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AR Philosophy > Morality of AR > Speciesism - Index

The Origin of Speciesism
by Hugh LaFollette and
Niall Shanks

Speciesism vs. Inalienable Rights

Speciesism

Speciesism is the act of treating an individual, not according to its characteristics (such as the ability to suffer), but according to the species to which the individual belongs.

In the past, there have been a number of definitions of what constitutes a different species. Today it is defined genetically. To defenders of speciesism, this raises the following questions:

1. Why should rights be granted on the basis of genes?

2. If rights should be based on genes, why should the line be drawn at species rather than race, order, phylum, or kingdom?

3. Like genes that determine one's eye color, skin color, etc., which gene determines rights?

Basing rights on species is arbitrary. It is no more rational than basing rights on the pigmentation of skin or on gender, which are also determined genetically.

I look at the term "species", as one arbitrarily given for the sake of convenience to a set of individuals closely resembling each other...

Charles Darwin
The Origin of Species

 

Inalienable Rights

As a society, we recognize basic rights of humans to their lives and bodies. We consider these rights "inalienable", meaning that no one can take them away.

Humans are granted rights to their lives because most have a strong desire to avoid death and suffer fear when their lives are threatened. Humans are granted control over their own bodies because they suffer pain when their bodies are mutilated, and boredom and frustration when caged for long periods of time. Since we, as a society, understand how horrible these sorts of sufferings are, we try to protect humans from those who might kill, mutilate, or cage them, regardless of the benefits to others that such sufferings might bring.

Animals whom we have made our slaves, we do not like to consider our equals.

Charles Darwin
Metaphysics, Materialism, and the Evolution of Mind

 

Based on common physiology and behavior, it is safe to say that vertebrate animals suffer fear when their lives are threatened, pain when their bodies are mutilated, and boredom and frustration when caged for long periods of time.

In speaking about whether animals should be granted rights, Jeremy Bentham (Oxford University Professor of Jurisprudence) said, "The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? But rather, Can they suffer?" (An Introduction to the Principles of Morals & Legislation, 1789) For those who can suffer, the degree of suffering, not the species of the sufferer, is what should count. Similarly, if an individual desires to live, then its life should be respected.

Animals show they value their lives and freedom by their struggles against being caged and killed. The act of depriving them of life or freedom harms them in many of the same ways a human is harmed when deprived of life or freedom.

Since animals can feel pain and desire to live, should they not be granted basic rights to their lives and bodies? As individuals capable of acting morally, how can we justify their continued exploitation and slaughter?

Beyond Might Makes Right, a longer essay on animal rights, is available as part of our Vegan Advocacy booklet. Animal Liberation, the classic book by Peter Singer is also available from Vegan Outreach; Singer's Practical Ethics (2nd Edition) is also an excellent resource.

All the arguments to prove human superiority cannot shatter this hard fact: in suffering, the animals are our equals.

Peter Singer
author of Animal Liberation

 

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