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Eating Meat and Animal Rights

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While I agree with many/most of the points of Objectivism, this is one that I disagree with. I'd argue with you in the debate area, if you wish, but I will not do so here anymore.

Now THAT makes sense.

As for the rest, you have to understand that I'm taking your ideas to their logical conclusions. I guess it's a bit like explaining the details of the concentration camps to an 17th century proto-socialist. So maybe you don't see that my examples are exactly where your ideas lead.

And your response is just like what those same proto-socialists would say. "well, we're not going to take it THAT far!"

The basis of this is the fact that there can be no such thing as SOME rights. The logical basis of rights necessitates this. If you want to talk about why that is, then that part is not "debate forum" stuff.

Edited by Inspector
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As for the rest, you have to understand that I'm taking your ideas to their logical conclusions. I guess it's a bit like explaining the details of the concentration camps to an 17th century proto-socialist. So maybe you don't see that my examples are exactly where your ideas lead.

I don't think they are, but regardless, I highly doubt we can prove to each other otherwise, so I will leave it at it's current point.

The basis of this is the fact that there can be no such thing as SOME rights. The logical basis of rights necessitates this. If you want to talk about why that is, then that part is not "debate forum" stuff.

Children only have some rights and are pretty much on the same intellectual level as animals.

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I don't think they are, but regardless, I highly doubt we can prove to each other otherwise, so I will leave it at it's current point.

Then we shall agree to disagree for now. I will refrain from discussing any topic that is "genetically" dependant on that premise with you.

Children only have some rights and are pretty much on the same intellectual level as animals.
That's not quite correct. In fact a child has all the same rights as an adult; they only have a special legal status that recognizes that they must have a guardian to make many decisions for them until they are ready.

So, no, there is no such thing as having SOME rights.

For details, have a look at "Man's Rights" in "Capitalism, The Unknown Ideal" and Chapter 10 of "Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand."

From what you have said, you seem to think that it would be okay to eat animals and yet at the same time, that they have rights. This tells me that you aren't familiar enough with the Objectivist definition of "rights" and must be using an improper or incomplete one.

Also, to clarify, I wasn't saying earlier that man was not in kingdom animalia, which seemed to be your interpretation, but rather "animals" are "animals" as in:

"animals" (An animal organism other than a human)

are

"animals" (bestial; Marked by brutality or depravity; Lacking in intelligence or reason; subhuman.)

I'm going to quote AisA on this one:

Those who claim that animals have rights are evading the entire context to which rights apply: the interaction of volitional, rational beings whose method of survival requires that they be free of the initiation of force. The concept of rights is a means of defining and asserting this basic requirement vis-a'-vis other men.

Animals survive by devouring whatever game (including human) or plant life (including a farmer's field) their perceptual tools can find. They act automatically to further their own existence regardless of the consequences to man. The argument for animal rights, then, consists of the demand that we grant to animals that which they cannot, will not and do not grant to man. A creature that can never be capable of grasping and respecting the rights of others cannot be said to have any of its own.

The key is for you to understand the issue of WHAT rights are and WHY men have them. It is based on our UNIQUE means and methods of survival. Our UNIQUE capabilities to respect the rights of others. I'd heavily suggest that you read the chapters I listed before you attempt further to understand this issue.

Oh, and finally, I wasn't calling you a vegetarian specifically, I was just pre-empting it as a possible response.

Edited by Inspector
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Children only have some rights and are pretty much on the same intellectual level as animals.

You were correct to cease the argument asserting that animals have rights.

Inspector addressed the rights issue of the above statement, but now I'm going to call you on the later part.

Give your evidence that children "are pretty much on the same intellectual level as animals". As a generalization, I find that absolutely absurd.

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A manifesto for context:

As I pulled into my garage, a mouse scurried out. My first thought was, "I should put down traps". Having read this thread just an hour before, my second thought was: maybe I ought to sit the mouse down and have a chat with him...perhaps see if we can come to some mutual understanding about his rights and mine.

Yes, that's a bit facetious. The point is: there is a rich context that leads to the concept of "rights". Why do humans need rights? Is it in order to live or because we are alive? Is it only because humans have volition? Is it only because we can be rational How does one arrive at the concept of rights in the first place?

One arrives at "rights" by looking back at centuries of history where men have lived together in societies and asking: "How can men live together, trade with each other, be friends and lovers if they live by "might is right"? Doesn't someone always have to be a slave and someone else a master? Is it possible to find a principle that allows men to live in society as selfish beings. Is there a rule that can be applied? A principle? The desirability of living in society with other humans is implicit in the principle of individual rights for humans.

