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Yesterday, I heard the announcement on NPR for Diane Rehm’s Monday show and recoiled in horror as it appeared she used the terms “animal welfare” and “animal rights” interchangeably.

Unfortunately, these two terms apply to philosophical opposites. It is like interchangeably using the terms “WWII history” and “Holocaust denial”, or “climate science” and “global warming denial”, or “evolutionary biology” and “evolution denial” (aka Creationism in its various stripes including Intelligent Design Creationism).

What is common to all these pairs of terms is that one is legitimate line of work, while the other is religiously or politically motivated assault on empiricism and modern society, trying to gain legitimacy by mimicking the other, pretending that it is very similar to the real thing, intentionally blurring the lines between the two and sowing confusion, pretending there is a debate where there is none, and thus fooling the media into giving them equal time in pursuit of “balance” (one of these days, religiousity and conservative ideology will be, hopefully, treated the same and not given a voice in the media, as they are both based on wishful thinking, emotional pathology, and irrationality).

I hope she has the distinction between the two clear, or will by Monday, and will not invite to the show and give a podium to a representative of an animal rights organization. After all, animal rights organizations are officialy (in a number of countries including the USA) classified as terrorist organizations. If you are not yet clear about the distinction, please use this excellent online resources:


























And check these recent discussions on Reappropriate and Alas, A Blog.

Once you have checked ALL the links, you may post a comment. Don’t just do a knee-jerk, fly-by comment on the introductory stuff I wrote on the top of this post. Get the relevant information FIRST.


  1. #1 Belathor
    July 23, 2006

    First, your 20th and 21st links and the Reappropriate link are “File not found” for me.

    Second, thanks for the info as I haven’t really encountered such people.

    My only question with this:

    (one of these days, religiousity and conservative ideology will be, hopefully, treated the same and not given a voice in the media, as they are both based on wishful thinking, emotional pathology, and irrationality).

    Your second link was from an objectivist website. It is my understanding that objectivists consider themselves conservatives. Following from that, I wonder why you posted that link in the first place?


  2. #2 coturnix
    July 23, 2006

    Fixed the links – they only had an extra ” at the end of the URL.

    The links represent a broad spectrum of people (O’Connor is conservative, if I remember correctly). As long as they have something interesitng and smart to say, I do not care what they think about Iraq or Bush.

  3. #3 Belathor
    July 23, 2006

    Actually, I was just attempting to criticize your comment in parenthesis about conservative ideology and the media. I didn’t see how you could claim it considering your links.

  4. #4 coturnix
    July 23, 2006

    It’s really a reference to one of my old posts that I reposted here last week….

  5. #5 Peter Wilson, PhD
    July 23, 2006

    I do hate absolutes. Us vs them. Welfare vs rights. Right vs wrong. Few things in the real world are so black and white, especially when it comes to ethics. Depending on how strongly you value the life and suffering of an animal, welfare blends into rights without having to buy into the moral equivalency of all animal life. Does a single-celled amoeba have the same right to life as a healthy human adult? I doubt many animal rightist would say it does.

    One of your links is to the Fur Commission. A lot of people (not just the stereotypical animal rightist) consider it unethical to use leghold traps to capture and kill animals for fur coats, because of the pain and suffering involved. If someone advocates the abolition of leghold traps and/or fur farms, is that an animal welfare position or an animal rights position. I contend its an animal rights position, because it calls for the abolition of a particular use of an animal and not just a reform to minimize the suffering (which may not be possible to eliminate completely). People can accept that the life of a fox is less valuable than the life of a human, but still believe that the fox’s life is *MORE* valuable than a human’s desire to have fur coats (or make money off the animal’s death). Same goes for bull fighting, cock fighting, canned hunts, etc: people can advocate abolition without claiming a moral equivalence of all animals in all situations.

