Rights for Animals?

Most people dismiss the notion that animals have moral rights as absurd. But should we be so quick to ridicule the idea?

In his influential book Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog?, Gary Francione argues convincingly that our moral intuitions about animals logically require that they should have one right: the right not to be property. As a basis for this argument, he presents the following imaginary scenario:

Walking down the street one day, you encounter a man blowtorching the leg of a stray dog. Distressed at the pain being inflicted on the dog, you ask the man why he is torturing the animal. He replies that he enjoys inflicting pain on dogs and derives great pleasure from the experience.

Francione suggests that we would all condemn the actions of the man and already reject the idea that blowtorching dogs merely for pleasure—inflicting unnecessary suffering on animals—is morally justifiable. That is, if ‘unnecessary suffering’ means anything it must mean that it is wrong to inflict harm simply for reasons of pleasure, amusement, or convenience.

However, this creates a problem. Francione argues that if we maintain that inflicting suffering on animals solely for reasons of pleasure, amusement, or convenience is morally unjustifiable then the overwhelming majority of our use of animals—for food, clothing, and entertainment—cannot be justified for any other reason other than that we gain enjoyment from these activities.

Francione suggests that the reason for this ‘moral schizophrenia’ is that animals are property. That is, animals are considered objects with only the extrinsic value that property owners choose to give them. If the interests of animals are considered against the interests of humans, the property status of animals always results in an unfair balance that allows the property owner to disregard the interests of animals when it is economically beneficial.

If we are to take the interest of animals in not suffering seriously, Francione claims that we must apply the principle of equal consideration to animals. That is, we should follow the basic rule of treating likes alike. The principle of equal consideration is central to any moral theory. We regard racism, sexism, and other forms of arbitrary discrimination as indefensible as they select morally irrelevant criteria for treating people differently. No matter the colour of someone’s skin or their sex, we maintain that similar interests necessitate similar treatment. When nonhuman animals, however, we do not treat our common interest in not suffering in a similar fashion.

We maintain that all sentient humans—irrespective of their cognitive capacity, ability to make moral decisions, or any other characteristic—have the right not to suffer at all as the result of being used exclusively as the resource of another. That is, we recognise that all humans have the right not to be property.

Francione contends that if we apply the principle of equal consideration to animals we must address the question of why we bestow on humans the right not to suffer at all as the result of being used exclusively as the resource of another and do not do so for animals. That is, is there any morally justifiable reason as to why we should deny the right not to be property to animals?

Most people present some empirical distinction between humans and animals that justifies our differential treatment. Reason, emotion, language, self-consciousness, the ability to make moral decisions or social contracts are all frequently used as reasons why animals should be denied the right not to be treated as a resource. However, there are always at least some humans—such as infants and those with severe mental disabilities—that lack whatever feature is required to morally distinguish humans from nonhumans.

Francione concludes that the principle of equal consideration requires that animals, like humans, should have the right not to be the property of others. The right not to be property does not require that we treat animals the same as humans in all cases or that we cannot give preference humans in situations of emergency, but that we are committed to abolishing, not merely regulating, the exploitation of animals. In individual and practical terms, this means adopting a vegan lifestyle.

The argument is clear: if you would object to blowtorching the dog, you cannot continue to eat, wear, or use animal products.

92 thoughts on “Rights for Animals?

  1. “The argument is clear: if you would object to blowtorching the dog, you cannot continue to eat, wear, or use animal products.”

    Seems quite leap to me. What have you got against plants? Very prejudiced people, vegans.

  2. Fleeced,

    It is not a leap, simply logic. If we would object to someone blowtorching a dog for pleasure we cannot justify inflicting pain and suffering on animals simply because we enjoy the taste of them.

    Plants are not sentient and have no interests. Animals, including humans, obviously are. If I took a knife to your cabbage and to your dog, you would not consider these equivalent moral acts.

  3. I think the moral objection people have against blow-torching dogs is that they don’t like the idea of people getting pleasure because they inflict pain.

    In contrast, when we use an animal for food, clothing and even entertainment, our pleasure comes despite the pain of the animal.

    I think this is a relevant moral distinction, and one that I personally make. I am willing to sacrifice an animal to give me happiness… but it is not the sacrifice that gives me pleasure. If somebody did take pleasure in the sacrifice, I would morally judge them as being what we officially refer to as a “bastard”.

    Though, of course, I don’t think being a bastard should be illegal. 🙂

    I agree that we generally treat animals as property. And I agree that we generally accept the idea of human self-ownership. I note that you want to ask the question “why shouldn’t animals have the same treatment as humans?” Perhaps the better starting question is “why should we respect human self-ownership?”

    The amoral answer is that we (and it seems many, if not all, species) are naturally more sympathetic to our own specie. That makes evolutionary sense, so let’s just role with our specie-ism.

    But if we want to build a philosophical distinction between humans and non-humans then we need to delve into metaphysics. Personally, I hold a deep respect for the perception of free will. I think it is what identifies me (and you) as beings worth considering. If an entity has this characteristic, then I will extend to them a respect for their own self-ownership. And I believe everybody should likewise respect other people’s self-ownership and consequently only deal with them peacefully and voluntarily.

    You make the point that some humans would fail this test. True. However we have to make generalisations in life, and the high correlation between humans and self-of-self (and sense of free will) is strong enough to justify my generalised respect for human self-ownership.

    If another animal (or alien) shows a similar perception of free will then I would extend my respect of self-ownership to them.

    (P.S. I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination — but that’s a different topic.)

  4. The argument is clear: if you would object to blowtorching the dog, you cannot continue to eat, wear, or use animal products.
    Why? Would you try a dog in front of a court for mauling a child? Would you give a sheep welfare payments? Would you arrest kangaroos for terrorism charges because they tried to get into parliament house and refused a search on their pouch with a good hard kick? The notion that we must show due recognition to animals’ right to self ownership is absurd. What is law if it isn’t a mutually agreed upon contract of security? Why would animals ‘choose’ to respect that?

  5. Steve — if an animal had legal rights they would be similar to the rights of an infant. An infant doesn’t get welfare, but somebody looks after them. An infant doesn’t vote, but you’re not allowed to eat them. An infant isn’t charged for trespass when they crawl into your house, but you’re not allowed to pull off their legs. Treating animal like children is perfectly logical.

    The underlying point that Ben is making is quite fair. People seem inconsistent in opposing animal cruelty and then supporting animal killing for a very small marginal benefit.

    I think I showed there is a moral difference based on intent. But Ben could have side-stepped that by bringing up an example where it is convenient to treat an animal cruelly even if you’re not doing with the intention of being cruel.

    In that instance, the only consistent positions are (1) stop eating animals; or (2) accept that animals will sometimes be treated cruelly. Ben is consistent in taking (1). I am consistent in taking (2).

  6. Obviously animals have rights from a human perspective – that almost everyone opposes torturing animals shows that. The question is where to draw the line and ‘equal consideration’ doesn’t seem to me an obvious implication at all.

    Where you draw the line but given that you know there is a line inflicting deliberate suffering is the wrong thing to do. Animals should live (and maybe die for human uses) without unnecessary suffering.

    I am not sure about the property rights argument. Isn’t it just that parliaments of dogs and fish don’t vote to decide what is acceptible treatment of animals. It is human beings that make such decisions. It isn’t that humans dislike other humans getting off on cruelty to animals either although yes we do dislike that. It is mainly that we make subjective judgements about animal pain and seek to avoid it.

  7. I would suggest that if you’re allowed to kill something and eat it’s flesh because you get 5c worth of enjoyment out of it… then that thing obviously isn’t getting any rights worth sneezing at.

