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Seattle Analytic Philosophy Club Message Board › Animal Rights

Animal Rights

Jacob E.
user 42276652
Olympia, WA
Post #: 29
I've been an abolitionist Vegan for the past 3 years, I made the switch within a one week period from a full omnivore to a complete herbivore after hearing the arguments for why Animals matter morally, so keep my background in mind when you engage in this discussion (I'm encouraging a collaborative dialog towards truth where I'm genuinely serious about my own willingness to shift to better arguments, it's just I've already analyzed a lot of counter arguments and doubt I will hear anything new, though I could be wrong, please try or ask if you have questions I don't address below, there will be many points I don't go into). To say that Animal Rights activists are seeking to establish rights (in the plural sense) for animals is a little misleading since there is only one right we truly advocate for, "The right to not be property". Sure when we bring up points about the torture conditions animals live in... or the fact that the species that don't naturally lay eggs without a male need to be continually raped generation after generation... or the fact that for all intents and purposes, the relationship animals have to humans fits the definition of slavery... or that no animal has the ability to give consent for our use of their products so that when humans take the milk from a cow or the egg from a chicken, it is theft... or that the final moment of the vast majority of animals used for agriculture is to be murdered for food... while all of these different points are very very important from an independent moral perspective, the fundamental core of all of it is that animals are the property of humans, they are legally owned and so we as activists advocate and work towards a shift in society and eventually law.

Granted, there is another philosophy in the "animal movement" called "welfarism" (animals should be treated humanely) that is in many ways directly at odds with the abolitionist "animal rights" position (animals shouldn't be property) since it gives otherwise compassionate people the false sense of moral accountability that if only they eat cage free eggs or happy meat (its hard to find people who will disagree animals shouldn't suffer unnecessarily) they can sleep soundly at night. The true welfarist believes that on a fundamental level, it's not immoral that humans enslave animals, or steal their products and babies, that we pathologically rape or even that murder in a real sense is "wrong", the only moral question is what their treatment is like... Obviously there are different flavors within welfarism (also there are vast numbers of people who haven't reflected on either of these positions as well) who will buy into murder also being wrong (vegetarianism), however, from a more comprehensive perspective, the murder of an animal in animal agriculture (while still being morally wrong) is the least of the offenses since, for animals who are in our agricultural system, they have absolutely no hope for the rapes / thefts to stop and will most likely never experience what it is like to be free (even in the best of circumstances of probably less than .001% of the animals, they can only hope to be adopted by a sanctuary that would still have fences and still have their lives relatively determined by humans)... With murder, at the least it finally ends, there is relief, in some form.

The two positions posit a reflective and new relationship to animals, acknowledging that intelligence is not a prerequisite for membership to the moral community (if intelligence is a prerequisite, are you saying infants, some of the elderly and the disabled are not members of the moral community?) and that beings that share mind states like perception, memory, desire, belief, self-consciousness, intention, a sense of the future, and emotion (that all normal mammals aged one year or more possess) do have membership. There is so much more to talk about on this subject (like that, according to the UN's website, there are 60 billion land animals who are murdered by humans every year, which doesn't include all of the fish..., or how fucking easy it is to be Vegan in the Seattle area with grocery stores like "Vegan Haven"), but I really need to stop and get some feedback, but I will say that if you agree animals shouldn't be enslaved, tortured, raped, stolen from or murdered... and you consider yourself a person of virtue/principle, the only option you have is to go Vegan.
Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 208
Jacob,

Welcome to the club and thanks for bringing up the topic of animal rights. It is one of the topics I have in mind for a future meetup. We will address the philosophical arguments both pro and con surrounding the notion of animal rights.

Though I am personally sympathetic to the view that we do great wrong to animals, the philosophical arguments can be quite complicated. I would address the classic arguments by Peter Singer and Tom Regan and a few others in favor of raising the regard we show animals (to put it mildly). But we also have to address their critics because there are serious arguments on the other side that raise moral dilemmas that a responsible philosopher must respond to.

Keep in mind, that in real philosophy nothing is sacred. The idea that even humans have any "rights" at all is not a done deal. Similarly the notions of "possession" or "property" and what they mean and entail are in still in play. Not to mention that what our relationship to the rest of nature should be is not settled either.

So animal "rights" will very quickly get us into a discussion of "rights" in general and where they come from and why any being, human or other, should have them. And what really matters? Is it really an abstraction like "rights" or the minimization of concrete pain? Or is it survival? If so, whose? Or none of the above?

