Book Review of Mark Rowland’s Can Animals Be Moral?

Streiffer, Robert
Mind 125 (April): 619-623
Publication year: 2016

In the most comprehensive analysis and evaluation to date of the traditional views underlying skepticism about the moral subjecthood of animals, Mark Rowlands argues that animals can be moral, in the sense that they can act for moral reasons. An individual can act for moral reasons if he or she possesses “(a) a sensitivity to the good- or bad-making features of situations, where (2) this sensitivity can be normatively assessed, and (3) is grounded in the operations of a reliable mechanism” (p. 230). For example, an animal that shows concern for her offspring is likely to be acting for moral reasons because (a) she is sensitive to the offspring’s welfare, which are good- and bad-making features of situations, (b) that sensitivity can be normatively assessed as more or less on target, and, (c) that sensitivity is grounded in the operations of a reliable mechanism, assuming the animal is reasonably successful in tracking and responding appropriately to its offspring’s needs. I argue that Rowland’s regress-related concerns about metacognition need further development and that an alternative account of moral subjecthood that focuses on the possession of moral concepts could avoid certain counterexamples to Rowland’s account.

Book Review of Gary Varner's Personhood, Ethics, and Animal Cognition

Robert Streiffer
Environmental Ethics 38(2): 249-252
Publication year: 2016

In Personhood, Ethics, and Animal Cognition, Gary Varner weaves metaethics and ethical theory with applied ethics and animal science to yield a rich and insightful discussion of the norms that should guide our treatment. Varner’s book is essential reading for those interested in understanding the ethics of human-animal relationships and the underlying issues of moral status.

The Confinement of Animals Used in Laboratory Research: Conceptual and Ethical Issues

Streiffer, Robert
The Ethics of Captivity, ed. L. Gruen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 175-192
Publication year: 2014

Discussions about the ethics of animal research usually focus on the significance of the knowledge produced by the research and on the harms of the research procedures performed upon the animal subjects. These research procedures, though, typically occupy only a small portion of the animals’ lives compared to the time they spend confined in their cages. Here, I clarify both the conceptual and ethical issues raised by the confinement of laboratory animals. How should “confinement” be defined? Are the ethical costs and benefits of confinement relevant to the ethical evaluation of the later research in which the animals are used? In what ways are animal’s interests instrumentally related to their being confined? Do they have an intrinsic interest in liberty that is frustrated by confinement per se? And, finally, what are the ethical implications of the ways in which confinement is or is not related to animals’ interests?

Human/Non-Human Chimeras

Streiffer, Robert
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.) (Peer reviewed; updated July 2014)
Publication year: 2014

A chimera is an individual composed of cells with different embryonic origins. The successful isolation of five human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines in 1998 increased scientists’ ability to create human/non-human chimeras and prompted extensive bioethics discussion, resulting in what has been dubbed “the other stem cell debate” (Shreeve 2005). The debate about chimeras has focused on five main arguments. The Unnaturalness Argument explores the ethics of violating natural species boundaries. The Moral Confusion Argument alleges that the existence of entities that cannot be definitively classified as either human or non-human will cause moral confusion that will undermine valuable social and cultural practices. The Borderline-Personhood Argument focuses on great apes and concludes that their borderline-personhood confers a high enough degree of moral status to make most, if not all, chimeric research on them impermissible. The Human Dignity Argument claims that it is an affront to human dignity to give an individual “trapped” in the body of a non-human animal the capacities associated with human dignity. Finally, the Moral Status Framework maintains that research in which a non-human animal’s moral status is enhanced to that of a normal adult human is impermissible unless reasonable assurances are in place that its new moral status will be respected, which is unlikely given the motivations for chimeric research and the oversight likely to be provided. These arguments are evaluated in terms of the range of chimeric research they would deem ethically problematic, their plausibility, and their implications for public policy.

