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A Question for Speciesists

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thetabularasa Posted: Thu, Nov 22 2012 4:14 PM

Since there has been more of a discussion on Socratic questioning in a couple of the posts, one of which was mine, I thought we could apply this reasoning to life, non-human animal life in particular. So I'll start it and see where it goes:

If any human cannot initiate life-threatening or life-ending force against any other human because that human has a natural right to life, how is it that the same force against a non-human animal species is permitted when these animals are just as alive as humans are? 

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Neodoxy replied on Thu, Nov 22 2012 5:07 PM

Because rights are an arbitrary concept with no true existence.

BOOM!

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John Ess replied on Thu, Nov 22 2012 5:09 PM

The criteria for non-aggression isn't life.  That is too broad.

Or else eating a banana would also be murder.  Plant life is alive after all.

Also, if a lion kills gazelle few people are going to call for it to be thrown into prison.  Obviously, there must be a distinction.

Lierre Keith points out in her book 'vegetarian myth':

“What do plants eat? They eat dead animals; that’s the problem. For me that was a horrifying realization. You want to be an organic gardener, of course, so you keep reading ‘Feed the soil, feed the soil, feed the soil…’

All right. Well, what does the soil want to eat? Well, it wants manure, and it wants urine, and it wants blood meal and bone meal. And I…could not face that. I wanted my garden to be pure and death-free. It didn’t matter what I wanted: plants wanted those things; they needed those things to grow.”

and

“Life is literally a process of one creature eating another, whether it’s bacteria breaking down plants or animals, plants strangling each other, animals going for the throat, or viruses attacking animals. “All of nature is a conjugation of the verb ‘to eat,’” in the words of William Ralph Inge.”

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Neodoxy:

Because rights are an arbitrary concept with no true existence.

BOOM!

LOL. So in that case, if everything is relative, you must agree that if anybody wanted to steal from you, it ought to be permitted and not prevented, right? Or does force determine who lives? For instance, you could use your relative stance that theft is wrong (presumably, of course) and physically prevent the thief from stealing. Is liberty relative too?

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John Ess:

The criteria for non-aggression isn't life.  That is too broad.

Or else eating a banana would also be murder.  Plant life is alive after all.

Also, if a lion kills gazelle few people are going to call for it to be thrown into prison.  Obviously, there must be a distinction.

Lierre Keith points out in her book 'vegetarian myth':

“What do plants eat? They eat dead animals; that’s the problem. For me that was a horrifying realization. You want to be an organic gardener, of course, so you keep reading ‘Feed the soil, feed the soil, feed the soil…’

All right. Well, what does the soil want to eat? Well, it wants manure, and it wants urine, and it wants blood meal and bone meal. And I…could not face that. I wanted my garden to be pure and death-free. It didn’t matter what I wanted: plants wanted those things; they needed those things to grow.”

and

“Life is literally a process of one creature eating another, whether it’s bacteria breaking down plants or animals, plants strangling each other, animals going for the throat, or viruses attacking animals. “All of nature is a conjugation of the verb ‘to eat,’” in the words of William Ralph Inge.”

So do humans not have a right to life? Or do we?

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Neodoxy replied on Thu, Nov 22 2012 5:47 PM

"So in that case, if everything is relative,"

What do you mean by "relative"?

"if anybody wanted to steal from you, it ought to be permitted and not prevented, right?"

No, it ought to be permitted, you also ought to give me money while you're preventing others from stealing from me. You ought to make payments using bills of twenty or higher. If you're going to make payments digitally you ought to make payments divisible by five.

"Or does force determine who lives?"

It's in the nature of our very universe that physical conditions always determine who lives and who dies. If one individual has extensive enough a control over the physical conditions in which another man lives then he will always determine whether or not the other man lives. Morality and rights  ultimately have nothing to do with it.

"For instance, you could use your relative stance that theft is wrong (presumably, of course) and physically prevent the thief from stealing."

Of course I can, is this impossible if morality is objective?

"Is liberty relative too?"

It depends on what you mean by relative.

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Neodoxy:

"So in that case, if everything is relative,"

What do you mean by "relative"?

"if anybody wanted to steal from you, it ought to be permitted and not prevented, right?"

