Do non-human animals have rights?
I am going to look at this question partly from the viewpoint of ethics in science and partly considering how major religions treat this question. Those not interested in religious arguments per se would do well to consider at least the ethical angles involved in the scientifically proven evidence that all higher animals that we eat and manage are sentient beings whose order of feelings and physical responses are not dissimilar to our own, even if they do not have our cognitive powers, reasoning and speech (but they do have complex and even to some extent symbolic communication for which there is is recent and reliable scientific evidence).
On the issue of animals , I don't agree with any one religion entirely whatsoever, not even the Hindu or Buddhist ones, which give a lot of importance to animal life and ask humans to refrain from eating them.
I do not believe humans are physiologically or even psychologically of a fundamentally different order from higher animals. I think all the scientific evidence shows that we are not. It is actually a matter of degree and not a matter of kind but that matter of degree is extremely important because the faculties of reason and cognition that we have gives us understanding and thereby the moral responsibility towards ourselves and others. It does not give us the freedom to act like supermen or demigods - which we mostly do - misusing our powers (morally speaking) for domination and hegemony of other life forms and consuming and using them. At least we have a duty of care over them precisely because of our hegemonic capacity and that means that we should neither sacrifice them nor eat them by unnecessarily killing them. Even the Old Testament partially agrees with this and so does the Qur'an - but neither Christians nor Muslims practice the spirit of their own religions on this matter.
We share 99.9% of our genes with chimpanzees and 50% of our genes with a banana!! It is absurd to imagine that physiologically we are of a higher order of creation. Chimpanzees and other primates, not to speak of cats, dogs, horses, foxes, cows, pigs and all the other higher animals have primary emotional responses very akin to our own which is why we are able to have close social relations with these animals if we choose to. They are not bugs, yet we treat them almost as though they are. This is a great and cataclysmic sin. The Qur'an has the interesting merit of pointing this out which means that according to the Qur'an itself most so-called Muslims are going to suffer in Hell for their deliberate and ritual cruelty to animals - and Jews, too. As for Christians or post-Christians (secularists), if there is a God then they, too, will suffer for casually accepting the cruelty of industrial farming, even if not the cruelties of halal or kosher slaughter (which, contrary to orthodox assertions, prolong pain and suffering for the animal slaughtered as the spinal chord which transmits pain signals to the brain is specifically excluded from being severed). There is massive evidence that neither secularists Westerners involved in industrial farming and livestock transportation nor their Muslim consumers, are interested in the welfare and freedom from suffering of animals. If there is a God, these people will all suffer. If there isn't, then nature itself will one day wreak a form of retribution on mankind for its excesses.
I believe that humans do not have souls in a different order from higher animals, I think we all share the divine essence and if humans have an immortal soul, then so do they. If they are a sentient being, they are not different sui generis in their spiritual essence, but they are in their faculties and what that implies for the moral and spiritual life. This is a relatively subtle point and requires closer examination. In this matter I am closer to the spirit of shaministic religions or gnosticism than to any instititionalised religion.
Given the premise that animals are very much like us and that we evolved from animals and are indeed a type of very advanced animal (The RC Church accepts evolution and has done since the 1950 encyclical Humani Generis) it is not too hard to see that on the plane of the soul between higher animals and ourselves right at the top it is a continuum rather than a different order. John Paul II in 1990 declared that animals have souls and they are as close to God as we humans are. In doing so he was addressing a worldwide increased concern for the status of animals but was entirely consistent with the ancient Hebrew texts that define the meaning of the word nephesh and the Qur'anic Nafs. The Qur'an makes much clearer the declaration that animals are as close to God as we are and therefore Muslims had no excuse for treating animals as products, nor did they have any Qur'anic basis for sacrificing goats or any other animals at Eid, yet Muslims have done so with the blessings of the clerics since the beginning - in other words, they allowed the pagan Arabian sacrifices to continue against the spirit of the Prophet's revelation in the Qur'an. If Muslims actually followed the Qur'an they would have to radically change their whole ethos. Jihad, for instance, is not war against other people - the Qur'an only allows a defensive war - but war within one- self, the struggle of the human soul to conquer greed and perversity and submit to the will of God. We can all understand that, we don't have to be Muslims. Therefore most Muslims are not practising Islam at all, from what I can see, and they are ignorant and have been kept ignorant by a power-hungry clergy who have wrongly interpreted the scriptures to pander to the worst human instincts of oppression and bloodlust.