We will be drawn into environmental ethics, of course.... And even ethics in general. Maybe even metaethics! Even as we bite off little pieces to chew on, it's all connected at the level we like to explore as philosophers.

Once again, I am sympathetic to your view but unless we root out the foundations of our beliefs, whatever our convictions are, we are not doing philosophy. And this is what this group is about...

Not sure when we will get to this topic, but I am glad you expressed an interest. We will get to it sooner perhaps because of your interest...

Victor


Gene L
user 19640341
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 681
What is the next planned topic?
Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 209
I am currently working on two topics. The one in September will be on knowledge: what it is, the "justified true belief" answer, the Gettier challenge, and recent responses. I am pretty sure it will be at the Zoka cafe. Should have the write up soon.

In October, I think I will do feminism: the equality and difference forms it takes. Later, I want to do (in no particular order):

-capital punishment
-philosophy of language and Wittgenstein
-animal rights
-genocide and the deaf community (a topic in medical ethics)
-whether having a child is just as morally problematic as having an abortion: one philosopher has claimed that it is---a topic that is surely going to be as controversial as the earlier attack on voting. I may call it "What's wrong with mom and apple pie?"

I have no shortage of topics, just time, we'll see...

Jacob E.
user 42276652
Olympia, WA
Post #: 30
I am sympathetic to your view but unless we root out the foundations of our beliefs, whatever our convictions are, we are not doing philosophy.
I'm responding to this last point first since it helps point out the tone your entire response took and will help place the proper context on all of my other responses. I've already read your post on Principlism vs Particularism (or whatever it was) and can tell that since you're looking at this from a relativist perspective, if you're consistent with the views you've already presented, I don't expect you to ever admit that it's wrong to enslave other beings that share mind states like perception, memory, desire, belief, self-consciousness, intention, a sense of the future, and emotion (mind states that all normal mammals aged one year or more possess) and that these beings would be apart of the moral community; but the reason why a relativist wouldn't admit this is because the relativist thinks there aren't ways to answer moral questions incorrectly, there can be answers you personally disagree with, but that doesn't mean you will ever accept that there are correct answers (moral truth). Your kind of "particularism", in many ways is a form of nihilism (just with the window dressings of Virtue Ethics and maybe a little Consequentialist calculations), and obviously I'm not a relativist and we can definitely talk about why relativism is incoherent, but first we have to establish a few things having to do with ownership and internal consistency, but I'll let you respond to what I've already written and then we can go further if you'd like (kind of a lot to write and not have the other person engage).

Though I am personally sympathetic to the view that we do great wrong to animals, the philosophical arguments can be quite complicated.
Well, there has been an enormous amount of confusion over this topic due to the damage Welfarists have done on the perception people have of who and what Animal Activists do or are like themselves (PETA's I'd rather go naked than wear fur, or the Whole Foods letter by Peter Singer
http://www.abolitioni...­ , if you explore that site further you can find a lot more info on Animal Rights from a philosopher named Gary Francione).

I would address the classic arguments by Peter Singer and Tom Regan and a few others in favor of raising the regard we show animals (to put it mildly).
Well, bringing up Singer and Regan would be straw men since these guys are welfarists who do not explicitly argue for the removal of the property status of animals with Veganism as the only acceptable position, they argue for better and more humane treatment of animals and for people to reduce their consumption of animals as much as possible (just don't rape your next door neighbor as much as possible, I know you don't want to stop completely, but just try to cut back a little).

But we also have to address their critics because there are serious arguments on the other side that raise moral dilemmas that a responsible philosopher must respond to.
Well, I was hoping you would address MY arguments since I was the one who wrote the post, it's not like I copied and pasted an argument from one of Singers books (or Gary Francione's books for that matter), and like I said before, addressing his arguments would be a straw man.

Keep in mind, that in real philosophy nothing is sacred. The idea that even humans have any "rights" at all is not a done deal.
I'm aware of this typical defense, though, when taking a critical look at which philosophers have survived to tell the tale (so to speak), given all of the different wars and state purges throughout history, is it really that big of a mystery that the notion of "natural rights" (rights that are deduced from the logical consequences of nature that are independent of who has a monopoly on the use of force) and not "state sanctioned privileges" made it through. Like, why was it Plato and his philosopher kings that made it to the 21st century and not some other philosophy from 3000 years ago?

Similarly the notions of "possession" or "property" and what they mean and entail are in still in play.
In play as in they are used to refer to the ideas presented here, or in play as in you're questioning if they're coherent ideas? I have to assume you mean the former since the later is sorta in the same category as skepticism about the existence of external minds. If it is the former, are you asking about what is meant by the word "possession" (ownership) and "property" (the thing owned)?

