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Pasiphaë's bull

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The first of two parts; I decided to fragment it in two, for the comfort of the reader, after I noticed how extense the thread turned out to be . Anyways, who would want to read such a long crude prose for so long?

General Remarks

A wide glance at human sexuality can show, like Krafft-Ebing and Alfred Kinsey did, that it is as diverse and singular as the stars, and the deeper one probes, the more extravagant it becomes, be it at the group level or at the individual level: objectum sexuality and human cannibalism(1) being two clear examples.

At the same time, it is quite hard not to find a culture or society that did not condemn some sexual activity or an aspect related to it, for example, menstruation, incest, sodomy, and others.

Nonetheless, here I will write about a particular sexual activity, one that, usually, either incites extreme mockery or censure. I refer to Bestiality or Zoophilia. Zoophilia is defined, by wikipedia, as "a paraphilia(2) involving cross-species sexual activity between human and non-human animals or a fixation on such practice. The term zoophilia derives from the combination of two nouns in Greek: ζῷον (zṓion, meaning "animal") and φιλίa (philia, meaning "(fraternal) love"). As a suffix, -philia indicates an abnormal liking for or tendency towards a given thing. Thus, the term denotes an abnormal human sexual attraction to animals".

The idea of abnormality (normality) in itself controversial, can be understood here, for simplicity's sake, as a behavior statistically insignificant or rare (altough the use of it can be discussed too in the comments).

There is a long cultural tradition of, favorable as well as unfavourable, zoophilia depictions, Greek myths like that of the title of this topic, Japanese paintings like The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife by Hokusai, literary tales from Boccaccio, and the many religious prohibitions, just to name a few examples, are proof of this, so the sexual act it is definitively not something new. Usually kept at the margins of society and in obscure corners, harshly censured and penalized by law, morals and taste, by theists and atheists alike, only recently, at the end of the 20th century and at the beginning of the 21th century, has it become, very feebly, a subject and sexual act to be discussed and argued for/against, rather than be dismissed beforehand, by ethical philosophers, legal scholars and the general public at large.

I propose here to peruse the most common objections and reservations to zoophilia, then make some final observations about the topic in general, and hopefully start some interesting discussion.

Objections to Zoophilia

I divided them into three categories, but more in the interest of organization than of philosophical rigor, because the categories selected are not easily demarcated, reality is always multifaceted and complex I guess, and some of them might be less differentiated than initially granted.

Ideal objections: these objections are about an ideal state or parameter that humans and other animals cannot trespass, like a taboo, otherwise something of great symbolic value might be loss and, slippery slope, it could be the end of society and humanity as we know it.

These views may be resumed by the following writer: The great philosophical question of the 21st Century is going to be whether we will knock humans off the pedestal of moral exceptionalism and instead define ourselves as just another animal in the forest. The stakes of the coming debate couldn't be more important: It is our exalted moral status that both bestows special rights upon us and imposes unique and solemn moral responsibilities--including the human duty not to abuse animals.

… One of the reasons bestiality is condemned through law is that such degrading conduct unacceptably subverts standards of basic human dignity and is an affront to humankind's inestimable importance and intrinsic moral worth.

I say permitting it (zoophilia) promotes social anarchy, moral disintegration, and a view of humans that is inherently degrading, thereby harming the common good. (3)

It is easy to see that there are many assumptions and loaded meanings to question in these hyperbolic and apocalyptic statements, but let’s focus on two big words, that are used not only in this context, but in many others, to reject and censure a position or view: “dignity” (in this cited fragment) and “natural”.


Dignity is a very value laden concept, full of implicit assumptions, unclear, and of an arbitrary application. In this case it is used as an argument against zoophilia, because, the critics say, having sex with a non-human animal would demean a human being, take away his/her dignity, and by doing so giving free way to an anything goes morally speaking.

The first problem, then, with dignity is that is it simple undefined and vague, because, when we speak of dignity to what do we refer exactly? After researching various definitions and articles, It seems to be related to worth, respect, self-respect, to being fully human, yet those same terms are not defined without some controversy, and might say more about the one that preaches them than the one that “fails” to live up to them. For example a woman in a story by Sartre thinks about how having a body in itself is in some sense undignified, ugly, problematic, because of the reflexes, mechanics, secretions it expels, sort of like a silly meat puppet; others believe that being human it is not special at all, nor is there any intrinsic dignity to it, perhaps quite the contrary, because as early and recent psychology studies have show, we can be tribal, impulsive, biased, cruel and irrational, things we surely do not find to be praiseworthy. Perhaps being human isn’t that great after all. Of course we could argue that they who do those things are not human or are far from it, but that is just dishonest; sadly, dictionaries and popular culture abound with definitions of humane, humanity and the like as synonym of good, empathetic, benevolent, dignified and help to promote these lazy assumptions.