Response to Lori Gruen’s ‘Ethics of Captivity’

Streiffer, Robert
On the Human
Publication year: 2011

In her “Ethics of Captivity,” Lori Gruen proposes an account of animal liberty and animal dignity and argues that, (a) for many animals, keeping them in captivity is pro tanto wrong because captivity necessarily involving restricting their liberty, which is a constituent of the well-being of any autonomous individual, and (b) keep animals in captivity is often pro tanto wrong because captivity often involves violating their dignity. I argue that Gruen’s conception of autonomy presupposes the presence of second-order desires, a commitment she had hoped to avoid, that Gruen needs a fine-grained account of which liberties are constituents of the good life of autonomous individuals, and that some of the claims Gruen makes regarding the sufficient conditions for violating an animal’s dignity are too broad. Finally, I argue that Gruen’s arguments fail to establish her broad conclusion that we should end captive breeding programs of animals who would die if released into the wild.

Ethical Issues in the Application of Biotechnology to Animals in Agriculture

Streiffer, Robert; Basl, John
The Oxford Handbook of Animal Ethics, eds. T. Beauchamp and R. Frey. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 826-854
Publication year: 2011

Recent biotechnology research includes the development of genetically engineered animals and cloned animals to be used as food or breeding stock in agriculture. This chapter provides a framework for evaluating these applications in terms of animal welfare and environmental ethics. As to the former, we discuss different accounts of animal welfare, the relevance of the non-identity problem to different applications of biotechnology, and the ways in which animal biotechnology might worsen or improve existing animal welfare issues in livestock agriculture. As to the latter, we discuss different views on the value of nature, the impact that livestock has on global climate change and local environmental issues, and the ways in which animal biotechnology might worsen or improve the environmental profile of livestock agriculture. We use the framework to discuss Enviropigs, pigs genetically engineered to secrete less phosphorus in their manure, and AquAdvantage Salmon, Atlantic salmon that have been genetically engineered to reach their harvest weight in half the time of conventional Atlantic salmon. Although each application of animal biotechnology should be evaluated on its own merits, to the extent that genetic engineering and cloning are used with the same motivations and for the same purposes as have guided traditional animal agriculture, there is a presumption that animal biotechnology is likely to exacerbate rather than mitigate animal welfare and environmental problems.

Chimeras, Moral Status, and Public Policy: Implications of the Abortion Debate for Public Policy on Human/Nonhuman Chimera Research

Streiffer, Robert
The Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics 38(2): 238-250
Publication year: 2010

Researchers are increasingly interested in creating chimeras by transplanting human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) into animals early in development. One concern is that such research could confer upon an animal the moral status of a normal human adult but then impermissibly fail to accord it the protections it merits in virtue of its enhanced moral status. Understanding the public policy implications of this ethical conclusion, though, is complicated by the fact that claims about moral status cannot play an unfettered role in public policy. Pro-choice arguments in the abortion debate have shown, though, that arguments resting on claims about moral status cannot play an unfettered role in public policy. Here I argue that these arguments also support, albeit to a more limited degree, permissive public policy on chimeric research. Significant differences include the fact that a ban on hESC researchers would not be nearly as burdensome as a ban on abortions, and that much chimera research will result in the birth of conscious individuals.

Book Review of Human Enhancement, ed. Julian Savulescu and Nick Bostrom

Streiffer, Robert
Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
Publication year: 2010

The circumstances under which it is ethically permissible to enhance ourselves or our children and what kind of legal framework should govern such enhancements are two of the main areas of contemporary bioethics research. Human Enhancement is a revised and expanded collection of articles on these topics, originally presented at a 2004 conference entitled “How Can Human Nature Be Ethically Improved?” The book consists of an introductory overview by Savulescu and Bostrom, ten chapters on the general issue of human enhancement, seven chapters evaluating specific enhancements (two on parental selection of children’s traits, one on prenatal genetic diagnosis and selective abortion in Japan, one on sport, one on longevity, one on cognitive enhancements, and one on “our truth orientation”), and a final chapter on the safety risks posed by attempting to enhance such an incredibly complicated and adapted organism as a human being.

Animals in Research: Enviropigs

Streiffer, Robert; Gavrell, Sara
Life Science Ethics, 2nd Ed., ed. G. Comstock. Netherlands: Springer, 405-422
Publication year: 2010

A cooperative learning ethics case study for guiding class discussions of ethical concerns about the genetic modification of farm animals.

