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Ragnar
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What my point is, is that if someone chooses not to eat meat because they can't stomache the thought of its production

That's fine, sometimes that stuff isn't as clean as it might be.

, or because they don't want to create excess pain in other living beings (for something they don't feel is nutritionally essential), we have no right to mock or criticise them for this choice.

Oh, but I have every right to mock or criticize them because that is silly and irrational. If someone said they didn't drink soda because the sound of a pop can being opened reminded them too much of human suffering, I'd think that was silly, too. (it would make about as much sense, is my point)

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we have no right to mock or criticise them for this choice.

I wholeheartedly disagree. I have the "right" to mock or criticise anybody I want under the limitations of the whatever rules might exist on whoever's private property I might happen to be on and/or laws governing slander. But I'm not sure where you get the idea that just because you think someone maintains a continuity in their non-carniverous activities that they have some right to be free from mockery or criticism.

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Exactly. If an animal has the proper facilities to posess rights, then it should have no problem communicating that fact to us.

Chimps use tools to accomplish complicated tasks and have been documented murdering other chimpanzees for the sake of social revenge. If you get a chance, it's actually amazing footage. For some reason or another, one of the chimps was cast out of the social group and one day, the other chimps got together and coordinated an ambush against the outcast - they destroyed him - it was simply murder. Likewise, dolphins have shown that they recognize individuals within the pod and may have the ability to communicate on a much more evolved basis. I'm not saying that you shouldn't eat meat. I'm saying that there is a hierarchy of intelligence within the animal kingdom (we are on top) and that it is probably less moral to eat dolphin meat than it is to eat cattle meat.

Regarding communication, just because you can't understand the language of an animal, doesn't mean it doesn't have the ability to communicate nor does it mean it lacks the proper facilities to posess rights. By that logic, you can eat a Mandarin-speaking Chinese man and it would be morally sound - because he would have a problem communicating that fact to you. If you're going to say he would be able to move in a way that would make it apparent that he was objecting - so could any animal.

I never said anything about not eating cattle. I just asked whether or not animals had different degrees of intelligence / reasoning ability. I assert that they do (and I can provide scientific evidence (although I know you don't trust scientific evidence if it conflicts with your philosophical conclusions)) and that those degrees (depending on what the degrees measure) imply some kind of moral spectrum.

Edited by NewYorkRoark
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I never said anything about not eating cattle. I just asked whether or not animals had different degrees of intelligence / reasoning ability. I assert that they do (and I can provide scientific evidence (although I know you don't trust scientific evidence if it conflicts with your philosophical conclusions)) and that those degrees (depending on what the degrees measure) imply some kind of moral spectrum.

I don't dispute that different animals have different degrees of intelligence. I do, however, strongly dispute the idea that this implies a "moral spectrum."

Either a creature posesses a conceptual consciousness that makes it capable of posessing a knowledge of the concept of "rights," and therefore capable of respecting rights on a human level... or it doesn't. No matter how clever a beast may be, if it can't do that, then it doesn't have rights and there is no moral consideration for it whatsoever on the basis of it having rights. (it can always, of course be the property of someone else, or a value to one's life in some other way)

Even a smart animal is still a beast, in other words. It wouldn't have any rights, not even a little bit. There can be no such thing as "a little bit of rights;" it is an entirely binary concept. As far as I know, this is how the Objectivist concept of rights operates.

Edited by Inspector
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To expand on that: if we were to implement a sliding scale based on intelligence then we would also have to apply it to humans... I am not very comfortable with the idea of giving someone more rights for every 20 points of IQ, and subsequently taking away rights from those who are less smart. Yet if you take away the binary distinction this is what it would ultimately lead to...

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So under that same logic, if I avoid running over an animal in my car because I don't want to hurt/kill it for no real reason, I'm being irrational? (assuming there aren't people getting endangered if I swerve).

That's pretty dumb.

If by "that," you mean "I avoid running over an animal in my car because I don't want to hurt/kill it." How about the damage to your car? How about getting gunk on your car? These should be considerations in your mind... not the fate of a mindless, rightless beast.