    Richard Dawkins wrote an essay, “Gaps in the Mind”, for the Great Ape Project–an animal rights group working to extend rights of life and freedom from torture to the great apes–in which he argues against the absolutist, anthropocentic view many people take when it comes to the ethical treatment of animals: human life is sacrosanct, but animal life is expendable. Given the evolutionary continuity of all life, it is illogical to draw absolute moral boundaries around the human species. Indeed, no line can be drawn; it must vary on a continuum. Given the similarity between humans and the other great apes, Dawkins advocates animal rights for apes. However, Dawkins is not vegetarian and advocates only animal welfare for farm animals.

    The Great Ape Project is also supported by Carl Sagan (deceased) and Jane Goodall. Like Dawkins, Carl Sagan wasn’t vegetarian, but Jane Goodall is.

    Does Dawkins, Sagan, and Goodall fall into the camp of “anti-intellectual” animal rightists or the “right-thinking” animal welfarists. Or, maybe, just maybe, there is a continuum between the two and they all fall between the two polarized camps?

  6. #6 coturnix
    July 23, 2006

    Abolition of leghold traps and/or fur farms is definitely AW and not AR.

    I know some people love the idea of a middle ground and “moderation” and “balance”, but in some cases, things realy are black and white. AW and AR are not on a continuum because they do not belong in the same universe, just like Creationism is not on a continuum with evolution – it is not just a different thing, but also a different KIND of thing, orhtogonal to each other, based on different rules of thinking.

    And just like Creationism pretends to be science (by adopting terminology and graphing of “data”), thus similar in kind to evolution in order to pass as reasonable to the uninitiated, so the AR pretends to be about animals and suffering, i.e., pretends to be just a different version of AW although it is ideologically a completely different animal (pun intended). AR is based on un-evolutionary, “man is not an animal” idea wrapped in a tortilla of sciency lingo. It is based on a very Puritan unease with with our animality. AR-ists wish to lift us from nature’s “intrinsic evil” and then take the animals with us.

  7. #7 Peter Wilson, PhD
    July 23, 2006

    If abolition of fur farms is AW, is abolition of factory farms also AW? What about abolition of all use of animals for food? Does it depend on whether I make the argument based on the fact that animals invariably suffer to some degree or I argue that the animals can suffer and therefore have a “right” not to suffer unnecessarily?

    It is certainly understandable that a person on one side of the argument views the opposing side as fundamentally different and irrational. The conclusions drawn at the two ends are indeed fundamentally opposed, but there is still a continuum between them. (Even in creation vs evolution, you have people in the middle who believe in a god that directs evolution. There is a continuum in the adherence to logic and materialistic evidence from near 100% for naturalistic evolution and near 0% for theistic creation.)

    At one extreme you have people who believe humans are special and can do anything they want to animals, like Descartes who believed animals were automata incapable of real feeling. Animal welfare itself is opposed at this extreme. At the other extreme you have people who believe humans are just one life form with no inherent value above any other life, like (maybe) Ingrid Newkirk. This extreme can easily tend towards misanthropy in response to the tremendous attrocities they see humans commit.

    I see a very clear continuum here with animal welfare groups somewhere in the middle. At one side the ratio of human-to-animal consideration is infinitly in the human’s favor, while the other side is pure equality. There is certainly a fundamental difference between infinity and 1, but both are merely opposite limits of the same thing which result in radically different conclusions on behavior and ethics: at one end humans can do no wrong toward animals and at the other humans can do no right.

    The welfare vs rights arguments as presented in this blog and the associated links forces a false dichotomy that just polarizes the debate and promotes hatred between the opposing side. I would like to see rational, respectful debate, but the extremes on both sides makes that difficult.

  8. #8 coturnix
    July 23, 2006

    Abolition of factory farms is AW.

    Abolition of eating animals is AR.

    Those two things are NOT on the continuum.

    AR is one core. AW is another. Human domination is another. Mysanthropy is another. There may be others. Just because they are all talking about relationship between humans and other animals does not make them connected on any kind of line.

    Some people (like Angry Bear for politics, for instance) make it a hobby in trying to stake some kind of “middle ground” as this is their “high moral ground” from which they can give lectures to “extremists”. They try to shoehorn everything into continua in order to be able to find middles in everything. In some cases, they are wrong.

