Reason as the Leading Motive

A Simple Question for Peter Singer

Posted by Jerry on August 29, 2006

I have a simple question for Peter Singer:

In discussions of human rights–especially, the right to liberty, free speech, and free expression–many people are rather quick to point out that “with rights come responsibilities.” These people were the most vocal during the whole Danish Muhammad cartoons fiasco. People condemned the western press and newspapers, including the Ayn Rand Institute, for exhibiting insensitivity and intolerance by preaching a dogmatic adherence to rights without the temperance of responsibilities.

Given all of that, then, I am perplexed with this issue: when and if Peter Singer is successful in his Great Ape Project, and he succeeds in granting “rights” to Apes, Orangutans, Chimpanzees, and whatever else, will we also begin demanding that these animals behave with responsibility in the practice of their new-found rights? Will we preach to the animals, “with rights come responsibilities”?

If we cannot expect responsibility from animals because they can understand no such concept, then why is that we are willing to grant them free rights without any responsibilities—because, I am of the impression that rights only “come with responsibilities.” Thus, why treat animals any different from humans? Isn’t the mission of the Great Ape Project to create a community of equals?! Then, why the better, more lax, and infact superior treatment of animals than humans?

Peter Singer, are you an Ape-man?

[A] culture that insists on applying the concept of rights to animals, a culture led by intellectually dishonest men like Peter Singer, are infact looking to rob those rights from humans. By declaring the rights of a volitional, conceptual being as invalid and less important than the so-called rights of a beast, they nullify the very basic values life and freedom and happiness that the fundamental human rights are supposed to guarantee. This does not reveal their love for animals but their disgusting hatred for humanity.

Update (December 1, 2006):

An interesting set of comments have ensued under this post. I encourage readers to check them all out carefully. Also, related to the topic of this post is my recent post titled “Rights and Responsibilities” that explains why the proper exercise of one’s legitimate rights do not have to be done responsibly. Check it out.


38 Responses to “A Simple Question for Peter Singer”

  1. Mark said

    Ergo, you easily pointed out the fallacy inherent in the whole Ape-rights nonsense.

    Apes, while enjoyable to behold in a zoo, are not volitional creatures, able to even remotely understand “rights,” let alone “responsibilities.”

    That a government like Spain is even remotely taking him seriously speaks volumes to where we are careening as a civilization.

  2. Tyrel said

    Mr. Singer,

    For quite some time now I have been begging to be granted the right to drive. Granted, I have no concept of what a right is or what it entails, nevertheless, I desire the “right” to drive. We, as living beings, have been caged up for far too long. It is time we break from this leash that tethers us all. Please join us in this fight.

    Many licks of gratitude,
    Your Dog

  3. Ergo said

    Dear Dog,

    I, Peter Singer, deeply sympathize with your fight for your right to drive. I strongly believe, as you do, that you must be set free from your cages so you can drive away to wherever you wish.
    However, unfortunately, in order practice the right to drive, you would have to learn to drive first. And given the configuration of motor vehicles these days–so unconducive to animal driving–you might find learning to drive an incredible challenge. You have all my best wishes in that endeavor.
    Who knows, probably in the enlightened future, man may become kind enough to design vehicles specifically for animal driving. 🙂

    All the Best,
    Great Ape Peter (GAP)

  4. Mr Vercuil said

    Rights do not neccessarily come with responsibilities. If they did children and the mentally disabled would not have rights because, like animals, they cannot take on responsibilities.

  5. Ergo said


    You’re right. I do not believe that rights come with responsibilities. In my post, I was merely exposing the double-standard and the hypocrisy of people–those that wish to curb human rights but wish to grant animal rights. My post is sarcastic.

  6. Ed said


    How would recognising basic rights like the right to life, right to freedom, and protection from torture in certain primates result in the curtailment of any human rights? And also, how has this post exposed any hypocrisy in those that campaign for the same?

  7. Ergo said


    I have provided answers to the questions you raise in my other posts on Animal Rights (you can find them under the Category Heading “Animal Rights”)

    Briefly, by extending rights to animals, one has to also ensure that those rights of animals are protected. This necessarily entails that the rights of humans will be compromised in the process. For example, if animals have the right to life, then as humans, we lose the right to eat whatever animal we would like to eat (as in the case in chicago, where eating foie gras is banned!).

    If you understand the proper concept and definition of “rights,” you would also know what it cannot be applied to beings who do not have faculties of volition, who are not first causal agents, and therefore are NOT moral beings. Rights are moral conditions for living one’s life. If morality is not applicable to animals (as in, if I cannot arrest one animal for the immorality of killing another animal) then how can I apply the concept of rights to them?? To do so, is hypocricy.

