Animals Have NO Rights

I’ve recently explained what morality is and where rights come from. When discussing what human rights mean, we must define exactly what we’re talking about, and justify our definition. When doing so, another interesting topic arises, which is that of animal rights. I have always held the belief that animals have rights, of a sort. For example, the right “not to suffer”. I was wrong, because animals have no rights at all.

First of all, consider individual rights. A human being is a creature that makes decisions based on reason. Unlike an animal which is automatically equipped with the knowledge to select its values, human beings must discover, through a process of reason, what is good for our lives and what is bad. We discover rational values with our ultimate value, life, as the standard. This code of values to guide our decisions is Objective Morality. Therefore, man, to function as a man, must be a moral being. If he is anything less he is living like a beast, not a human. But in order to make moral decisions he must be free to do so. A man who is coerced to do good or evil, at the point of a gun, is not being allowed to act like a rational being, in other words, like a human being. Where force is present, morality becomes impossible. A man needs his morality to guide his actions whether he is alone or in a crowd. However, when a man is in a social setting, he and the others around him need the freedom to act in order to function as rational beings. What guarantees a person the freedom to act without force in pursuit of his goals? Rights. Therefore, Rights are a moral principle that exist in a social setting to guarantee freedom of action for rational beings.

There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action—which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfilment and the enjoyment of his own life.”The Virtue of Selfishness

Because Rights are moral principles they apply only to moral beings. The purpose of government, in fact the only morally legitimate role of government, is to protect the individual rights of its citizens. To violate the rights of another innocent individual is to be a criminal. Now, because animals do not act based on morality, to give them legally-enforceable rights to guarantee their freedom of action is an egregious contradiction in terms.

Rights apply only to action; to the right to act. For example, no one has the “right to love” – one has the right to seek a mate and win the heart of a member of the opposite sex, but no one has a free entitlement to love. One has the right to sustain one’s life by any means necessary, assuming one doesn’t violate the rights of others; in order to live one needs a job. One is free to act to seek a job; one has NO right to a job. The right to support your own life does not incur an obligation on other people to support your life. Rights only impose a negative obligation on other people, that is: you may not violate MY rights, and I may not violate YOURS.

There is no such thing as the Right “to not suffer”. To quote Leitmotif:

So, say we grant these animals the right to “protection from torture.” Are we now going to arrest all other animals who break this law by inflicting “torture” on these protected group of animals whom we have just granted these rights? Or does this law only apply to humans, to restrict human activity so that animals can “enjoy” greater freedom and “rights”?”

Suffering is the end result of a course of action, just as happiness is. But, a course of action is dictated by one’s morality. So using suffering or happiness as the standard is to flip the nature of morality on its head. This is the problem with utilitarianism (suffering) and hedonism (happiness). Just because something causes happiness does not make it right, and just because something causes suffering does not make it wrong.

To use an example (I can’t remember the source so any readers are welcome to elucidate): suppose we encounter a sapient alien with all the rational faculty of a human being, but without the capacity to experience any pain or harm. Would this creature still have rights? Of course it would, so the capacity to feel pain (or any level of it) is an invalid standard from which to derive morality, and therefore Rights.

Granting Rights to animals, that would be enforced by government, is to limit the activity of humans, in other words, to prevent the total freedom of mankind in doing whatever he sees necessary to further his life or allow him to flourish. But, remember that rights exist only to protect the action of moral beings. Granting rights to animals is necessarily to sacrifice the rights of humans, which is not only totally irrational, it is grossly immoral. It is immoral, because it treats humans like criminals.

This does not mean that it is “okay” for humans to torture animals. A human being who takes delight in torturing animals is immoral, and such people should be condemned. But there is a difference between the moral and the legal. Fox-hunting, bull-fighting, cock-fighting etc may be deemed immoral, but they are certainly not illegal.

 

(I’ve not gone into excessive detail here so that any minor issues can be settled in any discussion that follows…)

Edited to add the following, which I posted on a discussion forum on this topic. This is in response to the arguments from an environmentalist pro-animals rights position that tried to resort to evolutionary science to justify morality and animal rights:

“Misanthropic Scott is still ignoring everything I’ve said on this subject for the last few days. I have no problem with science explaining human behavioural trends from an evolutionary point of view. The problem, and this is the last time I’m going to say this, is that it is explaining the wrong thing.

Evolution selects for the success of procreation, whether right or wrong. It has side-effects, whether right or wrong. The affinity of humans to think magically and superstitiously is undeniable, and yet a side-effect of our pattern-recognition faculty in our brains. The very thing that has allowed us to evolve as pattern-seeking creatures and drive our intelligence, has an unfortunate side-effect: magical thinking. Now, no one would call magical thinking “moral”, it is a part of our behaviour that can be explained evolutionarily.

Now, animals that do not attack each other; animals that form social contracts; animals that remember acts of generosity; animals that sacrifice themselves for the “collective good” etc; are NOT, and I repeat NOT acting morally. They are NOT acting immorally. They are acting as a result of evolutionary pressure to behaviour in a way that their genes have selected for. Richard Dawkins has shown that “selfish” genes can produce affects that are apparently “altruistic”, because it indirectly furthers the propagation of particular genes; natural selection will favour any system this is evolutionary stable (ESS).

Now, human behaviour that some people call “moral” can be explained in evolutionary terms. However, this is a faulty use of the term “moral”, and here we are talking past each other. The Objectivist ethics holds that morality is a system to be DISCOVERED, it is a philosophy for living on this earth; for each man and for every man; it is a code of values to guide actions. Morality is a topic that belongs in philosophy, but in seeking to explain what morality is and its source, one must check one’s philosophical premises. If one’s premise is that morality is altruistic/collectivist behaviour, one will seek to explain it scientifically, and how evolution selected for this behaviour. But if one rejects the notion that morality is altruistic, and that MORALITY is the rational decision making and action of thinking beings, any attempt to explain it evolutionarily is irrelevant, because, as I keep explaining, one is trying to explain the wrong thing.

It comes down to the fundamentals of one’s philosophy; the basis of morality for example. Now, the morality of altruism etc is rife in society today, and that is why Humanists and atheists, even the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens etc, accept it. We have the likes of Kant to thank for altruistic “duty” ethics, and altruism is at the core of religion ethics; it is curious that atheists don’t even realise this themselves. Altruism/collectivist ethics are subjective, and any subjective ethics reduce to nihilism, in which case morality becomes impossible. Only an objective morality can make morality possible. That is why we must reject any system of ethics that is not objective and not derived from reality. But we must make sure we’re talking about the right thing.

This talk of brain studies and human behaviour is largely irrelevant; morality is not acting in a way that evolution has selected for. Humans largely have the capacity to control their behaviour; this is because we can think rationally, something no other creature can do. ONLY a rational being can act morally, so only a human being can be a moral being. Therefore, Rights (legal protection against the use of force) can ONLY apply to moral beings, because it is only moral beings that need freedom for force in order to act as the TYPE OF BEINGS THEY ARE.

I encourage any further discussion to be centred philosophically on the concept of morality and rights, and leave the beauty of evolutionary science (of which I’m a fan) out of the discussion. One must start with one’s premise of morality. Using evolution to explain morality begs the question; it assumes that you know what morality already is: I’ve explained what Objectivist morality is, what is YOUR alternative?; that is the proper focus for discussion here. Any other comments about evolution that ignore what I’ve written here will just be ignored by me.”

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79 Responses to “Animals Have NO Rights”

  1. Lex Says:

    Always thoughtful posts… They rouse a thoughtfulness that has been missing in my beer-besotted mind for many years.

  2. BlackSun Says:

    Evanescent, you are correct that the concept of “rights” is a social construction. They are what protect the weak in society against force and fraud. As such, they represent the main distinction between civilization and barbarism.

    So I would agree in principle that animals cannot have “rights,” especially when the process of natural selection depends on the strong killing the weak. But the intersection of humans and animals is much more complicated. Animals have served humanity since pre-historic times, and continue to be a huge resource of food, labor, and raw materials. So dealing properly with the animal populations and ecosystems is actually in humans’ self-interest.

    And once a human adopts and animal as a pet, our empathy extends to that animal as it would to a human member of a person’s family. At that point, the pet receives (as it should) equal moral status as a human (since killing it, kidnapping it or torturing it would cause severe emotional distress to its owner).

    In addition, we are beginning to understand that animals have some degree of self-awareness and engage in self-reflection. More so the closer they are in brain power to humans. As we begin to find ways of communicating directly with the brains of animals, we may find they have similar feelings, hopes, dreams, and suffering as we humans do. They may even be able to eventually express these thoughts to us.

    I think it’s important to tread lightly on the animal kingdom. Allowing animals to experience a life of expressing their natural instincts as much as possible is the best we can do for them. Even if that means standing by while many are killed by their predators, it is the only ethical thing to do. But we should not excuse on these grounds wanton slaughter of animals by humans, nor destruction of their habitats for short-term human benefit. Ecosystems must be looked at as a whole, and consciously managed for their long-term health.

    Humans have a paradoxical relationship: we keep animals as ‘slaves,’ we kill and eat them, and we also make them part of our families. Animals are an important part of the interconnected web of life. They are not human, but without them our lives would be almost so different as to be unrecognizable. And since we are also part of the animal kingdom, we should not soon forget where we came from.

  3. evanescent Says:

    you are correct that the concept of “rights” is a social construction. They are what protect the weak in society against force and fraud.

    Not just the weak; they’re there to protect all individuals from force, whether you be a single mum on the breadline or a multi-millionaire.

    So I would agree in principle that animals cannot have “rights,” especially when the process of natural selection depends on the strong killing the weak. But the intersection of humans and animals is much more complicated. Animals have served humanity since pre-historic times, and continue to be a huge resource of food, labor, and raw materials. So dealing properly with the animal populations and ecosystems is actually in humans’ self-interest.

    I would completely agree.

    And once a human adopts and animal as a pet, our empathy extends to that animal as it would to a human member of a person’s family. At that point, the pet receives (as it should) equal moral status as a human (since killing it, kidnapping it or torturing it would cause severe emotional distress to its owner).

    I think your reasoning breaks down here. An animal cannot receive what it is impossible for it to have, that is, moral status. Animals cannot ever be considered moral beings or due any moral consideration.

    However, once a human adopts an animal as a pet, it becomes that person’s property, and as such is protected from harm or violation just as any other property of man is. Therefore, the protection of animals under the law is only an extension of the individual rights of humans over their own property.

    In addition, we are beginning to understand that animals have some degree of self-awareness and engage in self-reflection. More so the closer they are in brain power to humans. As we begin to find ways of communicating directly with the brains of animals, we may find they have similar feelings, hopes, dreams, and suffering as we humans do. They may even be able to eventually express these thoughts to us.

    There’s no doubt that some higher animals are very intelligent, and this subject fascinates me as much as it does you. However, humans are not simply further along a sliding scale of intelligence. It is our rational faculty that necessitates a morality to guide our actions, and it is this that gives us Rights.

    I think it’s important to tread lightly on the animal kingdom. Allowing animals to experience a life of expressing their natural instincts as much as possible is the best we can do for them.

    You may or may not be right here, but my only point to this would be that our primary concern shouldn’t be what is good for animals or not. That isn’t to say we cannot take care of them, but animals should never take precedence over humans in any matter. To do otherwise would be to sacrifice humans to animals, something I’m sure you wouldn’t agree with doing.

    Even if that means standing by while many are killed by their predators, it is the only ethical thing to do. But we should not excuse on these grounds wanton slaughter of animals by humans, nor destruction of their habitats for short-term human benefit. Ecosystems must be looked at as a whole, and consciously managed for their long-term health.

    Wanton cruel treatment of animals is certainly wrong and immoral, but should not be illegal. Remember government has a specific limited purpose, and protecting animals is not it.

    If destruction of animal habitats will allow humans to flourish, then we should do whatever we need/want. It is against our rational self-interest to destroy any part of the earth so much that our own lives our threatened, but our primary rational concern is not the earth itself, or the animals themselves, or to make the earth into a paradise for the future generations. The rational person does however make the best decisions for the long-term based on his values.

    Thanks for the comment BlackSun. Once again your comments are always well-balanced and intelligent and a pleasure to read.

    And thanks for the comment Lex!

  4. Stefan Monsaureus Says:

    I agree with BlackSun that the issue of animal rights is not as simple as you initially potrayed it, and there are a number of arguments against human exceptionalism. There is not a bright line that distinguishes humans from other species; rather, rationality exists along a continuum on what was once called the Great Chain of Being. Even if we cannot say that animals are possessed of rights, do we not owe them a certain moral regard, similar to that owed humans of lesser rational ability (e.g. those with severe mental illness, in comas, or infants)? Reliance on any single attribute as the sole basis for determining moral regard (whether genetics, rationality, autonomy, sentience, ability to feel pain, etc.) is always problematic, no matter how tempting and how simple.

  5. evanescent Says:

    There is not a bright line that distinguishes humans from other species; rather, rationality exists along a continuum on what was once called the Great Chain of Being.

    I think you’re confusing rationality with intelligence. Animals have varying intelligence, but none of them reason their course of action.

    Even if we cannot say that animals are possessed of rights, do we not owe them a certain moral regard, similar to that owed humans of lesser rational ability (e.g. those with severe mental illness, in comas, or infants)

    No. Humans, as the type of being we are, have Rights. Now, children, the mentally retarded, those in comas etc have limited rights, just as criminals have limited rights. Animals, because they are not moral beings, cannot have the moral principle of Rights.

    Reliance on any single attribute as the sole basis for determining moral regard (whether genetics, rationality, autonomy, sentience, ability to feel pain, etc.) is always problematic, no matter how tempting and how simple.

    It is problematic, unless you identify exactly what rights are and where they come from. Rights arise because of the nature of man and his relationship with reality. This is the only foundation for rights. Since this foundation doesn’t apply to animals, neither can rights.

  6. Misanthropic Scott Says:

    Sorry evancescent,

    I must point out again that you are moral only within a human-centric framework. Your assertion that humans are fundamentally different from animals makes you thoroughly and completely immoral with respect to all other species. It also means that, despite your other posts, your mentality is far more in line with religious induhviduals than with science.

    Here is why.

    To assume that humans are fundamentally different is to argue that humans are different not only in magnitude, but in kind. This is so thoroughly incorrect at its very core as to completely invalidate your entire post.

    Many other species of animals have morals.

    To ignore this is to simply show how little you have read on the subject. I point you again to the same books to which I pointed you on your other thread. There has been much work done in research into the animal mind. You ignore all of it totally. This ignores all of evolution flatly as well.

    You seem to think that morals sprang out of nowhere fully formed in human beings. This is as far from the truth as assuming that humans sprang out of nowhere (or were specially created by god). Humans are part of a continuum of animals. We differ in magnitude from other species in many ways. We differ in kind in very few (mammalian bipedalism and menopause, for example). We do not differ in kind in our mental abilities at all.