    I would further suggest that the reason we have banned torturing is because of human disgust, not out of any serious belief that animals have rights. Humans often put in place laws to impose their preferences on others.

  8. An infant doesn’t vote, but you’re not allowed to eat them. An infant isn’t charged for trespass when they crawl into your house, but you’re not allowed to pull off their legs. Treating animal like children is perfectly logical.

    It’s not logical at all. An infant will eventually grow into a productive adult. A dog will not.

    We afford infants these rights because of their future potential. If a baby remained a baby forever and never grew into an adult human they would be classified as vermin. All they do is eat and shit, like a tubby pink rat.

  9. Yobbo — you miss the point. Steve was mocking the idea because a dog can’t be responsible. I was pointing out that there is a category of “has rights but is not responsible” already and so Steve’s objection is not relevant.

    I’m not saying that the dog should have the same rights as an infant. I’m just pointing out that Steve’s objection has no merit.

    Clearly (from my above comment) I don’t think a dog should have the same rights as an infant.

    The important point about an infant in my opinion is not that it will become an adult… but that it is difficult to determine when & whether it has a perception of self and so it is most pragmatic to make a general rule of accepting it’s self-ownership from the point of life starting. Though this has little effect in reality anyway because the vast majority of people don’t want to randomly kill and eat babies. Not even us neo-liberals! 🙂

  10. “You make the point that some humans would fail this test. True. However we have to make generalisations in life, and the high correlation between humans and self-of-self (and sense of free will) is strong enough to justify my generalised respect for human self-ownership.”

    This is where your logic seems to fail John. You cannot make a distinction between humans and non-humans and then state that your arguement requires generalisations to work. For a theory of rights to work shouldn’t it be by its very nature universal?

    I’m a firm believer in extending greater rights to animals, if we are to speak of rights in any meaningful way we can’t simply keep them “human-centric”. The qualities in humanity that we see as deserving of rights status such as agency, sensation of pain and certain cognitive are certainly present in some animal species.

    Its a radical notion given that our current meat industry functions on such rights abuses. However I don’t think anyone (especially not Libertarians) could deny the logic behind the animal rights “movement”. Especially considering many of us argue that humans (as rights holders) can not be used simply as means to a (possibly far more convenient) end.

  11. If animals had ‘rights’ you would know about it. When a fellow human is killed by a dangerous animal the concept of rights is inapplicable by the very nature of reality and the natural order.
    Primative cultures did engage in formal legal proceedings in relation to animals and inanimate objects but we have since learned this not be rational behavior.
    Rights are a necessity in inter human relations in order to deal with scarcity and conflict avoidance. You can attempt to peacefully persuade fellow humans as to what is correct mental and physical human behavior but that needn’t necessarily have relevance to the political concept of rights and certainly is no moral license to any violent intervention buy any 3rd party.

  12. “However I don’t think anyone (especially not Libertarians) could deny the logic behind the animal rights “movement”.”

    Not all libertarians are rights-obsessed from a natural law point of view. The reason most people don’t bother going to the trouble of thinking about the “logic” of animal rights is that we need them to survive.

    Sure its possible to live as a vegan with access to modern machinery, medicine and vitamin supplements, but take away the ability of a 3rd world farmer to use beasts of burden or to eat animals and you condemn people to starvation.

  13. Lengthy discussion over the past few days about this in the Mises forum; Animal Rights vs Property Rights.
    http://mises.org/Community/forums/t/2334.aspx

    Not going to go back into this in depth… but I’ll paste my first post from there.

    “Essentially, the situation I see potentially evolving in a Libertarian Society…

    I believe there would be “pro animal” groups if you want to call them. Organizations like the R.S.P.C.A etc that monitor and get calls about the misuse and treatment of animals.

    If people believe there is abuse occurring they could contact the Animal Protection Organization, who then contacts the owners and request an inspection. If refused they could then put a notice out on the person, add them to a online animal abuse suspect list, and keep a database on all others who are known to be abusive. If the owner wishes to remove themselves from the list, they could attempt to prove they are not abusing their animals.

    Animal breeders and sellers can check in with this organization before selling to a prospected buyer to make sure the animal won’t be abused.

    In the written contract for sale, they could also stipulate they will be allowed access in 6 months time to check on the health of the animal.

    In terms of the argument put forward, “what would you do” – if I was present I would try negotiate and buy the dog from the owner who is about to harm it. Bribes would also suffice. Alternatively, if that does not work and he refuses and attempts to harm it.. (burn it to death) I’d use force, steal the dog and accept the consequences. (Punishment) for violating the NAP.

    The consequences being compensation for his property that was stolen. i.e the Dog. This would only happen if the dog owner wants to take you to court. In all likelyhood the organizations / agencies would have clauses / contracts with the individual against animal abuse.

    Charities could exist that go around rescuing and buying animals from their owners, putting them into good and better homes. As well as providing the market with easy sources to make sure the abusive owner is never sold another animal again.

    I think, kind of outlays like this are much better than the “vulgur libertarianism” of straight up. eg. “Yeah, the animal is his property. He can burn it if he wants.” – It really isn’t the answer anyone wants to hear. And whilst being ‘tough’, I really don’t think that anyone here could stand by and literally not say anything in such a situation…

    But really why is there even a situation like this? The State is the main culprit. Welfarism no doubt plays it’s role and warfarism too. (See: US solider throwing a puppy off a cliff) A lot of problems stem from broken homes, problems in the family. Marriage breakups, stress from taxation, divorce courts, easy money, easy morals, public education… yada yada. So in a Libertarian society, long term – this really wouldn’t be a problem, except very marginally.”

  14. I don’t buy the argument that animals=property means cruelty must be tolerated. The idea that property is absolutely inviolate is an unnecessary extension of the rejection of eminent domain.

    In reality libertarians have always tolerated certain encroachments on property, including taxes and torts. I think it’s fine to regard animals as property whilst also making cruelty illegal. Some laws will always be values-based.

    The vegan argument is much more contradictory than it has been presented. As Yobbo points out, veganism is not an option for poor and poorly informed people. It also does not address the fact that some animals are obligatory carnivores – are we to impose our moral values on them as well? Some of them certainly won’t respect our veganism and decline to eat us if they have the opportunity.

  15. The author does have a point on strictly logical grounds.
    However not everything we do as human beings has to be strictly on cascading logical terms.

    He does make an iron clad point though.

  16. Yes, however he’s putting animals on an equivalent footing in terms of life etc as humans. If you except that you should logically except that animals shouldn’t be killed.

    David, to some extent kids (babies) are kinda like our property, however we wouldn’t kill them and neither can you simply desert them until a certain age or you find suitable accommodation for them.

  17. Nature is a cold-hearted bitch, and trying to sort out “rights” in the face of it can be a bit messy. Is it fair that a woman suffers the pain of child-birth? No, but that’s how it works (Incidentally, some have mentioned this as a case for supporting abortions – ie, that even if you concede the unborn child is alive, that you can’t ethically force the mother to go full term… not sure I like that line of reasoning)

    In the case of animals, it is the natural order of things – and though we (in rich countries, at least) can survive as vegans, it still isn’t desirable. If animals have rights of self-ownership, do we stop them from killing each other?

    Dogs and humans have evolved together with an almost symbiotic relationship – to our mutual advantage. Cows as they exist today have undergone a process of artificial selection to provide milk and meat. In that respect, the fact that they are so tasty is actually an evolutionary advantage (ie, there wouldn’t be nearly as many of them otherwise).

    Of course, animals have some rights now – in respect of not being treated cruelly, etc… I think that’s a fair balance – I certainly wouldn’t support the “right” of people to blowtorch a dog because they own it.

