Moral Considerability – What does it mean? To whom does it apply?

First, moral considerability is essentially the technical jargon in the field of morals that is used to indicate whether or not one is worthy of moral consideration. As moral people tend to grant moral considerability to all other humans, the term is primarily used in relation to other species.

As an aside, I would point out that religion or other strong ideologies sometimes cause people to treat other humans without granting other groups moral considerability. Anyone who believes it is OK to kill or enslave members of any outgroup is clearly not granting that group moral considerability.

That said, I would try to keep this post to the topic of what species other than humans should also be granted moral considerability. As I have hinted in my title by the use of the word whom for members of other species, I clearly believe, quite strongly, that many other species are worthy of such consideration. I have often surprised people by asking who that bird is, rather than what that bird is or other equivalent. I believe living beings should be referred to as who and whom rather than what. It keeps us from forgetting that they are indeed other beings, not inanimate objects.

So, what species are worthy of moral consideration? Should this be only humans?

Jane Goodall related a story during a lecture she gave at the American Museum of Natural History. I believe she stated that this happened to her, though the lecture was quite some time ago and human memory is far from perfect.

Ms. Goodall was walking through a medical research facility. At the facility, there was a chimpanzee in a cage that had apparently been either home raised or otherwise taught sign language and somehow ended up in medical research. The chimp was sitting and signing over and over again in ASL a single message, ‘Help me.’

If this does not leave a lump in your throat and make you feel like crying, then perhaps you do not believe chimps, despite their incredibly close relationship to humans, should be granted moral considerability. For me, the lump reappears in my throat each time I write or tell this story. I have seen chimps in the wild. I know them to be highly intelligent and wonderful creatures. I have looked in their eyes and seen my cousins.

So, to me, it is clear that at a minimum all sentient creatures have moral considerability.

There are a lot of other things to think about in moral considerability. For example, do members of endangered species have greater moral considerability than members of thriving species? Do species have moral considerability or merely individuals? What about non-sentient or not very intelligent species? Is there a sliding scale where perhaps lab chimps get more than lab monkeys and both get more than lab rats and lab mice? What about the trees in a forest? What about the species that depend on them from the very small to the large?

I even remember some discussion about whether to destroy the last vial of live smallpox virus. One part of the discussion was a practical one about the inability to recreate the smallpox vaccine if necessary without the virus on hand. However, another part of the discussion asked the question of whether it is immoral to deliberately destroy an entire species.

In my research for this post, I even came across a discussion about the moral considerability of extraterrestrial life. Since I’ve heard a bit before, I’m going to guess that this has to do with the risk of infecting extraterrestrial bodies with Earth life during space exploration. There is a huge issue with ensuring that a space ship or even space probe is biologically sterile before sending it anywhere that may have life, for example, Europa.

Sticking with the only life we know to exist, that on Earth, I personally feel that there are many species to which I would grant moral considerability. Beginning with the obvious, I would include all primates and all cetaceans. Less obviously, I have seen high degrees of intelligence (no, I’m not necessarily claiming the same level as for great apes and dolphins on all of these) in all cats, canids (dogs, wolves, etc), bears, pinipeds, sirenians, elephants, and many others.

Birds should get some special mention. Some birds are amazingly intelligent. Crows have been observed making tools in the wild and storing them for later. African grey parrots can be taught English and can play the Sesame Street game of one of these things is different. Prostitution has been observed in Adelie penguins. A green heron was observed fly fishing for hours by repeatedly plucking a feather from the water and putting it upstream and watching for fish that come to check it out.

Then I get a little insane, by many other peoples’ standards. To a lesser degree than the sentiences, I even personally take care not to harm spiders, dragonflies (My wife and I actually rescue rather a lot of these from drowning when paddling our canoe.), frogs (Frogs get three points, one for being cute; one for eating mosquitoes and one for being a great indicator species for the health of an ecosystem.), snakes, crocodilians (interesting factoid: mother alligators care for their young for a year)

In fact, I’m prepared to grant varying degrees of moral considerability to rather a lot of multicellular life. I’m not a big fan of insects and arachnids (ticks) that steal my blood. However, even there, I recognize that they are an important part of the food chain and do feel a mild twinge of regret at wasting food when I slap one.

So, to whom do you grant moral considerability? What do you use to draw the line? Or, like me, do you see it as a sliding scale? If so, who is high on your list?

Now, on to even deeper issues stemming from moral considerability. If other species have moral considerability, does our position as de facto stewards of the biosphere, or at least the multi-cellular portion of it, create for us a moral imperative to care for the environment in ways that respect the rights of other species? I claim yes. How are we doing at this job? I claim very badly indeed.

As the cause of the sixth great extinction event on this planet, already greater than the one 65.3 million years ago (MYA) that killed off the non-avian dinosaurs and some say greater than the previous record holder, the Permian/Triassic extinction 250 MYA, I have to question whether we are a moral species at all.

Perhaps, individuals of our species may have very strong morals, but taken as a whole, our species does not have any morals. Thus far, even in light of political environmental movements, we are making little or no progress in this regard. As someone who cares deeply about wildlife, is it any wonder I have become so misanthropic?

A picture is worth a thousand words, so here are a few to help me show animals with moral considerability. All have appeared on prior posts.

Chimp Thinker

Lionesses and Cubs

Rhesus Monkey

Tiger Head Shot

Bushbaby Full Body

African Wild Dog 2

Hippos with Baby

Yellow Eyed Penguin Chick

Cheetah Family

Bottle Nosed Dolphin

Kea

Gentoos

Pygmy Marmoset

Poison Dart Frog

Elephant Seal Thinker

Wanderers

Polar Bear Walking

Puck and her baby.

If none of the above do it for you, how about the creature with the largest brain on the planet at an incredible 20 pounds? I just realized that it may not be obvious to everyone. The photo below is a sperm whale.

Sperm Whale Full View

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71 Responses to Moral Considerability – What does it mean? To whom does it apply?

  1. BubbaRay says:

    Superb post, many great ideas. There is one time I grieved over the loss of a beloved pet more than the death of a despised human being who ruined years of my life — I don’t know what that says about me as a moral individual, but I insist one had a place on this planet and the other was taking up space and resources a multi-cellular lifeform needs.

    I’m glad you’re back!

  2. Misanthropic Scott says:

    BubbaRay,

    Thanks for the compliment!

    I’m with you on that one. I have heard other variations on the phrase as well, including: A waste of existence. Wasting oxygen. And, from Little Shop of Horrors, S/he looks like plant food to me.

    Interestingly, pets are probably the first animals to whom most humans extend moral considerability. This is not surprising, but explains the outrage people feel when they hear about abusive pet owners. It also explains the existence of the ASPCA and Humane Society.

    The only thing I’d add though is that it shows that people do not necessarily make the decision based on intelligence as chimps and rhesus monkeys in labs far surpass the intelligence of domesticated dogs and probably cats as well. (Sorry, but dogs have had more of their wolf intelligence bred away than cats have from their wild counterparts. This still leaves dogs as quite intelligent, just not up there with wolves.) Probably even the wild relatives of dogs and cats don’t reach the intelligence of a rhesus monkey though.

  3. bobbo says:

    I googled about 10 website for a “good” definition of moral consideralbility and couldn’t find one beyond the one you use, and its too circular for me.

    For what species should man give rights too like the freedom of torture or of being harvested for food? Thats part of it that is more definitional.

    Of note to me is that every example you give the subject could be as equally discussed under completely pragmatic principles. Indicator species (most species) should be cared for because in doing so, we care for ourselves? Likewise in outlawing torture of animals. Such a ban protects our better nature?

    The question is too vague when you realize that fellow human beings deserve to die and to be tortured depending on what they have done/plan to do? Again, it all goes to protecting the common good.

    The older I get, the more respecting of life I become. I don’t kill spiders anymore–I take them outside. What moral consideration is required if you kill a dolphin before it recogizes it is being killed? Killing moisquitos is self defense? Lets alteast maintain a moral consideration of ourselves?

    To restate, in a certain sense, the moral consideration we extend to other species, is superceded by the moral consideration we “should” extend to ourselves.

  4. Misanthropic Scott says:

    bobbo,

    On your last point, you put us as the most important. I’m curious, are you saying that any sentient species should give the highest moral consideration to other members of its own species? Or, do you somehow think that humans are special and deserve moral consideration over all others?

    If the former, I would have to think about that point a bit more. My initial reaction is that at least when humans are mean to humans, no innocent species are involved. When humans are mean to other species, innocents are involved. So, in some sense, it causes me similar outrage to when soldiers deliberately kill civilians, an outrage that I do not feel when soldiers kill other soldiers. Innocent victims always create stronger feelings in me than non-innocents.