No, it ought to be permitted, you also ought to give me money while you're preventing others from stealing from me. You ought to make payments using bills of twenty or higher. If you're going to make payments digitally you ought to make payments divisible by five.

"Or does force determine who lives?"

It's in the nature of our very universe that physical conditions always determine who lives and who dies. If one individual has extensive enough a control over the physical conditions in which another man lives then he will always determine whether or not the other man lives. Morality and rights  ultimately have nothing to do with it.

"For instance, you could use your relative stance that theft is wrong (presumably, of course) and physically prevent the thief from stealing."

Of course I can, is this impossible if morality is objective?

"Is liberty relative too?"

It depends on what you mean by relative.

Relative, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, means "existing or possessing a specified characteristic only in comparison to something else; not absolute." This definition suffices for my purposes.

So again, I must ask: do humans have a right to life?

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Neodoxy replied on Thu, Nov 22 2012 6:28 PM

Well then yes, everything which is based upon human opinion, like morality, is relative to that person's understanding of the world and his preferences.

Humans do not have an objective right to life. Human do have the right to life according to some people.

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Animals are like any natural resource such as water or rocks or soil trees etc.

First a book:

http://www.amazon.com/Rat-Pig-Dog-Boy-Movement/dp/1594036144

Ive only read parts of it on my ereader before it broke :(

An animal's life is not equal to a human's life.

Human exceptionalism; meaning that humans are not animals, since humans know the difference between right and wrong.

"Because we are unquestionably a unique species--the only species capable of even contemplating ethical issues and assuming responsibilities--we uniquely are capable of apprehending the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, proper and improper conduct toward animals. Or to put it more succinctly if being human isn't what requires us to treat animals humanely, what in the world does?" -Wesley J smith

"Well then yes, everything which is based upon human opinion, like morality, is relative to that person's understanding of the world and his preferences."

Isnt that a self contradictory sentence?

I think that absolute truth exists.

And yes, there are some relative aspects of life also.

 

“Since people are concerned that ‘X’ will not be provided, ‘X’ will naturally be provided by those who are concerned by its absence."
"The sweetest of minds can harbor the harshest of men.”

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z1235 replied on Thu, Nov 22 2012 7:12 PM

thetabularasa:

So do humans not have a right to life? Or do we?

Do you have it? If yes, where did you get it from and where do you keep it?

 

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Neodoxy replied on Thu, Nov 22 2012 7:23 PM

@Kelvin

If we assume the existence of a single universe which abides by immutable laws regardless of time and space (and yes this is an assumption) then there are still things which are relative, such as my preference for ice cream over chocolate ice cream. The weight of either of these wonderful delicacies, however, is objective. Should I eat one or the other? Depends upon preference, because ought has no physical existence or something to base it off of. Therefore morality is something entirely dependent upon human opinion, unlike weight, since that has an external and observable standard upon which to judge its existence.

"Do you have it? If yes, where did you get it from and where do you keep it?"

I keep mine in my back pocket, or in my suitcase when I'm traveling because the TSA won't allow it for a carry-on item. Where the hell do you keep yours exactly?

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What is morality?

“Since people are concerned that ‘X’ will not be provided, ‘X’ will naturally be provided by those who are concerned by its absence."
"The sweetest of minds can harbor the harshest of men.”

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Neodoxy replied on Thu, Nov 22 2012 7:47 PM

Baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me, no more?

Ultimately it means what one ought to do under certain situations. It take some f***ing around with a thesaurus to get there though. That's part of what I hate about talking about morality, good and evil, and all the nonsense surrounding ethical practice. It's pretty meaningless all told, and the hundreds of thousands of pages written on the subject don't change this fact.

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Kelvin Silva:

What is morality?

The Oxford Dictionary defines it as "Principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior or the extent to which an action is right or wrong." Fine by me.

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gotlucky replied on Thu, Nov 22 2012 7:49 PM

@thetabularasa

Crusoe, Morality, and Axiomatic Libertarianism should be helpful for your question.

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Neodoxy replied on Thu, Nov 22 2012 8:06 PM

So tabularasa,

Do you have a response to what I wrote? You seem to have a beef with this my proposed worldview.

