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 Do animals have rights? 
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Nick wrote:
I'm afraid I regard the use of the word 'rights' as largely unhelpful. Unsurprising, as they are of purely human construction.
But surely we human beings have constructed some pretty helpful things. :puzzled:
Nick wrote:
Worse, they are created, expanded and promoted by the vocal and ignorant in a desperate attempt to justify their own particular prejudice or bigotry. The 'right' of parents to educate their children in faith schools is a modern example (as demonstrated in Dawkins' recent TV programme).
On the other hand, they can be used by oppressed people in a desperate but sometimes successful attempt to defend themselves from prejudice and bigotry. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a public bus, she was asserting her right to sit there. The bus company did not recognise such a right, but the civil rights movement demanded that recognition. By asserting that a (moral) right already existed rather than simply asking for a (legal) right to be granted, they placed the onus on the other side to demonstrate the moral rightness of their policies. The same applied to women asserting their moral right to participate fully in the democratic process on an equal footing with men. It doesn’t matter that the concept of moral rights is a fiction. It still works, on many levels. When groups of people are awarded legal rights that they didn't have before, it's not done purely out of largesse; it's done because a moral right is recognised, and that recognition is a vital part of the process, in my view.

I agree that sometimes the concept is misused, and when that happens it has to be challenged. Fortunately, it is quite easy to argue convincingly against the notion that parents have a right to have their children educated, at public expense, according to their own belief system, on the grounds of impracticality.
Nick wrote:
We humans are supposed to have a 'right' to drinking water, and yet millions don't have access to [unpolluted] water. It's an aspiration, which I share, but it does nothing to call it a right.
I think it does an awful lot. People have a right to clean drinking water because it’s vital for health and survival. We might aspire to live in a nice house with our own front door, or to have a well-paid job, or to drive a car, but we don’t aspire to survive. And when resources exist that make it perfectly possible to arrange matters so that everyone does have access to clean drinking water, it makes perfect sense to demand that access as a right. It then puts the onus on everyone else to either explain why that right shouldn't exist or to recognise it and uphold it.
Nick wrote:
Likewise, how can new rights be introduced, except in a legal sense?
It is possible for people to grant moral rights on an individual or group basis, without legal recognition of those rights. That’s the beauty of fictional concepts; you can do pretty much what you like with them. :)
Nick wrote:
If a right is withdrawn, it can't have been a right in the first place.
Why not?
Nick wrote:
And how can 2 rights conflict? Again, they can't both be correct.
No, they can't both be "correct". But rights are not absolute things that are either true or false. Different rights are differently weighted, depending on the circumstances. Let's just focus on two things: survival and reproduction. Suppose you take as a starting point the quite reasonable idea that everyone has a right to access whatever resources he or she needs in order to survive and reproduce. In a sparsely populated and generously resourced world, that should be relatively easy. As resources get scarcer and the population increases, it gets more difficult. (And if you introduce unlimited property rights to the mix, then it gets nigh on impossible, but that's another thread!) So if you want to hang on to the idea that everyone has a right to access whatever resources he or she needs in order to survive, then that has implications for rights to reproduce. Survival trumps reproduction.

