A brief note on animal “rights”

As one might guess from other posts, I consider wildlife conservation, preservation of the world’s remaining wild places, and tree-hugging in general to be good things.

Does that, gentle reader, mean that I am a proponent of animal rights? Ummm, no. While I allow causes that I support to leak occasionally onto this blog, at the end of the day it remains a space to discuss ethics. Books could be written about what delineates a person as a free moral agent and, by extension, subject to a particular system or theory of ethics. For our purposes, it is sufficient to say that the individual must be able to understand his or her ethical rights and duties and must be free to choose his or her actions.

Even the non-human animals closest to us in terms of intelligence or ability to communicate with humans fails the first criterion. The second, therefore, need not be examined. Chimpanzees, elephants, or cetaceans may be moral agents with respect to other members of the same species, but they are not moral agents with respect to humans. If they owe no ethical duty to humans, then we are arguably free of any ethical duty to them.

The matter of reciprocity as it applies to ethics is an interesting subject for future investigation.

Humans’ role in the extinction of other species is an example of our capacity to behave badly outside in a way that is ethically neutral within the confines of ethical theory.

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