The Bullfighting Issue: Objections and Replies

by Lorenzo Peña

This document is a reply to the objections levelled against the request I circulated several weeks ago concerning the sending of faxed messages or letters to the Spanish authorities in order to demand the cancellation of the special `Corrida Goyesca' scheduled to be staged in Madrid Main Square in September or October 1996.

1st. objection: You have troubled a number of people by sending the request to lists it does not pertain to.

Reply: I apologize. However, the trouble seems to me very small, while avoiding such monstrous, horrible crimes is much more important. Deleting a message one does not want to read is quite easy and takes a few seconds only.

2nd. objection: there are more pressing causes, such as the abolition of the death penalty in the US, relieving human hunger in Africa, avoiding an ecological catastrophe and what have you.

Reply: No other cause is as pressing as this one. No comparable, systematic torture is inflicted upon all (male) members of a mammal variety or ethnic group by humans. No moral degradation and self-abasement of our own species is so criminal and hideous. Humans who are subject to death penalty are convicted of committing crimes; their death is supposed to be instantaneous and painless. (Need I say that am not justifying the death penalty which I abhor?) Ecology is an immense and difficult issue. A judicious environmental policy cannot be implemented overnight. But bullfighting will disappear overnight, provided the EU refuses to subsidize it or to allow the Spanish authorities to continue their subsidizing of the fiesta. (The Spanish subsidies are not independent of those of the EU, since all `agricultural' products form a pool according to the EU treaties.)

3rd. objection: animals have no rights. Hence humans are entitled to do whatever they wish to them.


(1). Either by `x has the right to do Z' you mean that all rational beings are bound (i.e. obliged) not to thwart (or prevent) x from doing Z, or else you mean something different (perhaps you've got a stronger, richer view of rights, a la Gewirth or a la Apel or whatever). In the former case, I contend that animals have rights, since people are bound by obligations towards them. In the latter case, let me remark that my appeal did not depend on any such view of rights, and that I'd even eschewed the word `right' by simply claiming that humans are morally bound to behave, or not to behave, in certain ways towards nonhuman animals. (BTW, let me say that I am quite content to have rights in the reductionist sense: it is OK for me to lack rights in any particularly strong or rich sense you may fancy but which I fail to understand; if you are bound not to kill me, that is enough: I do not claim any `further' irreducible right not to be killed by you.)

(2). Ad hominem argument: some `taurinos' (champions of bullfighting) have accepted that bulls have rights. According to them the bullfighting `art' respects such rights; for instance the right not to be pierced by spears with a blade longer than the legally established size. More on that later.

(3) If the objection means that humans are bound by no obligations towards nonhumans, then, if it is true, it is all right to subject any [non-human] animal to all and every tortures, however horrifying, just for fun; you are entitled to take some cat, ape, monjey, horse, or dog, and to visit upon her or him whatever torments you fancy, bringing her or him to death after a protracted agony. I would argue (Moore-ways, if you like) that my belief that those conclusions are false by far overcomes any doubts I may harbour about how to define what is to count as a moral agent, what personhood is, whether or not only persons have rights, to what extent I may be certain of other people's or other animals' awareness or feelings, and so on.

4th. objection: animals do not suffer, or we cannot know for sure they suffer, or anyway they suffer less than humans do.


(1). All mammals are closely related. That means that any human being could -- provided sufficient information were available -- trace back her ancestry and reach her common ancestors with any given mammal in a few million generations. That number of generations is really small as compared with the number of generations the other mammal needs to find his or her common ancestor with a bird. But all vertebrates constitute a very small subfamily of a subfamily of ... of a family of arthropods, which constitute a particular branch of the high pluricellular animals. Such closeness means that our anatomy and our physiology are very similar. As far as we know, the main centres of feelings, pain, pleasure and so on in humans are those parts of our central nervous system which are almost identical to those of our cousins, the other mammals (and even, to a large extent, similar to those of all vertebrates, a low degree of analogy existing between such organs and the corresponding parts of the nervous systems of other arthropods). It would be miraculous and incredible that such closeness of parentage and such similarity of anatomy and physiology did not match any similarity of subjective feeling.