The old way -- where might was right -- was to try to become mighty. By its nature, this was not a principle that everyone could apply and come out on top. It wasn't something all humans could follow in principle. Other societies tried a different answer: democracy. This audience probably does not need convincing that absolute democracy doesn't work either -- not to the extent that individual rights are subject to majority vote. Then there were attempts like communism. Considering all these facts, we find that respecting other people's rights and having them respect yours works, in principle, and serves the rational self-interest of the individual. What have mice, or cows, or bacteria, or rocks and stones got to do with this whole chain of thought? Nothing!

We can all agree that we don't hold the notion of rights dogmatically. If so, then what is the entire context of why we recognize the rights of human beings in the first place? So, for instance, a criminal violates the basic context of "man as trader" that forms the rationale for rights. That explains why he cannot then claim that he should have all the rights of normal men.

Similarly, a child or a mentally handicapped person is an exception to the normal context of rational adults that is assumed by the principle of rights. That is why exceptions are made and they may not have the right to do certain things that normal adults may. It is not so much that we take some rights away. It is that they do not have all the elements that would lead one to the principle of rights in the first place. If the whole world was mentally retarded, would rights apply? No, they would not. What would apply? I do not know. That is the realm of science fiction, not reality-based philosophy.

Similarly, animals are not part of the context of why we form the concept of rights in the first place. Does a cow need rights if it is to survive? In a sense, they do. That's the whole point of animal rights isn't it; if humans give cows rights, the cows will survive human killings. In that sense, the cows could benefit from rights. So, I'll admit that if we were trying to figure out a political system where cows and humans can agree on a "trader-in-peace" principle, then we might have to consider some type of "cow rights"; but, why would we be trying to do so? Saying cows must have rights is not too different from saying rocks and stones must have rights. They both raise the question of context.

At this stage, some will ask: what if the animal has rationality? what if it has volition? Would that give it rights? What if we encounter rational, volitional aliens? Will they have rights? In the "child rights" thread, EC introduced the idea of a computer that was really, really smart and also had volition and asked whether it should be given rights.

Well, if these rational and volitional entities are rational and volitional like humans are, and if we can trade values with them and they have no volitionally-uncontrollable special disposition to criminality or anything like that, then -- in principle -- it would be rational to live in peace with them and trade value for value. If the entire context that makes rights rational was applicable to these new entities, then it would be rational to respect their rights even if they had metallic shells instead of skin, or if they had tails, or if they looked completely human except that they had dark blue skins!

Indeed, what we would be doing is accepting that they are fully "human" in all senses that make the concept of rights applicable. At such a stage, we might even create a new concept to describe them and us as a common legal category.

A manifesto for practicality:

There is a more fundamental point I'd like to make. Morality and practicality are not unrelated aspects of something, which -- when viewed rationally -- just happen to be compatible. The Objectivist ethics starts from the practical. It starts with the question: why does a man need ethics? (i.e., For what practical reason?) It asks: why should man live by principle? The moral is the practical.

The next time you ask yourself "is it moral", stop. Don't. Instead, ask yourself, "is it practical". Not in the range-of-the-moment way of: "why don't I rob a bank one time?", but in the long-range, universal sense of asking about principled practicality. Ask: "Is this a practical principle for everyone to follow?" In other words, is it a principle? And, is it practical? If it is practical in that sense, then it is moral – else, check your premises. The practical is the moral. The rational is the moral and is the practical. So, someone who tells me it is moral to eat tofu dinners for the rest of my life is telling me that to do so is rationally practical in principle.

PS: On an administrative note: if anyone now says: "okay, okay I'll grant animals should not have rights, but how about kids/infants" ... then let's do that back in the other (Children's rights) thread.

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Excellent essay, SoftwareNerd. I'd like to expand on one point, if I may:

The entire point of establishing rights is so that you, the individual, can live and exist in a society of other men. The question of what rights are is the question of "what do I require of other men for me to survive qua man?" The answer, of course, is "to be free from the initiation of force." The nature of our method of survival (reason) demands this (force negates reason). The law of non-contradiction demands that ONLY this is required of other men.

This is why we have established government: so that all men are compelled by force to respect the rights of other men. We recognize, however, that most men are capable of respecting those requirements without the use of force. Men can be reasoned with. Until a man gives us reason to think otherwise, we treat him as a being which will respect the rights of other men. (Although "reason to think otherwise" could be anything as small as looking "shady" if the context is right)

So while the law treats men as innocent until proven guilty, the nature of an animal demands that it be treated otherwise. A normal man walking down the street is not seen as a threat to anyone's rights. A bear walking down the street is.

The nature of an animal, which many people forget, is that it is wild. Animals cannot be convinced to respect the rights of man. They can only be caged, killed, muzzled, or restrained: i.e. FORCED to respect the rights of man.

Now some of you dog owners out there might say, "well, MY dog is well-trained. He won't bite anyone."

