Animal Rights(was Re: Need Safeguards for Gene-Tinkered Foods)

Jim Wellehan James.F.X.Wellehan at dartmouth.edu
Tue Jul 6 21:35:39 EST 1993


In article <21cugc$9if at news.u.washington.edu>
toby at stein.u.washington.edu (Toby Bradshaw) writes:

> In article <C9rD6E.2wu at dartvax.dartmouth.edu> James.F.X.Wellehan at dartmouth.edu (Jim Wellehan) writes:
> >What is the distinguishing characteristic that elevates humans above
> >other animals?  It would seem to me that our main attribute would be
> >intelligence.  If so, wouldn't an intelligent non-human animal (Koko,
> >etc.) merit more rights than a less intelligent retarded human?
> 
> Can two play devil's advocate?  What is the distinguishing 
> characteristic that elevates animals above plants?  AR advocates
> say "sentience" and/or "ability to feel pain", but none of these
> same AR advocates can define "animal", "plant", "sentience",
> or "pain" in a biologically meaningful way that would, for example,
> guide a strict vegetarian in food choice.  

Taxonomists have classified most sources of food anyone is likely to
eat.  The animal/plant line seems fairly easy for a vegetarian to avoid
crossing.  Sentience is a much more difficult idea.  It seems that
self-awareness could only be proved, and not disproved, in an organism.
 If one refused to eat potentially sentient organisms, one would
starve.  You'll notice I avoidedthe concept in my post.  Intelligence
seems a more useful yardstick, although that is a subjective decision. 
Why would you say humans are more deserving of rights than other
animals?

> Your definition of "human" above is based on a quantitative assessment
> ("more") of a fuzzy character ("intelligence").

I didn't define human.  I was searching for a reason for humans to be
more deserving of life than other animals.  As fuzzy as the concept of
intelligence is, there are tests for measuring it.

>  A retarded human is
> genetically human (that is, a member of the human clade), regardless
> of intelligence.

What if someone has Down's or Turner's?  Their genetic makeup differs
from the normal human genome, and they can't breed with a normal human.

>  Koko is still a gorilla.  Now, one may argue the
> merits of this classification scheme, but it is as valid as the
> arbitrary distinction you have made based on "intelligence".

Agreed.

>  My terrier is more "intelligent" than a normal human infant, but if I were
> forced to choose the life of one over the other I would not be
> using "intelligence" as the criterion.

Is a terrier more intelligent than a normal human infant?  Human
infants learn at an astonishing rate.  Which one could learn language
first?

Anyway, to return to my original question, why are humans superior? 
Because we are members of the dominant species?  If so, is the life of
a member of one race worth more, as they are the dominant race?  Just a
little over a century ago the law held that white people were superior.

Jim



More information about the Bioforum mailing list