  8. Ed said

    Thanks for replying,

    I see what you mean about some human rights being restricted in the interests of recognising some rights in animals. I was originally under the impression that you were referring to more basic human rights such as the right to autonomy, the right to freedom of speech and so on. In recognising the right to life in, say, a gorilla, humans would indeed be stripped of the right to kill gorillas for fun or for food (when alternative sources are available) and so on. But, unlike the rights to autonomy and free speech, the right to kill gorillas whenever we feel like it hardly seems like one necessary for a morally fulfilling life.

    The idea that only moral beings should be recognised as having rights is, at least logically speaking, a fairly cogent one, but it has an unfortunate side-effect. As Vercuil touched on above, it would mean that human beings who lack moral capabilities, such as babies, the mentally disabled and so on would have no rights. And that we would be free to hunt them for fun, eat them, torture them and so on. All the things you assert that we should be free to do to animals. It would also mean that you accept a belief that you previously claimed not to hold; the idea that rights always come with responsibilities.

  9. Ergo said

    Ed, you said: “But, unlike the rights to autonomy and free speech, the right to kill gorillas whenever we feel like it hardly seems like one necessary for a morally fulfilling life.”
    You have no right (neither do I) to decide for someone else what they enjoy pursuing under their notion of a “morally fulfulling life.” It is a presumption we cannot make.

    Moreover, the right to life is *the most basic* right there is, and makes all other rights meaningful. So, I don’t understand it when you dismiss the right of a gorilla to its life as not a basic rights issue.

    The fundamental point is that humans should have the right to eat foie gras (or kill a gorilla) or do whatsoever, so long as it does not infringe upon the rights of another moral being. What might seem “hardly necessary” to you might be rather satisfying to someone else. Regardless, this “hardly necessary” notion is “hardly” an objective standard to base morality upon, let alone rights.

    As to your second point, I’m surprised you bring it up despite my clearly identifying that rights are only applicable to moral beings, and that morality is dependent on the faculties of volition and conception. I had stated clearly that the faculties of volition and conception are distinctly *human* characteristics. Babies and disabled adults are ALL human–while they may not be able to *exercise* their faculty of volition, they do <em>possess </em>the distinct human characteristic, which means babies and old adults are legitimate humans qua human beings. However, there is definitely some difference in the kind of rights they enjoy. For example, even though a criminal is a full human possessing the faculties of volition and conception, he has forfeited much or all of his rights because of his criminal actions. These are contextual matters depending on the morality of people, because rights are morally dependent concepts.
    Further, rights do not come with responsibilities. Those are two SEPERATE notions.

  10. Ed said

    Thanks for clearing that up. Let’s skip the first bit for now as it seems to rather depend on the second.

    Presumably though, this concept of the faculty of volition still wouldn’t cover all disabled humans; and as a result would still leave some without rights. Those who, for instance, have injuries so severe that they lack even this faculty. The area of the brain responsible for this sort of behavior has been irreparably damaged, has never developed or is simply no longer present.

  11. Ergo said


    It’s hardly a puzzling matter: if you find one apple that’s rotten, you do not (and should not) conclude that all apples are rotten.
    When I say that humans are the only sentinent beings that are have the faculty of volition–which thereby makes them moral beings–I am referring the human species as a whole… just like I would refer to apples in general when I say that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Ofcourse, that wouldn’t be true in the particular case of one rotten apple, in which case NO ROTTEN apple a day, keeps the doctor away!

  12. Ed said

    Ah, I see. You’re referring to humans in a more general and conceptual sense. And I agree that, in the same way, it’s reasonable to say something like “apples are good for you”; because, conceptually speaking, they have the goodness-conferring characteristic of containing valuable nutrients. But a rotten apple is one that lacks that goodness-conferring characteristic; so, a rotten apple isn’t good for you. If we’re to think of the faculty of volition as our rights-conferring characteristic then the mentally disabled humans I exemplified above, who lack that rights-conferring characteristic, do not have rights.

  13. Ergo said

    The faculty of volition is not our “rights-conferring” characteristic. We are moral beings because we have the faculty of volition, which means we are causal agents and face choices. Rights are a species of conceptual principles. By the nature of rights as moral principles, and by our human nature as moral beings, rights are applicable only to humans (all humans, including the disabled or the retarded albeit to varying degrees).

  14. Ed said


    If we are moral beings (and as a result have rights) because we have the faculty of volition, then how is the faculty of volition not our rights-conferring characteristic?

  15. Ergo said

    The faculty of volition is not some device (or form) that if it exists ergo rights should exist, if it doesn’t exist ergo rights do not exist.
    The context here is human beings and human rights. The faculty of volition–that only humans possess–makes us moral beings; the only species on Earth to be moral beings.
    Now, *human* rights arise from an objective assessment of what we are as human beings and what our *existence* or sustenance requires in the reality of this world. In other words, rights are a species of principles that arise from the nature of reality, i.e. of existence (ours and of this world).

    In other words, we could be moral beings without ever have *developed* conceptually the notion of rights. Thus, the faculty of volition does not “give” us rights, and rights do not “exist” as some platonic form of reality. We human beings–as moral human beings–understand the requirements necessary of our survival, sustenance, and flourishment given the condition of reality, the identity of nature, and existence, and conceptualize moral principles to guide our actions, i.e. human rights.