    We are not special.

    Until you realize this, you will be so speciesist as to be beyond reason on this topic. Further, this happens to be such a hot button issue for me that I will A) again refer all scientifically minded individuals to a more rational discussion of interspecies morality on my site and B) remove your blog from my blog roll. I simply have too much trouble dealing with people that believe humans to be special (unless especially bad 🙂 ) to continue to have these discussions.

    Please feel free to read a few of my suggested books and let me know if you come around to a more rational understanding of our place in the biosphere. I believe you are a good person but have a tremendous amount to learn about this subject. However, I also believe this post shows a near religious unwillingness to do so.

  7. evanescent Says:

    I must point out again that you are moral only within a human-centric framework. Your assertion that humans are fundamentally different from animals makes you thoroughly and completely immoral with respect to all other species. It also means that, despite your other posts, your mentality is far more in line with religious induhviduals than with science.

    I think you betray a misunderstanding of morality right here Scott, by implying that there is some morality outside of a human framework. There is no framework of morality outside of human action, because human action is the only kind that can be governed by rational thought.

    To assume that humans are fundamentally different is to argue that humans are different not only in magnitude, but in kind. This is so thoroughly incorrect at its very core as to completely invalidate your entire post.

    Are humans the only creatures that are rational or not? It really comes down to that. What other lifeform in existence can you name that has the freedom to choose its actions based on rational values?

    To ignore this is to simply show how little you have read on the subject. I point you again to the same books to which I pointed you on your other thread. There has been much work done in research into the animal mind. You ignore all of it totally. This ignores all of evolution flatly as well.

    It does not ignore evolution or animal biology at all. Show me another creature that can act morally and you might have a point.

    You seem to think that morals sprang out of nowhere fully formed in human beings. This is as far from the truth as assuming that humans sprang out of nowhere (or were specially created by god). Humans are part of a continuum of animals. We differ in magnitude from other species in many ways. We differ in kind in very few (mammalian bipedalism and menopause, for example). We do not differ in kind in our mental abilities at all.

    I find it hard to take seriously the assertion that we don’t differ in our mental abilities. When was the last time an animal built a skyscraper, a rocketship, drafted a Bill of Rights, fell in love, or landed on the moon? In fact, when was the last time an animal made a moral decision about anything?

    Biologically speaking, we are just like most mammals. Intellectually, we are on a different level because we think rationally. Being rational creatures is what best describes humans, homo sapiens, literally meaning “thinking man”. It is this volitional nature that gives rise to rational thought, and our ability to make decisions makes us moral beings. That is why we have Rights.

    Until you realize this, you will be so speciesist as to be beyond reason on this topic.

    I’m a big fan of Dawkins, but “speciesism” is absolute rubbish. The idea that humans should be treated like animals and set on a level playing field is grossly immoral. Here’s why:

    When was the last time you found a magpie guilty of stealing for invading another bird’s nest? When was the last time you found a cheater guilty of premeditated murder after stalking and ripping the throat out of a gazelle? When was the last time you tried a dog in a court of law for savaging a child? When was the last time humans went to the jungle to put an end to all the suffering of the “innocent” animals being exploited and killed by other animals higher up in the food chain?

    You not only want to give individual rights to animals, you want to treat humans as criminals even though other animals can never be considered criminals.

    Those who want to give rights to animals don’t want to elevate them, they want to lower humans to the level of an unthinking savage beast that acts on instinct. An animal is never guilty or innocent of anything, because it is never capable of making moral decisions. This is why they CANNOT have Rights. Now, if you disagree Scott, you need to define what “rights” mean to you, and where they come from.

    Further, this happens to be such a hot button issue for me that I will A) again refer all scientifically minded individuals to a more rational discussion of interspecies morality on my site and B) remove your blog from my blog roll. I simply have too much trouble dealing with people that believe humans to be special (unless especially bad 🙂 ) to continue to have these discussions.

    I’m sorry Scott, but this is an absolutely ridiculous response. It’s funny how rational and intelligent fellow atheists think you are until you disagree with them! Have I offended the Humanist mentality and gone against scripture?? Am I being ostracized like any naughty cult-member??

    If you want to remove me from your blogroll, go for it, but that would be another symptom of the irrational emotionalism some display when it comes to discussing animals. Why is some people think that because animals have no rights, that is somehow evil or a license for cruelty?

    You see, Scott, in my article I explained exactly what morality is and where Rights come from. You haven’t provided a definition of morality or explained what you think Rights are or where they come from. I think, despite your otherwise intelligence, you’re being blinded by this subjective utilitarian approach to morality that totally ignores what morality actually is and where it comes from! From my point of view, it is you, not myself, that is showing a total unwillingness to engage this topic rationally and logically; your heated emotional response about removing me from your blogroll proves that. Should you choose to change your mind, you’re always welcome to comment again…

  8. Misanthropic Scott Says:

    P.S. Here are some articles for anyone not up for reading a full length book on the subject of animal morality.

    Grapes, Cucumbers, and Monkey Morality
    Are Monkeys Moral
    The Theory of Moral Neuroscience — This one briefly discusses the existence of mirror neurons in monkeys and the role that mirror neurons play in human morality.

    And, this with monkeys. Anyone with the most basic understanding of evolution will understand that non-human apes would be much closer to human apes in their morals than monkeys are.

  9. Misanthropic Scott Says:

    evanescent,

    I think you betray a misunderstanding of morality right here Scott, by implying that there is some morality outside of a human framework. There is no framework of morality outside of human action, because human action is the only kind that can be governed by rational thought.

    And this is the heart of your complete and utter misunderstanding of the subject. Since you have an interest in science, you should not make such assertions without reading the available scientific literature on the subject.

    Are humans the only creatures that are rational or not?

    I don’t know the answer to that. However rational and moral are fundamentally different. So this is not only not the crux of the issue, it is completely irrelevant to the issue.

    Show me another creature that can act morally and you might have a point.

    Good!! Now we’re onto something. I think that the articles I posted in my P.S. (which I was typing while you were typing your response) actually do just that.

    BTW, you should really read about bonobos. They are far more moral than humans. There has never been an observed case of intraspecies lethal violence in bonobos. They resolve their differences with sex.

    I find it hard to take seriously the assertion that we don’t differ in our mental abilities.

    Please reread my post. Of course we differ. We differ only in magnitude though, not in kind. We are not special. We were not specially created. We are part of a continuum.

    I’m a big fan of Dawkins, but “speciesism” is absolute rubbish. The idea that humans should be treated like animals and set on a level playing field is grossly immoral. Here’s why:

    When was the last time you found a magpie guilty of stealing for invading another bird’s nest? When was the last time you found a cheater guilty of premeditated murder after stalking and ripping the throat out of a gazelle? When was the last time you tried a dog in a court of law for savaging a child? When was the last time humans went to the jungle to put an end to all the suffering of the “innocent” animals being exploited and killed by other animals higher up in the food chain?

    Dawkins? That may be where I heard about speciesism, I don’t recall. As for a level playing field, I think if you read my posts, you’ll see that I believe there is a continuum, not an absolute or level playing field. Perhaps bonobos deserve to be treated with a higher standard of morals than humans due to their more moral behavior. I don’t know. You simply rule out the conversation without actually considering the real available data though.

    Further, as the Grapes/Cucumbers article shows, other animals do have ways of convicting each other for their own definitions of the violations of their own social contract. Certainly, other apes do. You really do need to read about this instead of using logic based on nothing.

    I’m sorry Scott, but this is an absolutely ridiculous response. It’s funny how rational and intelligent fellow atheists think you are until you disagree with them! Have I offended the Humanist mentality and gone against scripture?? Am I being ostracized like any naughty cult-member??

    No, you are being treated as a lay person on any topic would be who professes to be an expert on the subject. You are forming your views in exactly the same way as the religious form theirs. I’m merely calling you on your hypocrisy.

    You haven’t provided a definition of morality or explained what you think Rights are or where they come from.

    You’re correct that definitions are important. I’ll do a bit of research to find an adequate definition and we can debate from there. But, first, you must be at least willing to consider the possibility that morality, whatever it is, did not spring to life fully formed in humans with no precursors.

  10. Misanthropic Scott Says:

    (One more try …)

    OK, this is the best discussion of the term morality that I have found. If you replace all occurrences of the words person, persons, or people with either individual or individuals, as appropriate, I think I can say with confidence that there are other species who would certainly meet any or all of these descriptions to varying degrees.

    http://tinyurl.com/23spww

    Again, I am not claiming equal moral capabilities across all species. I doubt an earthworm will be as moral as a bonobo. In fact, I doubt either of us is as moral as a bonobo. But, there are morals across a large number of species, especially social species.

  11. evanescent Says:

    And this is the heart of your complete and utter misunderstanding of the subject. Since you have an interest in science, you should not make such assertions without reading the available scientific literature on the subject.

    Unless you can give me an example of a rational creature, biology here is irrelevant. This is a matter of philosophy. This assertion that I am misunderstanding science is a red herring.

    I don’t know the answer to that. However rational and moral are fundamentally different. So this is not only not the crux of the issue, it is completely irrelevant to the issue.

    No, actually it is the very heart of the issue. It is impossible to be moral without being rational. I know where you’re coming from about animal behaviour, such as altruism, but 1. that is instinctual behaviour selected for and not freely chosen by the creature 2. altruistic behaviour is not moral. So an evolutionary explanation for morality is inherently flawed because it seeks to explain the wrong thing. Altruism is not morality. I think this is the source of your misunderstanding.

    Good!! Now we’re onto something. I think that the articles I posted in my P.S. (which I was typing while you were typing your response) actually do just that.

    BTW, you should really read about bonobos. They are far more moral than humans. There has never been an observed case of intraspecies lethal violence in bonobos. They resolve their differences with sex.

    That has nothing to do with morality! Their behaviour is instinctive. They are no more free to rationally choose a course of action than I am free to sprout wings and fly to New York. How on earth can you consider a being “moral” when it cannot possibly choose its action? By your reasoning, a dead man would be the most moral person on earth, since he’s incapable of doing wrong – but he’s actually incapable of doing anything.

    Dawkins? That may be where I heard about speciesism, I don’t recall. As for a level playing field, I think if you read my posts, you’ll see that I believe there is a continuum, not an absolute or level playing field. Perhaps bonobos deserve to be treated with a higher standard of morals than humans due to their more moral behavior. I don’t know. You simply rule out the conversation without actually considering the real available data though.

    What you’re presenting in not evidence. Your are stealing the concept of morality from its source. Morality implies a choice of action. That is PRECISELY WHY we hold people responsible for their actions; because they chose to do something WRONG when they DIDN’T HAVE TO. That is why humans are moral, because we have rational volition. Now, you are incapable of denying the fact that animals cannot choose their decisions rationally. Because of that, they are not morally responsible for any decision they make. That is why we don’t punish animals for theft or murder. They are amoral in the truest sense of the word.

    That is the correct explanation of morality and what it means. Your misunderstanding is not scientific, it is philosophical.

    Further, as the Grapes/Cucumbers article shows, other animals do have ways of convicting each other for their own definitions of the violations of their own social contract. Certainly, other apes do. You really do need to read about this instead of using logic based on nothing.

    This just proves that an evolutionary stable system can arise that produces behaviour that humans would called civilised or altruistic. It says nothing about what is right or wrong.

    No, you are being treated as a lay person on any topic would be who professes to be an expert on the subject. You are forming your views in exactly the same way as the religious form theirs. I’m merely calling you on your hypocrisy.

    I’m not a hypocrite at all. You’re the one who wants to treat animals like humans, and humans like animals, whilst all the time exempting animals from the same moral principles that govern ONLY humans. To prove your hypocrisy, you have only to tell me when the last time you arrested an animal for committing a crime was. Can animals commit crimes or not? If not, do not pretend to say they have a morality.

    You’re correct that definitions are important. I’ll do a bit of research to find an adequate definition and we can debate from there. But, first, you must be at least willing to consider the possibility that morality, whatever it is, did not spring to life fully formed in humans with no precursors.

    I never said it did. You are labouring under the flawed notion (and I have read most of Dawkins’ works) that morality is altruistic behaviour that evolution selected for (e.g.: The Selfish Gene, which is a brilliant book). That is the problem, which is why I say your mistake is philosophical, not scientific.

    I reject “altruism”, “game theory”, “kinship” etc, as morality. Trying to explain altruism with evolution and biology is to miss the point altogether; I would not debate that for a moment. Morality is a system to be rationally discovered. Morality is a code to guide the FREE actions of a THINKING agent. That is my definition, so if you disagree you must disagree with that, nothing else. Now, since morality is what it is, it CANNOT apply to animals. Talk of group behaviour, and sacrificial behaviour, evolutionary stable systems, and evolutionary-selected “social contracts” are actually irrelevant, which is what I’ve been trying to say – they are rooted on a philosophically bankrupt premise: altruism. Morality is a not an instinctive behaviour that has been evolved and selected for. It is something to be discovered by a rational being to guide his actions. (I know this goes against most of what you already believe, and it went against all my beliefs too when I first studied Objectivism, but if you continue this discussion with an open mind, you’ll see that I’m right on this).

  12. Misanthropic Scott Says:

    evanescent,

    Let me ask you one simple question. How often do you really, genuinely, and literally consider murdering those who you do not like?

    Perhaps you do not have the volition you think you do. Perhaps you are merely the product of properly functioning morals processing centers in your brain. Do you really think that you make the choice not to murder anyone today as a conscious rational choice each day? I know I do not.

    You essentially claim that animals have no volition. They are merely the product of their instincts while humans are not. This is a complete and utter violation of Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation for many animal behaviors, and that recognized by any reasonably intelligent pet owner, is that animals have similar emotions, motives, and volition to humans.

    Your assertion that we do not prosecute other animals is as irrelevant as anything can possibly be. For they too do not prosecute us. If they were to prosecute us, how would the executives of ExxonMobil fare in light of still having done nothing to clean up Valdez? How would humans fare in light of causing the sixth mass extinction on the planet?

    Morals are not rational. Morals are the workings of functioning morals processing centers in our brains. If they were rational, the results of morals tests across widely disparate societies would produce widely disparate results. Instead, nearly identical results are produced regardless of the society asked, even in hunter gatherer societies. Check the results of the so called trolley questions. They should indicate that perhaps you are at least as much (or as little) of an automaton as any other species.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem

    Further, if animals have no rights, why are humans prosecuted for cruelty to animals? If one must be a rational being to have rights, why are those who murder severely retarded individuals prosecuted for murder?

    In fact, all you have done is to convince me that we have moral obligations to other species regardless of whether they have morals themselves. I am now more convinced than ever that the ability of a living being to think morally is most assuredly NOT that which conveys rights to that species.