(2). Whatever arguments support the claim that other people have feelings similar to mine also back up the contention that the same happens as regards nonhuman animals, especially all other mammals. Such attributions explain their behaviour, cries, movements, reactions, which are similar to mine. We have learnt in our most tender age to equate other humans' (and animals') reactions to ours and so to attribute to them pain, anguish, fear, hope, joy, pleasure and so on. Admittedly only a few nonhuman animals have learnt to use a developed language (and then those animals are among our closest relatives, other apes). But all normal animals are able to express many of their feelings in a number of ways, as every owner of a horse, a donkey, a cat or a dog is likely to recognize. They may be taught to understand some small part of our language (horses used to being ridden by speakers of a certain language who give them orders in that language are likely to experience difficulties in adapting themselves to a different language). The more closely a nonhuman mammal is brought to human companionship, the more likely he or she is to communicate with his or her `masters'. If we are reluctant to attribute high communication abilities to species with which such domestic coexistence is infrequent, it seems entirely reasonable to assume that, if we brought them to live in our homes when they are young, no less communication could be established than that which links us to cats or dogs. (Horses in fact can be even more clever, kind and sociable than dogs or cats.) This being so, it seems incredible that bulls or any other particular species you may pinpoint should be altogether nonintelligent, since no abyss seems to separate them from other species we are accustomed to live with.

(3). Ad hominem argument: all `taurinos' have always assumed that bulls do indeed have feelings of pain, fear, hatred, joy, hope, regret and so on. All the taurino jargon teems with such expressions, even if sometimes couched in strange, particular ways. They have also attributed to bulls the ability to learn, to remember, to know, to discern, and even to reason, to act shrewdly, as well as features of character such as courage or cowardice. (The taurino jargon includes the word `sense' [`sentido'] in a technical sense: a bull is said to develop sense (desarrolla sentido) when he realizes what is going on and tries to dodge his tormentors' darts, spears and swords.) Drop such `anthropomorphic' language and the savage show and the would-be art becomes senseless.

(4). That nonhumans suffer less than humans has been alleged on the ground of their lacking awareness or conscience (Carruthers). Well, what conscience is I really do not know, but in any reasonably weak sense of awareness all (normal, adult) mammals seem to me to be aware, to notice what happens to them and to react accordingly. Franz Brentano even thought that nonhumans experience pain to a higher degree than humans do, since (purportedly) their awareness focuses on sensations and feelings at the perceptual level. Leibniz had somehow put forward the opposite view -- sensations would be lower or less intense perceptions than intellectual concepts. Finding our whether or not you experience pain more intensely than I do, whether or not both of us experience pain more, or less, intensely than a bull does seems to me a possibly impossible task, but anyway one which, at best, lies in a very distant future. (I have no idea what evidence could be obtained bearing out any such conclusion.)

5th. objection: If bullfighting is wrong, so is -- to the same extent -- raising and killing cattle for food or anything like that (using animals as forced beasts of burden, etc).

Reply: there are degrees. Almost everything comes in degrees. No animal is subject to tortures comparable to those which are inflicted upon bulls by humans in the corridas and similar shows. In fact no torture humans have invented against other humans or against nonhumans surpasses the point of ruthlessness of bullfighting. Current European Union regulations on killing cattle for food ordain that the animals should have a painless, instantaneous death (the animal having previously been painlessly rendered unconscious, which has brought about the famous or infamous issue of canonic slaughtering according to the precepts of some religious fundamentalists); and that a number of prescriptions be complied with as regards the raising and transport of the animals in order to secure a minimum of welfare. Although the treatment of beasts of burden is often harrowing and dreadful in underdeveloped countries, their lot cannot be equated with the bulls' at the lidia. I do not know how many millions of times worse the latter is, but I am certain the difference is huge, enormous and plain for everybody to see.

6th. objection: in order to condemn bullfighting, you must know it thoroughly.


(1). False. Perhaps the objection is grounded on some sort of Bradleyan view to the effect that you only know a thing if you know everything about that thing, and thus we turn out not to know anything. I do not have any quarrel with such a view if it only amounts to the claim that there is nothing we know completely (in other words that every entity or fact is such that, to some extent or other, we fail to know it). But partial knowledge is enough for us to act. Or -- if you are bent on keeping a particularly rich or strong notion of knowledge -- let us say `true belief'. We have (partly warranted) true beliefs on Hitler's gas chambers; our knowledge (at least mine) is very small. Yet I feel sufficiently justified in condemning them, on the grounds of my fragile, patchy knowledge or (only partly warranted) true belief.