Therefore on the matter of animals and souls I agree with Pope John Paul II. I also appreciate the spirit and letter of the Qur'an on this point - unlike 99% of people who call themselves Muslims. I agree with Buddhists and Hindus who say that all animals have souls and our cognition, perception and understanding, which is indeed of a superior order to animals, gives us a responsibility, and a freedom of reason over instinct, which animals do not have. We have a higher level of responsibility by virtue of these faculties and only we commit sin, not animals. We do NOT have the right to eat them (unless they are already dead or unless we have to kill them because there is nothing else to eat which in most cases is not true).
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Human beings are complex evolved creatures who are accorded rights on the basis that they are able t...
Human beings are complex evolved creatures who are accorded rights on the basis that they are able to think and to feel pain. Many other animals are also able to think (to some extent) and are certainly able to feel pain. Therefore non-human animals should also be accorded rights, e.g. to a free and healthy life.
Human beings are infinitely more complex than any other living creatures. Their abilities to think and talk, to form social systems with rights and responsibilities, and to feel emotions are uniquely developed well beyond any other animals. It is reasonable to try to prevent the most obvious cases of gratuitous suffering or torture of animals, but beyond that, non-human animals do not deserve to be given ‘rights’.
Ever since the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859 we have known that human be...
Ever since the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859 we have known that human beings are related by common descent to all other animals. We owe a duty of care to our animal cousins.
The fact that we are (incredibly distantly) related to other animals does not mean that it makes sense to talk about them having ‘rights’. This sort of thinking would have absurd consequences: e.g. saying that we should respect the ‘right’ to life of bacteria, or the ‘right’ of the AIDS virus to move freely and without restriction, and to associate freely with other living organisms. We might wish to reduce unnecessary animal suffering, but not because all creatures to which we are distantly related have rights.
We should err on the side of caution in ascribing rights to human or non-human creatures. If we pla...
We should err on the side of caution in ascribing rights to human or non-human creatures. If we place high standards (such as the ability to think, speak, or even to enter into a social contract) on the ascription of rights there is a danger than not only animals, but also human infants and mentally handicapped adults will be excluded from basic rights.
Only human beings who are members of society have ‘rights’. Rights are privileges that come with certain social duties and moral responsibilities. Animals are not capable of entering into this sort of ‘social contract’ – they are neither moral nor immoral creatures, they are amoral. They do not respect our ‘rights’, and they are irrational and entirely instinctual. Amoral and irrational creatures have neither rights nor duties – they are more like robots than people. All human beings or potential human beings (e.g. unborn children) can potentially be given rights, but o non-human animals fall into that category.
Cruelty to animals (e.g. bull fighting, fox hunting, battery hen farming) is the sign of an uncivili...
Cruelty to animals (e.g. bull fighting, fox hunting, battery hen farming) is the sign of an uncivilised society – it encourages violence and barbarism in society more generally. A society that respects animals and restrains base and violent instincts is a more civilised one.
It is perfectly natural to use animals for our own nutrition and pleasure – in the wild there is much suffering as animals struggle to survive, are hunted by predators, and compete for food and resources. Human beings have been successful in this struggle for existence and do not need to feel ashamed of exploiting their position as a successful species in the evolutionary process.
The basic cause of preventing exploitation of animals is not undermined by the fact that a small num...
The basic cause of preventing exploitation of animals is not undermined by the fact that a small number of extremists and criminals attach themselves to it. And it is not reasonable to expect AR campaigners not to take medicine – they must look after their own health whatever way they can until a more humane sort of medicine is developed.
Animal Rights activists are hypocrites, extremists, and terrorists who don’t even care about human life. Organisations such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) use terrorist tactics and death-threats; PETA are also an extremist organisation. These AR extremists still avail themselves of modern medicine, however, which could not have been developed without experiments and tests on animals. Animal welfare is a reasonable concern, but talking of animal ‘rights’ is a sign of extremism and irrationality.
What do you think?