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Of course, torturing animals just for kicks would be very wrong. Not because it infringes upon their rights, but because it indicates pretty severe psychological problems on your part if you enjoy causing pain. (In case this would be the next point people bring up)

However, the value of a wild animal is pretty low for most people, so if acting in accordance with your values is the best course of action to take, then it would usually be bad to treat the life of a random animal as if it was worth more to you than other things, whether that is the increased enjoyment you get from eating meat or avoiding wrecking your car because you didn't want to hit that poor bunny.

I'm sorry about the bunny, but if the alternative is a dead rabbit or a total-loss car the rabbit dies, every time...

It's an entirely different ballpark if you try to hit all the animals you can on purpose, but I don't think Inspector was advocating such here ;)

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It's an entirely different ballpark if you try to hit all the animals you can on purpose, but I don't think Inspector was advocating such here ;)

Nope. They'd gunk up my car :P

Joking, people!

But seriously, I hit bugs all the time. I don't care about rabbits any more than bugs, other than inasmuch as they make a bigger mess.

Edited by Inspector
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All Bugs Must Die. It's a well known fact. :confused:
What will many species who eat bugs will do?

EDIT: And programmers might lose their jobs as well without bugs.

Edited by Olex
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So under that same logic, if I avoid running over an animal in my car because I don't want to hurt/kill it for no real reason, I'm being irrational? (assuming there aren't people getting endangered if I swerve).

Key point in that statement: you don't want to hurt it. Fine, avoid the bunny. That's perfectly rational, if you'll be happier for it. As others have subsequently said, it would be irrational if you care more about damaging your car or gunking it up. Personally, I'll avoid hitting a bunny if I can do so without damage to any person's self or property. I think I would get more satisfaction out of managing to avoid it, especially since I have one for a pet...

Although I will eat them. Tasty bunnies. :D And yes, I view that as perfectly moral.

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As others have subsequently said, it would be irrational if you care more about damaging your car or gunking it up.

No, that's the opposite of what I said. I said it is irrational to give the bunny more consideration than a bug other than inasmuch as it will damage/gunk up your car more than a bug will.

What will many species who eat bugs will do?

Be satisfied that their ultimate purpose is fulfilled. :)

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  • 4 months later...

I recently read that some forums have an 'anti-necrobumping' rule, which apparently bans people for posting in topics older than 6 months. I'm glad this forum doesn't have such a silly rule.

I read the article linked in the first post. That link is dead, but the same document can be found at http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~norcross/engel.pdf, if anyone is interested.

Engel's argument, stripped of all its evidentiary trappings, boils down to this:

I will assert X (where X is a laundry list of moral declarations) and assume you agree with X, and if you don't agree with X, then you are "either morally defective or irrational." I will provide no moral or rational support for X, and proceed on the presumption that X is true on its face, and that you know this.

In fact the only support he offers for his laundry list of precepts can be summed up thusly:

All previous attempts at objectively proscribing eating meat have failed, so no objective attempt can ever succeed. No attempt at building an objective moral foundation is necessary, and I can build a normative ethics from a descriptive foundation, based on what I perceive to be the most commonly held moral beliefs. Commonality of belief proves X as far as is needed for me to make normative proclamations based on X."

These arguments fly in the face of reasoning. They present a list of fallacies longer than Engel's own list of precepts required in order to buy his argument. Humbly, Engel declaims in a footnote:

Obviously, if you do not hold these beliefs (or enough of them), my argument will have no force on you, nor is it intended to. It is only aimed at those of you who do hold these widespread commonsense beliefs.
This is baseless on its face and offensive in its implication. It is unnecessary to examine his laundry list in any detail; we can dispense with his entire argument out of hand, since he starts from complex, non-axiomatic precepts without even the pretense of the need to tie them back to axiomatic concepts.

[NB: I have dispensed with Engel's argument without once referring to the substance of the issue. His evidence may be accurate, his reasoning from his precepts may be sound, but neither can resurrect his corpse of a thesis that never breathed life in the first place.]

Having said this, I did find one tiny sliver of value in the paper. Very early, Engel says the following:

My experience has been that when confronted with [precedent pro-vegetarianism] arguments[,] meat-loving philosophers often casually dismiss them as follows:

Singer's preference utilitarianism is irremediably flawed, as is Regan's theory of moral rights. Since Singer's and Regan's arguments for vegetarianism are predicated on flawed ethical theories, their arguments are also flawed. Until someone can provide me with clear moral reasons for not eating meat, I will continue to eat what I please.