(2). In case the former reply does not suffice, here are some facts which may increase your knowledge (or, let us say, true belief) concerning tauromachy. (Most of them are borrowed from a book by Luis Gilpérez-Fraile, La vergüenza nacional [The National Shame], Madrid: Penthalon Editions, 1991, ISBN 84-86411-62-9, wherein you can find all duly supported references to the sources of information.) Before entering the arena, the bull has been locked up in the toril, a horrifying dungeon wherein he has been subject to a number of horrendous brutalities: he has been beaten and battered, crushed for a night with sand-packs, his horns have been painfully lopped and truncated. At the end of that protracted torture, his feet are washed with thinner in order to make him restless while his eyes are covered with vaseline in order to impair his already very deficient eyesight. Then he is hit and jabbed with pinching instruments in order to make him enter the ring. The poor beast tries to escape. He only sees bright colours. Then the faenas begin. He is subjected to three `picas'.<1>Foot note 1_1 Each pica is a spear or lance ending in a piercing steel blade of 10 cm, followed by one or two disks. Most often the disk or disks enter the skin of the bull, opening a huge, bulky gap of 40 cms, breaking the bull's inner organs and causing internal haemorrhage. The bleeding is such that quite often blood outpours not only through the wounds but also through the animal's mouth. Then he is subject to the darts, also of piercing, cutting steel. Some darts end in a blade of 80 mm (these are called `punishment darts', to be fastened to the animal if he has been able to avoid one of the three picas); the other darts are a little shorter. The blades of the darts (bandelillas) are steel harpoons which provoke a harrowing pain to the bull with his every movement. The bull is subjected to being stabbed with darts many times until he is sufficientl y weakened. He is already dying when at last he is pierced with the sword. The sword may fail to dispatch him, and the puntilleros butcher him with a stab (puntilla), in a ruthless prolonged series of attempts. Sometimes, when the bull has learnt to escape from the picas, he is pushed to a hidden backyard (the chiqueros) wherein he is ruthlessly stabbed, pricked, bled and tortured. When exceptionally some bulls have been reprieved on account of their astonishing courage, their lungs have been found to be destroyed by the picador's lance and they have been slaughtered a few hours later.<2>Foot note 1_2

6th. objection: each institution or habit has to be accounted for within its own context. Thus, condemning the fiesta without any proper regard to the cultural context is wrong.

Reply: bullfighting is bad enough as it is without taking into account the context. It is worse still as a piece of that context, namely the culture of Franco's fascism (well, `fascism' is euphemistically applied to that regime, the worst in the 20th century except possibly Hitler's -- after all it was Hitler who imposed Franco against the Spanish people's will). And more generally all that culture of backwardness, ignorance, ruthlessness, many other `festejos taurinos' wherein cows and calves are tortured to death by merciless crowds; nor is it odd that people guilty of horrible crimes against humans have been responsible for promoting the fiesta when it was being deserted by the multitudes. (I feel bound not to name names.)

7th. objection: each culture has the right to keep its own traditions; no foreign interference should be encouraged or carried out.


(1). Spain and the other EU countries are not longer really independent. Spain has blocked the EU legislation against cruelty in order to protect the bullfighting business. In exchange, Spain has been compelled to accept adherence conditions due to which she now has (by far) the highest unemployment rate in the OECD. The Spanish `patriotic' leadership has secured the continuation of the taurino interests by sacrificing Spanish agriculture, milk-production, oil-production, wine-production, textile and other manufactures and so on. In real terms, the margin of independence of country members is very small. If bullfighting is kept, it happens only by implicit permission of the EU authorities.

(2). The taurino business is heavily subsidized not just by the Spanish government, but also by the EU, in the form of subventions purportedly for cattle-raising. Out of each pound a EU tax-payer gives to his or her own government, a few pence are destined to subsidize the torture of bulls. So, if that tax-payer does nothing to criticize the fiesta, she or he is has to be considered guilty of such atrocities.

(3). While countries outside the EU do not subsidize Spanish bullfighting, they enter into agreements with the EU on a complex intertwined set of trade issues; whether they know it or not, bullfighting is there, as a piece of the bargain concerning which `agricultural' subsidies are allowed and so on.