    The Objectivist approach is to always saliently acknowledge the fact that humans do not exist in a vacuum but in a reality that surrounds us and has a specific identity. Our actions are always in relation to the context of this reality around us. If this is acknowledged, then it becomes clear why rights are applicable and possible only to humans and not animals or any other species on Earth.

  16. Jim said


    If I may be presumptuous enough to stick my oar in.

    How is the proposition expressed in the first sentence not in contradiction with that expressed in the third? It seems that you are claiming that volition is a necessary and sufficient condition for something to qualify as having moral worth whilst also denying it at the same time.

    The question of rights is really beside the issue; moral rights are being used as a conversational placeholder for the concept of moral worth.

    You seem to be claiming that this concept of volition qua our existence as moral beings is constitutive of our having moral worth. But if you are, the fact that some members of the set of humans lack volition is a sufficient condition for them not having moral worth and not being moral beings.

  17. Ergo said


    I had originally written up a detailed response to your valid points, however, we lost our electric connection where I work at and therefore lost the entire post. (Don’t get me started on the appalling state of Indian infrastructure!)

    So, here, very briefly, I’ll attempt to outline again what I had originally written:

    Rights are not placeholders for moral worth. A moral entity does not necessarily and in all instances have rights. The former is an aspect belonging to the metaphysical domain (the nature of what we are), whereas the latter belongs to the ethical domain (what we ought to do or not do). As I pointed out, the Objectivist approach is to look at humans not as *intrinsically* valuable and moral beings endowed with rights through some mystical phenomena, but to carefully assess man’s relation with reality and with the requirements of existence.

    While the concept of rights are *applicable* ONLY to humans–all humans–the *fact* of actually possessing those rights is not universal among all humans.

    For example, it is hardly contestable that criminals have limited to absolutely no rights. Children have very limited rights and their parents or guardians are primarily responsible for the children’s actions and behavior. The severely mentally disabled have limited rights for the same reasons.

    In other words, the faculty of volition–which characterizes humans as moral beings–do not logically (and ergo, in reality) necessitate that all moral beings have rights.

    Now, I would hope that you will not make an illogical argument from the above saying that because children, criminals, and the mentally disabled have limited to no rights, we can send them to slaughterhouses and have them killed or abused or whatever. Not only is that illogical, but it would contradict the definition of what we mean by “rights.”

    Rights are negative principles; they demarcate the boundaries for one’s freedom of action. In other words, rights imply what one CANNOT do. Read my post on “Rights and Responsibilities” for a discussion on how the rights of each person do not conflict with those of another person and yet demarcates their respective boundaries of actions.

    And yes; you are welcome to post in my comments. 🙂

  18. michelle said

    So why do we give human beings who are unable to reason or use their rights responsibly rights? For example – people who are mentally retarded, people who are hooked up to machines and are unable to even move. Another example of this is that we give mentally challenged (or legally insane) individuals rights when it comes to the law – different rights from “sane” individuals receive… We give these people rights which contradict the whole idea around moral responsability and the ability to reason…They are in a sense given more rights just on the basis that they are mentally challenged – if we extend that kind of compassion to these individuals, it shouldn’t be considered irresponsible to do so for other fellow animals. Or either that, these individuals just shouldn’t have rights at all.
    Having said that – animal rights isn’t about giving animals the right to drive (driving actually isn’t a right, but a privelege – which is different then voting), the right to vote, etc but more or less extending the rights that our domesticated pets have(cats, dogs bunnies etc) to all animals – especially with animal enterprises. It does not make sense that a man can be fined and put into jail for beating his dog, while a farmer down the street can beat his cows and confine them into small areas without any legal responsibility. It doesn’t make sense because we aren’t giving the man who beat his dog the same rights as the farmer and that’s the part that is simply unjustifiable. Either we should throw away all animal rights, or give all animals similar rights because these gray areas are simply frustrating and they don’t add up.
    As a vegan, I realize how unrealistic it is for everyone to become vegetarian or vegan (I don’t believe in making animal exploitation illegal either), however, it is realistic to have stricter laws on how animals are raised for food, fur, entertainment and I think vivesection is just outdated and pseudoscience at this point (except for some toxicology tests that are useful as a starting point).

    having said all this – I think that there is room for animal rights in objectivism because the argument against it has just as many flaws.

  19. michelle said

    another comment:
    As an animal rights activists I have worked closely with many human rights organizations and this is true for many AR people. I’ve worked with Amnesty International (you’d be surprised at how many AR people belong to this organization). I’ve written many articles myself about the diamond industry and the cocoa industry etc and how they exploit fellow human beings…
    Human beings are animals – therefor animal rights should include human rights as well.