A moment's reflection reveals the self-serving sophistry of such a reply. Since no ethical theory to date is immune to objection, one could fashion a similar reply to "justify" or rationalize virtually any behavior. One could "justify" rape as follows: An opponent of rape might appeal to utilitarian, Kantian, or contractarian grounds to establish the immorality of rape. Our fictitious rape-loving philosopher could then point out that all of these ethical theories are flawed and ipso facto so too are all the arguments against rape. Our rape proponent might then assert: "Until someone can provide me with clear moral reasons for not committing rape, I will continue to rape whomever I please."

Ignoring the equivocation of meat-eating with rape, and the offense of assuming all pro-meat-eating arguments to consist of pointing out the flaws in pro-vegetarianism arguments, Engel correctly picks up on the widespread lack of a moral defense of meat-eating.

Rather than responding to the merits of pro-vegetarianism arguments, a more valuable course of discourse (to turn a phrase) would be to formulate such a moral defense. I propose to do so, but I find it difficult to summarize complex concepts (such as rights) in axiomatic terms, so as to avoid the same error commited by Engel in assuming my listener accepts and shares my understanding of such complex concepts. I will mull this over for the next few weeks, and write more about it when I have a chance.

-Q

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  • 1 year later...

[Mod's note: merged with a previous thread. - sN]

 

Hello! As a ethical vegan with an interest in Objectivism, I have a question to ask of Objectivists. To begin, my understanding of your position regarding the issue of "animal rights" was derived from Dr. Edwin Locke's essay Animal "Rights" and the New Man Haters, which can be found at: [ http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pag...m_animal_rights ]. Your position seems to be this:

1) Humans are capable of "thought" (reason and choice).
2) Therefore, humans are worthy of "rights" (uncertain of Objectivist definition).
3) Animals (non-humans) are not capable of thought.
4) Therefore, animals are not worthy of rights.

My question is: What of humans that are not capable of thought, such as infants, advanced cases of senility, and Terri Schiavo? Does this make them unworthy of rights?

Thanks for your time!

Edited by softwareNerd
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Man is an animal that survives using his mind. No other animal has this property. But no man can use his mind in the face of force initiated on him by other men. Therefore, if men are to interact with one another in a way which is conducive to survival, then no man may use force (except in self-defense) against another man. This is the basis of rights. From this, the nature of rights should also be clear: all rights are "negative" in nature. Rights include, for example, the right not to be murdered, assaulted, enslaved, or robbed.

Even humans who are too young or too old to use their reason to survive independently have rights, because they are instances of man, and all instances of man have rights. Rand's argument, as I understand it, is not "reason implies rights" but "reason as a means of survival implies rights". Reason is still the only means of survival of a newborn infant, even though that infant would not be able to use it to survive on his own.

In your question, you repeatedly used the concept "worthiness" when you spoke of rights. This is a mistake, because rights are not a reward for any sort of virtue, which some entities have and others do not. Man is not worthy of rights, he has rights, and these rights stem from his nature. The greatest hero and the most worthless coward both have rights, while a zebra does not. The zebra does not have rights, not because it is unworthy (animals cannot be judged ethically), but because reason is not its means of survival.

If you are interested in a detailed explanation of the Objectivist position on rights and their source, I think The Virtue of Selfishness would be a good place to look, although I don't recall whether Rand explicitly addresses the issue of "animal rights" in VOS.

I hope this helps.

Edited by Capitalism Forever
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My question is: What of humans that are not capable of thought, such as infants, advanced cases of senility, and Terri Schiavo? Does this make them unworthy of rights?

This is an often asked question. A use of the forum's search function should reveal several threads where this topic has been thoroughly discussed.

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I think Tenzing_Shaw's post addresses your questions fairly well. However, I have a question to you too: What is the position of animal rights supporters on predators? E.g., if a lion eats a zebra, doesn't the lion violate the zebra's rights? Should the government punish the lion for that act, and if yes, in what way? More broadly, should the government try to turn carnivores (and omnivores) into herbivores?

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Hey Tenzing! A few more questions...

"Man is an animal that survives using his mind. No other animal has this property."

That we know of. But, what if a non-human animal were to possess this property? Such as Zira from Planet of the Apes? Would she possess rights?