    The “principle of equal consideration” might apply if they achieve the status of full personhood. I realise that the status of some humans is questionable in that regard – but believe such generalisations are necessary… or else you end up with Peter Singer’s absurd contradictions where monkeys have rights, but parents can terminate the life of an infant.

    In the latter regard, I’d also note Sam’s point about “potential”. In the case of infants, that potential is clear-cut – in the case of severely mentally retarded, less so – but some would say we have an obligation to see that potential maximised.

    After reading David Brin (sci-fi junkie that I am), it occurs to me that some animals may too have this potential if we genetically “uplift” them… perhaps, like Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, we could then engineer a cow that wants to be eaten 🙂

  18. perhaps, like Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, we could then engineer a cow that wants to be eaten

    Sounds a litle masochistic to me, fleeced.

  19. Well, another alternative is to genetically engineer cows and chickens without brains 🙂

  20. Before defining your philosophy on Animals (or anything for that matter) you require the facts be stated.

    Animals have a common ancestor and hence differences between them cannot be assumed, in fact you must assume similarities and then objectively prove the differences.

    The idea that animals have no rights is invalid if you are looking at objective reality rather than working from arbitrary and indeed disproven axioms.

    Libertarianism and animal rights are completely consistent but that doesn’t mean animals have the same rights as humans. Animals clearly have rights as per their objectively defined differences with humans. So they might have less rights but they cannot have no rights. Any philosophy stated in a universe of which we have imperfect knowledge must take grey areas into account and use common sense in these situations. Clearly you don’t have the right to pour gasoline on a dog and set it alight. But perhaps you do have the right to kill a cow humanely using a captive bolt pistol and use it for food and other products. These things should be looked at pragmatically due to the imperfect knowledge of the universe we have.

    Don’t think that applying rights to an animal means you have to apply the same ones as humans. You don’t.

    I myself am a vegan, just because of my pragmatic concerns of the slaughter process and some things that go on at certain abbatoirs that I am aware of as a veterinary student. I’m not a funamentalist, for example, I go to a gym with leather seats on the machines. I look at these things in a pragmatic way with the knowledge that we have imperfect knowledge of the universe but we DO have a responsibility to find out more about the universe I think because more knowledge means a greater sense of morality. This means technological advancement and a rejection of primativeness (i.e. environmentalism etc).

  21. Steve@4 said “Why? Would you try a dog in front of a court for mauling a child? Would you give a sheep welfare payments?”

    This is something that LegalEagle at skepticlawyer.com.au is VERY interested in, and has written many posts about – including monkeys sentenced to death (not centuries ago, merely a year or two).

  22. I was a vegetarian for six years. Partly it was a fashion statement, partly out of some naive health concepts, partly environmental and partly it was out of ethical concerns for animals. I don’t know the answer all the questions raised in this discussion but I do think they are pretty fascinating questions.

    Several people have stated that they object to people burning dogs for fun. Fair enough. Do you also object to people hunting foxes for fun? Or shooting ducks principly for fun? How about dog fighting or cock fighting or bull fighting?

    These days I eat meat, however I still buy free range eggs.

  23. John,

    You stated that ‘I think the moral objection people have against blow-torching dogs is that they don’t like the idea of people getting pleasure because they inflict pain.’

    While I think most people would agree that it is worse if someone gains pleasure specifically from the act of inflicting pain, I do not think that is our fundamental moral objection to blowtorching dogs. We oppose blowtorching dogs because of the harm it will cause to the dog herself.

    You then argue that ‘in contrast, when we use an animal for food, clothing and even entertainment, our pleasure comes despite the pain of the animal.’

    This is a poor justification. You could use the same argument to defend the use of infants for food, clothing, or entertainment. Our pleasure in eating babies would presumably stem from the taste of their flesh, not the actual suffering and death that results from treating them as resources. If we did not eat animal products, the suffering and death of over 53 billion animals each year would not occur.

    Your main argument is the argument from species normality. That is, ‘we have to make generalisations in life, and the high correlation between humans and self-of-self (and sense of free will) is strong enough to justify my generalised respect for human self-ownership.’

    Making moral generalisations on the basis of ‘normal’ characteristics of a particular group is both inconsistent and decidedly unlibertarian.

    If we are to grant the basic right not to be treated as a resource to marginal humans on the basis of what is ‘normal’, it seems strange to not also impose moral duties on marginal humans. Marginal humans lack moral agency, but ‘normal’ humans do not. Therefore we should make a generalisation and punish marginal humans in the same way as we do ‘normal’ humans. We clearly would not find this acceptable.

    Additionally, if someone tortures a baby we do not object to that act because she ‘has the potential to be a moral agent’ or because ‘normal members of her species are moral agents’, but because inflicting pain on infants causes suffering to the infant and ignores her interest in not suffering. Moral generalisations based on species amount to nothing more than speciesism.

    Moreover, the notion that moral generalisations based on group characteristics is hardly libertarian. Libertarians accept that the basic unit of morality is the individual and that moral decisions should be based on the interests of individuals. Like humans, nonhuman animals are individuals with interests.

    Yobbo,

    You claim that ‘the reason most people don’t bother going to the trouble of thinking about the “logic” of animal rights is that we need them to survive…its possible to live as a vegan with access to modern machinery, medicine and vitamin supplements, but take away the ability of a 3rd world farmer to use beasts of burden or to eat animals and you condemn people to starvation.’

    We do not need animal products to survive. Our only justification for our consumption of them is that they taste good. Furthermore, most of those living in poverty do not consume large quantities of animal products, mainly due to the fact that their production is highly inefficient. While it is true that it is certainly easier to be a vegan in an industrialised country, simply because some people currently rely on the use of animals does not make their use morally justifiable. Similarly, many cultures currently rely on violations of human rights. This does not, however, mean that human rights are not coherent or universal.

    Fleeced,

    You state that ‘in the case of animals, it is the natural order of things…If animals have rights of self-ownership, do we stop them from killing each other?

    Simply because something is natural does not mean that it is morally defensible. Animals are not moral agents, only moral patients, and therefore cannot make moral decisions about their actions. We can, however, and we should do so with regard to nonhuman animals. We have no obligation to stop animals suffering at all, just as we have no obligation to stop humans suffering at all, only the obligation to not cause them suffering at all by treating them as resources.

    You also claim that ‘the “principle of equal consideration” might apply if they achieve the status of full personhood.’

    The principle of equal consideration is what is used to ensure equality on the basis of interests. It does not require full personhood, only morally relevant interests.

    Terje,

    You made the excellent point that ‘several people have stated that they object to people burning dogs for fun. Fair enough. Do you also object to people hunting foxes for fun? Or shooting ducks principly for fun? How about dog fighting or cock fighting or bull fighting?’

    If we apply this logically, then the only justification we have for not only using animals in entertainment but also for food and clothing is that these activities are ‘fun’. That is, they bring us pleasure.

    ‘These days I eat meat, however I still buy free range eggs.’

    The idea that so-called ‘free-range’ or ‘humane’ animal products are morally acceptable is a myth. These forms of animal use still cause large amounts of suffering to the animals involved and are still based on the notion that it is morally justifiable to treat animals as property in the first place.

  24. PETA tries to make similar arguments. However, they object to farming as unnatural, but ignore the reality that ants (part of nature) farm aphids. Other species exploit other species all the time! Can Coocoos be retrained to not leave their eggs in other birds’ nests?
    Exploiting other animals is what nature is all about!
    As for humans who enjoy inflicting pain on animals, how could they object if I liked inflicting pain on sadists? (I’ve changed my middle name from David to Dexter)

  25. Animals operate primarily through physical initiation of force means. This is the world of animals, it’s perfectly natural and we shouldn’t impose our conciousness on them.

