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Animals and rights

Jim Henley has kicked off a fair old discussion buzz on the blogs in asking the question: do animals have rights? My short answer right away is they do not as the term rights only makes sense applied to humans because humans, being actually or potentially rational creatures, need freedom to exercise that rational faculty, which is not automatic, and hence doctrines of rights have evolved. Humans, by their nature, need liberty to survive and flourish because of how our minds work. Dogs and bunny rabbits do not.

Well, that is what I have thought for a long time. But the fuzzy bits that you get with these sort of broad claims have started to bother me. A dog, for example, does not have a ‘volitional consciousness’ in the same way that a human being does, but the dog can respond to signals and its environment; it may not be able to form complex plans, but it can change its behaviour ever so slightly. So a dog needs an element of freedom to survive, too. So if rights are necessary for the furtherance of life, then perhaps they also apply to some other sentient creatures besides we humans. I still think the answer is no, since rights also entail the capacity to respect the rights of others: a vicious dog is not bothered about such things, let alone a white shark or even – may Perry forgive me – a hippo.

And then of course, if we start to cut off the application of rights for any creature that does not fully fit the Aristotelian concept of a ‘rational animal’, where does that leave the mentally handicapped, or very young babies that have not yet formed a rational capacity? I think the in the former case, we regard the handicapped as having lost or never acquired something that humans normally would have, but our sheer sense of solidarity and compassion for the frail means we treat the handicapped with respect and care and rightly so. But of course we do not allow severely handicapped people to perform potentially dangerous jobs and in practice, such people tend to be placed under pretty serious constraints about what they can do. The same goes for very young children, or aged people suffering from mental deterioration to do with age.

But I must admit that our attitudes towards animals are strange at times. I do not shoot or hunt animals for ‘sport’ – if it was sport, they would be able to shoot back – and I despise factory farming, think people who are cruel to animals deserve to have their gonads removed, and think that cruelty to other species diminishes us as human beings. But the problem is, I really, really feel in the mood for a big cheeseburger.

Tibor Machan, the libertarian philosopher – and thoroughly nice chap – gives the standard classical liberal argument for why animal rights do not exist. I strongly urge commenters to take a look at the links on Jim Henley’s post I have linked to above.

44 comments to Animals and rights

  • Lascaille

    Animals are tools, pure and simple. They’re not human beings and therefore they just don’t count. Anything goes, as far as I am concerned.

    That shouldn’t be taken as any endorsement or approval of pointless cruelty, because it isn’t – it’s just cutting through the animal testing/factory farming crap, because otherwise it’s just an endless gradient with killing/eating any animal being illegal on the far end.

  • Brad

    Without spending an hour and several paragraphs on positive rights and negative rights, I look at the question simply from a point of view that “rights” need to be enforced (unfortunately), and that policing/enforcing organization is the State (hopefully of a proper minarchic form – setting aside a long debate on anarchanism and the like, there will be a State regardless of basic philosophy). Dogs are not able to, nor ever will be, take part as a member of the society which gives rise to that State. A libertarian viewpoint is the each human is sovereign unto himself, and interacts voluntarily with others. An animal does not (and cannot) act in this manner. Simply put, it cannot contract. So then it’s “rights” have to be enforced by on human party against the interests of another. It might even go so far as to force a loss or a transfer of a party in favor of an animal that is not capable of returning an equal obligation. Simply put, animal rights involve a form of subsidy which libertarians should be against. A State has to collect funds broadly to enforce rights, and a dog cannot be assessed. This is patently unfair to the rest endeavoring to be left alone peacefully.

    The province of the State (and its Force) should be reserved for humans only, to protect life and property. Other activities perhaps worth condemning, while reprehensible, and described as a vice, should rather fall to non-coercive cultural forces. I don’t have to like a person’s behavior toward an animal so I have options ranging from having no dealings with them to spending resources condemning them at large. I don’t have to support making a broad collection of the citizenry to put them in a cement and steel box at great public expense, especially considering no persons’ life or property was ever at risk.

    Also, to follow up from Lascaille, a rational and consistent attempt by the State to establish animal rights would lead to an addition to codified law that boggles the mind. Animals have rights, but I can still make meat patties out of them? People can be jailed for breeding and fighting Pit Bulls, but the State can attempt to erase the breed from existence? The State can put someone in jail for killing their own dog, yet euthanizes thousands on a daily basis? If dogs have rights, do chickens? Frogs? Houseflies? Who draws the arbitrary line?

    Back to culture, we live in an unfortunate age wherein everything should be black and white, watershedding into that which people are allowed to do without any backlash or otherwise going to prison. There is no middle ground for people to act as they please, having even a majority be revolted, and not have it translate into State action. As Lysander Spooner wrote, Vices are not Crimes. But that doesn’t mean we have to like it or not have others behaviors have an effect on our relations with them.

  • Tibor Machan may be a nice chap, but his philosophy sends me into a boiling rage. In a nutshell, he seems to be against the whole concept of reciprocal responsibilities.

    Back in my blogging days, I eviscerated one of his columns here.

  • Steevo

    I’ve read enough on the subject that I’m no longer seriously interested in the fussy logic. I have no doubt human-caused animal cruelty will continue to decrease. I’m really only interested in how society will adjust to what I think may become a reality with the equation of rights and justification of my neighbor’s cat receiving treatment and care, possibly with preference over myself because its innocence is more emotionally appealing. In our world it can only be a victim.

  • Any philosphy that considers a dog as being fully equivalent to a hammer has become unmoored from reality.

  • Jacob

    I find this debate ridiculous.
    Let’s first implement human rights, for humans.
    We’ll worry about animal rights later.

  • veryretired

    In any discussion of animal rights, it is necessary to demand a change of cast. Instead of chickens and cute little bunnies, or calves and harp seal pups, demand that the case be made for sewer rats, malaria causing mosquitos, rabid skunks, and poisonous snakes.

    Any truly logical theory of animal rights will, of necessity, include these animals as full fledged members of the rights possessing community.

    It’s easy to humanize puppies and kitties. Try selling a case for rights analagous to human rights for those latter paragons of animalism.

    As an aside, I have never seen a rational case made for the fact that only humans are expected to recognize and respect all these rights, while the animals that allegedly possess them are given a pass on any responsibility to observe or respect the rights of any other animal of the same or another species.

    If the answer to the above is that, “Well, humans are different than other animals in that they can conceive of and comprehend the idea of rights”, then that difference is the basis for the rights humans possess, and that lack is the reason animals are not equivalent entities.

    Anyway, go ahead and argue this out for the next hundred years. I’ve got a chicken in the oven for dinner, and it’s time to start the side dishes.

  • Midwesterner

    People who base their arguments on the capacity or potential capacities of animals are wide open to eugenicists arguing for the dehumanization of people like my profoundly brain damaged cousin. Since the age of two, he has been less trainable than most dogs. They have an arguable case, but is it one they really want to make?

    This is a topic I think about but don’t have strongly based answers for. But I am absolutely certain of one thing. I have the right to boycott and advocate to others against doing business with anyone I choose. And there are definitely people I choose to boycott and advocate against.

    I am interested in this thread and hope it is a long and multifaceted discussion.

  • 6th Column

    We should take care of animals that we have domesticated. It makes economic sense. Animals can suffer pain and it is inhumane of us to cause pain in an animal for no good purpose. For animals that we treat as pets it is even worse if we cause them pain because it is a betrayal of trust. (I love my dog and would be devastated if it were in pain – it believes it is one of the family)

    I do not think that animals experience the world in the way that humans do but unnecessary cruelty dehumanises us. I am sure that there are legitimate reasons for using animals for some experimentation but it pains me to contemplate these things and often I think that there could be another way to learn the things we need to know if only we could be bothered.

    The only ‘right’ that animals should have is that a human being should be able to prove that any suffering caused to an animal has a legitimate and worthwhile outcome. Killing (humanely) an animal, in order to eat it, is a legitimate reason in my view. Suffering is the issue. Instantaneous death is not.

  • Ham

    The argument can do without the ‘this conclusion is tastiest’ defence. If you think that animals can’t possibly have rights because you really like eating beef perhaps you haven’t thought about it enough.

  • Where there are rights, there are also obligations. Animals do not have rights (that they can expect from us), and they also don’t have obligations (towards us). We have rights, one of them is eating animals for our protein and B12 needs, if not to satisfy our cravings for meat. We also have an obligation to treat animals as humanely as possible. As to pets, someone correctly has mentioned trust. Our relationship with our pets is like the one we have with our friends, similar to an unwritten contract.

  • Just for the record, regarding Ham’s comment: I am not saying that animals don’t have rights because we like eating them.

  • Elijah

    Sport means the animals shoot back? Have been smoking bad grass?

    Have you trudged through the bush to have that trophy back trick your arse into stumbling on his backtrack?

    I think your should refrain from commenting on subjects you clearly have no knowledge of…

  • guy herbert

    I don’t think animals have rights for precisely the same reasons I don’t think humans do.

    It seems worthwhile repudiating the categorical reasoning of Lascalle in the first comment. The claim that animals “are tools” or that “they are not human beings, therfore” is not actually an argument. It presumes its conclusions.

  • Pa Annoyed

    The concept of ‘rights’ is part of the system of social interaction between humans. Other animals have their own social systems (pack law, herds, mating relationships, family, etc.), and to some extent humans interact socially with some animals and so it is possible that respective rights could come into being.

    But as for absolute rights, well, if a fox kills or injures a cute fluffy bunny wabbit in a way that causes suffering, shouldn’t the fox face the same sanctions as a human who had done the same? If it is the rabbit that has the right to life, why does it make a difference to justice that it was a fox that killed it rather than a human? Should we imprison all predators for murder? (And if we do, what will we feed them on?) Or should we grant ourselves, as an animal like any other, the same ‘right’ to hunt that a fox has?

    A lot of the confusion is due to attempts to find some objective systematic justification for human rights. There isn’t any, any more than there is for language. There are rules and regularities, certainly, but exceptions and anomalies abound.

    Language and morality have deep parallels. Language allows us to coordinate our thoughts so we may work together. Morality allows us to coordinate our customs so we may live together. That we have them is instinctive, and many of their features are determined by their purpose and the way our brains work, but a lot of the details are arbitrary and changeable, and absolute consistency is neither required nor even possible. They are both jointly determined by the whole society in which we live – they are externally imposed on us as individuals, and not a matter of free choice, and are both subjective and objective in the same sense that English grammar is both subjective and objective. I cannot the word order around swap to myself suit, there is such a thing as incorrect grammar, but there is no absolute objective reason for that word order either.
    (Note, this is not relative morality, because while we note that other moralities exist, we do not say that it is right that this be so, or that their customs have to be judged right by our standards. To make moral judgements, one has to do so in the context of a single moral system, within which such judgements are absolute. There is such a thing as right and wrong, just as there is such a thing as grammatical and ungrammatical.)

    So if we want to live together with animals, then we will have to work out some common system of rights and responsibilities with them. The dog doesn’t eat your dinner if you leave it out on the table, and in return you don’t mess with his while he’s eating it. You have to fit pack law within the far more sophisticated human customs and relationships. Animal rights in such a sense certainly exist.

    But what normally goes by the term ‘animal rights’ is in fact a purely inter-human thing. A lot of people, often with relatively little contact with undomesticated wildlife, find themselves morally classifying animals as people. There is a natural tendency when dealing with strangers to assume at first that they are much like yourself – hence all those children’s books with rabbits and moles in tiny waistcoats. I think the instinct to care for babies is also triggered by a lot of small mammals. This is entirely natural and normal. So such people respect animals as “people”, and value other humans sharing the same morality as themselves. It is all about humans wanting other humans to hold a universal respect for “people” rights, and about their ability to live with humans who do or do not share those beliefs. Someone who could be cruel to any animal is more likely (so they believe) to be cruel to humans as well. They object to human cruelty in general, and do not discriminate based on the target. (While cheerfully sitting down after dinner in the evening and watching TV documentaries about lions chasing down and strangling zebra babies. They do still discriminate by the perpetrator.)

    It is a fact that there is such a movement in our society’s morals, at present. We can debate endlessly about whether they are right or not, but such debates are moot, because we have little control individually over how our society’s morality moves. Animals have rights because people grant them to them. What more is there to say?

  • Dave

    Just a simple illustration: When we arrive home from a trip and the dog does NOT greet me, I immediately know he has done something he _knows_ he should _not_ have done, e.g. pull the evening’s steak off the counter.

    He also _knows_ he will (or should) get in trouble for this kind of a stunt. The reason he did not greet me at the door is because he is in his cubby under the stairs.

    When he comes out, he is very apologetic (Did I just say that about my dog?). His mouth is contorted a little, his eyes are blinking rapidly and the omni-thrashing tail is down and still.

    That’s when I say to him, “you KNOW you should not have done that.” He _knows_ it.

    Dogs do have volitional consciences. I am not so sure about cats. They are indeed high-order mammals, but either I am not enough of a student of cats or they just don’t give a rip what we think they should or should not do.

  • Animal Rights ? What about Mineral Rights?

    Rocks have a right to a peaceful and undisturbed geological life.

  • Midwesterner

    P.A. is on the track I am inclined towards. Rights are a system of contracts. I see absolutely no difference between a collectivist declaring a ‘right’ to my life and its products and a grizzly bear making the same claim. I have consented to neither.

    By the same token, if a collectivist is attacking someone else that I do not have a mutual defense contract with, then I am under no obligation to assist their defense, but I am certainly permitted to. The same with a grizzly attacking a cow. I am not required to defend the cow but, assuming no contracts (bad pun warning) bear on the case I may protect the cow if it suits me.

    This leads to the question of what happens when you decide to turn the cow into hamburger and animal rights activists decide to intervene. If you have no contracts with them to not intervene, then it simply comes down to a matter of strength. How to handle this without perpetual battles? Define animal treatment in the constitutional contract and enforce it as part of the agreement between parties to that constitutional contract. Then both the hamburger maker and the animal rights activists are working within a pre-agreed set of rules. This also very reasonably handles the treatment of humans who are not able to give informed consent to their own actions and treatment.

    This is the reasoning that has the strongest rational fundamental strength. “Because we’re human” rights quickly fall apart under rational analysis.

  • It’s odd to see so many creationists on this thread.

    People who understand the idea of evolution realise that animals, including humans, are part of a continuum of species and that, just as a dog’s heart performs a similar function to our own, because it shares a common origin, the same is true of its brain.

    We don’t have rights, and nor do other animals. We are autonomous, and so are most other animals. The fact that, though autonomous, we don’t exist in complete isolation confers on us responsibilities; we just don’t agree what these are. But the idea that we might accept that we have responsibilities towards other species is perfectly arguable.

    Anthropomorphism is dressing a dog in wellies, a tartan coat and treating it like a human child. Lithomorphism is treating the dog as though it were a lump of rock. Both are fatuous.

  • Brad

    ***We also have an obligation to treat animals as humanely as possible.***-Alisa

    To whom? And if we fail in this obligation, what is the penalty? Who codifies the standard and applies the penalty? Who pays for the codifiers and executers and assessors and jailers when obligations aren’t met? Don’t want to pick on you too much, but such comments go done very easy, but the reality is that it costs money to really back up such comments. All socialistic/collectivist mindsets spring from the ease of saying something should be a certain way. The devil is making it so. Most socialist/collectivist concepts get implemented by force using third party funds.
    As for differentiating between a dog and a hammer, MY dog is very much more valuable to me than any hammer. MY hammer is more valuable to me than any other dog on the planet. If someone came up to me and said “give me your hammer or a fighting dog in Afghanistan gets it” I’d probably opt to keep the hammer. Perhaps a deeper understanding of an individual interacting with the material world, and how the concept of valuable property comes into being, should be addressed first.

    It seems very clear that many people have to get over the almost collectivist mindset that the value they have in the relationship with a pet is tempered by how every other member of that species is treated. Libertarianism should strive for allowing the maximum differential in values and behaviors derived from them. One can certainly take exception to others behaviors, but if they are not directly threatened, no force should be used. By all means, use known data that a particular individual has maltreated an animal, and feel free to impute just how such behavior may impact their dealings with other humans (after all that’s the real fear here), but through free association, not collective sanction. When they strike against another human or their property, then collective sanction is legitimate.

    Which leads into the last thought, is the process of giving animals rights falls into that category of positive rights very similar to “rights” humans supposedly have to education, health, food, etc etc. If I’m suddenly going to soften up, then I’d much rather start subsidizing meals for children or Socialist Healthcare than advancing causes for dogs.

    ***Dogs do have volitional consciences. I am not so sure about cats. They are indeed high-order mammals, but either I am not enough of a student of cats or they just don’t give a rip what we think they should or should not do.***- Dave

    I’ve wondered about this too. But one can also ascribe the bahavior to conditioning. I haven’t ever given my dog(s) enough credit that they knew they were going to be punished and went ahead anyway. I came to the conclusion that they may not even remember that they themselves did it, it just means that they can draw conclusions that when the house is messy and the lock clicks, they have a always gotten in trouble. When they have a aftertaste of raw beef on their pallet and there’s butchter paper on the kitchen floor, they’re in for it. They have also been conditioned that if they act “apologetically” the better off the result. I can’t convince myself that it is nothing more than conditioning versus a calculated set of deductions.

    But at the end of the day, it is mutual conditioning that we give each other, because I too had to change. I had to learn to remember to put the tasty bits away, or put up a gate. Or the second nature to feed them when I make my meal, or give them their medicine, or let them out on a routine, or knowing subconsciously when it was time for a walk. That’s the reality of the mutual “love” and affection that comes with pet ownership and the obvious appeal. I don’t need to impose that process on the rest of the world to validate or make sense of my relationship with my dog. Perhaps belaboring the point, if how someone else treated their own dog in a manner I didn’t like, and I was so moved by it to action, it would still fall short of pointing guns at them and commanding behavioral change. I’d use non-coercive means.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Mastiff writes:

    Tibor Machan may be a nice chap, but his philosophy sends me into a boiling rage. In a nutshell, he seems to be against the whole concept of reciprocal responsibilities.

    I read your piece at the blog you link to, and I frankly find it odd that you should consider Machan’s liberal defence of individual rights as something that sends you into a “boiling rage”; when you talk about reciprocal responsibilities, you need to justify the existence of said, not merely assert that they exist. I am not terribly convinced by your argument at all. As “eviscerations” go, it was not terribly effective, but a sort of bald statement that we all have some sort of collective “duty”. Oh please.

    Jacob writes:

    I find this debate ridiculous

    Well other people don’t, including meat-eaters like yours truly. By considering our relationship to the animal world, we can also get some traction on issues that affect us, Jacob. Let’s not shut down lines of debate.


    In any discussion of animal rights, it is necessary to demand a change of cast. Instead of chickens and cute little bunnies, or calves and harp seal pups, demand that the case be made for sewer rats, malaria causing mosquitos, rabid skunks, and poisonous snakes



    Ham writes, a bit sniffily:

    The argument can do without the ‘this conclusion is tastiest’ defence.

    Whether the argument “can do without it” or not, Ham, is besides the point. I made the remark not flippantly but as an honest statement of how I like to eat meat and of course, as humans, we have evolved biologically to like meat. To state that is being honest, it was not meant to be flippant.


    Sport means the animals shoot back? Have been smoking bad grass?


    Have you trudged through the bush to have that trophy back trick your arse into stumbling on his backtrack?


    I think your should refrain from commenting on subjects you clearly have no knowledge of…

    Unluckily for you, I have shot game, caught fish and so on, and know a bit about hunting; but this is hunting, not a sport. Hunting is something I defend, but killing for sport absolutely not; I don’t particularly care for people who blast away at hundreds of birds, most of them not eaten, as a sort of sport; if people want to get a buzz by shooting or firing objects at things, take up clay shooting or whatever. There is a skill to hunting that one can admire, and one can admire the bravery of hunters, but spare me any bullshit about how it is a sport, like a nice game of tennis or chess on a Sunday afternoon.

    And by the way, the sort of people who kill animals for kicks and put their severed heads on their walls are creeps, in my book.

    Pa Annoyed comments are excellent.

  • Ham

    Jonathan, but what is the difference between hunting an animal for ‘sport’ and picking pieces of one from the supermarket shelf? If animals don’t deserve to be chased through the forest for our amusement, why do they deserve to be caged and slaughtered for our nourishment? Whether they deserve it or not, we can’t assign any sort of right to life to sentient animals: as soon as we do, farming becomes unspeakably barbaric.

    For the record, I eat meat too. As thoughtful as Pa Annoyed’s opinion is (he makes a sound case for not including animals in our civilised way of life), I still can’t quite justify disregarding an chicken’s right to live. I’m too selfish to stop eating them; I just hope no superior beings find their way here to start farming me.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Interesting point. I have sometimes argued for fun in favour of vegetable rights (a “right to life” must apply to all life) but maybe something like “mineral rights” is at work in some people’s thinking about not mining on the moon, and leaving it pristine and untouched, for example.

    One problem with the contractual approach is that even if you agree to the contract, I have not agreed to any “contract” to respect your rights, and yet you nevertheless have them and everyone would consider it reasonable for you or others to enforce them. Rights and responsibilities exist whether we agree to them or not, like the price of essential goods in a free market. It is not your choice and nor is it the collectivist’s choice – it is the choice of the society we live in; morality is a catallaxy.