    “You have no right (neither do I) to decide for someone else what they enjoy pursuing under their notion of a “morally fulfulling life.” It is a presumption we cannot make.”
    you are right about that. Being vegan morally fulfills my life and I think if more people tried it, they would embrace it as well… It’s wrong for you to decide for other people that animals shouldn’t have rights, am I wrong? How do we actually know what animals are thinking, anyway? How do we know for sure that when a mother bear attacks a wolf because its trying to kill her babies she isn’t acting out of love? Can we be sure that her actions are purely instinctual or is it more intelligent to simply assume they don’t realize what they are doing? The fact that I have no idea of what an animal thinks, feels or what it’s emotional connection is to what is going on makes me think “better safe than sorry” – which I think is morally responsible. I’ve seen my cat in different emotional states – angry, jealous, cry when I step on her tail etc and this really makes me question whether we can know for sure an animal doesn’t have morals. Just as we have different perspectives of the world, animals do as well. They do not see and understand technology the way we do but that doesn’t prove they do not understand the value of family, mating (or dating – picking out a mate), their young or the value of life. If an animal fights for its survival, they have SOME value for life for SOME reason – even if they are morally different from our perspectives. we have no way of knowing an animals perpective in these measures because there is a huge communication barrier… It takes intelligence to find food in the wild, it takes intelligence to break open nuts – I’ve seen seagulls drop clams in front of cars as they drive by to get to the flesh – Which is quite amazing that they have been able to use OUR technology for their own benefit – can we assume this is purely instinctual? If this act is purely instinctual – agriculture is as well.
    AR activists feel morally fulfilled by protecting and caring for animals (human or non) just as you feel morally fulfilled by having a choice between grades of meat.

  20. Ergo said


    I don’t know why you ask me about the matter of rights with regard to the retarded, disabled, and children. I have answered those kinds of issues extensively in comments just above yours. Please take the time to read them.

    Also, your understanding of Objectivism is flawed if you think that humans are just another kind of animal and therefore all animals should have the same rights that humans enjoy. Moreover, Objectivism does not have any room for animal rights. Perhaps your personal philosophy creates such a room for animal rights. But please refrain from attributing such a notion to Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.

    Nothing precludes a benevolent treatment of animals in any Objectivist arguments against the notion of animal rights. Rights, however, are moral concepts and are therefore applicable only to moral beings, i.e., beings that have the faculty of volition, which is a precondition for morality.

    Also, you might wish to read through all the articles I have written under the “Animal Rights” category to get a better sense of my position.

  21. Ed said

    Michelle: In very brief, I think it’s something like this:

    The faculty of volition is a necessary and sufficient condition for moral-beinghood. If you have this faculty then you’re a moral being, if you don’t then you’re not.

    If you’re a moral-being you may or may not have rights (unsure as to what the conditions are, exactly), but if you’re not a moral-being you certainly don’t have rights.

    Animals lack the faculty so are not moral-beings so do not have rights.

    Humans (conceptually speaking) have the faculty so are moral-beings so may or may not have rights.

    Humans (individually speaking) who are have injuries so severe that they lack even this faculty you would think would not be moral-beings and as a result would certainly not have rights, but… I don’t know. That’s where things get sketchy for me.

  22. Ergo said

    Ed, you’re right. As humans, we are all moral beings, which makes the concept of rights applicable only to us. However, the fact of having rights varies particularly. For example, a hardened criminal has no rights, children have limited rights, etc. etc.

    How is all of this determined? By a viewing man’s state of being in relation to and under the context of his reality. The relationship between the criminal’s state of being and the context of his reality is vastly different from that of a normal human being. Thus, the rationale underlying the determination of rights is neither subjectivist, i.e., it does not depend arbitrarily on an individual, nor intrinsic in that it does not depend on some dogmatic principle.

  23. Ed said

    Hi again Ergo,

    The bit I don’t understand, if the faculty of volition is a necessary and sufficient condition for moral-beinghood, is how all humans can be moral-beings. Presumably, humans (individually rather than conceptually speaking) with injuries so severe that they lack even this faculty (cases, as I exemplified earlier, in which the area of the brain responsible for this sort of behavior has been irreparably damaged, has never developed or is simply no longer present) are necessarily not a moral-being and as such they necessarily do not have (any) rights.

  24. Ergo said


    I think the error in your thinking lies in divorcing abstractions from reality, which is the typical approach philosophers in the mainstream adopt. Let’s remember that man exists in relation to his reality, and remember that morality and rights (indeed all concepts) arise from this relationship between consciousness and reality.

    Going by your logic, you would reach a contradiction in the case wherein a criminal–despite possessing a healthy awareness and faculty of volition–has absolutely no rights (I’m not referring to petty criminals here). Therefore, do not merely think in abstract and deductive methods, i.e., volition hence moral beings hence rights. That excludes the effects of an active agent in reality, i.e., man’s actions in reality.