    For humans, the way we operate and survive is through the use of our mind. Via abstraction, conceptualization. We also obviously have the ability of volition.
    That’s why we require legal protections because our thoughts imply action. Animals obviously aren’t going to understand legal protection.

    Perhaps animals do have some abstraction powers (I’m not really sure) but this doesn’t change the fact that this is not how they live their day to day lives. Humans on the other hand are entirely dependent on their powers of thought and wouldn’t survive two days in the jungle if we were to operate on the level of animals.

    Animal brains have instinctive functions that humans have lost. eg/ An elephant knows exactly which trees to eat when it has nutrient malnourishment. A human has to discover the science of nutrition.

    I have always had pets and always loved animals. I recognise many similarities between them and humans, their emotions, their perceptions, their personality, however I still maintain it would be ridiculous to assign them rights. I would never keep a human locked up in my backyard, that would violate his right to his life. But I sure as hell would keep my dogs locked up because I know they would eventually die otherwise.

    Also it should be made clear that protection from pain or suffering per se is not a right, not to humans or anything. Just like you cannot have a right to a material thing, you do not have the right to be free from suffering.

  26. Nicholas,

    You state that ‘PETA tries to make similar arguments. However, they object to farming as unnatural, but ignore the reality that ants (part of nature) farm aphids. Other species exploit other species all the time! Can Coocoos be retrained to not leave their eggs in other birds’ nests?…Exploiting other animals is what nature is all about!’

    This is not a valid objection. As I have already made clear, animals cannot think or act morally. Simply because something may be natural is no justification for it being morally right.

    It is worth noting that I do not regard PETA as an animal rights organisation. They are not consistent or coherent in their moral position and have trivialised the issue of animal rights.

    Tim,

    You state that ‘I have always had pets and always loved animals. I recognise many similarities between them and humans, their emotions, their perceptions, their personality, however I still maintain it would be ridiculous to assign them rights.’

    Why would it be ridiculous? You have not justified your position.

    ‘But I sure as hell would keep my dogs locked up because I know they would eventually die otherwise.’

    This begs the question of whether it is morally acceptable to have the dog in the first place.

    ‘…it should be made clear that protection from pain or suffering per se is not a right, not to humans or anything. Just like you cannot have a right to a material thing, you do not have the right to be free from suffering.’

    You are confusing positive and negative rights. I am not maintaining that animals (human or nonhuman) have the right to be free from all suffering, but that they have the (negative) right not to suffer at all as the result of being the property of others.

  27. Simply because something may be natural is no justification for it being morally right.

    Right, wrong, moral, immoral… Nature is none of these things. I always say nature is nonmoral (I don’t say amoral, since to me this implies a sense of choice to disregard morality). So, if eating meat is natural, that doesn’t make it moral, but neither can it be immoral.

    ‘But I sure as hell would keep my dogs locked up because I know they would eventually die otherwise.’

    This begs the question of whether it is morally acceptable to have the dog in the first place.

    How could it not be in this case, since both parties (the pet and its owner) are better off? That’s not the case with every pet and every owner of course – and so anti-cruelty laws are (IMO) appropriate.

  28. Fleeced,

    ‘Right, wrong, moral, immoral… Nature is none of these things. I always say nature is nonmoral (I don’t say amoral, since to me this implies a sense of choice to disregard morality). So, if eating meat is natural, that doesn’t make it moral, but neither can it be immoral.’

    Things or beings without moral agency cannot be evaluated in moral terms, correct. That does not however mean that persons with moral agency (namely, us) need not make moral decisions in regard to our interactions with those without. Anybody that is sentient has morally significant interests. If we accept your position that anything that is natural is nonmoral, then one could (and some have tried to) argue that practices such as rape, slavery, and other morally unacceptable institutions cannot be considered immoral.

    ‘How could it not be in this case, since both parties (the pet and its owner) are better off? That’s not the case with every pet and every owner of course – and so anti-cruelty laws are (IMO) appropriate.’

    Simply because the dominated party is better off does not mean that treating them as property can be morally justified. Human slavery in the United States was also justified on the basis that slaves were better off under slavery than otherwise. The majority of animals bred as pets are not better off, however, and even if they sometimes are treated well the rights of the property owner can override most of their interests provided it facilitates their use somehow. For example, you can cause suffering to your pet if you are doing so to discipline her, use her as a working animal, or kill her if you simply no longer want her.

  29. Benjamin,
    Why is it morally wrong to keep pets?
    Domesticated pets can expect longer lives than in the wild, and a better environment. Life and comfort are the goals of most creatures. It could be construed as immoral to NOT have pets!
    We get surrogate humans to interact with, and they get personal assistants. Cats don’t have owners, they have staff.
    As for eating meat, our meat sources would be prey for other animals in the wild state, so they have not changed their condition, but we usually kill them ‘humanely’, not ripping them open and letting them die, as lions do.
    And Australia has a lizard which has a trick of having a disposable tail! It takes a while to grow a new one, but selective breeding might give us a morally-neutral food source! Lizard-tails, anyone?

  30. If nandethals were not extinct would we grant them rights? What about those hobit people that lived in Indonesia 10000 years ago? It seems to me that reality was sent to challenge our neat conceptualisations.

  31. Fleeced, I think morality only applies to agents with free will. And that’s why we can consider the idea of rights in the first place.
    I am saying that morality is simply a set of principles to guide those (humans) with the ability of choice.

    So when you say nature is nonmoral, I agree with you to 99.99% of cases (except for humans and possibly aliens) – that the large majority of the physical and animal world is nonmoral and that’s exactly why I cannot see the justification of assigning rights to animals. I don’t see why we should treat them as humans when they’re obviously not humans.
    A rock, plant and most animals are not capable the processes of volition and mental abstraction (a requirement for volition) and even if they are capable of some low level choice making, this is not how these entities primarily and necessarily operate.

    This position, (yes objectivism) is attempting to copy the scientific method of knowledge, namely observing the empirical facts of reality and attempting to formulate a non-contradictory theory based on these observations.

    Ben I did justify my position. But for further development, I was imagining if dogs were assigned human rights to freedom, what would happen. Answer = massive amounts of dog death. This is a big warning sign to suggest that the animals rights theory is lacking.

    I’m not actually sure of your position Ben.
    Are you actually suggesting that one should properly be a vegan, not have pets, not use animal labour, not have zoos, not have circuses, not have animal testing for pharmaceuticals, not own property that has organisims living there first, not step on a spider etc?
    Because the way I read your post, I thought you were simply pointing out the logical conclusion of Francione’s argument. (A position that assumes morality is intuitive and as a minor note, I think he’s confused about property rights)
    I didn’t think you were necessarily advocating Francione’s position.

    My comment on Francione would be that I need to know how Francione defines intuition. Because we all have automatic emotional and subconsious responses, but this phenomena is quite different from the idea of in-born morality and also relativistic morality (created by society at an early age but not referential to empirical observation – ie: subjectivist).

    Personally I think Francione’s conclusion is ridiculously impractical and while this isn’t itself a falsification of his argument, it’s a big warning sign to show he’s probably made a false assumption along the way.

  32. I also think that a right is a binary situation, on or off, black or white.

    If you attempt to ascribe partial rights to humans, then this would contradict my definition of a right. What you really have is legal permissions granted by an authority.

    I actually think that to grant animals protection from their owners actions, actually violates the human right to life/property/happiness.

  33. I think Francione’s conclusion is ridiculously impractical and while this isn’t itself a falsification of his argument, it’s a big warning sign to show he’s probably made a false assumption along the way.

    Indeed… and these debates always end up in obscure philosophical discussions rather than anything practical.

