your experience.
One thing people need to be happy is deep, loving relationships.14
These can take different forms, of course, and there is no way that I
or anyone else could tell you exactly what kind of deep relationship or
with whom is best for you. But what we can say with conď¬dence is that
a life without such relationships is a far poorer one, and consequently
a far less happy one, than a life with such relationships. Another thing
we can say with conď¬dence is that an individualâ™s capacity to form such
relationships is limited. Love is a scarce resource, and a deep relationship
takes time, energy, and devotion, all of which each of us has in only limited
quantities.15 What that means is that true friends or soul mates are rare
and should be treasured, and if you have such a friendship, you should
nurture and hold on to it. It also means that you will not be able to
have, say, ď¬fty of them. That would be simply impossibleâ”as impossible
as being an aď¬cionado of ď¬fty different genres of music at once. Unless
you need no sleep or have unlimited energy or both, you will have to
make choices, conserve and economize your resources, and concentrate
your efforts. You should count yourself lucky and blessed to have two or
three soul mates in your lifetime.
The other consequence of this, I believe, is that those ethical theories
that preach cosmopolitanism, or the view that you should love or treat
every other human being as if he were your own neighbor or brother, are
prescriptions, ultimately, for unhappiness. The reason is that they dissi-
pate your scarce resources, leaving you with large numbers of superď¬cial
but no deep relations. And human beings simply cannot be happy that
way. Moral cosmopolitanism is an attractive ideal, issuing as it does from
14 Here again Adam Smith got it right: âWhat so great happiness as to be beloved, and to
know that we deserve to be beloved? What so great misery as to be hated, and to know
that we deserve to be hated?â (Theory of Moral Sentiments, p. 113). For a more recent
account, see Bussâ™s The Evolution of Desire, chaps. 2, 3, and 10.
15 See Smith again: Theory of Moral Sentiments, pp. 229â“30 and 236, and Wealth of Nations,
pp. 26â“7. For recent evidence, see Dunbarâ™s Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Lan-
guage, chap. 4, and Barton and Dunbarâ™s âEvolution and the Social Brain.â
the reasonable conviction that you should not mistreat or disparage oth-
ers simply because you do not know them or because they are not part
of your inner circle of close friends.16 Putting this in the terms devel-
oped earlier in this book, you owe everyone, even complete strangers,
treatment in accordance with â˜justiceâ™; in some casesâ”if, for example,
the person is right in front of you or has otherwise insinuated himself
into your attention as a concrete individualâ”decency may require you to
display virtues such as generosity, hospitality, or charity. The argument I
wish to press here is rather that one should not in the ď¬rst instance worry
oneself unduly about the suffering or hardship that exists âsomewhere
in the worldâ or âin the third worldâ or âamong the least of us.â The rea-
son for this is not callousness, provincialism, or selď¬shness. It is instead
a recognition of two hard facts of the human condition. First, our capac-
ities to love and show genuine concern are limited. If they are widely
scattered, their fruitfulness is diminished, and the more widely they are
scattered the less fruitful they will be. Second, love is a resource that must
be carefully nurtured to be vital and robust, and part of this nurturing
must be with the assistance of the object of our love. That means that deep
human attachment is necessarily a mutually reenforcing enterprise and
that widely scattered or one-sided love withers and becomes desiccated
and lifeless; if this condition persists, oneâ™s very ability to have deep, lov-
ing relationships might atrophy and eventually die altogether. Although
there will be the occasional exception to thisâ”the rare hermit or recluse
who can be genuinely happy even in long-term solitudeâ”and although
you might be one of these exceptions, nevertheless these cases are so rare
that it would be foolish not to seek out people with whom it is possible for
you to have such relationships, to focus your energies on fostering them,
and to attend to them with delicacy and care. Only thereafter should
you focus any remaining energies on people or problems farther away
A moral cosmopolitanism can, then, have the truly unfortunateâ”and
dangerousâ”unintended consequence of rendering people less able to
form the kinds of bonds with others that can make them deeply happy.
This danger must be reckoned when considering whether to encourage
people to love the whole world as they love their own, rather than merely
to love their own but to treat everyone else with justice.
16 See Singerâ™s Expanding Circle for an example of the view I am here criticizing. See also
Nussbaumâ™s Cultivating Humanity and âPatriotism and Cosmopolitanism.â For a classic
source, see Ciceroâ™s De ofď¬ciis.