    I have a tendency personally, to consider intelligence quite strongly. I do not know if this is a correct thing to do or not. It just feels right to me. Since we are not capable of accurately assessing the intelligence of our own species, I assume we are equally incapable, or probably more incapable, of accurately assessing the intelligence of other species. Therefore, for the species that come close, I tend to want to grant at least equal moral considerability to humans.

    For example, a sperm whale with a 20 pound brain has a good chance of being more intelligent than any human. We just can’t tell. Dolphins understand when we speak, even when we are getting across such concepts as ‘be creative’, and yet we do not understand anything at all when they speak. Perhaps they are more intelligent than we are and deserve even greater moral consideration than humans. I don’t know.

    So, my real question for you is, what is the reason you allow human moral considerability to overshadow the moral considerability of all other species?

    Of course, on your point of pragmatic principles, you are correct. Pragmatism and a long term view of the world, i.e. thousands and millions of years instead of tens of years, may produce the exact same results as granting moral considerability to other species. We need a healthy and robust ecosystem for our own long term survival.

  5. bobbo says:

    Hi Scott – – yea, my point did not come across. You want to give MC to non humans when by and large we are not even giving MC to ourselves what with disease, war, poverty, lack of education abounding. So–yea, I think humans should be considered before other species—as in no money for Mrs Helmsly’s (sp?) dog.

    You make NO SENSE at all in saying you want to give MC to whales Your point may have been garbled as you do admit that humans can be innocent. I have always understood “most” soldiers to be innocent even when they are killing others===but certainly when being killed themselves. Service in combat is rarely voluntary. In fact, that we have “soldiers” is a major indicator we do not show MC towards our own species.

    Stop being so wishy washy and undefined. If we can’t tell how intelligent whales are then there is no greater or lesser chance they are more or less intelligent than we are. Now, I say we can proceed by definition. A smart animal LEARNS to stay away from boats that carry harpoons. Failing to learn that connection is not very smart. People who can’t associate harm with stimulus are pretty stupid too.

    Would I hurt/torture a retard? No. MC deals with more than intelligence. Perceptions of self awareness? Attributes that create empathy–like a face with a smile? big eyes? No one would ever eat an Anime Cartoon.

    Does it matter that none of those other creatures have MC for us? Just a one way street for those with “awareness?”

  6. Misanthropic Scott says:

    bobbo,

    As usual, you make some interesting points. I need to think about this some more. This is why I start these threads, to learn other opinions and come up with a more well-considered result in my own brain.

    I don’t believe we can judge whales based on their inability to learn to avoid harpoons. That’s a particular brand of intelligence. There may be many others. For example, the intelligence of some members of our species is in art. For others, it is in science.

    Taken as the sum of intelligence of all of the members, the intelligence of our species is in a wide variety of subjects. It may be that other species are more intelligent in particular areas, and not to general.

    (As an aside, taken as the average of the members of our species rather than as the sum, we are not intelligent at all, IMSNHO. We may not even be able to dodge our own bullets and survive our own technological advances.)

    Dolphins are a prime example of greater intelligence in at least one area. They can learn to understand us, even when our communiques are in the form of gestures, even when those communiques are on a television screen. Most animals do not even recognize that the images on a television screen are representations of three dimensional objects and beings.

    That said, when dolphins attempt to communicate with us. we understand precisely zero of what they are saying. Unlike monkeys, apes, and even prairie dogs, I have not heard of a single case of humans identifying even a single call/word of dolphin speech.

    You are correct though. Intelligence may not be the best way to determine who is worthy of moral consideration. But, if not intelligence, then what? And, why put humans at the top? Just because we are humans? That seems rather self-centered and arrogant.

  7. bobbo says:

    Well, putting ourselves at the top is one broad way of avoiding harpoons?

    Catcher in the Rye had a good page or two describing Holden’s trying to engage farmers in some rhapsodic explanation of the dignity of toiling with the earth, of nurturing the growth of seeds to plants and such. All he got was a bunch of dumb farmers complaining about lack of rain. Likewise, a whale’s intelligence may be fairly restricted to how to catch smelt, or swim with your mouth open? No opening of doors to the universe—but that Startrek movie having the earth saved by whales was “fun.”

    Over the top to ascribe “superior” intelligence to dolphins on the examples you give. If there are many types of intelligence, the dolphins may exceed our ability to use sonar to diagnose illness and such—but when it comes to MC, aren’t we talking “self awareness” or awareness of others before some skill? I can’t gather leaves and eat the mold it grows either (ants), is that intelligence or MC worthy?

    Good show last week about why dogs are loved. They have the instinct to take cues from pack members. Point to the bowl with food, and the dog will go to it. Not so with the more intelligent Great Ape. Gestures mean nothing to them.

    Maybe more could be gained by recognizing that the more we recognize MC in the universe, the better we make ourselves. A worthy goal indeed.

    • Kerberos says:

      To bobbo
      Whales have been observed running away from whaling ships, but can’t outrun a ship that travels at speeds of 25 to 30 knots, can they?
      Besides which, they also are mammals and have to breathe air, don’t they?
      Have you ever observed how Killer whales teaching their young how to hunt, bobbo?
      This all takes cooperation, planning and learning abilities, you know.
      So, I think you’ve missed the boat that one entirely, bobbo.

      Even an ape will look at himself in a mirror and recognize himself, while a cat just thinks it’s another cat.
      I’d say that about covers the definition of self awareness, don’t you think?

      Bobbo, did you know that an elephant was observed knocking on doors waiting for a human to answer, and when the person would answer, the elephant would grab and kill them?
      I wonder where that group of elephants had learned behavior from?
      Bobbo, did you know that elephants are the only other species on earth that have feelings for the death of their own?
      I once read an article about a group of elephants that were conducting raids on farmers crops.
      So, the farmers got smart and decided to put bells on the elephants to hear them coming at night, but after 2 weeks the farmers wondered why their crops were being raided, yet again.
      So upon observing the elephants the farmers noticed the elephants pissing on the ground, and stuffing the mud in the bells, wait for the mud to dry, so they could raid the farmers fields again at night.
      Intelligence? Self awareness?
      I’d say that fits the definition very well, wouldn’t you say so bobbo?

      • Dolphins also pass the mirror test, FYI. Where did you get those examples of elephant behavior? I’d love to read the source. Do you have a link or name of a book? I hadn’t heard of the killing or the mud in the bells before.

      • Kerberos says:

        Hello Scott,
        How are you?

        Question:
        What’s, FYI?
        Sorry, but I’m lost on most internet terms.

        Anyway, I got the examples through a friend, which I didn’t believe him until he had shown me an article.
        It was 2007, is when my friend had brought to my attention an article in relation to elephant intelligence, and behavior.
        Well. I must admit that at the time I was rather ignorant on the subject of elephant intelligence, but no more becausee of the article in question, and other related articles I’ve read since.

        I said to him; as he was in college at the time:

        Well. Within a week he brought the article, and a video too me, and upon viewing the ( Nat. Geo. ) video, well, my jaw hit the floor to say the least.

        And for the life of me, I can’t recall the title or group that conducted the study because I was only able to study it for a few hours as he had to return to the university in 2 days and still wanted to see his parents before he went back.
        I wish I could’ve copied the article, as it was full of information on elephant intelligence.
        I must admit, seeing is believing, he’d shown me the evidence and for me, that was all that was necessary.

        Kerberos

      • Kerberos says:

        I don’t know why it didn’t show, but I said to him:
        ( I only deal in facts, and until you can show me the article, or a video, I’m simply not convinced. )

        This may have been do to my error, sorry.
        I’m not feeling well.
        Kerberos

      • Hi Kerberos,

        FYI predates the internet by quite a number of years. It is simply short for “for your information”. See the bottom-most post in the thread (as of today) that contains a further response. I wasn’t happy with the formatting when shifted to the right this way.

  8. evanescent says:

    Hi Scott, as promised I’ve just written an article myself about animal rights, and you’re welcome to pop over to my blog to give me your thoughts.

    Best regards

  9. Misanthropic Scott says:

    evanescent,

    I have replied to your post on your site.

    Others,

    My reply to evanescent can be found at this link. I have removed this blog from my blogroll due to our differences of opinion on this subject. I have little patience for people who believe humans to be fundamentally different from other animals. This is likely a failing on my part. However, I believe that a failure to recognize that humans are part of a continuum of animals, both physically and mentally, and are not special in any way, is a failure to recognize evolution for what it is and is an irrational, illogical, and immoral (at least from an interspecies viewpoint) position to hold.

  10. evanescent says:

    Hi all, I do encourage you to visit the discussion on my blog and contribute if you wish. Despite M. Scott’s emotionalism and rather irrational decision to remove me from his blogroll, he is still welcome to comment on my blog. And when it comes to evolution, I do know what I’m talking about.