    So nobody took up the HHGTTG suggestion of eating meat that wants to be eaten? I know it was a joke, but it’s actually an interesting thought experiment (FWIW, I would be morally opposed to eating it)

  34. Fleeced, that’s not a thought experiment, it happened in Germany! A guy advertised on the internet for someone to eat. A particularly gruesome incident.

  35. TimR — getting rid of slavery, treating gay people equally, allowing women to work and many other good reforms seemed, at one stage, to be “ridiculously impractical”.

    As are many of the reforms talked about here.

    Surely we should follow where the logic leads us. I think Ben is wrong, but some of the arguments used against him are poor. People should either (1) do better; (2) accept his argument; or (3) admit they don’t care much about rational thought regarding this issue.

  36. Ben I really liked your response to Fleeced highlighting the complications with utilitarian justifications – using the slavery example.
    I’m sure there probably were slaves that were by some indicators (health, security, possibly happiness) better off as slaves.

  37. Ben — I’ve responded to your infant point quite clearly, and several times. Every time you want to bring it up again, just go and re-read what I’ve already explained. Repeating already rejected arguments doesn’t make them better.

    Your argument that all humans must be treated the same is wrong (“same duties”). I treat different people differently all the time. So do you.

    Making generalisations is perfectly appropriate, and indeed it’s impossible not to do so in life.

    And as we’re talking about morals here (not politics) neither of our positions is “libertarian” or “anti-libertarian”.

  38. John, I have justified my argument several times in my comments. Again, my argument is based on empirical observation of an organism’s capabilities and modes of survival.

    I think you have read comment #27 without the context of my full comments.

    I deny all 3 of your allegations and note you are haven’t offered an argument against my premises.

  39. TimR,

    Yeah – I thought of that after posting… pretty gruesome.

    Breeding brainless chickens has a huge yuck factor as well, but ethically, I’d have little problem with it… it’s little different from growing meat-like substance in vats.

  40. Fleeced — by saying that pets need to be better off from the arrangement you are saying that the “owner” doesn’t own them. Why do you not believe in private property rights?

    Unless you’re saying that the animals have self-ownership.

    In which case, you can’t very well believe in eating them.

    Ben is right to point out the sharp choice. Either animals are property and can be eaten and used as you see fit (my preference) or animals cannot be property because they have their own self-ownership and associated rights, meaning you can’t eat them and use them as you see fit (Ben’s position).

    Ben and I are both consistent. It is inconsistent to say that an animal has a “right to not be hurt” but you can kill it and eat its flesh if that gives you 5c worth of pleasure. Pretending that rights are ordered that way is backward reasoning in the extreme to justify personal preferences.

  41. John, I accept that I haven’t really been taking this argument seriously – hence my silly comments on vegetable feelings and cows that want to be eaten. The comments were made tongue-in-cheek.

    But I don’t accept the false dichotomy that

    “Either animals are property and can be eaten and used as you see fit (my preference) or animals cannot be property because they have their own self-ownership and associated rights”

    Why on earth would you insist it must be one or the other?

  42. TimR — you used the “impractical argument” in comment 32. That has nothing to do with truth.

    While I agree with the points you made, I’m not sure that your full argument actually does morally justify ownership of animals… but that wasn’t what I was responding to anyway.

  43. Fleeced, everything* must be owned. That’s the horrible little secret that socialists don’t want you to know.

    So either animals can have self-ownership, or they will be owned by somebody else. One option (which exists in Australia and other places) is that the government owns many animals. Or people can own them. Or businesses could own them. But in all of these the animal is still owned.

    The fundamental starting point for libertarian moral philosophy (if you think it matters, and some people don’t) is that humans should have self-ownership. That means other people don’t own us and can’t tell us what to do**.

    * This isn’t quite true, but is close enough. In reality, anything that is scarce and has competing possible uses must be owned.

    ** Again, not always strictly true. You can accept self-ownership and then still believe that violence/coercion is sometimes justifiable. But that’s a distraction from the current debate.

  44. If you were being consistent about not hurting or killing things, then you would also be opposed to abortions. As mentioned in a book called Jurismania, in California, women are told all the time about how they can’t do this or that if it could harm their unborn infant, though they can kill it if they’re being inconvenienced. What does Ben think of abortion?

  45. Perhaps think of it this way John, (I’ve tried to briefly justify these premises earlier)
    1) Humans have the right to their life.
    2) Humans must deal with animals through force.
    ie: I must kill bacteria with antibiotics, I must keep pests out of my property in case I later get sick, I must shoot a hippo that’s about to eat me, humans have evolved to benefit from eating meat and this requires killing etc etc.

    To protect animals from force is to violate the human right to life and to therefore admit that a right doesn’t exist. Logically rights either do not exist (and we are left with permissions granted by authorities), or are contradictory. And contradictions are not possible metaphysically and indicate a false theory.

  46. There seems to be a lot of discussion about rights but very little mention of the responsibilties side of the equation. To have a right to life you must have an equal responsibility not to kill. A right to freedom demands a responsibility not to force your will on others. To be entitled to a right you must have the ability to supply the associated responsibilty. Ever seen a hungry fox not take a lamb?

  47. So either animals can have self-ownership, or they will be owned by somebody else.

    Or, people can own them – just not as completely as they own other property. I really don’t understand this “they must be owned completely or not at all” premise of yours.

  48. Nicholas, are you referring to the lizard tails?

    Supporters of “animal rights” preger veganism… If they don’t consider it ethical to eat unfertilised eggs of chickens (a chicken’s period?) then I don’t see them going for farming of lizards to eat their tails.

  49. Okay you can own your dog. However if you burn it’s leg with a flame just for your own sick pleasure then I’m going to ask you to stop, and if you don’t I’ll use coersion and threaten to kick you in the nuts. If that doesn’t work then I’ll actually kick you in the nuts and take the dog off you and make it my dog.

    Does that work philosophically?

  50. It’s really not that hard. We have rights because we afford them to each other as rational beings in order to protect our own interests. In doing this we are living according to a moral code that increases our own utility as civilised people. In a civilised society we uphold these values, because we all benefit from them, because living according to rational productive morals allows the potential of each individual to be best utilised. Someone who tortures an animal could be considered to be violating these values, and is pretty much universally considered this way, which is why most (maybe all) civilised people experience a negative emotional reaction to animal cruelty. In other words, someone who tortures for fun most likely doesn’t want to live according to productive, rational values and is therefore likely to end up being destructive to society. Therefore, we ban the extremes of this behaviour, as encouraging it or even letting it run could well end up destructive to ourselves, as the torturer seeks to live more and more by his destructive uncivilised moral code.

    (There are apparently studies that show this – just ask any animal libber. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some correlation of statistical data linking animal torturers as serial killers or rapists etc).

    This also ties into John Humphrey’s litmus test that putting an animal into pain for fun is different from enjoying animal products despite their pain. If you can rationally justify that the animal is being used for a productive purpose (and maybe doing other things like minimise it’s suffering) then this is rational, productive, civilised behaviour. If you can’t do this then your behaviour isn’t really consummate with how a rational, productive, civilised person should live.

    (Of course, an animal can not have rights in the way human beings have rights – as a recognition of a mutual obligation based in the objective reality of the human condition. The only rights they have are what humans afford them for human benefit, and in this sense they should be viewed as property).

  51. “and threaten to kick you in the nuts. If that doesn’t work then I’ll actually kick you in the nuts”

    You always had a way with words.

  52. To further Michael’s point I think a quote on your own facebook explains the nature of things (although it may not justify anything).