"Even humans who are too young or too old to use their reason to survive independently have rights, because they are instances of man, and all instances of man have rights. Rand's argument, as I understand it, is not "reason implies rights" but "reason as a means of survival implies rights"

It's my understanding that, according to Objectivism, humans are born tabula rasa. So, the infant in question may not be able to reason initially, but will gain this faculty further down the road, assuming all goes well. Thus, according to Objectivism, because the newborn has the potential to be rational, it is worthy of rights for this reason alone. Is this a correct understanding?

"In your question, you repeatedly used the concept "worthiness" when you spoke of rights. This is a mistake, because rights are not a reward for any sort of virtue, which some entities have and others do not. Man is not worthy of rights, he has rights, and these rights stem from his nature."

Hmmm. I'm gonna have to disagree with you on this one. I used the word "worthy" because, according to my point of view, "rights" can't be "inherited" as you seem to suggest, they can only be assigned by entities capable of rational thought. The nature of the recipients of these rights is irrelevant; a human could assign rights to a chair if he so wished. Whether it would be in his rational self-interest to do so is another matter entirely. Ayn Rand just happened to believe that the only entities worthy of rights were humans. You said:

"if men are to interact with one another in a way which is conducive to survival"

Obviously it's in the rational self-interest of most people not to be murdered, assaulted, enslaved, or robbed, or to permit others to do so at will. So, the concept of "rights" (along with "government" and "justice") was invented to prevent these bad things from happening. "Rights", in the sense I am using them, are synonymous with "laws". The Geneva Conventions and the US Bill of Rights are good examples of this, although rights/laws are not necessarily the result of moral consensus.

I've got VOS and TPAR, but I've been having some difficulty understanding them.

Looking forward to your response!

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That we know of. But, what if a non-human animal were to possess this property? Such as Zira from Planet of the Apes? Would she possess rights?

First, it's important to understand that unrealistic situations, or emergencies, are not the basis for ethical or moral theory. The purpose of ethics is to guide rational beings through their every-day lives. Emergencies are special situations that must be analyzed individually, and often with hind-sight, for any ethical or moral considerations (Ethics are based on the ability to think and use your mind rationally -- doing such a thing in the middle of most things that are classified as 'emergencies' is often impossible to a large degree).

But to answer your hypothetical; yes, she would. Rights exist because they are a requirement of our survival as rational beings. Specifically, to negate the initiation of force in all social interactions between men (Rational beings). If, somehow, we were to discover another race who were not "men," but who were similarly rational, then yes, they would have these rights as rational beings.

It's my understanding that, according to Objectivism, humans are born tabula rasa. So, the infant in question may not be able to reason initially, but will gain this faculty further down the road, assuming all goes well. Thus, according to Objectivism, because the newborn has the potential to be rational, it is worthy of rights for this reason alone. Is this a correct understanding?

I would judge that assessment largely correct (Though I am not an expert by any means, so take what I say with a grain of salt).

Hmmm. I'm gonna have to disagree with you on this one. I used the word "worthy" because, according to my point of view, "rights" can't be "inherited" as you seem to suggest, they can only be assigned by entities capable of rational thought. The nature of the recipients of these rights is irrelevant; a human could assign rights to a chair if he so wished. Whether it would be in his rational self-interest to do so is another matter entirely. Ayn Rand just happened to believe that the only entities worthy of rights were humans. You said:

"if men are to interact with one another in a way which is conducive to survival"

Obviously it's in the rational self-interest of most people not to be murdered, assaulted, enslaved, or robbed, or to permit others to do so at will. So, the concept of "rights" (along with "government" and "justice") was invented to prevent these bad things from happening. "Rights", in the sense I am using them, are synonymous with "laws". The Geneva Conventions and the US Bill of Rights are good examples of this, although rights/laws are not necessarily the result of moral consensus.

Are all men rational? Are there no irrational men? I believe the answer to both questions is no. That is why humans have rights - and why laws exist to protect those rights. If the entire world were rational, then we would probably not be having this discussion!

I think you are misunderstanding what rights are, as well. A "right" is simply a recognition of the fact of reality that, to survive, man must not be coerced into taking actions that his rational faculty knows will hurt him. It is not a gift, or a whim, imposed by man on other men.

I'm sorry but I can't articulate further, hopefully someone else will be able to do a better job!

