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The Ethics of Vegetarianism

1. Introduction

2. What is Ethics?

3. Arguments Against Animal Rights and Vegetarianism

a. argument from the bible

b. argument from nature

c. argument from plant "sentience"

d. argument from language and reason

4. Arguments For Animal Rights and Vegetarianism

a. What are rights?

b. On what basis can rights exist?

i. Bentham, Singer, and utilitarianism

ii. Schweitzer and the will to live

iii. Regan and the subject of a life

5. The Boundary Problem

6. Rights, Duties, and Human Evolution

INTRODUCTION

Yes! Meat is murder! This may be a bumper sticker, but it is not an exaggeration and there are strong arguments to support this sentiment.

Animals have rights! Not to right to vote, but, like us, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- the right not to be tortured and killed for the trivial desires of arrogant human beings.

Their foremost right is the right to life; it follows that those who take that right away from them are murderers, and those who participate in this violation of life are accomplices; while the law may not agree, the standpoint of ethics suggest otherwise.

I want to examine some of arguments for and against animal rights and vegetarianism; I want to show why various arguments against these ideas are weak and why those in favor of them are strong.

The concepts of animal rights and vegetarianism are directly related, for if animals have rights, then human beings have duties to be vegetarians, and thereby to respect their right to life.

WHAT IS ETHICS?

First, let me define what I mean by "ethics": ethics is the philosophical study of right and wrong, good and bad; it is a critical evaluation of our actions and their possible or real consequences.

Not all actions are ethical by nature; some, for example, are purely matters of taste or aesthetics: should I paint the walls white or pink? Do I like strawberries or bananas? Should I take a shower or a bath?

An ethical issue arises anytime one's actions have the potential to affect the interests of someone else; since none of the issues just raised effect anyone else's interests, they are not ethical issues.

Notice, however, that they could involve ethical questions: what if some people in here became violently ill at the sight of pink walls? What if the united farm workers issued a boycott on strawberries because strawberry pickers were dying of chemical poisons? And what if I decided to take a bath with my neighbor's wife? I would then step not only into the tub, but also into the ethical realm -- or at least into some hot water!

Ethics serve as moral restraints on action; if we decide an action is wrong, we must not do it; the problem with ethics is that it is not always convenient and it constrains us to do something that may not benefit our own immediate interests.

Eg.: what if you had the ring of Gyges that Plato speaks of (which would allow one to become invisible)? Would you use it or destroy it? Would you rob banks? Would you hide in dressing rooms at department stores?

When John Lilly realized that his research was doing harm to dolphins, that they were suiciding in protest, he stopped it and dedicated the rest of his life to helping dolphins; as he said: "I didn't want to run a concentration camp for highly developed beings."

If a UTEP graduate from engineering received a lucrative job offer from GE, a company which manufactures nuclear weapons and is the largest producer of Superfund cleanup sites in the U. S., The right thing to do would be to decline the offer.

A good action has two main components: motivation and result; to do the right thing is not the same as doing the good thing; if Mr. Moneybags gives money to charity to improve his public image or to receive a tax break, one would not say he is an ethical person.

Similarly, if Mr. