Social Question

Smashley's avatar

Which animal rights make sense?

Asked by Smashley (9516points) 1 week ago

In response to a legal decision, dismissing the claims of legal personhood as applied to Happy the elephant from the Bronx Zoo.

I always thought that legally, this was a bridge too far, but other countries do have more expansive views of animal personhood, and haven’t crumbled.

Are animal rights inherent? Are they good but subservient to human rights? Where does what is right begin and end? Does what is right change over time?

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71 Answers

gorillapaws's avatar

It’s an interesting question and one I haven’t spent much time studying or thinking about. One obvious right should maintain that animals shouldn’t have to suffer or be treated with cruelty (as a result of intentional action or gross negligence). That said, even something this basic can quickly get weird fast. Insects are animals, so does owning a venus flytrap in your garden make you an animal abuser? Ok so insects are out and maybe we’re just talking about animals with certain characteristics like mammals? ...But then if you own a cat who gets a mouse are you grossly negligent by not restraining your animal? Are you then abusive for restraining your animal?

I don’t know where those lines ought to be drawn, just that there should be a general respect for animal life where possible and a general distain for and enforcement against people who cause needless pain and suffering to animals. Even these basic general principles are likely filled with lots of exceptions and corner-cases under rigorous scrutiny.

Smashley's avatar

@gorillapaws – “needless” pain gets a little vague too. Harvesters scoop up a fair amount of mice, but people would die of starvation if we went back to hand harvesting. Cars can’t seem to operate without killing something from time to time. Thanks for the response.

raum's avatar

My initial take was that animals should rights without necessarily having rights as a person, which seems odd to me.

But we are talking about legal personhood which is kind of a separate thing. And I think if you can grant legal personhood to a corporation, you most certainly can to an animal.

That said, I don’t think it will happen because Americans are too attached to how we process our animals in the meat industry. (Cheap, cruel and out of sight.)

Smashley's avatar

@raum – is it the industry that treats animals cruelly, or is it the mere act of killing them that makes it cruel? Is is the method of killing or the fact itself? Do cows with a good life and quick death mean ethical burgers?

gorillapaws's avatar

@Smashley “Do cows with a good life and quick death mean ethical burgers?”

You mean humane slaughter?

ragingloli's avatar

They gave corporations personhood. A fictitious construct existing only on paper.
But a living, flesh and blood being, which is not only intelligent, but almost certainly sentient, gets denied the same, for not other reasons than it being considered “lesser” than humans, and it having these rights would make it harder for humans to exploit them.
But I guess that is to be expected from a species that applied the same rationale to enslave members of their own until less than 200 years ago.

raum's avatar

@Smashley I would say the industry. You don’t watch a lion eating a deer and call it cruel. Humans are basically apex predators.

hat's avatar

@raum: “You don’t watch a lion eating a deer and call it cruel.”

That’s because of the fact that lions don’t have a choice.

raum's avatar

A fair point.

Though some domesticated species that eat meat have had gastrointestinal issues when given a vegetarian diet. While other domesticated species have done well. I’d say it depends.

Smashley's avatar

@gorillapaws – I actually had that scene in my head while I was writing! I guess I mean more like the pig I eat, who gets 5 months of slopping around, then a bullet to the skull, and provides my family with all the meat we need for the year. Is that system inherently cruel because of the death?

hat's avatar

@raum: “I’d say it depends.”

Most definitely. There are cultures and people alive today that don’t have a choice, and it’s clear that the same ethical considerations are at play. What is ethically questionable is the act of raising and killing animals for food in cases where it’s not necessary.