Alternatively, let's start with the very popular idea that everyone has a right to do whatever he or she wants to do, providing it doesn’t harm anyone else, or significantly risk harming anyone else. (And it has an equally popular corollary: that no one has the right to stop someone doing whatever he or she wants if it doesn’t harm anyone else, or significantly risk harming anyone else.) I think a lot of people instinctively believe in such a right, or think and feel in such terms. I know I do. Where conflict arises, it’s generally because of differences in the way people understand the idea of harm, or risk of harm, or practical problems in measuring the risk of harm. So such a concept of rights is not concrete and straightforward and obvious. But that’s not to say that it's completely useless.
Nick wrote:
IMO, talk of rights is just sloppy argument.
Despite what I’ve just said, I do have a lot of sympathy with your position. I think that “rights” language is overused, and inappropriately used. But I still think that at its core it is valuable. And I think that makes more sense to engage with those who use the language of rights to argue their particular case, in their own terms, rather than dismiss the whole thing because rights just don’t make sense.
Nick wrote:
In answer to the original question, we, as humans, decide and change our relationship to animals, and, unsurprisingly, come to a variety of conclusions. As a humanist, I think we should consider our relationship with the earth and living things, and try to justify our conclusions, but to declare 'rights' is as unsupportable as declaring them to be the will of god.
Again, I have a lot of sympathy with this view. But I think that the notion that non-human animals, or some of them, have rights of some kind inevitably arises in opposition to the notion that humans beings have rights over animals. And that notion is itself inevitable when non-human animals are seen as resources, which everyone has a right to access in order to survive and reproduce, rather than as “others” — the ones we have to take into account when exercising our right to do whatever we want so long as it doesn’t harm others. But the Kantian idea that animals are simply a means to an end, and "That end is man", has lost a lot of ground over the years. Way back in the mid-19th century, Schopenhauer noted that Europeans were "awakening more and more to a sense that beasts have rights, in proportion as the strange notion is being gradually overcome and outgrown, that the animal kingdom came into existence solely for the benefit and pleasure of man." I suspect that where ideas about "man's dominion over the animals" remain strong, they are very much linked to religious beliefs.

Anyway, I don’t think we can get away from the idea of human rights; I think it’s too late to expunge them from our ways of seeing the world, even if we wanted to. So, when we consider our relationship with the earth and living things and try to justify our conclusions, we are bound to use the idea of our own (moral) rights in some way. And for that reason, I think we also need to consider the idea that sentient non-human animals may have certain moral rights, even if they have no sense of them, and no means of asserting them, and no ability to recognise the rights of others or carry out any duties towards them. There's no need to take it to ridiculous extremes, and give oysters the right to a fair trial, or sponges the right to vote. But there are ways of awarding limited rights to animals in the same way that we award limited rights to infants, and those who are severely intellectually disabled, and others who have no sense of their own rights, and no means of asserting them, and no ability to recognise the rights of others or carry out any duties towards them.

And yes, that could also apply to a foetus. In my view, the important question is not whether a living thing is a person, or a human, or an animal. It is whether, and to what degree, it is sentient. And in particular, whether, and to what degree, it can feel pain.

Emma


August 27th, 2010, 1:16 pm
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A thoughtful response as ever, Emma. As I said, it the word 'rights' that gets me, because of the way it is commonly used. As for practical policy we are not far apart, it's just a different perspective, and possibly reflects personal baggage more than anything.


August 27th, 2010, 1:29 pm
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For me, both professionally and personally, animal welfare is a major issue. I feel very strongly that we, as the supposedly most intelligent species, have a duty to care for our animal cousins. This to me means that we do not treat with cruelty, we do not treat with indifference. That we do treat with kindness, that we do treat with compassion, that we do treat with dignity. For how can we care for each other if we have not the decency to care for those without our advantages?

Animals may not have rights in the sense that we humans do. Animals would probably not understand such a concept - many humans do not understand such a concept - but that does not mean that we should be ignorant to fear, suffering or hardship whether it be human or animal. We should treat all creatures as we would hope to be treated ourselves.


August 27th, 2010, 9:54 pm
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Lord Muck oGentry wrote:
animist wrote:
The fact that we have duties to them does not mean they have rights - we have all sorts of duties which do not entail corresponding rights (eg to tell the truth unless there is a good reason not to).


Are you sure this example is well chosen? If we have a duty to tell the truth, we have a duty to tell the truth to someone — not to no one at all, and not to ( say) a wall.

Yes, obviously, but we do not have a duty to tell the truth to EVERYONE, for instance the criminal who is robbing us. I like the idea of "prima facie" duties (which I remember from the book "The Right and the Good" by David Ross), which are duties that are real and objective, but not absolute in every situation - like telling the truth, keeping promises, not harming or threatening anyone/thing.