    I know you’ve seen the famous graph of continua in Creationism (I reprinted it here on the bottom of the post), but most people have not read the accompanying article and have not seen the original of the picture which has a horizontal line drawn between theistic and materialistic evolution. This image is fallacy as well – these are not continua, these are different species of belief.

    Only materialistic evolution is real evolution. Theistic evolution cuts it in half, clumsily, by giving the beginning to God and the rest to evolution, thus it is a combo, a mosaic of two stances, not a gradation between the two. It is either/or: either something evolves or it is created – there is no logical in-between position as it is impossible.

    The misunderstanding between two cores is due to different habits of thought that those are based upon. One side may, for instance, be in an empirical, rational mode, while the other is operating on emotion-based belief. The two do not grok how the other side thinks. This also means that the two sides are incomparable, not just being apples and oranges, but being frogs and grandmothers, or even better, being frogs and patriotism – different classes of objects altogether.

    Elements that belong to different classes cannot be graphed on the same continuous line. I have written about this problem in regards to political ideology here.

    Thus, we cannot have a debate until everyone involved understands that it is the strategy of non-rational groups (e.g., creationists, conservatives, the religious, AR) to make themselves appear as if they are just on a continuum with the respectable stand on the issue, thus muddying the water for the uninformed, getting undeserved respectability for themselves and trying to score political points.

    That is why they use the terminology of the other group (e.g, science-sounding terminology by Creationists) in order to blur the distinctions. It is their goal to be seen as on the same continuum with the rational position because, if they stated up front where their beliefs really come from, they would be summarily dismissed and laughed at by nearly everyone alive.

    This is a relatively new state of affairs. Making statements out of one’s faith or armchair thinking was quite respectable for millenia. But today, rational thinking and empiricism are universally accepted as the norm for all thinking and decision-making. That is why all the irrational groups had to adopt rational-sounding language.

    There have been people throughout history who wanted to make rational thinking the norm. Think Socrates, or Descartes. But this mode of thought left the narrow circles of philosophers and scientists and became more universally accepted only with the Darwinian revolution – a mere 150 years ago – and has spread like wildfire through the Western world. You cannot sell potatoes any more without an appeal to rationality and science, showing numbers and graphs.

    Thus, the conservatives cannot come out straight with their real motivations: femiphobia and the resultant sexism, racism and other forms of hierarchical structuring of society (except in carefully couched winks to the more neanderthal of their constituents). If they did, nobody would regard them as a legitimate political party any more. So, they couch their slogans in modern liberal frames: freedom, equality, hard work, fairness, etc., although their policies do exactly the opposite. They have evolved their Orwellian language, just like Creationists who, with each judicial loss, evolved more and more scientific-sounding language, just as AR-ists adopt the veneer of philosophy to cover their position based on emotional problems.

    You argue that the differences are quantitative, I say they qualitative. You say they are on a continuum, I say they are discrete. But there are no “missing links” between the positions, only occasional people who “mix-and-match” elements from different positions.

    The reason I linked to all those different sites is that I wanted to drive home one thing: individuals, groups, even large groups who run those sites are conservative or liberal, some have a background in philosophy, others in science, medicine or farming, yet, after many years of careful study of the issue, they all converge on the same conclusion – AW and AR are different as night and day, and AR position is illogical and untenable, as well as socially dangerous. To go against the collective wisdom of so many different groups with so much disparate experience and knowlege requires a huge amount of evidence to the contrary (just like Creationists have a burden of proof regarding evolution).

  9. #9 Peter Wilson, PhD
    July 24, 2006

    I will read those links shortly and see if they convince me otherwise. I am certainly not taking the stance that the middle ground or balance is always the right path. As you point out, sometimes one side is just wrong.

    Abolition of eating animals is AR.

    In arguments, I often state that animal rights is not, technically, opposed to eating animals any more than human rights is opposed to eating humans. Strictly speaking, the rightist philosophy is opposed to the killing or harming of animals/humans when it isn’t absolutely necessary (eg, self defense). There is nothing unethical about eating an animal/human that died of natural causes or accidentally (eg, road kill). In practice though, opposing meat consumption and advocating veganism is the most effective and simplest means (according to animal rightists) to eliminate the largest contributor to unnecessary animal suffering: factory farms.