    Further, humans are not the judge and jury of all life on this planet. You have no right to deny the inalienable rights of another species. And, whatever the current state of our laws is certainly has no bearing on the rights of any individual. If it did, then during the period of our history where humans owned other humans legally and treated them atrociously would be evidence that the slaves had no rights. That would be a fallacy. Slaves had rights even when society failed to grant them rights.

    Granting rights to any individual is merely an acknowledgment that the grantee has value and may not be treated with contempt.

    Please come down off your high horse. Feel your connection to the rest of the species on the planet. Acknowledge your far greater similarity to the rest than your minor differences. It is a truly wonderful feeling to be connected to such beauty.

  13. Misanthropic Scott Says:

    Ah, yet another P.S. Here is a link to a study using the trolley problem that shows that indeed, morals are not the product of any rational consideration.

    http://tinyurl.com/2fpml8

    In fact, for starters, just read this quote from the article:

    In conclusion, our results challenge the view that moral judgments are solely the product of conscious reasoning on the basis of explicitly understood moral principles. Though we sometimes deliver moral judgments based on consciously accessed principles, often we fail to account for our judgments. When we fail, it appears that operative, but not expressed principles, drive our moral judgments.

    So, if our morals are irrational and animals’ morals are irrational, exactly how are ours fundamentally different?

  14. evanescent Says:

    Let me ask you one simple question. How often do you really, genuinely, and literally consider murdering those who you do not like?

    The idea of murdering another person is abhorrent to me. It is irrational and immoral. The only way I would kill someone is in self-defence.

    Perhaps you do not have the volition you think you do. Perhaps you are merely the product of properly functioning morals processing centers in your brain. Do you really think that you make the choice not to murder anyone today as a conscious rational choice each day? I know I do not.

    Speak for yourself! As a rational being with free will, I can safely say I freely choose each and every time not to kill anyone!

    You essentially claim that animals have no volition. They are merely the product of their instincts while humans are not. This is a complete and utter violation of Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation for many animal behaviors, and that recognized by any reasonably intelligent pet owner, is that animals have similar emotions, motives, and volition to humans.

    I didn’t say that animals have no volition, they clearly have very limited volition. The difference is that humans are rational, and animals aren’t.

    Occam’s razor has nothing to do with this, and your invocation of it is philosophical naive I think. Of course animal behaviour mirrors reactions that in humans are similar to affection, love, “good” etc. But to believe that animals have emotions and moral systems is pure emotional wishful-thinking. Love is a concept that, amongst other things, requires the rational recognition of one’s own personality and that of the person one loves. No animal is capable of this, so no animal can love.

    Your assertion that we do not prosecute other animals is as irrelevant as anything can possibly be. For they too do not prosecute us. If they were to prosecute us, how would the executives of ExxonMobil fare in light of still having done nothing to clean up Valdez? How would humans fare in light of causing the sixth mass extinction on the planet?

    So, your answer to why we don’t prosecute animals is because they can’t prosecute us?? Well, they can’t prosecute us can they? They have no understanding of the concepts of right and wrong, and therefore morality. That is the point I am making. But you avoided the question: the reason we don’t prosecute animals is because they’re not responsible for their behaviour.

    Morals are not rational. Morals are the workings of functioning morals processing centers in our brains. If they were rational, the results of morals tests across widely disparate societies would produce widely disparate results.

    You’re using the evolutionary altruistic/collectivist theory of morality here which is exactly what I’m rejected. These studies are testing human behaviour and innate reactions. By definition, instinctive uncontrollable behaviour is outside the terms of morality.

    Now if you want me to explain why human answers are often similar in answer to moral questions, I’d say that evolution has selected for a mix of part rational / part altruistic behaviour because it is conducive to survival. That’s my non-expert opinion.

    Instead, nearly identical results are produced regardless of the society asked, even in hunter gatherer societies. Check the results of the so called trolley questions. They should indicate that perhaps you are at least as much (or as little) of an automaton as any other species.

    I have seen the trolley experiment many times in many forms. Your problem is that you think evolutionary selected behaviour such as “working together” or “sacrificing yourself for the tribe” is what morality is. You are incorrect.

    Further, if animals have no rights, why are humans prosecuted for cruelty to animals? If one must be a rational being to have rights, why are those who murder severely retarded individuals prosecuted for murder?

    Well you’ve just raised two very excellent and important questions, which hit at the heart of what I’m saying. Retarded people who murder humans cannot always control and understand their actions. We try to rehabilitate them, not necessarily punish them if they cannot help their actions.

    As for cruelty to animals, I find this very disgusting and the thought of humans deriving pleasure from harming animals sickens me. However, the role of government is very specific and important, and protecting animals is not it. That is why people should not be prosecuted for harming them. Unfortunate perhaps, but necessary.

    In fact, all you have done is to convince me that we have moral obligations to other species regardless of whether they have morals themselves. I am now more convinced than ever that the ability of a living being to think morally is most assuredly NOT that which conveys rights to that species.

    Wow, well then either I am really really awful at arguing my position, or you have absolutely no idea what Rights are. And I think it’s the latter.

    Further, humans are not the judge and jury of all life on this planet. You have no right to deny the inalienable rights of another species.

    Other species don’t have any rights. Remember, Rights are moral principles that apply to moral beings. Animals aren’t moral beings, so they have no rights.

    And, whatever the current state of our laws is certainly has no bearing on the rights of any individual. If it did, then during the period of our history where humans owned other humans legally and treated them atrociously would be evidence that the slaves had no rights. That would be a fallacy. Slaves had rights even when society failed to grant them rights.

    Yes, you’re right, and that just shows the SUBJECTIVE nature of collective/group mentality, which is exactly what evolution selects for. I am not arguing from the position that our current laws are correct. In fact, most of our current laws are flat-out wrong and immoral. A proper society SHOULD be based around individual rights. That is precisely why government should not protect animals and why animals have no rights. That doesn’t mean it’s ok to abuse them though.

    Granting rights to any individual is merely an acknowledgment that the grantee has value and may not be treated with contempt.

    Where does your notion of Rights come from? How do you justify your definition of Rights?

    Please come down off your high horse. Feel your connection to the rest of the species on the planet. Acknowledge your far greater similarity to the rest than your minor differences. It is a truly wonderful feeling to be connected to such beauty.

    And you say I’m getting religious. I do appreciate the beauty in this planet. I can appreciate the beauty of science, nature, and animals. I think animals are fascinating and I love the pets I’ve had. That doesn’t turn me into a emotional Greenpeace Wiccan hippie who thinks I and the world are one.

    My position is simply rational thinking applied. Moral being = Rights.

    (Oh and as for that link you provided on the source of morality, the problem is the same: a faulty premise of what morality is to begin with; they end up explaining the wrong thing).

  15. evanescent Says:

    PS: You only have to look through my articles under the topics of Science etc to see how much wonder I have for this world.

  16. Misanthropic Scott Says:

    evanescent,

    I have a lot of respect for you. However, on this topic, we are completely speaking past each other. I think we should just agree to disagree. I do not see how one can believe that humans alone among all animal species are not subject to behaviorist psychology. Personally, I do not think behaviorist psychology applies to any species. You seem to believe it applies to all species other than humans. Neither of us is likely to convince the other. All I can say is that I hope you have no pets. For you are incapable of truly appreciating the love of any non-human.

    Have a merry mythmas, a happy festivus, a satisfactory non-denominational capitalist winter time gift giving season, a pleasant solstice, or whatever else you may or may not celebrate, and a happy new year (if, of course, you choose to delineate your years during this particular season).

    Scott

  17. Mark Says:

    Evanescent,

    I just made a post over at Misanthropic Scott’s blog, which details my thoughts on the subject of morality.

    http://misanthropicscott.wordpress.com/2007/11/21/moral-considerability-what-does-it-mean-to-whom-does-it-apply/#comment-940

    I would like your thoughts on my reasoning, as well, if you care to provide them.

  18. evanescent Says:

    Scott, you have shown time and again on my articles to be well-informed and intelligent, (with the exception of this one!), so although it is unfortunate that we cannot resolve this issue perhaps it is best to let it lie for now.

    I do not see how one can believe that humans alone among all animal species are not subject to behaviorist psychology.

    I never said we weren’t. Of course some of our behaviour has been selected for! But, and this is the crux of the matter: evolutionary-selected group behaviour isn’t an adequate definition of morality.

    For you are incapable of truly appreciating the love of any non-human.

    I would say the concept of love is as foreign to an animal as the concept of right-wing neofacist politics.

    Have a merry mythmas, a happy festivus, a satisfactory non-denominational capitalist winter time gift giving season, a pleasant solstice, or whatever else you may or may not celebrate, and a happy new year (if, of course, you choose to delineate your years during this particular season).

    LOL, same to you.

  19. Misanthropic Scott Says:

    I would say the concept of love is as foreign to an animal as the concept of right-wing neofacist politics.

    Luckily for the other animals on the planet, you are correct about the latter. As for the former, all I can suggest is that you get out and watch animal behavior in the wild more often. If love is the simplest explanation of the behavior you see, claiming that it isn’t is a clear violation of Occam’s Razor. I have seen far too much that looked exactly like love and nothing else to ever attempt to explain it some other way.

  20. evanescent Says:

    Occam’s razor selects the most parsimonious explanation; in order to be selected, the explanation has to be a good one in the first place though.

    Here is what Objectivist Leitmotif has to say on the matter of emotion and concept:

    Emotions are primarily physiological in all animals. As such, animals also experience the release of hormones that correspond to various (limited) emotions in them. However, with regard to humans, emotions are physiological responses that can be conceptualized, intensified, controlled, regulated, reflected upon, and elicited on the basis of philosophical or conceptual principles. In any case, emotions have little to do with morality, except as an end result of your actions and an indicator of the nature of your actions (pleasure is the emotional experience of successful action as well as an indicator of how successful you are in your present state, i.e., showing that your actions are good. But pleasure is not the standard by which the good is judged, for which you need morality on objective grounds).

    Also, romantic love among humans is essentially an exchange of values (i.e., trade, as you said), but also so much more. Love among rational individuals is an objectification of one’s values: in your partner, you see the physical manifestation of all that you value and all that you admire, which is why you desire your lover. Love among rational individuals is also the concrete representation of values. Love, like Art, concretizes one’s widest and most abstract values in the body of another, and presents you with a picture of it. In your partner, you also see the qualities of character that you possess in yourself, for which you are loved. Romantic love also affirms the physical existence of our self like no other phenomena (you feel “alive” in the presence of your lover, you become most acutely aware of your “manness” or “femininity” in the presence of your lover, you become aware of your physical potency and power in the presence of your lover. Love is mutual admiration and worship, a passionately mutual pursuit. As such, love can only be properly experienced by selfish, egoistic individuals who love themselves and have a deservedly good sense of self-esteem).

  21. Misanthropic Scott Says:

    evanescent,

    Thank you for that. I can now say without hesitation that I am completely and utterly unimpressed by the objectivist viewpoint. Were I to view my emotions that way, my life would be a cold meaningless empty void. I would not want to live in a brain that really viewed the world that way.

    I’ve often said that it’s not easy living in my brain for other reasons, mostly my inability to prevent myself from free association and punning. However, if I really believed that viewpoint at the deepest levels of my brain, I would commit suicide without remorse.

    Understand that there is a difference between intellectual knowledge and deeply rooted belief. I have a friend who is born again. He and I have had religious debates. He does not believe in evolution. His beliefs however, are intellectual. He believes there is a god, but does not seem to know it down to his deepest core. When I debate him, he often discusses things with his father and comes back with very different answers. His father believes to his deepest core. He knows beyond any doubt that there is a god.

    I, on the other hand, have looked into the eyes of chimps and gorillas in the wild. I have seen them with my own eyes as my cousins. I not only believe in evolution intellectually as I have done for a long time based on a wealth of data, I know it to be true in the core of my being from personal experience. For anyone to even begin to attempt to convince me that evolution is false, they would not only need to convince me intellectually, they would need to give me a reason for the kinship I feel to varying degrees with so much of the wildlife on this planet, including all of the primates I have seen, lions (the most loving animal I’ve seen in the wild), cetaceans, and many many others.

    This aside was to make clear the distinction between intellectual belief and a deeply held belief from personal experience that goes to the core.

    Were I to believe the objectivist viewpoint in the core of my being the way I do with evolution, I would kill myself. There would be no reason to go on. I hope for your sake that you only believe it intellectually and do not really feel that way to your core.

  22. evanescent Says:

    Emotionalism aside Scott, your being “impressed” by the Objectivist viewpoint is irrelevant to its veracity. You cannot magically concoct morals and rights out of thin air, or your imagination of what animals think or feel about you (very little I imagine). Morals and rights are a political and philosophy concept, and they have specific meanings and origin.

    Why on earth you think the Objectivist viewpoint is so nihilist and saddening I have absolutely no idea. I can only assume you haven’t really understand what I’ve said. In fact, this is clear from your continued romanticism about animals, which as charming as it is, is irrelevant to the issues of morality and rights.

    You seem to think there is some clash between Objectivism and evolution; I cannot understand why you think that.

    The idea of believing something in the core of your being sounds religious to me. Evolution is true, not because you feel it, but because the evidence supports it. Humans are moral beings, not being you or I like the sound of that, but because it’s true. Humans have rights, not because I say so or because you don’t, but because of the application of moral principles to society.

    If your quixotic and romantic notion of animals is so deeply enriched that you’d kill yourself without it, that’s up to you. But how that is any different to any theist I’ve debated with, I cannot tell.

    Either way, it seems that you’re unable to accept the philosophical notion of morality and rights, and since I cannot explain it any better, now would be a good time to suspend the debate.

  23. Misanthropic Scott Says:

    Why on earth you think the Objectivist viewpoint is so nihilist and saddening I have absolutely no idea.

    Because it so closely resembles behaviorist psychology. It essentially reduces us to our chemical reactions. We are more than the sum of our parts.

    As for what animals think, I think it is abundantly obvious that I have read more of the science on the subject than you and can assure you that your behaviorist viewpoint has not been in the majority opinion of scientists for decades.

    You seem to think there is some clash between Objectivism and evolution; I cannot understand why you think that.

    Again, as clearly as I can state it, it is because you think that some magic switched turned on at the instant that homo sapiens began. You do not seem to acknowledge any form of a sliding scale of whatever it is you think we possess that animals do not. This is not the way evolution works. It works in gradual steps. Even those who believe the theory (hypothesis?) of punctuated equilibrium acknowledge that rapid evolution still requires many generations for small incremental steps. You believe in one enormous step with no precursors.

    For me, my belief in evolution has two components, as I attempted to explain above.

    1) Evolution is simply true because there is abundant evidence supporting it and no contradictory evidence. This describes how I felt about it 20 years ago. This has not changed, except that even more supporting data has come in.

    2) In addition, not instead of, I have seen first hand incredible similarity of facial expressions and mental capacity in our closest relatives, giving me more than just a textbook understanding, but a first hand (yes near religious) experience of it and a deeper feeling for it than can be gotten intellectually.