Smashley's avatar

@ragingloli – corporate personhood has much more to do with the nature of money and power than any kind of “right”. Anyway, exploitation of nature seems to be the only rule in nature. It is only after a species has evolved philosophy that they can contemplate not exploiting nature. There is that in between period however, when we get really good at it first, though.

gorillapaws's avatar

@Smashley I eat meat. I can certainly understand the ethical case for not doing so. I’d like to believe that a swift/painless slaughter of animals for meat is an ethically sound practice. That could very well be wishful thinking, especially when alternatives exist like vegetarianism, or protein cubes made from meal worms. How does one weigh the satisfaction of eating a piece of bacon against the cost in terms of the life of the pig (who would probably never have been born if we banned eating meat) it came from?

Smashley's avatar

@hat – “necessary” kind of becomes a sliding scale at that point. How necessary? Like you could go meatless if you went into debt for it? Is it your ethical fault for not earning enough?

hat's avatar

@Smashley: ”“necessary” kind of becomes a sliding scale at that point.”

An conversation we should have if we have any interest in being ethical.

There are scenarios we can declare to be most definitely unnecessary, and then work from there, right? There are plenty of wealthy people in the West who choose to eat meat, despite having sufficient money to not eat meat. In fact, in many scenarios, they are spending more money in order to eat meat.

But of course, like I said above – if someone is poor and the country has configured their food industry to make animal-based foods cheaper than plant-based, then these same ethical considerations should be at play.

janbb's avatar

I read a justification for eating meat that made sense to me although I do flirt with vegetarianism at times. The author said that since animals do not anticipate pain or death, a good life (not factory farms) and a swift humane killing could justify eating meat. I look for certified humane meat when I can (not always) and do limit my meat eating but I am not always “kosher.”

hat's avatar

@janbb: “The author said that since animals do not anticipate pain or death, a good life (not factory farms) and a swift humane killing could justify eating meat.”

I’m sympathetic to this. But we don’t make similar calculations when considering humans who are impaired in some way (coma, developmentally disabled, young, etc).

Smashley's avatar

@hat – starting with what is universally agreeable is probably a good start, and I think we all have a stake in feeling ethical. It would seem right that one shouldn’t torture animals, but I’m not sure if that’s because it violates the animal’s rights, or because society hates an unfeeling torturer.

It’s also interesting how in a human context, there isn’t much you can do to a person that is worse than killing them. With animals, the argument is less about the fact of death and more about suffering. This makes me wonder if our notion of animal rights isn’t rooted in more of a protection against psychopaths in our midst, than a genuine belief in inherent rights.

hat's avatar

@Smashley: “It would seem right that one shouldn’t torture animals, but I’m not sure if that’s because it violates the animal’s rights, or because society hates an unfeeling torturer.”

Can you elaborate here? I’m not following.

Smashley's avatar

@hat – I mean that I’m not sure if we are protecting the animal or discouraging abuse when we instinctively say you shouldn’t torture animals for pleasure. The connection between animal and human abuse is well known. Are we against animal torture for the sake of the animal or the sake of human society?

raum's avatar

@hat Access to a vegetarian diet isn’t just money, it’s also time and education.

When we had our first kid, we had this notion to raise them on a vegetarian diet, so that they could make their own choices whether they wanted to eat meat or not (when they were older).

Though being two omnivores who were raised on meat, we were fucking clueless about being vegetarian. We just cut out meat and bought more vegetables. Which in hindsight, was pretty dumb.

Our first kid ended up being anemic and our pediatrician was like please give them meat.

Another issue is that since we weren’t raised on vegetarian cooking, our idea of a vegetarian diet was just cutting out meat. And in turn, we upped the grain and dairy intake. Now we have issues with grain and dairy intolerances. Probably due to how we process those too. :/

hat's avatar

@Smashley: “Are we against animal torture for the sake of the animal or the sake of human society?”

Oh, I understand what you’re asking now. I’m not sure. I think there there might be reasons for current “animal torture” laws and then there are real ethical considerations about how we really treat animals. These two don’t necessarily overlap. You are probably right that some societal norms concerning torturing animals have something to do with identifying psychopathology in the individuals doing the torturing. But I do think there is a whole other discussion to be had when it comes to ethics of large-scale torture and even the whole concept of bringing animals into existence to kill and eat them.

hat's avatar

@raum: “it’s also time and education.”