    Any sensible person can see the arguments I make clearly and logically. Oh, and for anyone who thinks humans are no different to animals consider this: a human being mugs another and steals his wallet. A cheater stalks and rips the throat out of a gazelle. Which of these actions is moral and which is immoral? Which creature in either case is “guilty” and of what?

  11. Misanthropic Scott says:

    evanescent,

    My “irrational decision to remove you from my blogroll” is mostly because I use my blogroll as my way of going through the blogs I find entertaining. Yours has become a tad more annoying than entertaining to me due to your view that humans are special. I may still check back once in a while, just less regularly. You are always welcome on my blog as well. As I have said, I respect you a lot and am impressed with your opinions on many other subjects.

    As for understanding evolution, exactly why do you think that morals sprang into existence fully formed in a single step? That is not evolution. That is, for lack of a better term, creationism. Actually, I believe there is a word for people that believe in large single step changes in evolution. I simply can’t remember it at the moment. This is hardly a majority view among evolutionary biologists.

    Even people, like myself, who lean towards punctuated equilibrium, still believe major change takes place over many generations. Despite any historical controversy over the rate of evolution, biologists are nearly all gradualists, even those who think that there are periods of rapid evolution. Your view on morals does not reflect this, hence my questioning of your knowledge of evolution.

    As for your analogy, it is completely and utterly flawed. A cheetah (I assume you meant cheetah, not cheater) that kills a gazelle is more comparable to a hunter who shoots a deer than to a mugger who steals a wallet.

    A better analogy would be a comparison of a murderous human to a murderous chimp, both of whom are identical with the exception that humans tend to be better at it. Wolves have a concept of possession. Sometimes a dominant wolf will take something away from a subordinate wolf. This may be analogous to your mugger. In such cases, I would say all are immoral, the murderous chimp, the wolf thief, and the human murderer and the human mugger. Some animals, I’m not sure about wolves, do punish the cheats and murderers. Humans are not alone in this.

    So, as a sensible person, I will say that you make arguments clearly and logically. However, the arguments are flawed, non-scientific, and speciesist nonetheless. Logic != correctness. Logic can usually be used to argue both sides of a case, hence the case backlog in our courts.

    Science does not work the same way. Data is evaluated in peer reviewed publications. Regardless of logic, the winner is the person whose theory matches the data. Yours does not.

  12. Mark says:

    Hi Scott,

    I’ve been reading through your conversation with Evanescent over on his blog, and I just read through these ones on this post. Having discussed morality with Evanescent and having some misgivings about an Objectivist view of human morality, I’m rather confused.

    The way I see it, if we’re going to say that humans have morality and that morality does not extend to other organisms, we need to ground this morality in a unique mental quality of humans–something that is, in fact, different in kind and not in degree. Although we are very intelligent, many species possess intelligence, so intelligence can’t be the basis of morality–all it is is problem-solving ability.

    I believe that humans are the most intelligent organisms on the planet because we can see the products of said intelligence, and they are more numerous and more varied than the products of any other species’ intelligence. Considered from an evolutionary standpoint, I do not think that believing such is a mistake, since greater intelligence eats up a greater amount of energy, and therefore greater intelligence is something that should have visible consequences. For us, it is manifest in buildings, computers, science, social interactions, and, I believe, in our willingness to include nonhumans in our “circle” of moral considerability (which shows our social and empathetic latitude).

    However, as I’ve said, I don’t think intelligence cuts it, since it is present in many organisms. I hope I’m not speaking a falsehood, but I think the Objectivist position (i.e. that of Evanescent) is that reason is the feature of humanity that separates it from all other organisms. Perhaps also consciousness and self-awareness. As the resolution of the argument hinges on what makes us different, we have to be certain that what we say is unique to humans is actually unique to humans. Therefore, empiric observation is required.

    Evanescent and other Objectivists seemingly rely on everyday observations for this empiric input, so it looks like they are associating reason, consciousness, and self-awareness (or whatever they say separates us in kind and not in degree) intimately with language. Hence the heavy references to conceptual reasoning, as opposed to whatever else “reason” could stand for in nonhumans.

    I think it is true that humanity’s linguistic skill is unmatched. Our dexterous primate forms coevolved with our brains and social interactions to produce this linguistic capacity. I really don’t think they can be separated, as it seems we wouldn’t be this intelligent and linguistically capable unless it were physically allowed first (and then they snowball together, leading to the posession of a greater degree of each). On this issue, I defer to scientists who study our evolutionary history.

    Our conceptual ability is probably what allows us to reason with language at all. I think–again, having discussed morality with Evanescent–that this ability to think conceptually is what Objectivists consider the essential feature that separates us from everything else. Our intelligence evolved rapidly, so I don’t think it should be surprising that it, combined with our coevolving linguistic skills, produced in us the ability to do something that no other organism can. However, this issue, since it seems to be the one we need to look at to resolve the issue of moral applicability, is the one that needs empirical support. I am not ready to decide the issue without it.

    So, given that, what is conceptual thought? We need to know what it is in order to properly conduct research. A definition for the term is something I’ll have to think about.

    Your thoughts on my reasoning?

  13. evanescent says:

    Mark, conceptual thought does seem to be unprecedented in level with humans, although very recent and tentative research seems to suggest animals can form very basic concepts; I’m not sure if this is conclusive.

    Either way, humans as volitional rational beings is what sets us apart. How? That is the type of creature we are. That descriptor cannot apply to any other creature, because 1. well, can you name one?? 2. animals are self-evidently non-rational, this is clear from the nature of their consciousness and their behaviour.

    (Now, the issue of why humans are the way we are is a matter for biology and evolution; I’m just looking at the facts of what we are now.)

    The ability to think through a course of action and choose competing goals, based on rational values is what makes us responsible. That is why humans can be guilty or innocent, and where our entire concepts of justice, reward, and punishment come from. You can TRAIN an animal to do “right”, or do whatever it’s told, but only a human being can reason its decisions out. This reasoning on right or wrong based on our values can have no other meaning but: morality. A human who kills someone or rapes someone is WRONG. A human who is loyal and acts rationally is GOOD. Now, an animal cannot be responsible for its decisions or actions. Animals kill and fight each other, they steal food; they behave as a result of their instinct, with some volition in higher mammals. This is why we do not punish them for their actions, because they are not responsible for them. Why? Because they cannot rationally choose them. I hope I’ve made that clear, as I don’t think I could explain it any better.

    Now, morality is therefore a code of (rationally selected) values that guides our actions. That is why humans are moral beings. It is also why, by definition, animals simply cannot be. There is absolutely no way to avoid this without contradiction.

    Now, in a social setting, humans need principles of interaction to allow us to function like moral beings. What are these principles? Rights. Humans necessarily have Rights because of the type of being we are, and our relationship with reality.

    It logically follows that Rights flow from morality. That is why humans MUST have them, and animals MUST NOT.

    Now, that does NOT mean that cruelty to animals is ok. It does NOT mean that we should abuse animals and do whatever we want to them. Any human who takes pleasure in hurting something is immoral and probably mentally disturbed. However, there is a difference between morality and LEGALITY. The government (should) enforces Rights, not morality. That is why animals can have no protection under the law, save their status as human property, such as cattle or pets etc.

    You’re welcome to give me your feedback to this, Mark. But I cannot explain this situation any clearer so don’t intend to repeat any of that again!

  14. Misanthropic Scott says:

    Hi Mark,

    Welcome to my blog.

    I think you’re onto something. I think intelligence is not necessarily a factor. If it were to be a factor, a chimp or bonobo with a normal brain would have greater rights than a retarded human. Pigs would probably have greater rights than dogs.

    Unlike you and evanescent, I am not even convinced that we are the most intelligent species on the planet. For example, you mentioned our linguistic skill. Dolphins understand us when we speak, when we gesture, even when our gestures are played back on a television screen. Humans on the other hand have not interpreted even the simplest of dolphin calls, as we have with primates and even prairie dogs. Though we are unable to be sure at this time, it would not surprise me to think that dolphins exceed our skill with communication.

    You’re correct though, this is an aside. I have no idea whether intelligence should be all or even part of the decision about who has rights. In fact, I’m not sure we need to decide on a particular factor that a given animal must have to be awarded some degree of protection under the law. For example, I think our cattle should be afforded the right to a quick painless death and should not be hacked to pieces while still breathing.

    So, perhaps it is not any particular factor that affords rights to a member of any species. Perhaps it should just be about treating those with whom we share the planet with a modicum of decency.

    This we do not do today.

    evanescent,

    I must, once again, strongly disagree with your logic. I do understand it completely. I even respect it as your viewpoint. However, I find it completely abhorrent.