    Remember, rights arise only from the necessity for man to demarcate the boundaries of his *actions* in relation to others with life as the standard. And the concept of rights is meaningful only in this relation and only to moral beings, i.e., human beings.

    Ed, I think your particular error lies not in being able to understand what I’m saying, but in being unable to apply the particular method of thinking–the Objectivist method of never divorcing concepts from their referents, ideas from reality. While all knowledge ultimately comes from reality, we achieve integration by complementarily using deductive and inductive methods of thinking.

  25. Ed said


    I cannot see how, going by my logic, one would reach the conclusion that a criminal would have no rights; in fact, I don’t think I’ve presented any ideas of my own thus far but have merely sought to question the coherence of yours. Moreover, you seem to be suggesting that orthodox reasoning is all well and good for arguments that deny animals rights but when problems with these arguments are highlighted one must free oneself from these shackles in order to realize some higher truth. Either way however, whether looking at the matter deductively, inductively or both, I cannot see how, if without the faculty of volition a subject necessarily has no rights (as you attested to earlier), that those humans who are without this faculty can, nonetheless, still have rights. That would seem to require a contortion of thought indeed. No amount of the connecting of ideas and/or consciousness with reality or bearing in mind man’s interaction with the world would appear able to resolve this sort of manifestly intractable problem. Furthermore, your third paragraph – with its descriptions of man’s accordant actions in reality – begs the question on two levels. Firstly, it suggests rights reside solely in the domain of man and secondly it claims that all humans are moral beings, but, of course, these are precisely the points at issue.

  26. Ergo said

    Ed, when I said “going by your logic” I was referring to your statement. You had said:

    “Presumably, humans (individually rather than conceptually speaking) with injuries so severe that they lack even this faculty are necessarily not a moral-being and as such they necessarily do not have (any) rights.”

    To that, I responded that going by this logic, even a criminal should have all human rights proper to a moral being because the criminal has the faculty of volition. But this is not the case: a criminal does not (and properly, should not) have all human rights (some have none at all).

    Thus, the essence of this issue is not a matter of deduction, as I stated earlier. It’s not “no faculty, ergo not a moral being, ergo no rights.” Criminals have faculty, are moral beings, and therefore have no rights. In the same manner, severely retarded people who possess some rudimentary self-awareness have only limited rights–indeed some rights are denied to them given their reality. For example, if such people were granted the right to liberty (and by derivation, self-autonomy), they would end up being a threat to their own lives and to others because they would be incapable of handling themselves safely.
    And those humans with absolutely no trace of volition (and self-awareness is a constituent aspect of volition) are nothing but human vegetables. As such, they have no human rights. Whatever benevolence we accord to them are a virtue of our emotional attachments toward them, or some such other thing.

    Now, you indicate that my arguments are begging the question. However, I don’t see how you reached this conclusion. When I say rights reside solely in the domain of humans, I am properly making this argument upon preceding statements that explained why this is so (i.e., humans are the only moral beings to whom such concepts as “rights” even make sense, indeed, we are the ones who formulated them and give them meaning!).

    Why do I state that humans are the only moral beings? Because, indeed, only a human can even ask such a question and mean it. And what makes us the only species to be able to even ask such a question? The fact that we are volitional and conceptual beings whose very survival depends on reaching the proper answers to these questions.

  27. Ed said

    I would have thought that the absurd consequences regarding criminals that arise when thinking deductively about using the faculty of volition as a basis for moral status says far more about the shortcomings of using the faculty of volition as a basis for moral status than it does about the supposed need to reject deductive thought. If the faculty of volition is a characteristic so foundational to a mental life that any humans who lack it entirely are nothing but vegetables then it would seem undeniable that at least some animals have it. Of course, I agree with the idea that only humans can understand rights and consequentially only humans are moral-beings; just as it is only people who live in Germany who live in Berlin. But, of course, without affirming the consequent, it no more follows that at all humans are moral-beings than it does that all Germans are Berliners.

  28. Ergo said

    “it would seem undeniable that at least some animals have [volition].” I will have to assume that we have different understandings of this faculty.

    Of course, some animals have some levels of conscious awareness. However, the concept of volition itself is only meaningful when the entity is aware of its own self as possessing this faculty and is aware of its capacity to utilize it in the face of alternatives and choices–all the way down to the fundamental choice to live or not live. For example, God (if such were to exist and as Anselm’s fool would define Him) would not have the faculty of volition because ultimately He could not choose to die even though He could do many other things. Thus, fundamentally, God would have to be an amoral Being, i.e., morality would be inapplicable to Him, and so would rights.

    Further, while an animal may choose at some basic levels, it cannot know of or reflect on the fact of its choosing, i.e., it cannot make value-judgments, or moral assessments in relation to itself as the causal agent. Hence, the issue of morality (and of rights) is not applicable to them. It is this understanding of volition that I hold, which I now assume is different from yours, which perhaps is only the superficial ability to make choices.