  10. #10 Peter Wilson, PhD
    July 24, 2006

    just as AR-ists adopt the veneer of philosophy to cover their position based on emotional problems.

    Here’s a simple question. Do you accept that human rights is a rational, philosophically defensable position? If so, if humans are themselves animals, why can’t animal rights be a natural extension of the same philosophical arguments once the theistic boundary separating humans and animals is removed?

  11. #11 coturnix
    July 24, 2006

    No, the concept of human rights is a modern liberal idea – a social norm. It is not a philosophically defensable position, it is a socially defensable position. Just like slavery was for millenia.

  12. #12 Peter Wilson, PhD
    July 24, 2006

    So long as you’re consistent and agree that human rights philosopers are irrational people with emotional problems.

    I agree that “rights” are a recent human invention with no absolute reality. I believe they are merely a concept used to encapsulate a strong moral demand. That’s perhaps the fundamental reason I consider welfare and rights part of a continuum…. I don’t consider rights a different class; they are just welfare arguments that are so strong that it is very hard to justify violating. Perhaps that makes me an animal welfarist in your eyes, despite using “rights” terminology.

  13. #13 Tulse
    July 24, 2006

    the concept of human rights is a modern liberal idea – a social norm. It is not a philosophically defensable position, it is a socially defensable position. Just like slavery was for millenia.

    Boy, talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater! Do you really mean to go completely po-mo with ethics? If so, then surely there is no principled, philosophical reason that including animals in the sphere of rights is any more or less “right” in an absolute sense than, say, the enslavement of humans. In other words, if the entire notion of human rights is philosophically indefensible, then so to is the argument against (or even for) animal rights — you have removed the entire topic from rational discourse.

  14. #14 coturnix
    July 24, 2006

    There is nothingpo-mo or arbitrary about social norms. Social norms are rules of engagement between members of the society. Such rules evolve to make the society as efficient as possible.

    Different societies have different political and economic organizations. Hunter/gatherer societies, small agricultural societies, slavery, feudalism, capitalism, socialism – each is efficient in its own way. For the system to remain efficient, sustainable, and long-lived, the people in it has to obey appropriate social norms. Soem systems are more efficient for small societies, others for large societies, some for poor other for rich societies, some for primitive other for technologically advanced societies. Human rights are part of social norms that fit technologically advanced, capitalist, democratic societies, because equality of all players is important for the operation of the free market.

  15. #15 coturnix
    July 24, 2006

    So, as animals are not players in the free market economy, they do not have rights. The animal rights are not a social norm that has evolved in order to make any type of social organization more efficient and sustainable. They are a flight of fancy of urbanites whohave lost touch with nature and need a “cause” to make themselves feel good about something.

    I have placed the Diane Beers book on my Amazon wishlist. She was way to sympatethic to the animal rights movement on air, but her book is of interest because it appears to be a well researched history and she stops at 1975 and the publication of “Animal Liberation”. Thus, she stops at the point of birth of the true, quasi-philosophical AR movement, i.e., at the time AW and AR people split form each other.

  16. #16 Tulse
    July 24, 2006

    Coturnix, you seem to want it to be the case that animal rights are a priori philosophically indefensible and irrational, while at the same time state that all of ethics is essentially philosophically indefensible. And that, it seems to me, completely undercuts your absolutist position regarding the falsity of the animal rights position.

    The point of ethics is not to make social organizations more efficient and sustainable, but to specify the obligations that we as rational agents owe each other, and potentially other non-rational entities. I can easily understand arguing about whether such obligations extend to non-human creatures, and that’s a debate that could be very interesting and fruitful. But if you are going to toss out the notion of a philosophically-grounded ethics, and literally claim that slavery was a defensible ethical position, then the gulf between your position and most of those who defend human rights is abyssal, and there are far deeper issues at stake than whether people eat cows.

  17. #17 coturnix
    July 24, 2006

    Who is talking about ethics? I am talking about social norms, one of which is the modern notion of human rights which does not apply to animals.

