Basic definitions and scope:
An "animal" is a bird or a mammal, not a fish or an insect. A human is
typically not an "animal". This definition is natural in public
discussion today, and is also typically used in laws relating to
The scope of this article is not to define a new moral system for
society, but to start with what we have and make it consistent. If
people disagree about axioms, then there's not much use in arguing. We
can just as well argue if blue is a nicer color than red. However,
starting from common axioms, we can demand
consistency. If we don't, then any statement is provable, and we're
back to arguing about colors.
Many people think that "animal rights" is something new, invented by
some crazed vegans on a rampage or some dried up philosophy
professor. This is nonsense. The concept of animal rights is easily
traceable to early civilization. It has probably existed ever since
humans became reasonably intelligent.
If we regard religion and its rules as a reflection of the moral
system of a society, it is clear that animals have rights in Judaism,
Christianity, probably every major religion. Perhaps the most famous
We should not boil a kid in the milk of its mother (Exodus 23:19, 34:26; Deuteronomy 14:21)
stems directly from the view that killing animals is a necessary evil. To
compound it by boiling the child of an animal in its mother's milk is
unnecessary, and gives rise to such revulsion that it's explicitly forbidden.
Another similar rule:
You shall not muzzle the ox when he threshes the corn (Deut. 25:4).
and more humorously (and fundamental):
Wherefore have you smitten your ass? (Num. 22:32)
Throughout history and its many moral codes, the excuse people have
made for violating the rights of animals has been necessity. This is
no longer even remotely valid, and it's time we review our moral and
legal systems to make them up to date.
Today we have institutionalized many of these moral rules, and we have
a quite extensive legal description of animal rights. This is from
the California penal
Except as provided in subdivision (c) of this section or Section 599c,
every person who maliciously and intentionally maims, mutilates,
tortures, or wounds a living animal, or maliciously and intentionally
kills an animal, is guilty of an offense punishable by imprisonment in
the state prison, or by a fine of not more than twenty thousand
dollars ($20,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment, or,
alternatively, by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than
one year, or by a fine of not more than twenty thousand dollars
($20,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment.
Laws in other regions and countries are similar.
In addition to forbidding torture and mutilation, we see that
"malicious killing" is forbidden. This further strengthens the point
that killing is something which should only be done out of
necessity. I think it would be hard to argue that a Big Mac is a
necessity for life however.
Furthermore, today we also have a clear definition of the criterion
for being granted the right to life. Abortion has become the "poster
child" for the disagreement between conservative religious groups and
modern society. This is no coincidence however. With abortion laws, we
define that a child under a certain age does not have the right to
life, the same as for animals. In essence, an abortable child is seen
as an animal.
It is here that the double standard starts to appear however. A child
just old enough to be non-abortable is a simple lifeform. Even a
newborn infant is simple in an animal context. No one can argue that a
newly non-abortable child is more intelligent, or sentient, or
emotionally capable, etc. than a gorilla, monkey, dog, or any higher mammal for that matter. We have a criterion for right to life, but we apply it
unfairly. Animals are clearly discriminated against purely based on
The second double standard relates to the ranking of crimes. There
exists a well-defined ordering of the severity of crimes, both morally
and legally. Battery is worse than theft, but not worse than
murder. Except for in cases of extremely large magnitude differences,
if someone were to steal the entire tax income from a country for
example, all crimes can be cleanly ranked.
With this, we can establish that murder always is worse than
battery. Yet, when the victim is an animal, the reverse is true. In
fact, when it comes to animals, murder (without malicious intent) is
not even a crime, while battery is a quite serious crime. This is a
clear contradiction in the application of a principle, and I'm quite
certain that in analogous cases, this would quickly have been resolved
by a higher judicial institution. However, in this case, the judicial
system protects the contradiction.
We have covered the existing territory. Nothing is terribly
earth-shaking, and if people had wanted a consistent moral and legal
system, it would have been changed long ago. Laziness and complacency
When black people were in a similar situation to the animals of today,
they had the advantage of impracticality. There was no real
philosophical reason why black people were given the same rights as
white people. There existed a clear biological criterion, so there was
no arbitrariness involved. People here on K5 have argued that there
exists a mental difference, this was most likely an assumption
accepted by virtually everyone at the time.
Thus, given the situation with animals rights today, it was probably natural that they had less rights.
However, when a black person and a white person had a child together,
then the problems started. Lines were blurred, and to make matters
practical again, the criterion had to be moved back a step. Instead of
race, species was chosen as the criterion. You had to belong to the
human species to get rights.
Biologists have supported this moral decision by almost frantically
asserting that the concept of "race" is really just a figment of our
imagination, and that it's in "species" that the real classification
can be made. This is ridiculous, since the entire classification is
artificial, and human-constructed in the first place. Since the
scientists belong to one of the classes themselves, I suppose some
lack of objectivity is expected however.
With genetic engineering, even the resort of specie differentiation
becomes impractical. Unlike artificial intelligence, genetic
engineering doesn't require some sort of major breakthrough to be able
to produce nonstandard lifeforms. It's primarily based on trying out
interesting things, and now and then something which stays alive comes
It is not at all improbable that a human with a massively reduced
brain can be developed (for organ harvesting purposes for
example). Which principle should be applied to see whether this human
has rights or not? Conversely, say we start with a monkey, and play
around a bit with the genes related to brain development. A chimpanzee
with human-like brain development does not look very far-fetched. How
do we classify such a lifeform?
We could have avoided this entire problem by developing a consistent
criterion for when a lifeform is granted "human rights". The craving
for the Big Mac won however, and now we will face a traumatizing
period where we will see more and more human-like animals being
developed, probably with little or no regard for the cares of the
My only consolation however, is imagining what will happen when the
new super-intelligent cows start to dominate. Will they read
discussions similar to this? What happens when they find
the author responsible for:
However, animals happen to be made of very tasty meat, you see, and I
like tasty meat.
I suspect penance will not be painless.