Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Question About Human vs. Animal life: Are We the Same or Different as Moral Agents? [1]

[Part one of a two-part post] Yesterday at the Orlando SeaWorld a trainer met a horrible death in the jaws of a trained killer whale as visitors looked on. I pray she is now with Jesus.

This terrible event brings to mind how some people, especially those who identify themselves as animal rights activists, regard higher animals (such as chimps and dolphins and whales). Such people seem to believe that higher animals are persons just like us human beings except that they have different physical bodies and lack our language abilities while yet possessing an inherent moral purity and innocence that we lack. Explore the web site of PETA, for example, and you will see traits that are distinctive of personhood being ascribed to animals.

The most ardent animal rights people refer to animals in general as, "non-human animals." In so doing they suggest a close similarity in value between animals and human beings (i.e., "human animals"). The implication here is that in comparison to the rest of creation being an animal is what matters--all animals being relatively equal in value--while the difference between human and non-human within the animal kingdom is not especially significant. We humans, they believe, are nothing special. We can see this demonstrated in their use of such (silly) terms as, "speciesist," to label people who still believe (as the vast majority of the human race across the globe and throughout history) that we homo sapiens are qualitatively distinct and different from the rest of the animal kingdom and that this difference is, at a deep level, highly significant.

How does morality fit into this outlook? As in, for example, when one animal kills another? Is there any right and wrong?

When we place human persons and animals on the same level, two basic moral avenues are possible. Either, 1) animals are raised up to the level of persons so that both human beings and all other animals are regarded more-or-less equally as moral agents (persons) in the world; or, 2) human beings are lowered to the level of mere animals so that they together with all other animals are believed to be amoral creatures whose behavior is substantially determined by genes, instincts, and the total effect of one's environment. In other words, in the latter case, any notion of genuine free will (enabling us to act contrary to our genetic programming, instincts, and environmental influences) is simply an illusion.

These are the options. If we humans are not substantially different from animals then it must be the case that either we are both moral sorts of beings (i.e. persons with genuine freedom), or, we are both creatures who are never truly personally responsible as individuals for our actions.

Which of these does our society believe ? Do the elites of society differ from the ordinary person? How do we actually behave as a culture? [Continued in next post]

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