Friday, December 01, 2006

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Tackling the tough issues

Philosophy professor specializes in ethics; champions animal rights
Published on: Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Article by: Rachel Gorr
Campus Reporter

DeKALB | Associate professor of philosophy Mylan Engel isn't afraid to talk about touchy subjects. His specialties include religion and ethics, and much of his work centers on animal rights and moral issues like abortion.

"I am currently doing research on the moral status of using animals in biomedical research, which questions both the moral legitimacy [of the practice] and also examines the usefulness of using these animals as models when, often, drugs react quite differently in other species," Engel said.

Engel's work is not for the faint of heart, so if it's a challenge for you to get through an episode of, "Animal Cops: Houston," the issues of animal ethics will definitely put you over the edge. Much of Engel's work delves into the areas of humane, or inhumane, animal slaughter, as well as the effect livestock has on the environment.

"Much of our current treatment of animals causes them to suffer greatly, often times for relatively trivial human interests like the capture of animals in leg-hold traps or to anally electrocute them to use their fur for our earmuffs or jackets," Engel said. "It's striking that unless you take a class that shows you a video, you'll probably never see the condition that animals are raised, and the industry is very good at hiding that information from consumers."

Engel approaches hot seat issues like animal cruelty by trying to address all sides of an argument before tackling specific issues.

"And the idea is that when human beings simultaneously respect people, animals and the environment, everyone benefits," Engel said.

Because of the nature of his work, much of Engel's research overlaps in some way. While he does focus on animal rights, Engel also tackles other serious contemporary issues, including abortion and fetal rights. While these issues can surely be debated to no end, Engel looks at them from the perspective of finding a synergy within our overall moral and logical natures.

"In general, what rights a being has depends on what properties that being has," Engel said. "If we want to determine whether fetuses have rights, we have to look at what properties they have at different stages of development. It would make no sense to attribute the right to worship any deity because [a fetus] is incapable of worship, but certainly in the later stages, [a fetus] is capable of feeling pain, so one can make the case that the fetus has the right not to be subjected to painful procedures."

Engel teaches contemporary moral issues and environmental ethics, as well as courses in epistemology, the study of knowledge. He is also active on the animal ethics blog at

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