Other problem is, even if we were in agreement about what dignity meant, how do we accomplish this standard? For example, say we think that dignity is having respect for oneself, how do we measure that that self-respect is being done or accomplished? Is there a spectrum of dignity, some having more, others less? Is it even possible to have no dignity at all? And does something having less dignity or no dignity at all is it necessarily bad? Less say we know what dignity is and we know how to “measure” it, the next question is who are we to use dignity as a norm and rule for human action? Did not the Nazis felt the Jews to have no dignity at all, and because of it to be of no value and justified in treating them as a pest, as trash, as nothing? Surely we think the Nazis to be wrong, yet they, presumably, had quite sure a definition for dignity, how to measure it, and felt an authority of it. Nevertheless, let’s assume that we have solved all these problems, why should dignity be of such an importance that it can overcome other human interests like freedom, originality or pleasure? I think that it is not clear or obvious at all that it can be so.

Some much for dignity, yet, perhaps, we could use the weapon of the critic, and shoot him in the face with it. Could it be true that blurring the human/non-human animal divide could be detrimental to society and morality? Perhaps not, recent studies on prejudice and discrimination have shown that thinking and seeing nonhuman animals as less important than humans, of not placing relevance in their interest or wellbeing, in being speciesist, turns out to be correlated to being prone to discriminate other groups and people:

It has been contemplated that many of our prejudices against human outgroups (i.e., groups to which we do not belong) find their roots or origins in our thinking about the human-animal divide. Could this be true? Might our sense of being different from and superior to non-human animals lay the foundations for the mistreatment of other people, particularly “others” we consider animal-like?

Our laboratory has been actively pursuing this intriguing possibility. My PhD student (Kimberly Costello) and I recently proposed the Interspecies Model of Prejudice. This simple model breaks down into several parts. First, we propose that thinking of humans as different from and superior to animals contributes to prejudices against others (e.g., immigrants). Second, this relation (or “effect”) is explained by the degree to which we view those other people as less-than-human. In other words, devaluing animals provides the fuel for devaluing other (dehumanized) humans, which leads to prejudice toward that group. The implications are clear: portraying “them” as animal-like would have no derogatory sting or system-justifying impetus if we did not collectively consider non-human animals inherently inferior to humans in the first place. As Plous (2003, p. 510) observes, “… the very act of ‘treating people like animals’ would lose its meaning if animals were treated well.”(4)

Of course I do not suggest having sex with non-human animals as a cure for prejudice and discrimination, yet the idea of seeing zoophilia as degrading to humans, to dignity, because it blurs the, vague frontier, of humans and non-human animals is at the core of other ideas and acts that dismiss the interests of non-human animals, and because of it, of humanity at large maybe?


Let’s think about another idea and argument that is usually thrown into debates where the human and non-human divide is put into question, that is the argument from nature. This is easy and simple; it merely affirms that having sex with non-human animals is unnatural. Well, just like the idea of dignity, this one suffers the same criticisms: vagueness, arbitrariness, is-ought confusion, etc. What is natural? Is it not everything that exists natural, the whole universe in short? So talking about the natural is pointless and meaningless perhaps? Maybe the critic does not mean that, he means something more modest, like a feature intrinsic to nature or some kind of identity, yet this is also of little help because humans are from nature and live in nature, how could they be possible above and beyond it, should not everything they do be natural? Maybe the critic means something more specific, like a rule, but still this is problematic, because, for example, the Marquis de Sade argued, in his novels, that seeking pleasure is the sole law of nature, all animals want it, and so does the human being, the unnatural is to censure and repressed it. I doubt many would agree with Sade, nor think that nature prescribes an action or that it norms human conduct, in fact, it can be argued otherwise, that some “natural” actions are to be censured, since it is possible that human conducts that we find abhorrent could be grounded on natural selection, for example rape (some evolutionary psychologist think that is served and serves a function as a secondary mating strategy); of course we would not permit rape because it is a natural product of mother nature, evolution, et al, we do not care about these natural origins, we judge actions through other standards (wellbeing, consent, harm, etc.), we consider societies to be different now, our interests and values to be different also. Plus the idea of the natural is as varied as it is ambiguous: Rousseau said that civilization was unnatural, yet no one seems to agree or care now; we used to think that women who rejected maternity were unnatural, that women, being mothers by nature, belonged solely to the domestic sphere, their cognitive abilities being nil and unnecesary, yet we do not agree with these ideas now; we used to think homosexuality to be unnatural; slaves escaping from their bondage to be unnatural (5); even, some believe, the use of technology to be unnatural (Unabomber), etc. yet few if none agree with these claims or put much importance into them. To the contrary, poison is natural, but nobody drinks it with merriment; disease is natural, yet everyone complains about it and seeks help to get rid of it; burping, farting, expectorating are natural yet we dislike it when somebody does it in our faces. Let’s say we can show with certainty what is natural, now what? Does it matter? No. Because what is the case is simply that, a description of something, and as it best it can tell us the origin of something, but nothing much. The natural it is not a norm, nor a rule, and even less an ethical prescription, and even if it where, we can reject it for other reasons and values.