August 27th, 2010, 10:01 pm
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animist wrote:
Lord Muck oGentry wrote:
animist wrote:
The fact that we have duties to them does not mean they have rights - we have all sorts of duties which do not entail corresponding rights (eg to tell the truth unless there is a good reason not to).


Are you sure this example is well chosen? If we have a duty to tell the truth, we have a duty to tell the truth to someone — not to no one at all, and not to ( say) a wall.

Yes, obviously, but we do not have a duty to tell the truth to EVERYONE, for instance the criminal who is robbing us.


Indeed. I have no quarrel at all with that. When it comes to truth-telling, my first question is: who wants to know? And my second is: and what business is it of his?

But if satisfactory answers are forthcoming, I have a duty to tell and he has a right to know.

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August 28th, 2010, 12:35 am
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Mike wrote:
Animals may not have rights in the sense that we humans do. Animals would probably not understand such a concept - many humans do not understand such a concept - but that does not mean that we should be ignorant to fear, suffering or hardship whether it be human or animal. We should treat all creatures as we would hope to be treated ourselves.


I hope not to be eaten, myself, however well I'm treated in the mean time.
Do we have a right to exploit those powerless to resist us?


August 28th, 2010, 2:10 am
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seyorni wrote:
I hope not to be eaten, myself, however well I'm treated in the mean time.
Do we have a right to exploit those powerless to resist us?
I see humans as just another animal. Since animals exploit other animals in nature all the time to survive, I think that for humans to do the same for their survival is as natural and normal. The ethical problems for me arise with issues such as unnecessary exploitation, suffering, wastefulness. Of course our adaptability has given us the option not to eat or exploit other animals; vegetarianism. So I suppose it could easily be argued that all exploitation for meat has now become 'unnecessary', in the western world anyway. So should we allow other animals the 'right' to escape unnecessary exploitation, or at least move towards it? I guess that would be my question.


September 7th, 2010, 1:22 pm
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Manuel wrote:
seyorni wrote:
I hope not to be eaten, myself, however well I'm treated in the mean time.
Do we have a right to exploit those powerless to resist us?
I see humans as just another animal. Since animals exploit other animals in nature all the time to survive, I think that for humans to do the same for their survival is as natural and normal. The ethical problems for me arise with issues such as unnecessary exploitation, suffering, wastefulness. Of course our adaptability has given us the option not to eat or exploit other animals; vegetarianism. So I suppose it could easily be argued that all exploitation for meat has now become 'unnecessary', in the western world anyway. So should we allow other animals the 'right' to escape unnecessary exploitation, or at least move towards it? I guess that would be my question.

I don't really believe in rights, and on the animal issue (and for that matter, the human issue), what is relevant is welfare. Animals, IMO, can be killed if there is real human gain, but they must never suffer. Death is not suffering, but fear of death is a form of suffering, so animals should never know their fate.


September 19th, 2010, 8:55 am
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I see a biological parallel between humans and other animals, but not a moral one, Manuel. Animals aren't moral agents. They're not able to appreciate the effects their actions will have on others, nor do they generally have the option to choose alternatives.
We, on the other hand, are not creatures of instinct and hardwired behaviors. We function within a moral framework and have a palette of options to choose from for most situations. We are moral agents and bear a certain responsibility for the results of the actions we choose.

animist, I'm not following your reasoning in justifying painlessly killing animals for human gain. I don't see how this would substantially differ from painlessly and unanticipatedly (?) doing the same thing to another human or to some other ethnic or religious group.


September 19th, 2010, 11:26 pm
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seyorni wrote:
I see a biological parallel between humans and other animals, but not a moral one, Manuel. Animals aren't moral agents. They're not able to appreciate the effects their actions will have on others, nor do they generally have the option to choose alternatives.
We, on the other hand, are not creatures of instinct and hardwired behaviors. We function within a moral framework and have a palette of options to choose from for most situations. We are moral agents and bear a certain responsibility for the results of the actions we choose.

animist, I'm not following your reasoning in justifying painlessly killing animals for human gain. I don't see how this would substantially differ from painlessly and unanticipatedly (?) doing the same thing to another human or to some other ethnic or religious group.