    ‘Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.’
    Animals don’t fight for their right to be free from suffering. Or at least when they do fight they are very bad at it. Political rights are won through blood, sweat and tears. Moral rights, well I agree with you from a moral point of view. However, in my opinion, self-interest usually takes precedence of morality. Sacrifices made for morality’s sake are usually only small for most of us. And morality doesn’t necessarily lead to “the good life” anyway.

    From a hedonist utilitarian point of view can we really even say the amount of suffering inflicted on animals outweighs the pleasure we gain from eating meat? Perhaps the utilitarian and moral thing to do is to maximise our pleasure while eating meat instead of feeling bad about it. Animal suffering is far harder to measure than human pleasure. I’m not really sure where the balance should be struck. Though I do think that morally we should be obliged to choose free range produce where there is no significant difference in price.

  53. At #53.
    Terje, I think that is a very rare case.
    However, in this instance you could adopt the dog or offer to take it to the animal welfare league/RSPCA (the owner may not want the dog).
    And along Michael’s lines, I think this behaviour would indicate a possibly psychotic person that should probably be forced to have a psychiatric evaluation by the state.

    The most difficult borderline case IMO is actually when people bet on animal fighting. I think that’s disgusting but it does occur in rare cases. eg/ http://edition.cnn.com/2007/US/law/07/17/vick/index.html
    Putting aside the legal charges this guy received, he was already punished severely by losing his NFL career and million dollar contract, and was publically shamed.
    Many people think horse racing is cruel.

  54. Fleeced, these lizards naturally lose their tails! By breeding these lizards, we can increase their numbers, and stop eating other animals who can only give us their meat by dying for us! (See the moral arguments you can make?) I think that it could be promoted as ethical meat! I don’t know what these lizards live on, but I think they’re vegetarians, so it’s win all the way!

  55. Yes nicholas, I’m with you… but chickens naturally lay unfertilised eggs too (almost one a day in their prime), but people still object to using them, even if they’re free-range (vegans don’t just avoid meat – they avoid all animal product – eggs, cheese, milk, etc). Frankly, veganism (as opposed to vegatarianism) is just unrealistic – these people are fruit-loops.

    BTW, do these lizards only lose tails as defense mechanism? So we have to keep scaring them into giving us meat?

  56. That’s true, at first, but we could soon breed them, in safe captivity, to regularly replace their tails. Sheep weren’t as woolly as now when we first harvested them, nor were apples as big as now- wild apples look unnaturally small to me, but it’s because we’ve selected for size and taste.

  57. Fleeced — you’re going to have to explain this concept of “partial ownership” to me.

    The “owner” is the person who decides how something is used if/when there are competing options for the use of a resource. If there is one hat and two people want to wear it, the decision is made by the owner of the hat. Every scarce resource has an owner.

    You can have various forms of joint ownership (such as partnerships & companies & clubs) or you can have individual ownership or you can have government ownership. But you can’t have non-ownership. Ultimately, somebody (or group of people) has to make a decision about how something is used. That decision-maker is the “owner”.

    For humans, I believe in self-ownership. I don’t accept an animals right to self-ownership, therefore in any case where they are scarce, they must be owned. I can’t see any escape from this, short of the communist fallacy of non-scarcity or identical human preferences.

  58. I make decisions for my kids, so does that make them property? And whilst I’m free to make decisions for my kids the government will over rule my decisions in certain instances (eg if I send them out to earn a wage). So does the government own my kids? And of course I let my kids make their own decisions a lot of the time. So do my kids own themselves?

    Another example might be a friend in a comma. I’ll decide things for them. Does that make them property? If my wife is asleep in the car I’ll decide which road she travels. When I’m under the surgeons knife he will decide many things on my behalf.

    Personally I don’t have too much problem with the notion of partial ownership if it is simply about who makes decisions. It is pretty much how reality is even if often it ought to be different.

    The parrots decide they own my garden on a regular basis. 😉

    In institutional terms notions of property make sense because they align incentives, avoid disputes and clarify decision making. However I’m not sure the concept has metaphysical significance. And in a civil society I think there must be some notion such as a duty of care. Even if we shouldn’t over play the concept.

  59. You’re just not getting the hang of this libertarian thing, are you?

    I’m happy to force my morals on others through non-violence, non-coercive, non-government means. I’ll guilt trip friends, argue loudly, emotionally and intellectual force people to take my moral point of view. That’s fully consistent with libertarianism XD

  60. Well said, Terje…

    Though in some cases (eg, the sleeping wife, the willing patient, etc), the dependence insn’t quite the same as owning a pet (ie, it’s either an explicit or impicit contract)…

    But then, pets are different… they can never agree to your treatment of them (neithe explicitly not implicitly), but that doesn’t mean they are equivelent of an inanimate object (eg, a cap).

    Frankly John, that cap analogy was just bizarre. Your ideological absolutism is simply irrational.

  61. Ideological absolutism can be useful in a debate for clarifying thought processes. That does not mean that the best policy in life is one of ideological absolutism. Of course that’s open to debate. 😉

  62. Fleeced, re- ownership.
    Would you agree that all land is owned by someone, or something? Either people or governments acting on behalf of their people? Then it follows that all things on that land are owned, as well, or at least subject to the owners’ laws whilst on that land. So John Humphreys is probably right when he says that things animals are owned.

  63. Terje — there is an implicit contract between you and your kids. You also contracted with your wife and surgeon. If you try to kill your friend on a life machine without an acceptance of a pre-existing contract, then you’ll be a murderer. If there is a contract, then there is a contract!

    Free people are allowed to enter into contracts. But that has nothing to do with the concept of “partial ownership”, which remains unexplained… and I suggest unexplainable.

    Ultimately, somebody has authority to make a decision. Consider… if your friend in a coma explicitly said you couldn’t make the decision, but I could. Consider… if your wife explicitly said that she would only enter the car if you promised to drive to Canberra (and you agreed). Consider… if you went into surgery with an explicit contract that you would have heart surgery (and the surgeon agreed). In these instances, if you killed your friend, drove to Darwin or got a frontal lobotomy then there would have been a breach of self-ownership.

    Of course, just because there is ownership doesn’t mean that ownership never changes hands. I can buy an ice-cream.

    And further, ownership can change hands through non-voluntary means. You could get robbed. You could pay taxes.

    The government is a special case, because their involuntary action is seen as “legitimate” in some way. The morality of government is a discussion for a different day… but what they are doing is changing ownership.

    The point is… just because some people use violence/coercion to change ownership, that doesn’t invalidate the meaning of ownership.

    Whereas, in contrast, the concept of “partial ownership” has no meaning. It’s a “vibe”. If you and I have “partial ownership” of the “right to decide whether you have heart surgery or a frontal lobotomy”, then what happens? Do we flip a coin? Does Allah decide?

    Fleeced — saying the word “bizarre” is not an argument. And calling me irrational is also not an argument. If you only have insults and no rational argument, then admit that and I’ll know not to bother.

    The point about the cap was (obviously) not to say that an animal is a cap. No two things are the same, and that’s absolutely irrelevant. I was making a point about how ownership worked. I gave an example because if we have a discussion entirely in the abstract it can be hard to follow.

    I’ll use an animal as an example, and hopefully that will be less confusing. If there is a dog, and I want to walk him to the park and you want to walk him on the beach… then what happens? Answer: the owner decides.

    As I explained (several times) whenever there is a scarce resource with competing uses, then there must be a decision maker. That must be one clearly defined entity. Sure… ownership sometimes changes. Sure… there are contracts. But when a decision is made, it must be made by somebody. The ultimate decision maker is the “owner”.

    I’m sick of the “absolutism” line. It is cheap populism. Do you complain that 2+2=4 is absolutism? Should we be a bit more relativist about the virtues of genital mutilation? When a fact exists, it exists. A is A. Being relative about absolute facts doesn’t make you cool or pragmatic or reasonable or centrist or smart. It just makes you wrong.

