Animals, Morality, and Marginal Cases

My recent post on animal rights prompted some interesting discussions regarding the moral status of nonhuman animals.

John Humphreys offered some thoughtful responses to my presentation of the argument in favour of extending the right not to be property to sentient animals, and attempted a moral defence of using animals for our food, clothing, and entertainment. I shall address his arguments here.

Drawing on the work of Gary Francione, I presented the example of a man torturing a stray dog for pleasure. I argued that as our use of animals for food, clothing, and entertainment—practices that involve inflicting horrific suffering—cannot be considered ‘necessary’ in any way, our choices to eat animals, wear them, and exhibit them for our enjoyment are morally inconsistent with our supposed belief that animals should not be subject to ‘unnecessary suffering’.

In response, John argued that unlike the example of the man blowtorching the dog, our use of animals is morally distinct because ‘…when we use an animal for food, clothing and even entertainment, our pleasure comes despite the pain of the animal.’ That is, there is a significant difference—a distinction of immorality from morality—between torturing an animal because the act itself is enjoyable and gaining pleasure from eating animal products.

I accept the notion that our enjoyment from using animals is often separate from causing them terrible pain and suffering. Most people are unaware of the suffering involved in producing animal products for their consumption, yet still gain pleasure from eating bacon and eggs for breakfast. Although this may be the case, the question remains: does the enjoyment of something that cannot be produced without the suffering of animals make that suffering morally justifiable?

To use Francione’s example of the man torturing the dog, we would still find it morally abhorrent for the man to blowtorch the dog even if he did not enjoy doing so, or—to take the example closer to the position of the average omnivore—he was also paid by someone else who gained pleasure from eating the well-cooked animal. In either of these cases we object because we believe that blowtorching a dog causes harm to the dog herself, and that it is wrong to do so simply for reasons of pleasure, amusement, or convenience. It may be worse to enjoy the act of torturing the dog, but that does not mean that it is morally justifiable to torture the dog to gain marginal benefit from her torture.

A key element of Francione’s animal rights theory that I presented in my original post is the claim that whatever ability or feature we select to morally distinguish humans from nonhumans, at least some humans to whom we grant the protection of the right not to be considered a resource do not share that feature. This is commonly known as the argument from marginal cases and it is at the core of the animal rights position.

John’s argument against the argument from marginal cases represents what libertarian scholar David Graham has called the argument from species normality. That is, there is some feature of being human—John suggests that this feature is the perception of free will or moral agency—that ‘normal’ humans have and therefore we should make a generalisation about all humans based on this feature. As Graham explains, ‘the moral status of an individual depends on what is normal for that individual’s species.’

However, we do treat humans with different moral interests differently. As Graham shows, we do not consider marginal humans—such as infants and those with severe mental disabilities—to have the moral duties of ‘normal’ humans. We do not punish marginal humans for crimes like we punish ‘normal’ humans who are fully aware of their actions.

Furthermore, it seems absurd to consider that whatever feature or ability informs the argument from species normality is the reason we believe it is wrong to treat marginal humans as resources. For example, we would not consider blowtorching a baby morally wrong because she ‘is a member of a species that normally has the ability to make rational moral choices’ or because she ‘has the potential to become a full self-owner’. Instead, we regard torturing an infant as morally indefensible because infants and other marginal humans are sentient moral subjects with an interest in not suffering at all as the result of being used by others.

Nonhuman animals have this same interest.

82 thoughts on “Animals, Morality, and Marginal Cases

  1. Without wishing to engage with the argument in depth, (because to a degree you have a point, but the fact that there is contradiction in my views on animals isn’t a problem I lose sleep over) can you point out a few of the examples in the process of producing that bacon (or even the eggs) that are the cruelty equivilent of blowtorching the dogs leg? I think you’ll struggle.

  2. Benjamin – why do you get such pleasure out of disturbing comfortable assumptions and tidy frameworks?

  3. Tim,

    Most animals are factory farmed. Sows are confined to small metal stalls resulting in severe physical and psychological suffering. All farmed pigs have their tails cut off, teeth clipped, and are castrated without anesthetic.

    Chickens raised for meat or their eggs are packed into large sheds or battery cages. Chickens raised for consumption are fed antibiotics and bred so that they cannot support their own weight and are frequently crippled. Hens in battery farming are confined to tiny cages. Free-range hens suffer from significant increases in bone fractures than battery hens due to their ability to move more freely combined with the lack of calcium in their bodies due to the intensity of egg production. All chickens have the ends of their toes cut off and the tips of their beaks removed without anesthetic.

    The list could go on. Most people remain unaware of the way animal products are actually produced.

    Lost sleep or not, animals are exploited terribly because of our choice to consume them. Every person who makes that choice is complicit in their suffering and death.

  4. Terje,

    I can’t say that I enjoy it! I simply think that we should use logic and reasoning to question deeply all our assumptions, beliefs, and practices. If the moral argument goes against our current way of life, we should change our behavior.

    It isn’t easy, but being moral never is.

  5. First — you should discover the joys of inserting “page breaks” into your posts. 🙂

    There are two possible causes of moral concern about how animals are treated. The first (and I believe your approach) is to give animals self-ownership and then be offended by the blatant violation of their self-ownership. I agree that is consistent, but (as stated earlier) I don’t accept that animals have self-ownership.

    The second cause of moral concern is that a human is not treating their property as we think they should. This involves a significant grey area.

    I am opposed to the idea of causing pain for “fun”, which is why I would give a negative moral judgement to somebody who was doing something with the intention of producing pain.

    You suggest I should go further and have a general moral concern with the pleasure/pain of any creature which has pleasure/pain. And I can accept that to some degree. I think it is an admirable quality in a human to want to increase the pleasure and decrease the pain of others. I think the decent thing to do is to help another if the cost to you is low. But when the benefit to another conflicts with the benefit to you, I think it is not only acceptable, but indeed morally necessary, for you to give (significantly) greater weighting to your own desires.

    And so a messy trade-off develops, and it is different for different people. You willingness to sacrifice the comfort of the other for your own comfort depends on (1) how much benefit you get; and (2) how much the other means to you.

    It is very difficult for you to know the preference set of other people, and so it is quite problematic to simply assert that hurting animals must necessarily be a bad thing. I’m sure everybody has their own trade-off, but I am equally certain that I don’t know them.

    ==========

    Regarding the generalisation of including all humans — I agree that we do discriminate against humans already. The differential treatment of children is perhaps problematic as it is enforced by the government, but even in a state-less society we would discriminate.

    But discriminating in how we treat “self-owners” is a qualitatively different thing to deciding who gets into the “self-owner” category. My preference for dating brunettes and debating with smart people does not mean that I question the “self-ownership” of blondes and fools (to the degree that there is a difference).

    I accept that the boundary of “humans” is imperfect. However, I challenge you to think of an alternative boundary that would better include free-will-creatures and exclude non-free-will-creatures. I suggest that any alternative you can think of will be more arbitrary and more likely to lead to “false negatives”. To avoid false negatives (and the consequent potential murder) I think it is appropriate to use a clear boundary that is highly likely not to have false negatives. The boundary of “humanity” does that well… at least until the time when we deal with aliens or find a talking monkey.

    I note that your definition of self-owner would similarly face the problem of who to exclude. This is inescapable.

    I also point out that it would functionally make little difference if we excluded infants from the “self-owner” category. The reality is that the vast majority of parents would not want to eat their children. And if somebody was going to eat their children, others would likely intervene to stop it if they were aware of it (and if they weren’t, then it wasn’t preventable anyway).

    The reason is that we generally place a high value in the comfort of family members, and that value nearly always exceeds the value we get from eating them.

    I like the idea of family & friends. I think a lot of philosophers and psychologists would agree with me. My moral advice to people is to have family and friends that you love… and I would suggest that the love should be great enough to exceed the potential benefits of eating them. Consequently, if somebody ate their children I would give a negative moral judgement even if the infant was not self-aware.

  6. “I can’t say that I enjoy it! I simply think that we should use logic and reasoning to question deeply all our assumptions, beliefs, and practices. If the moral argument goes against our current way of life, we should change our behavior.”

    Spoken like Socrates…
    …and we all know what happened to him. 🙂

  7. John,

    ‘The first (and I believe your approach) is to give animals self-ownership and then be offended by the blatant violation of their self-ownership.’

    I have shown how our current views regarding animals necessarily lead to the position that we should abolish all animal use. I do not presuppose the self-ownership of nonhuman animals.

    ‘I think the decent thing to do is to help another if the cost to you is low. But when the benefit to another conflicts with the benefit to you, I think it is not only acceptable, but indeed morally necessary, for you to give (significantly) greater weighting to your own desires.’

    You are confusing providing aid with not engaging in something that actively causes suffering.

    For example, the cost to white citizens of not owning slaves, not buying products that supported the institution of slavery, and speaking out against slavery was very high in the Southern United States during the 19th century. There was certainly a conflict of interests between slaveholders and slaves, but I don’t think you would suggest that it would have been morally necessary for one to take advantage of the benefits that slavery provided.

    ‘But discriminating in how we treat “self-owners” is a qualitatively different thing to deciding who gets into the “self-owner” category.’

    Why generalise about the latter and not the former?

    ‘I note that your definition of self-owner would similarly face the problem of who to exclude. This is inescapable.’

    Yes, you are correct. Drawing lines is always difficult in practice. But we should draw the line based on morally relevant interests not arbitrary species boundaries.

    ‘I also point out that it would functionally make little difference if we excluded infants from the “self-owner” category. The reality is that the vast majority of parents would not want to eat their children.’

    This does not address this issue of why it is wrong to eat children in first place. Even if the majority of parents did not want to eat their children or we could not stop those who did, that would not make those decisions moral.

    ‘The reason is that we generally place a high value in the comfort of family members, and that value nearly always exceeds the value we get from eating them.’

    I don’t believe you actually think this. This is a highly subjective theory of morality. I have plenty of family members (some of the more distant ones) that I would rather eat than have to answer their questions about veganism!

  8. BP: You are confusing providing aid with not engaging in something that actively causes suffering.

    No I’m not. Both actions and inactions have consequences for other people. Both are deserving of our moral consideration.

    PB: but I don’t think you would suggest that it would have been morally necessary for one to take advantage of the benefits that slavery provided.

    Of course not… but I also never said it was a moral necessity to eat or use animals. Anyway, this issue now crosses back to the issue of “self-ownership” (which black humans have and animals don’t in my view). I am aware (as I made clear above) that animal rights can be considered in two different ways, but you should be careful not to confuse the two different approaches.

    BP: Why generalise about the latter [who has self-ownership] and not the former [how I treat people with self-ownership]?

    I do generalise all the time. And that includes sex & race based generalisations as well as many others. And I discriminate all the time, including (as said above) a preference for dating brunettes and talking to smart people.

    BP: Yes, you are correct. Drawing lines is always difficult in practice. But we should draw the line based on morally relevant interests not arbitrary species boundaries.

    As I’ve explained (at length), my boundary is not arbitrary and the morally relevant point is not species. As I’ve said (several times) I would include smart aliens & talking monkeys in the club. I would accuse you of having an arbitrary boundary because you have suggested we base our distinction on suffering, but have provided no metaphysical reason for this. All metaphysical reason gets a bit fluffy… but at least I have put my metaphysics on the table and not simply assumed it or asserted it.

    BP: This [my point that child self-ownership would make little difference as people would be nice to their kids] does not address this issue of why it is wrong to eat children in first place.

    I didn’t say that it did. Indeed, I spent three paragraphs prior to the one your quote explaining the moral basis for including infants in the “self-owner” category. I then make an additional observation that it probably doesn’t make much difference, and you then pretend that the observation is the entirety of my argument. I’m not sure of that was laziness, confusion or an attempt to confuse the issue… but it was poor logic.

    BP: I don’t believe you actually think this [ie that we get more value from our family’s happiness than from eating them].

    I certainly do believe this. Perhaps my family is nicer than yours. 🙂 But, as above, this observation is not the totality of my morality. As explained at length already, I also respect the existence of the perception of free will where-ever I see it.

  9. Benjamin, you seem to be relying on extremist organisations like PETA for your fact base. As a result your information is woefully wrong and therefore your proposition unsupportable.

    Most animals are factory farmed.

    Ridiculously wrong. Most animals are grazed. In any case, is there something inherent to factories you don’t like? Most tofu is factory processed too.

    Sows are confined to small metal stalls resulting in severe physical and psychological suffering.

    A false and ridiculous generalisation.

    All farmed pigs have their tails cut off, teeth clipped, and are castrated without anesthetic.

    More falsehoods. Some pigs have their tails shortened because other pigs think it’s fun to bite them. Some have their teeth clipped instead. Castration is the exception these days too. There is no scientific basis for suggesting castration of newborns is unacceptable cruelty.

    Chickens raised for meat or their eggs are packed into large sheds or battery cages.

    Where they are fed a well-balanced diet, protected from the wind, rain and foxes, and live a lot longer than they would in the wild. Aversion to this is simply anthropomorphism.

    Chickens raised for consumption are fed antibiotics and bred so that they cannot support their own weight and are frequently crippled.

    Absolute lies. The chicken industry is highly commercial. Antibiotics are expensive and never fed to chickens unless there is disease requiring control. If a chicken is crippled or can’t support its own weight it’s of no commercial value.

    Hens in battery farming are confined to tiny cages.

    “Tiny” is an anthropomorphic judgement. Being sentient does not make an animal equivalent to a human.

    Free-range hens suffer from significant increases in bone fractures than battery hens due to their ability to move more freely combined with the lack of calcium in their bodies due to the intensity of egg production.

    Only if they are fed a calcium deficient diet. Well run farms are well aware of this. One thing about free range chickens though – they are far more likely to suffer from bacterial infections and require antibiotics.

    All chickens have the ends of their toes cut off and the tips of their beaks removed without anesthetic.

    Complete garbage. Very few chickens have their toes trimmed. Beak trimming occurs in some layers to stop cannibalism. Beaks are like toenails on dogs and cats – they can be trimmed and cauterised without causing pain.

    Most people remain unaware of the way animal products are actually produced.

    You are among them.

  10. David,

    I do not rely on information from PETA. PETA is reactionary to the point of being thoroughly conservative. Information on how animals are actually bred and raised is widely available.

    Most animals are factory farmed.

    Ridiculously wrong. Most animals are grazed. In any case, is there something inherent to factories you don’t like? Most tofu is factory processed too.

    Most animals are not grazed. There are vastly more animals involved in intensive production than there are grazed. All animal agriculture is morally wrong, but factory farming is particularly horrible.

    Sows are confined to small metal stalls resulting in severe physical and psychological suffering.

    A false and ridiculous generalisation.

    Wrong. The pork industry itself states that ‘the dominant system for housing sows for all or part of their gestation is in individual stalls.’

    All farmed pigs have their tails cut off, teeth clipped, and are castrated without anesthetic.

    More falsehoods. Some pigs have their tails shortened because other pigs think it’s fun to bite them. Some have their teeth clipped instead. Castration is the exception these days too. There is no scientific basis for suggesting castration of newborns is unacceptable cruelty.

    These are not falsehoods. Most pigs undergo these procedures, including castration. These procedures are painful. These procedures are not done because pigs enjoy biting other pigs, but because the intensive farming of pigs results in severe stress the produces these behaviors.

    Hens in battery farming are confined to tiny cages.

    “Tiny” is an anthropomorphic judgment. Being sentient does not make an animal equivalent to a human.

    Each hen has less space than an A4 sheet of paper. That is tiny, by any standard.

    Free-range hens suffer from significant increases in bone fractures than battery hens due to their ability to move more freely combined with the lack of calcium in their bodies due to the intensity of egg production.

    Only if they are fed a calcium deficient diet. Well run farms are well aware of this. One thing about free range chickens though – they are far more likely to suffer from bacterial infections and require antibiotics.

    Even with an enriched diet, fractures resulting from the intensity of egg production and transport are impossible to prevent. It is a cost/benefit analysis.

    All chickens have the ends of their toes cut off and the tips of their beaks removed without anesthetic.

    Complete garbage. Very few chickens have their toes trimmed. Beak trimming occurs in some layers to stop cannibalism. Beaks are like toenails on dogs and cats – they can be trimmed and cauterised without causing pain.

    Most chickens have their toes and/or beaks trimmed. This is done to reduce the effects of stress inflicted by intensive farming. Both these procedures are painful.

    Let me know if you would like the scientific studies that back up any of these claims.

    Animals are property. If harmful procedures are ‘necessary’ to facilitate the exploitation of animals, they are used. The property status of animals begs the question of whether we can justify their use at all.

  11. All animal agriculture is morally wrong

    Your arguments commence with this conclusion and rely on selective and misleading use of “facts” to reinforce it. I doubt if you’ve ever attempted to confirm any of them for yourself; if you did, you’d realise how absurd they are. Anyone with actual experience in the pig or poultry industry just laughs at this nonsense.

    You are entitled to your moral viewpoint, but it is morally repugnant to seek to impose it on others. Especially using false information.

  12. Benjamin, one point of correction. It is wrong to say that all animal agriculture is morally bad. Dairy cows graze protected from wolves and bears and other hazards of their natural world (that is, Europe). In return for this, they are milked. Sheep also get food for wool. The wool collection might be frightening, but that could be ameliorated. How is this evil?
    As for animals raised to be eaten, they can be painlessly killed, in contrast to their fate in the wild.
    I don’t see an inherent evil in this.

  13. David,

    ‘Your arguments commence with this conclusion and rely on selective and misleading use of “facts” to reinforce it.’

    My conclusion is that sentient animals should have the right not to be property. Using Francione’s work I outlined the theory of animal rights in favour of this conclusion. If you have any substantial arguments against Francione’s theory of animal rights then please put them forward.

    ‘You are entitled to your moral viewpoint, but it is morally repugnant to seek to impose it on others.’

    Animal rights is no more a matter of opinion than any other moral position.

    ‘Anyone with actual experience in the pig or poultry industry just laughs at this nonsense.’

    I can support all the statements I made. If you can dispute any of these claims, please provide evidence.

    Nicholas,

    You misunderstand, or have not read, my initial argument.

  14. To clarify (and Ben can correct me if I’m wrong) but I believe Ben is an anarchist and doesn’t believe that there should be a government to enforce any of this.

    Consequently, this is entirely a moral discussion and not a political one. In a free world, Ben and his friends would buy land and build a community where there would be certain rules regarding the use of animals… and they may come to our land (if they’re welcome) and try to peacefully convince us to follow their example. But I don’t think he is suggesting an over-arching authority figure which would enforce his morality on others. At last — I hope he’s not.

    I’m not interested in the specific examples of animal discomfort. I’m sure there are animals who are not comfortable.

    If Ben is trying to claim self-ownership for animals (which is the only logical consequence from saying they can’t be owned by a non-them entity) then I think he’s on a hiding to nothing. But if he’s simply trying to encourage people to include the comfort of animals more strongly in their utility functions, then perhaps his efforts might get a result (albeit more modest that he hopes). This is just an issue of Ben advertising to change the preferences of people… just like Coke or Nike advertise to influence the preferences of consumers. Sometimes Coke/Nike/Ben are just tricking us to act as they hope we act… but sometimes their provision of information helps people to make better choices.

    Ah — the joys of free speech. 🙂

  15. Benjamin, I read #11. What part of “All animal agriculture is morally wrong,” did I get wrong?

  16. Nicholas — I think Ben might be referring to his argument that animals should not be owned by a non-them entity (ie animals should have self-ownership).

    Along this line of reasoning, it doesn’t matter whether the owner treats the animal well or badly… it is still morally wrong to own it. The example he might use is a slave-owner who treats his slave well is still immoral.

    The issue then becomes whether we accept that all sentient animals should have self-ownership, or whether a different classification should be used. As above, my classification is that all “have-free-will” animals should have self-ownership.

  17. But, Ben, we can’t go back!
    If we returned dogs to the wild, they would starve without hunting skills. Cats might survive, at great cost to the animals native to the Australian bush, and there are such pests in the wild.
    But the cattle need someone to milk them- they are genetically programmed to make lots of milk! The sheep are now programmed to make wool- if we don’t harvest it, they’ll overheat and die!
    Unlike slaves, if we release them, they won’t opt to join human society. They’ll all just starve.

  18. Rights themselves are fairly irrational. 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.

  19. It is incorrect to compare human children to animals just because we don’t grant children full legal protections.

    It is incorrect to say legislation should be based on enforcing morality. Some rightfully illegal things are immoral but immorality is not the essential factor.
    A proper government is based on ethical theory but only in that the government exists to create the conditions for living morally in relation to other people.
    There is a distinct difference between creating the proper conditions for living morally with other people and prescribing morality per se. ie: I disagree that proper legislation is a matter of drawing a line of how much morality government should prescribe to the people (many people believe this).

    I asked this before, but does Francione actually have a definition for morality and intuition? Francione should understand the concepts upon which his theory rests although perhaps he likes the vague concept of intuition (intuition means different things to different people).

    I’m alleging that all concepts including those such as rights, while being identified/created within the realm of consciousness (that’s for Terje), are still dependent on empirical facts. ie: redness doesn’t exist outside of human consciousness, but something cannot be red unless it has particular real world characteristics. This is how proper concept formation works and therefore a concept of rights must be grounded to empirical observation. Useless or harmful concepts are of course entirely possible.
    The idea that suffering is the criteria for rights definitely seems wrong to me because no one has the right to be free of suffering per se – I don’t think it’s even possible to avoid suffering.
    Suffering could be:
    1) Self inflicted, 2) an act of “god” 3) inflicted with permission, voluntarily (eg/ visiting the dentist) 4) inflicted involuntarily (eg/ asault). Options 3 and 4 could possibly have good or bad results for you.
    I’d agree that humans have the right to be free from 4), ie: initiary force, but this is because we have volition and the other brain functions this function presupposes. Our lives depend on this and this is empirically identifiable.
    Animals don’t operate this way.
    I presume you are alleging that animals should be free of option 4) but only if the results are bad for the animal (as judged by pain) and the intentions of the inflictor cruel. (I presume a vet isn’t being cruel).
    How do you then justify this concept based on empirical observation?
    How does an authority assess this? and why would it be proper to violate human rights in an attempt to achieve this?

    Humans must deal with all animals through force, it’s the only method. Unavoidable.
    Some would aruge any dealings with animals involve suffering because the animal’s circumstances have been “unnaturally” altered. Why stop at animals, many environmentalists allege it is immoral for humans to upset rocks, soil, climate.

    Can you give more details to Francione’s and/or your position? Are you seriously against all uses of animals?
    I don’t understand what you mean by saying animals shouldn’t be property. Do you think eating meat should be illegal? Can I build a house on my land if it means destroying a rodent nest?
    I think stating your position more completely is necessary to alleging the theory and is not just a minor detail or borderline incident.

    From the information presented, the animal rights theory is illogical and needs a lot of work to even be coherent.

    To argue animals have rights, you cannot simply point out they can feel pain and my “intuition” doesn’t like that.
    Neither does mine but this doesn’t make me think animals should have rights. In fact, it makes me think the opposite. Animals already have too much legal protections and government regulation is already increasing the suffering of animals and humans, examples are particularly common in food and pharmaceuticals.
    Wouldn’t you prefer to have more options to buy meat sourced from different methods of farming?
    I think more legal protections will result in more animal suffering and more human suffering.

    The only logical basis I can see for animal protections are actually derived from human rights.
    A person who gains pleasure from harming his own animals is quite possibly a threat to other people and is quite possibly mentally ill.

  20. There is no scientific basis for suggesting castration of newborns is unacceptable cruelty.

    Sorry to sidetrack, but this actually makes me think about the moral and libertarian argument against male infant genital mutilation (circumcision).

    Circumcision really violates and infant’s right to self-ownership in a way that isn’t appropriate for a civilised society. Wouldn’t anyone disagree with making circumcision illegal?

  21. Jarryd, humans are clearly conceptual. For example, all human civilizations ever, appreciated and needed art – whereas no animal appreciates art. Animals are not abstracting, volitional, moral etc to any significant degree.
    I think there’s a clear objective difference.

    Children and mentally handicapped people don’t change this fact. Mentally handicapped people are not the norm, and children will grow to be full rights holding people.
    These cases are probably the only valid way to discuss partial human rights.

  22. Shem, I disagree!
    The places which practice circumcision do it for health reasons- sand can do serious damage to the male! Even if it has less force now, in wetter countries, it still has some health benefits. And we can nowadays use anasthetics to take away the pain.
    So, on the issue of health, as a preventative measure, I am with the parents.

  23. At #22 – that’s a good one.

    I think the line is reversibility, an ear ring on a child is probably fine, but not a tattoo.

    My problem with circumcision is that it is religiously motivated.
    But to make it illegal seems pretty drastic and counter intuitive, but I think I have to tentatively agree.
    When I visited Sth Africa, I saw many teenagers covered in white clay walking through the bush. In a couple of days they would be circumcised without painkillers as part of their initiation. A better method? At least it’s voluntary!

    Reminds me of denying a Jehovah’s witness child a blood transfusion.

  24. Nicholas, there are no proven health benefits to the removal of a well-maintained foreskin. If parents correctly teach their children hygiene (as they should) then a foreskin often actually helps protect against STIs (smegma production is hindered in circumcised males).

    And the only reason sand in a foreskin may cause damage is because the glans is more sensitive in an uncircumcised male, but that level of sensitivity also increases sexual pleasure. Who are we to say our children should be deprived of increases levels of sexual pleasure?

    There are medical problems that can be fixed by circumcision, but there are medical problems that can be caused by it, too. It is an unjustifiable act that really only has aesthetic and religious value. If we are to condemn female circumcision (as most in the west do) then we need to condemn male circumcision, too!

  25. Sounds good to me. Less Jehovah Witnesses!
    Seriously, though, four corners, I think did a special on JWs, and showed how they have been diligent in forcing the American Federal government to abide by the Constitution, and leave them alone.
    And they showed how alternative surgery was viable. Whilst they are not my favourite religion, they have some points in their favour.

  26. Tim R. I think teenagers are generally able to make generally rational decisions regarding their bodies. If parents agree and the teen agrees to go through with circumcision (or get an earring) I’d have to say I think that’s acceptable. Not sure about tattoos. I guess following my logic I think tattoos should be legal for teens with parental consent.

    But doing such things to an infant? I think it should be illegal, there’s no rational basis for it…

  27. there are no proven health benefits to the removal of a well-maintained foreskin.

    Incorrect! Women love fireman’s helmets! And there is nothing more beneficial to a man’s health than a beautiful woman giving his proud fireman her enthusiastic attention!

  28. TimR — you say we can’t compare infants to animals, but you don’t say why. Assertions aren’t an argument.

    You say we shouldn’t legislate for morality. True, but I’m not sure that anybody has argued otherwise.

    You say nobody has the right to be free of suffering. But that is quite different to the moral question of how our behaviour may contribute to (or ease) another persons suffering. I don’t think anybody has claimed that suffering could be abolished.

    You seem to base your concept of human self-ownership on their capacity to reason (ie you shouldn’t use violence against a human because that will undermine their capacity to use their mind to achieve their survival). I note that the use of reason pre-supposes a perception of free-will. So in a sense you are agreeing with me, but for a different reason.

    I’m not sure I agree that “use-of-reason” is the best metaphysical justification for respecting other people’s self-ownership. To say that reason is good because it helps humans survive is to pre-suppose that I care about other humans’ survival. But that then begs the question of why I should care? Rand never answers this. I think my point — that we recognise in others the same sense-of-self (thanks to perception of free-will) that defines us — answers that question.

    I always found this a weakness of the objectivist ethics.

    You suggest that granting animals self-ownership would violate a humans right. That is clearly not the case. Your rights to not extend to “owning” another entity that has self-ownership.

    You raise the point that some environmentalists concern for rocks, soil & climate. Given that Ben has clearly identified his target group (sentient beings) this is an irrelevant question for him.

  29. Shem, Nicholas is correct – there are proven health benefits from circumcision. That’s a settled matter.

    The proper question is whether the benefits warrant circumcision. There’s arguments either way, but ultimately it is a matter for parents, not the government. Just as other health choices for children belong with parents so long as the choices are not life threatening or disabling.

  30. I think my point — that we recognise in others the same sense-of-self (thanks to perception of free-will) that defines us — answers that question.

    Why does recognising that they perceive free will mean you should care about their right to survival? What rights does this afford them and why?

    You suggest that granting animals self-ownership would violate a humans right. That is clearly not the case. Your rights to not extend to “owning” another entity that has self-ownership.

    Unless those animals reciprocated those rights then you are violating human rights. So far I know of no animals that can do this.

  31. I’m reasonably satisfied that pigs have sufficient free will to decide if today they will sleep in the hay or roll in the mud. I eat them in spite of this capacity not because they lack it. We exploit animals. I’m reasonably resigned to that reality. I’m not sure if I would eat ET. However I’d have reservations about eating monkey so perhaps not.

  32. John, if you agree that animals should be property do you believe that it does not matter at all what we do to animals?

    I am, at a minimum, a cosmopolite. I believe that the notion of the state should be abolished in the sense that it entails separation from other moral persons to whom we may have duties.

    I currently think that consistent libertarianism cannot endorse the state in the Webarian sense at all. What form it should take, I am not yet certain.

    Rights must be enforced. I’m not sure who should do this.

    On the issue of female or male genital mutilation, I cannot see how a libertarian can endorse such rights violations.

  33. Shem, another point of correction. Male circumcision does not remove the man’s capacity to enjoy sex. Female circumcision is done precisely to destroy such pleasure. They are not comparable.

  34. Nicholas,

    It is not true that female genital mutilation is done exclusively to destroy sexual pleasure. There are a number of reasons for performing the procedure, many very similar to those given for male genital mutilation.

    It is worth noting that female circumcision was also practiced in the West and was endorsed by many sexologists.

    While there are differences, male and female genital mutilation are variations of the same practice.

  35. Yes John I noticed the similarities in our arguments, but I wasn’t specifically addressing you, I was addressing Ben Payne. Doesn’t mean I’m not happy to reply, this is an interesting topic for me despite your allegations on the previous post. (NB/ I haven’t read all of your discussion with Terje on the other post yet).

    I thought I explained that children were different to animals because we know they are human and humans have different brain functionalities to animals. Just because these don’t develop instantaeously doesn’t change the fact that they will develop.

    I care about my survival and I care about other people’s survival because other people are of enourmous benefit to my life. Humans are a social animal and a division of labour society is extremely beneficial to me. To fulfil my spiritual needs requires other people to love and be friends with etc. To have someone to make fast food, or provide electricity means I save a massive amount of time and can pursue more interesting stuff.

    I don’t really understand your point.
    You are correct in noting that my fundamental is the ability of men to reason: If humans survive by abstraction/reason/volition then we should not be forced against our will because force obsoletes the whole natural process of thinking and acting on one’s thoughts. Noting that humans are capable of forcing us to act against our will, we can derive the idea of the right to be free from the initiation of physical force in a society.
    In practical terms this principle benefits me anyway. ie: I do not ultimately benefit (long term) from initiating force against others. Imagine the society where everyone was a mugger! We all benefit most when we have no muggers and therefore we should work towards a political system that achieves this as best as possible.
    I would argue that even someone who appears to be pulling off initiation of force like a dictator, is not really. A dictator would have to have major psychological problems to force crowds of people to cheer for them and satisfy their insecurities. They could never have real friends because they would always be expecting someone to stab them in the back, literally, they would have to evade the reality that they are killing people or be so messed up they don’t care etc – not a path to a happy fulfilling existence even if some of them do live a long time.

    I stated on the other thread the reasoning for my idea that granting animals rights would violate human rights. Because humans must deal with animals through force. If you allow some authority to decide what’s acceptable force and what isn’t, then you no longer have the right. You have a set of permissions. So your rights have been violated and the precedent has been set for more and more violations.

    There are already many examples of this:
    For example the RSPCA confiscated a women I know’s 15 year old whippet because it was too skinny. It’s a whippet for f#ck’s sake! It took her 2 weeks to get back her beloved and elderly pet and she and her vet were not allowed to visit the animal. She had to threaten legal action.
    Old horses are also subjected to this type of investigation. You’d think animal lovers would realise that herbivores in particular get skinny when they age as their disgestive systems are not as efficient. Elephants are an interesting case where they actually die of starvation. They have 6 sets of teeth in their lifetime and when the last set go, they starve to death.
    Another eg/ the practise of mulesing is currently under threat in Australia. Apparently the animal lib crowd want sheep to get maggots growing out of their asses.
    eg/ Pharmaceutical ethics committees stop certain animal research going ahead. This violates the human right to improve his life through medical research. Even though its the government regulations that require the sometimes irrelevent animal research to begin with!
    Another eg/ Food industry regulations restrict the choices and improvements of animal farmers.

    When I brought up environmentalists, I was wondering where to you draw the line: Some very simplistic animals have sensation and could be considered “sentient”.

  36. John, far be it for me to defend Rand, but one of her characters did say that societies are supposed to be helpful to all concerned. (Francisco talking to Hank in ‘Atlas Shrugged’) For this one reason, we should have some care for others. Whilst the book has flaws, such as Hank expecting his ex-wife, mother and brother to behave altruistically by telling him to leave for his own good, there are some good points in it.

  37. Tim,

    I thought I explained that children were different to animals because we know they are human and humans have different brain functionalities to animals. Just because these don’t develop instantaeously doesn’t change the fact that they will develop.

    The statement ‘children are different to animals because they are human’ is speciesist and is not a valid argument. Simply because animals have different brains to humans does not mean that this is a morally relevant criterion. Not all marginal humans will develop. Some, like people with severe mental disabilities, will never do so. Does that mean we should use them as our resources?