Ethical objections: these have to do with the interests of the non-human animals


Is it argued, in its stronger form, that the non-human animals necessarily are harmed by having sex with humans and so zoophilia is wrong; the soft form says that potentially they could be harmed and because of that zoophilia is wrong. Is it true that this could be the case? I think yes, but it depends. First of all talking about the non-human animal as if it were a uniform and unique group of beings is false, violent and sloppy, because, to assume that all animals are equal is to dismiss their singularities and differences, physical, emotional and psychological, and be ignorant of their preferences. But more to the point, this argument is not entirely convincing, because an adult human would make as much harm to a puppy, as he would do to a human infant, in other words, this preoccupation is not circumscribed only to zoophilia, it is about sexuality in general. It is not hard, I presume, to imagine ways to have sex with a non-human animal that would cause neither the human nor the non-human animal harm, but pleasure and satisfaction to both parties involved if it is done with care.

A more satirical reply would poke the eye of the critic and mock him with rage: “you, you preach about harming the non-human animal, you, the one who cares little or nothing about the suffering and horror of animal farming, about the cruel manufacturing of cosmetics, about the use and abuse of animals in entertainment, about the misuse and exploitation of them in scientific experiments, about the leather you wear made of tears and blood?”.


This argument claims that non-humans animals do not, nor are able, to give consent, zoophilia then is abusive and harmful, just like rape. Jacob Appel addressed this argument (as well as the harm apprehension):

(The issue of consent) reflects the concern of animal rights advocates, such as members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, that bestiality is synonymous with animal abuse. Animals cannot consent in a meaningful way to sexual contact, they argue, so human-animal sex is akin to rape.

The problem with this reasoning is that animals cannot consent—under the legal definition of that term—to anything. We do not describe owning a pet dog as kidnapping, even when the canine is restricted to the inside of a home, although confining a human being in the same manner would clearly be unethical. What might make more reasonable sense is to speak of animal welfare. Certainly, to the degree that animals experience pain, an argument can be made for preventing such suffering. (Although I suspect that the vast majority of lawmakers who voted for anti-bestiality statutes do not eschew hamburgers, leather-goods or even fur—not to mention cleansers and cosmetics safety-tested on the eyes of lab rabbits.) But while (without becoming graphic) some such human-animal interactions are likely painful, others may well be neutral or even pleasurable for the animals concerned. As the father of the modern animal rights movement, Princeton-based philosopher Peter Singer, points out, “Sex with animals does not always involve cruelty.'"(6)

And as Brian Cutteridge argues:

Animal sexual autonomy is regularly violated for human financial gain through procedures such as [artificial insemination and slaughter]. Such procedures are probably more disturbing physically and psychologically than acts of zoophilia would be, yet the issue of consent on the part of the animal is never raised in the discussion of such procedures.(7)

Apart from the inconsistency in everyday life of the consent argument, we could ask how could consent be taken into account without assuming a human expression of it? Is it possible that non-human animals could consent in their own way? For example some think that the dog attempts at copulating with the owner, “humping” the leg say, are in some way giving their consent to the activity and even initiating it. Not only that, they also "seem to enjoy the attention provided by the sexual interaction with a human."(7)

Lastly, zoophilia, it is not entirely an human initiated and consented activity, because research “has proven that non-human animals can and do have sex for non-reproductive purposes (and for pleasure).In 2006, a Danish Animal Ethics Council report concluded that ethically performed zoosexual activity is capable of providing a positive experience for all participants, and that some non-human animals are sexually attracted to humans (for example, dolphins).”(8)

Nevertheless, although inconsistent in its uses and justly condemned and refuted because of it, consent in its positive meaning I am less confident to support. It seems less clear, at least to me, without a doubt, how to distinguish or interpret consent from a non-human animal.

