Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Animal rights

Rate this topic


Ragnar
 Share

Recommended Posts

There is a distinction between having some conceptual capabilities (which I think might be possible for some animals) and having the ability to understand a higher level concept such as rights.

To ask such a question in the op, one first needs to reduce rights and understand how and why it was formed. Then I think the answer becomes a bit more clear.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Concepts such as 'rational' or 'conceptual' condense facts of reality about humans.  You could spend the rest of your life enumerating concrete specific instances for those concepts.  Look at the endless stream of ways in which humans are different from other animals, including specific instances of the facts which give rise to the moral principle of rights.  The more you do that, the less tempted you will be to apply 'conceptual' as some sort of percentage-based litmus test for rights, i.e. if an animal seems sorta conceptual then maybe it sorta has rights.  No, rights are moral principles which arise in a specific and unique context, and animals don't even come close to recreating that context.

If you recognize that the idea of animal rights is 'ridiculous', what makes you think you can change the minds of those who hold such a position?  Leaving aside the problem of 'proving' (showing the connection to self-evident facts of reality) the non-existence of something (i.e. something not in reality), how do you condense an education in the primacy of existence and proper formation and use of concepts to a single writing or conversation?

Better to take the opportunity to practice some philosophic detection and try to figure out where your opponent's most fundamental error is, and see if you can figure out an engaging way to encourage them to rethink it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There are quite a few articles if you search google with regard to Ayn Rand and animal rights.   However, I remember reading somewhere that Rand supposedly mentioned to a friend that it would be an achievement to show that animals do have rights. (...let me see if I can find it...)

 

"Your readers might be interested in knowing that once she said to me that if I could figure out a theoretical basis for animal rights, I “would be doing the world a great service.” http://sanseverything.wordpress.com/2007/10/24/from-ayn-rand-to-animal-rights-an-interview-with-henry-mark-holzer-2/

 

 

Not sure if you've seen this:

The Terror of "Animal Rights" 

http://www.aynrand.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7987&news_iv_ctrl=1084
By Alex Epstein

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hey guys, longtime Objectivist here... One thing I just can't get over is the idea of animals having rights. Obviously it's ridiculous and all but how do we prove without a doubt that animals don't have a conceptual consciousness like humans and that they only exist to survive and reproduce and to fill an ecological niche? I've seen animal rights groups stating that whales, dolphins, great apes, elephants, etc. are self aware like us and can conceptualize (because self-awareness means stepping outside your body hypothetically) ... Any ideas on how to prove them wrong? Thoughts? Thanks guys looking forward to some answers. 

 

Human rights are not unique by the standard of sustaining ones life by ones own effort; self preservation being fundamental to all living organisms.  Can it be demonstrated that animals don't earn a right to property necessary to survive that has been acquired by their own actions?  I can argue that gophers have no right to invade my front yard, but not without allowing that sharks and tigers have the same right to defend their territory.

 

Biological diversity is necessary to the preservation of all life, so acting unilaterally on a "right" that favors humans also works against us in the long run.  Rather than trying to prove a negative for the purpose of asserting human bias, we ought to attempt to determine the extent to which aggression against animals is justified.  Perhaps expanding our social context to include those animals we interact with and depend on would be an appropriate first step.  For example, are domesticated animals necessarily slaves, or should we treat them with greater respect?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It is notoriously hard to explain the difference between animal and human cognition. Obviously animals can abstract to some extent: they recognize the identity of a ball regardless of its size, location, color, etc (if you think of a dog) - they can even identify them based on the word you use. Furthermore the dog can understand the abstraction of "toy" which might include "ball" or "rope" or something else. 
 
Clearly animals do have some capacity for abstraction, and some pre-conceptual or even rudimentary conceptual capacity. Pre-conceptual in the sense that they can abstract and integrate categories of things to some extent, but not into a full linguistic code, and not into complex conceptual hierarchies.
 
I think the key distinction is in Ayn Rand's careful wording: the conceptual faculty is man's *characteristic* method of cognition. That is, even if animals do have some rudimentary conceptual capacity, it's certainly not their characteristic method of cognition, but rather a very advanced, difficult ability they can perform to some small extent - whereas their characteristic method of cognition is instinct.
 
I think her essay on The Missing Link is informative at this point, too. You can think of many people as being borderline of tending toward instinct or conceptual as their characteristic method of cognition.
 
But even the dumbest and most mentally retarded people are capable of conceptual cognition far beyond any animal. So trying to suggest that animals can use reason and have a rational faculty is nonsense.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's precisely *because* animals have no rights and shouldn't have any, that domesticated animals should enjoy a reasonable measure of protection from abuse.

Since men long ago removed from their natural environment, and bred several species of animal - for their service, sport or companionship - the descendants of those men have to take responsibility for the progeny of those early animals, which have become solely dependent on the reason and benevolence of their owners. Whatever instincts they had for autonomous survival have been superseded when they are born into the society of man, and - for whatever purpose men use them (food included)- they merit a simple level of respect and responsibility.

In general, it's a barometer of society: the more rational a society, the better it treats its 'right-less' domestic animals.

Edited by whYNOT
Link to comment
Share on other sites

@ whYNOT,

 

I disagree that animal rights can't be derived from the study of nature, but I think you raise some good points.  I think it would be a mistake to consider animals as having human rights, but in terms of interaction with humans, the fact that they cannot take their case to court without a human advocate doesn't imply they have no rights at all.  There has to be some standard of interaction between alien cultures that doesn't rely on the ability to use a common language in order to recognize a right to live.  In the case of domesticated animals, I believe some form of mutual cooperation is necessary in order to tame the beast.  And this kind of willing cooperation lies at the heart of rights in a social context.

 

More to the point of having a respect for human rights however, animals are a necessary resource for human survival.  When the prominant attitude is that animals have no rights, no serious effort will be made to prevent the extermination of them.  Those who advocate for animal rights generally see it as in their own self interest, and view the extermination of a species as a threat to themselves akin to poisoning the air they breathe or water they drink.  It's fine to view animal abuse as evidence of being poor care takers, but I think the consequences are more dire.

Edited by Devil's Advocate
Link to comment
Share on other sites

DA, You look to be widening the rights case to encompass all animals, but domesticated and wild, there should never be rights for animals.

Man's self-interest in all species surviving must be individually understood and acted upon. Therefore, all initiatives have to remain privatized. One can make a moral case as I've tried, for an evolved respect by owners and others for animal life - but try to protect them by government force and the contradictions will be endless. Worst, it will degrade 'human rights', and secondarily will force a stand-off by men against animals, which will have even more destructive consequences...on animals.

No, my 'case' rests upon animals being (as they are) completely at man's mercy. Rationality by each individual would determine the best treatment of them, but always voluntarily. Anything else, I fear, leads logically down the slippery slope to that hysterical and crazy PETA crowd.

Edited by whYNOT
Link to comment
Share on other sites

We can agree that a government of men ought to limit itself to securing the rights of men, recognizing that animals will continue to secure their own rights as nature allows.  The rights necessary for peaceful interaction in a social context require the acknowledgement and consent of all parties; relationships are built on trust.  The use of government to leverage property rights from one human to another on the basis of what is good for an animal is problematic, to say the least.  Until animals can represent themselves in court, the focus should be on recognizing that a human right to life is derived from the nature of the beast, and that our own survival depends on having respect for the survival of those creatures we interact with.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

It is notoriously hard to explain the difference between animal and human cognition. Obviously animals can abstract to some extent: they recognize the identity of a ball regardless of its size, location, color, etc (if you think of a dog) - they can even identify them based on the word you use. Furthermore the dog can understand the abstraction of "toy" which might include "ball" or "rope" or something else. 
 
Clearly animals do have some capacity for abstraction, and some pre-conceptual or even rudimentary conceptual capacity. Pre-conceptual in the sense that they can abstract and integrate categories of things to some extent, but not into a full linguistic code, and not into complex conceptual hierarchies.
 
I think the key distinction is in Ayn Rand's careful wording: the conceptual faculty is man's *characteristic* method of cognition. That is, even if animals do have some rudimentary conceptual capacity, it's certainly not their characteristic method of cognition, but rather a very advanced, difficult ability they can perform to some small extent - whereas their characteristic method of cognition is instinct.
 
I think her essay on The Missing Link is informative at this point, too. You can think of many people as being borderline of tending toward instinct or conceptual as their characteristic method of cognition.
 
But even the dumbest and most mentally retarded people are capable of conceptual cognition far beyond any animal. So trying to suggest that animals can use reason and have a rational faculty is nonsense.

 

I wouldn't call the notion that dogs can identify with certain objects by their name abstraction though, they have just learned via memory that certain objects are characterized by humans as certain sounds. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Is there a distinction to be made between animal rights amd animal welfare?

HUGE. Animal welfare is the respectable notion that animals should be treated with care and respect, but that animals should be considered property to be owned by humans. Animal rights is the radical notion that animals themselves as individuals (even though animals have no theory of mind whatsoever) have rights and that any human coercion against them is immoral. The fundamental flaw of animal rights though is that if all animals have rights then a gazelle has the right not to be attacked by the lion, correct? That would be an act of aggression. Aren't humans animals too? What gives other animals the right to coerce against other animals and not us? Silly idea.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Rights is freedom of action in social context. It presupposes existence of free will and conceptual mind. Advocates of animal rights see no difference between animals and people. Since they cannot bring up animals to the level of people, they effectively degrade people to the level of animals. The notion of animal rights is another assault on mind.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I wouldn't call the notion that dogs can identify with certain objects by their name abstraction though, they have just learned via memory that certain objects are characterized by humans as certain sounds. 

 

This behavior posits a rudimentary undestanding of language in terms of the association of a word to an object.

 

HUGE. Animal welfare is the respectable notion that animals should be treated with care and respect, but that animals should be considered property to be owned by humans. Animal rights is the radical notion that animals themselves as individuals (even though animals have no theory of mind whatsoever) have rights and that any human coercion against them is immoral. The fundamental flaw of animal rights though is that if all animals have rights then a gazelle has the right not to be attacked by the lion, correct? That would be an act of aggression. Aren't humans animals too? What gives other animals the right to coerce against other animals and not us? Silly idea.

 

You have correctly identified aggression as a key element in the discussion of rights.  However humans form governments for essentially the same reason various kinds of animals cluster together; security.  To argue that humans have a better (or unique) reason to secure rights for their own kind is simply an assertion of bias, and again not a unique one in terms of demonstrating a preference for the security of ones own kind.

 

The following provides some unique examples of human cognition upon which one might build a case for having an exclusive source of rights:

 

"Hauser presents four distinguishing ingredients of human cognition, and shows how these capacities make human thought unique. These four novel components of human thought are the ability to combine and recombine different types of information and knowledge in order to gain new understanding; to apply the same 'rule' or solution to one problem to a different and new situation; to create and easily understand symbolic representations of computation and sensory input; and to detach modes of thought from raw sensory and perceptual input."

 

"According to Hauser, animals have 'laser beam' intelligence, in which a specific solution is used to solve a specific problem. But these solutions cannot be applied to new situations or to solve different kinds of problem. In contrast, humans have 'floodlight' cognition, allowing us to use thought processes in new ways and to apply the solution of one problem to another situation. While animals can transfer across systems, this is only done in a limited way."

 

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080217102137.htm

 

Edited by Devil's Advocate
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Rights is freedom of action in social context. It presupposes existence of free will and conceptual mind. Advocates of animal rights see no difference between animals and people. Since they cannot bring up animals to the level of people, they effectively degrade people to the level of animals. The notion of animal rights is another assault on mind.

Amen, Brother.

If a man selling meat gives his property (animals) "free range", &/or slaughters his property in the least painful way possible, the men in the market use their dollars to "vote" on the issue.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Which of the following characterizes this discussion more accurately:

 

1.  We have in principle an agreed well established conceptual and abstract definition of rights, and are analysing whether or not "animals", given their nature, fall within the conceptual definition of rights.

 

This I would summarize by the question "DO animals HAVE rights?"