Well, for one thing, you could not get away with painlessly killing some human group, whereas you can get away with such treatment of animals. Probably sounds cynical, but I am trying to be realistic, since I just don't think animals will ever be treated equally with humans; I used to do a lot of animal lib campaigning, and part of me agrees with what I think you feel, that it is simply wrong to kill animals. But in my older years I have backslid to sometimes eating meat, so I cannot honestly condemn all animal killing; and on a purely selfish level, my future will probably involve use of medicines which have been tested on animals. The important thing is to constantly strive for better welfare conditions, and I can see that there has been a great deal of progress in restricting unnecessary animal experiments and in moving from battery to free-range eggs and meat; also, of course, we did ban the hunting of foxes.


September 25th, 2010, 6:22 pm
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animist wrote(30th july, 2010) - "most humanists seem to be pro-abortion" -false, there is no such thing as a pro-choice humanist, its an oxymoron. we use words to describe ideas and a humanist is one who is concerned w/the well-being of human life. all life begins w/a single cell, and in the way of humans, this cell is called a zygote. when the zygote is formed from the two gamettes, life begins. whether or not it can survive on its own makes no more difference than a dying man or woman on life support. (not directed at animist in particular but all who read this) if someone you love had an accident and had to be kept on life support for a time, do you believe its the owner of the hospitals' right to decide thons fate? the question of abortion is not one of defining the beginning of life- science had done that some time ago, but rather one of liberty and the fact of the matter is you can't have liberty w/o life, ergo, the quality of life of the woman does not take precedence over the life she is responsible for creating. to think otherwise is an unparalleled error in thinking.


May 20th, 2011, 9:51 am
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I agree with animist that in the absence of God, there are no God-given rights - no absolute rights. Rights are whatever a society decides they are - the right to worship as you please, the right to an education, etc.

In arguing about the rights of animals, then, we are arguing about what should be allowed by society or what seems moral to us in terms of how animals should be treated. Forget about absolutes. Animals, including humans, evolved to compete with each other and with other species for survival. For many animals, that involves killing other animals for food or to protect themselves. It's in their nature. If we are to criticize humans for killing, we should also criticize other animals for behaving as nature intended.

For me, morality is mostly a matter of empathy and emotion. To the extent that an animal has any human qualities, I empathize with it. I feel a lot of empathy for our two little dogs, more than I do for most humans who are strangers. I see them almost as little humans. When I see pictures of baby seals, I react to them emotionally as if they were human babies. It's more emotional than intellectual. Of course not everybody thinks that way. Someone who sees animals as slabs of flesh can kill baby seals without thinking he's doing anything wrong. When we think of chickens in cages who never stand on the ground their whole lives, it's disturbing, because we imagine how we would feel in that situation.

Personally I'm a quality of life guy more than quantity of life. Aside from the effect on my loved ones, I'd be fine with living a good life and then keeling over suddently. As animist said above, death doesn't hurt; it's the dread of it that's awful. So if an animal lives a reasonably happy life and then is slaughtered humanely, that doesn't offend my sense of morality.


May 20th, 2011, 10:34 pm
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tynder wrote:
there is no such thing as a pro-choice humanist, its an oxymoron. The quality of life of the woman does not take precedence over the life she is responsible for creating. to think otherwise is an unparalleled error in thinking.

An error in thinking? Really?

We should be just as concerned about a five-cell embryo as about a fully formed human being? For me, that's twisted thinking. Sounds like you like are a religious person who has bought the mumbo-jumbo.