    I stated on the other thread the reasoning for my idea that granting animals rights would violate human rights. Because humans must deal with animals through force. If you allow some authority to decide what’s acceptable force and what isn’t, then you no longer have the right. You have a set of permissions. So your rights have been violated and the precedent has been set for more and more violations.

    John is correct. You miss the point that animals are currently property. I am arguing that they should have the right not to be property, and that right overrides any interest we have in using them for our own purposes. Similarly, my right not to be property does not violate your right to use me for medical research or as an organ provider. It means that you do not have the right to use me as a resource.

    …the practise of mulesing is currently under threat in Australia. Apparently the animal lib crowd want sheep to get maggots growing out of their asses.

    I consider these campaigns to be problematic from an animal rights perspective, and I am highly critical of them. I am not arguing that sheep should suffer from flystrike, I am arguing that we should not have sheep at all.

    When I brought up environmentalists, I was wondering where to you draw the line: Some very simplistic animals have sensation and could be considered “sentient”.

    Sentience entails the ability to experience pleasure and pain. Unfortunately, there is no clear line to draw. But the fact that we cannot easily draw a line does not mean that there is no line and that we can treat all animals as our resources.

  38. Simply because animals have different brains to humans does not mean that this is a morally relevant criterion. Not all marginal humans will develop. Some, like people with severe mental disabilities, will never do so. Does that mean we should use them as our resources?

    Actually, Ben, the fact that we have different brains to animals, specifically ones that are capable of reason, is exactly the reason we afford rights to humans and not to animals.

    Do we afford the full suite of human rights to severely disabled people? No. Why? Because their brains are not able to sufficiently reason to be able to conduct themselves in society.

    Should we use them as resources? Well, we should do with them what is in the best interests of society (unless someone else want’s to look after them i.e. ‘own’ them, eg a parent). And for a series of other reasons society believes they should be afforded an abridged suite of rights we call human rights, because affording this suite of rights to everyone in the human race upholds human dignity and therefore benefits us all.

    You miss the point that animals are currently property. I am arguing that they should have the right not to be property, and that right overrides any interest we have in using them for our own purposes.

    Why? Where does this right come from?

    I afford you rights because 1. I can engage you through reason and we can ensure better outcomes for each other than if we engaged each other through other means, such as violence and 2. you are willing to afford me reciprocal rights. Animals are incapable of doing this, so where do their rights come from?

  39. Actually, Ben, the fact that we have different brains to animals, specifically ones that are capable of reason, is exactly the reason we afford rights to humans and not to animals

    If you are to maintain this position, it is not the existence of different brains but the ability to reason that is morally relevant. However, marginal humans such as infants and those with severe mental disabilities do not have this ability. The question then becomes: can we generalise this ability to all humans? I have shown above that we cannot.

    Do we afford the full suite of human rights to severely disabled people? No. Why? Because their brains are not able to sufficiently reason to be able to conduct themselves in society.

    I am not arguing for all the rights of humans to apply to animals. Like those with severely disabilities, animals do not have an interest in many of the rights we grant most humans. But we grant those with severely disabilities the right not to be treated exclusively as a resource of others. We cannot eat them, use their skin to make shoes, or test cosmetics or pharmaceuticals on them. I am maintaining that we extend that same right to nonhuman animals.

    Why? Where does this right come from?
    The right not to be treated exclusively as a resource is based on a consistent application of the principle of equal consideration to sentient nonhumans. Please refer back to my original post on the theory of animal rights for the argument. Gary Francione’s excellent book, Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog?, provides more detail.

    I afford you rights because 1. I can engage you through reason and we can ensure better outcomes for each other than if we engaged each other through other means, such as violence and 2. you are willing to afford me reciprocal rights. Animals are incapable of doing this, so where do their rights come from?

    You need to specify how you deal with marginal humans if you are to maintain 1.

    As to 2, we grant basic rights to those who are incapable or refuse to reciprocate. We cannot pour household bleach into the eyes of violent criminals or the mentally insane.

    For an insightful literary look into what the world would be like if we did use marginal humans in the way we use animals now, hear Neil Gaiman read his short story.

  40. The right not to be treated exclusively as a resource is based on a consistent application of the principle of equal consideration to sentient nonhumans.

    This misrepresents most of the views you have been debating, Ben, including mine. I do not argue the “exclusive” right to be treated as a resource applies to animals owned as property. Nor do most people – laws preventing cruelty have not been at issue here.

    Equal consideration for sentient non-humans is simply one of many moral options. I have a Hindu Indian friend who won’t eat anything that has been killed, including plants. Thus he will eat milk or unfertilised eggs but not root vegetables. I don’t share his view, but I regard the idea of not killing something for food as morally superior to your ‘sentient’ fetish.

    I consider humans to be simply animals with certain faculties that distinguish them from other species. Animals eat animals, from insects to mammals, and our differences as humans are not sufficient to change that.

    Having said that, you have conceded you are some sort of anarchist and therefore presumably not interested in coercively preventing anyone from using animals as resources. My Indian friend has the same outlook about what others eat. If that is the case, I’m happy to simply agree to differ.

  41. If you are to maintain this position, it is not the existence of different brains but the ability to reason that is morally relevant. However, marginal humans such as infants and those with severe mental disabilities do not have this ability. The question then becomes: can we generalise this ability to all humans? I have shown above that we cannot.

    What have you shown?

    Infants and those with severe mental disabilities are not afforded the full suite of rights. They don’t have the ability to demand any rights be afforded to them. They afforded rights by rational human beings.

    All human beings capable of surviving on their own have the ability to reason. It is their basic tool of survival. If they couldn’t reason they wouldn’t be human or they would die unless someone else kept them alive. So if their living in society by their own volition they can reason.

    But we grant those with severely disabilities the right not to be treated exclusively as a resource of others. We cannot eat them, use their skin to make shoes, or test cosmetics or pharmaceuticals on them. I am maintaining that we extend that same right to nonhuman animals.

    We grant those with disabilities a set of rights because they are of most use to us with those rights. We do it to protect our own human dignity, to increase the value of human life generally and therefore increase the value of our own lives. We put in place rules to eliminate the extremes of cruelty to animals because torturing of animals denigrates our own society and cheapens our lives. We ‘eat them, use their skin to make shoes, or test cosmetics or pharmaceuticals’ because that affords us the maximum utility from these creatures. There is no rational basis to afford them any further rights, as they are not able to reciprocate rights with us. We afford them only the rights that maximise our own utility.

    The right not to be treated exclusively as a resource is based on a consistent application of the principle of equal consideration to sentient nonhumans. Please refer back to my original post on the theory of animal rights for the argument. Gary Francione’s excellent book, Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog?, provides more detail.

    If such a right exists then you should be able to elaborate it to me here, right now, in a clear, rational manner.

    With all due respect, Ben, I put it to you that you have no rational basis for giving rights to animals, and you, at best, can only refer to a couple of loose, ethereal concepts based in human emotion and evolutionary behaviour predating the human ascent into reason.

    You need to specify how you deal with marginal humans if you are to maintain 1.

    I’ve specified this is my first point in this post.

    As to 2, we grant basic rights to those who are incapable or refuse to reciprocate. We cannot pour household bleach into the eyes of violent criminals or the mentally insane.

    Again, we do this to preserve human dignity, and in doing so, prevent this from happening to ourselves. As we have decided to live our lives as rational, civilised people we don’t do this to others as pouring bleach into eyes is not reason, and we want to set a precedent of dealing with other people through reason.

    For an insightful literary look into what the world would be like if we did use marginal humans in the way we use animals now, hear Neil Gaiman read his short story.

    Each of us respond to differently to art, but I’d say that’s drivel. The reader makes no point of value, but I suppose he got his audience to think and at least have an emotional reaction.

    For the record, the moment society started to mistreat babies it would be a slow descent into brutal tribalism, thereby defeating the whole purpose of using the babies to build up society. So a rational society wouldn’t do this.

  42. Michael — as I’ve said (several times) I think the perception of free will deserves to be respected because it is the thing that makes me me and you you. Once you recognise what defines you at the core, I think it is appropriate to respect it wherever it exists.

    Your last sentence didn’t make sense. Just because an animal (human or other) may violate your property rights, that does not mean that the same animal (human or other) does not have self-ownership. Perhaps they need to be put into care or jail… but I don’t think the position of “if you commit crime you have no self-ownership” makes sense. And the self-ownership of another animal (human or other) does not violate your property rights.

  43. BP asks: John, if you agree that animals should be property do you believe that it does not matter at all what we do to animals?

    No, that’s a non-sequitur. Because they are property I believe they should be allowed to do whatever they like (ie political philosophy)… but I also have opinions about how people should act to have the best life (ie moral philosophy).

