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Re-defending Feline Liberty: a Response to Fischer


In response to my (2019) defense of house-based, free-roaming cats, Bob Fischer (Acta Analytica 35 (3): 463–468, 2020) argues that cat guardians have a duty to permanently confine their felines to the indoors. His main argument is that house-based cats cause an all-things-considered harm to the animals they kill and that this harm is not outweighed by the harm cats endure as a consequence of feline imprisonment. He moreover claims that while we can justify the restriction of feline liberty because cats are not “full agents” and are under our care, we cannot justify restricting the liberty of “full agents” who are not under our care. Against Fischer, I argue that even if cats cause an all-things-considered harm to wildlife, the harm of permanent confinement is a greater harm. Moreover, I challenge Fischer’s claim that cats are not full agents and his claim that we can justify permanently confining creatures under our care. Thus, as I previously argued, cat guardians have a duty to, under certain conditions, provide outdoor access to their felines.

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  1. 1.

    The level of well-being of a creature is determined by subtracting the total amount of negative experiences from the total number of pleasant experiences in that creature’s life.

  2. 2.

    It is not an all-things-considered harm to kill a creature who does not have, and will never have, well-being. Although prey animals might have the desire for continued existence, we are not always obligated to respect this interest, as sometimes respecting an animal’s desires would harm that animal’s subject welfare. For instance, my cat might have a desire to pounce on a rattlesnake, but I still should not let her do this, since doing so is a serious threat to her subject welfare. The only interests we are required to respect are those that promote the welfare of individuals. Since promoting an animal’s desire to go on living when she does not have, and will never have, well-being would not promote, and may even harm, her subject welfare, we are not obligated to respect an animal’s desire to go on living when she does not have, and will never have, well-being.

  3. 3.

    Thank you to an anonymous Acta Analytica reviewer for encouraging me to consider and address this objection.

  4. 4.

    While it is true that millions of cats are killed by road traffic accidents each year, we must be mindful that we cannot move from the claim that “millions of cats are killed by road traffic accidents each year” to the claim that “all cats with outdoor access face a high risk of being killed from a road traffic accident.” After all, there are certain factors that make cats highly vulnerable to road traffic accidents, such as being young, roaming outdoors at night, crossing busy roads, and a lack of safety-training, and many of these risk factors can be mitigated by cat guardians. For instance, cat guardians can keep their very young cats indoors; they can keep their cats indoors at night; and they can train their cats to avoid dangerous roads.

  5. 5.

    Thank you to an anonymous Acta Analytica reviewer for encouraging me to consider and respond to this objection.

  6. 6.

    Although perhaps a “skilled” serial killer, when stalking, kidnapping, and killing his victims, could be said to participate in a non-ethological, mentally-absorbing, and challenging activity while using cognitive skill and control. But given that such serial killers are not, while Stan is, cognitively impaired, this point is irrelevant.

  7. 7.

    Moreover, because of Stan’s severe cognitive impairments, he probably lacks the capacity to enjoy human ethological behavior at all. So, it is likely that the only pleasures available to him are bodily pleasures, which he certainly can enjoy in the indoors.

  8. 8.

    Thank you to an anonymous Acta Analytica reviewer for encouraging me to consider and respond to this objection.


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Correspondence to Cheryl Abbate.

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Abbate, C. Re-defending Feline Liberty: a Response to Fischer. Acta Anal 36, 451–463 (2021).

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