    Discussion of ethics is a very different discussion which certainly is grounded in philosophy. As far as AW vs AR from the standpoint of ethics, that has been done so much by so many smart people who destroyed AR from the philosophical/ethical standpoint, I did not wish to waste anyone’s time on rehashing all that all over again.

  18. #18 Peter Wilson, PhD
    July 24, 2006

    Who is talking about ethics?

    (shoots up arm) Oo! Oo! Oo! Me and the entire animal rights movement!

    I am talking about social norms, one of which is the modern notion of human rights which does not apply to animals.

    That just defines away the argument and all arguments about extending rights to other groups. Two hundred years ago blacks didn’t have any rights. One hundred years ago women didn’t have the right to vote. Abolitionists and suffragists were by definition irrational people because they were arguing for rights that went against the social norm. The status quo becomes its own justification and all social movements must be suppressed.

  19. #19 coturnix
    July 24, 2006

    That is why AR is so wrong – they keep trying to argue from ethics and fail miserably.

    Abolition etc., fit qite nicely in the notion of the human rights as a social norm which evolved to replace the old slaveholidng and feudal relationships with the modern free-market society.

    Conservatism is a remnant of the old thinking – it is hierarchical. THey are nominally for free markets but tehy think of it as a linear climb-up-the-ladder. Once on top, the system freezes, the rich get rich and the poor get poor. The old aristocracy is replaced by the new aristocracy (explains why Stalinism is a conservative ideology). The liberal notion of free market, the one described by Adam Smith sees the society as an interactionist system in which rise and fal in fortunes is constantly happening to all. Thus, there is not one iteration of the free market that cements a new hierarchy, but a constantly cycling system which is self-sutained over time, does not have economic growth as a holy goal and does not enshrine any particular individual or family permanently on top. For such a system to operate, every human being has to be equal – thus abolishionist movement. Animals cannot possibly be part of that system – this is totally not an ethical question.

  20. #20 Peter Wilson, PhD
    July 24, 2006

    Abolition etc., fit qite nicely in the notion of the human rights as a social norm

    Only after the fact. Before abolition, the social norm wasn’t really “human” rights, but white male rights. At the time, the social norm considered blacks and women incapable of exercising those rights and therefore excluded and to varying degrees treated as property.

    For such a system to operate, every human being has to be equal – thus abolishionist movement.

    No it doesn’t. It just requires that the participants of the free market economy be equal. And the only individuals allowed to be participants are those that the current social norm deem qualified to participate. Blacks weren’t qualified and were excluded; the economy worked just fine without them.

    Animals cannot possibly be part of that system – this is totally not an ethical question.

    Correct. Therefore animals cannot be granted rights dependent on being a participant in that system. Animals should be denied the right to vote, hold property, hold legal office, or be the plaintiff/defendent in a trial (just like children are despite being humans). No animal rightist claims otherwise, but many an anti-animal rightist has claimed voting rights as one of the goals of the animal rights movement.

  21. #21 coturnix
    July 24, 2006

    But when early barbaric capitalism decided that economic growth is the goal, inclusion of as many people as possible was good for the economy. No matter that the activists do it for completely different self-reported reasons. Theirs was one of many competing ideas, but this one was “fit” in the context of the changing political and economic organization of the society.

  22. #22 Tulse
    July 24, 2006

    Coturnix, do you really not believe that there is a right and wrong to certain human actions that transcends particular cultural arrangements? Are you really arguing that there is no ethics, only specific social contexts? If so, it sounds to me like you don’t believe in the notion of “rights” period, for humans or animals. That makes the whole discussion of animal rights rather moot.

  23. #23 coturnix
    July 24, 2006

    There are ethics that emerge from our evolutionary past (e.g., do not kill), and additional ethics that come from the evolution of our societies. Thus, social contexts are environments in which cultural norms evolve. So, ethics is the study of what works in social contexts. Why do you denigrate social contexts? Are you looking for absolutes? Those do not exist without evolutionary PLUS social contexts.

    What is the ethics of 8-legged, 5-gender purple Martians in which eating one of the genders by the other four is neccessary for reproduction? And the eaten gender has evolved to feel pleasure during the act of being consumed. There is no such thing as the ethics from first principles (except in a religious/conservative minds, but taht is due to emotional insecurity).