(4). Raising one's voice against torture is always a good thing.

(5). Most Spaniards dislike the fiesta (the Madrid bull-ring has a capacity of some 23,000 spectators; it is seldom crammed full; the Madrid area has a population of almost 5 million people). Many Spaniards advocate its prohibition. Despite the heavily subsidized publicity offensive of the taurino lobby (with TV broadcasts by all channels which make it almost impossible not to watch them unless you refrain from watching TV altogether), such occasional polls as have been exceptionally allowed (the subject being taboo and banned from public discussion) show that only about 10 to 15 percent of Spaniards do really enjoy the fiesta, with an additional 20 percent looking upon it as `normal', while the majority never watch such shows or dislike them.<3>Foot note 1_3

(6). Admittedly only a few Spaniards champion the prohibition. Guess why? Such as do are likely to receive death threats, lose their jobs, be harassed, trampled-down, brow-beaten, bullied, termed `cowards', `bad Spaniards', `effeminate weaklings', and so on. To refuse to come to their help cannot be regarded as a noble attitude.<4>Foot note 1_4

8th. objection: whether an animal is tortured and slaughtered for fun or for any other reason makes no difference as far as the animal is concerned.

Reply: first, no other treatment of animals by humans is as systematically cruel (not even the worst lab experiments, since they never encompass all the members of a certain ethnic group, as bullfighting does). Second, the reason makes a lot of moral difference: I condemn cruelty against sheep or rats carried out in order to discover remedies for human illness (the end does not justify the means), but my degree of rejection and blame is much smaller than that of my denunciation of bullfighting or of any similar sadistic pastime or amusement.

9th. objection: the spectators are not relishing the cruelties, only the torero's courage and manliness.

Reply: that's neither here nor there. But I am personally convinced that they relish the cruelties. They belong to that third of the human population whose aggressiveness has not been mastered by civilization, those who everywhere enjoy brutal, bloody shows and videos. Anyway those who watch the savage show at their TV set cannot claim ignorance.

10th objection: bullfighting is a struggle; each contender has some chances of overpwering and killing his opponent.

Reply: there is at most one torero killed for several hundred thousand bulls tortured to death by toreros. In Spain alone some 30,000 bulls are tortured to death each year; add those who suffer the same fate in some countries of Latin America, in southern France and in Portugal.<5>Foot note 1_5 How many toreros have been killed by bulls this century? Only a handful. That ratio does not strike me as that of a fair struggle. Furthermore, if the torero is killed, he is not subject to the horrors of the slow death men inflict upon the bull; and it's men who have chosen and decided the show, not the poor innocent bulls, who have done nothing wrong.

11th. objection: until the moment of the corrida, the bull has enjoyed a happy life, being entitled to access cows, having a peasurable life on the green meadows.

Reply: false. Artificial insemination is the rule. The bulls are subjected to harsh treatment ever since they are born, struck and jabed by the raisers' garrochas. They are extremely young (even for bulls) tions they are doomed to the horrible death humans inflict upon them.

12th objection: bullfighting has preserved the race of the toro de lidia.

Reply: the toro de lidia is not a species, but an ethnic group, a particular lineage. Abolition of bullfighting could be achieved without any extermination of the bulls, just by a judicious politcy of interbreeding with other subvarieties. But most of all, there is no value in keeping an artificially produced variety of animals of a certain species just in order to subject its male members to a horrifying death by torture. A prompt, mercy killing of all members of the clan would be preferable.

13th objection: bulls cannot be treated as ends; animals are only means, not ends in themselves.

Reply: that Kantuian approaches to morality may lead to such results is a good reason to keep clear of such views. I think, anyway, that such conveptions are wrong. A person may be good even if she treats other people as means for her own ends (ends such as satisfying her prigness and self-righteousness, ethically enhancing the world, being a moral reformer, pleasing God or the Gods, or what have you). On the other hand, you may be a harsh, cruel agent towards another person even if you treat her as an end in herself; you may be a Torquemada who, in order to seve her from hell, condemn her to en Earthian hell. Most of all, the relation between ends and means is much more complicated than that. What matters is not whether a being (or, let us say, his/her well-being or his/her life etc) is regarded as an end in itself. What matters is whether, for whatever reason, that being is respected and treated mercifully.