Not to mention that what our relationship to the rest of nature should be is not settled either.
Not sure the discussion of Animal Rights needs to be broadened to humanities relationship with the whole of nature, that's a bit of a red herring.

So animal "rights" will very quickly get us into a discussion of "rights" in general and where they come from and why any being, human or other, should have them.
Yes, human rights and animal rights definitely have parallels, however animal rights only refers to that single right mentioned above, not the right to free speech or to own a gun.

Is it really an abstraction like "rights" or the minimization of concrete pain?
Are you saying "rape" or "enslavement" are abstract entities that don't describe real things like interference and completely determining the lives of other beings regardless of their consent...

Or is it survival?
Are you saying survival of a completely self determined being has anything to do with my personal moral responsibility?

If so, whose?
There is no question of survival when you choose to consume animal products, you do it because you like the taste, not because you're a carnivore.

Or none of the above?
Probably not.

We will be drawn into environmental ethics, of course....
I've determined that environmental ethics (Global Warming) does not pass the epistemological test on the personal level and largely relies on appeals to authority, but that would be a red herring for the current discussion. The discussion is Animal Rights, not "Should we not consume animals because it's supposedly better for the environment".
Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 210
My position

Jacob, you write:

...since you're looking at this from a relativist perspective, if you're consistent with the views you've already presented, I don't expect you to ever admit that it's wrong to enslave other beings that share mind states like perception, memory, desire, belief, self-consciousness, intention, a sense of the future, and emotion (mind states that all normal mammals aged one year or more possess) and that these beings would be apart of the moral community; but the reason why a relativist wouldn't admit this is because the relativist thinks there aren't ways to answer moral questions incorrectly, there can be answers you personally disagree with, but that doesn't mean you will ever accept that there are correct answers (moral truth). Your kind of "particularism", in many ways is a form of nihilism (just with the window dressings of Virtue Ethics and maybe a little Consequentialist calculations), and obviously I'm not a relativist and we can definitely talk about why relativism is incoherent, but first we have to establish a few things having to do with ownership and internal consistency,...
Not sure where you get the idea that I am a relativist. If you read enough of my writeups here on moral theory, I try to be equally hard on all the moral theories I present, as well pointing out their strengths. Here's a list of things I am not: relativist, universalist, deontologist, consequentialist, virtue theorist or moral sense theorist (to confine myself only to moral theory positions). I do gather from your posts that you tend, it seems (correct me if I am wrong) toward universalism (you actually believe there are absolute rights and wrongs) with deontological sympathies (you take personal responsibility seriously). At least you don't seem to fit anywhere near the other positions. Or may be you cherry pick among them? It's not clear.

If you want to know my position, the short answer is that it is one opposed to that of the person I am arguing with. If you were a relativist, I'd argue the other side. (There is a long answer but it is so “out there” that it makes your position look mainstream. So I won't go there now, for now.)

But you actually seem to take seriously conventional talk about “property” and “rights”. That puts you squarely within the philosophical tradition you seem averse to, the one that prizes above all the dignity of being able to pass judgment.

First, if you are going to use the terminology of rights and property and extend it to animals, then you are not going to be very convincing to someone who doesn't buy into that way of thinking in the first place. You are not, for example, going to be impressive to a utilitarian. And yet you confusingly ally yourself with a sentience-based thinker like Gary Francione. (Perhaps, Francione is himself confused about his philosophical allegiances... don't know yet.)

Second, even if you restrict your audience to just those who take rights seriously, you are not going to be convincing to them either unless you show some understanding of why they place faith in such an abstraction. You have to address the origins of the dignity they see in beings who may merit rights. The reason beings can have rights is because they can understand what a right is. The reason they can understand what a right is is because they have the capability of reasoning out how having a right can be to their advantage. They have a rational capability. There is supposed to be dignity in that. Beings who don't have such ability are not in a position to appreciate what a right is and so can't very well have one. Children, animals, plants, sticks and stones do not have rights except indirect ones conferred on them by those who do have direct rights---the kind they, themselves, can understand. Because their wellbeing may well matter to some one who has direct rights, the interests of children, animals, plants, sticks, and stones are addressed thus indirectly.