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I think that morality is not relative.

To say that it is means that morality held by any human is moral because he or she perceives it to be. So therefore if person Y thinks that killing is not wrong and kills person X, who here is in the right or wrong (sorry if this is a bit loaded: instead of kills,  steals)? Each one has a different subset of values upon the subject of murder.

 

“Since people are concerned that ‘X’ will not be provided, ‘X’ will naturally be provided by those who are concerned by its absence."
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Neodoxy replied on Thu, Nov 22 2012 8:22 PM

And why is this incorrect?

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Neodoxy:

Baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me, no more?

Ultimately it means what one ought to do under certain situations. It take some f***ing around with a thesaurus to get there though. That's part of what I hate about talking about morality, good and evil, and all the nonsense surrounding ethical practice. It's pretty meaningless all told, and the hundreds of thousands of pages written on the subject don't change this fact.

I maintain that life, liberty and private property are absolute, everything else is relative. It's the closest to indivisibility I can take it.

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I maintain that life, liberty and private property are absolute, everything else is relative. It's the closest to indivisibility I can take it.

They are social constructs.

But that is not to say that absolute truths do not exist. Absolute truth does exist alongside relative truths.

For example, I liking ice cream x over y is a relative truth for me.

However, something like: All humans lie, or all humans contain blood is an absolute truth.

LOL. So in that case, if everything is relative.....

I dont think neodoxy said that EVERYTHING was relative. And if he did, then well, disregard this.

“Since people are concerned that ‘X’ will not be provided, ‘X’ will naturally be provided by those who are concerned by its absence."
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AJ replied on Thu, Nov 22 2012 11:25 PM
Define "morality" and you'll know whether morality is subjective.
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You still get back to "you cannot get an ought from an is" though.  The true statement "all humans contain blood" cannot tell you what is right or wrong about any act you might take that affects human blood, can it?

NAP can only be regarded to apply to beings capable of owning property, i.e. beings with the capacity for normative argumentation as I understand it.  Property after all is a concept that only has meaning among individuals who participate in exchange processes by non-violent means, right?

Animals, not being rational or property-owning, can be viewed as property themselves under NAP and the assumption of responsibility for an animal can, for some, imply moral requirements toward that creature.  This cannot be seen as a universal in any way, though.  As property, an animal might be maintained for a variety of uses.  A farmer has a practicality-oriented moral system toward the animals he maintains.  A pet owner has a loving relationship with her animal.  Each has different interpretations of what their responsibilities actually are to their property.

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I think what the OP is implying (via the title of the thread, where “speciesist” definitely seems to be there for loaded reasons) is that empathy toward living beings is a positive virtue.  Well and good.

There is nothing wrong with placing great value on empathy as a virtue.  There is also nothing you can say that will make specific recommendations as to how this virtue is to be applied in individual situations.  It’s just not possible to make it into a yes/no, good/bad sort of statement that makes sense across the board.  If you write yourself a moral out of this virtue, it will have to be full of ifs, ands and buts and constantly be rewritten on a case by case basis.  There’s no way to write a thing like that as a blanket statement.

Every rational being has a list of virtues they place high value on.  You can read studies that attempt to correlate virtues across cultures and throughout time, but these are necessarily going to be simplifications-and they say nothing about what you yourself think re: each of the supposedly universal virtues.  I myself, for instance, prize curiosity and creativity above empathy.  Far above.  There’s no way for you to argue that I’m objectively wrong because value, as we know, is subjective.

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Lady Saiga:

Every rational being has a list of virtues they place high value on.  You can read studies that attempt to correlate virtues across cultures and throughout time, but these are necessarily going to be simplifications-and they say nothing about what you yourself think re: each of the supposedly universal virtues.  I myself, for instance, prize curiosity and creativity above empathy.  Far above.  There’s no way for you to argue that I’m objectively wrong because value, as we know, is subjective.

But regarding ethics being proper behavior, how can one deem behavior by a man like Hitler (obviously a rational being like the rest of us) as being perfectly acceptable since his value-judgments are relative in comparison to our own; hence, his actions were only "bad" to the degree that we arbitrarily view ours to be "good."

