Carl Sagan and Animal Rights

November 9th marks the 77th anniversary of Carl Sagan’s birth. Today we celebrate the life of a great scientist and promoter of animal rights. Over the years Sagan spoke out against anthropocentrism and called on us “to extend our ethical perspectives downward through the taxa on Earth and upwards to extraterrestrial organisms, if they exist.” For two and a half years Sagan served as faculty adviser for Cornell Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (CSETA) and was somewhat controversial for some of his views on animals. In his book Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors he remarked, “Humans–who enslave, castrate, experiment on, and fillet other animals–have had an understandable penchant for pretending animals do not feel pain. A sharp distinction between humans and “animals” is essential if we are to bend them to our will, make them work for us, wear them, eat them–without any disquieting tinges of guilt or regret. It is unseemly of us, who often behave so unfeeling toward other animals, to contend that only humans can suffer. The behavior of other animals renders such pretensions specious.They are just too much like us”.
Carl Sagan had much to say on cetacean intelligence as well and was also a major critic of whaling going so far as to call it “monstrous and barbaric” and “murder”.

He also held critical attitudes toward at least some vivisection, especially primate research and was a supporter of the Great Ape Project which attempts to extend basic rights to Great Apes. Having received bone marrow transplants developed using animal models, he questioned the justice of medical research, saying he felt “very conflicted on this issue”.

PETA used to have him on a list of prominent vegans but have since removed him for lack of evidence. Sagan by reports wasn’t a big meat eater but wasn’t vegan either, he advocated “humane treatment” rather than “non-exploitation” and generally took a measured approach to controversial issues in his life.

Near the end of his life in 1996 Sagan wrote “In my writings, I have tried to show how closely related we are to other animals…and how morally bankrupt it is to slaughter them, say, to manufacture lipstick.” We would all do well to contemplate Carl Sagan’s words and their implications on our and other lives. He was an important and intelligent man with much to contribute to science, philosophy and general culture. Happy Birthday Carl, you are missed!

*please note this is a re-post from last year

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4 Responses to “Carl Sagan and Animal Rights”

  1. VeganSkeptic Says:

    Excellent post to honor one of the greatest skeptics and science popularizers to have ever lived. We should all be thankful for the wisdom Sagan shared during his time upon this pale blue dot. I have one other Sagan quote from The Demon Haunted World to share:
    “Some of the habits of our age will doubtless be considered barbaric by later generations – perhaps for insisting that small children and even infants sleep alone instead of with their parents; or exciting nationalist passions as a means of gaining popular approval and achieving high political office; or allowing bribery and corruption as a way of life; or keeping pets; or eating animals and jailing chimpanzees; or criminalizing the use of euphoriants by adults; or allowing our children to grow up ignorant.”

  2. Vegan Swagg Says:

    In the early 1990’s, I had the great honor of meeting Carl Sagan in (of all places) a furniture store in upstate Ithaca, New york. As I was alone, and so was he, I was fortunate enough to have his undivided attention for about a half hour while he shopped for the perfect lounging chair. I found him to be incredibly kind and ingenuous. He was genuinely interested in what I had to say. We touched on the subject of animal rights which quickly led to a discussion concerning life elsewhere in the universe. He said “It would be incredibly naive to think that we are alone and that there are no other advanced civilizations, nor other life form more intellectually, and technologically advanced than that of our own.” What struck me most was that he said “We must consider how we treat nonhuman animals as the possibility highly exists that other civilizations will one day decide how it will treat us.”

  3. James N. Dawson Says:

    I’m sorry if this is an inappropriate place to ask you this, but I couldn’t find any other way of contacting you.
    I’m a vegan interested in your writings. I’ve read a post and long series of comments on it.
    I find reading things on screens, esp. if they’re long, difficult, so I often print things out.
    Some blogs let you print out a whole year of posts, which is much less work than doing it a month at a time, like yours seems to be structured. Is there anyway I can print out a whole year of your posts for my own personal reading? Of course I’d never reproduce them.
    Please let me know, and of course, feel free to delete this if and when you do.

  4. marie lipari Says:

    Eating a mostly plant based diet and with a conscious effort to minimize eating animals raised in an unethical way, we can commend him for being humane.
    A vegan Brandeis college student just wrote a Thanksgiving Turkey song that is a light yet poignant look at the turkeys in our lives.
    Thanksgiving Turkey Song – Ben – YouTube

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