  24. #24 Tulse
    July 24, 2006

    There are ethics that emerge from our evolutionary past (e.g., do not kill), and additional ethics that come from the evolution of our societies.

    That would be the Naturalistic Fallacy.

    ethics is the study of what works in social contexts.

    And that just begs the question of how you define “works”. Under some definition, slavery “worked” for Southern plantation owners, human sacrifice “worked” for the Aztecs, and genital mutilation “works” for various African cultures. But I think very few people would be willing to say that those institutions were/are ethical. If you are, you are farther removed from most ethical thinkers than, say, Peter Singer is. With such a radical and unconventional view of ethics and the notion of rights, it really isn’t possible to argue about the narrow application to animals, as there are much more fundamental differences here.

  25. #25 Peter Wilson, PhD
    July 25, 2006

    Your blowing my mind, Coturnix! I would never have guessed that someone could argue that slavery was wrong, not because of the harm done to the individuals enslaved, but because of the harm done to the *economy*. Wow! I’m sure moral anthropocentrists feel the same way when confronted with an animal rightist.

    I would therefore assume that if an economic model showed that the economy would grow with the reintroduction of slave (or child) labor, you’d be all for it.

    There are ethics that emerge from our evolutionary past (e.g., do not kill), and additional ethics that come from the evolution of our societies.

    I agree with you there. Of course, one way societies can evolve is through rational debate of moral issues, including arguments for an extension of rights, and (political/social) minorities standing up and pointing out the collective, unquestioned biases that naturally arise from growing up in a homogenous society (with regard to a particular belief, such as a religion or diet). People (especially scientists) must always be willing to question and challenge the status quo instead of sitting back and assuming the current norm is the best society can do.

  26. #26 coturnix
    July 25, 2006

    You are both coming to this from a modern liberal ethical core. I belong to it myself. I would personally never condone slavery, but, taking a step back to look at the big picture, slavery worked for the slaveholding societies and it was ethical for THEM, there and then. We may not like it from our enlightened perspective, but that is just a historical fact.

    As Peter said, assuming that the current norm is best society can do is a fallacy, but assuming that the current norm is the only thing society can do is worse, as it completely lacks historical context. Communism works great on a kibbutz. Without a powerful Emperor during the 18th and 19th century, there would be no Japan today – just some bare rock, like Easter Island. There are good geographical, economnic and social reasons why Russia and China were the LEAST likely countries in the world to have communism succeed. We may not like some of the political/economic/social systems, but population size, area, level of techonoligical advancement, etc, are factors that make different kinds of systems more likely to succeed in different places. This has nothing to do with ethics.

  27. #27 coturnix
    July 25, 2006

    Oh, BTW, I am deliberately pushing this line for the sake of debate – it makes it more fun that way….

  28. #28 Tulse
    July 25, 2006

    slavery worked for the slaveholding societies and it was ethical for THEM, there and then.

    It didn’t work for the slaves.

    You are clearly interesting in maximizing some measure of societal good, but whatever that is, it a) isn’t ethics (unless some crude form of utilitarianism), b) has nothing to do with human rights, and c) is radically at odds with almost everyone else who is attacking the notion of animal rights. Indeed, it seems you’re saying not that animals shouldn’t have rights, but that the entire concept of rights itself is invalid.

    This has nothing to do with ethics.

    Indeed. But the whole notion of rights comes from ethics.

    I am deliberately pushing this line for the sake of debate

    But this line precludes debate, at least on notions of rights and ethics. If you want to be a skeptic about such concepts, that’s fine, but then I really don’t undertand why you are so righteous about the attacking animal rights — surely you’d have bigger fish to fry, such as attacking those who use the notion of human rights to change human societies (such as those who fight to eliminate genital mutilation, child labour, slavery, etc.).

    Frankly, anyone who thinks that slavery was a defensible practice is involved in a completely different discourse than most of those who debate animal rights, a discourse that makes any further discussion moot.