    If you think it through to it’s logical conclusion, those who are not “volitional rational beings” have no rights. So, a mentally retarded individual should probably be cared for, but this should not be enforced by law. I know I’m putting words in your mouth and for that I would apologize. Except, in this case, I will not do so. To apologize for an act one is performing consciously and knowingly is hollow at best.

    It is genuinely true though that you are not affording legal protection to any individual that does not meet your standards for volition and rational behavior. This is unconscionable. There will always be cruel and despicable people in the world, or at least will be until there are no more humans. To fail to protect individuals that don’t meet these criteria from the despicable humans of the world is horrifically wrong in my opinion.

    I think you have explained your position quite clearly. I think I have explained mine equally clearly. Unless you plan to recant your statement about not providing legal protection to those who fail your personal test, we will have to agree to disagree.

    I would also strongly state that you are horribly underestimating the mental capacities of many creatures on this planet. There are many non-human sentiences on this planet. Many species, for example, pass the mirror test. Many species are capable of a wide variety of complex abstract symbolic thought. Monkeys lie during inter-troop fights. Prairie dogs, not high on most people’s list of intelligent species, have different symbolic calls for “human” and “human with gun”. In one test, a human walked by with a gun, they gave the appropriate call. Many days later, the same human walked by without a gun. They gave the call for “human with gun”, thus proving excellent memory and ability to recognize individuals of another species. Whenever most humans assess the intelligence of some other animal, it is almost always a gross underestimation.

    I would again strongly recommend reading some books, or at least articles, on animal intelligence. Gaining knowledge of their levels of thought will not only likely change your opinion on this subject, it will increase your wonder at the majesty of that which evolution hath wrought.

    With time, I sincerely hope that the moral zeitgeist of our species shifts farther and farther from the human-centrism from which you suffer.

  15. Misanthropic Scott says:

    evanescent,

    FYI: I’ve added you back to my blogroll, for whatever that is worth. I still hope to convince you one day that humans are not special.

  16. Mr. Fusion says:

    Just to add a couple of comments.

    Several animals kill for fun and not food. I remember watching a program (Discovery Channel ?) where an orca pod attacked a new born humpback calf. Instead of killing it outright, they toyed with it while the helpless mother could do nothing. After several hours the calf finally died and the orcas moved off.

    Wolves have been known to kill prey and leave it.

    Wolverines are notorious for wanton killing.

    Have you ever seen a cat catching a mouse?

    And of course, we can’t forget all the animals that will fight each other to the death for mating rights.

    Most pack/herd mammals, be they wolves, lions, wildebeest, or elephants have a social order. That social order almost always includes a leader. The more reliant the pack is upon the others, the more complicated the social order is. Humans are little different except we have the most complicated social order of all.

  17. Misanthropic Scott says:

    Hi Fusion,

    Certainly surplus killing is common in the animal kingdom. Cats have a hunting instinct completely separate from their hunger one. This is why a well fed cat will do a better job keeping mice out of a farm house. Being well-fed, they are A) in better shape and B) likely to stay closer to home. So, I agree with most of your post.

    I do have an issue though with saying that humans have the most complicated social order of all. Your statement, while less strong than evanescent’s claim that humans alone are rational volitional animals, is not necessarily true. I’m not sure any human fully understands the social order of superpod time among killer whales, for example. Nor am I sure of the social order of some of the larger cetaceans, most notably blue whales, that produce signals that span entire oceans. Perhaps they are communicating with all other blue whales in the world, or at least in that ocean basin.

    Such statements are simply not backed by current science of the mind. These statements are far from being self-evident, despite the claims of evanescent about his particular statement. In short, I think your point is highly valid. Many animals have a lot going on inside their minds. My only dispute is with any assertion that puts us at the top of the list. What is a sperm whale doing with a 20lb brain? Why do dolphins understand us while we consistently fail to understand them?

    Science still has a lot to answer on such questions. Until it does, philosophy or intuition does not get to be the final word.

    Sorry to have directed this rant in your general direction. Most of it is really intended for evanescent should he ever return.

  18. Mr. Fusion says:

    Rant away. Sometimes the best ideas pop out or germinate from someone’s rant. Often without them even being aware of what they said. Even when I disagree, I still appreciate a well formed, intelligent argument.

    You make a strong point about humans NOT being the only rational or volitional beings. It would appear to be self evident.

    I disagree with your other point because we have developed the most complicated society. We, more than any other type of being, be they bacteria, insect, protozoa, mammal, or whatever; can live anywhere on this planet. We have the ability to live in a city of 30 million or by ourself in a cave. Or anywhere in-between. We can survive deserts of 125F and polar regions of -60F for long periods of time. We can take to the skies or borrow deep into the earth. We can heal ourselves as well as heal animals. We can protect ourselves from anything except mankind’s own predations. We can mold the earth to fit us. We can take nature and make it suit us. When we don’t have enough nature to use, we can create our own materials from waste and whatever.

    All that does not make us the ONLY rational or complicated society. It is, however, a strong argument for it making us the MOST complicated. Polar bears can’t live in the Sahara and camels can’t live in Churchill Manitoba. Dahl sheep can’t live in the Everglades and manatees can’t live in The Grand Tetons. Unless we artificially adapt the environment for them.

    Ants may work to create a colony that benefits them. But they can only do that by acting with one mind and by sacrificing many of their number to do it.

    Musk oxen will band together to fight off a predator. But they can’t store food for when times are lean or find shelter when the weather is bad.

    Outside of maybe hermit crabs, animals don’t use their environment to clothe themselves.

    While many animals will make a nest, they are very crude and usually are actual features of the environment, ie caves or bushes. Some social gophers, ground squirrels, meerkats, and the like being an exception. If most animals can not handle the environmental extremes, they perish.

    Yes I agree we don’t know enough about whales. Their calls may be sophisticated communication. Or it may be similar to why birds sing the most at daybreak. A simple “this is my territory, keep out” or “hey, anyone wanna mate”. Evidence would tend to suggest they are not trying to get a foursome for Bridge or Euchre.

    As with humans, brain size has been shown not to be an element in intelligence. What we could do with a fully functioning 20 lb brain though, …

  19. Misanthropic Scott says:

    Mr. Fusion,

    We’re mostly in agreement, as usual. I’m not as sure as you are that our hugely complex hierarchy of social order is necessarily the most complex on the planet. I would have no way to know that. I would also wonder about animals that do not have a hierarchy. You are likely correct. But, how can we tell with so many species we just don’t understand. How do ants march by the millions maintaining some order? How do termites coordinate the building of huge underground cities? How do all the birds in a flock turn simultaneously? How do dolphins and tuna coordinate across species lines to fish together?

    As for ability to survive in different environments, we as a species, though probably not individually, will soon find out just how adaptable to environmental change we really are. I’m not betting on us.

    However we define intelligence, it may turn out to have negative value as a survival characteristic. We may not be able to overcome the effects of our own intelligence in order to survive a long time.

    Statistically, something that has been around a long time is likely to continue to be around a long time. For example, a new Broadway show just opening up is less likely to be here next year or in five years than a show that has already been running for several years. As a species, we’re very new on the scene. From a very real measure of survivability, we just opened this week. We’ve been here only around 200,000 years, which sounds like a long time to our weak brains. But, consider horsehoe crabs at 400,000,000 years (2,000 times as long as humans have been around) or the chambered nautilus at around 500,000,000 years, though currently in decline. Can we hope to compete with such species?

    As for brain size, within ouor species, it tends not to indicate intelligence. However, species that test well for whatever we call intelligence and whatever we’re able to test for, which I grant isn’t much, do tend to be higher up on the brain size to body weight curve. Some have suggested that this be called Encephalization Quotient, or EQ. Whether that turns out to mean much and whether high encephalization or EQ or any other definition of intelligence tends to indicate adaptability and enhanced survival is another issue.

    Either way though, I’m not really sure that any of this discussion has anything to do with moral considerability. It’s interesting to note that no one really suggests that we owe a higher moral standard to geniuses than to retarded individuals. So, perhaps we owe moral considerability to other creatures based on some other criteria.

    • Adrian says:

      I read you last post first. This one however is quite good. Well thought out, very well written and fair to all considerations on the table.
      Nice work.

      I do however disagree with the jettisoning of the idea that man’s rational faculty is the basis upon which rights are to be determined. Using the retarded or genius man as examples does not win the argument.

      A man is still a man if all of his limbs are cut off, his eyes are dugout and he is deaf and dumb.

      • Good point. So, all animals capable of feeling suffering then have rights, correct? At the very least, the right to not be subjected to needless suffering. Is that your point? If so, I agree wholeheartedly.

      • Adrian says:

        How do we go from Rationality as the criterion to Suffering?