Keep adding these variables. I’m not excluding any of them. Remember, I’m saying that for some people, it is completely reasonable and ethical to eat meat.

I’m not judging you. We’re discussing the practice overall, which is far greater than how each individual navigates the cultural foods that are easily available to them.

Not that it matters, but I am not a vegan. I was a lacto-ovo vegetarian for 9 years when I was younger. I’m 75% vegan now. My wife is vegan, and so is my daughter (who is in college). But I have 2 teenage boys who love meat. I buy and cook meat every day.

LostInParadise's avatar

I have mixed feelings about keeping animals in zoos. Most animals are much more content in their native habitat. However, zoo animals help to highlight them and may succeed in raising more money to protect them in the wild.

raum's avatar

@hat Going back to discussing the practice overall, I think the whole concept of bringing animals into existence to kill and eat them isn’t cruel if the animals have a good life and a humane death.

If I were a cow, I’d be down with a good life and a humane death. If someone wants to eat me afterwards, I’d consider that a bonus. It’s a lot more resourceful than sticking me in a box and burying me.

I think it’s more disturbing that we are so divorced from the process itself.

chyna's avatar

Off topic and I haven’t read this at all.
But I found it funny that for this question of animal rights in a zoo that gorilla paws answered first!
Yes I need a life.

hat's avatar

@raum: “I think it’s more disturbing that we are so divorced from the process itself.”

Yep. The average suburban US resident just wants to pay some large corporation to raise animals, kill them, and serve them up without ever knowing what is involved. I’ve met people who are “grossed out” by the concept of consuming eggs that come from backyard chickens. We have hens, and I’ve had more than a couple people say that there is something “gross” about going out to get the eggs and then cooking/eating them. Odd. They prefer the “clean” process of going to a supermarket and opening up the magic carton of eggs that just appear.

gondwanalon's avatar

Animals should be treated humanely. But that doesn’t mean that animals should have the same rights that humans have. That’s nuts.

Smashley's avatar

@gondwanalon – I feel similarly, but I hesitate to call that a right belonging to the animal, and more of a standard of behavior we expect of humans.

ragingloli's avatar

Slaves should be treated humanely. But that doesn’t mean that slaves should have the same rights that whites have. That’s nuts.

tinyfaery's avatar

I think we all know how I will answer this. Animals don’t exist for the sake of humans. They aren’t alive because we can eat them. They are sentient beings that can experience pain, loss, and suffering. They are individuals and not a food group. If our liberal mindset (I am not talking about politics I am talking about the enlightenment and modernity) leads us to believe that all individuals have the right to life, then so do animals.

In the case of Happy, and other cases trying to give personhood to animals, they do it is so that the welfare of the animal in question can be litigated and the animal can hopefully be moved to a facility where they aren’t suffering. I am 100% okay with this. Plus, I’ve only seen this tactic used for great apes and elephants. I doubt this backwards hellscape of a country is going to give personhood to a pig (even tough they are smarter than our pets and have rich emotional lives), so no one is ever going to take away your mouth experience of bacon.

I am not going to debate this issue here because it’s a waste of my time.

Kropotkin's avatar

Personhood and rights aren’t really coherent concepts, and these types of questions devolve into rather arbitrary feeling and claims that have more in common with aesthetic values than anything remotely universal or objective.

For @gondwanalon, equivalent rights for animals is “nuts”. That’s no an actual argument. gondwanalon simply values humans more than animals. And I’d suspect there’s a broader hierarchy of moral value applied to different humans and different animals too.

@janbb is persuaded that a swift death after a comfortable life is justification for eating animals. I supposed we could imagine “ethical cannibals” who swiftly kill individual humans without them realising, and maybe target people with no family or friends, so that they won’t be missed by anyone.

Smashley's avatar

@tinyfaery – animals were exclusively a food group until humans came around and started elevating some of them.

