Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Apr 1, 2006

Courage in Action

A friend (SoftwareNerd, his blog is over on the side there) pointed me to this story about an anti-animal-rights activist in Oxford, and I have to say that I support his ideals wholeheartedly. I'm very pleased indeed that he's decided to stand up for them.

Animals don't have rights. In order to have rights, you have to be capable of exercising them; in other words, you have to possess rationality and volition. In other words, you need to be Man. There is no evidence that any animals possess either of these traits, although some seem self-aware and possess remarkable ability to learn even quite complex tricks.

Using animals for our purposes is one of our better survival tricks, whether it's as guardians, muscle, drug testing, or even just as pets. Animals are property, not people.

If you think otherwise, consider the example of those who were killed trying to reason with bears. It is this faculty that grants men their rights, because you can reason with them.


softwareNerd said...

A 16 year old hero.

Nancy said...

So by your logic a human baby has no rights. An Alzheimers patient has no rights. A person in a coma has no rights. An insane person who does not possess rationality and volition has no rights. A person under anesthesia has no rights. Are you sure this is where you want to go?

I just might concede that a person who tries to reason with bears has no rights -- they're obviously not rational. ; )

Jennifer Snow said...

Babies don't start out with 100% of the rights of adults (what would happen if a baby tried to exercise its right to liberty?). In order for babies to survive an adult has to exercise adult rights on behalf of the baby, almost as though the adult has power of attorney.

My understanding is that Alzheimer's patients, insane people, and people under anesthesia have what I would call "extended" rights; previously they had rights, and they were able to decide at that time what they wanted done with themselves when they were no longer functioning. It's kind of like the right that someone has to determine what happens with their property after they're dead.

A human being that is truly sufficiently "broken" as to be completely incapable of ever being rational would not have rights, nor would they ever know it. My understanding is that they are generally treated as permanent children, with a guardian or caretaker wielding a sort of power-of-attorney in perpetuity. As long as the caretaker is a volunteer, I don't see any problem with this. It's functional, it deals with the realities of the situation. I personally get a little freaked out by human-shaped "pets".

Borderline cases are always tricky, but the thing to remember is that borderline cases are also not philosophically essential. The purpose of philosophy is to discover a method of dealing with the base or normal case; some sort of methodology for exceptional or rare cases can be tacked on as an afterthought when it comes up.

It's a form of intrinsicism to assume that everything is going to fall precisely into two camps, as though there's a perfect line dividing the two; I think of it as the difference between mathematics and engineering. Abstractions describe reality, but they are not the same thing AS reality. Refinements are sometimes necessary. The way I understand to do this is to start with the base case and work backwards to encompass the exceptions.

When it comes to the case of animals, however, they are CLEARLY in one camp. A cat never has the potential even to be rational or volitional. You can't start with a volitional, rational cat as the base case and work backwards to include the exceptional members of the breed. The base case for cats is the non-volitional, non-rational model, meaning the entire category has no rights and never can have any.