In part two I'll deal with the disgust or yuk argument to zoophilia.


(1) The case of Armin Meiwes

(2) "A paraphilia is a condition in which a person's sexual arousal and gratification depend on fantasizing about and engaging in sexual behavior that is atypical and extreme". From Psychology Today.

(3) “Wesley J. Smith (born 1949) is an American lawyer and author, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center on Human Exceptionalism”. Wikipedia.

(4) The Human-Animal Divide and Prejudices Against Humans. Seeing others as “less-than-human”. From Psychology Today.

(5) Drapetomania was a supposed mental illness described by American physician Samuel A. Cartwright in 1851 that caused black slaves to flee captivity. Wikipedia.

(6) Three Reasons Society Shouldn't Rush to Condemn Bestiality. Opposing News.

(7) For the Love of Dog: On the Legal Prohibition of Zoophilia in Canada and the United States.

(8) Bestiality ban not needed: Ethics Council; "Bid to save over-friendly dolphin". CNN.

Edited by Paulus
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Paulus, I've only read the beginning of your post, and will read and respond to the rest later. For now, I wanted to focus on this:

The great philosophical question of the 21st Century is going to be whether we will knock humans off the pedestal of moral exceptionalism and instead define ourselves as just another animal in the forest. The stakes of the coming debate couldn't be more important: It is our exalted moral status that both bestows special rights upon us and imposes unique and solemn moral responsibilities--including the human duty not to abuse animals.

… One of the reasons bestiality is condemned through law is that such degrading conduct unacceptably subverts standards of basic human dignity and is an affront to humankind's inestimable importance and intrinsic moral worth.

I say permitting it (zoophilia) promotes social anarchy, moral disintegration, and a view of humans that is inherently degrading, thereby harming the common good.

I looked up your footnote, and it did not surprise me at all that the writer is a member of the Discovery Institute, which promotes intelligent design creationism, and thus rejects evolution.

I have no intention of committing ad hom against the writer -- saying his argument is wrong, because he is a member of the Discovery Institute. I just say that what he writes, is typical of the conclusions of people who beg the question by believing unevidenced things that require an argument for, rather than the assumption of.

Let's dissect this, at the risk of veering perhaps somewhat off topic. I'll probably also break this into a series of smaller posts.

The great philosophical question of the 21st Century is going to be whether we will knock humans off the pedestal of moral exceptionalism and instead define ourselves as just another animal in the forest.

This is a standard-issue bifurcation fallacy, and it's rather pathetic that he runs it, without supposing that intelligent people can see through it. But then again, his appeal is probably toward the not-too-bright.

Even if we are not "morally exceptional" (whatever that undefined phrase is supposed to mean), it does not follow that we are "just another animal in the forest." Most of us don't live in forests (though some do and there's nothing wrong with that). We live in cities, towns, and suburbs, in a rich, complex web of cultural relations woven over thousands of years. This means we can accept the fact that we are animals, without the impliedly degrading characterization of us as "just another animal in the forest."

But that's the rub. Folks like this at the DI think that it's degrading to be an animal; ergo, they think, we are not animals. We are special. We are exceptional. I guarantee you that the writer thinks we have souls, and that we were ensouled by God.

The real challenge of the 21st century (well, there are many other challenges, of course, most much greater, but you take the point) will be to lay aside these childish notions. Humans are animals. Regardless of the lies of the Discovery Institute, we are evolved animals, and we share common ancestors with all living things. Understanding this, IMO, is not degrading; rather, it is liberating. And one thing it does, is promote compassion. We can have compassion for other living things because we are related to them; in a real sense they are us, and we are them.

As to this idea of exceptionalism: All animals are exceptional, in their own way. Certainly humans are exceptional, in our own way; but so are pigeons. I see pigeons every day, humbly (some might think) pecking scraps off the pavement.

But when I tend to think I am so high and mighty compared with these "poor" pigeons, I like to remind myself of a few facts.

1. Pigeons can fly. I can't. I sure wish I could! That would be great fun!

2. Pigeons are pentachromats. I am a lowly trichromat. What does that mean? It means that pigeons can see at five peak wavelengths, whereas humans can only see at three: Red, Green, and Blue. From the admixture of Red, Green, and Blue, comes all of the hundreds of millions of colors that we can see. From the admixture of five peak wavelengths, comes hundred of millions of additional colors that humans cannot see, if not billions more colors! Van Gogh, the greatest colorist of all time, would probably have cut off his other ear, and his penis too, to be a pentachromat.