14th objection: Pain may in some cases be legitimately inflicted upon a creature: a dentist or a physician may inflict pain on a patient; unless the patient's consent is always rquired, which is doubtful, animals may be subjected to harsh treatment for a better end (such as human merriment).

Reply: the main difference is that the pain inflicted upon the patient is for her own good, which makes the act, taken as a whole, a commendable, beneficial act. Thus, a child (or a dog) constrained to endure some medical treatment in order to save her life or her health. The appalling death of the poor bull at the hands of his tormentors is a different proposition altogether.

15th (and last) objection: opposing the corridas may befit a secular, nonreligious, evolutionist mind, but runs against the Catholic Church traditional doctrine.


(1). It runs against the Spanish Catholic Church's views. It was the Church of Franco's crusade against the Spanish people, against liberty, freedom, progress, cultural enhancement.<6>Foot note 1_6 As for the official doctrine of the universal Catholic Church,<7>Foot note 1_7 the truth is different.

(2). The Bible itself details some rights of animals in general and bulls in particular: Deuteronomy 22, 10 `Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together'. Deuteronomy 25, 4 `Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out [the corn]'. Psalms 104 (verses 17, 18, 21, 25ff.) expresses a view to the effect that animals, including birds, also enjoy God's protection and concern for their well-being. Exodus 17, 28-9 regards members of the bovid species as reasonable, moral agents, subject to responsibility: `If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox [shall be] quit. But if the ox were wont to push with his horn in time past, and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death.'

(3). Outside the Catholic faith -- although in deep accordance with many of its doctrines -- Leibniz advocated the view that God's concern for humans was not absolutely paramount, and that the wellbeing of many lions can surmount in value that of one man.

(4). The official magistery of the Popes has repeatedly condemned -- in terms even harsher than those of the religiously eclectic theistic philosopher I am -- the practice of bullfighting. In 1567, upon conferring with a group of scholarly qualified Spaniards, His Holiness Pope Pious V promulgated the bull `De salute gregis dominici' forbidding bullfighting as an entertainment more proper of demons than humans; he excommunicated such emperors, kings or cardinals as would not forbid the fiesta, or clerics attending it as well as toreros, matadors etc: no Christian burial could be made available for such people, who were surely and irretrievably condemned to eternal fire. Pious V's condemnation has been reenacted a number of times: by Cardinal Gasparri (the Vatican Secretary of state) in 1920 (`the Church maintains His Holiness Pious V's condemnation of such bloody, shameful shows'), by Monsignor Mario Canciani (Advisor or the Holy Congregation for Clerics at the Holy See) in June 1989. (But the Pope's bull was not published in Spain. The absolutist monarch Philip II vetoed it. His successors up to the present day have carried on Philip's policy on that issue.)

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1. 1_1.

The bull Almendrito was subjected to 43 picas in 1876. In fact when exceptionally a bull is not half-dead after the second or the third pica, he is subjected to additional picas until he has lost almost all his vigour.Back to main body of the paper

2. 1_2.

Such was the case of the bull Jaquetón, for instance. You may find some additional information in Hemingway's book Death in the afternoon, despite the author's immoral liking for the fiesta and his shallow knowledge of such things.Back to main body of the paper

3. 1_3.

A distinguished sociologist, Prof. Amando de Miguel, has published the results of his survey in the pro-taurino monarchist newspaper ABC, on 17-03-1996: 35 percent of Spaniards never watch corridas at the TV; 33 percent dislike them altogether; 19 percent enjoy them `in a normal way' (?); 13 percent enjoy it `much'.Back to main body of the paper

4. 1_4.

The taurino industry is a powerful business, with close links with the Throne, the Bankers, members of parliament, the highest circles in the Army, the police, even the judiciary. They constitute the most influential lobby in Spain. Fascist bands are also intermingled with such a gruesome network of lucrative torture to death.Back to main body of the paper

5. 1_5.

In Portugal the bulls are no longer killed during the show, but after it is finished.Back to main body of the paper

6. 1_6.

Fortunately the overwhelming majority of Spanish Catholics nowadays -- including many priests, friars and nuns, even bishops -- are no longer like that, far from it.Back to main body of the paper

7. 1_7.

I apologize for the pleonasm.Back to main body of the paper

maintnenido por Lorenzo Peña