  29. #29 coturnix
    July 25, 2006

    I never said that slavery was a defensible practice. I never thought that carnivory in animals is nice either – but it happens, and without it the system will collapse.

    I am pushing this line of excercise on purpose. Everyone has always drawn human rights out of ethics – which is probably correct but old and thus boring. I want to see if there is a bigger picture to it – an evoluitonary, or cultural-evolutionary reason why people would invent ethics that encompasses the concept of human rights in it, which leads some people to make the erroneous extension to animals. T

    hus, we are not talking within the same time-frame – you are looking at the past century or two at best, I am looking at a million years. We are not in the same spatial frame – you are looking at Western societies, I am looking at totality of humans on the planet. We are not using the same paradigm – you are coming from the philosophy/ethics tradition, I want to ignore it for now and see if there are other ways to explain the existence of the concept of human rights.

  30. #30 Dr. Free-Ride
    July 25, 2006

    I’m not going to mount a rebuttal to any of the claims made in this thread, because I’m not sure there’s enough common ground that it would make sense to do so. But, as a practicing philosopher (who is neither an expert in meta-ethics nor in the specific area of humans’ moral relationship with animals), let me add a few thoughts:

    1. Almost any basis people offer for why we ought to recognize the rights of humans but not animals runs the risk of leaving some humans out and including some animals. (Maybe this isn’t surprising, given the range of capacities within and across species.) So the line almost always ends up being arbitrary. That may not be a deal breaker, but we ought to be conscious of the fact that WE are the ones drawing the line — not pretend that we’re just respecting a pre-existing line we found out there.

    2. One can believe that animals don’t have rights, yet believe that humans have great obligations toward animals — enough obligations, in fact, that AW might demand nearly as much of us as AR.

    3. Having obligations and recognizing that we have obligations can be quite distinct from each other. (Unless you want to go the route of saying our “moral obligations” are all social conventions. If you go this route, there are certain bullets you need to be ready to bite.)

    4. Justifying moral obligations (or the absence of certain moral obligations) on the basis of “what would have happened anyway” in some hypothetical state of nature is also a strategy that carries risks. (How can we ask schoolboys to treat each other with respect given that in a state of nature they’d be busting out with the “Lord of the Flies” type behavior.)

    5. It’s possible to have a philosophically coherent position and still to be wrong. Similarly, it’s possible to offer a shaky defense for a view and still be right. (I’m not saying we ought to be swayed by shaky arguments. Rather, I’m suggesting that the (moral) facts of the matter here — if there are any to be had — may be hard to get at.)

  31. #31 coturnix
    July 25, 2006


  32. #32 Peter Wilson, PhD
    July 25, 2006

    Well said, Dr. Free-Ride. I agree on all counts.

  33. #33 tulse
    July 25, 2006

    I never said that slavery was a defensible practice.

    Well, I sure took this statement:

    the concept of human rights is a modern liberal idea – a social norm. It is not a philosophically defensable position, it is a socially defensable position. Just like slavery was for millenia.

    (emphasis added) to be a defense of slavery, at least in certain contexts.

    I want to see if there is a bigger picture to it – an evoluitonary, or cultural-evolutionary reason why people would invent ethics that encompasses the concept of human rights in it

    If you want to pursue the larger project of reconceptualizing ethics in terms of evolutionary history, that’s fine, but be aware that a) that puts you at serious odds with most opponents of animal rights, and b) sociobiology has gotten there before you.

    which leads some people to make the erroneous extension to animals.

    “Erroneous” in the context of your particular (and rather radical) eliminativist view of ethics.

    Seriously, if you want to replace the philosophical foundation of ethics with something else, that’s fine, but then the issue isn’t animal rights, but the broader notion of rights as a whole. And that has huge implications, ones that I think most people would refuse to accept.

  34. #34 Nick Anthis
    July 25, 2006

    I think it would be wrong to say that animal rights and animal welfare are two separate phenomena. Clearly, they’re part of the same continuum. The issue here, though, is that the animal rights movement exists so far out of the mainstream that the positions it pushes are based on very different reasons from the ones most of us would use to justify basic animal welfare.

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