Animal Studies Bibliography

Herzog, Jr. Harold A. 1988. The moral status of mice. American Psychologist 43(6): 473-474.

Moral decisions are complicated, and are decided by more than logic or emotion. In particular, the way we assign roles and labels strongly determines our moral judgments and produces ethical inconsistencies. The treatment of mice at a university lab will illustrate this point. The fact that some mice are valued and protected by law and some are hunted, killed, or used as food with no legislative oversight is not due to lab negligence, but rather to the roles assigned to different groups of mice. Good mice, mice that are the subjects of experiments, are protected by federal law and animal use review boards at the university. Bad mice, on the other hand, are trapped using sticky traps and gassed immediately, because having them roaming the building contaminated the labs. These mice are considered pests and receive no protection or consideration of rights. Bad mice are thus quite different in the treatment they receive, but this is because of the label we have given them, not because of any substantive difference--for they are simply lab mice who have escaped their cages, good mice become bad. Feeder mice are a third category of mice. Still the same species, these mice are fed live to other animals at the facility, like snakes. When classified as feeders, the mice are not subject to regulation. If the mouse is the subject of study during the feeding process, however (e.g. in a study of antipredatorial behavior), the mouse is once again protected and given rights. We engage in such labeling in our everyday lives, too--for example, having a pet mouse that receives a funeral at death but trying to trap and kill the pest mice in our kitchens. None of these arguments is to suggest that any of these behaviors is wrong. Rather, it is to illustrate that ethical decisions are influenced not just by logic but also by human psychology--what roles and labels we assign to the animals. If we are to advance the cause of animal welfare, we must understand the human psychology involved in these decisions.




Visit the Michigan State University Homepage Return to the Animal Studies Homepage