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  • The Ethics of Captivity ed. by Lori Gruen
  • Rebecca Tuvel
The Ethics of Captivity (edited by Lori Gruen)
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014, 288pp.
ISBN 9780199978007

Lori Gruens edited collection, The Ethics of Captivity, marks an important, accessible, and timely contribution to prison and animal ethics. Presently, millions of people are incarcerated and billions of animals are held in factory farms, laboratories, zoos, and homes around the world. In light of these staggering numbers, Gruen is rightly troubled by the lack of philosophical attention to captivity (2014, 1). Yet human and animal captivity raise important ethical questions about “the value of liberty, the nature of autonomy, the meaning of dignity, and the impact of routine confinement on well-being, both physical and psychological” (2). This volume’s wide range of interdisciplinary, academic, and non-academic voices provides vital reflection on these issues.

The volume is divided into two parts. Part 1 is more descriptive than part 2, as it explores the history and current conditions of various forms of captivity. Attention to particular captive species (e.g., chimpanzees, rabbits, elephants, dogs) and the experience of individual animals within those species, serves as an important corrective against the tendency to rope all nonhuman animals together. Such thinking lends itself to the assumption that the ethics of “animal captivity” can be assessed in one fell swoop, when in reality different captive animals raise relevantly different issues, such that prohibitions on captivity may be necessary for some animals (e.g., dolphins and whales; see chapter 2) [End Page 133] but implausible for others (e.g., dogs; see chapter 1). Part 2 is more explicitly normative. It analyzes the many ethical issues raised by captivity, including the morality of domestication, conservation efforts, and sanctuaries.

Alexandra Horowitz begins the volume with a piece on the domestic dog, an animal she notes is “constitutionally captive”: dogs’ very existence (and well-being) is predicated on their domestication (7). Accordingly, Horowitz tries to imagine the “least captive dog,” a dog not confined by the leash or to the home, free to smell and eat what he wants, approach whom he wants, etc. (17–18). Lori Marino (chapter 2) follows with a reflection on the ethics of cetacean (dolphin and whale) captivity. Marino documents the tragic conditions of cetacean captivity, describing abnormal behavior like head-bobbing, pacing, and stress-induced vomiting; increased levels of stress, disease, and mortality; and dramatically reduced lifespans. Especially in light of their impressive cognitive abilities and social natures, Marino is firm that “no cetaceans thrive in captivity” (29).

In the next chapters, Catherine Doyle (chapter 3), Stephen R. Ross (chapter 4), and Margo DeMello (chapter 5) explore the ethics of elephant, chimpanzee, and rabbit captivity, respectively. Aside from failing to provide adequate space and social interaction, Doyle notes that zoos cause a host of psychological and health problems for elephants. And in light of the prevalence of training methods that involve “hooking, prodding, or striking the elephant,” Doyle challenges the idea that elephant captivity in circuses (and zoos that use this method) is justified (45). Ross describes chimpanzee captivity in zoos, laboratories, sanctuaries, entertainment, and pet keeping, discussing throughout the conditions that would need to be met for chimpanzee captivity to be permissible. Ross suggests that well-designed zoos and sanctuaries can provide appropriate conditions in which to keep chimpanzees, but that, partly due to standard-of-care concerns, laboratories, pet-keeping, and entertainment venues are less promising in this respect. DeMello roundly condemns the use of rabbits for meat, fur, medical research, and as pets. She describes the horrible abuse inflicted on rabbits in medical research: exempt from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, rabbits are killed “while fully conscious, by breaking their necks [. . .] by decapitation, or by any other means” (78).

John Bryant, James Davis, David Haywood, Clyde Meikle, and Andre Pierce (chapter 7) and Lauren Gazzola (chapter 8) provide us with insider perspectives on human captivity in prisons. In both chapters, the authors describe the psychologically damaging effects of imprisonment, including subjection to daily bodily inspection, lack of privacy, loss of control, loneliness, and more. Imprisoned for fighting to end cruelty at an animal testing lab...


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pp. 133-136
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