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First, I would like to apologize for repeating my post. I think the website was having problems last night, and my (failed) attempts to view the thread must have resulted in duplicate posts.

That we know of. But, what if a non-human animal were to possess this property? Such as Zira from Planet of the Apes? Would she possess rights?

I basically agree with Sarrisan's answer, but I would like to stress two points. First of all, the fact is that we don't know of any other rational animal besides man, and counter-factual conditionals (outlandish "what ifs") are not truly relevant to ethics. Secondly, allowing such hypotheticals for a moment, a race of aliens that happened to possess a rational faculty but did not use it as a means of survival (maybe they also have great physical strength, for example) would not have rights. I don't take this example to have any ethical significance, I only use it to clarify the relationship of rights to rationality.

It's my understanding that, according to Objectivism, humans are born tabula rasa. So, the infant in question may not be able to reason initially, but will gain this faculty further down the road, assuming all goes well. Thus, according to Objectivism, because the newborn has the potential to be rational, it is worthy of rights for this reason alone. Is this a correct understanding?

I don't think it is the potential to become rational that leads to the concept of rights. This might lead to the view that a fetus has rights, for example. Rather, an infant has rights because its nature dictates that reason is its means of survival. The fact that an infant's rational faculty is undeveloped to the point that it would die on its own does not change this fact. Also, it is not the case that an infant begins life without a rational faculty and only acquires it later. Rather, he has this faculty from birth, but must learn how to use it over a long period of time. Although an infant is born tabula rasa, according to Objectivism, he begins to form concepts (very basic ones and very gradually) from the moment of birth.

Hmmm. I'm gonna have to disagree with you on this one. I used the word "worthy" because, according to my point of view, "rights" can't be "inherited" as you seem to suggest, they can only be assigned by entities capable of rational thought.

I agree with what Sarissan said. Rights are derived from an objective fact of reality (the means of man's survival). They are not "earned", "inherited", or "assigned". I want to address the last error in particular. If rights could be assigned or withdrawn by any man at will, then a criminal or a dictator would not be violating his victim's rights (he does not recognize any such rights). Also, to take your example, a man could not assign rights to an inanimate object. The reason is that it is not in the object's nature to have rights (the object does not "survive", let alone "survive using reason").

Ayn Rand just happened to believe that the only entities worthy of rights were humans.

But Ayn Rand did not believe that. You are free to believe what you want about rights, of course, but I am trying to help you understand the Objectivist position on rights, and that isn't it. If you want to claim that Rand saw rights as a question of "worthiness", you will have to provide a quote from her which proves it.

"Rights", in the sense I am using them, are synonymous with "laws".

This is a false conception of rights, according to Objectivism. The proper purpose of the law is to protect rights, but the rights themselves exist independently of the law. Thus, the rights of Jews were violated by the Nazis, even though Nazi law did not recognize their rights.

I've got VOS and TPAR, but I've been having some difficulty understanding them.

In that case, I think you have come to the right place. Remember, however, that those books (and especially VOS) should be your primary source of information on this matter. Given that, I would be happy to answer any further questions you have.

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"This is an often asked question. A use of the forum's search function should reveal several threads where this topic has been thoroughly discussed."

Understood sir. In all honesty, I did not understand these arguments, and would rather start a new thread than attempt to answer posts that are several years old. Also, I learn better when I'm actively engaged in the discussion, versus reading what others have written. So there will likely be some redundancy.

If it helps, my background consists of 22 years of life (nearly 4 in the Army) with a formal education consisting of an Intro to Ethics class (I got an A!). In addition to Ayn Rand, I've read some of Peter Singer and Bertrand Russell.

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"I think Tenzing_Shaw's post addresses your questions fairly well. However, I have a question to you too: What is the position of animal rights supporters on predators? E.g., if a lion eats a zebra, doesn't the lion violate the zebra's rights? Should the government punish the lion for that act, and if yes, in what way? More broadly, should the government try to turn carnivores (and omnivores) into herbivores?"

An excellent question! The right thing to do, according to my personal philosophy, is to alter the nature of the world so that unnecessary pain is eliminated. At the moment this consists of veganism and "animal rights," in the sense that animals ought to be assigned some form of moral relevance. In the future, this will consist of the application of extremely advanced technology to address matters. Including, but certainly not limited to, converting carnivores and omnivores into herbivores.

Thanks!

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