Maybe.

But it's still legally required that your dog be on a leash when he is not on your property. Because no matter how well-bred, no matter how well-trained... he is still an animal, and we can't be sure that he won't violate someone's rights. This is the nature of an animal qua animal; it is wild, and therefore a constant threat to the rights of man. It cannot be made to understand what rights are, much less how to refrain from violating them.

The same holds true for even the smallest or most seemingly harmless animal: A mouse might not look like it can harm a man, but tell that to someone with holes in their walls, or better yet tell it to the millions dead from the plague. Any and every animal is capable of violating the rights of man; if nothing else, they can foul our property with their waste.

So no, animals do not, and by their very nature CANNOT, possess rights. And, like any other natural resource, their proper relationship to man is as a resource, to be used and exploited by man to the greatest possible extent, and in the way that any given particular animal is of use to us.

If that's a mouse, it means lab testing... if that's a cow, it means lunch... if it's a kitty, it could mean a guard that keeps mice away, or simply a soft thing to curl up on your lap. (or if you're allergic like me, then not!) It would be different if cats tasted good and cows caught mice. :D

Now, don't get me wrong: nobody's going to hurt your dog. He's your property just the same as your house or your car. The law compels others to respect your property just as surely as they must respect your person. So you pet lovers need not worry about the safety of your treasured critters! But you should recognize that no matter how much you legitimately like them, they CANNOT, by their very nature, possess rights.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Guest HermynaLily
I always heard that mentally brain damaged humans had rights because they were members of the "moral community". But animals are not.

(Mod's note: Removed Amazon link.)

I think I can intepret that. Members of the moral community have rights, regardless of their mental capacity, because the rights are not applied in individual cases but in a whole group. That's only because it's more convenient to the people who grant rights.

Does this make sense or am I just rambling?

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  • 2 years later...

I dont think it's necessary to start a new thread, even though this one is pretty old.

I have just read a story about chimpanzees in a zoo somewhere in the Netherlands. Long story short, one part I found interesting that pertains to this thread is how it describes a study of a chimp society that documented the relationship between a chimp leader and another chimp with whom he fought. When that other chimp lost, it would limp whenever it was around the chimp leader, but not when it was by itself. Presumably, this was to elicit some form of mercy.

This, to me, seems like pretty good evidence of conceptualization. What does that mean for rights as far as chimps go?

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you first. ;)

Alright that is probably not very fair of me. It is an example of submissive behavior, which many social species exhibit. It can be learned without so much as an idea of what "submission" is. Even new behaviors can be inserted into the mix if an animal is reinforced to beleive that that behavior will accomplish some end.

The animal basically knows that "doing X will cause him to leave me alone, because the last time I did X he left me alone." X can be anything, and there is no conceptualization involved.

FYI, I train dogs as a hobby.

Edited by KendallJ
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This, to me, seems like pretty good evidence of conceptualization.
I can describe a series of experiments -- which have never been done, from what I can tell -- which would at least begin to experimentally test the existence of a conceptual faculty in animals. Unfortunately, the chimp-huggers are insanely anti-science (even the supposed scientists), and they prefer to do pseudo-science in the name of animal rights. The simplest form is to present the animal with a relational concept, such as "biggest", "smallest", "second nearest", "between", "second from the left" etc. Their task is to select the one item that has that relationship to the set.

A concept is a mental abstraction which holds of an open-ended class of existents. Thus looking for the ability to form abstract relationships that hold of no end of things -- cars, oranges, boxes, triangles on paper -- would be a first test. If Kendall can get his dogs to reliably pick the "smallest X" using a wide variety of objects, I'd be impressed.

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This thread seems to be becoming more about animal concept formation than ethics. A similar thread just began in the science forum so perhaps there would be a better place to comment.

A concept is a mental abstraction which holds of an open-ended class of existents.

I believe there is some evidence of this, though not to the degree that you're thinking.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19312192/

Basically chimps seem to have category for 'hard things that I can use at the end of a stick to get food'. Who's to say whether this or any class used would really be open-ended for them.

Does anyone have any feelings about how interaction with humans might expand animal conceptual ability?

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Basically chimps seem to have category for 'hard things that I can use at the end of a stick to get food'.
That's exactly the kind of study I mean has no bearing on the question of a conceptual faculty, because it requires no abstraction of relations.

Interaction with humans won't affect the fact that animals lack a conceptual faculty, but it does tend to give them data that they need to behave in a way that some people misinterpret as being "conceptual".

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I have to confess, I'm busy, and I didnt have time to read this whole thread yet -- I plan on doing so in a few days -- but David, can you maybe provide a more detailed explanation of "concept formation" and contrast that against chimps?