    My quixotic and romantic notion of animals, including myself, is a part of what makes me a thinking breathing feeling emotional and sometimes rational animal.

    Try this. Explain your views on what love is over a romantic dinner with your life partner if you have one. If not, please do so hypothetically. Imagine as the wine is poured and you gaze into each other’s eyes you explain about the physiological release of hormones you are feeling. I imagine it will be quite misunderstood. I might even suggest that it is the emotional response to one’s partner that causes the hormone release. Certainly, when one is angry or feeling distant from one’s partner, the hormone release does not occur. Perhaps it is that the emotions cause the reaction rather than the other way around.

    Either way, to assume that my emotions are purely driven by chemical processes and are nothing more, would negate my very existence as a thinking feeling creature.

    And now, I too will suspend this. I simply felt that a couple of these issues did need to be addressed to avoid confusion. I understand your viewpoint. I suspect you understand mine. I doubt either of us will convince the other.

  24. evanescent Says:

    Because it so closely resembles behaviorist psychology. It essentially reduces us to our chemical reactions. We are more than the sum of our parts.

    I have said nothing that implies this point of view at all.

    You keep coming back to evolution to demonstrate that humans, biologically, are just like other animals. This demonstrates that you haven’t understood a word I’ve said:

    Again, as clearly as I can state it, it is because you think that some magic switched turned on at the instant that homo sapiens began. You do not seem to acknowledge any form of a sliding scale of whatever it is you think we possess that animals do not. This is not the way evolution works. It works in gradual steps. Even those who believe the theory (hypothesis?) of punctuated equilibrium acknowledge that rapid evolution still requires many generations for small incremental steps. You believe in one enormous step with no precursors.

    No no no no no. If you understood what I was saying you wouldn’t even mention this. I think you are determined to prove a point that never needed making. This is a philosophical discussion not a scientific one, and I think you’ve missed that point from the first comment.

    One last brief time, for the sake of other readers: HOW we got to where we are is IRRELEVANT, that’s a matter for evolution. The fact of the matter here and now is this: we are the only thinking self-conscious rational volitional beings in existence, that gives us the capacity for morality. It cannot apply to animals. QED.

  25. evanescent Says:

    Another remark based on something Scott said on his blog. Scott mentions animal intelligence, the mirror test etc. This again is irrelevant, and it demonstrates how much Scott misunderstands the fundamental point I am making. By constantly reverting back to evolution, Scott is attempting to show that humans are no different to animals. He, emotionally in my opinion, keeps saying that “humans are not special”. This is a red herring. “Special” could mean anything, and it’s not a word I’ve used.

    What Scott cannot deny is that the NATURE of human intelligence is unique. It is not just a case of humans being mentally superior (that is not my point). It is that humans are the only beings who can reason and think rationally. That (despite Scott’s philosophical ignorance) is a prerequisite for morality. Scott is still labouring under flawed humanistic thinking of altruism and kinship as morality (a mistake that even Richard Dawkins makes). That is why he tries to explain “moral” behaviour with evolution, but he is explaining the wrong thing.

    He wants to deny that only humans are moral beings, but he cannot do this without denying that only humans have rationality. He wants to magically make animals moral, although they have no capacity for rational choice. He wants to lock humans up for crimes, but never lock animals up for crimes. He wants to punish humans for “crimes” against animals, but never punish animals for “crimes” against humans. We wants to give animals legal protection against humans, but not other animals! He wants to turn humans into the criminal and all animals into a protected species, at our expense. Do you see the double standard?

    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.

    Scott forgets that I’ve already said that individuals are protected by law by Rights. Animals do not get Rights because they aren’t moral beings. I think Scott sees animals as beautiful animals living in paradise that would be just fine without this pesky human interference. I think he wants to have humans in the service of animals, not the other way around.

    I look at it from a moral point of view; from a human point of view. I like animals, and I don’t want to unavoidably hurt them. But I can’t steal the concept of morality from its roots. Scott, like most humanists, environmentalists, utilitarians, wants to sneak Rights in the back door by kicking it off its hinges.

  26. Miguel Picanco Says:

    I’m going to have to go with Scott on most of his points though I wouldn’t use many of his arguments.

    Rights as intrinsic properties do not exist – but are merely assign codes or rules as a generalized protection against the tendancies of others or from a majority. This phenomenon is very similar to morality – it doesn’t exist in the universe as a separate entity from mankind to be learned, but as an extrinsic description of the relationships between entities, needs, or possible outcomes to situations.

    On the issue of animals, it’s very tempting to ignore our effect on animals – but it is extremely difficult to rule out their pain, suffering, or existance for the mere reason that they can’t verbally express themselves.

    Sure, evolutionarily speaking – life has taken advantage of weaker species for eons, but I’d argue that now that we understand the implications and can find other resources to meet our survival needs – it is finally time for life to make amends and treat other life on earth as we would like to be treated if there existed a superior life form to our own.

    I’ve completely barely skimmed over my position on these topics.. it would take hours to lay out my rationale. I’m also not going to keep up with this blog thread for the sake of time. If you have any other questions or rebuttals that you’d like me to which you would like me to respond, feel free to email me.

  27. Misanthropic Scott Says:

    evanescent,

    You have put a lot of words in my mouth. Most of them actually are somewhat in line with my opinions on the subject. Some are a bit far off the mark.

    First, I do not state that humans are not different. I state that humans are not different in kind. This is a subtle and important point.

    Second, I simply do not agree with either premise in your statement that, ‘It is that humans are the only beings who can reason and think rationally. That (despite Scott’s philosophical ignorance) is a prerequisite for morality.’

    There is no way to know that in fact humans are the only animals who can reason and think rationally. Every time humans have defined our mental capacities as different before, we have been proven incorrect. Once we were the tool-users, which made us unique. Then we were the tool-makers that made us unique. Now apparently we are the only ones who think rationally and can reason. What will you do when this too is proven false?

    Then there is another premise I simply disagree with. It is not that I do not understand your points. I simply disagree. There is no reason to assume that reason and rationality are prerequisites for morality. They are certainly not prerequisites for a member of a moral species to consider the rights of those deemed amoral. Even if they were prerequisites for moral behavior on the part of one individual, that individual becomes obliged to act morally. The fact that the target individual may not be able to reason and think rationally does not exempt them from being treated decently.

    In fact, to claim otherwise implies that a human being with brain damage need not be treated morally. You have repeatedly evaded this point. Even children with no clear morals yet and brain damaged adults who have insufficient ability to reason are and should be protected by law. If you honestly believe otherwise, this would make your morality quite abhorrent to me.

    As for double standards, parents often expect better behavior from an older child who should know better than from a younger one that may not know enough to behave well.

    It is thus with animals as well. If an animal is capable of morals, that animal should be held to the standards applicable to their own species. This is most typically done by other members of the same species.

    Mostly though, I completely disagree with your statement that rights flow from morals. I think that many species genuinely have rights, or should be granted rights, even if they are incapable of reasoned behavior. They are not automatons. They are not behaviorist machines. They are conscious thinking feeling beings. By my standards, they have rights.

    The fact that I do not subscribe to your ideology of Objectivism does not make me ignorant, though I have indeed not read the works of the great prophet Ayn Rand. It simply means that I disagree with you.

  28. Misanthropic Scott Says:

    evanescent,

    I just thought of another point. You claim that we do not hold animals to standards of behavior. In fact, this is not at all true. When a dog bites a human, the dog is often given the death penalty. When a polar bear repeatedly returns to the town of Churchill, Manitoba and harasses people, s/he is actually tagged and put in polar bear prison until the ice forms. Some offenders are air lifted away from town. Repeat offenders are killed.

    Similar treatment exists for black and brown bears as well.

    In other places, animals guilty of killing humans are hunted down and killed. In fact, only in the Sundabarans (India/Bangladesh) have I heard of tigers killing people and not being hunted down and killed. For some reason, the people in the Sundabarans do not kill human eating tigers. Perhaps they agree with your viewpoint.

    So, yes, we do hold animals responsible for their actions.

  29. Ergo Says:

    It doesn’t take a genius to realize that when we quarantine or taser an animal for their attack on humans, it is not the animal we are “punishing” (in any sensible use of the term), but the rights of the humans under attack that we are protecting and redressing.

    By offering the option of “death penalty” as a suitable punishment for animals who fatally attack humans, you are well far away from the animal-rights position on the matter. I think you need to decide which camp you’re in.

  30. evanescent Says:

    Miguel said:

    Rights as intrinsic properties do not exist – but are merely assign codes or rules as a generalized protection against the tendancies of others or from a majority. This phenomenon is very similar to morality – it doesn’t exist in the universe as a separate entity from mankind to be learned, but as an extrinsic description of the relationships between entities, needs, or possible outcomes to situations.

    This misunderstanding of morality is the problem. Morality is not a phenomenon that emerges when two or more units interact. It is this that evolution attempts to explain, but like I keep saying, it explains the wrong thing. If evolutionists distinguished kinship behaviour from an ethical system that has to be discovered, this ambiguity would evaporate.

    Morality is a personal objective code for all man, for every individual man. It tells you how you should live YOUR life.

    On the issue of animals, it’s very tempting to ignore our effect on animals – but it is extremely difficult to rule out their pain, suffering, or existance for the mere reason that they can’t verbally express themselves.

    You say you agree with Scott, yet neither of you explain what you think Rights are. An animal’s capacity to experience pain, or suffering, or exist, does not give it Rights. These things do not even give humans any Rights.

    Sure, evolutionarily speaking – life has taken advantage of weaker species for eons, but I’d argue that now that we understand the implications and can find other resources to meet our survival needs – it is finally time for life to make amends and treat other life on earth as we would like to be treated if there existed a superior life form to our own.

    Well, clearly you should have read all the comments up to this point. Because I’ve addressed this sort of thinking already.

    I’ve completely barely skimmed over my position on these topics.. it would take hours to lay out my rationale. I’m also not going to keep up with this blog thread for the sake of time. If you have any other questions or rebuttals that you’d like me to which you would like me to respond, feel free to email me.

    So you came along and gave me your unsubstantiated comments, without even reading the article or other comments properly, but aren’t even going to come back and see my response…further, I am to e-mail you if I want to discuss this further? No thanks, I think I’ll pass.

  31. Jon McKenzie Says:

    I’m sorry Evanescent, but you’ve really drunk the objectivist kool-aid. The entire problem here is that you assert propositions without evidence, and then chastise respondents (notably, Scott) when they confront your assertions. But that’s not an argument. You can’t make up a bunch of rules and then hoo and haw when someone questions them. The entire point is to debate the truth value of your claims.

    You can’t simply assert that morality requires rationality, that only humans are capable of rational thought, that only humans are capable of conceptual thought. The burden of proof is on you, not on anyone else, to provide evidence for these claims. If you can’t, then it’s all a bunch of hot air.

    Altruism/collectivist ethics are subjective.

    No, altruism is a stable social strategy that produces practical gains. Thus it’s assuredly not subjective. It’s also not collectivist. Altruism emerges from selfishness. This is easiest to understand in light of Adam Smith’s invisible hand principle. Completely oblivious to common intuition, economic altruism arises most furiously in free markets where selfish consumers and selfish suppliers all seek to maximize their respective welfares.

    Humans largely have the capacity to control their behaviour.

    They have the capacity, but not the will or want. Sure, you can neglect sleeping, and eating, and finding shelter, but you’re compelled by your biology to do otherwise. I don’t think you quite appreciate how irrational human beings really are. We spend (rough estimate) about a fourth of our lives doing what? Sleeping. An utterly irrational, uncontrollable process. Our hearts beat automatically. Our nerves fire automatically. Our livers and stomachs and kidneys process food and gunk automatically. Our unconscious mind flutters unabated 24-7, without even a hint of express permission from our rational selves. We’re scared, and sad, and aroused. I dare you to try to choose your sexual orientation. Try to choose for your heart to skip a beat.

  32. evanescent Says:

    I’m sorry Evanescent, but you’ve really drunk the objectivist kool-aid.

    LOL

    The entire problem here is that you assert propositions without evidence, and then chastise respondents (notably, Scott) when they confront your assertions.

    This comment of yours is disappointing, Jon. My article and my subsequent comments explain morality and Rights quite nicely. So I haven’t asserted anything without evidence.

    And my responses to Scott did not start out “chastising” him. I addressed every objection Scott made. It’s not my fault if he started to repeat himself.

    You can’t simply assert that morality requires rationality, that only humans are capable of rational thought, that only humans are capable of conceptual thought. The burden of proof is on you, not on anyone else, to provide evidence for these claims. If you can’t, then it’s all a bunch of hot air.

    On the contrary, I argue that morality (as properly understood, for which I also provide a definition and argument), means that rationality must be present, because otherwise the thinking agent is incapable of understanding and controlling his choices. Surely you agree that a being cannot be morally accountable if they cannot control and/or understand their actions?

    No, altruism is a stable social strategy that produces practical gains. Thus it’s assuredly not subjective.

    If you treat mankind as a collective entity, like the Borg, then yes. But I trust you wouldn’t commit the Naturalistic fallacy and claim that just because nature selects for something it’s good? Evolution has bred magical thinking in humans as a by-product of pattern-recognition, does that mean it’s good?

    Altruism emerges from selfishness. This is easiest to understand in light of Adam Smith’s invisible hand principle. Completely oblivious to common intuition, economic altruism arises most furiously in free markets where selfish consumers and selfish suppliers all seek to maximize their respective welfares.

    I don’t think you’re using altruism in the correct philosophical sense here. Altruism literally means “otherness”, it means that the beneficiary of your actions be someone else, (not yourself), whoever that someone else might be. It means to be sacrificial.

    Now, selfishness simply does not manifest itself with sacrificial behaviour. That is a contradiction. Properly understand, being selfish means to be concerned with one’s own rational values. It doesn’t mean sacrificing other people or sacrificing yourself. Now, selfishness DOES mean that you can be generous to other people and help them; it does mean that you can give to charity and take care of those you value. It is in YOUR rational SELFISH interest to be nice to other people and treat them with respect, but this is not altruism, this is selfishness. Let us be clear about this.

    They have the capacity, but not the will or want.

    Well, unless you’re going to deny free will, the fact that humans have the capacity for rational choice means that we can act morally. The main article argues all this. If you agree that the capacity for morality is the result of free rational thought, you agree that it only applies to humans. Personally, I can’t see why you’d have a problem with this.

    We spend (rough estimate) about a fourth of our lives doing what? Sleeping. An utterly irrational, uncontrollable process.

    Sleep isn’t a thought process, so how can it be irrational? Irrationality only applies to a thought process that CAN be rational. That’s like saying being dead is irrational.