And you are right that this case is Happy specific, but we all know how precedent works. This is largely an attempt to get the front of the wedge in.

And if you won’t debate, here in social, I must assume it’s because your ideas don’t hold muster. It would not be a waste of your time to convince someone, or even have your own ideas tempered by analysis.

Smashley's avatar

@ragingloli – I get the humor, but humans aren’t the same as animals.

ragingloli's avatar

As recent science about animal cognition has shown, that claim becomes more and more spurious.
Besides, “X is not the same as Y” can be applied to white people and black people all the same.
Or Christians and Muslims. Or Aryans and Jews.
And the sentence with substituted words was hardly humorous.
That is how people thought about black slaves not too long ago. Many, too many, still do.

gondwanalon's avatar

@ragingloli Your ability to twist and extrapolate logic is remarkable. But not funny.

Smashley's avatar

@ragingloli – I guess between single celled organism, viruses, insects and other creatures society would be paralyzed to offer rights to, I just don’t see a logical continuum that lets you pick and choose animals that shall be granted rights. Drawing the line at humans works for me.

@Kropotkin – I agree that “is it nuts” isn’t an argument, but I think you overreach by suggesting this position implies a value hierarchy within the human species. There is a clear line between humans and animals. I think it’s way less messy, and more respectful of the entire gamut of humanity to just draw a hard line where our species ends.

hat's avatar

@gondwanalon: ”@ragingloli Your ability to twist and extrapolate logic is remarkable. But not funny.”

That was your logic. You typed it, and @ragingloli was correct in pointing it out. If you meant to make a different argument, maybe you could expand on what you meant.

hat's avatar

@Smashley: “There is a clear line between humans and animals.”

The purpose of discussions like this is not to just declare things to be “nuts” or state that there is a “clear line”. That “line” needs to be defined, and the reason for drawing that line needs to be argued. That work hasn’t been done here, and can’t be out of mere convenience.

ragingloli's avatar

@Smashley
There is not, though.
Elephants mourn and bury their dead.
Crows are excellent problem solvers and have an active understanding of physics.
Dogs are capable of deductive reasoning.
Gorillas can literally learn human sign language.
This “clear line” between animals and humans is based on nothing but ignorance and arrogance on the humans’ side.

gorillapaws's avatar

@gondwanalon‘s Argument is fine. It’s essentially a reductio ad absurdum with a few unstated premises.

raum's avatar

Deciding which animals are worthy to have rights based on intelligence is also a slippery slope I’m wary of. Are beings with lower IQ less worthy of life?

Smashley's avatar

@ragingloli I feel like you are the one who would apply different rights to subsets of people based on arbitrary notions. You are picking and choosing individual traits and inferring that rights are somehow attached to these practices.

The “clear line” is the scientific definition of a species.

I’m not against animal rights per se, only in the notion of them being inherent to the animal. It seems to me that societies “earn” rights when they have reached a certain level of economic, and philosophical development to where it becomes a useful part of the social contract. I don’t doubt that protecting animals benefits human society, which is why I think we do it. I just think we get away from the point when we talk about “personhood” or an “inherent right”.

hat's avatar

@Smashley: “The “clear line” is the scientific definition of a species.”

Why is species the clear line?

You have to do the work to define what makes species special. Why not height or eye color? Merely stating something arbitrary as “species” isn’t adding to the argument.

@Smashley: “It seems to me that societies “earn” rights when they have reached a certain level of economic, and philosophical development to where it becomes a useful part of the social contract.”

Huh?

janbb's avatar

Can I just step in the whisper that this is a really great discussion – intelligent and respectful.

Smashley's avatar

@hat – I’m stating that rather than rights being inherent essences or something, they are agreements made by societies. We call these rights are inherent sometimes, but only after we have constructed a society in which those rights can be supported. A right to shelter is a not-uncommon right in some places, but if that right was in the US constitution 200 years ago, the lack of ability to for government to execute would make that right non-sensical. Equally are rights for the disabled non-sensical if you lived somewhere where everyday was a grasping and desperate competition just to get the minimum requirements of survival. We “earn” these rights through our own development, no?