May 20th, 2011, 10:40 pm
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As with anything to do with ethics, there are no absolutes in the treatment of animals or the question of abortion. As a western woman with enough resources to choose a vegetarian lifestyle I feel it is wrong for me to slaughter animals. I would probably quite willingly slaughter a baby seal if I had to find my dinner in Siberia. The same with abortion, I would feel it to be wrong if I were to accidentally get pregnant in a "normal" situation, but would want and need the freedom to have an abortion if I would get pregnant from a rape. I think there may be an absolute in cruelty. I can't think of any situation warranting that. Can any of you think of anything? - Katja


May 20th, 2011, 11:15 pm
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tynder wrote:
animist wrote(30th july, 2010) - "most humanists seem to be pro-abortion" -false, there is no such thing as a pro-choice humanist, its an oxymoron. we use words to describe ideas and a humanist is one who is concerned w/the well-being of human life. all life begins w/a single cell, and in the way of humans, this cell is called a zygote. when the zygote is formed from the two gamettes, life begins.


Better put me down as one of the oxymoronic humanists: concerned not so much with human life as with human lives.
Human biomass is one thing. Human beings are quite another.

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May 21st, 2011, 1:10 am
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Lord Muck oGentry wrote: "Better put me down as one of the oxymoronic humanists: concerned not so much with human life as with human lives. Human biomass is one thing. Human beings is quite another."___ yes, but where do you draw the line, 1 cell, 1 million cells, 1 trillion cells? metaphorically speaking, your drawing a line in the sand away from the wall instead of using the wall itself. if its human life were talking about, its, at the least, arrogant to think you can say for certain how far away one has to be from said wall(in the sand) in order to be considered life, instead of using the point in time where you know for certain the being can be no older than(against the wall). when in doubt, in the way of human life, always preserve.


May 21st, 2011, 2:13 am
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KES2807 wrote: "I think there may be an absolute in cruelty. I can't think of any situation warranting that. Can you think of any?"___the hypothetical i favor is that if i personally knew that one individual had information which might save the life of a child, comrade or compatriot(especially if I knew them to be innocent), namely if i knew said individual was directly responsible, i believe i would do what need be to remedy the situation.


May 21st, 2011, 3:39 am
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tynder wrote:
animist wrote(30th july, 2010) - "most humanists seem to be pro-abortion" -false, there is no such thing as a pro-choice humanist, its an oxymoron.
what I said might well be false, it certainly was a sweeping generalisation. But why do you think "pro-choice humanist" is an oxymoron? Do you really think that we should all be producing as much new human life as possible, despite the consequences, and that therefore contraception is wrong as well as abortion? I also think your view of humanism is wrong as regards animals; we know that humans are just one type of animal - not necessarily the "best" but just the dominant one, so genuine humanists should care about non-human as well as human animals.


May 21st, 2011, 9:51 am
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if i personally knew that one individual had information which might save the life of a child, comrade or compatriot(especially if I knew them to be innocent), namely if i knew said individual was directly responsible, i believe i would do what need be to remedy the situation.
Tynder, if I read your post correctly you would, presumably, be willing to subject the person holding that information to "physical interrogation" or drugs in order to get him/her to divulge the information that would save the other?

Or would you settle in for a debate on morality and ethics of the situation until the person gave in, regardless of how long that took? Giving him/her adequate breaks for eating and sleeping etc. of course.

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May 21st, 2011, 10:10 am
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Dave B wrote: ...be willing to subject the person holding that information to 'physical interrogation' or drugs in order to get him/her to divulge the information that would save the other?- Or would you settle in for a debate on morality and ethics of the situation until the person gave in, regardless of how long that took?___while i was trying to be as specific as possible in the hypothetical due to the extreme sensitivity of the subject , i neglected to factor in the element of time and i apologize.- that said, if i knew w/relative certainty that time was of the essence(as well as the meeting of the aforementioned criteria), i believe I would do what need be to remedy the situation. also though, let's not forget that I was responding to KES2807s' claim(of a possibility) of an absolute. if any given person can conceive even a single scenario which would put said person in a position to torture another(to save your own life, the life of another, or everybody's' life), then at least as far as that person is concerned, the position of non-torture ceases to be an absolute. also, which is in pertinence to the matter, i personally believe that long term(over ~25 years) imprisonment(at least prisons in general(past & present) is a passive form of torture. it to me seems either excessively cruel or indecisive- neither of which is a attitude a nation should embrace.


May 21st, 2011, 4:32 pm
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