Obama’s NIH Guidelines for Stem Cell Research: Expanding Funding, Improving Oversight

Streiffer, Robert
The Hastings Center Bioethics Forum
Publication year: 2009

On July 6, 2009, the Obama administration released its much anticipated final guidelines on human stem cell research. They represent a significant advance over George W. Bush’s 2001 policy in terms of both science and ethics, but the administration also missed an important opportunity to “normalize” human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research, which would have made the guidelines even better and could have permanently altered the terms of the public debate.

Response to Robertson, Hyun, and Cohen

Streiffer, Robert
The Hastings Center Report 38(6): 5
Publication year: 2008

The Hastings Center Report solicited commentary by John Robertson, Insoo Hyun, and Cynthia Cohen on my 2008 Hastings Center article, “Informed Consent and Federal Funding for Stem Cell Research.” In this short piece, I respond and review information that has come to light since the publication of my article.

Informed Consent and Federal Funding for Stem Cell Research

Streiffer, Robert
Hastings Center Report, 38 (3), 40-47
Publication year: 2008

Providers of the human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines that are eligible for federal funding submitted samples of the consent forms under which those lines were derived to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Some of those forms include specific commitments made to donors that limit acceptable research. Some fail to adequately inform donors about the nature of hESC research, about the option to refuse donation without jeopardizing medical care, or about the possibility that donors’ biological materials might be transplanted into prenatal animals to create animal/human chimeras. These limitations and deficiencies imply that it would be ethically problematic to perform several kinds of important research with those cell lines, undermine the National Academy’s recent argument that the eligible lines should be exempted from recently proposed guidelines for informed consent in human embryonic stem cell research, and provide yet another reason, in addition to the scientific reasons that others have noted, for eliminating President Bush’s restriction on federal funding to research using lines derived prior to August 9, 2001.

Animal Biotechnology and the Non-Identity Problem

Streiffer, Robert
Peer commentary in American Journal of Bioethics 8(6): 47-48
Publication year: 2008

Autumn Fiester criticizes the use of animal biotechnology to create artistic works or novelty pets along the lines of Alba, the green fluorescent protein bunny and the GloFish on the grounds that these are applications of biotechnology that fail to comply with the principle that “animals are only to be used if the cost to them is outweighed by an important potential benefit to human or animal life.” I argue that the distinction between the alteration of the founder animals and the subsequent creation of later generations of animals by breeding, combined with the non-identity problem, render this a misapplication of her principle.

An Ethical Evaluation of Altered Nuclear Transfer

Streiffer, Robert
The World Stem Cell Report 2008
Publication year: 2008

Prior to the development of induced pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) , the established method of deriving human pluripotent stem cells destroyed viable human embryos. To avoid the resulting moral and political controversy, bioethicists have explored whether there might be alternative methods of deriving hPSCs. Here, I examine a proposal by William Hurlbut, a member of George W. Bush’s Council on Bioethics. Hurlbut thinks that the established method is unethical, and has argued for the moral superiority of what he calls altered nuclear transfer (ANT), a combination of preemptive genetic engineering and somatic cell nuclear transfer. Hurlbut alleges that ANT avoids the creation of human embryos while still yielding hPSCs. I argue that Hurlbut’s argument that ANT does not create human embryos is based on (a) factual assumptions that are unproven and, if Hurlbut’s views about the ethics of embryo research are correct, cannot be ethically tested and (b) an erroneous understanding of totipotency and what it is for a cell to be an embryo. Moreover, I argue that his criticism of the established method is unsuccessful, both because of its implausibly strong claims about the moral status of human embryos as well as its failure to acknowledge the lack of any morally preferable alternatives for the disposition of surplus IVF embryos.

Wittgenstein on the General Form of a Proposition

Streiffer, Robert
Analysis and Metaphysics 6: 468-472
Publication year: 2007

Abstract: Wittgenstein claims that [] is the general form of a proposition and that any proposition can be generated by successive applications of the N() operator. After explaining the general form and the intended procedure, I argue that, regardless of whether the operator is understood as applying to the set of all elementary propositions or to subsets of all elementary propositions, the procedure fails to generate all truth-functional or quantificational propositions. A different procedure, however, allows the generations of many, although not all, of the propositions in the intended sequence.