      • I don’t recall ever using rationality as a criterion. I mentioned animal intelligence. There is a difference. In fact, in my books list, you can find a book titled “What Intelligence Tests Miss” and both rational and critical thinking are definitely on the list of missed items in the definition of and tests for intelligence.

        That animals are intelligent (though perhaps less so than humans in some important ways and possibly more so than humans in other a few other ways, like dolphins’ ability to understand us and our lack of ability to understand them), is obvious and there are examples given in this post and some others on this site.

        Must they be as intelligent as humans to warrant at least the right not to be caused undue suffering? If so, which human would you use for the comparison? Albert Einstein? Most of us would fail that test. Sarah Palin? Perhaps she is not smart enough to warrant any rights.

        What standards would you use for your intelligence test? What the animal can build? If so, beavers are the second most intelligent species on the planet, far more intelligent than chimps and dolphins. Bower birds probably come in third place, unless coral beats them both.

        So, what standards would you use?

        Feeling suffering may actually be a better criterion than intelligence. But, if you want to stick with intelligence, fine.

        It was your post that made me think you were arguing against using intelligence when you pointed out that the severely mentally retarded still have rights.

      • Adrian says:

        Again, your criterion is not really INTELLIGENCE. You only use that to get to your real one, SUFFERING.

      • Your comments are completely asinine. I’m not posturing. I’m making rational arguments. You are refusing to do so and instead are talking about doors and ships without actually making a point.

        As for rationality, that may be your criterion it was never mine. Further, I only brought up suffering when you suggested that even those with diminished mental capacity had rights. So, you started with the argument that intelligence was not required.

        I’m fine with that argument. Why did you abandon it? Why did you make it in the first place? Why won’t you be clear about what your points are?

      • Adrian says:

        Oh I understand now. You don’t understand what jettisoning means.
        “I do however disagree with the jettisoning of the idea that man’s rational faculty is the basis upon which rights are to be determined. ”

        Layman’s terms. I think it foolish to believe that anything BUT rationality should be used in any animal rights debate.

        Also, you saying that I am not being rational does not make it so. What i WRITE makes it so. This debate is becoming very low grade. Unless you can come up with a defense for your Suffering criterion, I’m out.

      • Adrian,

        You don’t get to hijack my thread this way. The first mention I made about suffering was in response to your reply. It sure as hell wasn’t the intent of this post.

        Many animals very definitely do have a high degree of intelligence, though not the rationality you are so fixated on.

        For the reference, if you had ever read anything at all about the human brain, you would know that human beings are also not all that rational.

        But, let’s stick with rationality as a requirement. So, are you actually saying that the vast majority of humans, for whom rationality is by far not the majority of their thought process, are not entitled to rights?

        Certainly, it is a subject for serious debate whether humans are rational. To be sure, you have not demonstrated any rationality in your posts.

        Here are a few links to show that the conclusion is not foregone, at least if you are rational enough to look at real evidence. Note that the second link supports you. So, I am showing both sides of the debate and am merely pointing out that there is debate.

        http://tinyurl.com/2cb2uu8
        http://tinyurl.com/29ohva2
        http://tinyurl.com/24zw9q4

        Feel free to keep trying to make a rational point. I promise I can keep this up as long as you can. I also promise, and can show evidence on this blog, that I am willing to admit when I’m wrong provided that someone makes their case sufficiently.

        Thus far, you have failed completely and utterly to make any rational point. But, at least now I know that rationality is your standard. Too bad that by your own standard, you are failing to win your own rights.

        Do you have a reason for thinking that rationality is the criteria?

        Do you have a reason for thinking that torturing animals for fun is OK?

        Yes, by claiming that animals have no rights, you really are making the claim that whatever we do to them is fine. So, this is something that should really be backed up, especially since most rational people long ago made many forms of animal cruelty illegal.

  20. Ergo says:

    Briefly,

    A human infant, a severely retarded person, the very old and infirm are not exceptions to the rule that humans are the only species on this planet with a volitional and conceptual faculty.

    A human infant is nevertheless a *human* being, on one end of the spectrum.
    An old and infirm person is nevertheless a *human* being, on the other end of the spectrum.
    A severely retarded person is still a *human* being with accidental characteristics of disability.

    You need to understand the philosophic nature of rights to understand what truly invalidates rights or what disqualifies an entity from possessing rights.
    The only way rights can be invalidated among human beings is *not* by their accidental characteristics of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, or disability; but *only* and *solely* by their actions that initiate *force* or fraud, which sets a context where morality is impossible, because in the face of a gun, a syllogism is useless, rationality is impossible, free choice is non-existent. It is only in this context (of intiating force or fraud) that rights among humans are invalidated.

    What disqualifies an entity from possessing rights is when its *essential* AND *fundamental* attribute (not an accidental or abnormal attribute like a disability) makes it impossible for the entity to have a context of free choice in the pursuit of goal-directed action, for which purpose rights would be necessary. Rights are meaningless if the entity simply has no choice in the practice or implementation of it. For example, the right to life to an animal is meaningless because it has–essentially, metaphysically, fundamentally–no choice in the matter of living, continuing to live, or committing suicide. It is led inexorably to what it must do to survive or procreate.

  21. Misanthropic Scott says:

    Ergo,

    You make the following claim.

    … humans are the only species on this planet with a volitional and conceptual faculty.

    Please at least attempt to back this up with some sort of data. You and Evanescent and many other followers of the Objectivist religion have made this statement repeatedly. Do you have any way to back it up?

    You need to understand the philosophic nature of rights to understand what truly invalidates rights or what disqualifies an entity from possessing rights.

    Sorry, I’ve read this a number of times now. I do understand your position on it. I just don’t agree with the Objectivist religion on the subject. Mostly, I find this opinion to be a complete load of horseshit based on unfounded assumptions. Rights, if they exist at all, and I believe they do, do not need to stem from any such thing. A tree can have rights. You have given me nothing to prove that it cannot. You are making a claim here. Back it up with something.

    What disqualifies an entity from possessing rights is when its *essential* AND *fundamental* attribute (not an accidental or abnormal attribute like a disability) makes it impossible for the entity to have a context of free choice in the pursuit of goal-directed action, for which purpose rights would be necessary.

    And other than repeating the same rhetoric over and over hoping to make it true through repetition, you have evidence that no other animals possess this? You have evidence of this spontaneously appearing only in the human species? You therefore do not actually believe in the gradual change of evolution?

    I claim that you do not understand about evolution at all if you can believe that this is unique in kind through single step evolution to homo sapiens. I also claim that your belief on the subject is entirely religious. This is why you and evanescent an d the rest of your Objectivist clan have completely and utterly failed to offer any evidence of this and simply assert it as fact.

    Lastly, I have avoided the sites of the Objectivist religion because I realize that I cannot sway you with actual proof. I post studies and you ignore them and tell me I am simply wrong. I post evidence of my claims and you claim that I have given none. Meanwhile, you make very assertive claims and offer nothing to back them up.

    Back to square one, you state that only humans have volitional and conceptual faculty.

    Prove it!! Offer some scientific study showing this. Back up your behaviorist psychology with something. You made a claim. The burden of proof is now on you.

    (Don’t forget to check out my Etiquette page.)

    • ADrian says:

      Actually the burden of proof is on YOU.
      One is never burdened with providing proof to the non-existence of anything.
      It is the burden of the one who argues FOR its existence to provide that proof.
      One is never called upon to prove a negative.

      So if you can find a non-human animal with volitional capacity such that it can choose to harm itself or end its own life for no other reason than it chooses to, then please provide that evidence.
      Until then, I leave you with this saying:

      “We will recognize the rights of animals when they petition for them”.

      • Um … suicide and self-harm is your definition of proof of volition? That’s odd.

        How about recognizing rights of animals simply because we can see them suffering and deliberately causing needless suffering to anyone is a violation of their rights?

    • Adrian says:

      How about not?
      Mainly due to the fact that you are begging the question. What animal rights are you referring to in your attempted proof of animal rights?

      Are you trying to derive rights merely from the ability to suffer? That door has been closed. I could point in its direction if you want. I did not out of respect.

      Also, if your only rebuttal to my volitional argument is ‘that’s odd’, that smear tactic ship has also sailed.

      • Ah, my doors have closed and my ship has sailed. Oh well then I should probably just give up.

        Or, perhaps you’d actually like to make you case for why torturing animals is acceptable.

        Check my thick skin etiquette page. I can take it. Make your case however you like. Just be clear on what your case is. I’m often having trouble understanding what point you are trying to make.

        Earlier, I thought you were arguing that intelligence was not a prerequisite for rights. Now you seem to be arguing that crush videos and aerial wolf hunts are fine with you. I can’t really tell what you’re trying to say.

