Animal Welfare not Equal Rights

As I read Elizabeth Costello, my feelings towards her activist approach constantly changed. I greatly appreciate her views on humanity’s lack of sympathy and how it causes a lack of action regarding individual liberties in both humans and animals alike. However, I am wary of “the function of analogy in the posing of some of the most urgent ethical and political questions.” (Anthology 342) I do see similarities in animal and human suffering, but it pains me to see direct comparisons between concentration camps and cow slaughtering, the Khmer Rouge and slaughterhouse butchers, and great apes and mentally disabled humans. (All of which I have encountered in my journey here as a student at UT) Regardless, I do acknowledge the large amount of suffering millions of animals undergo for the sake of human demands and see Costello’s ultimate desire as a realistic and morally sound desire for just treatment of animal life. Today, however, I take the devil’s advocate. Through informal blogging-which will lend itself to incomplete arguments- I will give my opinions on some of the common falters of animal right’s apologetics. Arguments which I would normally support rather than break down.

In the beginning of the book, Costello gives off a heavy sense of moral and logical reasoning. Despite her own emotional distance from her family, she uses the novel to “understand human fate one case at a time, to understand how it comes about that some fellow being, having started at Point A and having undergone experiences B and C and D, ends up at point Z.” (Coetzee 36) She writes with purpose. Her language is harsh as stated in the beginning of the novel, but her writing obviously drives purpose. Her purpose becomes more defined as she begins to describe the plight of animal rights in the third chapter of the novel. By using the works of famous philosophers she argues for the value of animal life. Rather, she argues against the points of many philosophers: from Aquinas, to Descartes, to even Kant who shares some similar views with her. By arguing that “reason may not be the being of the universe but on the contrary merely the being of the human brain” (Coetzee 67). I saw some problems in this argument. First, reason is only the distinguishing factor between man and animal in the views of a couple of philosophers. Aquinas felt that the ability to love and love god as a creature built in his image was the distinguishing factor between animals and man. While she doesn’t explain why the argument of “God made in the image of man” is weak ( I presume it would take a large amount of highly complex theological argument), she definitely spends most of her time breaking down the superiority of man’s ability to reason.   To me, the major argument that an animal rights activist would argue is that an animal’s ability to feel pain and suffer, rather than its lack of reason, is what ensures them rights, lest the trees and grass would enjoy rights to their own lives. Lastly, arguing that reason would never destroy itself is a circular argument. By saying that the reason would never destroy its own credibility is criticizing the capabilities of the whole institution of logic. An institution Costello ironically must utilize as a tool for arguing against it in the first place.

Tom Regan in this proposal argues for the equality that animals deserve and against utilitarianism.

Here is the problem I have with analogies: they attempt equalize the value of human and animal life. Where do we draw the line? My heart tells me that humans are justified in favoring their own species over another: is it not right to save the life a child over the life of a dog? Living in a world without a hierarchy is much too idealistic for my taste. There are plenty of situations in this world where choices must be made. It is important to understand that absolutism on either end is dangerous. To put flies on the same moral level as a person is just as dangerous as giving humans complete dominance over the life of a grown chimpanzee. I have trouble with equalizing animal life to human life not only because there lacks a defendable line by which to distinguish individual rights, but because such absolutism leads to a slippery slope of other moral implications. By this comparison, is killing a dog, even better, a fish, the same as murder? Should retribution be the same? I don’t think so.

My criticism of argument by analogy should not be taken as a lack of respect for animal rights. Indeed, I see great moral problems in skinning a seal for the luxury of a fur coat (as seen in Earthlings). I recognize that many industries that kill animals do not do so out of necessity, but I am definite that many do. Take the concept of animal testing for example. Earthlings and other animal rights activists argue that the differences between animals and humans are too different to get significant results. First of all, don’t activist usually argue that similarities between animals and human grant them human liberties? Secondly, every single medical achievement since the formation of the polio vaccine was available in part due to the use of animal testing. Wouldn’t you rather figure out that a drug is lethal on mammals after it kills a rat instead of your sister?

Looking back on my blog I have definitely digressed and addressed and multitude of issues too heavy for me dissect in a couple of sentences. I must concede that Coetzee, or Costello rather, is careful not to target any principles. She is simply opening her heart and listening to what it says. (Coetzee 82). Unfortunately, the way our profit run society works, the killing of animals for necessity is mixed in with the killing of animals for luxury as seen by the production of meat by slaughterhouses. If we could flip out capitalistic society on its back and kill animals solely for people’s dietary needs I would feel that animal killings would be completely justified. However, there is always unwarranted cruelty, killing for sport, overproduction due to demand,

Two Sides

How do we solve the issue between utilitarianism and moral righteousness?

food wasting, and a constant need for meat by a species that is biologically omnivorous. I feel a sense of some sad irony, that we have the intellectual capability to utilize the lives of millions of animals for our own needs and desires, but not a way to use such intelligence in a way that satisfies our moral conscience as much as it does our appetites.

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Published in: on November 12, 2009 at 5:56 am  Leave a Comment