In this particular case, would you be so bold as to say that Hitler, in fact, did nothing wrong? I say he most certainly did something wrong: he organized and participated in the murder of millions of people. I say since these people had a right to life that Hitler was in the wrong.

As far as the term "speciesist," I didn't mean it to be loaded at all. I was simply wondering about it, and if murdering humans is wrong because murder is forcefully taking the life of someone else (hence, without their consent), then if we forcefully take the lives of other animals without their consent, how can we not consider that murder? 

Although I don't need to mention this next bit of information (since ad hominem argumentation is completely futile), I want you to know that I eat meat regularly. I mention this just so you know I don't have an agenda; simply questioning why one is considered wrong and the other is considered permissible.

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Lady Saiga replied on Fri, Nov 23 2012 10:38 AM

I think I've already presented an answer to these questions!  How could you possibly interpret what I said as a determination that Hitler or his policies were not immoral? 

Again, NAP applies to beings capable of normative argumentation.  This gives us a perfectly acceptable way of evaluating specific actions of humans against other humans.

The same thing cannot apply to human interactions with animals.  I think I made myself clear on this point. 

In short, NAP describes how property is derived and how to identify coercive behavior.  It does not address how individuals may choose to treat their property.  That is the realm of (subjective) values.

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gotlucky replied on Fri, Nov 23 2012 10:45 AM

thetabularasa:

But regarding ethics being proper behavior, how can one deem behavior by a man like Hitler (obviously a rational being like the rest of us) as being perfectly acceptable since his value-judgments are relative in comparison to our own; hence, his actions were only "bad" to the degree that we arbitrarily view ours to be "good."

In this particular case, would you be so bold as to say that Hitler, in fact, did nothing wrong? I say he most certainly did something wrong: he organized and participated in the murder of millions of people. I say since these people had a right to life that Hitler was in the wrong.

But that's not what subjective morality means. Those actions are not "perfectly acceptable". I don't find just anything to be perfectly acceptable. If you value certain things, then that makes certain things acceptable and other certain things unnacceptable. If your values are opposed to what someone like Hitler values, then that does not make what he does "perfectly acceptable".

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Lady Saiga replied on Fri, Nov 23 2012 12:00 PM

I think you (OP) are having trouble imagining how behavior can be evaluated from a moral standpoint without a belief in positive rights.  You then fall into the confusing morass that arises when you begin to wonder how far positive rights extend either in depth or breadth-how many positive rights can humans be said to have?  Animals?  Microbes?  etc., etc., etc.

You're experiencing the problem with positive rights, which is that they are arbitrary, and in fact determined by subjective choice on the part of those who assert their existence.  There is no way to establish them definitively and objectively, and then distinguish what is or is not possible to include. 

This is why morals cannot be derived from such concepts.

 

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Anenome replied on Fri, Nov 23 2012 1:03 PM
 
 

Rights exist in a special framework, this is true.

But this is primarily true because we can communicate with other human beings. That is, we have a means of dispute resolution apart from force with members of our own species.

Try talking sense to a lion about to chew your leg off. Force is the only means of dealing with a lion.

At the same time, say we discovered a communicative alien species. We'd certainly extend the same courtesy of rights to such a species, as we can deal with them in a non-coercive framework. It's almost inconceivable that they wouldn't have a similar concept we could appeal to.

 

 
Autarchy: rule of the self by the self; the act of self ruling.
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In that example, the idea of rights is not even in play.  We would deal with an alien race as we deal with other humans as long as we could engage in normative argumentation with them.  We wouldn't be granting them "rights".  We'd be communicating.  You see the difference?  They would be covered under NAP.

If no normative communication was possible then NAP would also not be possible.  Say it was a ship full of draft or food animals being deposited prior to the arrival of a colony ship!  The animals would have no "rights", and neither would the colonists that came later.  But we'd be able to negotiate with the colonists, while their equivalent of cows would still remain property.

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dude6935 replied on Fri, Nov 23 2012 1:23 PM

So it all goes back to argumentation? If a being is capable of argumentation, then the NAP applies to it?

Walter Block argues that a fetus is protected against aggression because it is human and has all the rights pertaining to any other member of the species. But a fetus is not yet capable of argumentation. It would seem to follow that it is not protected by the NAP (with respect to the mother).