    Sure, you can neglect sleeping, and eating, and finding shelter, but you’re compelled by your biology to do otherwise. I don’t think you quite appreciate how irrational human beings really are. We spend (rough estimate) about a fourth of our lives doing what? Sleeping. An utterly irrational, uncontrollable process. Our hearts beat automatically. Our nerves fire automatically. Our livers and stomachs and kidneys process food and gunk automatically. Our unconscious mind flutters unabated 24-7, without even a hint of express permission from our rational selves. We’re scared, and sad, and aroused. I dare you to try to choose your sexual orientation. Try to choose for your heart to skip a beat.

    You raise good issues about the nature of man Jon, but I think they miss the vital point. Man can’t deny his identity, that is, the type of being he is. To say that man isn’t rational because he can’t control his heart beating is like saying he is irrational because he can’t live on another planet apart from earth. Man has an identity, and biological organism is part of that. Rationality applies only to volitional action. (Incidentally, man COULD choose to stop his heart beating, by committing suicide, something an animal would never do).

    To the extent that man can understand and control his actions, that is the extent of his rational capacity. This rational capacity means that man can act for GOOD or EVIL, in other words, be a moral being. His status as a moral being in social circumstances is guaranteed by Rights (definition and argument above). That’s why we have them and animals don’t.

  33. Jon McKenzie Says:

    On the contrary, I argue that morality (as properly understood, for which I also provide a definition and argument), means that rationality must be present, because otherwise the thinking agent is incapable of understanding and controlling his choices.

    Ugh. I don’t know what to say. Again, you’re asserting that morality is properly understood in the way that you define it. Why?.

    Surely you agree that a being cannot be morally accountable if they cannot control and/or understand their actions?

    Again, if you define morality the way you do, then yes, I’m forced to agree. The point is that you haven’t shown why we should define morality that way.

    But I trust you wouldn’t commit the Naturalistic fallacy and claim that just because nature selects for something it’s good? Evolution has bred magical thinking in humans as a by-product of pattern-recognition, does that mean it’s good?

    First of all, I think you misunderstand something about evolution. Evolution isn’t just natural selection. Evolution is also kin selection, genetic drift, founder effects, gene flow, and other processes. In fact, most evolutionary adaptations are selectively neutral–i.e. natural selection doesn’t act on them. Now, there’s a lot of contention about the statement you just made, that evolution ‘bred’ religion. Some biologists think that religion is an evolutionary adaptation, others think it’s just an emergent social phenomenon. It’s not clear (although I think most tend toward the social explanation) either way at this point. It may very well turn out that religion is selectively adaptive. It may turn out that it’s selectively neutral. They aren’t the same thing, though.

    Now, your question: just because something is adaptive, does that make it moral? Well, that’s just a nonsensical question. Is our need to eat moral? It’s a meaningless question to ask. It’s neither moral nor immoral. It’s just a prerequisite for being an organism. Likewise, adapted altruism is necessary for being our kind of organism, namely the social kind with a rather large cerebral cortex. Not being altruistic causes the normal human person psychological anguish. Being altruistic is good in the sense that it’s necessary for us as we are. There’s no statistically significant group of people who can live happily not being altruistic. On the other hand, there is a very statistically significant group of people who can live happily without religion. Even if religion is an evolutionary adaptation, it’s very clear that it isn’t analogous to altruism. Altruism has existed as a social strategy in millions and millions of species, in many different flavors, for at least a billion years. Religion (in one form or another) has only existed for about 100,000 years (that we know of), and only in a single species (again, that we know of).

    Now, selfishness simply does not manifest itself with sacrificial behaviour. That is a contradiction.

    Selfishness isn’t the quality of only wanting to do things for yourself. It’s the quality of wanting to maximize your outlook in life. If sacrificing something gives you more than you would have gotten without sacrificing, it’s clearly in your selfish interest to sacrifice.

    Sleep isn’t a thought process, so how can it be irrational?

    Sleep isn’t a thought process? That’s odd, then, because I’m pretty sure I need my brain to be firing neurons when I’m sleeping. Maybe you don’t? 😛

    Man can’t deny his identity, that is, the type of being he is.

    Man is quite gifted at self-delusion, at inventing identities. Look at how pervasive religion and pseudoscience is. Look at how pervasive and automatic cognitive biases are. Wikipedia has a nice list here. It’s impossible not to have these biases. Read down the list, and I’m sure you’ll find that you’ve violated at least half of them. My point isn’t to argue that humans are entirely irrational. My point is to argue that rationality is extremely flimsy, and that it is not the major force in our lives. The major force in our lives, whether we like it or not, is the unconscious, genetically driven bio-robot part of us.

    (Incidentally, man COULD choose to stop his heart beating, by committing suicide, something an animal would never do).

    Suicide isn’t a rational choice. Depression and anxiety and pain compel people to commit suicide. I don’t know if you’ve ever known someone with chronic depression and anxiety, but it’s just not something you can rationally stop. A chronically depressed person knows quite well that they’re depressed for no reason. Does that make it better? Uh uh.

    I also challenge you to walk into your kitchen, pick up a knife, and stab yourself in the heart. Well, you probably won’t do that. Why? Because you’re afraid of pain and death. And that’s an irrational fear. Pain? That’s just your body telling you to stop hurting it. Death? That’s just your body not working anymore. There’s nothing rational about the want to live and avoid suffering. It’s imprinted into us. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t have gotten this far as a species.

    As for animal rights, I don’t really have an opinion. I eat beef happily without ever thinking about how cows are slaughtered. I’d rather cats and dogs not be hurt or killed, but that’s only because I was raised in a society that also believed that. Many societies don’t keep cats and dogs as pets, and thus have no trouble throwing ’em up on the barbecue. I don’t think there’s some universal law dictating how animals should or should not be treated, or if they do or don’t have rights. We treat our food animals like food animals, and our pet animals like pet animals. And different societies have different food and pet animals. That’s just the way it goes.

  34. Ergo Says:

    Jon,

    All of what you’ve said is utter rubbish. Why? Because you require proof that man is metaphysically a rational animal. If you require proof of that, then you are evicting yourself from the metaphysical domain of human beings, who are *by brute nature* rational animals.

    You said:

    “You can’t simply assert that morality requires rationality, that only humans are capable of rational thought, that only humans are capable of conceptual thought. The burden of proof is on you…”

    If you–presumably a human being–demands a proof or evidence for the claim that “only humans are capable of rational thought” then there can be only two implications:

    1) Either you’re not a human being, which would explain why you don’t understand the truth of the inductive statement that all humans are metaphysically rational animals.

    OR

    2) You are lost in the foggy contradiction of using the concept of proof which depends on the antecedent concept of rationality to demand proof that humans are rational animals, presumably using a process of reason for the proof, i.e., being rational.

  35. evanescent Says:

    Jon, in all fairness, I’ve already addressed the additional issues and questions you’ve raised in the article itself and in all the subsequent comments. For example, you said:

    “Again, if you define morality the way you do, then yes, I’m forced to agree. The point is that you haven’t shown why we should define morality that way.”

    But I have. I’ve also addressed the ‘evolution of “altruism”‘ in the original article and many following arguments.

  36. Jon McKenzie Says:

    Ergo, I think you misunderstood what I said.

    Let me requote what you, yourself quoted:

    You can’t simply assert that morality requires rationality, that only humans are capable of rational thought, that only humans are capable of conceptual thought.

    Implicit in this sentence is the admission that humans are rational. I’m contesting evanescent’s notion that only humans are rational.

    Now.. Evanescent. I didn’t want to get into a point-by-point rebuttal of your entire post, but I guess I’ll have to.

    I’ve also addressed the ‘evolution of “altruism”‘ in the original article and many following arguments.

    If two separate people tell you you haven’t, then perhaps you might rethink that.

    A human being is a creature that makes decisions based on reason.

    I can think of several counterexamples.

    Unlike an animal which is automatically equipped with the knowledge to select its values, human beings must discover, through a process of reason, what is good for our lives and what is bad.

    Again, I can think of several counterexamples.

    We discover rational values with our ultimate value, life, as the standard.

    What about rational delusion? I’ve pointed you to a list of cognitive biases that affect human judgments. If a human being “discovers” a value under the pretenses of one or more cognitive biases, then his values need not be moral in the slightest. Consider a king who inherits servants, riches, and property. That king might conclude very rationally, from all of the given evidence, that he is more important than other people. Which moral values could he possibly conclude from such a “discovery”?

    However, when a man is in a social setting, he and the others around him need the freedom to act in order to function as rational beings.

    And what if humans only have the illusion of freedom? What if there exists a being or force which compels us to do things, but then gives us the illusion of self-determination? You don’t sufficiently address scenarios like these, that I’ve seen.

    There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action—which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfilment and the enjoyment of his own life.”

    I don’t disagree with this, but I’m wondering how you, and Rand, conclude that these statements are objective. They’re not objective. They’re subjective. They’re based upon social mores that have developed over time. There’s a very famous study detailing the differences between “conservative” and “liberal” thinking. Social conservatives tend to rate virtues like loyalty and tradition as the most important, whereas social liberals tend to rate virtues like freedom of expression and skepticism as most important. A typical social conservative would not agree that we humans have a right to freely pursue any course of action, as long as it doesn’t impede on others.

    To violate the rights of another innocent individual is to be a criminal.

    This is a completely nebulous statement. It depends on who you define as innocent, it depends on how you define violate. At one point in history, blacks were considered sub-human. By Objectivist standards, and by that kind of social more, it would be entirely moral to violate the rights of blacks, to enslave them, to segregate them.

    This does not mean that it is “okay” for humans to torture animals. A human being who takes delight in torturing animals is immoral, and such people should be condemned.

    This is a completely astonishing statement, given the tenets of Objectivism. If torturing animals “fulfills” a person’s life, then since animals have no rights, this is a perfectly moral action.

    Just because something causes happiness does not make it right, and just because something causes suffering does not make it wrong.

    If that something doesn’t impede other peoples’ rights, then according to Objectivism, something that causes happiness is automatically moral (if it fulfills the person’s life), and suffering is automatically immoral (if it impedes on the fulfillment of someone’s life).

    Richard Dawkins has shown that “selfish” genes can produce affects that are apparently “altruistic”, because it indirectly furthers the propagation of particular genes; natural selection will favour any system this is evolutionary stable (ESS).

    They aren’t “apparently altruistic”, they ARE altruistic. If one organism helps another organism at its own expense, that’s altruism, whether it was for selfish motives or not. A little expense is a fine price to pay for sufficient rewards. But you can’t possibly say that you didn’t pay the expense.

    The Objectivist ethics holds that morality is a system to be DISCOVERED, it is a philosophy for living on this earth; for each man and for every man; it is a code of values to guide actions.

    See, here you admit exactly what I chastised you for. If you define morality the way an Objectivist would, then your arguments make sense. In other words, if you agree with Objectivist premises, then duh, you’ll agree with Objectivist conclusions. Why must you agree with those premises?

    Morality is a topic that belongs in philosophy, but in seeking to explain what morality is and its source, one must check one’s philosophical premises.

    This is exactly the same statement theists make about morality, except they replace philosophy with theology. And it’s equally invalid. Some morality is inherent in our physiology, i.e. is descriptive. Other morality is not inherent in our physiology, i.e. is normative or social. And I agree, one certainly must check ones’ philosophical premises.

    Humans largely have the capacity to control their behaviour; this is because we can think rationally, something no other creature can do. ONLY a rational being can act morally, so only a human being can be a moral being

    You still haven’t addressed my criticism of this assumption.

    But if one rejects the notion that morality is altruistic, and that MORALITY is the rational decision making and action of thinking beings, any attempt to explain it evolutionarily is irrelevant, because, as I keep explaining, one is trying to explain the wrong thing.

    And again, IF one rejects the notion that morality is altruistic.. Why would you reject it? You still haven’t answered that.

    One must start with one’s premise of morality. Using evolution to explain morality begs the question; it assumes that you know what morality already is

    Um, it’s you who assumes that you know what morality already is. My purpose, and Scott’s, was to show that your conception of morality wasn’t necessarily true, that it’s based upon largely unwarranted assumptions, and that you’ve not sufficiently defended those assumptions. Evolutionary biology, on the other hand, continues to plod on researching and researching how morality, as we understand it, comes about. Kin altruism is just one avenue. There are many others. The territory is far from fully explored. I’m only suggesting that you hedge your bet on Objectivism. It seems, from reading some of your recent posts, that you adopted it rather quickly and without consideration of much physical evidence. That’s the problem with philosophy in general, unfortunately. Philosophers like Pat and Paul Churchland give some hope that philosophy might survive (although, what they do is more science than philosophy), but even still.. they’re far from the majority. To me, “metaphysics” is a word that screams “pseudoscience” (most of the time, anyway).

  37. Ergo Says:

    Jon,

    You misunderstood my criticism of your comments; my point goes to the heart of the matter.

    Here’s what you said:

    “You can’t simply assert that morality requires rationality, that only humans are capable of rational thought, that only humans are capable of conceptual thought.”

    Your assertion (that one can’t simply assert that morality requires rationality) is itself an assertion borne out of a process of reason using certain concepts, i.e., the tools of cognition and rationality. Obviously, I consider your process of reason wrong, mistaken, and misguided, but it is a process of reason nevertheless. Which is why I pointed out that there can only be two implications of your need for justification: 1) Either you’re not a human being who is a metaphysically rational animal, or 2) you are lost in a circle of contradiction.

  38. evanescent Says:

    Jon said:

    Implicit in this sentence is the admission that humans are rational. I’m contesting evanescent’s notion that only humans are rational.

    That’s an incredible statement. Can you name me a rational animal?

    “A human being is a creature that makes decisions based on reason.”

    I can think of several counterexamples.

    That is, there are decisions within the rational control of humans.

    What about rational delusion? I’ve pointed you to a list of cognitive biases that affect human judgments. If a human being “discovers” a value under the pretenses of one or more cognitive biases, then his values need not be moral in the slightest. Consider a king who inherits servants, riches, and property. That king might conclude very rationally, from all of the given evidence, that he is more important than other people. Which moral values could he possibly conclude from such a “discovery”?

    Rational value is not just that which any person decides makes sense to him. By this thinking, values are subjective.

    A rational value is one that is discovered or accepted by rational means by reference to non-contradictory reality, that is objectively beneficial for the life of a rational entity; that which one acts to gain and/or keep. Examples of objective rational values for rational beings are: reason, purpose, self-esteem.

    You seem to suggest that one must be free of cognitive biases in order to make any rational judgements, which presupposes omniscience as the only reasonable means to be rational. This is of course absurd however. Discovering a value by rational means does not mean humans are or should be infallible. Nor does it mean we cannot make mistakes.

    But a person that discovers rational values through reason and reference to reality will discover objective morality.

    In your example of a king, he might think himself rational for believing he’s “better” than other people. Ask him to explain such a belief rationally with recourse to reality and then watch his “reason” crumble.