    If you have a coherent definition of “partial ownership” then present it… and please skip the cheap shots.

  64. I’ve previously heard the argument that children should be considered property of their parents. I think it makes more sense to consider children to be party to an implicit contract that says “I’ll obey parents, they’ll bring me up properly”.

    When I’m in somebody else’s home, I obey their rules. That applies with my parents too.

  65. I never signed a contract with my kids so if one exists it must be implicit. And out of interest who “decides” the age at which they stop obeying me and I stop caring for them? Legally it is 18 but who gave the law makers the right to decide this? It does seem to me that between me and the government there is some shared decision making around when my kids decide most things for themselves. The “ownership” is shared on the basis of the type of decisions involved. I don’t get to decide when they can have sex or whether they get schooled. I do decide what code of football they play. I agreed that ownership is a bad choice of words but it wasn’t me that equated ownership with decision making rights. If this is all down to implied contract then is there also an implied contract between the government and my kids?

    Please note that whilst I’m interested in testing the limits of your logic and thinking I’m not necessarily in strong disagreement.

    For what it is worth there are cases in my book involving severe mental disability where age 18 is totally inappropriate in terms of being determined to be an adult. When I spoke to the Carers Alliance during 2007 preference deals for the LDP it was put to me that there are huge beauracratic problems relating to severely mental children that suddenly become legally an adult at age 18. There is no straight forward way to have them declared incapable of being adults acting in there own interest. There ought to be some means, with strong safeguards and regular review, to globally declare an alteration to the age of adulthood for a given individual in a particular circumstance rather than having to deal with all the exceptions piece meal. Although there are obviously some good slippery slope arguments against this.

  66. John, in physics, absoluteness is a myth! There is no absolute standard of time, everything is relative. When cooling temperatures, they can never get to absolute zero, because quantum particles randomly tunnel in to replace the energy you’ve just taken out. Einstein made his breakthrough when he dropped absolutes. A=A for average objects at the same level as ourselves, but not large or small.

  67. I think children are a separate category. Obviously we know they are human and will develop to function as humans function. Therefore IMO, they have a right to their life and are not property. eg/ I think it may well be proper to prosecute someone who doesn’t teach his child to read. In our society this is a basic skill required for living.

    Nicholas, Einstein maintained that nothing could exceed the speed of light. Seems pretty absolute to me.

    As a Christian Nicholas, perhaps you’d be interested in the Stephen Hawkings approach:
    Hawking has stated that he is “not religious in the normal sense” and he believes that “the universe is governed by the laws of science. The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws.”

    Personally I would argue that these very laws show God is impossible, but note that Hawking – the most famous physicist alive – also believes in “absolutes”.

  68. 1+1=2 is a valid statement and I do believe that the real world is valid. However that does not mean that the real world is confined to a particular set of valid statements as opposed to an alternate set of valid statements. The trick is to elliminate invalid statments (1+1=3) and to figure out which of the competing valid statements happen to be the ones that fit reality. I don’t believe ownership is a sufficiently rigourous concept that it must be absolutely true in some metaphysical sense.

  69. Being famous doesn’t mean he’s right. Would he still be such a celebrity if he had a normal body?
    The speed of light will always be measured where-ever you are as the same, because the time will stretch or compress to accommodate your frame of reference. Time is non-absolute.

  70. John H: What do you define as free will and why is this not an arbitrary line in the sand for who gets not to suffer? Why wouldn’t you just say that the ability for a being to suffer should grant them consideration for their suffering?

    Benjamin: Firstly thanks for bringing up this topic. It’s a topic that I feel many libertarian types are completely misguided on.

    I have a question for you too: If it’s the suffering of animals that concerns you, why can we not simply have caveats placed upon their ownership? Why can’t we agree to not allow the animal to suffer during its life or during its death?

  71. And what about painless killing, by tasteless poisons?
    I wonder where it will all end? Will we give paid maternity leaf to plants, depending on how many fruits they produced? Guaranteed access to the sun? How are you going to feed cows if vegans start a ‘Keep-off-the-grass’ movement? It’s not just the animals, but where the line is drawn next! That is what should worry you!
    The only safe option would be to take up dirt-eating- after you’ve removed all living organisms from it, of course!

  72. Terje, the fifth word of my last response to you was “implicit”. I agree that the government often gets involved in voluntary agreements between other people, but I don’t think that changes the definition of ownership. It just means that criminals & governments undermine voluntary behaviour (sometimes with the best of intentions).

    I wasn’t suggesting my use of the word “ownership” was as absolutely true as 1+1=2. I was just objecting to the (common) refrain that XYZ is absolutist, with the implication that this makes it wrong.

    Having said that, I can’t see how ownership (as I’ve described it, as meaning being able to decide the use of something) has any ambiguity. It seems tautologically true that if somebody is making a decision about something, then somebody is making a decision about something. I haven’t seen a definition of “partial ownership” yet, and I’m not sure you’ll be able to do it in a meaningful way.

    Ben — the definition of free will (or its existence) isn’t important to me. What is important is the perception of the existence of free will. It is important because it provides the sense-of-self that defines “me” and I think “you”. Without it, I don’t think you would think you were you. You would just act. It is also important because you cannot be a moral being unless you think you have choices.

    The “suffering” criteria is possible, but I haven’t heard any reason for it. I don’t consider my suffering as the thing that defines me as a person or gives me a sense of self. Generally, it is simply asserted to be the basis for compassion (as Sir Payne has done here). Without a metaphysical basis, these assertions are just clashing axioms based on “vibe”.

    nicholas — you seem to be intentionally ignoring Benjamin’s point. He is talking about the rights of sentient beings and you’re responding by talking about non-sentient beings. Not relevant.

  73. Ben – Why wouldn’t you just say that the ability for a being to suffer should grant them consideration for their suffering?

    Why? Suffering exists as a potential condition for every living thing with a brain – that’s nature, baby! You cannot protect any living thing from their own stupidity or laziness. Regardless of what you do – if they have these traits their actions or lack of actions will bring them suffering. You earn the right not to be subject to suffering by other human beings by not being stupid or lazy, and not inducing suffering in other human beings who reciprocate these conditions to you.

    John – I put it to you that in terms of how a human being should live, free will doesn’t matter. And that despite the perception of free will being important to our individual identity, this is not the reason why it doesn’t matter. There is a very rational reason why it doesn’t matter: causality. If this is a causal world and we relate to it through reason then free will is an interesting question and one we should consider, but it’s existence or otherwise won’t change the nature of human morality.

  74. John – Working with your definition of owership (the right to make decisions regarding) I’ve already given an example of partial ownership. Let me give another. I partially own the block of land I live on and the council also partially owns it. I think I should fully own it but based on your definition of ownership I don’t. When it comes to who gets to visit me on my land then in general I decide. When it comes to what sort of dwelling may be erected on the land the council decides. You and I may believe that it would be a better society if individuals in my circumstances fully own such land but based on your definition of ownership (the ability to decide) then clear the reality is that ownership is currently only partial.

  75. Michael,

    Why should I not pity something and want to prevent it from suffering because it is “stupid and lazy”?

  76. Nicholas: How about we draw the line at anything with a central nervous system? Wilfully exaggerating the argument doesn’t help. If you want to engage in the debate then do so. What is it that makes a human different from other animals so that they should be free from suffering?

    John H: You claim that free will defines us but how does that make me feel better that an animal who is able to suffer should be allowed to suffer for human pleasure (the torturing the dog analogy) or for human expediency (battery hen farming)? I don’t understand what a sense of self has to do with suffering at all. The argument there has not been linked back to the suffering notion whereas there is a clear link between an animals ability to suffer and the preference to not let it suffer.