      • Adrian says:

        I’m not really up for all this posturing. If we’re going to have a discussion, I am only interested in a rational one.
        I….have stated that Rationality is the criterion.
        You…have stated that Suffering is the criterion.

        I never said anything about YOUR doors closing or ship sailing, only your above PREMISE wrt to animal rights.
        Stop trying to turn this into a personal matter and lets stick to the facts, if you dare.

        ‘Suffering’ as the only criterion for your case, has been thoroughly refuted. Hint- it is derived from Utilitarianism. Once that philosophy is refuted, your premise has no ground.

      • What posturing? I’m asking you to make a point. You have refused to do so. As for suffering, you keep coming back to that. My original point, if you would bother to read the post on which you are replying, something you have obviously not done, was that there are other sentiences/intelligences on this planet who deserve to be granted moral considerability. Note, I didn’t even say rights. I said considerability. You might want to actually click the link or read this post to see what that means.

        As for posturing, it’s all you’re doing. You refuse to actually state your argument or what you truly believe is the criterion for moral considerability. You just repeatedly attack me without even understanding the term.

        And, you continue to confuse rationality with intelligence, which is not surprising since you are thus far showing little evidence of either.

        Care to make an argument now? Care to actually state what your opinion is instead of repeatedly attacking mine while hinting at a wide variety of conflicting opinions?

        If you wish to enter a battle of wits, please come armed.

  22. Misanthropic Scott says:

    Ergo (and anyone else that doubts the intellect of non-human animals),

    Please check out this article.

    Political Animals

    Good luck walking away from that and not believing that animals have rights. If you do, perhaps your head is in the sand … or wedged somewhere else.

    • Adrian says:

      Really?
      And the fact that a lone wolf is a weak wolf WITHOUT EXCEPTION whereas the lone man has given you the light bulb, the car, the knowledge and proof that the Earth is not the centre of our universe does not give you pause.

      The fact that he was worse off than a lone man. If he was left alone, that is one thing, but he was ridiculed, laughed at and hurdles thrown in his path and STILL, you gain from his mind does not give you pause.

      Pause that maybe, just maybe, what causes the difference between the wolf and the man is a little something to do with what even you, I dare say, possess that non humans do not.

      But it makes no sense discussing with fools. Maybe I should just Diss-Cuss you instead. But I digress.

      • I’m completely missing your point on this one, if you have one. As for the lone man, or more likely given current anthropological knowledge, the lone woman, she has probably given us the first pointed stick (as a lone woman chimp has done in the wild).

        But, the idea that a lone man could create the light bulb is ludicrous in the extreme. This was founded upon millennia of building upon prior technology beginning with pointed sticks and fire.

        So, whatever your point, the lone man does not come up with inventions in a vacuum.

        And, again, I am not arguing that animals have greater intelligence, especially the particular type we have, than humans. I’m arguing that they are intelligent, at least to a degree, and that they warrant moral considerability.

      • Adrian says:

        “But, the idea that a lone man could create the light bulb is ludicrous in the extreme. This was founded upon millennia of building upon prior technology beginning with pointed sticks and fire.”

        Ahh now we get to it.
        And exactly HOW does man build upon prior technology? Does that technology not die with its creator? Or are you calling this phenomenon, “INSTINCT”?

      • I’d call it culture. Would you please state what your point is? Are you arguing that culture is now your criterion for rights? You keep changing the rules.

  23. Adrian says:

    HAHAHA. u rnt looking for truth. u just want to justify ur beliefs.
    1/ culture does not invent. single men do.
    2/ u r the one who changed it to culture. yet u accuse me of ‘changing’.

  24. Adrian,

    A) There is no truth in a matter of opinion.
    B) Without culture, single men (and women, you sexist bastard) would have to invent the spear anew with each generation.
    C) You asked me what I call this phenomenon of building on the inventions of prior generations. So I answered. The correct term is culture. Do you have a problem with me answering your questions? I thought that was the protocol in a discussion.

    You really are getting quite tiresome and have not yet answered why you think it is OK to torture animals.

    I am becoming more convinced with each of your replies that A) you are a troll and B) you do not have a sufficient level of rationality to warrant rights by your own standards.

    • Adrian says:

      A/ An opinion CAN be judged according to reality as true or false.
      B/ Incorrect. Culture is NOT what constitutes that unique property men hold that allows them to pass on information consciously acquired in the previous generation.

      I never said that it was ‘ok’ to torture animals. There is a difference between morality and legality. What is immoral is not necessarily illegal.
      For the record, I absolutely believe it immoral to torture animals.
      For the record, I absolutely believe that it should not be illegal.

      You are the one that wants to put a gun to my head if I do. Therefore the burden of proof is on YOU to find me criminal. What is your criterion? If you have none, end of discussion, case closed.
      If you have one and it is unsatisfactory, meaning that if the criterion cannot be justifiably used in general, which means- if, in applying your criterion elsewhere, it is found to be an injustice, then you also have no case.

      It is never, who is going to allow me, it is always, who is going to stop me. And you better have a just reason to.

      • Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

        It was like pulling teeth to get you to say it. But, I appreciate that you finally did. I’m sorry I had to goad you as I did by deliberately taking words out of context and reading them literally then following them through to their logical conclusion. But, I needed to get to a point where we could start from some common ground.

        So yes, we agree that in our combined moral judgment it is wrong to torture animals. This is the first step in recognizing that they are worthy of moral considerability. You already believe that their feelings should be taken into account at least for the purpose of deciding whether or not it is OK to torture animals. This is the primary point of the original topic, that animal are worthy of moral considerability.

        As for putting a gun to your head, please point me at the particular comment in which I said anything about the law or that those who harm animals should be subjected to the death penalty. Since I don’t believe in the death penalty (for reasons of morality surrounding the implementation), I find it hard to believe I made that argument anywhere.

        I’m perfectly happy to have a conversation about legality. But, I don’t recall doing so previously. Maybe I need to reread this thread in its entirety; it is a fairly old one that I have not recently reread in full.

        It would be easier though if you could point me at my own prior words on the subject. Perhaps cite the date and time of the post.

      • Adrian,

        Sorry, I got so hung up on the fact that I finally got you to admit that you don’t think torturing animals is OK that I forgot to reply to part of your post.

        A) Opinions are never statement of fact. You can only challenge the facts used to support the opinion, not the opinion itself. That’s what opinion means.

        B) You really should read the link I posted regarding culture. Yes, it really is the anthropological definition of the term. Culture indeed is the ability to transfer one’s acquired knowledge to others within the current group and to further generations. That said, you are right that it is NOT unique to humans.

        I have a nice fat scientific book on the culture of chimpanzees, for example. It is a bit outdated now, so probably not the best reference on the subject and is certainly too dry and scientific for a general audience. I read pieces of it rather than reading it cover to cover. It is not on my book list because I wouldn’t recommend it for a general audience, including for myself.

        However, just to show you that such scientific work showing culture in chimpanzees exists, the book is called Chimpanzee Cultures by Franz de Waal. Click the link to see if it interests you. There are probably more current and less technical books on the subject that would be a better read.

  25. Adrian,

    Another thing you should know. I blog for a number of reasons including spreading better memes, the joy of the debate, and sometimes even to learn something.

    It is possible that you have very interesting ideas. I have not seen any evidence of this yet. But, it is possible.

    Please learn to express your ideas more clearly and with more explanation. This could become an interesting discussion if you’ll try to make it one.

    Work with me here. We may not agree. You may not convince me that you’re correct. But, if you want any hope of doing so, you must tell me them. You need to develop the language skills of a human, or at least a chimp and express your ideas. You may think you are doing so. But, I can assure you that you are failing.

  26. Adrian says:

    Well you began that last post well. I was actually going to write you the same thing. That I only do this to enjoy rational discussion and to learn.
    Then you degenerated into name irrational name calling. So you have lost your case.
    In one of my posts to you, I lowered myself to textese because I ceased to recognize your line of discussion as rational, so it did not matter anymore. I’m glad you picked up on it.
    Your opinion about my English is your opinion. But as I said before, it can be judged according to reality.
    I dare you to find fault with it however I am not getting into a pissing contest about English. It just seems to be another escape route, another distraction technique.

    This entire discussion requires that you PROVE the torturing of an animal illegal. Otherwise you must leave every human be.
    You made a declaration of a criterion then you denied it. So in effect, this has gone nowhere. The thing is, if it remains nowhere, you have lost since the burden of proof is on you.
    I do not have to prove why walking down the road is legal. You have to prove it illegal.

    So if you’re willing to start afresh, no hard feelings, lets investigate reality and see what reason shows us.