    And what if humans only have the illusion of freedom? What if there exists a being or force which compels us to do things, but then gives us the illusion of self-determination? You don’t sufficiently address scenarios like these, that I’ve seen.

    What are you saying, are you denying the validity of your senses? Are you denying the reality of an external world? Now which one of us sounds like a theist!

    I don’t disagree with this, but I’m wondering how you, and Rand, conclude that these statements are objective. They’re not objective. They’re subjective. They’re based upon social mores that have developed over time. There’s a very famous study detailing the differences between “conservative” and “liberal” thinking. Social conservatives tend to rate virtues like loyalty and tradition as the most important, whereas social liberals tend to rate virtues like freedom of expression and skepticism as most important. A typical social conservative would not agree that we humans have a right to freely pursue any course of action, as long as it doesn’t impede on others.

    You beg the question of moral subjectivism in order to apply it to Objectivism; this is patently flawed. Individual Rights are NOT based on social mores that have developed over time, and as long as you tacitly subscribe to this collectivist thinking you will not grasp Objectivism.

    Objectivism rejects the fundamental notions of collectivist thinking from the outset. Now, as to WHY the Objectivist sense of rights and morality are objective, it’s because they are derived from man’s relationship to objective reality. They necessary follow from man’s identity as a rational moral being. If you want more detail, you have only to read the article or my comments thus far.

    “To violate the rights of another innocent individual is to be a criminal.”

    This is a completely nebulous statement. It depends on who you define as innocent, it depends on how you define violate. At one point in history, blacks were considered sub-human. By Objectivist standards, and by that kind of social more, it would be entirely moral to violate the rights of blacks, to enslave them, to segregate them.

    Jon, you are again sneaking your collectivist subjective “social” morality in the back door. What society deems “right” or “wrong” is subjective and irrelevant and EXACTLY the sort of nonsense that Objectivist rejects. You need to get this “social more” out of your mind.

    To “violate” the rights of a person is to use force against that person so that they cannot function completely freely (morally). An “innocent” person is someone that has not violated the rights of another. This is ALWAYS the case, at ANY point in time. That is precisely why Objectivism is, well, objective. So, slavery is always a crime; mugging or raping someone is always a crime.

    “This does not mean that it is “okay” for humans to torture animals. A human being who takes delight in torturing animals is immoral, and such people should be condemned.”

    This is a completely astonishing statement, given the tenets of Objectivism. If torturing animals “fulfills” a person’s life, then since animals have no rights, this is a perfectly moral action.

    The fact that a human derives pleasure from something is not the standard by which an action is right or wrong. A human who gained pleasure from torturing an animal cannot claim the action is moral simply because he “likes it”. Hedonism or death are not the standards of morality (unlike utilitarianism); rationality is.

    That which fulfils or sustains the life of a rational being is the good; that which is the opposite is the evil. Now, deriving pleasure from cruelty is hardly conducive to the life of a rational being, and is self-evidently a deleterious mental condition; it makes a person a threat to himself and others. That is why it’s immoral. However, when inflicted on animals, it’s not illegal because animals have no rights; it’s still wrong.

    “Just because something causes happiness does not make it right, and just because something causes suffering does not make it wrong.”

    If that something doesn’t impede other peoples’ rights, then according to Objectivism, something that causes happiness is automatically moral (if it fulfills the person’s life), and suffering is automatically immoral (if it impedes on the fulfillment of someone’s life).

    No, you have misunderstood Objectivism here. I said that happiness and suffering are not the standard of morality. One is legally free to act however one wishes, (by legally I mean to not violate the rights of others); that does not mean whatever one chooses is MORAL. In a free society, you are FREE to take drugs, but doing so is still immoral. By any rational value that holds LIFE as the standard, taking drugs is mentally and physically deleterious for a rational being, that is why it is immoral to take them, although you’re free to choose to.

    “Richard Dawkins has shown that “selfish” genes can produce affects that are apparently “altruistic”, because it indirectly furthers the propagation of particular genes; natural selection will favour any system this is evolutionary stable (ESS).”

    They aren’t “apparently altruistic”, they ARE altruistic. If one organism helps another organism at its own expense, that’s altruism, whether it was for selfish motives or not. A little expense is a fine price to pay for sufficient rewards. But you can’t possibly say that you didn’t pay the expense.

    I’m not convinced that Dawkins uses “altruism” in the exact same sense; do not confuse kind and generous acts as altruistic.

    Now, here you contradict yourself: “If one organism helps another organism at its own expense, that’s altruism, whether it was for selfish motives or not.”

    If it’s altruistic, it is not selfish. If the action is selfish in any way, it is NOT altruistic. It cannot be a bit of both.

    “The Objectivist ethics holds that morality is a system to be DISCOVERED, it is a philosophy for living on this earth; for each man and for every man; it is a code of values to guide actions.”

    See, here you admit exactly what I chastised you for. If you define morality the way an Objectivist would, then your arguments make sense. In other words, if you agree with Objectivist premises, then duh, you’ll agree with Objectivist conclusions. Why must you agree with those premises?

    Morality is a philosophical system that can be discovered. What is YOUR definition of morality? Objectivism of course presents a morality of its own, otherwise what would be the point of differentiating between philosophies?

    Religion offers a system of morality. Collectivism offers a system of morality. Hedonism offers a system of morality. The question is: are those systems objective and rational?

    “Morality is a topic that belongs in philosophy, but in seeking to explain what morality is and its source, one must check one’s philosophical premises.”

    This is exactly the same statement theists make about morality, except they replace philosophy with theology. And it’s equally invalid. Some morality is inherent in our physiology, i.e. is descriptive. Other morality is not inherent in our physiology, i.e. is normative or social. And I agree, one certainly must check ones’ philosophical premises.

    But again I would disagree with you here; morality is “inherent” in humans in the sense that because we are rational we have the ability to understand and control our behaviour, and that makes us moral beings. Morality is not a gene or meme, and it is not innate behaviour. By definition, behaviour that is outside one’s control is amoral.

    “Humans largely have the capacity to control their behaviour; this is because we can think rationally, something no other creature can do. ONLY a rational being can act morally, so only a human being can be a moral being”

    You still haven’t addressed my criticism of this assumption.

    You haven’t provided an example of any lifeform apart from humans that can think rationally.

    And you cannot deny humans are rational beings without invoking a contradiction, as Ergo has shown.

    “But if one rejects the notion that morality is altruistic, and that MORALITY is the rational decision making and action of thinking beings, any attempt to explain it evolutionarily is irrelevant, because, as I keep explaining, one is trying to explain the wrong thing.”

    And again, IF one rejects the notion that morality is altruistic.. Why would you reject it? You still haven’t answered that.

    If you’d read all my comments, you would see that I have answered this point. And my previous article from the other week entitled “What is Morality and What are Rights?” also covers this.

    “One must start with one’s premise of morality. Using evolution to explain morality begs the question; it assumes that you know what morality already is”

    Um, it’s you who assumes that you know what morality already is. My purpose, and Scott’s, was to show that your conception of morality wasn’t necessarily true, that it’s based upon largely unwarranted assumptions, and that you’ve not sufficiently defended those assumptions.

    Which again, I can only in response say: read the aforementioned article where I explain what morality is and where it comes from, and how it logically flows from its premises.

    Evolutionary biology, on the other hand, continues to plod on researching and researching how morality, as we understand it, comes about. Kin altruism is just one avenue. There are many others. The territory is far from fully explored. I’m only suggesting that you hedge your bet on Objectivism. It seems, from reading some of your recent posts, that you adopted it rather quickly and without consideration of much physical evidence.

    But again Jon, I must point out that I am NOT criticising evolution or biology. I am not arguing with an evolutionary explanation of human or animal behaviour. What I am saying is that before you even do science, you must have a philosophy. For instance, most scientists’ philosophy is empiricism, or metaphysical naturalism, and their notion of morality is rooted in society’s concept of altruism. So, what I am saying is, when a scientist says: “why are people ‘nice’ to each other, in other words “moral”, why is that?” – he is not necessarily talking about morality; he’s seeking to explain behaviour; no doubt kinship behaviour has benefits for propagating genes – that doesn’t make it “right” or “wrong”, it merely shows why it would be evolutionary successful, and it is improper to equate “social benefits” with morality, because then again one begs the question of collectivism; we are not a Borg Collective, and we are not identical copies of replicating protein strings – we are conscious individual people, and what is “good for the group” is not morality because morality pertains to the actions of individuals; a collective is not an individual. A human being can choose how they act; it not dictated by instinct (with the obvious exception of a non-voluntary processes), so a person can CHOOSE their morality.

    That’s the problem with philosophy in general, unfortunately. Philosophers like Pat and Paul Churchland give some hope that philosophy might survive (although, what they do is more science than philosophy), but even still.. they’re far from the majority. To me, “metaphysics” is a word that screams “pseudoscience” (most of the time, anyway).

    I think you’re misunderstanding the use of the term ‘metaphysics’. Metaphysics in the weak sense refers to New Age sprititualistic and pseudoscientific nonsense.

    Metaphysics, in the strong sense, is a philosophical topic that deals with ontology and cosmology. It is impossible to think without metaphysics; metaphysics deals with questions like “what is morality”; “where does knowledge come from?”; “what is being?”; “what type of being is ‘real’?”; “what does ‘reality’ mean?” etc etc.

    Even science has metaphysical assumptions. There are the logical positivists who maintained that a statement was meaningful only if could be verified to be true or false; it dismissed metaphysics as rubbish. Unfortunately for the positivists, their position is self-annihilating: since their “verification principle” cannot itself be established to be true or false, logical positivism is either false or meaningless.

    Now, as for my rather “sudden” adoption of Objectivism, I can tell you that it’s not as sudden as might appear on my blog. Rather, I withheld from talking about Objectivism until I had a sufficient grasp to debate it; I still don’t consider myself an expert or to have fully integrated the philosophy, which is why I don’t refer to myself as an Objectivist, yet. If my adoption of Objectivism has been quick, it is because my mind was not initially shrouded by any emotionalism towards a particular philosophy (unlike some people who will remain utilitarians), why is why I could approach it with an open mind, and since I started to read Ayn Rand, 99% of what I’ve read resonated with me and made wonderful sense, and merely provided a vehicle and name for many of my already-held opinions. Most of all, Objectivism is a rational philosophy and I am a rational person, which means if I thought Objectivism was irrational or immoral, I would reject it instantly.

  39. Jon McKenzie Says:

    I had a long response, but I decided to delete it. I see now why Scott stopped responding.

  40. evanescent Says:

    If that’s the best you can do, Jon, ok. I must seriously ask myself why I invest so much time writing long comments to answer questions and arguments as honestly as possible, only for such negativism and emotionalism from people who don’t understand a position they’re attacking, don’t even try to understand it, and aren’t really looking to honestly understand it.

  41. Eric G. Says:

    I had a long response, but I decided to delete it. I see now why Scott stopped responding.

    I’d like to second Evanescent’s disappointment. As someone following this exchange, genuinely searching for reasons to reject Objectivism, it’s disturbing to see you and Scott reacting so emotionally. I thought you were raising some interesting objections…at least ones that I thought to point out myself. While Evanescent’s responses may be frustrating, I don’t think that’s his intent. I’ve learned a lot from this exchange, and hope you’ll all keep at it.

    For my part, I’d like a fuller explanation for why (by Objectivist standards) skinning a cat (that is not someone’s property) would be considered any more immoral than crushing a stone. You say that “deriving pleasure from cruelty is hardly conducive to the life of a rational being”. But why is animal torture cruelty in the first place? I get that it often reflects a damaged psyche that is more likely to harm himself or others, but is that it? Is your argument that no one of sound mind would want to torture an animal, therefore it is immoral?

  42. evanescent Says:

    Hi Eric, if you’re looking for reasons to reject Objectivism, (that is, if you’ve already made up your mind to reject it without actually a valid reason to!), it is not my intention nor in my self-interest to do your homework for you. I hope that doesn’t come across at unkind because it genuinely isn’t.

    Now, if your intention is to have an honest debate and bounce constructive ideas off each other I am more than happy to get involved.

    Now, as for why it’s cruel to skin a cat, let’s not take this example in isolation. A rational person lives by principles. Instead of asking why it’s immoral to be cruel to animals, let’s reduce this to principles. It is in my rational self-interest to torture any living creature? Well, I gain nothing by torturing anything for a start. Torturing a living creature for the sake of it is a waste of time, energy and resources that could be better spent filling my life with meaning. The desire to be cruel is therefore irrational. Also, the fact that I might derive pleasure from cruelty does not make it right; rationality and life are the standard for morality, not pleasure nor happiness. Deriving satisfaction from cruelty is the sign of a sick mind. Having a sick mind is not conducive to my survival and positively detrimental, therefore immoral. Even if I had a sick mind, it would be in my best interest to not manifest it. If I am cruel to living creatures, I risk serious retaliation with the risk of damage or death. If I am cruel, I act against my best interest because I discourage people I value from wanting to be near me, and making friends, lovers, business relationships etc.

    Therefore, the moral objective principle I could recognise is: “don’t be cruel to other living creatures.” A man of morals is a man of principles; humans are conceptual creatures. It is often impossible to weigh up every situation and balance happiness vs suffering like utilitarians might do. It is far more efficient and productive to live by rational principles. By acting against my rational principles, I am living a contradiction; I am contradicting reality. Reality does not tolerate contradictions, so by working against reality I am fighting a war I cannot win, I am fighting against myself which can only be to my destruction. And therefore immoral.

    So cruelty is immoral. The only thing to add is that Rights exist, not to enforce morality (which is a contradiction in terms), but to guarantee the HUMAN ability to act freely and morally. Rights aren’t there to protect animals, no matter what the situation.

  43. Eric G. Says:

    Hi Eric, if you’re looking for reasons to reject Objectivism, (that is, if you’ve already made up your mind to reject it without actually a valid reason to!), it is not my intention nor in my self-interest to do your homework for you. I hope that doesn’t come across at unkind because it genuinely isn’t.

    I understand. My apologies for the poor phrasing. Let me restate: I’m early in the process of evaluating Objectivism and am very open to compelling reasons to either accept or reject it. I’m skeptical of the philosophy, but eager to give it a fair shake (350 pages into Atlas Shrugged!). My point was that if Scott and Jon have well-reasoned arguments against Objectivism, I would very much like to read them. The fact that they’ve both refused to continue discussing the matter does not help their case, even to one sympathetic to the issues they raise.

    Thanks for the response regarding the cat skinning. I’ll mull it over and post any questions/responses I may have.

  44. evanescent Says:

    Hi Eric, your desire to seek out critical opinions is admirable, and is also what I did when I first studied Objectivism; I sought out opposing views and asked fellow free-thinkers for their opinions. I cogitated on them, and found criticisms lacking. This is an obvious and easy retort to make, and I make it, not to prove a point to you, but as a conclusion of my own and a prediction for yours: too many people simply do not understand Objectivism and attack strawmen; they steal concepts without proper antecedent and attempt to beg the question of their subjective moralities.