    Moreover, it is not as you say “that only humans can understand rights and consequentially only humans are moral-beings.” That is an inversion of the hierarchy of concepts. Before you reach the concept of rights, you must arrive at the concept of morality, and all the way down to the concept of the self and of existence. Of course, I do not wish to imply that there is only a vertical relationship between concepts (because, concepts are also interrelated across various levels. I like to think of it as an inverted, three-dimensional pyramid). Thus, because humans are the only beings capable of making choices and reflecting upon their roles as causal agents in the choices they make and the consequences thereof, they are moral beings. Consequently, the concept of rights is created by and is applicable only to moral beings.

  29. Ed said

    If the faculty of volition is the rather more intricate characteristic of a mental life you describe then it would seem undeniable that at least some (far from vegetative) humans lack it. If humans (conceptually speaking) are moral-beings because they are “capable of making choices and reflecting upon their roles as causal agents in the choices they make and the consequences thereof”, then those humans (individually speaking) who lack that capability are not moral-beings.

  30. […] 26th, 2007 Here’s a discussion on animal rights on the Leitmotif blog between Jim and I and an Ayn Rand Objectivist. It resulted in some really weird and wonderful […]

  31. Rob Heusdens said

    [A] culture that insists on applying the concept of rights to animals, a culture led by intellectually dishonest men like Peter Singer, are infact looking to rob those rights from humans. By declaring the rights of a volitional, conceptual being as invalid and less important than the so-called rights of a beast, they nullify the very basic values life and freedom and happiness that the fundamental human rights are supposed to guarantee. This does not reveal their love for animals but their disgusting hatred for humanity.

    How can one at one moment make an argument based on “fundamental human rights” when arguing from a point of view that does not recognize any other human right then the human right on property and the protection by the state on that individual right only, and has already got rid of any and all discernable and recognizable human rights that exist in the first place?

    For the objectivist point of view is that all those seperate human rights (the right on education, the right on healthcare, the right on social benefit/welfare, the right on safety, the right on decent housing, labour rights, etc.) do not have meaning at all, and are at most (possible) outcomes of the free market in a social context in which only the individual right on property is acknowedged and protected, but not something that could be rightfully claimed otherwise.

  32. Rob Heusdens said

    While it is true that the very concept of rights is strictly applicable to humans only (only humans make rights and rights are only of concern and applicable to human beings) this does not mean that there can be no rights that concerns the way humans deal with nature (including animals) in general.

    The rights itself does not focus on the right of the animal in first instance, but focuses on the (limitations) of the rights of humans in how they treat animals or nature.

    That is why there can be rights that are of concern to nature, like there can be rights (or better stated: limitations to rights) for example concerning the use of land. For example that no roads or buildings may be established in a certain area and that entrance to that area is restricted.
    Likewise there can be laws that limit the amount of fish that can be catched, which is of concern to humans, since without such rights (the quota limit on catching fish) the unlimited fishing would do away with the right for humans to catch fish and use them for consumption, so in fact the quotation on catching fish protects these rights.

    Humans have a right to enjoy nature (and for that reason we must protect nature, that is, limit the way we can make use of it), as well are humans dependent on nature, and for that reasons there can be human laws that protect those rights by limitating the way we make use of nature.

    They apply to the way humans are allowed or disallowed to make use of nature and they are there to protect human rights (for example the right to enjoy nature, or the right to make use of nature). That applying such rights in fact in secondary sense enables the protection of say species or natural habitats, is a side effect but not the essence.
    Animal rights are therefore rights (or limitations to that) on how humans can treat animals.

  33. I would like to clarify a point raised by the initial post, in which it quotes the often used phrase “with rights come responsibilities”. I think the author is confused on a crucial aspect of this sentence; that this phrase implies that these two conditions are imposed on the _same moral actor_. Rather, Singer (and many others) are simply stating that rights and responsibilities are fundamentally related; to grant a right is to create a responsibility.

    To illustrate, if we grant an unconscious vegetable in a hospital the right to life, the responsibility of upholding this right falls to the hospital staff, the electricity company, etc, not to the vegetable. In fact it is difficult to see that any responsibility at all falls on the vegetable. Thus we can easily grant animals rights (if we decide they need/deserve any), without requiring that they accept any particular responsibility, or even that they have the capacity to accept one.

    Rob arrives at the same conclusion above via a different argument, so I don’t think this is a very controversial point, and won’t blab on any more!

  34. Rob Heusdens said

    @Omar Hassan

    Yes, good point. Both rights and responsibilities apply only to humans, and we can only give and take rights from humans, not to or from nature itself. But some of the rights and responsibilities we apply to humans do not just concern how humans deal with each other, but also deal with how humans deal with nature.
    But humans will always be the grantors and grantees of rights and responsibilities, never nature itself.

    So, fortunately we don’t need to discuss wether or not shrimps have a right on religion.

