The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973


Review by Jon Wynne-Tyson of
The Moral Status of Animals
by Stephen R.L. Clark

From the July 1977 edition of the New Vegetarian with Thanks to the Vegetarian Society:

An important book, not because it breaks much new ground, nor because its construction and writing make for an easy read (its author's thoughts tend to run away with him, and his references to other authorities often interrupt the flow and raise doubts as to whether he is quoting or originating), but because it is written with the deepest sincerity and concern by a distinguished lecturer in Moral Philosophy at one of our leading universities.

The fact that professional philosophers, active on campuses and through the orthodox media, have begun to take up the cause of other species in the areas beyond that of mere physical conservation is an overdue phenomenon we should not take for granted. Peter Singer's Animal Liberation and Richard Ryder's Victims of Science are two recent and first rate examples of this welcome trend, and The Moral Status of Animals completes a trio that no serious student of man's relationship with his environment can afford to ignore.

It is perhaps unfair to suggest that Stephen Clark does not say much that is new. What he does is to examine, painstakingly and often brilliantly, a wide range of our hypocritical, self-deceiving quibbles and excuses for the brutal and selfish practices we inflict on other species. Exploding one after another those twisted and dishonest defences of our cruelty and indifferences, so familiar to all who have argued with those whose stomachs have long replaced their hearts, Clark ties up many of the loose ends that may have been left by writers whose brief has been the presentation of the broad arguments for a more humane treatment of our fellow-animals.

While he can be less than generous to writers sharing his concern, he has no petty reservations about the necessity to accept that all other forms of life have their part to play in the scheme of things, with no less and perhaps even more importance than man. While sympathising with his anger, one feels his approach suggests he is a relatively new convert to vegetarianism, and this impression is strengthened by his neglect of certain areas that might well have spurred his imagination to even greater heights, and by a few (but only a few) conclusions that suggest he has not yet thought through certain basic concepts and assumptions.

But I do not want to quibble unduly about a fine and welcome book that in the words of its blurb presents "a radical reappraisal of our standing in the world, in the light of our ethical and religious tradition, sound philosophy, and modern science." As Clark says:

"Academics are professionally committed to objectivity. That is, they are required by the ethical standards which define their craft to be ready to submit their most cherished doctrines to the scrutiny of their peers, and themselves to stand a little apart from these doctrines even in their own privacies."

Certainly, whether he is displaying his "cordial detestation" of humanism; tilting at the "sub-Hegelian gibberish" of those who hold that however vile the natural prospect be, man only is supreme; savaging the psychopathic products of the religion of science; or opposing the sickening humbug of those righteous ghouls who see something positively of benefit to animals in their involuntary sacrifice on our altars, he keeps conscientiously to the facts and, for the most part, to the dictates of reason and the unsullied reactions of what he and I would regard as a normal heart.

In his final chapter he writes splendidly:

"I am inclined, perhaps unfairly, to think that no-one has any standing in such a discussion who has not taken the simple, minimal step of abandoning flesh-foods. Honourable men may honourably disagree about some details of human treatment of the non-human, but vegetarianism is now as necessary a pledge of moral devotion as was the refusal of emperor-worship in the early Church. Those who have not made that pledge have no authority to speak against the most inanely-conceived experiments, nor against hunting, nor against fur-trapping, nor bear-baiting, nor bull-fights, nor pulling the wings off flies. Flesh-eating in our present circumstances is as empty a gluttony as any of these things. Those who will eat flesh when they could do otherwise have no claim to be serious moralists."

For "vegetarianism" we must now, in our present knowledge, and in simple logic and humane honesty, substitute "veganism", a point Clark seems to accept. He has made a magnificent contribution to that further if not final regimen.

Jon Wynne-Tyson

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