    You might do well to read the blogs of long-term Objectivists and great intellectuals like Leitmotif: http://ergosum.wordpress.com/, who has written on far more topics than I.

    If you’re really interested in Objectivism and its more fundamental issues, read a smaller book like The Virtue of Selfishness first; this is a stunning read, and keeps you wanting to read topic after topic! I’ve read it through myself twice.

    As for people refusing to continue, if I thought this was down to me I’d apologise and admit it, but I really don’t think it is; just because someone’s an atheist and self-professed “free-thinker” doesn’t mean they’re always rational or free of emotional biases based on long-held convictions. For an animal-lover like Scott, the idea that animals have no rights is probably distressing. For Jon, morality is an innate behaviour that evolution has selected for. For society in general, selfishness is the vice and sacrifice the virtue. The idea of morality being truly selfish is alien. For those who can’t get their head around the contrary of their opinions perhaps it’s easier to imagine that Objectivists are aggressive and argumentative and frustrating. You know, kinda like how theists react to atheists…

  45. Eric G. Says:

    I gain nothing by torturing anything for a start. Torturing a living creature for the sake of it is a waste of time, energy and resources that could be better spent filling my life with meaning.

    But you could say the same thing with regard to (out of boredom) sitting and grinding a rock against the ground until it is dust. It’s a waste of time, but is it immoral? What about the fact that we’re dealing with a living organism makes it immoral? Is it that it goes against our evolutionarily ingrained empathy towards other forms of life?

    Deriving satisfaction from cruelty is the sign of a sick mind. Having a sick mind is not conducive to my survival and positively detrimental, therefore immoral.

    I agree with this. I guess where I struggle is that if I saw a person torturing a cat, my primary disgust would not be at the sickness of the mind perpetrating the action, but at the suffering of the animal on the receiving end. Would you argue that my empathy towards the animal is irrelevant with regard to morality?

    Moving away from the cat-skinning example, what about something like dog-fighting? I understand why (by Objectivist standards) it should not be illegal, but is it immoral? The people running the ring clearly lack a healthy empathy towards these animals, but you could make a case that they’re using their property as they see fit in order to make a profit. Aside from the evolutionarily ingrained empathy you might feel for the animals being caged and forced to fight, is there anything immoral about dog-fighting?

    If I am cruel to living creatures, I risk serious retaliation with the risk of damage or death. If I am cruel, I act against my best interest because I discourage people I value from wanting to be near me, and making friends, lovers, business relationships etc.

    I understand what you’re saying here, but weighing an action against accepted social norms doesn’t seem like such a good way of determining whether said action is moral. By this argument, homosexual sex would be immoral, at least in Iran.

    The only thing to add is that Rights exist, not to enforce morality (which is a contradiction in terms), but to guarantee the HUMAN ability to act freely and morally. Rights aren’t there to protect animals, no matter what the situation.

    I understand, and this makes a lot of sense to me. It’s the part about how morality applies to our treatment of animals that I’m hung up on.

  46. Ergo Says:

    Eric,

    Evanescent has addressed your points substantively. The immorality of the ill-treatment of animals does not stem from the fact that the ill-treatment is of *animals* but from the fact that ill-treatment is considered as an action indulged for no *rationally justifiable* reason, and the standard of what counts as rational and irrational is life (the standard of what counts as moral is *human* life). As a philosophy of egoism, Objectivism demands that each man hold himself to the highest levels of moral integrity, which means, that each man be committed to rationality in every aspect of his life to the greatest extent possible to him under his volitional control.

    On a personal egoistic level, it is rational to cultivate personal virtues of benevolence and kindness as a recognition of the fact that our fellow humans are metaphysically rational entities who could pose as great contributors of value to ones own life. Qualities of character that you wish to see in others (primarily, the quality of rational behavior) is what you are obligated to cultivate in yourself, to foster a society in which you would like to live yourself. You do not want yourself or your valued lover/children/parents/friends to live next to a malevolent psychopath who hates everyone and treats others maliciously. The same applies to the irrational and wanton violence against animals; it is an irrational indulgence, and such traits of character are not to anyone’s selfishly rational interest. I would not want my lover (my value) to live next to a man who takes pleasure in conducting violent and bloody animal fights.

    A healthy and rational mind will not have a preoccupation with violence and brutality for *its own sake*. A rational mind is preoccupied with achieving success, the achievement of values, productivity, happiness, romance, friendships, pride, etc.

    It should not be illegal to kill and eat animals (it should not be illegal to be a non-vegetarian in diet) or to conduct animal fights as a sport, although it is *immoral* and pathologically depraved to find *pleasure* in the *wanton* killing of animals for its *own sake* or enjoying the bloody sport for all its brutality. All criminal acts must be legally punished; all immoral acts must be vociferously condemned and not tolerated.

  47. Ergo Says:

    P.S. By the same token, it is irrational (and therefore, immoral) to have a preoccupation with grinding stones. Life requires that one takes the means to sustain it, and that is rational action. Grinding stones–as a preoccupation–is irrational and will not sutain your life. To continue your preoccupation with grinding stones, you will have to become parasitic on the productive efforts of other people to sustain your own life (to feed you, buy you clothes, cook your meals, etc.). A rational man gainfully employed in productive work will simply not waste his precious time (afterall, time is the very currency of life, spending time is what *living* means) in an irrational preoccupation as grinding stones. A man of egoistic pride and moral integrity will not permit such an irrational breach into his moral code and into his life.

  48. Brad Says:

    “Unlike an animal which is automatically equipped with the knowledge to select its values, human beings must discover, through a process of reason, what is good for our lives and what is bad.”

    Do we have any reason to believe that all animals are not able to develop new behaviors deliberately to improve their lives? I think that is a questionable claim. More investigation should be done to make a reliable determination of this.

    “Now, because animals do not act based on morality, to give them legally-enforceable rights to guarantee their freedom of action is an egregious contradiction in terms.” …

    You say, “this code of values to guide our decisions is Objective Morality,” which essentially is your definition of morality. Can’t animals value things in their lives? Man’s domesticated pets can have preference for their owners, can save their lives, defend them, enjoy company with them, and so on. So wouldn’t this be indicative that not every animal is without a developing morality akin to our own? If so, then you cannot say they do not have rights because they do not have morality like us.

    Lastly, the assumption of animal rights which limits man’s freedom would not negate the hypothesis of animal rights, so that’s not even a proper argument. If we Americans must dish out $ for other countries because it is a moral imperitave, is not that limiting our economic freedom? Therefore no one else has rights with respect to Americans? Totally illogical.

    I do not think this post legitimately demonstrates that animals have no rights, or even comes close.

  49. evanescent Says:

    Hi Brad, thanks for commenting.

    Brad said:

    Do we have any reason to believe that all animals are not able to develop new behaviors deliberately to improve their lives? I think that is a questionable claim. More investigation should be done to make a reliable determination of this.

    Can animals learn new behaviour? Of course.

    Can’t animals value things in their lives?

    Yes. But they have instinctive knowledge of what is of value to their life.

    Man’s domesticated pets can have preference for their owners, can save their lives, defend them, enjoy company with them, and so on. So wouldn’t this be indicative that not every animal is without a developing morality akin to our own?

    Not if you want morality to mean a code of rational values to guide actions. Since animals cannot rationally choose their actions or values, how can morality apply to them?

    Lastly, the assumption of animal rights which limits man’s freedom would not negate the hypothesis of animal rights, so that’s not even a proper argument.

    Yes it is. The interests and rights of rational men do not conflict. If animals had rights, that would necessarily limit the rights of humans, ergo a contradiction. Since there is a contradiction, one of the premises must be false, vis-a-vis: animals have rights.

    If we Americans must dish out $ for other countries because it is a moral imperitave, is not that limiting our economic freedom? Therefore no one else has rights with respect to Americans? Totally illogical.

    I’m not really sure what this means Brad, but Objectivism rejects moral imperatives. America shouldn’t dish out money for any other countries unless its in America’s rational self-interest to do so.

    So if you think my argument is illogical because of what you’ve just said, I can reassure you my argument is sound because moral imperatives are inapplicable here.

    I do not think this post legitimately demonstrates that animals have no rights, or even comes close.

    Then you should be able to give a definition of objective morality and where it comes from. And explain exactly what Rights are, and where they come from, and why?

  50. Brad Says:

    Personally, I think that objective morality would be something that could be observed independent of human construction; not designed by our own reasoning. I think that any such objective morality would merely be a description of existing altruism, and would not be any sort of prescript for how we should or should not act. Such prescripts would be by our own decisions of how to act, which would themselves be based on what we value in life. But of course, if you were Hitler, you don’t value people, but you do value societies based upon power and other such factors, then you would want to do what he did. So the problem is a sort of element of relativity in that we may not all value the same things. Rights, of course, would be what we suppose that each other should be able to do or have. Granted, we may not agree on all of these rights and so they are not absolute. (And by the way, altruism can include decision-making.) But anyway, back to non-humans.

    I think your inference that animals have no rights is based off of the following rule: If it can reason for what it values in life and reason how to act on what it values, it can be called a moral creature, and moral creatures are the only things that have rights.

    If I am correct in this summary of your argument, would you be willing to concede that if any single animal was such a moral creature, that it would deserve rights? If I am incorrect, can you tell me how I’m wrong?

    Furthermore, why should we adopt such a rule? If there could be some animals which can be conscious, or feel pain and pleasure, sadness and happiness, or some other range of emotions or subjective experience, then should we deny them rights because they do not figure out their own golden rules or moral codes for themselves? Why deny them?

    Just because we created rights for ourselves, our fellow humans, does not mean we must deny animals rights. And what does judging their behavior (meaning, treating them as criminals in cases) have to do with whether or not we can decide to allow them some form of freedom or material security (meaning, a habitat if we can find one)? Rights are different from responsibilities and crime. We decided we should have rights, or things we should allow each other, because we value each other in our own lives, and we recognize that we all experience life in the same ways. We can evaluate animals in much the same manner, even if their evaluation of us is mere program.

    I would like to say that yes, I do happily and guiltlessly eat meat and buy animal-tested products. I just don’t see why we can’t say to each other things like, “we should save dogs lives because we value them,” even if we don’t value dogs as much as we do our own human friends and family. Also, treating animals as “property” does not restrict them from what we’re talking about here because ownership is a social construction as much as rights are. They are both a part of models for us to get along with each other which we tacitly agree upon. (Or most of us agree upon.) We design these models, meaning that we say what is or is not to be called property and we say what does or does not deserve rights.

    I hope that I’m thinking clearly here, and I await (perhaps) your response.

  51. Brad Says:

    Whoops, I forgot to address something! The issue of whether or not granting animal rights irrationally limits our freedom depends on whether or not animals should have rights in the first place, so I don’t even know why I wanted to argue that with you as if it were another meaningful thing to discuss aside from the main point.

    But, I did make an interesting deduction thinking about this…

    If the enforceable rights of any individual being are irrational because they limit the total freedom of some set of other individual beings (with said total freedom being their right), then that would clearly imply (1) no one has enforceable rights, OR (2) not everyone has a right to this kind of total freedom. This might even seem self-evident: either rights simply aren’t enforceable or there exist moral responsibilities.

  52. Ergo Says:

    Brad,

    By definition, rights are neither enforceable nor do they come with moral responsibilities. Unfortunately, you have not clearly understood the nature and conception of rights.

    From my post titled “Rights and Responsibilities”:

    “Rights and responsibilities are unrelated concepts that are forcefully being combined in a package deal so as to subvert or negate the very concept of rights. It is a lie that is told so often that people now believe it to be the truth: that rights in fact do come with responsibilities.

    The moral distinction is clear: you are either a criminal or you are not. You are either within your rights, in which case you act freely, or you have initiated force, in which case you should be reigned in. You either practice your rights legitimately–in which case, no one has a business telling you that you should be responsibile in the practice of your legitimate rights–or you have stepped outside the boundaries protected by your rights and you are now a criminal.

    Now, in the context of animal rights, man is automatically the criminal. If animals are granted rights (against the nature of animals and the concept of rights), then their rights will necessarily conflict with those of human rights, which means the presence of force. In such a case, it is only humans that will be regarded as criminals, not animals, because only humans can choose their actions and be held responsible for them. Thus, proferring rights to animals not only negates the rights of humans (because it brings these rights into conflict) but also creates criminals out of humans, and moreover, demands that humans learn to practice their rights “responsibly,” which means, surrender your rights entirely.”

    http://ergosum.wordpress.com/2006/11/14/rights-and-responsibilities/

  53. Mark Says:

    Evanescent and Ergo, you may want to read this: http://www.mises.org/journals/jls/7_1/7_1_4.pdf

  54. Ergo Says:

    Mark,

    I read that essay a while ago. It begins with a complete misunderstanding of the concept of objectivity, which forms one of the most central theses of the philosophy of Objectivism. What the author caricatures as a conflict between individual subjectivity and mind-independent objectivity is precisely what Objectivism refers to as a unified, reciprocal relationship between the individual and reality; neither exists without the other, and without either, the concept of objectivity is meaningless.

  55. Ergo Says:

    Clarification: When I said “neither exists without the other”, I was not speaking metaphysically–that reality does not exist without the individual; I was speaking epistemologically: the epistemic relationship between reality and the perceiver is unified, reciprocal, and objective according to the individual and his specific means/tools of perception.

  56. Ergo Says:

    I’m not too happy about the fact that I ended up commenting on Misanthropic Scott’s site. Next time, I’ll try not being so generous. In any case, so you don’t have to visit his site to read my comment, this is what I said–verbatim:

    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.

  57. Psiloiordinary Says:

    Hey folks,

    How do you define person and animal?

    When does a person start being a person? lets look at eggs, cells embryo’s foetus etc.

    When does a person stop being a person? brain death, mental illness etc.

    When might an animal start being a person? e.g. apes learning speech, feeling emotions etc?

    These issues seem fairly fundamental to the practical implementation of your “crystal clear” principals. You need clear definitions to be able to apply them.

    Where do you draw the line? Do you think everyone will agree with you?

    I posted these on the Animals and clonign thread but they may be more appropriate here;

    Evan’s definition on his earlier posting that Animals have no rights was that Humans decide things using reason.

    But he has not given us any evidence that animals don’t also do this, or for that matter that this is what all humans do all of the time.

    I can tell that my pet dogs use reason very often. How can I prove this? How can you prove it is not true?

    Any ideas?

    I did a post once on the topic of scepticism about how my daughter caught on to such unstated assumptions in conversation with her older brother;

    I had jokingly commented that one of our dogs knew it was his birthday, my son said of course he did not but soon discovered that he could not demonstrate or prove this in any way to my daughter.

    Asserting the negative is a dangerously elusive thing. Can you prove a negative? Does that mean anything at all about it being true or not?