Genetically Engineered Animals and the Ethics of Food Labeling

Streiffer, Robert; Rubel, Alan
In The Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods, in Oxford University Press’s series Environmental Ethics and Science Policy, 63-87
Publication year: 2007

Abstract: The current debate about labeling genetically engineered (GE) food focuses on food derived from GE crops, neglecting food derived from GE animals. This is not surprising, as GE animal products have not yet reached the market. Participants in the debate may also be assuming that conclusions about GE crops automatically extend to GE animals. But there are two GE animals (the Enviropig and the AquAdvantage Bred salmon) that are approaching the market, animals raise more ethical issues than plants, and U.S. regulations treat animal products differently from crops. This paper therefore examines the specific question of whether there should be mandatory labeling on all food products derived from GE animals. We examine the likely regulatory pathways, salient differences between GE animals and GE crops, and relevant social science research on consumers’ attitudes. We argue that on any of the likely pathways, the relevant agency has a democratic obligation to require labeling for all GE animal food products.

Medical Privacy and the Public's Right to Vote: What Presidential Candidates Should Disclose

Streiffer, Robert; Rubel, Alan; Fagan, Julie
The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 31: 417-439
Publication year: 2006

Presidential candidates, like everyone else, have a right to medical privacy. For most people, this right to medical privacy altogether precludes the public from viewing their medical records. However, in virtue of the very public role of the president, the idea that the public may be kept in the dark about the health of presidential candidates is untenable. Our purpose in this paper is to make it clear that candidates are morally required to waive their right to medical privacy concerning a very specific set of medical conditions. Although others have asserted a moral duty to disclose, the literature contains very little discussion of the basis for that requirement. We argue that it is based on the same deep democratic principle that supports the public’s right to vote, namely, that those who govern do so only with the consent of the governed. Concerns about the medical privacy of candidates must be subordinated to that democratic principle.

Academic Freedom and Industry-Imposed Restrictions on Academic Biotechnology Research

Streiffer, Robert
The Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 16(2): 129-149
Publication year: 2006

Commercial academic-industry relations (AIRs) are widespread in biotechnology, and have resulted in a wide array of restrictions on academic research. Objections to such restrictions have centered on the charge that they violate academic freedom. I argue that these objections are almost invariably unsuccessful. On a consequentialist understanding of the value of academic freedom, they rely on unfounded empirical claims about the overall effects that AIRs have on academic research. And on a rights-based understanding of the value of academic freedom, they rely on excessively lavish assumptions about the kinds of research that the right to academic freedom protects.

The Political Import of Intrinsic Objections to Genetically Engineered Food

Streiffer, Robert; Hedemann, Thomas
The Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 18 (2): 191-210
Publication year: 2005

In this paper, we articulate a view of political liberalism and liberal neutrality that requires that justifications for genetically engineered (GE) food policy be silent with respect to the merits of so-called intrinsic objections to GE food. That is, policy-makers may not base public policy on intrinsic objections, but neither may they base public policy on grounds that are inconsistent with intrinsic objections, even when they believe the intrinsic objections to be unsound, incompatible with modern science, religious, inchoate, or based on emotion instead of reason. We then use this framework to argue that several prominent views in the agricultural bioethics literature regarding the political import of intrinsic objections conflate the ethical validity of those objections with their political relevance. The implication is that the political debate in this area needs to undergo a significant reorientation away from discussing the substantive merits of intrinsic objections and towards discussing the appropriate political norms for achieving a democratically acceptable policy. We conclude by suggesting that there should be more emphasis on majoritarian decision-making procedures and possible compromise policies regarding the regulation of GE food, neither of which would support a ban on GE food, but both of which would support mandatory labeling (at least within the U.S. context, our focus here).

