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Mill for Animals?

November 23, 2010

Today my class was talking about Mill and his views on harm.  In lecture and in the readings Mil only discussed human harm.  How did he view animal harm?  I mean, animals today are “harmed” in many ways.

First, there are animal fights such as Michael Vick’s story (fighting bulldogs).  Today, animal fighting is illegal, but back in the mid-1800’s, when John Stuart Mill wrote On Liberty it was not yet.  Animal fighting is when people put animals together and battle one against the other, usually for money.  Today, people are sent to jail when convicted with this crime.  For example, Michael Vick was sent to jail for 23 months when convicted.

I want to know what else is constituted animal cruelty?  Does this include when herders “beef up” their cattle to kill them for meat?  Does it include killing a mouse with a mouse trap?  Or a bear with a bear trap?  Or is just personal and unnecessary pain inflicted on a helpless animal (such as animal abuse, animal fights, etc)?

When Mill talked about “harm” he was saying that it is ok to do something as long as you do not hurt someone or affect them in a negative way. He does not say anything about doing “harm” to animals however?

Do you know what they do to kill the cattle at the slaughter house?  They slit their throats, let their blood run out until they bleed to death, and sometimes even shoot air between their eyes (which feels like a hammer is hitting them).  After they do this, take the skin off, take out the intestines (and so on), they butcher the meat.  Should this process be entitled as cruelty, doing harm to the animal?  I believe it is NOT.  These animals are killed to help feed people all over the world (however, meat killed near Ann Arbor is not sold to butchers in England however).  The meat is eaten as nutrients, which is essential to life; this includes protein and fat (though you can get different proportion of fat and actual meat)

I also do not consider animal traps harmful.  Mouse traps get rid of nuisances, and bear traps help people capture bears (but only if they legally hunt for them).  However, some people harm animals just for their enjoyment.  As said a few times above, a good example of this would be dog fighting rings.  People always seem to find joy in violence and pain (as we see in the popularity in video games and movies).  In dog fights, dogs are ripped to shreds and killed if they loose a fight.  They are put into fights until they are killed, or they become too old to fight.

Would Mill agree with this?  This is “harm” done to animals, not humans.  Do his laws and ideas apply to this?  I would think he would feel his ideas do but I don’t know for sure.  Today, we say animal cruelty not humane.  What would he consider this un-humane in the mid-1800’s?  I would like to know what he thinks.


  1. Amani permalink
    November 24, 2010 10:54 PM

    I agree. I believe harming an animal by abusing it or slaughtering it just for the enjoyment is considered harmful to the animal as well as people that have to witness a person doing this. I think that Mill would agree that animals being killed for this purpose is considered as part as his harmful principle.

  2. changmc permalink
    November 25, 2010 7:12 AM

    I think it didn’t even cross Mill’s mind that animal cruelty would be considered in his harm principle. I believe that since humans have been consuming animals forever without any concern for how humane their treatment was prior to killing it or the process itself. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was not published until 1906, later than the publication of On Liberty. In Mill’s view, being able to freely use your mind and body to indulge in your personal thought probably constituted anything apart from harming other people directly. Today we would have to consider the animals and especially the environment as living entities that should be considered in the harm principle.

  3. Meredith Ambinder permalink
    November 28, 2010 11:21 AM

    I agree, I do not think Mill had considered animals in his beliefs about harm. As you mentioned in the post, things such as animal fighting were legal back then. Therefore, the policies on animals were even more lenient, and animals were less protected and considered. Mill was writing more for society’s benefit (society being made up of people), which was probably why animals didn’t even come into consideration. However, I do agree that animals should be taken under consideration even more than they are today. They are living creatures, and I find it to be an abuse of power when we take advantage of them simply because they are defenseless.

  4. tungyat permalink
    November 28, 2010 1:08 PM

    Most of the ways described above by which animals were killed were basic and inflicted the least pain given what we wanted out of them. For example, to make beef we would have to inevitably kill the cow, and since chemical means are dangerous for consumers we would have to shoot them, in this case, with air guns. Then again, I don’t believe that Mill would ever even consider animals in his theory social theory, as they do not form an extensive social network like us.

  5. koralcf permalink
    November 29, 2010 11:35 AM

    I agree with an above point that I don’t think that Mill actually considered that problem with animal cruelty. However, I do not agree with you or the others above. This is a subject that I have done incredible amounts of research on and have very strong opinions. Your reasoning is that Mill would think that the animal cruelty is ok because it gives greater benefits to others. Another point someone raises is that the ways described are “basic and inflict the least pain.” This is not in the least true. These animals are tortured, skinned alive, and dropped in scalding hot water while alive. Many times this is done for the pleasure of the workers on the kill floor and allowed to go on because the USDA and regulations are corrupt. As far as Mill is concerned, I think that he would say that animal cruelty is not necessary, eating meat is not necessary because there are plenty of other sources to attain nutrients; therefore, and I think he would say the pain inflicted on the animals is negative. With smaller less controversial matters, killing a mouse still affects the animal in a negative. One can easily but the mouse out in a field in order to get it out of the house without killing it.

  6. joshuacy permalink
    November 30, 2010 10:03 PM

    This is probably the most mild description of “animal cruelty” that I’ve ever read.
    “They slit their throats, let their blood run out until they bleed to death, and sometimes even shoot air between their eyes (which feels like a hammer is hitting them). After they do this, take the skin off, take out the intestines (and so on), they butcher the meat.”
    This is the HUMANE treatment of animals. This is how they are supposed to be butchered. You don’t even go into the horrible, unsanctioned ways in which our meat is tortured. Chickens have their beaks and feet cut off, stuffed into tiny cages with dozens of others. This is standard processing for most chickens, not even considering the excessive cruelty of factory workers who personally break the animals’ bones, throwing them at walls or snapping with their own hands. Most of our food never sees the light of day.
    If you’re a vegetarian, good for you. Activism rules. But don’t be afraid to go all out.
    If you aren’t, then kindly shut up. No one can talk about animals’ rights while they chow down on a burger.

    Oh, Mill probably would’ve been anti-animal cruelty, simply because no intelligent, sympathetic person would condone the torture of any one else.

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