    Although, in a sense, one could claim that nature granted us the “right” to exist, and this right comes with the responsibility to respect nature, since if we would destroy nature, we would destroy ourselves. This however is not “right” (as in nature granting the “right” to exist) in the real sense, and the only sensible thing to state is that in order for us to exist, we need to obey nature.

  35. Ergo said

    Omar, I would direct you to my article “Rights and Responsibilities” in response to your comment.

  36. Michelle said

    Animals don’t have a faculty of volition? I’m sorry but I’m not sure that behaviorists who have studied animal behavior would agree with this. Why does my cat prefer my attention over my parents when my parents are the ones who feed her? Why would she constantly seek my attention, follow me and walk with me in the woods – what purpose does she have following me? She’s never hunted on those walks. An animal, especially a cat, following a human can hardly be blamed on instinct.
    I think that this is the one section of Ayn Rand’s philosophy that I have qualms with and often times, I think she based her definitions on assumption – not on reality. I have dealt with many animals and I think that we often assume they are dumb, lack individuality and that their actions are based on instinct – rather than intellect. We assume animals cannot love – when I have witnessed otherwise. I think that many objectivists have failed to actually try and get to know an animal. Why does my cat choose tuna fish and actually wish for it, over her regular dry food? Doesn’t this imply that they favor one food over another? Food is food and it only has one purpose – if an animal only moves in terms of instinct – why would they care either way what their food looks or tastes like? Why would tuna fish be so great? Is it possible that animals wish for variety and choices? My cats do not wear collars and they are free to roam outside and are completely capable of killing their own meat (judging by how many dead rodents they leave around the yard). Why do they stay with us? Can we limit their reasons for staying at our house to food and shelter? Why do animals who are abused try to run away? Could it be that they are trying to escape the abuse and that their choice is to live without it? I’m not trying to equate animals and humans but we are in fact – part of the animal kingdom – we are mammals. Many of our behaviors are parallel to animal behaviors in any given situation. To deny our likeness to animals is to deny humanity.
    My point about technology is that in many ways, it is just a different form of evolution. Humans did not first exist with technology – their brains evolved to create it and it makes perfect sense, judging by our bodies – our brains had to evolve. Even chimps have created their own spears to kill others that invade “their territory” (could that be a sense of property in some ways?) Many animals have not evolved with the same kind of brain as us because it wasn’t needed for their survival. But that doesn’t justify the way we treat animals, the way we stuff them into small spaces or electocute their buttholes for fabulous fur.
    Ayn Rand never studied animals, she never took detailed analysis of how they react in certain situations – her views on animals are based on assumptions – assumptions that are not based on science or truth but based on traditional beliefs that humans are superior to other animals – oddly, religious beliefs. I certainly don’t deny that we are vastly different from all of the other animals…
    Recently there was a crisis (and may still be one) where bees were dying out and farmers were freaking out because bees are NEEDED in agriculture – without them, there is no food. Without plant agriculture – there is no food for the animals we eat. There are sound and logical reasons for considering animals and the biodiversity of this planet.
    Having said all that – I’m not an animal rights activist that believes in making meat illegal or giving animals voting or driving rights (as someone mockingly and stupidly said earlier – and by the way, driving is a privelege not a right). I’m not even the type of vegan that pushes for the help of animals in any kind of legal way – I don’t believe in forcing people to have my views about animals. I do not support PETA (in fact – they have done more harm for the animals than good in my opinion) and it is tiresome to constantly be considered a PETA follower just because I’m vegan. I only wish to open people up to getting to know animals and to see them the way in which I do. Is it okay to treat animals immorally because they don’t have the ability to understand the term moral? And what to say for those who actually pay others to torture animals? are they any better for accepting such a transaction?
    it satisfies me to know that I don’t have a hand in this industry. My mind won’t let me forget that a steak is a chunk of cow and that pork is a pig. It is my ego that won’t allow me to consume the flesh of animals or their bodily fluids. I think that the only true way to end animal suffering is to convince people to at least boycott those companies that treat animals the worst – hardly a consideration based on altruism, for I have sacrificed nothing. I just find it ironic that we are so superior to animals – yet their fluids – fit only for baby cows – are good enough for us. We are so different from other animals, yet our medications can be tested on them… We claim our brains are superior – yet our anti-depressants are tested on them…

  37. Ergo said


    1) When I say animals are not conceptual and volitional beings, I am talking specifically about their capacity for moral conceptualizations and moral choices; rights are moral principles and therefore applicable only to moral beings. Animals, in this sense, are not moral beings because they cannot make any moral volitional choices nor do they have any such concepts. Therefore, the moral concept of rights are not applicable to animals (given the nature of their consciousness). Therefore, animals have no rights.

    2) Even though most of what I say is informed by Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, take nothing I say as part of the philosophy of Objectivism. To properly know what Objectivism is and what its positions are regarding any issues (including animal rights), go straight to the source: Ayn Rand’s own philosophical writings.