    It is only voluntary to the extent that the society we live in is of our choice, which in my view ought to be maximal. That’s not to say that a woman living in Saudi Arabia does not have the rights we do because the society she lives in does not grant them – rights are a feature of morality, and as I said, we can and should judge right everywhere by our own standards. But it is worth noting that others see it differently, and are rational, if wrong, to do so.
    (I appreciate from previous discussions that we disagree on this topic, and respect that. I’m not trying to start an argument.)

    Peter Risdon,
    The ‘Creationist’ claim isn’t really accurate here. Humans are different to other animals like animals are different to one another. No wolf is being inconsistent in treating its own kind differently from the deer, and we are not morally bound to obedience to the same chemical signals that ants and bees are, for all that we are related. It is rational to treat humans differently, it is rational (but incorrect) to try to justify this on the basis of objective differences like intelligence, ‘awareness’, or free will. It does not imply any denial of a continuous relationship, or denial of the existence of morally grey cases on the boundaries. The actual distinction, I would argue, is the society we live in, and we are only bound to the extent that we rely on social relationships with the animals, or to the extent that the people we live with have such beliefs. But I do sympathise with what you say, and think you make very good points.

    To who do we owe the obligation and who collects the cost? To the society we live within. Get caught being cruel to animals, and see how your friends and neighbours react. No need for state interference.
    And if your friends and neighbours are animal lovers, it will make no difference to them that no humans were harmed. I know what you mean, agree with you about Socialists trying to impose their own morals on the market, and would probably prefer it to be as you describe. But don’t believe that that is how things are.

    Thanks, yours are too.
    And to everyone – even those I’ve just disagreed with – a good debate! I’m very interested in what people think about it, and there are some good points being made here.

  • Midwesterner

    One problem with the contractual approach is that even if you agree to the contract, I have not agreed to any “contract” to respect your rights,

    As they say, that is not a bug, it’s a feature. The law of reciprocity says that if the above was a goal, I could be compelled to recognize your rights. Since you may believe you have a right to compel me to follow your religion, the fact the consent is required in both directions is a feature, not a bug.

    and yet you nevertheless have them and everyone would consider it reasonable for you or others to enforce them.

    But clearly they don’t. Islamists most certainly do not consider it reasonable for me to enforce my rights.

    it is the choice of the society we live in;

    No it is not society’s choice. It is mine. I choose the society I associate with, not the other way around. And because of the problems stated above, my chosen society has a mutual defense clause. To the extent that I can find or create a society with my values that will accept me, I may join it. I consent to my present one by choice. But just as in the case of the cow being attacked by the bear, I am allowed to attempt escape and to assist others in their escape and defense efforts. I am not morally or rationally compelled to accept the society that surrounds me.

    Taylor, while humorous, the point you make is absolutely correct. The same principles governing our treatment of animals and treatment of other humans, applies to our treatment of land and rocks. There is absolutely no natural reason (short of greater strength) that you should have greater rights to a particular peace of the earth’s surface than me. The rights are governed by contract you and I both agree to (our constitution). We happen to agree constitutionally to ‘ownership’ of our own definition and a chain of purely human provenance to establish it. If by some reason, you and I decide mining copper is ‘cruel’ to rocks and ban it, then that extends to rocks that you and I control.

  • Thanks for your kind sentiments Mid.

    But what about my rights to marry that rock. Who is to say that my love for that mineral and its love for me is not just as real as your love for your partner.

    Equal spousal rights for all, animal, vegetable And mineral.

  • Midwesterner

    No one but you Taylor and the terms of any constitution you have voluntarily accepted. Whatever gets your rocks off. But let me suggest that if you attempt procreation, you approach it with caution.

    And try to never take that special someone thing for granite. Unless of course …

    Well, good luck in pursuit of your quarry.

    It might help your chances if you were a little boulder.

  • Didn’t Fred Flintstone have a child named Peebles?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Jonathan, but what is the difference between hunting an animal for ‘sport’ and picking pieces of one from the supermarket shelf? If animals don’t deserve to be chased through the forest for our amusement, why do they deserve to be caged and slaughtered for our nourishment? Whether they deserve it or not, we can’t assign any sort of right to life to sentient animals: as soon as we do, farming becomes unspeakably barbaric


    Ham, the difference between killing animals for food and hunting them to get a buzz of excitement, as a sport, is that the former can at least be argued for that eating meat is a necessity – well, at least until we can adopt a vegetarian diet with enough protein in it – while the latter isn’t. I’ll readily admit that we have evolved as creatures that eat meat, and arguably, we have also evolved as creatures that can be excited by violence; but I think that civilisation means we overcome the latter and start to think about the former. I personally like to eat meat but could do without it if I really needed to.

  • Brad: when I posted my comment, I knew yours was coming (not necessarily from you, but from someone), I just did not have the time to write a longer one. I am talking about moral obligations, not legal ones. Just like rights, obligations and duties do not exist outside of the social context. As others have pointed out, we are not born with rights, we grant them to ourselves (we want to live and be happy, so we say we have a right to life and pursuit of happiness). The same with obligations. The fact that both (some) rights and (some) obligations are codified in law is beside the point. I grant myself the right to eat a cow, and I also take upon myself an obligation to treat it humanely (per my interpretation of the term).

    (I have not read the following comments yet, so apologies if I am repeating something someone else already said).

  • Kim du Toit

    “Anthropomorphism is dressing a dog in wellies, a tartan coat and treating it like a human child. Lithomorphism is treating the dog as though it were a lump of rock. Both are fatuous.”

