To the Editor:
"Philosophers Put Their Minds to Expanding Their Role in Public Affairs" (The Chronicle, December 16) outlines some philosophers' desire to be more in the public discourse, to be more relevant to public affairs. In the process you outline a disgusting misuse of philosophy. This particular foray of philosophy into the public takes place in a course at Michigan State University, where an assistant professor of philosophy in environmental ethics involved his students in a gruesome study where they raised beautiful and possibly ethical/moral pigs under two conditions, then "harvested" them "for food."
One condition was modeled after an agribusiness approach (raised indoors, one person looking after hundreds of pigs, etc.), and the other was a more personalized pastoral approach, with pigs and their piglets raised outdoors, grazing outdoors, expressing, as one professor opined philosophically, their essential "pigness." One question that was involved concerned happiness of the pigs in the two conditions.
If aiding in the slaughter of the innocents is what the new "public philosophy" might stand for, let's hope that philosophy returns quickly to its nonpublic work inside the walls of the academy. To subject students to this exercise to see which way of raising pigs makes them happier en route to their slaughter (no valid index of porcine positive psychology was used that I know of) is a low point for this ancient discipline—pigs, positivity, pain, pedagogy. The immorality, let alone the aesthetics of this blood-on-the-jowls philosophical pedagogy, takes one's breath away, as it does literally for these beautiful animals when their final test arrives. In one of the two conditions (the more personalized and pastoral one), these enslaved pigs were presumably lovingly raised, lovingly slaughtered, and lovingly devoured.
Let me suggest submitting this curricular carnival of the carnivores to a student discussion centered on whether they would, as they did with the pigs, eat their dogs, or cats, or hamsters, guinea pigs, or budgies, and why none of them would ever do that.
Professor of Educational Psychology