Respecting the Autonomy of European and American Consumers: Defending Positive Labels on GM Foods

Rubel, Alan; Streiffer, Robert
The Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 18(1): 75-84
Publication year: 2005

In her recent article, “Does autonomy count in favor of labeling genetically modified food?,” Kirsten Hansen argues that in Europe, voluntary negative labeling of non-GM foods respects consumer autonomy just as well as mandatory positive labeling of foods with GM content. She also argues that because negative labeling places labeling costs upon those consumers that want to know whether food is GM, negative labeling is better policy than positive labeling. In this paper, we argue that Hansen’s arguments are mistaken in several respects. Most importantly, she underestimates the demands of respecting autonomy and overestimates the cost of positive labeling. Moreover, she mistakenly implies that only a small minority of people desire information about GM content. We also explore the extent to which her arguments would apply to the US context, and argue that any discussion of the relationship between autonomy and labeling should include not just considerations of consumer autonomy but also considerations of what we call citizen autonomy.

Book Review of Gary Comstock's Vexing Nature? The Ethical Case against Agricultural Biotechnology

Streiffer, Robert
Environmental Ethics 27(2): 213-216
Publication year: 2005

After summarizing Gary Comstock’s discussion of recombinantly produced bovine growth hormone, genetically engineered herbicide resistant plants, crops, animal biotechnology, and agricultural biotechnology as a whole, I criticize three aspects of his current views. First, I argue that while he attributes too much political relevance to intrinsic objections to GE crops (he thinks they would justify a ban if they were sound), his arguments against them are unpersuasive. Second, I criticize his argument that the correct view of animal rights actually requires, rather than forbids, sacrificing animals for medical research. And, third, I argue that he misinterprets the Precautionary Principle (as it is typically invoked in the international arena), and provide a brief defense of it, properly construed. On the whole, though, I conclude that “Comstock’s impressive mastery of the empirical literature, the book’s historical importance, and its tremendous scope, all contribute to making this an important contribution to the agricultural bioethics literature.”

At the Edge of Humanity: Human Stem Cells, Chimeras, and Moral Status

Streiffer, Robert
The Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 15(4): 347-370
Publication year: 2005

Scientists have shown increasing interest in transplanting human stem cells into early fetal or embryonic non-human animals. In this paper, I evaluate these experiments from the perspective of the chimeric research subject. After outlining the scientific and regulatory background, I argue that these experiments raise novel ethical issues due to their possible implications for the moral status of the chimeric individual. I analyze the questions raised from the perspective of different views of moral status, and discuss principles for evaluating a change in moral status. After criticizing many of the arguments already made against such research, I conclude that it is not necessarily objectionable from the perspective of the chimeric individual. However, there are grounds for concern given the circumstances in which the research is likely to take place.

An Ethical Analysis of Ojibway Objections to Genomics and Genetics Research on Wild Rice

Streiffer, Robert
Philosophy in the Contemporary World, Special Issue on the Ownership of Common Goods 12(2): 37-45
Publication year: 2005

This paper analyzes and defends the cogency of several objections that the Ojibway (also referred to as the Chippewa and as the Anishinaabe) have against genetics and genomics research on wild rice (also referred to manoomin). The objections concern genomics research on wild rice, genetic modification of wild rice, the development of male-sterile strains of wild rice, the patenting of wild rice, and labeling issues. Although key academic and industry participants in this research have dismissed the objections out of hand, my analysis supports the conclusion that the objections merit serious consideration, even by those who do not share the Ojibway’s religious beliefs.

Democratic Principles and Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food

Streiffer, Robert; Rubel, Alan
Public Affairs Quarterly 18(3): 223-248
Publication year: 2004

Despite the fact that public opinion overwhelmingly supports mandatory labeling for genetically engineered foods, the FDA recently reaffirmed its original 1992 decision not to require labels, claiming that there is no scientific basis for concluding that GE food are less healthful than others foods. In this paper, we give two arguments about how this conflict between public opinion and the FDA ought to be resolved. The first is the Consumer Autonomy Argument, which applies to the FDA and appeals to moral principles about how public agencies within a democracy should exercise their discretion. We argue that the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) gives the FDA the discretion to require labels, and that the FDA has a moral and democratic obligation to exercise that discretion so as to require labeling. The second is the Democratic Equality Argument, which applies to Congress and concerns its democratic responsibility to defer to public opinion on certain kinds of issues. We conclude that if the FDA fails to require labeling, Congress should.