The argument you seem to be gesturing at seems based on an array of similarities we have with animals. As it stands, this is at best a vague argument from analogy. There are indeed lots of things we have in common with animals. Ask a chemist and she will include plants as well, a physicist and he'll throw in black holes and subatomic particles. But you give special significance to mind states: “like perception, memory, desire, belief, self-consciousness, intention, a sense of the future, and emotion.” Let's assume the science is settled on these claims for “all normal mammals aged one year or more.” There is quite a leap from these assumed facts and the normative conclusion that we should confer the same regard on such entities that we do on those able to do chemistry, physics, design robots, post on Internet discussion boards, imagine non-existent but possible worlds in great detail, and so on---merely because of their similarity.

Since when has similarity to us been a criteria for conferring in practice equal regard for others in whom we can discern even the slightest basis for discrimination? See below for more on this point. But if you mean in theory, then you have to be much more precise as to why these similarities trump the differences.
Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 211
Welfarists vs Abolitionists

Well, bringing up Singer and Regan would be straw men since these guys are welfarists who do not explicitly argue for the removal of the property status of animals with Veganism as the only acceptable position, they argue for better and more humane treatment of animals and for people to reduce their consumption of animals as much as possible (just don't rape your next door neighbor as much as possible, I know you don't want to stop completely, but just try to cut back a little).
I looked up Gary Francione. He sounds interesting. But his theory about how to improve the lot of animals appears derivative of Singer's sentience arguments (who himself was inspired by the late 18th century consequentialist philosopher, Jeremy Bentham who summed it up nicely: “The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”).

Perhaps you would like to present Francione's thesis before our group? It would give us a chance to rehearse the arguments on ethical relations between animals and humans, and, in that context, evaluate whether Francione contributes anything philosophically new. As far as I can tell, (subject to correction as I learn more), Francione thinks that we can shape morality by altering law. I think rather it works the other way around. A law that gets too far ahead of our moral intuitions is doomed---that is, unless it is conceived as activist ploy to keep an issue in conversation. You can see this technique repeated in civil rights history, most recently in developments over gay marriage. Moral sensibilities have to change before enduring legal change can happen.

Your argument

I was hoping you would address MY arguments since I was the one who wrote the post,..
What precisely is your argument? I am trying to piece it together. I know what your conclusions are: that we should not enslave animals, use them in any way---anymore than we enslave people or use them. And pretty much for the same reason: because animals are like us in many significant ways. But unless you are blind to history and current events: people DO enslave each other in political, economic and cultural ways TODAY. People use people. They do worse than enslave... I'm not talking about their pretty speech about equality, freedom, autonomy, and human dignity, etc. I am pointing to what has and is happening. And shows little sign of changing. So, against that backdrop, how are you proposing to convince people to stop treating animals the way they do? That is what I want to hear.

If you are trying to convince me that we shouldn't treat animals the way we do, then you are preaching to the choir. But I find choirs boring audiences. I want to hear what you have to say to someone who doesn't share your (or even our) view of the dignity of animals? Or are you merely expressing frustration at being in the minority that does, however righteous?
Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 212
In play

In play as in they are used to refer to the ideas presented here, or in play as in you're questioning if they're coherent ideas? I have to assume you mean the former since the later is sorta in the same category as skepticism about the existence of external minds. If it is the former, are you asking about what is meant by the word "possession" (ownership) and "property" (the thing owned)?
Recall that this is an analytic philosophy club. It is not an activist or a community support group. Loaded concepts are in play, always. We may occasionally bench them, while we're crash testing others, but they have to be ready to trot out and prove their mettle or they won't cut it. Whatever it is that “property” or “rights” refer to they are not objects of science. A microscope or telescope won't help you see one. In fact, as concepts with moral and legal legs, they were cooked up from an armchair somewhere in the time between Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau and have been tinkered with ever since. (Little sign of them in ancient or medieval times. The rise of the mercantile classes needed new-fangled abstraction to help carve out a power space from the forces of divine or birth right.) The concepts of right and property were literally pulled out of the air in the arrogant way philosophers are wont to do when stuck for a solution to an all-too-human problem. Humans are gullible. Humans believe in abstractions. Abstractions have sharp edges. And wherever they go “there will be blood...”

So if philosophers can build them up, philosophers can take them down (analytic means “to take apart”). And erect new ones in their place. Or admire the rubble if they choose. Fortunately, not all philosophers are irresponsible. Some actually want to be helpful... even knowing perfectly well they are not likely to live to see the results, good or bad, of their efforts...

You complain that Singer and Regan are taking baby steps in a direction you would like to sprint. They are timidly proposing we take into account the interests of animals (Singer) in our calculations, or their manifest expressions of something-it-is-like-to-be them---to be a subject of a life (Regan) when they should be advocating for the abolition of all property rights in animals. The ritual power of property is derived, Locke suggested, from our mixing our bodily fluids with environment. The propertyless nomad who settles down to a patch of soil and tills it for sustenance, mixing his blood, sweat, and tears with it, thereby acquires rights to it.