    Amen. The problem is that classic piece of ideological stupidity — applying a principle equally to all things under all circumstances.

    A dog is not a rat — we have different relationships with each, and no one of sane mind is going to argue that while we should slaughter rats wholesale, that we should therefore shrug if dogs can be shot on sight, too.

    Penning a calf up in a stall in a state of complete immobility, simply to make the veal tastier, is horrible — but doing the same to chickens is okay (as long as you don’t mind the horrible taste of the chicken meat). They are two different animals.

    I don’t have a problem with cockfighting, but I do have a real problem with dogfighting, for exactly the same reasons.

    Yes, there are contradictions and inconsistencies inherent in all this. So what? As much as I love my dog, and I do, if it came to a choice of sacrificing my dog to save my child, I wouldn’t give it a second thought.

    But I wouldn’t lavish the same love and affection I give my dog on a pet snake. Why not?

    Because one’s a dog, and the other’s a snake.

  • Penning a calf up in a stall in a state of complete immobility, simply to make the veal tastier, is horrible — but doing the same to chickens is okay (as long as you don’t mind the horrible taste of the chicken meat). They are two different animals.

    I have no problem with either and if you find it horrible, I would never dream of force feeding you veal (because that means more for me).

    I think the general principle is that it is ok to kill rats (which is socially acceptable) and it is also ok to kill dogs (which is not socially acceptable)… but it is not ok to kill dogs if they belong to some human however, and ditto if I have a pet rat I suppose.

  • Re “if it was sport, they would be able to shoot back”
    No. That would be war, maybe a Gorilla war, or at least a ‘police’ action 😉

    Any sort of rights, do not exist in and of themselves. They are an agreement amongst individuals or groups of individuals that are collectively enforced.

    Rights are not universal, they are a ‘local’ temporary agreement.

    Viewed practically animals do have something similar to rights. They just can’t complain they have been breached, or enforce them themselves. There is plenty of legislation that governs how animals may and may not be treated.

    It has to be said that how the individual, or group, treat each other, or animals, says much about the individual and the group.

    Having said that, it does have to be said that any philosophy that considers a hamster to be fully equivalent to a human being is only very loosely connected with reality.

  • Midwesterner

    I disagree with just about everything Kim said this time. Having seen the carnage left when people let Buster and Patches run wild, my sympathy is with farmers when they shoot a dog that is domesticated at home and feral when visits neighbors. Just any of you happen across a dieing sheep with its intestines trailing out of tears in its back end and the neighbor’s dogs circling nearby while you have young children with you.

    As for the difference between species justifying different sets of rules that are somehow supposed to be self-evident, that is also wrong. Some people think raccoons make nice pets and deer are cute. Raccoons are thieves and deer are rats with antlers. Thanks to these two species, the combine (corn harvester) would go all the way around the outside of my cornfields and arrive back empty. Some rats make wonderful pets, you know my opinion of some dogs from the first paragraph. Surprise, people (and it surprises me to need to point this out a Samizdata) animals are individuals too!

    There is no distinction between one animal species and another that is not ultimately incremental, arbitrary and subjective. There is only one sound way to establish rules for animal treatment, and that is each person individually consenting to the rules laid out in whatever agreement (ie constitution and laws) they have consented to. If you don’t like the one you’re in, seek change or find another one. The same as with any other feature a constitution has. There is nothing collectivist about this.

    Constitutions are properly a mutually agreed on set of rules for interaction, defending each other, and qualification for membership in the constitution. If there are going to be rules among a group of people for how animals may be treated, then the process for establishing them must be specified in the constitution. There is no magic right answer to be discovered.

  • It is a fact that there is such a movement in our society’s morals, at present. We can debate endlessly about whether they are right or not, but such debates are moot, because we have little control individually over how our society’s morality moves. Animals have rights because people grant them to them.

  • Brad


    I can see that there are some semantical variances involved in our discussion, but that we are not likely too far apart in our stances. But the concept of “rights” in just the cultural sense is great in theory, but rights ultimately exist within grinding mechanism of force, usually collective force. Even conceiving a right in the first place comes into being because someone is forcing you to otherwise than you would. If an action is so basic that everyone does it unquestioned it never even comes to light as a right.

    Using this as a pre-definition, then I defaulted automatically that an animal’s rights require the use force, and since the dog itself cannot conceive the abstract of a right and “pre-defend itself”, its enforced rights have to come from a collective point of reference.

    But even in the arena of culture, is there non-legal obligation for a person to treat their dog a certain way? The only sense that an obligation arises at all by my definition is when risk against another human or their property. It becomes a legal obligation when the threat is quite clear and present that it cannot be allowed to continue within free society. A non-legal obligation would exist when human life or property could be at risk, but much less clearly or definitely. Cultural stresses should come to bear at that point. When life or property is not at risk, no obligation exists. That’s not to say that being demonized might not still be the result, and cast from “good society”, but more as a consequence of free society than a system of obligations.
    As a last thought, amplifying a previous comment by myself about what we are really getting at here.

    I would assume that the vast majority here would be against the concept of an animal having positive rights, to health, education, food by merely existing. Then what about negative rights? The right to life? No one seems to be establishing that. Negative right to privacy, or quiet enjoyment of property? Don’t really compute sensibly for an animal. The negative right to be free of physical coercion and cruelty? Now we are on to something. But not inalienable, as many or most allow for animal testing for medical reasons or product safety.