  27. I apologize about the name calling.

    As for your “textese” whatever that means, I vary in how much of a stickler I am regarding language. In your case though, I simply was completely and utterly failing to understand your points. It was not intended to be a pissing contest on quality of language. But, you can’t make a point if you do not write at least minimally coherently enough for me to understand you. The fault may be on my side. But, I did read and reread several of your posts without being able to parse them.

    Thank you for taking the time to write more coherent posts today.

    Back to the topic of legality that you are fixated on, first, if you take the time to read the original post, you sill see that I made no mention of the law. My intent was merely to get people to give moral consideration to their interactions with animals.

    That said, I do think animals deserve legal protection. If you think it is wrong to torture a human, wrong for society, wrong all the time, then you must pass a law to prevent it. Similarly, if you think it wrong to torture an animal, then that too requires laws to prevent it.

    We are not talking about victimless crime here, which I do not believe in, such as prostitution and drug use, which I believe should be legalized precisely because there is no victim. In cases where one is hurting no one or even only hurting themselves, the law should probably not interfere.

    But, where there is real and unnecessary harm being done to a real victim, the law should protect that individual, be it a human or a chimp or a dog. The rights for all creatures may not be equal. I doubt we are going to make animal slaughter illegal any time soon. And, as a meat-eater myself, I would not advocate that. But, I would advocate better treatment of the animals in our care.

    I would make all CAFOs illegal. I would make all slaughterhouses as humane as possible. I would make medical labs treat their test subjects with a hint of kindness and caring.

    I would also advocate that certain animals are so close to ourselves in mental capacity that they deserve a standard very close to our own in their treatment. I think all medical testing on great apes should be banned, for example.

    There are both practical and moral reasons for my argument regarding great apes. First, any drug or treatment being tested on apes has already gone through a tremendous amount of testing. It is likely at a level where a drug manufacturer could easily find hundreds of humans lining up to volunteer to be test subjects either because they suffer from the disease and all other cures and treatments have left them in desperate situations or because they have family or loved ones who have reached or passed that situation and want to help find the cure.

    If this is not the case, perhaps the treatment is not worth testing on apes or on humans.

    Perhaps the illness is either not real or merely a minor inconvenience. Perhaps it is just another case of the pharmaceuticals industry manufacturing both the condition and the drug to treat it. (e.g. female impotence, restless leg syndrome, …)

    From a practical standpoint, all lab animals need to be treated better in order to get valid medical results. Animals who are clinically depressed due to real horrific conditions may not make good medical test subjects. They are often self-destructive, morose, or otherwise not fit to give accurate results.

    That said, proving that animals should be entitled to legal rights is like proving any other opinion. All I can do is give you my reasoning, my logic, my emotions. It is not an absolute.

    Luckily, many do recognize at least the most basic rights of animals and have already passed laws to their benefit. Unfortunately, these often apply only to pets. Zoos are starting to treat their animals better as most people do not want to see obviously depressed animals. But, labs and farms are often horrifically cruel places.

    That this means that the animals are neither fit for medical research nor fit to eat seems not to concern people. But, cloistered away in their labs and in CAFOs, the rest of the world at large ignores their suffering. And, with profits to be made, there is high incentive to take the cheapest route, no matter who gets hurt.

    So, yes, people can be very cruel and often needlessly so. The only way to stop that is with laws.

  28. Adrian says:

    I’m going tho keep this short.

    Separation of Humans and Non-Humans:
    No other animal requires Reason in order to survive.

    Rights:
    Rights are a necessary consequence of choice in the face of alternatives. Evanescent explained this ad nauseum. Without choice, one cannot be held responsible. Rights and choice are inseparably linked.
    Laws are a system of rules that protect choice. Since the only way choice can be taken away from man is by the initiation of force or it’s threat, force is the only realm in which laws should be concerned about.
    Since non-human animals do not need Reason to survive, there is no alternative- there is no Choice. Without Choice, there is nothing for laws to protect. Rights in this case do not exist.

    You make the mistake of claiming the right to enforce Morality.

  29. Adrian,

    You are arguing points I didn’t make. No other animal requires reason to survive. So?

    I have argued that they are intelligent. You are arguing that they do not have reason. The two are not contradictory statements. Reason is not part of intelligence. Look at what is on an intelligence test. Rational thinking, critical thinking, and veridical thinking are not a part of our definition of intelligence. Certainly they are not part of MAMBIT (mental abilities measured by intelligence tests) which is the circular logic contained in all scientific definitions of intelligence or g, if you prefer.

    So, my point is that the other sentiences i.e. those who are self-aware, at a minimum, are worthy of moral consideration.

    As for your equating of reason and choice, you are again, sadly mistaken. There is a tremendous amount of moral choice in the way that other animals treat each other. You simply refuse to read anything that contradicts that.

    Some other animals know all about moral treatment of each other. They know when their own rights are being violated. They know how to punish offenders, even at personal expense. They know how to treat others fairly.

    There are numerous studies of this with other primates in particular, largely because of our own personal bias towards our close relatives.

    That said, rats, when taught that pressing a certain button will provide food, will very quickly choose to stop pressing that button and even starve to death, if they see that another rat receives a shock every time they press the button. So, they too exercise a moral choice not to feed themselves at the cost of pain to another.

    Evanescent’s explanation comes from the beliefs of his cult, Objectivism, which contradicts a good chunk of human morality to begin with by stating that doing what is right for oneself is the only definition of morality. This is the cultish belief system of the followers of the great prophet (profit?) Ayn Rand.

    Are you also a follower of this cult?

    As for the right to enforce morality, that right has been asserted by rhesus monkeys, chimpanzees, and numerous other species much older than ourselves as well as by hunter-gatherer societies and all larger societies humans have ever come up with.

    Yes, enforcement of morality by the group is indeed an evolution-given right for humans, apes, and monkeys alike. I’m not sure how many other species have been proven to have such morality.

  30. BTW Adrian,

    I assume that if you are an Objectivist, that you presumably do not consider it a cult. I would point out two things though:

    1) I did say cult, not religion. I should clarify that my understanding is that all religions are cults but not all cults are religions. Cults that are not religions generally are missing the rites and rituals associated with religions, and are thus less bad. So, please don’t take cult as being more insulting than religion when I mean it to be less insulting.

    2) If Objectivism is not a cult, then please explain why its followers adhere to outdated science like behaviorism that was popular at the time of the formation of Objectivism but has since gone the way of phlogiston chemistry and alchemy, both of which were perfectly valid branches of science in their day … until they failed to pan out. I ask because everything you’ve stated about animals is clearly the outmoded thinking associated with Skinner boxes and the rest.

  31. Oops. I guess I offended Adrian. I really would have liked to have gotten an answer on why he was so enamored of behaviorist psychology and what he thought of rats who would rather starve than harm their fellow rat. Oh well.

  32. Hi Again Kerberos,

    As I said, I wasn’t happy with the way this looked when indented.

    Regarding the elephants, I found reference to the story you mention on a forum. It even had a link to a National Geographic site for Australia. Unfortunately the link didn’t work. Here’s a link to the forum post.

    http://www.physicsforums.com/archive/index.php/t-98562.html

    I also found some other info on elephants killing humans. Here’s one where humans so upset an elephant by continually harassing her and her baby and finally accidentally killing the baby, that she turned into a human killer and even ate human flesh.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/18/maneating-elephant-featur_n_825345.html

    Here’s an amusing video of an elephant at a zoo knocking on a door, though presumably not with the intent to kill anyone.

    Given all of this, especially that forum post with a link that presumably worked at the time it was posted, I’m going to consider your elephant story confirmed. Still, if anyone does find a working link, please post it.

    Oh, and here’s a link to an article on elephants mimicking the sounds of traffic and possibly a lawn mower. Such mimicry is unusual among mammals.

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/03/0323_050323_elephantnoise.html

    • Kerberos says:

      Hey Scott,
      Sorry, but I had forgotten what thread it was on. My apologies.
      Scott, you’ll find I’m a person that’s brutality honest.
      I always say that a person’s only as good as their word, so I’ll never say something unless I know is true because I only like dealing with facts.
      Still again, love the blog.
      Kerberos

  33. Tom says:

    I only recently came across your blog and I have to say that I am quite saddened that it has taken me so long. Many of the points you have made I have felt for years but struggle to find anyone to share these beliefs with.

    In regards to this post I felt a particularly strong urge to reply as I have had a view on this topic for some time now. It is quite brash but no less true in my opinion.

    I for one do not feel that humans as a species deserve any moral consideration at all. We are destructive by nature, to both our own species and all others that surround us. We are a selfish, arrogant race which believes that, because of an apparent level of ‘higher consciousness’, we are more important than any other species of animal. Yet how is it that the very world we live on is dying because of our greed? Yet if an environment is left to other species, it thrives.