 

OR

 

2.  We are playing around with ideas regarding the nature of man and the nature of animals to determine whether we, de novo, "should" define rights in such a manner that animals are included (or not)

 

This I would summarize by the question "SHOULD animals HAVE rights?"

 

 

As an Objectivist I believe the first is the proper approach to take rather than the latter, assuming of course the concept "rights" is well defined according to Objectivism.

Edited by StrictlyLogical
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Rights is freedom of action in social context. It presupposes existence of free will and conceptual mind. Advocates of animal rights see no difference between animals and people. Since they cannot bring up animals to the level of people, they effectively degrade people to the level of animals. The notion of animal rights is another assault on mind.

 

Animals behave in social contexts, demonstrate preferences (free will), and distinguish between objects of reality (conceptualize to some degree).  Advocates of animal rights do in fact see a difference between animals and people; animals behave more consistently towards each other in terms of respect than humans do.  That is not an assault on the mind; it is an invitation to check your premises.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Which of the following characterizes this discussion more accurately:

 

1.  We have in principle an agreed well established conceptual and abstract definition of rights, and are analysing whether or not "animals", given their nature, fall within the conceptual definition of rights.

 

This I would summarize by the question "DO animals HAVE rights?"

 

OR

 

2.  We are playing around with ideas regarding the nature of man and the nature of animals to determine whether we, de novo, "should" define rights in such a manner that animals are included (or not)

 

This I would summarize by the question "SHOULD animals HAVE rights?"

 

 

As an Objectivist I believe the first is the proper approach to take rather than the latter, assuming of course the concept "rights" is well defined according to Objectivism.

 

What we are not talking about is a right to free speech, or to assemble, or to drive a car.  The relevant issue is, do humans as animals have an exclusive right to life according to the standard asserted by Objectivism, life being a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action, i.e. self-preservation.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Animals behave in social contexts, demonstrate preferences (free will), and distinguish between objects of reality (conceptualize to some degree).  Advocates of animal rights do in fact see a difference between animals and people; animals behave more consistently towards each other in terms of respect than humans do.  That is not an assault on the mind; it is an invitation to check your premises.

 

What is the quid pro quo for my extending rights to an animal? 

 

Am I contracting with it? 

 

Is it undertaking to respect my rights? 

 

Will it avoid trespass?  Take an oath not to eat me or suck my blood ?  Will we work together and trade? 

 

What is the social context as between me and the animal such that negative and positive obligations, i.e. promises of non-interference, delegation of use of retaliatory force, are honored in kind?

 

What do I get rationally and selfishly, in extending "rights" to an animal, i.e. why bother?

Edited by StrictlyLogical
Link to comment
Share on other sites

What is the quid pro quo for my extending rights to an animal? 

 

Am I contracting with it? 

 

Is it undertaking to respect my rights? 

 

Will it avoid trespass?  Take an oath not to eat me or suck my blood ?  Will we work together and trade? 

 

What is the social context as between me and the animal such that negative and positive obligations, i.e. promises of non-interference, delegation of use of retaliatory force, are honored in kind?

 

What do I get rationally and selfishly, in extending "rights" to an animal, i.e. why bother?

 

Excellent questions!  Let me try to address the last one first...

 

The extension of a right to life to animals is primarily an issue of mutual respect for life.  Is it rationally selfish for a man to act with impunity towards nature, or as Francis Bacon advises, obey nature if one wishes to command it?  The domestication of animals, for example, only works to the degree that animals cooperate.  There has to be some level of trust involved, or what you refer to as, quid pro quo, i.e., milk for food, security for shelter, or companionship.

 

It's worth the bother to respect an animal's right to life, because whether or not you do, the animal certainly does and will respond to aggression in kind.

Edited by Devil's Advocate
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Animals behave in social contexts, demonstrate preferences (free will), and distinguish between objects of reality (conceptualize to some degree).  Advocates of animal rights do in fact see a difference between animals and people; animals behave more consistently towards each other in terms of respect than humans do.  That is not an assault on the mind; it is an invitation to check your premises.

......

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...