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Humans versus (other) animals.

...on serious topics that don't fit anywhere else at present.
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Manuel
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Humans versus (other) animals.

#1 Post by Manuel » October 5th, 2011, 11:11 am

I've lately been thinking about human's relationships and perception of animals. Are humans better or more important than other animals? Most people on this planet I assume, if asked, would answer that yes humans are more important, are worth more. I'm interested in why people would come to that conclusion.

As humans, I suppose it's natural to see the value of life from a human perspective. I presume another animal would, in turn, see it from its own. If you consider loss of life, is it reasonable to see the loss of human life and the loss of animal life as at least comparable? If not, why? What are the reasons that make human life worth so much more than other animal life?

Also if there is any literature on the subject that you've come across I'd be very interested. Many thanks.

Manuel
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Re: Humans versus (other) animals.

#2 Post by Manuel » October 5th, 2011, 12:07 pm

Further to my post I've just come across Political Animal: The Conquest of Speciesism by Richard D. Ryder which I've added to my Christmas list.

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animist
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Re: Humans versus (other) animals.

#3 Post by animist » October 5th, 2011, 12:31 pm

I met Richard Ryder (I won't say too much about the circumstances) before he wrote the 1975 book "Victims of Science" which made me aware of the horrors of animal experimentation, and I suppose I have been anti-specieist in principle, though not really in practice, ever since. I think we need to go a lot further in this direction, though animals without humans may not lead a great life. Lots to ponder here!

Skyfrog
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Re: Humans versus (other) animals.

#4 Post by Skyfrog » October 5th, 2011, 1:39 pm

Sometimes I could swear my cat thinks humans and other animals are just evolutionary by-products of the Feline Divinity's plan to create cat food and cat slaves :)...

Being serious, though, I believe that the natural order places human life and welfare above that of other animals, and I would privilege the most limited-functioning human being over the most intelligent ape or whale. That said, fulfilling our human dignity means respecting the animal kingdom, and so often we let ourselves down in that regard. Humans are different to animals because we have a conscientious understanding of what we do, and yet sometimes I think animals are very lucky that they do not have a conscientious understanding of what we humans are doing. If they could understand the depth of our deliberate cruelty, what would they think?

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animist
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Re: Humans versus (other) animals.

#5 Post by animist » October 5th, 2011, 5:49 pm

Skyfrog wrote: Being serious, though, I believe that the natural order places human life and welfare above that of other animals, and I would privilege the most limited-functioning human being over the most intelligent ape or whale.
but what is this natural order? Your deist god has no name or scriptures, so how does it tell you what to think? And is a chimp who beats a psychologist in some aptitude test (I did admire both of them!) less worthy of life and welfare than the psychologist? Or even if she did not beat the scientist, why is she less worthy?

Stark
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Re: Humans versus (other) animals.

#6 Post by Stark » October 5th, 2011, 6:10 pm

Worth trying some of Peter Singer's books - 'Animal Liberation' and 'Practical Ethics' in particular

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Re: Humans versus (other) animals.

#7 Post by Skyfrog » October 5th, 2011, 11:36 pm

animist wrote:
Skyfrog wrote: Being serious, though, I believe that the natural order places human life and welfare above that of other animals, and I would privilege the most limited-functioning human being over the most intelligent ape or whale.
but what is this natural order? Your deist god has no name or scriptures, so how does it tell you what to think? And is a chimp who beats a psychologist in some aptitude test (I did admire both of them!) less worthy of life and welfare than the psychologist? Or even if she did not beat the scientist, why is she less worthy?
From my Deist perspective, God bestows upon us the gifts of reason, conscience and intuition. Through these, we can come to know him, his character and his will for us (which you might call a "natural order" or "natural moral law"). The Golden Rule of trying to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself underpins this natural moral law, and is recognised in most belief systems, including secular humanism.

I am an animal lover and place a value on the life and welfare of all animals. The most intelligent animals, like primates and whales, are in my view deserving of a particular recognised status. But yes, I would privilege the most intelligent ape or whale over the least functional human being. My reason, conscience and intuition tell me that this must be so. Humans are a unique species, with mental, emotional and (I believe) spiritual faculties which are not replicated in other animals to anything like the same degree. Humans have a special status, and to disregard that is to disregard the natural moral law.
Stark wrote:Worth trying some of Peter Singer's books - 'Animal Liberation' and 'Practical Ethics' in particular
Peter Singer has a brilliant mind and has done much for the animal welfare movement, but some of his ideas are extreme. He has suggested, for example, that it is morally licit for parents to terminate the life of a baby in the months after it has been born. He also argues for the morality of humans having sex with animals.

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animist
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Re: Humans versus (other) animals.

#8 Post by animist » October 6th, 2011, 7:51 am

Skyfrog wrote:But yes, I would privilege the most intelligent ape or whale over the least functional human being. My reason, conscience and intuition tell me that this must be so. Humans are a unique species, with mental, emotional and (I believe) spiritual faculties which are not replicated in other animals to anything like the same degree. Humans have a special status, and to disregard that is to disregard the natural moral law.
Stark wrote:Worth trying some of Peter Singer's books - 'Animal Liberation' and 'Practical Ethics' in particular
Peter Singer has a brilliant mind and has done much for the animal welfare movement, but some of his ideas are extreme. He has suggested, for example, that it is morally licit for parents to terminate the life of a baby in the months after it has been born. He also argues for the morality of humans having sex with animals.
I assume that you meant to say that you would NOT privilege a highly intelligent animal over a severely disable person? You still have not really given a reason, have you? Or to explain this "natural" moral law; you mention the Golden Rule, but this could apply to animals as well as humans. Re Singer, what is your reason for condemning sex with animals? This could be construed as rape, but if you do not regard animals as on a par with humans, does it make sense to talk of them as rape victims? Over killing of babies, why is it OK to kill healthy foetuses at a late stage but not to kill severely disabled babies?

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Alicja
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Re: Humans versus (other) animals.

#9 Post by Alicja » October 6th, 2011, 3:39 pm

I don't see why we assume ourselves to be above other animals. We're certainly more successful at the things we count as important. But then rats are more successful at what they do. And we have a responsibility to protect the habitats of other species. In the same sense that industry has a responsibility to protect the habitat of humans living close by.

It's hard to avoid using them though. I think some drugs are derived from animal products, and while I stopped eating animals a couple of years ago I've found it hard to give up milk and cheese.

I think there will always be degrees of what we're comfortable in our exploitation of animals. Some people will not eat honey as they consider it enslavement. While extreme, it's not as wacky as believing that a sky fairy has promoted us above the other species.
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Skyfrog
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Re: Humans versus (other) animals.

#10 Post by Skyfrog » October 6th, 2011, 5:14 pm

animist wrote:I assume that you meant to say that you would NOT privilege a highly intelligent animal over a severely disable person?
Yes, silly me, I was not looking at what I was typing. :laughter:
animist wrote:You still have not really given a reason, have you? Or to explain this "natural" moral law; you mention the Golden Rule, but this could apply to animals as well as humans.
For me, conscience comes from God, and you can wrestle for the truth with it using reason and intuition. Going through human history, it is pretty clear that however cruel we can be, we have a basic taboo or reasoned conscientious objection to killing or harming human beings. On the other hand, animals have been killed for human use (in many cases) without reasoned conscientious objection.
animist wrote:Re Singer, what is your reason for condemning sex with animals? This could be construed as rape, but if you do not regard animals as on a par with humans, does it make sense to talk of them as rape victims?
Animals do not have equal moral status to humans but they do have moral status. Sex between humans and animals undermines the moral dignity both of the human and animal involved. It can also be cruel and harmful.
animist wrote:Over killing of babies, why is it OK to kill healthy foetuses at a late stage but not to kill severely disabled babies?
What a question! Abortion is a very difficult area. My own approach tends to see personhood as being reached at around 20 weeks into pregnancy, and favours legal abortion upto that point, but in usual cirumstances not after it. As for severely disabled babies...this is awkward, and one of the problems is that a baby cannot "consent" to suspension of treatment or euthanasia in the way that an adult is usually able to. Please take my words carefully because I have not studied this subject as much as I would like to have, but my feeling is that in the most extreme cases, it would be humane and morally permissible to with-hold medical treatment from a suffering and severely disabled or ill baby. Euthanasia for babies is even more tricky, but I would tendentiously reply with a "Yes" - but again, only in the most extreme cases.

thundril
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Re: Humans versus (other) animals.

