Friday, December 3, 2010
Before I become bogged down with deep philosophical principles, let me state my purpose for this post. I am definitely not a PETA member. I probably attempt more than most to be "one with Nature," but I do swat mosquitos. I don't know if there is a Hell, but if there is, I don't believe you will go there for eating turkey on Thanksgiving Day (even though I am a vegetarian). I am simply perplexed by the notion of animal rights.
I have often posed the following questions to my university classes in a number of courses, and the outcome has inevitably been mixed. Not being tied down with textbook or grade considerations, bloggers tend to be more honest. So here is the dilemma in a nutshell:
Do animals have any rights? Do we have any moral obligations toward them?
Strictly speaking, the term animal rights implies that the interests of non-human animals should be afforded the same consideration as the similar interests of human beings. Many who argue against this insist that since animals cannot make moral decisions, they are not entitled to moral considerations.
Some people believe in animal welfare. This position maintains that there is nothing inherently wrong with using animals as resources, so long as the animals do not suffer.
Scholars tell us there are two major factors 21st century humans rely upon when they consider the ethical treatment of animals. First, there is the biblical argument of man's dominion over the animals. Second, animals lack rationality and language, and as such are worthy of less consideration than humans.
Consider some of the positions held by the world's greatest philosophers:
René Descartes - Mental reasoning and souls link humans to the mind of God. Therefore, since animals have neither, they are not conscious, and are unable to suffer or even to feel pain.
John Locke - Animals do have feelings, but the main reason we should not treat them cruelly is that they might adversely affect human beings by turning on us.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau - Animals are part of natural law, and have natural rights, because they are endowed with feeling and unstructured consciousness.
Immanuel Kant - He argued that humans have duties only toward other humans. Therefore, "cruelty to animals is contrary to man's duty to himself, because it deadens in him the feeling of sympathy for their sufferings, and thus a natural tendency that is very useful to morality in relation to other humans is weakened."
Jeremy Bentham - He was opposed to the concept of natural rights. However, he believed the ability to suffer, not the ability to reason should determine how we treat other beings. Therefore, if animals can suffer, they must be treated kindly.
There is a ton of more modern philosophical thought on the subject, but it only regurgitates the old stuff. I am sure you can see why I prefer to hear from bloggers.
For me, an animal lover, the moral considerations are complex, but easily negotiated. I follow certain principles, and they seem to work - at least for me. This list is not all-inclusive, but it does give you some insight into my head, which may or may not be comforting:
1. I try not to be judgmental. For example, I don't hunt. I believe the "culling the herd so the rest can live argument" is just crap that hunters created to justify shooting defenseless creatures. I suggest the herd can take care of itself. I know there are plenty of arguments in favor of hunting, so I am not judgmental toward hunters. However, I think reading Most Dangerous Game and The Birds should be a prerequisite for obtaining a hunting license.
2. I believe in a scientific hierarchy of species. I do not fear walking on grass, even though it lives. Disease carrying rats should be exterminated from residential rental dwellings. However, shooting buffalo from a train for sport feels wrong to me.
3. Animals do seem to sense I am not afraid of them, and I will not harm them. I respect them. In turn, they don't seem to harm me. What a simple rule!
4. Anyone who thinks animals do not feel pain should come down from his attic room at least once a year.
5. Animals are one with Nature. I do not set butterflies free and kill spiders because one is beautiful, while the other is ugly. Too often, humans apply that theory even to their own species.
6. I am convinced the human animal is the only one that kills without reason. A rattlesnake has a rattle for a reason. It does not wait for us silently in hopes of being threatened. Whistle in the woods, and the bears will be long gone. Try to take a cub, and mamma will have a word with you.
7. We experiment with mice in medical labs in hopes of curing terrible diseases. We also kill animals in labs to make perfume and nail polish. The latter seems wrong to me.
Get the idea? I realize we must co-exist with the animal kingdom. However, victimizing animals for human pleasure does not square with me. I realize tigers eat gazelles, bears eat fish, and snakes devour frogs. I have never heard of a lioness torturing her prey. These are simply some of my scattered thoughts.
I repeat my original question: Do animals have any rights? Do we have any moral obligations toward them?