    As I said earlier, I think it would be wrong to torture an animal for fun. If somebody did that — I would think badly of them and discriminate against them.

    BP: Rights must be enforced. I’m not sure who should do this.

    There are several answers to this besides the government. One option is people defend themselves, and this has always happened. Also, without government I think it likely there would be a robust market in offering protection/security services.

    But that’s a different discussion…

  44. Your last sentence didn’t make sense. Just because an animal (human or other) may violate your property rights, that does not mean that the same animal (human or other) does not have self-ownership. Perhaps they need to be put into care or jail… but I don’t think the position of “if you commit crime you have no self-ownership” makes sense.

    You need to differentiate between your personal concept of self-ownership i.e. your definition of free will, and having that self-ownership respected by others as part of a moral and legal system. Both you, me, everybody else, and probably animals want control over their own lives. But in order to get this acknowledged by others we need to deal with them through reason to get mutually beneficial outcomes through moral and maybe a legal system.

    Also, if you want to put them into care or jail this involves a cost to the jailer, carer i.e. they must give up some part of their own lives to bear this cost. Do they have a moral obligation to do this?

    “if you commit crime you have no self-ownership” means that you will still want to have control over your own life, but other civilised people aren’t going to respect your ownership over your own life. So by committing crime you are effectively diminishing the ownership of your own life eg. they might want to put you in ‘care or jail’.

  45. John, your first point, viz:

    Your last sentence didn’t make sense. Just because an animal (human or other) may violate your property rights, that does not mean that the same animal (human or other) does not have self-ownership. Perhaps they need to be put into care or jail… but I don’t think the position of “if you commit crime you have no self-ownership” makes sense.

    is actually quite Oakshott style conservative i.e. the mass murderer is still part of society, he just needs to accept his punishment. It’s not logically inconsistent when taken in isolation, but when examined in the broader sense I’d say it falls apart.

  46. I think the perception of free will deserves to be respected because it is the thing that makes me me and you you. Once you recognise what defines you at the core, I think it is appropriate to respect it wherever it exists.

    Sorry John, I overlooked this. Yep, it’s piss. I think it’s appropriate to respect lots of things. Other people don’t. There needs to be a reason why all humans should respect something before it can be part of the social component of a moral system.

  47. Michael — you argue that because infants/retards don’t have reason then we give them fewer rights. True. But they still have the right not to be eaten. So you seem to be discriminating between infants & animals despite the fact that your supposed rule for respecting rights (reason) is absent in both.

    You then claim that the reason for your compassion towards infants/retards is that they are “useful”, and to protect “human dignity”. The second part is just fluff and certainly not the role of government. It is only “reasoned-creature dignity” that we should give rights to, according to your rationale.

    And as for usefulness… does that mean if an infant/retard is not useful we should be allowed to eat them, or wear their skin as a coat?

    I don’t think you’ve given an adequate answer to Ben’s question. I think the reason for including infants/retards in the “have rights” category is that the generalisation of “human” is the most convenient and avoids the most amount of errors.

    And your defense of anti-animal-torture laws is just as fluffy and meaningless. Phrases such as “denigrates our own society” mean nothing except “I want to impose my views on others but can’t work out a coherent rational argument”. What people do with their own property (even things that denigrate themsevles) is their own business and the government shouldn’t be banning people’s free actions with their own property. That’s paternalistic & authoritarian nanny-statism.

    Ask yourself this — on what basis does the government prevent you from treating your property (eg dog) any way that you like? To impose their morality? To maintain a “vibe”? You can’t say that an animal has the “right” to avoid a little bit of torture (even if it gives me $10 worth of utility), but can have it’s flesh eaten if it gives me 5c of utility.

    The only internally consistent positions are “animals are property and have no rights” or “animals have some degree of self-ownership and so should be treated like other incompetent self-owners like infants/retards”. Anything else is an intellectual cop-out.

  48. Michael — I don’t think animals “want” anything in the sense humans use the word.

    I agree that we deal with people using reason… but I don’t accept that this is the only basis on which we can consider morality.

    Such a morality (or lack of morality) would justify killing anybody if you could get away with it. While I agree that self-interest suggests that we shouldn’t kill too much… I am not convinced that this is all there is to morality.

    As for jails… I’m not arguing for any particular outcome. I’m just pointing out that the logic of your argument is that we should treat infants/retards the same as animals. So kill both. Or jail both. Don’t make up fake excuses for defending the one that looks like you.

    I agree that criminals may need to be punished. But you also endorse eating some creatures even before they have committed a crime. That’s not consistent with your own argument.

    I know you don’t accept a moral basis for self-ownership, but such a suggestion is not “piss”. The reason why people should respect “sense-of-self” is that it without respecting what makes you you, you are not respecting yourself — and as Rand says, we should be the goal of our own lives.

  49. you argue that because infants/retards don’t have reason then we give them fewer rights. True. But they still have the right not to be eaten. So you seem to be discriminating between infants & animals despite the fact that your supposed rule for respecting rights (reason) is absent in both.

    I’m saying in all cases of infants, retards and animals the only rights they get are the ones rational people afford them – and they afford them rights on the basis of what is best for a rational society.

    ………..and to protect “human dignity”. The second part is just fluff and certainly not the role of government.

    By human dignity I mean the protection of human life and human liberty. I understand that could be misconstrued (but maybe not on a libertarian site!). Those things are the roles of government, in fact, some of the only legitimate roles of government.

    And your defense of anti-animal-torture laws is just as fluffy and meaningless. Phrases such as “denigrates our own society” mean nothing except “I want to impose my views on others but can’t work out a coherent rational argument”. What people do with their own property (even things that denigrate themsevles) is their own business and the government shouldn’t be banning people’s free actions with their own property. That’s paternalistic & authoritarian nanny-statism.

    etc

    etc

    Yes, agreed. People should be able to do what they want with their own property. But animal torture sits in a grey area because 1. it isn’t behaviour consistent with a productive, rational person and 2. it’s almost universally unwanted in civil society and the only people who want it don’t seem to be great examples of civilised society, and are probably psychopaths. But I agree this is a grey area. My position is in that sense perhaps a compromise: I accept laws against the extremes of cruel behaviour, but no more. But I consider animals as property, who act predominantly on instinct, and while they may or may not have a sense of personal self ownership (your free will) that are unable to interact with others on a rational basis, which is the only basis rights can be afforded in a society.

  50. I am not convinced that this is all there is to morality.

    Fine. Articulate your version of morality. But if it’s not rational don’t expect lots of other people to live by it. If you’re lucky you could get a few followers – you could have your own religion!

    The reason why people should respect “sense-of-self” is that it without respecting what makes you you, you are not respecting yourself — and as Rand says, we should be the goal of our own lives.

    Now, that’s ‘just fluff’ and ‘ntellectual cop-out’. One thing that makes me human is that I use reason as my means of relating to the world and as my primary means of survival. If I see this trait in other creatures you can be guaranteed that I’ll respect that creature and attempt to negotiate a system of rights with them – according to reason, of course.

  51. Such a morality (or lack of morality) would justify killing anybody if you could get away with it.

    Just for the record, it doesn’t. Do I need to go into this again?

  52. Michael,

    What have you shown? Infants and those with severe mental disabilities are not afforded the full suite of rights. They don’t have the ability to demand any rights be afforded to them. They afforded rights by rational human beings.

    I have shown that if we maintain that animals should be excluded from the moral community because most humans have the ability to reason or perceive free will, we are committed to several untenable and absurd positions.

    I again repeat that I am not arguing for a full bundle of rights to be extended to animals or, for that matter, marginal humans. I am simply arguing for the basic right not to be treated exclusively as a resource. Whether or not someone can demand their own rights is as irrelevant as who grants them.

    We do it to protect our own human dignity, to increase the value of human life generally and therefore increase the value of our own lives. We put in place rules to eliminate the extremes of cruelty to animals because torturing of animals denigrates our own society and cheapens our lives.

    Your only argument against using marginal humans as a means to our ends and cruelty to animals is the effect it has on other persons and the notion of human ‘dignity’. As John has noted, this is not a good argument. Even if I was the last rational human on the planet, it would still be immoral for me to use infants or animals as a means to my ends by pouring bleach in their eyes.

    If such a right exists then you should be able to elaborate it to me here, right now, in a clear, rational manner.