    Humans deserve no moral consideration because of the simple fact that no matter what warnings we are given, no matter what we tell ourselves, we will always be the destroyers of the world. All that, simply because of greed. A study in 2000 found that the richest 10% of adults owned 85% of the total world wealth. Yet the lowest 50%, owned just 1% of the wealth. This level of disparity highlights the gross level of greed in the human race. I may not be a great supporter of humanity (I’m pretty sure everyone I know would say I’m most likely to kill everyone) but I can’t help but feel that such a huge difference shows how vindictive people are as they see this difference and actually strive to make it even wider.

    The human race is a corrosive pestilence which feeds off of everything and anything to further itself. Even if that means destroying its own people. We deserve zero moral consideration for the atrocities that are caused globally by our species.

    • Wow Tom! You sound even a bit more misanthropic than I am. I can’t disagree with a thing you said about humanity.

      My difference is when we start thinking about humans individually. Remember, you’re describing the net effect of humanity. Not all humans are so evil.

      Some of us at least make an effort to avoid destroying the planet. Some of us do so by minimizing the impact of our lives on the planet. In my own case, I do the best I can in this generation. More importantly, I have not propagated the problem.

      So, while it is still true that I have only managed to get my impact down to the point where if everyone lived as I do, we would need 3.3 earths*, it is also true that we would not need them for very long. Population falls very slowly when birthrate begins to drop below replacement. But, it would fall very very rapidly were birthrate to drop to zero.

      • Tom says:

        It is true that some people do indeed try to at least change but I don’t think it is possible to change the ‘hive-mind’ of society. Popular culture will never embrace that the change is necessary therefore the majority of people will never agree that their part in this change will help.

        Slightly off topic but I think the only real way to change the way humanity is going is to change the major governments from such single mindedness into a more dynamic political policy.

        I feel that what is needed is a militaristic totalitarian society with communist views and capitalist ethics. The totalitarianism should be used to police the populace with greater authority demanded either through force or respect of the force. This would require more stringent laws and much more severe punishments. The death penalty would be need to be introduced and a severe work programme for lesser crimes that would make prisoners useful by giving them hard jobs and make them work for long hours. It would appear unethical but would ultimately reduce crime by making it much less appealing.

        The communist view would come into play when reassigning wealth. There would obviously still be different levels of pay in terms of rank within each industry but the more useful and harder a job, the higher the pay. Emergency services for example would be paid much higher than most jobs because they are far more vital. Also much more money would be placed into the education system in order to improve future prospects. The arts would be controlled by the public sector, the government providing funding for most projects and public opinion deciding which projects deserve the funding (much like the lottery funding system already in place).

        Capitalism would be used to provide a driving force in the work place as an incentive for people to be progressive and work harder. This would come about by financial incentives for major breakthroughs in all fields that are deemed necessary to both the state and the people.

        The final argument against this would be the power of the government. First off there would be no actual head of state but instead the entire government would control the decisions ultimately but there would be constant mandatory polls on important topics that affect the populace as a whole. This allows a greater level of control for people while still retaining enough power for the government that they do not lose power. I realise that all of this would be a massive shock, riots would ensue and other governments would be instantly trying to shut it down. This would be natural because such sudden changes provoke a strong response from most people.

        Sorry for it being such a long reply. Just felt that it might be interesting in terms of the topic, even if it is somewhat off topic.

  34. Hi Tom,

    First, I love tangents! Keep ’em coming.

    The hive mind will change. The change may be the extinction of humanity. But, that too will be a change. I don’t know who first said this. I got it from a friend of mine. But, I think it was not original on his part either. This is important:

    That which is unsustainable is not going to continue to happen.

    That’s an important and obvious fact. It applies to never ending population growth. It applies to the principles of our economy that consider an economy healthy only when it experiences never ending growth. We live on a finite planet. Never ending growth is not going to happen. The growth will end.

    In my opinion, both the economy and the human population will shrink dramatically, one way or the other. If we don’t do this for ourselves, it will be done for us by cold hard natural law.

    I do not agree with you about totalitarianism of any form. The problem is that you’re forgetting that other law of humanity.

    Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    The other issue with communism and redistribution of wealth in the way you suggest, as opposed to progressive taxes which are neither redistribution of wealth nor communism nor socialism, is that it is fundamentally flawed right from its primary mantra.

    From each according to his means to each according to his needs.

    This is fundamentally flawed in a huge way. It sounds good until you really think about it. What it means is that anyone who is able must continue to work until they are not. Good-bye 40 hour work week. Good-bye vacation time. Good-bye retirement. It’s all about who decides when you no longer have the means to contribute.

    Then, there is the issue of needs. To each according to his needs. You don’t need such a big home. We can move several other families in here with you. You don’t really need a car. You can move to an apartment closer to your work. You can take public transportation.

    Then, there is the last issue. Let’s assume for a moment that people can be properly motivated in a society founded upon this basic mantra. You have a whole society of people working at peak efficiency and to the best of their abilities. You also have these same people only taking their most basic needs.

    Who gets to keep the leftovers between all of this maximal production and minimal consumption?

    It’s good to be the king.

    Sorry, no totalitarianism is not the answer. Communist ideals are not the answer. Pure unbridled capitalism is also not the answer.

    The answer in my opinion lies in democracy, with all of its faults, and a system of fair market capitalism with heavy regulations. And, the basic needs for survival should be provided by the government. Clean water. Health insurance, at least, if not health care as well. Clean air. And, for those who cannot work, some basic support to buy the basics of food and a place to live.

    Or, we could go back to the hunter-gatherer societies we had for more than 95% of the history of humanity. They were not sustainable either, but came a lot closer to it. In fact, a few places achieved real sustainability … until they met with westerners and started wanting everything we have.

    But, that being said, I strongly believe that even with the most equitable distribution of resources, the planet simply cannot support billions. We’re stealing from our children to feed ourselves. We’re depleting the oceans, which won’t matter because ocean acidification is going to kill all fish in the ocean anyway. We’re depleting our top soil. We’re depleting our fossil ground water. Global food production is already dropping due to climate change. Couple all of this with religion’s efforts to force everyone on the planet to breed as many new humans as possible and you have a guaranteed disaster waiting very impatiently to happen.

    • Cerberus says:

      Wow! Scott, that was wonderful reply! Well said!
      Thank you so much!

      Cerberus

      • Thanks Cerberus. It was my wife who pointed out to me that the notion that “from each according to his ability to each according to his needs” is an inherently bad philosophy. I hadn’t thought about it nearly enough. It sounds so high-minded and beautiful on the surface. She was born in the former Soviet Union and lived there only until 8 years old. But, you think about such things more when you come from a society that was at least ostensibly founded on such a philosophy. Luckily, her family had the will and opportunity to uproot themselves for a freer life.

      • Cerberus says:

        Hello friend! It’s so good to see you’re back!

        I had no idea that your wife was from the former Soviet Union
        But I do admire her for helping to set the record straight for you. It sounds as if you have a fine women there. And so, I admire you both for the post. Damn. You said it better than I ever could have. Again, thank you so much, Scott.

  35. I just came across another very strong argument for applying moral considerability to a much wider range of species. Here’s a little rodent people often don’t think of as highly intelligent, mostly because most of us don’t know very much about them. I’ve mentioned them before on this thread, in basically the same context. However, here’s a much more detailed analysis of them. Apparently a prairie dog squeak amounts to a simple human sentence, not a word. They convey rather a lot in that squeak.

    So, if they convey this much in a squeak, just imagine what they might be saying in that unidentified chatter.

    http://www.care2.com/causes/prairie-dog-language-decoded-turns-out-theyre-talking-about-us.html

  36. Once again, non-human animals turn out smarter than we expect. When will we stop being surprised by this? Here’s a good video on the intelligence of lizards and turtles. Snakes get honorable mention too but are not featured in the video.

    http://www.nytimes.com/video/science/100000002558704/reptilian-smarts.html?playlistId=1194811622182

  37. Tool use in crocodilians??!!? Even I didn’t expect that, another data point in favor of my point that non-human animals are typically smarter than we expect.

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/tetrapod-zoology/2013/11/30/tool-use-in-crocs-and-gators/

    • The Expulsion Of Gods says:

      Wow! I had no idea, Scott. And thanks for finding that article!

      I’ve read some articles that indeed had blown my mind about birds, especially the raven in particular, but crocodiles and alligators?! Wow!

      Thanks again….I’ve got to study more on animals.

      • I went to Australia, but didn’t do any camping. In areas where there are salties (saltwater crocodiles, though they also go into fresh water), as opposed to freshies (fresh water crocodiles), they say that campers should not make a habit of going to the water hole at the same time every day. Apparently, the salties will learn your pattern and attack on day 3 or 4.

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