What Is Good for the Goose 331
I should also point out that the moral cosmopolitanism I am criticiz-
ing departs from Jesusâ™s so-called Golden Rule. According to St. Matthew,
Jesus said (in the King James translation), âTherefore all things whatso-
ever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to themâ (Matthew
7:12). Although some interpret this very expansively, along the lines of
âdo everything for others that you would like done to you,â because each
of us is different from others, there is little chance that everything that
is good for us would also be good for others. Thus I think the more
plausible reading of Jesusâ™s maxim is that we should show others what
we ourselves require and expect from othersâ”and what we can be sure
that everyone does in fact require and expectâ”and that is the â˜justiceâ™
described in chapters 1 and 2. One argument that modern proponents
of moral cosmopolitanism sometimes marshal in their behalf is that their
position is based on, or is a reď¬nement of, the Christian Golden Rule. If
I am right, however, it is actually a distortion of it. The only true Golden
Rule is one that can be applied equally to all people. And that would be
the General Liberty principle based on a universal justice.
The danger of moral cosmopolitanism is even more pronounced when
we construct moral categories such as âspeciesismâ and admonish people
to treat not only all other humans as we would treat our own loved ones,
but even members of other species as well. Six billion people is already an
impossibly large number, without adding to that ď¬gure, as some would,
the billion or so chickens slaughtered every year, the tens of thousands
of animals in zoos around the world, and so on.17 There have been stud-
ies suggesting that genuine human concern for others can reach to only
approximately 150 entities, and that deep love and close friendship can
extend to only approximately eleven.18 Yes, it is apparently that preciseâ”
and that limited. Thus it has been suggested that it is no accident that
historically an army platoon has usually had ten to twelve members, that a
jury usually has twelve members, that the number of Jesusâ™s disciples was
what it was, and so on. Human beings have evolved under speciď¬c pres-
sures for survival, and one hypothesis has it that those hominids over the
last several hundred thousand years who concentrated all their concern
and love on their own small group and family were more likely to survive
17 As suggested by, among others, Tom Regan in his The Case for Animal Rights, Peter
Singer in his Animal Liberation, and Steven Wise in his Drawing the Line and Rattling
the Cage. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals makes a similar argument; see
http://www.peta.org/about/faq.asp (accessed December 15, 2005).
18 See Barton and Dunbarâ™s âEvolution of the Social Brain,â Dunbarâ™s Grooming, Gossip, and
the Evolution of Language, chap. 4, and Gladwellâ™s The Tipping Point, chap. 5.
than those who did not; it turned out, apparently, that communities of
about 150 or so and closer, usually family-based units of ten to twelve
were optimal. Thus we, todayâ™s inheritors of those survivorsâ™ genes, may
be programmed with speciď¬cally limited capacities to show concern and
to love; and though some variation exists, as always, nevertheless the bulk
of us cluster around the numbers given.
The claim, then, would be that if you use up your store of concern on
rock stars or actors, on âall mankindâ or unspeciď¬ed âpeople in the third
world,â or on all sentient beings or all Godâ™s creatures or all of nature, not
only will you put yourself in a state of perpetual nervous anxietyâ”since
you will not be able to actually express or execute your concern for those
objects, they being too distant or too numerousâ”but you also may well
not have anything left for your actual neighbor, colleague, or sister-in-law.
Similarly, if you discharge your stock of love on âthe childrenâ or on âthe
animals,â not only will you again provoke in yourself a constant, unsettling
agitationâ”even more distressing in this case since love is just not the kind
of thing that can be shared widelyâ”but you will also deprive both yourself
and those who would love you of the bonds that are constitutive of human
psychological health and, thus, happiness. How can you love your wife
if you are busy loving all mankind? Will you still have time left for your
daughter or your son?
None of this, to repeat, implies that one should be indifferent or cal-
lous toward others or that it is all right to treat animals cruelly or inhu-
manely. The argument rather is that psychological distance matters in
human happiness and therefore should be ď¬gured in when assessing
oneâ™s moral duties and obligations.19
I should take a moment to point out that I donâ™t believe I am com-
mitting here the ânaturalistic fallacyâ of illegitimately deriving an ought
from an is. It is a logical fallacy to derive moral injunctions directly from
factual descriptions of human nature. For example, just because we have
by nature certain instincts (a factual, or âisâ statement), does not by itself
mean we should, or should not, act on them (a moral injunction, or
âoughtâ statement). But consider the matter from the other direction, as
it were. A moral ought implies a can, meaning that the things one ought to
do cannot exceed the things one is able to do. But that meansâ”and this
is what I want to emphasizeâ”that a cannot defeats an ought: one does not
have a moral duty to do what one is unable to do. So moral exhortations
19 For interesting discussions of this issue, see Barzilaiâ™s âSympathy in Space(s),â Boltanskiâ™s
Distant Suffering, and Kammâ™s âThe New Problem of Distance in Morality.â
What Is Good for the Goose 333
to, for example, regard all sentient creatures as equally deserving of your
care or concern are, because impossible to realize, therefore defeated at
the outset. It would be like someone saying that you are morally required
to push that innocent pedestrian out of the way of an oncoming truck,
though to do so you would have to run a sub-ten-second hundred-yard
dash: since you probably canâ™t do that, it canâ™t reasonably be contended
that it is your moral duty to do so. But these impossible moral exhor-
tations are also dangerous because in attempting, necessarily in vain, to
realize them, one runs the risk of squandering a crucial element to human
happiness, namely, love.