    So we are talking about a small sliver of “rights” to be free from physical pain and cruelty as long as it doesn’t entail a “very good reason”. So in essence we are talking more about cruelties inflicted by individuals either out of rage and poor emotional control or exploited for base pleasures (dog fighting both for its own sake and for the excitement of wagering for example). This seems to a lot less about establishing animal rights than it is to condemn specific behaviors by humans and the unacceptable value systems that give rise to them. And just how easily the solution for many is to tap the collective force of the State for every happenstance by a dark hearted individual. And hitting the same nail on the head for the millionth time, couching this in terms of rights for animals seems to up the ante out of the moral arena into the State enforced arena. It’s like the concept of rights is brought in intentiionally, and the real nature of our fear of cruel hearted people and the likelihood that it effect us next justifies collective action. It would be better served to merely say that if one is cruel to an animal for no good reason, they should be punished now before they harm a human. But that opens up a pandora’s box in my opinion. The majority of the freedom evaporating laws we have today, those that have gone well beyond protecting life and property, are born out of the “what ifs” of other peoples’ behaviors.

  • Brad

    ***It is a fact that there is such a movement in our society’s morals, at present. We can debate endlessly about whether they are right or not, but such debates are moot, because we have little control individually over how our society’s morality moves. Animals have rights because people grant them to them. ***

    I was all prepared to have the previous comment be my last, but this is a bit too much. If this doesn’t give license to every squeaky wheel to run our lives, and that we should just “not do something, stand there” because that’s just the way it is, I don’t know what does. We are all being sucked down the rabbit hole of Socialism and we’re not supposed to even debate it because it’s moot? And you say “at present” as if it will change at some point – how does it change without some sort of debate? Magic?

    Too many people grant other people all sorts of positive rights, typically paid out of extorting money from my pocket book. And I’m just supposed to roll over and take it? The Majority has spoken? The day I give into that without even a debate is the day I suck the barrel of a shotgun.

  • Brad, I don’t think you and I in any major disagreement either, but let’s give it a shot anyway:-) My point was (not very well made) that I don’t even bother to look at the legal aspect of this, as giving animals any legal rights, positive or even negative, is out of the question for me. With that out of they way (I hope), I am much more interested in the moral aspect of the issue. And here I don’t think that most of us condemn cruelty to animals just because it is an indication of a personality that can be dangerous to humans as well (although such an indication is quite reliable). Unless we go to that theory that morality in general is based on our survival instinct. It is probably true historically, and we are genetically programmed like that, but when I see someone being needlessly cruel to another person, it outrages me, and not because I think that I might be the next victim. The same with animals. I think (I hope) that most people are like that, i.e. we don’t steal not just because it is illegal.

  • Oh, and amen to your last comment.

  • Midwesterner

    Brad, I like your points, particularly the distinction between regulating ‘rights of animals’ and ‘certain human behaviors’. I think that distinction is key to placing the conversation in the right context.

    I would like to split one point that I think you’ll agree with, but I am not sure. It is the use of ‘collective’.

    Let’s create a hypothetical situation. You and Alisa and I have agreed to a mutual defense contract that contains recognitions of personal property and also stipulations on our personal conduct. Our contract declares that putting a tutu on a dog is cruel and to be forbidden. Alisa an I are very strong on this rule and you have decided that, while rule is stupid, you don’t really care and you do want to join our pact, so you agree to it. That is ‘cooperative’ not ‘collective’.

    But now, Nick M comes along and sets up shop nearby. He has not joined our pact and further more, makes money putting on shows with dogs in tutus. You, Alisa and I muster our police and force him to stop, even though he never joined our contract. That is ‘collective’.

    I disagree with any idea that there is a natural law that grants humans special rights. In a state of nature, if a bear wants to eat a human, it is not an immoral bear. If the human wants to turn the bear into a rug, it is not an immoral human. Rights are an agreement between each of the parties. My dogs have a doggy pack contract with me. By doggy rules, we behave similar to a pack. They protect me and our territory and (attempt to) help bring food to dinner (don’t ask). But in a state of nature, all of us are free to abrogate our agreement and it is only our respective strengths and desires that decide the outcome. Sometimes dogs run away from their human pack hoping to find a better one, sometimes people reject their dogs. (Right now my pack is laying on my feet hoping I can make yet another Midwestern thunderstorm stop.)

    We all, animal and human, have state of nature rights to get out of any situation we have been forced into. It is only our agreements that tell us otherwise.

    I am amused that I, as probably the only vegetarian who doesn’t use products that require killing the animal, am the one laying out the clearest case for killing and using animals.

    I am now quite confident that there are no clear cut objective standards of animal treatment available. We each hold our standards very strongly, but they are subjective none the less. For this reason, they must be agreed on between reasonable people.

    While people like Michael Vick are utterly abhorrent, the moral case against him is a subjective one, it is the legal case against him that must bear. And even if the legal case were unfounded, I would still reserve the right to boycott any team he plays for and any game he plays in, whether in person or on television, and to boycott the sponsors of same. But that choice is based on my subjective opinions, not on some natural law.

    (‘nother bolt of lightening. One of the pack just tried to crawl into my lap, computer or no.)