Species is the clear line because it encompasses all those in the bloodlines of the ones making the rules, and fulfills the maximin that social contracts need. It is rational self interest. Protecting animals can also be rational self interest, but we humans are the only ones capable of delivering those rights.

gondwanalon's avatar

Humans can’t give animals the same rights that humans have because animals can’t understand such rights. My cat doesn’t give the bird that its torturing any rights. His brain operates on survival instincts and his brain can’t comprehend that its not a good thing to do. And would not understand any punishment given to him for injuring the bird.
Humans have a powerful brain. We understand the concept of cause and effect. Therefore we have rights are earned and are protected by law. We can understand the punishment that we received when we infringe on the rights of others.
My cat has a right to act like a cat and be treated well. The bird that was injured by my cat does not have to sue my cat for damages.

hat's avatar

@gondwanalon: “Humans can’t give animals the same rights that humans have because animals can’t understand such rights”

However, we know that there are humans who can’t understand such rights, yet we still provide them with these rights.

So, it can’t be because of this “powerful brain” that you speak of. There are species of animals that have far more intelligence and awareness than some humans. Since we can dismiss the intelligence argument, is there another reason why you find it “nuts” to consider non-human animal rights?

gorillapaws's avatar

@hat “Since we can dismiss the intelligence argument, is there another reason why you find it “nuts” to consider non-human animal rights?”

I can’t speak for @gondwanalon but there are many logically absurd conclusions that would arise from such a proposal. For example, humans are entitled to property rights:

Article 17: ”(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.”

So the aphids have equal rights to our food supplies?

or the right of humans to elect a government?:

Article 21: ”(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. (2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country. (3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”

Equal suffrage? so the termites can vote you out of your house?

Also humans have a right to a family, so no spay/neutering animals? it just gets ridiculous the further you go.

hat's avatar

^ Nope. Stay with me.

@gondwanalon: “Animals should be treated humanely. But that doesn’t mean that animals should have the same rights that humans have. That’s nuts.”

@gondwanalon: “Humans can’t give animals the same rights that humans have because animals can’t understand such rights.”

@hat: “However, we know that there are humans who can’t understand such rights, yet we still provide them with these rights.”

Are you still there?

I’m trying to determine what @gondwanalon is using as criteria. That is all. We know that it can’t be intelligence. So, I’m asking @gondwanalon to elaborate on the criteria. That is all. The rest of what you typed has very little to do with anything I have said.

tinyfaery's avatar

I couldn’t give a rat’s ass what you think about my argument. I’ve been over this a million times on this site and you are not a good enough reason to bother with it now.

Your slippery slope argument is hilarious.

gorillapaws's avatar

@hat I understand your point. Using intelligence as a litmus test for extending rights to animals is problematic for the reasons you state. That doesn’t mean that pigs should have equal suffrage with humans:

Adult humans have an innate right to elect their leaders.
Pigs do not have an innate right to elect their leaders.
Some pigs are smarter than some adult humans.

Clearly extending all human rights to animals creates absurd outcomes. Therefore there must be some distinction between animals and humans (beyond just intelligence) that differentiates why humans have certain human rights (such as universal suffrage) that animals do not. I’m not sure what that is or how it ought to be defined, but the inability to articulate such a difference doesn’t suddenly mean that pigs should vote (or the corollary that humans no longer have the human right to vote).

hat's avatar

^ Then I think we’re in agreement.

@gorillapaws: “Therefore there must be some distinction between animals and humans (beyond just intelligence) that differentiates why humans have certain human rights (such as universal suffrage) that animals do not.”