Here are some other lively facts about "lowly" pigeons, vis-a-vis humans:

1. Pigeons don't have to roll out of bed every day when they'd rather sleep in, put on clothes, brave a tedious commute, and then work most of their waking hours at soul-destroying jobs to earn money to buy food. They just hop around and merrily pick the food off the ground instead! (And sleep in if they've a mind to.)

2. Pigeons don't have to pay taxes.

3. Pigeons don't have to put up with insufferable other pigeons for the sake of social niceties. When a pigeon gets pissed off with another pigeon, it fluffs it feathers, makes loud cooing sounds, and chases the other pigeon away. Simple!

4. Pigeons don't have to listen to assholes at the Discovery Institute.

As to bestiality: Other animals engage in this behavior, so it shouldn't be surprising that some humans do; but as you note, Paulus, the number who do, or want to, is statistically insignificant. Personally, I think the consent issue makes sex with other animals wrong, and I note you address this later, but as I say, I haven't yet read your comments on that. I'll just say it's telling that the D.I. writer gets worked up into a lather about this, but I'll address that in my next post. For now, I just recall that at the old IIDB message board, some homophobe was arguing that permitting gay sex opened the floodgates to … people having sex with goats. To which I replied, "Yes, and just think of the kids." :heh: :heh: :heh:

More later. Thanks for helping reinvigorate this place, :paulus::thumb:

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Posted (edited)

Haha is okay Davidm, I used the author from the DI because he said, with grandiose rethoric, what some people may agree with, that humans have a dignity that non-humans animals do not have, or that the natural order obliges humans to be superior, indifferent or whatever to the rest of the living beings.

I think that the debate of whether humans and the rest of the animals are exceptional in their own way, or whether humans are in fact better or different, be it in degree or type, to the rest of the animals is less simple, at least intuitively but that may be an anthropocentric bias on my part. To make myself more clear, I think that, first, to talk about animals in a global category with no distinctions is mistaken, each can be exceptional and different as you say, and even resemble, some less some more, humans in their specialness (for example the level of cognition, memory and problem solving of chimpanzees, elephants and dolphins; a fact that perhaps further studies in ethology will illustrate and expand even more). Also one can notice that every living being, in its most essential, cares about similar things: food, shelter, social interactions, seeking comfort and satisfaction, avoiding pain, etc. On the positive side,they do not have to bear social conundrums, ambiguities and nuisances, nor existential dilemmas, or wage slavery, etc.

Yet, with the example you gave of the pigeon, it is true that humans, naked, are pretty useless compared to the other species, they appear harmless and fragile, weak in force and health, a spider can kill us, or a simple cold, but the difference one could argue is that through technology and invention one can not only imitate the rest of the animal kingdom (flying through planes for example) but even be better at it (fly through space), and so on, we can reinvent ourselves (something that transhumanism proposes), other non-human animals are, at first glance more limited in this aspect (though I read a few years ago about dolphins doing some actions similar to wwhat one can call a culture, they were sharing knowledge, in a small community, about how to use a sponge, and it was an independent and autonomous social activity that other dolphins, in other places, did not do).

I suppose my doubts (sometimes in agreement with them, others in disagreement), about the difference of humans and non-human animals, if it is possible to generalize the answer, would be the one that Richard Posner possited to Peter Singer in a debate about animal rights:

... for example, we could agree that although a normal human being's life is more valuable than a normal chimpanzee's life, it is only 100 times more valuable, you would have to concede than if a person had to choose between killing one human being and 101 chimpanzees, he should kill the human being. Against the deep revulsion that such results engender the concept of a transhuman community of sufferers beats its tinsel wings ineffectually.

It is more of an intuition (that reasoning and more information could dispel perhaps), I do wonder though about that kind of ethical dilemma, because maybe an impartial and universal glance, if it is possible to do so, at the case proposed by Posner would regard the matter as unimportant and indifferent, whether 100 apes be killed or 1 human being, nature will keep creating more and more of any of them, or extinct all of them at once with a catasthrope. Anyways this observations and ramblings are a bit off-topic, it would be an interesting discussion nevertheless to see if the specialness of human beings is more "special" than the specialness of the other non-human animals, in general (assuming we can group them all) or individually.

Edited by Paulus
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