What about protestation, is that argumentation? If an animal whimpers when beaten, is that not its argument?

Some animals participate in non-violent exchange. My dog does so all the time. I offer her food in exchange for some service. Sometimes she accepts my offer. Other times she does not. I argue with her as well. I tell her "No food until I am done.", and she might continue to beg, or she might accept my logic and go lay down. And I can't guarantee that I haven't also yielded to her logic in that regard from time to time.

 

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Clayton replied on Fri, Nov 23 2012 1:49 PM

What is good? What is evil? What should I do? What should I not do? These questions are questions about morality, or ethics. There are at least four levels of connotation at work in moral language:

• A value-laden expression of an individual's own sentiments about a particular kind of human behavior (distaste or preference).
• A value-free description of prevailing social norms.
• A value-free assessment of the suitability of specific ends to bringing about an individual's satisfaction (in the technical sense of this term).
• A value-laden assessment of the correct resolution of a dispute

Moral language is complicated by the fact that human language tends to mash together the different connotations in ways that make it difficult to keep track of what exactly is being said. Morality is relative and subjective in the first sense but objective and non-relative in the second sense. Hence, we have to be specific enough to choose what sort of morality we are debating before debating whether "morality" is relative and subjective or objective.

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Even in all of Clayton's instances of moral language, it is still subjective in the sense that no universals can be discovered by any of those means.  In the second instance, the described social norms can only be taken as true for the society under examination and not applied wholesale to all rational beings, let alone all living beings.

 

"So it all goes back to argumentation? If a being is capable of argumentation, then the NAP applies to it?"

Yes.

"Walter Block argues that a fetus is protected against aggression because it is human and has all the rights pertaining to any other member of the species. But a fetus is not yet capable of argumentation. It would seem to follow that it is not protected by the NAP (with respect to the mother)."

Yes again.  With respect to anyone, a fetus is effectively property.  A child is effectively the property of whichever adult claims responsibility over them.  When a child is old enough to have a rational discussion on questions of "ought", they cease to be property and become sovereign individuals.

"What about protestation, is that argumentation? If an animal whimpers when beaten, is that not its argument?

Some animals participate in non-violent exchange. My dog does so all the time. I offer her food in exchange for some service. Sometimes she accepts my offer. Other times she does not. I argue with her as well. I tell her "No food until I am done.", and she might continue to beg, or she might accept my logic and go lay down. And I can't guarantee that I haven't also yielded to her logic in that regard from time to time."

Your dog cannot rationalize its behavior by means of reference to right and wrong.  It can only react with instinct and via learned behaviors that you, and its environment in general, have reinforced.  Your dog ultimately can only be motivated by selfish or instinctive pack-behaviors.  Not by any determination of "good" and "bad".  Humans have a tendency to anthropomorphize their pets' actions, however.

 

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dude6935:

What about protestation, is that argumentation? If an animal whimpers when beaten, is that not its argument?

I agree, dude. I can even take it a step further: if someone exclaims something to his agressor in a language the aggresor doesn't understand, I suppose these same individuals might say that continued abuse is permitted because no intelligible counter argument has been understood. Or take a retarded person, or someone brain dead, or, in a great example you used, a fetus. I say all these people have rights to life. Yet the dilemma persists: if being alive is enough to grant this self-evident right, why aren't non-human animals' lives equally protected or revered?

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Lady Saiga:

"So it all goes back to argumentation? If a being is capable of argumentation, then the NAP applies to it?"

Yes. 

So my retarded brother who can't enunciate a single word yet motions with gross hand gestures when he's hungry can be injured or killed and eaten simply because he cannot form a cogent argument?

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Anenome replied on Fri, Nov 23 2012 3:06 PM

I tend to think natural rights can be derived from reality, it's their natural-language formulation that is subjective.

People, for instance, have freedom of speech not merely because we arbitrarily grant it to each other, but because each person, as a matter of fact and objective reality, literally controls their mouth and speech.

For that reason, I'm still in favor of the concept of natural rights.