    3) You have commented on a fairly old post. I would advise caution to my readers who comment on old posts to take them with a grain of salt. I don’t necessarily agree with *all* of my old posts, including their content, style, formulations, and analysis. This is not to say that I disagree with everything I wrote; only that I have not gone back to re-edit my posts to more accurately reflect the more recent body of knowledge I have integrated in my mind. If you have any specific doubts about what I agree or disagree with, you can ask and I can identify them for you.

    Thanks. 🙂

    Edit: Michelle, let me respond more substantively to your comment:

    1) To say that an entity has no rights is not to say that the entity should be slaughtered, killed, or disposed off recklessly or wantonly.

    2) Rights are moral principles that pertain *only* to action–specifically, to freedom of action. Life is a process of self-generated action; thus, right to life is the right to *act* towards self-preservation and self-sustenance.

    3) Rights are moral principles that are applicable to only human beings since only humans are moral beings; further, “individual right” is a redundancy (albeit a necessary redundancy) because only individuals can have rights; half-an-individual, parts of an individual, or groups of individuals can have no rights.

    4) Rights cannot exist where force exists. Thus, criminals have limited to no rights; for example, I can kill a criminal in self-defense if he threatens my life.

    Given the above, to say that an animal has no rights is not to permit wanton and reckless slaughter of animals as a pathological preoccupation-–that would be irrational and immoral, albeit not illegal. It should not be illegal to kill and eat animals or conduct animal fights as a sport (if the animal is your property), although it is immoral and pathologically depraved to find pleasure in the wanton killing of animals or enjoying the bloody animal sport. All criminal acts must be legally punished; all immoral acts must be vociferously condemned and not tolerated. In a rational society, pathological preoccupation with violence and cruelty against animals will be dealt with by condemning and socially ostracizing the immoral offender, refusing to engage in trade or voluntary relationships with him on the grounds that his predilection towards violence against animals is symptomatic of his unhealthy psychological state of mind.

  38. Roger said

    If I may: I’ve read most of this thread, but not all. I think I get the idea. I don’t understand why the concept of rights seems so difficult, and I don’t understand why some folks make the argument for rights so complicated.
    As a living being, there are only two ways to deal with other living beings. Those two ways are force and persuasion. That’s it. That’s the menu.
    Rights are what prevent us, as humans, from using force when dealing with other humans. Why force should be prevented when dealing with other humans is a separate question, and should be dealt with in another thread so we don’t confuse the argument. When we say that humans have rights, we’re saying that we, as humans, should not deal with other humans by force.
    Rights apply to humans because we are the only living beings capable of choosing force or persuasion in our relationships. By their nature, animals cannot choose. They use force when dealing with other living beings. That’s not their fault – that’s just the way it is. When the bear is hungry, he will eat you if he can catch you. When that bear is chasing you, you don’t turn around and try to persuade him not to eat you. You run.
    So, rights apply to humans in their dealings with other humans. Just as you can choose force or persuasion, so can they. They’re human.
    That does not mean that animals cannot display some semblance of volition. They may have a preference when it comes to food. They may like some humans more than others. They may be able to solve a rudimentary problem. But, their level of consciousness, whatever it is, is not the issue. The issue is – fundamentally, by their nature, animals cannot choose between force and persuasion.
    Because they cannot choose persuasion, rights do not apply to them.
    If we were to meet an alien race who, like humans, could choose between force and persuasion, then rights would apply to them, as well.
    Rights are a moral concept because they’re grounded in the nature of man, in the fact that he can choose. When you’re talking about choice, you’re talking about morality. But, rights are applied in a political (i.e., social) context. If you’re alone on a desert island, rights are irrelevant. Rights come into play only when you live around other humans, when you have a society.
    Now you’re into political philosophy, and that, too, is for another thread.
    Another thing: rights are a principle. That means that we don’t look at individual humans and decide whether or not they have rights. Rights apply to all humans. Children are human, so they have rights. Incapacitated or otherwise disabled people are human, so they have rights. Which rights they have, when they have them, under what circumstances, and all that, are separate questions. We’re only trying to establish what rights are.
    And one more thing: if, as a human, you choose to use force when dealing with another human, which means, if you choose to violate his rights, then you have announced to that person that persuasion is off the table. When deciding how to deal with that person, you had two choices. You chose force, so the only way that person can deal with you is by force. You initiated the force, and the person can only retaliate by force. You have violated his rights, so you have given up yours. You no longer have the option of being dealt with by persuasion, because you’ve already said that you can’t be.
    In our society, we’ve delegated the use of force to a government. When you violate the rights of another human, the government takes you out of our peaceful society and locks you up. They can do that because you can only be dealt with by force. You don’t have rights anymore.
    It’s clear to me, and I hope I’ve made it clear. I’m not a philosopher, and I don’t write these types of things often, so please forgive any mistakes. You can go up the philosophical tree to politics, or down to ethics, and I know that all knowledge is interconnected, but I think that sometimes an argument gets all muddied up because people try to say too much when arguing a point.

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