  • Brad


    I’ve used collective in a couple of different spots, so I’m not sure which time its use causes the split to come in, but I stand by the concept that with a desire to establish a right comes the willingness (and necessity) to use force to perfect it. As a dog does not comprehend the abstract concept of a right, its perfection necessarily involves human intervention on its behalf (your contrasting example has the animal always as a “subsidized” third party), and if someone is operating outside of acceptable behavior, the notion then is collective force will be used upon him to perfect the rights of the third party dog. The very impetus of trying to establish a right to an entity that cannot, nor ever (a key concept), understand that it even has rights must come from an a priori collective mindset. ALL dogs are given this sliver of right to be not treated cruelly, through use of legal force. It’s the only way it can come about.

    Put another way, if a cooperative decides to treat their own dogs a certain way, semantically, I wouldn’t say that establishes a right. A right, in this case, is established by forcing another party to act differently, either directly or indirectly, by threatening their liberty or taking a part of their wealth, with threats of more if their behavior doesn’t change.

    The basis of this whole argument derives from what we really fear, other people, and what cultural paradigms the non-compliance with are worthy of traversing out of the voluntary arena into the non-voluntary arena. My attitude is that we had better very careful which those are, as with that decision comes a self serving bureaucracy with its cross purposes. If force is in the offing, we better be very frugal with its use. There are too many Philosopher Kings in the world ready to bust it out over every last irritation.

    Above all, there needs to be consistency, and a set of laws to enforced says you can eat one animal, but not another, or the State can kill them by the thousands but if you euthanize your own dog, even for a valid reason, you are subject to penalty, or that one breed of animal can be eradicated while great expense to protect other species is made, all is highly inconsistent. I fight such extensions of “rights” for two reasons, the lack of an attack on an interested human, AND the fact that such territories tend to very inconsistent, and inconsistency is one of the main planks for tyranny. Extension of animal rights simply opens the door for more tyrannical bureaucracy underpinning a quasi-religious set of beliefs that had better be followed or it’s a priori evidence of your incorrigibility and justifies ex-communication to a cement and steel box.

    As for Vick, I don’t like what he has done. But having all of this fallout strikes exactly at the core of what I am driving at. A large part of the indignation doesn’t even seem to be that he treated dogs poorly, but that it is a Federal Felony. THAT is the bigger sin. Listening to some fellows (Boers and Bernstein on ‘620 the Score’ out of Chicago which you may get) have gone on about how Vick is so horrible yet Bull Fighting is o.k. The paradigm to watershed the two? Bull Fighting is accepted as culturally historical while dogfighting is a felony. Basically using pre-existing, axiomatic Statist definitions to determine right and wrong. Not one second of time devoted as to their consistency. Training dogs to tear each other apart for amusement and gambling is different than starving, beating, drugging, and stabbing a bull for the amusement of a stadium full of people. And the Government (granted in this case there are several governments involved) tells me so. To my mind, purely an example of the intellectual rot of Socialism. “They tell me what is o.k. and what isn’t, regardless of the inconsistency, and even if you are consistent, but against The Code, you are evil”. A contradicting philosophy is bad enough in the voluntary sphere, it is not bearable in the realm of force.

    Now, off to flip a sawbuck into the till for the privilege…..

  • Midwesterner

    Starting with “I disagree…” is not addressed to Brad, but rather to the topic in general.

  • Brad


    I submitted a response an hour ago or so which has gone into the approval hopper. I didn’t ingore you. Hopefully it comes through….

  • Pa Annoyed


    Good point. I overstated that last paragraph a little. You should of course continue to debate to change the morals of society, and it can have an effect, albeit a small one. It is how the joint decision-making process works.

    What I think I was trying to say is that there’s no point in arguing about whether those rights exist or not, and there’s no point in claiming they are other than they currently are. What they might become is another matter.

    I appreciate the correction.

  • Midwesterner


    I hold that in a state of nature all creatures have the right to pursue their own lives as they see fit. Nature is not pretty sometimes. So in the sense we are talking in this conversation, the “rights” we are talking about are not ‘natural rights’.

    I reject the idea that any creature comes by these rights to particular treatment at the hands of others naturally. Any ‘rights’ ascribed to any creature are the product of whoever is ascribing them. If two or more of them voluntarily agree to recognize the ‘rights’ of a third party to particular treatment, then it is a cooperative process and voluntary processes are legitimate to most people here. If however, some one or more force their idea of third party rights on others who would not freely recognize those rights, it is force … collectivism.

    This is why I liked your observation that ‘recognizing animal rights’ is in fact placing standards on human conduct. Once this is understood, we can reject the idea of animal (or any other) rights as natural law. These things become a matter for people seeking a concentual relationship to work out between themselves.

    I’m not sure, I don’t think we are disagreeing. I think difficulties arise in a conversation for which the context and language is new and not established.

    I hold (along with most people here) that the moral basis of government is individual consent with an alternative to leave freely. For example, at present most Americans have the right to leave freely, we just don’t see a better option out there. Therefore, as much as we complain about our government, it is a consensual contract. The day a government forcibly prevents its occupants from leaving freely, they revert to a state of nature with regards to that government. In short, anything goes in their effort to escape the cage. We’ve recently been given a suspicion of exit prohibition being, in the long range, a slim but detectable possibility in the UK. I haven’t seen anything to suggest it in the US. Yet.

    If I am correct that you and I and maybe some others are in approximate agreement on the fundamentals, it’s probably worth spending some time working out exactly how to state what we think. If we are in substantial disagreement, then I’m not understanding well and would like to better understand our differences.

    In a nut shell, in a state of nature all creatures have the right to seek their own ends. Therefore, any rights binding the actions of others are, by necessity, a construct of the those who recognize them. That recognition can be either voluntarily or compelled, ie cooperatively or collectively.