Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Question About Human vs. Animal life: Are We the Same or Different as Moral Agents? [2]

[continued from previous post] The most radical of animal rights proponents would have us believe that killer whales (and other animals) are just as significant and important in the world as human beings; they are people like us. Such proponents may not say this explicitly but their actions and words indicate this is what they believe. Not to accept this would be, in their view, "speciesism."

If we assume a killer whale is similar in value and nature to a human being, then a whale killing another higher animal (of whatever species, human or other) is either a) an intentional act of murder, or b) a morally neutral result of the animal's instinct and genetic programming. And if the latter, then a human being killing another animal (human or other) would likewise be a morally neutral result of instinct and genes.

What is the truth of the matter? Is the killer whale who grabbed the trainer and killed her guilty of murder? Or was he just doing what killer whales do?

If you think the second is the case (the reasonable and obvious position)--that the killer whale is not guilty of murder--then this forces us to accept that killer whales (and other animals by extension) and human beings are not essentially the same--we are substantially different in nature and value in the world. For if you agree that killer whales killing does not involve murder, you must either accept that neither do human beings ever commit murder (if we are essentially the same as whales), or, that human beings and whales are fundamentally different kinds of creatures. We, as persons, possess free will and are thus responsible morally for our freely chosen actions. Animals, as non-persons, are not morally responsible.

Here is a summary of the two points of view and their consequences:

Situation 1.
A. Human beings and animals are essentially the same.
B. Animals are not morally responsible for their actions as persons.
C. Therefore, human beings are not morally responsible for their actions, either.

Situation 2.
A. Human beings and animals are essentially the same.
B. Human beings are morally responsible for their actions as persons.
C. Therefore, animals are morally responsible for their actions, also.

If you are like most people, I'm sure you don't believe either of these situations correspond to reality. The conclusion C. in both is clearly wrong. Why? Because A. in both is false: human beings and animals are not essentially the same.

The truth of the real world is that we human beings are persons who possess ourselves as autonomous moral agents. Animals, however intelligent they might be, are not persons and thus do not possess themselves as autonomous moral agents. If you disagree, would you prosecute the killer whale for murder? Or,--would you dismantle the criminal justice system as irrelevant?

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