Alexander Skutch

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Alexander Frank Skutch (May 20, 1904 – May 12, 2004) was a naturalist and writer. He published numerous scientific papers and books about birds and several books on philosophy. He is best remembered ornithologically for his pioneering work on helpers at the nest.


  • After long pondering, I believe that I can define good and evil in terms to which even a biologist of the mechanical school can hardly take exception. At least, I fancy that I can do so for evil. The great evil of life is parasitism.
  • I have come to view vegetarianism as a standing protest against predation, which is life's greatest evil. If there were no other argument in its favor, that would be sufficient.
    • Thoughts, Vol. 5 (31 Dec. 1960)
  • [Predation is] a great evil that a wise or benevolent creator would have avoided.
  • Earth has no more distressing spectacle than that of a predator suddenly striking down some defenseless creature innocently singing or attending its young, no sight more pitifully repulsive than the hideously mangled remains of what, a few hours before, was a beautiful animal enjoying its life.
  • The evolutionary impulsion to increase fecundity, technically known as fitness, at whatever cost is responsible for most of the ugliness, strife, and suffering that afflict the living community on the fairest planet illuminated by the Sun.
  • [If evolution had been guided, the Earth would have become] the abode of a vast diversity of creatures dwelling in concord (instead of) a place of mixed character, where beauty and ugliness, peace and fear, happiness and horror, mingle together in the most perplexing contrasts.
  • That evolution has accomplished much that is splendid and admirable, it would be ungrateful to deny. That the means it has employed have often been ruthlessly harsh is a proposition to which every compassionate person will attest.

Moral Foundations: An Introduction to Ethics (2006)


Axios Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0966190892.

  • The wild life of nature, regarded simply as woodland glades, murmuring brooks, fragrant flowers and songful birds, or the tranquil emptiness of a seascape in calm weather, is restful and refreshing after the clangor and turmoil of human existence, especially in the crowded centers of population. Its myriad shapes and colors divert the fevered mind from its too-absorbing problems. But viewed with a more penetrating and philosophic eye, what spectacle could be more hideously revolting than that of countless animals, each busily stuffing itself with as many other living things as its maw can hold? Were this all that we could detect beneath the seemingly tran-quil face of nature, some who now turn to it for spiritual comfort and refreshment might shrink away in horror.
  • Sometimes, especially in inclement weather, incubating birds continue to cover their eggs while hungry, and even when they would appear to be suffering acutely from a long-continued fast. Many marine birds, especially of the penguin and petrel families, remain on their nests for days or even weeks without eating; and some Emperor Penguins, who incubate single eggs on the ice in the frigid gloom of midwinter at the edge of the Antarctic continent, pass about two months in an absolute fast. Must not birds at times experience gnawing pangs of hunger, while they slowly become emaciated from lack of nourishment?
    • p. 81
  • Animals more obviously violate the concept of goodness, for none can live without tearing and devouring other organized beings, whether vegetables or other animals, or else sapping their strength as noxious parasites. The larger ambulatory animals can hardly move without crushing the herbage and multitudes of small creeping things; and all compete with each other for space and nourishment in the same manner as plants, but often far more violently. Moreover, they struggle for mates in a fashion wholly unknown among vegetables, even the milder herbivores sometimes exhibiting in their quarrels with rivals a fury that astounds us. Thus none is wholly good; yet those which devour only vegetation seem to be endowed by nature with a capacity for goodness lacking in those which kill and tear for food creatures more akin to themselves; while the fiercest kinds, which destroy living things that they do not require to sustain their own lives, fall most conspicuously short of goodness.
    • p. 379
  • Beyond the limits of the most comprehensive actual society are living creatures whom our moral impulse bids us to include within our system of organized, reciprocal relations, although up to the present we have found this impossible to achieve. Nevertheless, we can at least reach out to help them when in distress, as by rescuing them from the pools and pits into which they sometimes fall, feeding them when hungry as far as our means allow, perhaps at times curing their wounds. Such charity is the truest sort, because we can never expect any extrinsic recompense nor even an indirect economic advantage from it. When we contemplate the vast amount of mutilation, suffering, and death which hourly occurs among the living creatures on this planet, and the complex relations among them which make it impossible for us to help one of them without perhaps indirectly injuring another, we sometimes suspect that our most devoted effort on behalf of nonhuman creatures is scarcely more than a gesture. Yet it is a gesture which symbolizes the comprehensive society that we aspire to create.
    • pp. 405–406
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