  77. Terje — it is possible to look at the government in two ways. The most common (and the way I prefer) is that they are the institution with a geographical monopoly on coercion/violence. This explains why they are able to over-ride your property rights.

    Any thug with a gun can do the same thing, but it will be seen as less legitimate by most people.

    Seeing govt as coercive/violent means that you still own your land, but occasionally a thug/govt intervenes.

    The alternative way to view Australia is that the government basically owns everything, including you. And then you are allowed to do certain things when given permission (implicitly or explicitly) by the owner. Your owner may be nice to you (just as any slave owner may be nice to their slave) but under this framework, you do not have self-ownership nor any other sort of ownership.

    I haven’t seen your example of partial ownership yet. You have given examples of coercion/violence and you have given examples of contracts. It is also possible to give examples of partnerships or companies… but that isn’t sufficient for the concept as provided above, when you (seemingly randomly) allocate different decisions to different decision-makers based on some sort of natural allocation of ownership sub-rights.

  78. Ben — I’m not saying you should feel good about the suffering of an animal. By all means, take the animals comfort into your utility function (ie the what-makes-you-happy formula).

    I also have some animals in my utility function… but they have a fairly marginal level of importance. I also have strangers in my utility function… and they also have a fairly marginal level of importance to me (though higher than most animals).

    The comfort of my family and friends plays a more important role in my utility function… and I think this is a good idea. I recommend to everybody that they have family and friends whom they care about. It makes life better.

    I didn’t say that sense of self had anything to do with suffering. You & Payne are the ones bringing up suffering as some sort of definitive issue determining treatment. You have given no reason for that. Assertions are not an argument. They are just assertions.

    The issue is — when there is a conflict between what makes me happy, and what makes an animal happy… where should a person draw the line. When dealing with a non-self-owner the only relative factors are (1) how much you care about them; and (2) how much benefit you get from using them.

    Payne has offered the idea that animals should effectively have self-ownership, and I have responded by saying that I believe only “sense-of-self” animals should have self-ownership.

    Michael — I agree that a human-based polity can also follow from an amoral argument based on the self-interest… where we make a non-violence pact with beings that are able to respond reliably to incentives.

    That works in most cases. But imagine the situation where you were guaranteed that you could kill and get away with it, with nobody knowing and/or nobody caring. And imagine that your killing the other person has some sort of use for you (perhaps they are married to the girl you like). Now — is there anything that plays on your mind, giving you pause before you plunge in the knife? Perhaps some sort of “I’m taking away this persons self, and that seems mean because I know how important my self is to me”.

    Perhaps not. But that is what would go through my mind. 🙂

  79. I find it confusing to think that people defend the “right” of an animal to be treated well when alive, when the sole purpose of the animal (and it’s existence in the first place) is for it to be killed.

    Another peculiarity is to say it is in-“humane” to eat animals. This is obviously projecting a concept of human treatment onto animals.
    Do we say it is in”humane” for a lion to eat the stomach out of a baby antelope while it is still alive?

    Mother nature ensures that we deal with animals by force and will always have to.
    Even so, 99.999% of people do their best to ensure animals suffer the least pain possible.

    I also believe that in a free society where proper human rights are respected (granting animal rights will necessarily violate human rights), animals have the best chance at the best treatment because this society will be the most prosperous.
    Government regulation of animal treatment has significant and unfair consequences to good, honest people. This is obvious to anyone who’s had to deal with the ethics committee approval program.
    Regulation is not the path to freedom.
    eg/ a small farmer who wants to sell meat killed in a more humane way will find it onerous and expensive to get regulatory approval and maintain his licenses.

    I’d argue that the “rights” that animal rights activists argue for stifle the innovation of improved treatment for animals.

  80. Rights themselves are a bit problematic. Human beings are incredibly diverse and differ greatly in cognitive ability, morals, perceptions of pleasure and pain, emotions and views of their obligations to others. The problem with making human’s “special” as rights holders is that the logic behind instilling rights will never be consistent. Arguing that rights are part of a “social contract” gives me little reason to give criminals who break that contract rights. I could base my arguments on a shared level of cognitive function such as the ability to make moral choices but that would leave infants, mentally handicapped and others without rights. I could base this on a perception of suffering which would extend to many sentient animals and human beings and could be very controversial.

    It’s unfortunate that there isn’t an all encompassing rationale for rights because it means we often have to rely on subjective (although guided by logic) value judgments.

    For me rights holders are those with a will to perform an action. This is because this is what I value most about my own life. I am a vegetarian because it is consistent with my belief in non-aggression. For me, we always must justify our use of coercive force against those who have their own interests. This is even if such interests are basic such as a pig wishing to roll in the mud rather then our interest in getting it slaughtered. You can argue about level of emotional capability or ability to rationalize but most animals are autonomous to some degree. It is this autonomy that must be respected, and if violated must be for a just reason eg. self defense, only source of food ect ect.

  81. Jarryd — I think you may be putting human traits on animals that they don’t necessarily have. I doubt that a pig has ever thought “gee, I would like to roll in the mud”. I think they just instinctively do it, much the same as a plant grows towards the sun.

    Without a perception of free will, I don’t think animals have any sense of having “their own interests”.

  82. Ben – Why should I not pity something and want to prevent it from suffering because it is “stupid and lazy”?

    Because you will make yourself less happy and do nothing to improve it’s situation. Or if you do improve it’s situation it will probably be at cost to yourself, meaning there is no net improvement in happiness, and you are probably more deserving of that utility than something that is stupid and lazy.

    John – But imagine the situation where you were guaranteed that you could kill and get away with it, with nobody knowing and/or nobody caring. And imagine that your killing the other person has some sort of use for you (perhaps they are married to the girl you like). Now — is there anything that plays on your mind, giving you pause before you plunge in the knife? Perhaps some sort of “I’m taking away this persons self, and that seems mean because I know how important my self is to me”.

    What would go through my mind is: what values am I destroying? If I’m destroying someone who represents the values I uphold, then I’m destroying my own utility and happiness as a rational civilised being in a world barren of such beings, he is more value to me alive than any utility I could get by destroying him. The issue of conflict over a woman is particularly apt. If she married that guy it’s because she loves what he stands for. If I like her then I share the same values. So if I destroy him I’m destroying the values I uphold, and the values that she upholds, so she couldn’t consider marrying me anyway.

    The question is: would I kill someone if I didn’t respect their values and thought I could get away with it. Well, maybe if they were bad enough, like someone who had randomly killed good people.

  83. John, Although I don’t have anything to link to just at the minute I’ll think you’ll find their are countless demonstrations of animal behavior consistent with inner desires, needs and emotions. The old Descarates perception that a dog yelps when you break it’s leg simply as a reflex is incredibly outdated. In fact (as I’m currently studying a Bachelor of Science) from what I’ve been taught “instinct” is simply a dispossession to a paticular behavior. In no way does it mean that animals are automated machine like creatures. It’s important to remember that we have all involved from similar ancestors over evolutionary time, we are likely to have more in common then you’d think. Humans just aren’t that special, we too are limited by instinctual behaviors.

  84. This is the one occasion when JJ has got it right. I read recently of a zoo chimpanzee being annoyed at humans gawking at him, so he planned ahead, and stored local stones, and then threw them at the humans at visiting time.
    And i read a while back of a dog which was trained to bring the morning paper to master, and it started stockpiling neighbour’s papers, just in case.
    And some animals do show evidence of consciousness- the awareness that others also have minds. Foxes are famous for planning and cunning, after all.

  85. I haven’t seen your examples of partial ownership yet.

    I suspect you’re not looking hard enough.

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