Autarchy: rule of the self by the self; the act of self ruling.
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Anenome replied on Fri, Nov 23 2012 3:08 PM
 
 

thetabularasa:

Lady Saiga:

"So it all goes back to argumentation? If a being is capable of argumentation, then the NAP applies to it?"

Yes. 

So my retarded brother who can't enunciate a single word yet motions with gross hand gestures when he's hungry can be injured or killed and eaten simply because he cannot form a cogent argument?

I think it ends up being worse than that. You can cogently argue that line of thought to say that people rendered unconscious no longer have any rights, or those asleep or in comas.

At some point human-ness has to enter into it. Thus the speciesl framework.

 
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gotlucky replied on Fri, Nov 23 2012 3:10 PM

@thetabularasa

Have you bothered to read the link I provided? I can't help but think that you aren't interested in finding an answer to your OP.

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Clayton replied on Fri, Nov 23 2012 3:41 PM

"Crusoe, Morality, and Axiomatic Libertarianism" - meh, this "axiomatic" approach goes awry when Nielsio attributes "social pressure" and third-party opinions as the foundation of legal order. He is completely mistaken on this point and I've gone around with him in the past on it, to no avail.

We've had quite a few threads on animal rights in the past. The defining distinction is the ability to argue. If someone or something is not able to argue (e.g. a young child, a senile person, a comatose person, a mentally retarded person, an insane person, etc.), then they are a legal non-entity, that is, they are not able to "stand at law". They are incompetent. Hence, in order for them to have rights, someone who can stand at law (competent) must be willing to advocate on behalf of the incompetent individual.

However, we must be clear that, in terms of "rights", the advocate is only ever speaking of his own rights. For example, let's say Alice beats her dog. Let's say that Bob decides to become a legal advocate for Alice's dog. Bob sues Alice and claims that her beating of the dog is unlawful. The only basis on which Bob can make this claim is that he must show how Alice is violating his rights in the dog's welfare. This means he must show that he actually has such rights.

I do not believe we can conclude a priori whether an unhampered market in law would result in protection or non-protection of animal rights (or perhaps both, varying from region to region). Gratuitous animal cruelty seems to me both inefficient and immoral and I would rather see animals treated well. But I don't think we can tell whether unhampered law will emerge along these lines or whether it will emerge along more propertarian lines. The key issue is how to derive the rights of non-owners in the proper treatment of the animal... if this is possible and becomes recognized in case law, then you have animal rights. Otherwise, you don't.

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gotlucky replied on Fri, Nov 23 2012 3:51 PM

"Crusoe, Morality, and Axiomatic Libertarianism" - meh, this "axiomatic" approach goes awry when Nielsio attributes "social pressure" and third-party opinions as the foundation of legal order. He is completely mistaken on this point and I've gone around with him in the past on it, to no avail.

I don't know of anything in that link where Nielsio states that the legal order is founded on third-party opinions. He may have said it elsewhere, but I don't believe I have encountered that either. I agree with the rest of your post, but I prefer the phrase "animal protections" over "animal rights", because as you point out, one needs to be able to argue in order to be a legal entity. Animals can only be protected by legal entities, they cannot be legal entities themselves. Of course, if there were another animal that could stand for himself at law, then that would be a different story.

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Clayton replied on Fri, Nov 23 2012 4:12 PM

From the link:

If Paul were to take Robinson’s fishing equipment without his permission, then there is now a third person whose opinion also matters. Roger realizes that if Paul takes Robinson’s production materials, then Roger himself will be worse off in the future. So he regards it as wrong, as far as interaction within the island society goes, for one member to expropriate goods from another member. And because of this, he will side with Robinson in such a dispute.

If that understanding is developed enough, and thus the social pressure is strong enough to generally prevent these things from happening, then Robinson can be said to enjoy property rights.

Both of the highlighted statements are just regurgitations of popular misconceptions of the nature of law. They are fundamentally misguided and even dangerous. Law is not a popularity contest. In fact, the practice of politics can be understood nothing else than the formation of law based on popularity. Social pressure and the opinions of disinterested third-parties ought to be specifically excluded from legal decision-making processes because they can only have a discoordinating and irrationalizing effect on law.

Clayton -

http://voluntaryistreader.wordpress.com
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