About Cheryl (C.E.) Abbate
My life’s work, both “personal” and academic, is dedicated to other animals. As a child, I grew up with animals, and I always felt deep affection for them. But I was never interested in science or medicine, so I didn’t want to pursue a career as a veterinarian, ecologist, or zoolologist. Like many other undergraduate students, when I began college, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, so I decided to major in business management. But I always loved writing and thinking deeply about philosophical questions, so, as a junior, I added philosophy as a second major, never expecting I would make anything out of this second degree. But, given where I am today, clearly, that wasn’t the case.
So what changed?
During one philosophy seminar I took as an undergraduate student, we read Frontiers of Justice by Martha Nussbaum, a political philosopher who develops and defends a theory of justice that highlights our duties to humans with disabilities, non-citizens, and nonhuman animals. And, for the first time, I realized that animals are a very important part of contemporary philosophy. So, I wrote my senior seminar paper on the ethical treatment of other animals and decided to pursue a graduate degree in philosophy. And I never stopped writing about animals since.
I know that most people, like myself, have a natural affinity for animals, as evident by the ways in which we treat cats and dogs as members of our families. But when it comes to other animals, especially food animals and “pests,” the human-animal connection is severed. Through culture and social pressure, we are conditioned to treat most animals as mere resources. But philosophers like myself are initiating meaningful conversations about our dealings with other animals—conversations that are long overdue.
Dr. Abbate is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She is also the co-director of the Society for the study of Ethics and Animals, the founder of the SSEA’s Animal Ethics from the Margins Project, and an associate editor of Between the Species. She received her PhD in philosophy from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 2019. Dr. Abbate has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including Acta Analytica, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, Journal of European Philosophy, Journal of Social Philosophy, Social Epistemology, Social Theory and Practice, and Utilitas.
Many people characterize animal protectionists (both activists and academics) as extreme and having confused priorities. This is a misconception. Animal ethicists like myself are motivated by a very simple moral principle we can all get behind:
Don’t cause unnecessary harm to others.
I bet you endorse this principle. But there’s confusion about what kinds of activities cause unnecessary harm to animals, often because those who cause systemic harm to animals do a pretty good job at concealing it.
Because of misinformation, many people think that it’s necessary to hurt animals in order to feed ourselves. Others altogether deny that animals are hurt on farms. Many people think that the animals used in entertainment enjoy performing for us. Others just haven’t stopped to consider what animals must endure in order to serve as props in our shows. Many animal ethicists, like myself, draw attention to painful and uncomfortable empirical truths; the truths about what animals endure to end up on our plates, on our walls (think “trophies”), on circus stages, and so forth. So, animal ethicists don’t by any means defend unusual or “extreme” moral claims. We just follow very basic moral claims– claims that we all can get behind–to their logical conclusions: we shouldn’t use animals for food, entertainment, sport, and clothing, because doing so causes unnecessary harm to others.
So why animals? As animal advocate Erik Shein puts it:
The reason I dedicate myself to helping animals so much is because there are already so many people dedicated to hurting them.
The amount of suffering animals endure every year on this planet is overwhelming. 60 billion animals are hurt on factory farms every year. 60 billion. Yet, there are so few people speaking in their defense– and animals held captive on farms are utterly defenseless and powerless. If we don’t come to their rescue, who will?
Moreover, when we hurt animals, we almost always end up harming humans. Take, for instance, the use of animals for food. Animal farms are the leading cause of environmental degradation. The air and water pollution from animal farms is hurting the most vulnerable humans, from climate refugees to the low-income communities, often communities of color, that live near factory farms and inhale toxic fumes every single day. The use of animals for food has caused a number of pandemics that have caused widespread harm to humans, including the current pandemic. Moreover, the humans who work on animal farms and meatpacking plants suffer frequent physical injuries and psychological trauma from butchering thousands of animals per week. Currently, meatpacking employees are extremely vulnerable to the coronavirus, simply because meatpacking companies won’t provide line workers with minimal protection.
So, I hate suffering– especially when the suffering is undeserved and inflicted upon innocent and defenseless creatures– humans or animals. But there are many things in this world that I love. I love animals. Cats have a special place in my heart, especially my furbabies Arete, Sophie, and Mr. Bob. And I love hiking, skiing, ice skating, camping, travelling, yoga, and meditation. While there’s so much suffering in the world, there is also so much beauty. And I think a truly meaningful and fulfilling human life should be split between combating the ugliness and appreciating the beauty. In the photos below, you can see me do both!