#11 Post by thundril » October 7th, 2011, 10:02 am

Skyfrog wrote:Sometimes I could swear my cat thinks humans and other animals are just evolutionary by-products of the Feline Divinity's plan to create cat food and cat slaves :)...
At last! A belief we share! :)

Skyfrog
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Re: Humans versus (other) animals.

#12 Post by Skyfrog » October 7th, 2011, 2:04 pm

thundril wrote:
Skyfrog wrote:Sometimes I could swear my cat thinks humans and other animals are just evolutionary by-products of the Feline Divinity's plan to create cat food and cat slaves :)...
At last! A belief we share! :)
Perhaps our cats share it as well? :laughter:

Manuel
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Re: Humans versus (other) animals.

#13 Post by Manuel » October 8th, 2011, 11:09 am

Thanks for the posts and reading suggestions. One observation I've made anecdotally is that many humans in modern society, seemingly whatever their background, have a certain arrogance regarding their superiority over animals, but if questioned are unable to give a reason why this should be.

As as been suggested I suspect there's something innate and instinctive within us which assumes this superiority, and perhaps other animals also think this this of themselves, that they're the most important species alive, I suspect they do, even if not fully consciously.

Skyfrog
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Re: Humans versus (other) animals.

#14 Post by Skyfrog » October 8th, 2011, 12:56 pm

Manuel wrote:Thanks for the posts and reading suggestions. One observation I've made anecdotally is that many humans in modern society, seemingly whatever their background, have a certain arrogance regarding their superiority over animals, but if questioned are unable to give a reason why this should be.

As as been suggested I suspect there's something innate and instinctive within us which assumes this superiority, and perhaps other animals also think this this of themselves, that they're the most important species alive, I suspect they do, even if not fully consciously.
Where do you stand on this? Would you assign a higher status to a human life than an animal life?

Although I am an animal love, I am not a vegetarian, although I do try to limit the amount of meat I eat. Some things, like veal and froi gras, I avoid altogether. The pig farming industry troubles me, and because of that I do not like eating pork, although every now and then I eat a bit of ham on a pizza or something like that.

It is awkward to know where to draw the line with animal rights. At one extreme, there are people who think bullfighting, dogfighting, cockfighting etc. are okay, and at the other extreme you have people who say it is wrong to kill a malaria-carrying mosquito.

Manuel
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Re: Humans versus (other) animals.

#15 Post by Manuel » October 8th, 2011, 4:29 pm

There was a particular incident which steered me on to this path about a year or two ago. I don't know if any of you have had the opportunity to examine the droppings of owls. Strangely enough I have, whilst accompanying the kids to some sort of environmental fayre type thing that happened to be occurring one afternoon nearby. Anyway, there was a stall where the kids could sift through these droppings with tweezers to see what might be inside. They were full of small bones from the animals the owls had eaten. The kids would separate the bones, and an expert sat at the stall would examine them and tell the kids what sort of animal the bones came from. What was significant for me whilst observing these tiny bones was how similar they were to human bones. The femur of one of these shrews, for example, could have been the exact replica of a human femur, just a hundred times smaller. Whilst I haven't done any real study, it sent me on a path of wondering about, and observing other animals especially mammals and appreciating how very similar we are to each other in both behaviours and anatomy.

Regards the level of respect you give to particular species of animal, I also don't have an any blanket answers that fit all. I suspect ultimately it would be quite reasonable to catagorise animals and treat them accordingly, unless you'd want to give the same level of respect to an ape as to an ant and furthermore to an amoeba. We do this already of course in practical every day respects regards where we tread for example, perhaps the swatting of flies, and at the other end of the scale the banning of primates in animal testing.

Skyfrog
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Re: Humans versus (other) animals.

#16 Post by Skyfrog » October 9th, 2011, 12:07 pm

Interesting post, Manuel. I haven't examined owl droppings up close and personal, but have seen the procedure done on the Springwatch TV programme which I'm a fan of, and can empathise with what you are saying. Owls are eerie animalls!

petemster
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Re: Humans versus (other) animals.

#17 Post by petemster » October 9th, 2011, 6:00 pm

.

I guess a frog in the sky has good reason to be wary of owls
but to me they're really cool :-)

In a purely abstract sense few would argue that humans are more important
than animals but there are two practical instances where this principle
might not apply,

1. A pet owner might value the life of their pet more highly than a hypothetical human life.

2. Any rational person might well be disturbed by the declining numbers of, for example,
tigers or gorillas at a time when the human population has stands at seven billion and counting.

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