If that's already been done in this thread, just let me know where and I'll go back and read it.

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can you maybe provide a more detailed explanation of "concept formation" and contrast that against chimps?
The point is that chimps are not able to do abstraction as humans can. For example, we can abstract the concept "5" based on "5 cats", "5 dogs", "5 sticks", "5 cups" and so on, and we can see that [xxxxx] has a relationship to [zzzzz], which is the same as the relationship to [ :pimp::pimp::pimp::pimp::pimp: ] and so on. We can also extract the relationship "between" which holds of i,e,u,o,a in [xaw], [ziq], [pef], [mur] and not in [axq], [pwo], [fdi] and so on. Chimps cannot do this.
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As in, these?

Sorry, when you said series I assumed you had meant more beyond that. Again there is some admittedly weak evidence of a chimp (Ai) being able to extract some meaning from a number of objects and extend it to different types of objects. However this does require quite a lot of training and seems to have failed when 'zero' was used so I'm not certain if it is a clever hans type situation or not.

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I can describe a series of experiments -- which have never been done, from what I can tell -- which would at least begin to experimentally test the existence of a conceptual faculty in animals. Unfortunately, the chimp-huggers are insanely anti-science (even the supposed scientists), and they prefer to do pseudo-science in the name of animal rights. The simplest form is to present the animal with a relational concept, such as "biggest", "smallest", "second nearest", "between", "second from the left" etc. Their task is to select the one item that has that relationship to the set.

The more I think of these the more I feel that something like this has to have been done, by 'psychologists' as early as the behaviorists. But how would you ever know that abstraction was going on? How do you know when the rat who has been so trained to press the second button continues to do so when you change the way the button looks, etc. that they are really abstracting? Could your experiment be falsified?

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But how would you ever know that abstraction was going on?
That's a fundamental problem with all of these animal claims, that they leap from negligible evidence to profound conclusions. The howlers that have come out in the chimp language literature can be real side-splitters. I'm describing the first-grade Turing Test version of an argument, and I don't believe that performance on such tests is anything like evidence for a faculty of abstraction and generalization. But they can't even muster a pass on that test. When a monkey or a dog can actually author a novel, then I will believe.
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That's a fundamental problem with all of these animal claims, that they leap from negligible evidence to profound conclusions. The howlers that have come out in the chimp language literature can be real side-splitters. I'm describing the first-grade Turing Test version of an argument, and I don't believe that performance on such tests is anything like evidence for a faculty of abstraction and generalization. But they can't even muster a pass on that test. When a monkey or a dog can actually author a novel, then I will believe.

I certainly agree that many primatologists are looking for profound conclusions. On the other hand looking at the way in which for instance primates or ravens can use numbers give us a better understanding of how our own concepts develop and their form.

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I certainly agree that many primatologists are looking for profound conclusions. On the other hand looking at the way in which for instance primates or ravens can use numbers give us a better understanding of how our own concepts develop and their form.

I think that sort of reserach is great. Why does one need the profound conclusions to be able to start to make progress understanding the mechanism of brain function?

Part of the problem that you have is that human brains are evolved animal brains. That is, you could think of it as a much more developed frontal cortex wrapped around an animal brain. Many of the sub organs are identical in structure. But we know that there are vast differences between animal / human behavior. So what the study of animal brains/behavior ought to help us understand is what is unique about concepualization in humans. It should be an exercise in contrasts and differentiation, not an attempt to claim that chimps can conceptualize. Because what you've really done there is destroy the idea of conceputalization. If chimps conceptualize, then we still have to explain the fact that chimps don't write novels or go to the moon.

I'm not up on the behavioral experimentation, but I've got enough knowledge of what Objectivism says conceputalization is, and enough time spent training animals to realize that what they got, as smart as it might seem at times, is not what we have.

Edited by KendallJ
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On the other hand looking at the way in which for instance primates or ravens can use numbers give us a better understanding of how our own concepts develop and their form.
Maybe; in the sense that we can look at a non-conceptual consciousness and see "We are different from them; what exactly is the difference?". I don't see that studying chimps teaches us anything at all about the evolutionary development of human ability to conceptualize -- there's really nothing in common.
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Maybe; in the sense that we can look at a non-conceptual consciousness and see "We are different from them; what exactly is the difference?". I don't see that studying chimps teaches us anything at all about the evolutionary development of human ability to conceptualize -- there's really nothing in common.

I disagree, a fair amount of our ability to form concepts is informed by perceptual processes and these and certain abilities that approach abstraction are found in animals. Evidence for separate coding of different forms of numerosities are found in the animal brain (and much debated in humans). And the work which helps us distinguish between concept knowledge in humans and lack thereof in animals is very important, almost equivalent to that which helps us distinguish between adults and children.

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