Past Meetup

What Is the Status of Non-Human Animals?

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We hear a lot about "animal rights" and "animal liberation." Ingrid Newkirk, the founder of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has said, "A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy." This is not a neutral, uncontroversial belief. Rather, it is rooted in a particular worldview or philosophy of life. But is it justifiable?

Princeton ethicist Peter Singer claims that there are non-human persons (like chimpanzees) and human non-persons (like children with Down syndrome or spina bifida). The latter do not contribute to the well-being of society because of their minimal functionality (lower or lacking in social skills, self-awareness, rational capacities) whereas chimps may have greater abilities in all of these areas). So it would be wrong to kill a chimp but not a Down syndrome child. Again, this statement makes many assumptions rooted in a particular worldview. Bu, again,t is it justifiable?

What is the status of non-human animals? Do they have inherent rights--rights perhaps no different than humans do, as Newkirk assumes? Do we judge personhood and thus value) based on certain functions, as Singer does? Or are there more basic considerations? And on what basis do we take the view that we do? For example, if anything has intrinsic value, why think that such value should arise from valueless processes? If intrinsic dignity exists, where does it come from?

As this topic will likely generate much discussion, we may need to break this up into two parts. Looking forward to seeing you all there!