In fact, human reproduction may be the most primal example of acquiring property (offspring) by the mixing of bodily fluids. Children are glaring examples of how even people can become the property of other people without anyone blinking an eye. Do you see what you are up against? If we can enslave our own children, claim them for our own, even say we are doing it for their own good, how far we must be from thinking we can't do the same to animals?

As powerful abstractions go, the fact that we profess ownership of animals is pretty far removed from the real brass tacks of the issue. Bentham, two centuries ago, gets much closer than Francione if the latter thinks that changing our conceptions of property will make us more considerate of animals. How can we get people to take account of the suffering of animals when we have had so little success getting them to do the same for the suffering of other people?

I am not saying we shouldn't be trying. As I said earlier, there is plenty of room for activism on this issue. But activism is not, by itself, philosophy.
Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 213
Red herrings

Not sure the discussion of Animal Rights needs to be broadened to humanities relationship with the whole of nature, that's a bit of a red herring.
In philosophy, there are no red herrings just a dearth of patience or imagination. I know the activist must put blinders on to narrow his focus on the task at hand. But the philosopher who tries that is asking for trouble. It is all connected. And if we don't at least try to see the connections we will be surprised, something philosophers have a low tolerance for. (And I'll be the first to criticize analytic philosophers for discounting the importance of synthesis. There is a reason why we take things apart: supposedly to put them back together improved. We forget that, too often.)

How we view animals is intimately related to how we view our environment, our culture, and ourselves. If it is about the suffering of animals, what is our relationship to suffering? Do we always think it bad? Is it possible there might be things more important to avoid than suffering? Our own or anyone else's? Those are genuine philosophical questions.

Rights in isolation

Yes, human rights and animal rights definitely have parallels, however animal rights only refers to that single right mentioned above, not the right to free speech or to own a gun.
At a philosophical level, it is not possible to refer to a “single right” without implicating the use of the concept everywhere it occurs. Because any single instance of a right gets its persuasive punch from the fact that it has persuasive power in other familiar contexts. Again, you may be doing something constructive to isolate a particular right for attention, but you are not doing philosophy.

Concrete suffering and abstract dignity

Are you saying "rape" or "enslavement" are abstract entities that don't describe real things like interference and completely determining the lives of other beings regardless of their consent...
As concepts, they are indeed abstractions. What they mean can very well be disputed. Some feminists, for example, have argued that traditional marriage is one form rape takes: it is institutionalized rape. To the extent it robs anyone of the complete sovereignty of their bodies, it is rape. Others have argued that work for hire is tantamount to prostitution. Your employer for the duration of eight hours each day has the right to determine what you can and cannot do with our body. Sure, you can quit, but there will be a price to pay. Most refuse to pay it. Most willingly and regularly sell the rights to the spatial-temporal location of their bodies. The extent dignity has anything to do with it is proportional to need.

And, like I said above, abstractions do have sharp edges that can draw blood. Take “freedom” for instance, how much blood has been spilt over an idea, whose very existence is doubted by many naturalist philosophers? (No doubt, wherever belief in “determinism” is widespread, that, too, will be used to the same effect.)

Bottom line: abstractions are as real as anything gets.
Victor M.
user 12752879
Seattle, WA
Post #: 214
Final thoughts

But again, Jacob---speaking only for myself, not necessarily for this group, of course---I genuinely would like to learn something new that I haven't heard before about why animals should not be treated in the way we typically do treat them. You haven't offered it. You have thrown out some rhetoric able enough to raise dust in the vicinity of truth, but too vague to have much philosophical weight. I happen to agree with your conclusion (though not in the end for the reasons you give) but you do your cause more harm than good if you can't articulate a consistent line.

Is it that animals are badly treated?
I agree.

Are they capable of great suffering?
I agree.

Is it that we should do something about it?
I agree.

Are there no morally significant differences between us and them?
Not sure about that at all. There may be. (And it may not be in our favor.) But even if there are, that does not justify our treatment of animals. Anymore than the fact that there are morally significant differences between people justify arbitrary treatment among them.

(I think we can make clearer headway by avoiding abstractions like property and rights in discussing these issues. Those ideas have their own problems independent of their application here.)

Do you honestly think the suffering of animals matters to most people no matter how many similarities you point out? I mean compared to the other things that matter to them? How do you propose to convince us that the wellbeing of animals matters just as much (or as little) as that of other people? We know you're convinced, but how to make others?
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