Sunday, November 3, 2013

Idle Thoughts -- Rights and Wrongs

Should animals have rights? If no explain why not? If yes explain whether you view is based on their ability to suffer, their ability to think or both, or neither.

My answer to this question is that of course animals have rights. This is not an issue of whether they have rights, it is an issue of what rights do they have? To me the question is the same as asking should humans have rights? And my answer would be the same, of course humans have rights. The question is which rights do humans have?

Human rights derive from… now there's a good question for you. If you believe in God then that may be your answer, that God grants those rights. If you don't believe in God, you might answer that there are certain rights that are inherent in any intelligent self-conscious being. But most Americans would not believe our rights are something granted by the government or other authorities. Yet, on a recent C-SPAN program, a professor paused during his explanation of how the Bill of Rights was developed in colonial times and then adapted to our new republic to explain that he had a group of Chinese students attending his class recently.

He explained that when he asked American students and audiences where they got their rights the answer was always either that God gave them to us or that they are inherent in human beings. But his Chinese students invariably answered that rights were something granted by the state. Obviously, I agree with the Americans.

So whatever the source of our rights, they are inherent. They are not something that is given to us. Rights are something that we have by the very fact of our being here on this world.

As I've pointed out so often before, whatever we humans possess came to us through our animal ancestors in the process of evolution and natural selection. Whatever it is about us that gives us rights, our intelligence, our self-awareness, our ability to suffer, all came to us through our animal ancestors. It follows that they must have a set of rights as well. Not as complete as ours. Not as all-encompassing as ours. But rights nonetheless.

Anyone with eyes to see and a brain to think knows that animals can suffer. So animals have a right not to suffer. This right applies primarily to human beings. After all, we cannot expect animals to have the ability to think so clearly that they can see each other suffering and try to prevent it. Although, that does happen within social species, it usually does not apply to non-members of the species.

You might ask, if animals don't have to respect each other's rights, why do we need to respect those rights? The answer is that from him to who much has been given, much is expected. Animals lack the ability to make these moral decisions, but we do not. Since we can make them, we are obligated to make them.

Again, let me repeat that animals do not think as clearly as we do. They do not have as much consciousness as we do. They are inferior to us in all these ways. But they have self-awareness to some degree. They can think to some degree. They certainly can suffer, and that places upon us an obligation to care for them and respect their rights. This is all the more true because they cannot protect themselves.

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