That’s the exercise. We can cut it short and just declare an arbitrary line. Or we can discuss the details to come up with what it is that we use to justify certain “rights” that humans have. The slippery slope of pigs having the right to vote, etc has practical implications that ethical discussions of suffering and killing do not (necessarily). Rejecting “that’s nuts” out of hand and getting down to the difficult work of seeing the inner workings of our ethics is an important exercise.

gorillapaws's avatar

@hat “Rejecting “that’s nuts” out of hand and getting down to the difficult work of seeing the inner workings of our ethics is an important exercise.”

I agree with @gondwanalon that “it’s nuts” to give animals and humans the same rights. There are absurd examples of rights that humans have that animals do not have—res ipsa loquitur. It may be reasonable to extend a subset of human rights to animals. I honestly don’t know. I’m confident that giving all human rights to all animals is nuts (i.e. “the same rights”).

Smashley's avatar

Generally agreeing with all this. It’s why I stressed species-first-ism over some test. Humans have conjured the notation and expectation of rights. Humans alone can confer rights… (maybe there’s a debate there) so our social contracts are designed to further the interests of the human species, as it is the only group we are all sure to belong to (for now). What those interests are is another question altogether.

raum's avatar

I think species need rights specific to their species. Not necessarily a statement about which is better. I’m not doing to demand dog rights for my cat.

I’d actually say it’s kind of telling that we imply that anything that’s not human rights is inherently lesser.

Smashley's avatar

@raum – telling, perhaps, but also …. obvious?

raum's avatar

Why aren’t we just arguing for stronger animal rights?

gondwanalon's avatar

Perhaps the best reason the rights similar to human rights should not be granted to animals is because we use animals for food and to harness then for work and enjoyment. That in of its self is unfair.

But we take advantage of animals anyway. Why? Because we can. If animals had the brain power to figure out how to use humans as slaves and as cattle then they would surely do it. Wild animals will attack humans about every chance they feel like they have the ability to do so. Also look at how animals will take adopted advantage of other animals about every chance the get.

Kropotkin's avatar

@gondwanalon Might makes right, right?

gondwanalon's avatar

@Kropotkin The strong survive.

Smashley's avatar

@tinyfaery – I’m afraid that if you answer this question, I will address your answer thoughtfully. If you don’t have thoughtful responses, maybe just move on?
https://www.nonhumanrights.org/client-happy/
This is not a case simply about one elephant.
“Slippery slope” gets thrown around like it’s a logical fallacy. It’s not. It’s a description of the momentum of political movements and shifting Overton windows. Sure it’s often used poorly by dickbags with more mouth than brain to try and make an incorrect argument, but the concept is not laughable at all. Legal precedent is set by legal decisions. Precedent is law.

I’m a little disappointed no one is taking me up on the idea that rights can be “achieved” through societal and economic growth. It could provide some framework for what rights we can all agree certain animals (individuals or species?) could or should have.

Brian1946's avatar

I would defer to Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, if they make or have ever made a statement, regarding non-human animal rights. ;)

Smashley's avatar

As @savoirfaire points out, slippery slope is indeed the name of a logical fallacy. My bad. I guess I was thinking, “this isn’t that fallacy” and it’s not. I’m not saying something awful will come of this trial, but it’s petitioners are undeniably attempting to build out a larger legal theory.

SavoirFaire's avatar

First, we need to ask if are we talking about moral rights or legal rights. Why does this matter? For one, legal personhood is fairly well defined in the American and European legal systems. A legal person is a bearer of legal rights and/or protections, and legal personhood rests on the ability of an entity to assert said rights or protections (that ability being itself defined as the ability to be party to a legal dispute).

Who and/or what counts as a legal person is therefore defined—albeit diffusely—by statute and can be expanded or retracted entirely at the whim of legislative bodies. Assuming that judges are operating within the law, they cannot declare something a legal person that is not already (directly or indirectly) defined as such (which would suggest that the judges in this case made the legally right decision assuming they did not miss some umbra of the law under which an elephant should count as a legal person).