  58. evanescent Says:

    For Psi, and anyone who feels he might be onto something, I recommend a course in Logical Fallacies 101, starting here:

    Argument from Ignorance: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_ignorance

    Psi, I hope you don’t use the same line of reasoning with your children when talking about God. Next time your son says that of course god does not exist, perhaps your daughter will say “but you cannot prove that he doesn’t exist” – and you’ll have budding theists in no time.

    Psi on another comment said that he can prove that his dog is rational. We await proof of this…

  59. Psiloiordinary Says:

    No Evan, it is you who misunderstand. I was simply making the reverse unsupported assumption to yours to illustrate that making such unsupported assumptions does not make a case at all.

    – – –

    Your claim is that man is the only animal to use rationality. Now you commit the creationist trick of turning things around.

    My entire point is that you have not proved your case. You simply assert it as self evident. By making just as empty a case for the negative I was trying to make a point – sorry if it went over your head.

    – – –

    There is plenty of research showing altruistic behaviour in animals – do you deny it? If so I will be happy to point you at some.

    We see evidence of logical problem solving in many groups, not even just mammals – do you deny that as well? Again I can point you at some if you wish.

    Perhaps you are just reading the objectivist manual and not bothering to look in the real world?

    – – –

    Once again you leave all my questions answered.

    This is very revealing. (the C word again)

    Will you answer my questions Evan, or do you want to invent some more conditions I must satisfy before you do so?

    – – –

    Read my last sentence again;

    “Does that mean anything at all about it being true or not?”

    No it doesn’t – its the evidence that counts – you have provided none.

    If you will attempt to answer my questions about your underlying assumptions we can start to discuss evidence that relates to them.

    In view of your response I feel I need to spell this out slowly;

    My questions are about your unstated assumptions that clear and simple categories of “human” and “animal” exist in the context of the use of reason and the existence of altruism that you claim.

    Science has demonstrated that such a clear cut dividing line does not exist.

    You don’t even appear to understand that you have assumed this.

    – – –

    PS I have my own pages on Logical Fallacies here;

    http://web.mac.com/theedonfamily/Site/The_Guide_To_Thinking_Straight.html

    and here;

    http://web.mac.com/theedonfamily/Site/Think_Critical.html

    Try not to be so patronising in future.

    Psi

  60. evanescent Says:

    I take’s Psi irrelevant remarks as a concession that he cannot prove his dog is rational after all.

  61. Psiloiordinary Says:

    Sorry my mistake – thought this was a blog for discussions.

    Good bye.

    I hope the lifestyle comes together for you at some point.

  62. Oxysmoron Says:

    a quote from above: BTW, you should really read about bonobos. They are far more moral than humans. There has never been an observed case of intraspecies lethal violence in bonobos. They resolve their differences with sex.

    Oh this is too funny. We humans do this very thing too! Wonder if we learned from their behavior. Yet I wonder: have they really resolved their differences or maybe they have weakened their drive through sexual activity. Well, whatever works. HaH@!

  63. evanescent Says:

    Oxysmoron, define “morality”?

  64. Blood Thirst Says:

    only a cretin would disagree

  65. Alexander Says:

    As one whose career entails regularly performing research on animals, I am certainly biased against animal rights activism.

    But to say that only humans have rights and that animals have none whatsoever seems odd to me. On the one hand, we are animals. Fundamentally, our morality and reasoning differs from theirs only in degree rather than in kind. And claiming that only humans have rights begs the question “what is human?”. If another organism were to evolve our level of reasoning, would it then acquire rights? What about a synthetic intelligence?

  66. evanescent Says:

    Hi Alex, thanks for taking the time to visit my blog, read the article, and comment.

    If you read the article, then I do explain why animals have no rights and only humans do. Rights are a moral principle that sanctions an entity’s freedom of action in a social setting. The freedom of action to make moral choices only applies to moral beings, morality being a code of rational values to guide actions. This disqualifies animals. Freedom is irrelevant to an animal.

    I disagree with you regarding the nature of intelligence. The human mind is rational and conceptual. This is rather different to an animal’s fundamentally perceptually mind. So it is not a measure of degree on a sliding scale, but rather, animals never make it onto the “human” scale.

    Now, should another organism evolve to the point where it was a rational being, then it too would need to discover a morality to guide its actions. Therefore it would require the freedom to pursue this morality and would have Rights.

  67. Jon Says:

    I’m back to interject something that might stir you, though I doubt it:

    evanescent, your explanations and definitions of animals and their neurological capabilities differs utterly from mainstream science. I don’t know, it seems hypocritical to denounce pseudoscientists like creationists and ID people, and then in the next breath reject science yourself.

    The scientific consensus is that there’s a range of “rational” behavior in primates, and that our particular rationality is derived from our specific kind of anatomy–an anatomy that only differs in degrees from our closest phylogenetic relatives. Your dichotomy into “perceptual” versus “conceptual” thinking is contradicted by all of the relevant literature. There IS a scale. It may not be a completely continuous scale (which is impossible anyway, since genes are discrete, not continuous), but there’s definitely a scale.

    There’s a much simpler explanation for why we should care about humans more than chimpanzees or other organisms: we are humans, not those other organisms. Why do you have to add all of this ideological mysticism into it? We’re humans, and that’s why we care about humans. Seems simple to me.

  68. evanescent Says:

    Jon, the reason I still disagree with you is because you (and by you, I also mean some scientists, though I reject the suggestion that the scientific community is on your side because they certainly aren’t) equivocate on your use of the word “rational”.

    This is a sensitive subject for many people and I think it clouds judgement. For instance, I haven’t said anything unscientific about animals’ neurological capabilities. So I am not rejecting science at all!

    There is no scientific evidence that there is a range of “rational” behaviour – make sure you’re talking about the same thing. The ability to problem solve, or make low-level volitional choices is not rationality. Just having a degree of intelligence is not rationality either. A sliding scale of intelligence? Yes, of course. I never denied this. But rationality? No.

    Show me an animal (any animal) that fundamentally processes its experiences through the method of logic, and forms ever-increasing concepts (for which a language is necessary), has the fundamental ability to both understand and control its actions, and is therefore morally accountable – and I’ll concede the point.

    There is no “ideological mysticism” at all – if anything, that is exactly the expression to describe those who believe that animals have Rights. These people think that Rights exist in a vacuum, or can be given or taken away; or that things have intrinsic value.

    In all this discussion (68 comments now) not ONE person has provided an objective stable definition of Rights, and justified them philosophically with reference to reality. Your suggestion that we care more about humans because we’re humans might be right, but that isn’t an argument in favour of human rights.

    Human beings are fundamentally creatures that survive on their faculty of reason – we think and plan long term, we are not driven by instinct from one meal to the next, one tree to the next; we need a code of ethics to guide our decisions; we can differentiate between right and wrong – and because of all this we are responsible for our actions; we must be allowed the total freedom to reap the benefits of our free willed rational decisions, and must not be protected from the consequences of irrational evil actions. (That’s where Rights come into it).

    Show me one respected scientist who disagrees with this.

    I don’t always with Wikipedia, but this is what it has to say: Reason and logic can be thought to be distinct, although logic is one important aspect of reason. But the tendency to a preference for “hard logic,” or “solid logic,” in modern times has incorrectly led to the two terms occasionally being seen as essentially synonymous (see Reasoning) or perhaps more often logic is seen as the defining and pure form of reason.

    However machines and animals can unconsciously perform logical operations, and many animals (including humans) can unconsciously associate different perceptions as causes and effects and then make decisions or even plans. Therefore, to have any distinct meaning at all, “reason” must be the type of thinking which links language, consciousness and logic, and at this time, only humans are known to combine these things.

    Rationality is the virtue by which one achieves reason, something that only humans can perform. Again, show me a published respected scientific paper that disagrees with any of this.

  69. Ergo Says:

    No, Jon. Actually, objective science does not corroborate your views. See my recent post on this topic about the study conducted by a Harvard University professor:

    Professor Marc Hauser recently presented his new theory, which postulates four key elements differentiating human cognition from animal cognition. Notably–as I have stressed in the past as well–Hauser regards human cognition as being not merely higher up on the same scale of cognitive complexity in comparison to that of animals, but as being of a fundamentally different nature in itself–in his words, a “great cognitive gap”

    http://ergosum.wordpress.com/2008/02/19/human-and-animal-cognition/

    Also, none of this is mystical. In fact, it is self-evident everytime you use your mind to think in conceptual terms.

    Finally, your “simple” argument that we care about only humans because we are humans and not other organisms begs the moral question at discussion here: the question is *why* should we not grant rights to organisms that we do not call “human”? Why should non-human animals not have rights? And your answer, presumably–and too simplistically–is because we are humans and they are not. 😐

  70. Springer5 Says:

    Ther are many humans who do not posess either rational thought or more importantly the abiltiy to understand morality. This puts then on the same level as the animals you say have no rights (examples are babies, the mentally retarded etc). Some apes have more moral awareness than some of these categories of humans.

    So if you’re saying that animals don’t have rights, then presumably neither do these categories of humans ?

  71. evanescent Says:

    Re-read the article and comments, Springer5 – this issue is has already been addressed.

  72. ragnar_Rahl Says:

    “No. Humans, as the type of being we are, have Rights. Now, children, the mentally retarded, those in comas etc have limited rights, just as criminals have limited rights. Animals, because they are not moral beings, cannot have the moral principle of Rights.

    I’d have to await your evidence on the matter. Children beyond a certain age do begin to exhibit rationality (although it comes slow because they have to form concepts bit by bit) and thus have rights (ONLY those beyond a certain age), but the rights of the comatose only come from the fact of previous and potential future rationality (sleeping along similar lines), but to what purpose, by what standard, do you regard “criminals” (assuming of course objective law, so we’re talking murderers and thieves, not pot smokers and businessmen :D) as having rights? And considering how rights are an ABSOLUTE principle, how do you propose to limit them, concretizing a contradiction?

  73. evanescent Says:

    Ragnar said:

    I’d have to await your evidence on the matter.

    If by ‘evidence’ you mean a logical argument derived from the facts of reality, I’ve already provided this.

    Children beyond a certain age do begin to exhibit rationality (although it comes slow because they have to form concepts bit by bit) and thus have rights (ONLY those beyond a certain age), but the rights of the comatose only come from the fact of previous and potential future rationality (sleeping along similar lines), but to what purpose, by what standard, do you regard “criminals” (assuming of course objective law, so we’re talking murderers and thieves, not pot smokers and businessmen :D) as having rights? And considering how rights are an ABSOLUTE principle, how do you propose to limit them, concretizing a contradiction?

    Rights are a principle that sanctions an entity’s moral freedom of thought and action. Children have limited freedom of action and thought until they reach adulthood. The comatose have limited freedom of action and thought because they are in a coma (!). Criminals have little (or no) freedom of action because they are under duress, because they are paying the price for their crime. For example: a robber forfeits his rights when he steals and must be punished by the Law, however in some instances he still maintains limited rights (limited freedoms), such as the right to not be killed or otherwise harmed, whilst he serves his sentence etc.

  74. ragnar_rahl Says:

    “. For example: a robber forfeits his rights when he steals and must be punished by the Law, however in some instances he still maintains limited rights (limited freedoms), such as the right to not be killed or otherwise harmed, whilst he serves his sentence etc.”
    on what grounds exactly does he have that right?

    “Children have limited freedom of action and thought until they reach adulthood.”
    They do, yes, by law. This does not mean they have it by right.

    “The comatose have limited freedom of action and thought because they are in a coma (!).”

    The right to liberty means freedom from force imposed by others. The fact that you yourself are in a coma does not mean others are imposing force on you.

  75. kayla Says:

    I hope you burn in hell…or get reincarnated as a monkey in a test tube!! : ))

  76. evanescent Says:

    I don’t understand – you want me to be reincarnated, but as a monkey, in a test tube? Are we talking an incredibly huge test tube to contain a monkey, or a really tiny monkey in a normal sized test tube? And if I was reincarnated as a monkey, surely I’d just be born normally like any other monkey? Unless I get reincarnated into the foetus of a monkey, which raises the question of why anyone would be growing a monkey foetus in a test tube?

  77. kayla Says:

    Well….you obviously no nothing about animal testing(what a surprise). So you go around preaching how animals don’t have any rights, and you don’t even know the half it! Every year thousands of monkeys are born(or shipped) into laboratories where they will spend a short miserable life being tested on so you can wear your make up and wash your hair. BTW…i was referring to THOSE monkeys for you reincarnation… : ))

  78. evanescent Says:

    Kayla, I may not know as much as you about animal testing, but you know nothing about the principle of individual rights. If you bothered to read the article above, instead of ranting about the imagined “rights” of creatures, you’d understand *why* animals cannot have Rights. It’s also interesting that you seem to think that because the concept of individual Rights is inapplicable to animals, you think that “anything goes” and cruelty and malice is ok; as if humans would wantonly mistreat animals just for fun if it weren’t for those pesky laws protecting them. This is patently wrong. Humans in general treat animals rather well without any coercion, and it’s a tiny sick minority who take pleasure in the suffering of other creatures. Those people are almost always sadistic to humans too – and end up on the wrong side of the law sooner or later.

    No, the cruelty of animals is immoral and should be condemned, but it cannot be properly illegalised because the law should protect humans not animals. It is obvious that a law which protects animals from humans *cannot* protect humans from animals, since animals are not free moral agents. Therefore, any pro-animal laws will necessarily restrict the freedom of humans to live as they choose.

    As for animal testing, the truth is, if human beings benefit, I don’t care about animals. That is because a human being is a potential (or real) friend or loved one to me. Whether a particular treatment is cruel depends on the *purpose* of the action, not the nature. That is, testing astronaut helmets on apes, even if some die, is perfectly moral. But hitting apes in the head with a hammer “for fun” is cruel and immoral. However the hypothetical scientists who perform such crazy and evil actions exist only in your head.

    Do you eat meat, Kayla? Do you wear clothes that in any part of nature are derived from animal death? Do you live in a house displacing wildlife? Like most (all) animal “rights” protestors, you are probably a sentimental hypocrite who cares more about mindless instinct-driven creatures than conceptual human beings, beings of your own kind. Have you ever seen love in the eyes of a human? Is it the same look your dog gives when he’s awaiting a meal? Have you ever thrown a ball for your lover or best friend to chase? Have you ever eaten human meat or worn a coat made from dead babies? I wonder why not.

  79. Mikee Says:

    The Objectivist view is that rights are not granted. Ever. Rights are freedom of action in a social context, and they are determined by our nature as humans. Laws exist that attempt to codify some human rights, but those laws do not grant rights.

    This is also why animals don’t have rights — it’s because of who/what they are. The character of rights implies the ability to be rational, for example; to make a choice. Passing a law that says animals have rights wouldn’t make it so.

    The fact that some people misuse or abuse animals doesn’t change this


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