    I have already done so in my original post, but I shall present it simply for you:

    1. Nonhuman and human animals are both sentient.

    2. We should treat likes alike (equal consideration)

    3. We extend to all humans the basic right not to be used as a resource (property).

    4. We do not extend this right to animals. Is there a morally relevant reason not to do so?

    5. You claim rationality is this reason. But not all humans have this ability (marginal cases).

    6. To be consistent, we must extend the right not to be used as a resource to nonhuman animals.

  53. David,

    This misrepresents most of the views you have been debating, Ben, including mine. I do not argue the “exclusive” right to be treated as a resource applies to animals owned as property. Nor do most people – laws preventing cruelty have not been at issue here.

    I have argued that if you agree with the principle of humane treatment of animals then you are committed to the view that animals should have the right not to be property.

    Equal consideration for sentient non-humans is simply one of many moral options. I have a Hindu Indian friend who won’t eat anything that has been killed, including plants. Thus he will eat milk or unfertilised eggs but not root vegetables.

    Equal consideration is a necessary element of any moral theory. The position of your friend is a religious position, not a morally defensible one.

    I consider humans to be simply animals with certain faculties that distinguish them from other species. Animals eat animals, from insects to mammals, and our differences as humans are not sufficient to change that.

    This is an argument from nature. Just because humans can eat other animals does not mean that it is moral to do so.

    Having said that, you have conceded you are some sort of anarchist and therefore presumably not interested in coercively preventing anyone from using animals as resources.

    The enforcement of rights is necessarily defensive, even for an anarchist. If animals are rightholders then we can legitimately use force to protect their rights.

  54. Ben, your terms seem sloppy. For instance, defence is not coercion. A moral order would not use coercion, but would respond to the initiation of violence. If you are trying to justify your first use of force, you will not find agreement at this site!

  55. And when you say something stupid like ‘Religious arguments are not moral arguments’, you show sloppy logic and lose potential supporters. I am an esoteric Christian, who believes that Karma is an operating principle in the universe- which is why we don’t need an all-powerful state to impose justice on the Earth. My code of morality is based on my religion. You might have been able to make an argument about ethical treatment being in accord with all great religions, if you hadn’t alienated us!!!

  56. Nicholas,

    You are right, my use of coercion was incorrect. I have corrected my term in the comment. The confusion arose from David’s reference to ‘coercive prevention’. Preventing someone from doing something to a rightholder, as you point out, is defence and not coersion.

  57. Nicholas,

    I did not say that religious arguments are not moral arguments. I said ‘the position of your friend is a religious position, not a morally defensible one.’ Philosophically defensible arguments and religious beliefs about morality are sometimes the same. Often they are not. For example, the belief that homosexuality is immoral is usually based on a religious belief. I do not believe that belief can be defended on the basis of logical argument. Similarly, David was attempting to argue that because his friend has a particular belief about nonhuman animals that means that my position is not the only defensible moral position on the issue. I was stating that I do not believe that his friend’s belief can be logically defended.

  58. Last post before I escape this topic…

    Michael — I know you are differentiating between infants/retards and animals because the former are humans. But caring about all humans is inconsistent with your stated reason for caring about humans. You care about “reason-havers”, and infants/retards don’t fit your bill. To fall back on “I like humans” is nice, but inconsistent with your own argument.

    I agree people shouldn’t torture animals. I also think they should not be religious, should try hallucinogenic drugs, should travel, should value friends, should learn a second language etc. I have lots of moral advice to give out. But I don’t think you should enforce your moral advice (or your version of “good”) on other people. The only difference with animal torture is that you really really don’t like that idea. Well… that’s your preference. Morally I agree. But politically, you should not impose your preferences on others. To say that a tortures preference is not popular is also true, but popularity should not determine legality. Otherwise being a libertarian would be illegal!

    Just to be clear — I don’t think animals have a sense of free will. That is why I don’t think we need respect them as self-owners.

    You say you are you because you use reason. I half agree. First, I’m not sure that you do use reason, but I agree you think you do (which is what matters). Second, the fact that you think you use reason is a consequence of the fact that you think you have free will. So the core of the issue is the perception of free will. Which is my point.

    None of this is fluff, nor a cop-out. You may disagree if you like, but at least I’ve built a metaphysical basis for my moral philosophy.

  59. Ben I agree with all your comments at # 41. But I still think that Francione’s arguments are extremely unsatisfactory and ill-defined.
    My summary:
    Animals feel pain, therefore we should violate human rights.

    I am being speciest. (But I explain why from empirical data). I think being speciest is the correct approach.

    I’m also for animals being regarded as property. I think this is the best practise and that this approach will by itself take care of most problems.

    And regarding your last point I totally agree and I am aware of this.
    I realise (and have already previously explained to John) that an argument appealing to practicality is not a proper rebuttal. It’s just a red flag warning to show the theory is probably wrong assuming theory practise dichotomies are not inevitable.
    Human development relied on using animals. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if animals were not regarded as property. (I realise this last comment is not a complete rebuttal).

  60. Ben – that’s not a rational argument and I suspect you know it. There is no flow of logic throughout those points and there are gaping holes.

    Whether or not someone can demand their own rights is as irrelevant as who grants them.

    What is this? So whoever grants the rights is irrelevant? Is the reason they grant the rights irrelevant? Do rights have to have a basis?

    Welcome to reality. There are no ethereal higher sets of rights that are afforded to everything by default. There is no great god putting in place a moral system that we all should abide by. Rights come from somewhere – rational people who afford them to others for rational reasons. There is no reason why rational creatures i.e. people should afford rights to animals. The fact they are sentient is arbitrary, so what? What about the fact they are alive, does that work – rights for plants and bacteria?

    Your only argument against using marginal humans as a means to our ends and cruelty to animals is the effect it has on other persons and the notion of human ‘dignity’. As John has noted, this is not a good argument. Even if I was the last rational human on the planet, it would still be immoral for me to use infants or animals as a means to my ends by pouring bleach in their eyes.

    They are the only arguments for affording mentally disabled people rights. For example, if we could harvest the organs from a currently living mentally disabled baby to save the life of his mentally able sibling, it would be reasonable to present this option to the parents.

    If you were the last rational person on earth and your survival depended on you eating animals I strongly recommend you do it. If, for some strange reason, the only way you could catch them was by pouring bleach in their eyes I still strongly recommend you do it. In fact, if you died because you wouldn’t do it I’d consider you silly, and even immoral, because you’ve wasted your life for an animal when you didn’t have to.

    John – You may disagree if you like, but at least I’ve built a metaphysical basis for my moral philosophy.

    Correct. You’ve built a metaphysical system for how you feel about morality. You’ve extracted an ‘is’ from an ‘ought’. But that’s the problem – you don’t have control over the ‘is’ and your ‘is’ doesn’t match reality. The metaphysics comes first, and the moral philosophy should follow.

  61. Tim,

    But I still think that Francione’s arguments are extremely unsatisfactory and ill-defined. My summary: Animals feel pain, therefore we should violate human rights.

    You have not represented the argument correctly. As I have already made clear, Francione is not saying that we should violate human rights. He is saying that we do not have the right to use animals as resources.

    It is worth noting that I have only presented a brief overview of Francione’s theory.

    I’m also for animals being regarded as property. I think this is the best practise and that this approach will by itself take care of most problems.

    Obviously it does not, otherwise I would not be advocating the abolition of the property status of animals. The property status of animals is the problem.

    Human development relied on using animals. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if animals were not regarded as property. (I realise this last comment is not a complete rebuttal).

    It is not a rebuttal at all. Human development has also relied heavily on slavery, racism, and the oppression of women.

  62. That’s not a rational argument and I suspect you know it. There is no flow of logic throughout those points and there are gaping holes.

    It is a brief account of the theory. You raise a problem with one element, and I’ll address it rationally.

    Welcome to reality. There are no ethereal higher sets of rights that are afforded to everything by default. There is no great god putting in place a moral system that we all should abide by. Rights come from somewhere – rational people who afford them to others for rational reasons.

    I agree. But that does not mean that because someone cannot fight for their rights or comprehend their rights they should not be entitled to rights.

    The fact they are sentient is arbitrary, so what? What about the fact they are alive, does that work – rights for plants and bacteria?

    Sentience is morally relevant because it means that individuals have interests. Unless you argue that it does not matter what we do to animals, you consider sentience morally relevant. Plants and bacteria are not sentient and do not have interests.

    They are the only arguments for affording mentally disabled people rights. For example, if we could harvest the organs from a currently living mentally disabled baby to save the life of his mentally able sibling, it would be reasonable to present this option to the parents.

    Maintaining ‘dignity’ is not an argument. Your thinking, Michael, is very confused.

    If you were the last rational person on earth and your survival depended on you eating animals I strongly recommend you do it.

    I would. I would also eat the baby, or anyone else for that matter. That doesn’t tell us anything. My point (actually Robert Nozick’s in his Anarchy, State, and Utopia) was that the idea that being cruel to animals or marginal humans is not simply a matter of the effect on society.