If you are completely dissatisfied with that reading, however, you aren’t alone. Few people are truly concerned with mere legal personhood. The issue for them is moral personhood and the moral rights that attach to it. For while some people see morality and legality is entirely separate endeavors, most people see legal rights as being constrained by moral rights (meaning that one cannot legally deny someone anything to which they have a moral right).

But this is where things get complicated because the notion of animal rights comes five or six steps down the chain of ethical reasoning, which means that one has typically committed to a number of stances before the issue can even be addressed. Thus one has to do a lot of backtracking to really understand and respond to another person’s view on the subject. To discuss an animal’s moral rights, we need to answer more basic questions about the source of morality, the definition of a moral person, and the nature of rights.

That said, I do think we can answer some of your questions while remaining agnostic about those issues. First, you ask which animal rights make sense. Here we can go all the way back to Aristotle and note that, at the very least, what we owe to any given entity depends on the sort of thing that it is. It would make no sense, for example, to say that I have the right to photosynthesize. Similarly, it makes no sense to say that an ant has a right to a college education. There are many things this does not rule out, but it does support the notion that the list of human rights and the list of animal rights is not coextensive. (Unmentioned so far, however, is that it also opens up the possibility that animals might have rights that humans do not.)

I think we can also answer the question of whether or not animal rights are subservient to human rights on purely conceptual grounds. A right is something that an entity has in itself. A rock on my property may be subject to legal protections, but not because it has rights. Those protections are derived from my rights. Similarly, a patch of land may be subject to legal protections on the grounds that preserving it for one reason or another is important to humanity, but those protections would again be derived from (and subservient to) the rights of humanity (considered either as individuals or as a whole). The relevant concept of a right does not allow for it to be derivative or subservient.

The other questions are trickier. When you ask if animal rights are inherent, it depends entirely on what you mean by “inherent.” If you just mean “not subservient” or “not derivative” (i.e., something that an entity has in itself), then the previous paragraph answers that question. But if you mean something more robust (e.g., do animals have natural rights that obtain even in the absence of entities capable of recognizing those rights), then we have to go down the chain of moral reasoning to reach an answer.

Similarly, “does what is right change over time?” is a question about right and wrong in a much broader sense and not a question about either legal or moral rights. Since it is trivially true that what we consider or recognize as right changes over time, presumably the question is asking us the more difficult question of whether or not there are independent, eternal, and objective moral truths that exist for all time. But this, of course, could be the subject of a hundred dissertations without being settled (as evidenced by the fact that hundreds of dissertations have in fact been written on the subject, and it is as yet unsettled). Much the same could be said about the question “where does what is right begin and end?”

I have opinions on these questions, and I could offer you my reasons for those opinions, but there is certainly no way we could settle them to the satisfaction of all the jellies on this thread in the time and format available to us.

Kropotkin's avatar

This has all been very interesting, but I should state that the rights, moral value, and status of my cat, are above that of any human’s.

JLoon's avatar

Good question.

Some interesting opinions, and a few surprising ideas.

But my own feeling is that what animal rights make sense is something we’ll never be able to answer, as long as we can’t even agree on what human rights matter.

The more we divide ourselves in terms of politics, sex, gender, culture, race, and economics, the more we fear our differences and the less we value our own lives.

When our understanding and respect for each other shrinks to the vanishing point we see now, what good is it to imagine that animals can really gain anything from some notion of “personhood” we pull out of the mess we’ve made?

WhyNow's avatar

I’m ready to bet that if aliens ever bother to visit earth, they would be horrified that
humans eat other animals.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@WhyNow Unless they’re here to eat us, in which case I suspect they wouldn’t care one way or the other.

Smashley's avatar

@Whynow – I suspect aliens, even if they disapproved, would get it. If they got to the top of their home planet’s ecosystem for long enough to develop interstellar travel, they for sure ate some animals along the way.

Kropotkin's avatar

Life is nearly all just organisms eating each other and trying to not be eaten.

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