Although we can say, then, that love and friendship are necessary ele-
ments of human happiness, no single answer can be given to what exactly
constitutes either of them in your case. Even asking about them this way
suggests the Platonic fallacy I disputed earlier. Love and friendship take
many different forms, and although there will probably be overlap, or
family resemblances, among the instantiations, there is no ideal form
they must all take or approximate or participate in. All that can be said
are the general remarks that a happy life will necessarily include them
and that each person will have to investigate and discover the unique
contours that peculiarly suit himself.
I will share one speculation I have, however, as long as you bear in mind
that it is just a speculation: a true or deep or close friendship will, among
other things, necessarily contain a mutual seeking of happiness. That is,
you and I are not true friends if I do not genuinely desire your happiness
and you mine; and this may imply in turn that I will not ultimately be
happy unless you, my true friend, are happy as well. I have no evidence
that this is true, but somehow I believe it is. I offer it only as something
Can anything else be said? Perhaps a few more general remarks. I
think Marcus Aurelius in his second-century a.d. Meditations and Mon-
taigne in his 1575 Essays were right when they suggested that happiness
is unattainable if it is your direct goal: if you are consciously aiming at
it, you will miss it. Instead, what you have to do is go about your life in
good, reputable, and decent ways, you must occupy yourself with industry
and diligence, and then happiness is something that you will simply ď¬nd
yourself enjoying. Much of this book has been concerned with what those
good, reputable, and decent ways are. They are all predicated on your
having developed independent judgment, which means, therefore, that
20 But see also Ciceroâ™s discussion of friendship.
part of what is required for happiness is independence. If you lived your
life dependent on others when you did not need to be, if you were always
asking, fawning, begging, or even demanding help from others (perhaps
with the pseudo-indignation that people sometimes display who are trying
to convince themselves they have a ânatural rightâ to something), then
your chances of happiness are commensurately diminished. The comple-
ment also holds that if you routinely treated others as servile dependents,
as inferiors incapable of living as fully ď¬‚edged independent persons, or,
worse, as â˜thingsâ™ that could be manipulated or coerced into serving your
or othersâ™ ends, this, I predict, will also gnaw at you and eviscerate your
happiness, like termites hollowing out an old wooden church.
happiness when you are otherwise occupied
I would add here a word in support of those hoary Victorian virtues of
industry and perseverance. There is a lot more to say for them than is
usually thought today. As a child I used to hear that âidle hands are the
devilâ™s workshop,â and I have come to believe that there is considerable
truth in that: not just in the fact that people who have little to do will
tend to ď¬nd ways to get into trouble, but also in the fact that a person
who is busy doing constructive, creative, productive things often never
ď¬nds himself feeling the angst or ennui or âlethargy of soulâ common to
the idle rich, to pampered teenagers, or to some French philosophers.
Samuel Smilesâ™s excellent and tragically neglected 1859 Self-Helpâ”
which went through numerous editions, was a best-seller in Britain and
in America, and by the way is, to this day, the single all-time best-selling
book in Japanâ”is nothing like the syrupy, letâ™s-talk-about-our-feelings-
and-wallow-in-self-pity âself-helpâ books we see today. On the contrary, it
chronicles the lives of the great leaders and innovators in numerous walks
of lifeâ”banking, engineering, biology, geology, mathematics, literature,
chemistry, physics, manufacturing, and on and onâ”and demonstrates
with pellucid clarity the central features of their characters that, no matter
how different they all were otherwise, were common to them all. What
are those features? First and foremost, industry and perseverance. Yes,
they had native abilities, but they also worked, all the time, furiously, all
day long; they had indefatigable energy and they never let themselves
just sit around doing nothing. And, just as important, they did not give in
or give up when they failedâ”and failed they all did, repeatedly. None of
the great leaders of human accomplishment became that way by getting
it right the ď¬rst time. They were snubbed, unappreciated, discriminated
What Is Good for the Goose 335