Moral Relativism and Reasons for Action

Streiffer, Robert
New York: Routledge
Publication year: 2003

There are many varieties of moral relativism. Appraiser relativism, according to which the proposition expressed by a moral sentence varies from context to context, is motivated by the thought that it provides the best explanation of the intractability of fundamental moral disagreements. In response, it is standardly objected that appraiser relativism runs afoul of our linguistic intuitions about when people are contradicting one another. In chapter 1, I expand upon this objection in three ways: (i) the problematic class of intuitions is larger than has previously been noticed; (ii) three strategies that have been offered by Gilbert Harman and David Wong to explain away those intuitions fail; and (iii) even if we grant that appraiser relativism is true, it still would not provide us with any explanation whatsoever of the intractability of the relevant disagreements.

Agent relativism, according to which there are no universal moral requirements, is motivated by the thought that there are always reasons to comply with one’s moral requirements, but that the desires to which such reasons would have to correspond are too capricious for there to be any universal moral requirements. In chapter 2, I argue that the moral universalist is free to maintain either (i) that any fully rational, fully informed agent will have a desire that would be served by complying with what the moral universalist takes to be universal moral requirements, and so desires are not too capricious, or (ii) that a naturalistically acceptable account of reasons need not suppose that reasons are grounded in desires. Either way, the moral universalist is free to reject this motivation for agent relativism.

If desires do not provide the basis for reasons for action, what does? In chapter 3,I argue that although there is no such thing as goodness simpliciter, an analysis of reasons for action based on the ways in which an action can be good or bad is preferable to other analyses, and it provides a promising explanation of why there are always reasons for agents to comply with their moral requirements. I conclude, however, that the analysis relies on the concept of intrinsic value, which despite being intuitively plausible, remains in need of theoretical clarification.

In the afterword, I note the general usefulness of an argument made in chapter 1 about the reliability of our linguistic intuitions as it would apply in other philosophical areas, and I also discusses the difficult question of how to adequately define moral relativism, critiquing definitions put forward by Gilbert Harman, Elizabeth Anscombe, and Jonathan Bennett.

In Defense of the Moral Relevance of Species Boundaries

Streiffer, Robert
American Journal of Bioethics 3(3): 37-38
Publication year: 2003

In their recent article “Crossing Species Boundaries,” Robert and Baylis hypothesize that what explains the negative public reaction to the creation of chimeras is that it will undermine the usefulness of perceived, even if fictitious, boundaries. I respond by noting that there is considerable empirical evidence against this hypothesis. I also argue that their arguments against the moral relevance of species boundaries (that the notion of “species” is difficult to define; that species boundaries are fluid, not fixed; and that horizontal gene flow occurs in nature) are unpersuasive. I also defend so-called yuck-factor arguments against their criticism that intuitions must be justified if they are to “have any moral force.”

Choice Versus Autonomy in the GM Food Labeling Debate

Streiffer, Robert; Rubel, Alan
AgBioForum 6(3): 141-142
Publication year: 2003

In their article “Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods: Does It Really Provide Consumer Choice?,” which appeared in AgBioForum 6(1&2), Carter and Gruère (2003) argue against those who think that mandatory labeling of genetically modified (GM) food products is justified merely by “the desire to provide informed consumer choice” (p. 68). They argue that because of consumer aversion to GM products, mandatory labeling will result in “most (if not all) processors” avoiding GM products (p. 69), in which case, consumer choice is restricted, not facilitated. Even assuming Carter and Gruère are correct in their claim that mandatory labels will eliminate consumer choice, that claim misses the mark because of the important differences between choice, informed choice, and autonomy.

Is Any Proposition Expressible by an Unstable Sentence Also Expressible by a Stable Sentence?

Streiffer, Robert
The Linguistic Philosophy Interface, Volume I, ed. R. Bhatt, P. Hawley, and I. Maitra. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Working Papers in Philosophy and Linguistics, 305-325
Publication year: 2000