  63. What about when animals kill each other? Has a moral violation occurred?

    No. Only moral agents have responsibilities, but others can have rights without responsibilities.

    Where do rights come from? What’s their justification or purpose?

    This is a deep issue. I maintain that we have created rights. The purpose of a right is to protect an interest.

  64. Only moral agents have responsibilities, but others can have rights without responsibilities.

    Why do some people or things get rights without responsibilities?

    …..so I maintain that we create rights. The purpose of rights is to protect an interest.

    If these people or things have these rights to protect an interest, whose interest are they protecting, and why did moral agents create rights to protect these interests?

  65. Just to make things more ambiguous throw in the moral duty of protection of the weak (guardianship) and the conflict that arises when we stop using animals for food/industry etc.

    Just about all domestic animals (cattle, sheep, goats, horses ,chickens) would require massive culls if humans stopped exploiting them otherwise they would rapidly become pests or suffer massive diebacks and impact the lives of other animals and humans.

    Some recent examples of this conflict a;ready occurring.
    – PETA operated pet shelters euthanize strays at a much higher rate than govt / breeder / pet society shelters. (Assigning a higher moral worth to native/wild animals)
    – If jumps racing is banned as currently threatened many horses involved in this sport will cease to have an economic value greater than pet meat. (and can’t run wild and free due to the damage to native flora/fauna)

    Perhaps we will move to veganism / fungism / cultured(lab vat) meatism and in the process phase out exploitation of animals but I suspect it will happen for economic rather than moral reasons.

  66. Why do some people or things get rights without responsibilities?

    Because they cannot make moral decisions. They are not moral agents. This includes marginal humans and animals.

    If these people or things have these rights to protect an interest, whose interest are they protecting, and why did moral agents create rights to protect these interests?

    The right protects the interests of the person. These rights are created because the interests of an individual person matter subjectively to that person.

  67. One more question.

    Which animals??

    Do we include nematodes, sponges, jellyfish, and or do we draw the line at a spinal chord. Do we still kill ants just because we will gain pleasure by not having them around.

    Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal to start to see at a glance how complex this question becomes when we try to draw a cutoff line. Often it gets drawn between things we like and things we don’t like regardless of their intrinsic value or worth.

    I think in this argument we need to account for the fact that humans are still a part of the ecosystem and still a part of the competition between and within species for resources and not (yet) an external agent disconnected from nature.

  68. Ben – Because they cannot make moral decisions. They are not moral agents. This includes marginal humans and animals.

    What capabilities do you need to have to be a moral agent?

    The right protects the interests of the person. These rights are created because the interests of an individual person matter subjectively to that person.

    If rights vary subjectively on what matters to that person or animal, then do rights change on how the person or animal feels? What if they feel differently on different days, do their rights change based on that?

    How does a moral agent determine what these rights are and why should they grant them to non-moral agents (and for that matter to other moral agents)? Do all the interests of a person or animal matter and deserve to be protected by a right? How do moral agents choose which ones gets rights and which ones don’t?

    ——————————————-

    James Dean – I think in this argument we need to account for the fact that humans are still a part of the ecosystem and still a part of the competition between and within species for resources and not (yet) an external agent disconnected from nature.

    Absolutely, JD. And I think this will be an essential facet of the human condition until we enter a period of transhumanism.

  69. What capabilities do you need to have to be a moral agent?

    The ability to make moral decisions.

    If rights vary subjectively on what matters to that person or animal, then do rights change on how the person or animal feels? What if they feel differently on different days, do their rights change based on that?

    I did not say that the reason for rights varies subjectively. I said that the reason we create rights is to protect the subjective interests of one against the many. Rights are a protective barrier around an interest. For example, it may be beneficial for society to use babies for research to cure diseases, but the interest of the baby in not suffering is protected by a right.

    Do all the interests of a person or animal matter and deserve to be protected by a right? How do moral agents choose which ones gets rights and which ones don’t?

    These are good questions that have not yet been resolved fully. Certainly, libertarians would dispute the protection of some interests (positive duties) through the use of rights. While we have not established a full account of rights yet, the right protecting an interest in not suffering as a result of being used as a resource is the basic right that must precede all other rights.

  70. James,

    Which animals?

    I have addressed this point already. Sentient animals are the subjects of rights. Sponges are animals, but are not sentient. The line of course, is unclear. But that does not mean we cannot draw one at all. Virtually all of the animals we exploit for our purposes are undoubtedly sentient.

    I think in this argument we need to account for the fact that humans are still a part of the ecosystem and still a part of the competition between and within species for resources and not (yet) an external agent disconnected from nature.

    I never said we were. This is an argument from nature. Again.

  71. At #66. Francione is basing his theory for rights on his “intuitive” morality.
    Whatever that means, it’s not an argument IMO.

    Just for the record:
    Human advancement was hindered by racism, slavery and unfair treatment to women. – Not advanced at all

    To exclude the minds and bodies of over 50% of the population (women and/or races) from a large realm of productive and important work – how can that possibly advance anything?
    To not understand human freedoms means an oppresive society and philosophy/culture. This environment is not conducive to advancement because you’ve taken away the method for advancement, namely freedom and are living in an ignorant society.
    Some humans are impressive though and can achieve advancement inspite of the forces that attempt to hold them back. eg/ Modern technology advances in our mixed economy of partial freedoms.

    Perhaps compare a slave heavy society eg/ ancient Egyptians which existed in remarkable stagnation and oppression for thousands of years to the relatively free ancient Greeks. In a much shorter time, the Greeks became more prosperous and had a better quality of life. The Greeks lived longer, discovered more science, had the best art the world had ever seen etc

    Animals on the other hand did advance humanity. Humans used animals like they used other entities in the world around them to be creative and productive.

    Of course we share many evoluntionary traits with animals and can empathize with them. Therefore we are as nice as possible to animals, especially if they belong to us.
    Do you really think farmers are immoral?

  72. What capabilities do you need to have to be a moral agent?

    The ability to make moral decisions.

    So what is the ability to make moral decisions? Is it possessing a faculty of emotions, so you can feel good or bad about things? Is it the ability to believe in god, so you can call on his/her/its guidance in prayer? Is it having spent twenty years on a mountain in solitude and quiet reflection contemplating the meaning of right and wrong? What faculties does a moral agent possess?

    I said that the reason we create rights is to protect the subjective interests of one against the many. Rights are a protective barrier around an interest. For example, it may be beneficial for society to use babies for research to cure diseases, but the interest of the baby in not suffering is protected by a right.

    Why should we protect the interests of that baby, or an animal, or a mentally disabled person? Is it to be nice to them, because it’s good to be nice? Is it because we’re all god’s creatures and will be judged according to how we’ve treated others? Is it because of karma?

    You’ve stated in #56 above that human dignity and the effects on other moral agents aren’t very good arguments. So what is the good argument on why we should afford rights to animals?

  73. Answer my last question above in the context of this statement from #76:

    the right protecting an interest in not suffering as a result of being used as a resource is the basic right that must precede all other rights.

  74. The quote at #80 leads me to ask- is it alright to domesticate animals if they don’t suffer? Wouldn’t it be morally mandated if they have beter lives? Dogs and cats and many farm animals lead better lives than they would out in the wild. To not tame them could be construed as cruelty, since we could make their lives better, but don’t. (How many dairy cattle get eaten by wolves, bears, or lions? Much less than outside our society.)
    Also, humans have only been able to develop any civilisation through domestication of animals. Maybe we are reaching the point where we can become free of animals, through vat-grown meats, or my proposal of using those lizards who shed their tails becoming ‘ethical’ meat, but we aren’t there yet!
    As for the original example of a man mistreating an animal, I agree that no-one should inflict gratuitous pain on anything, but that doesn’t automatically extend to being a vegan greenie.

  75. People can talk about sentiance all they want, but science shows the truth. Only humans and our close relatives (some chimps) have been shown to be capable of passing ideas from brain to brain. No other animals do this, everything they do is instinct, including ALL of their communication. Yet we know that a huge amount of animals can learn, but they can never pass ideas/experience between each other. This points strongly to the conclusion that most animals are not conscious of their existance or being at all, and we have to wonder how much they suffer in their sentience.

    Its almost evolutionary proven that a state of conoiusness would have to come AFTER the passing of ideas from brain to brain is evolved, as achieving consiousness depends on having the concept of ones self seperate to others.

    Eventually science will be able to show consciousness of animals and if they are sentient. At the moment its just guess work and millions of years of carnivous evolution will never be broken until we have solid facts.

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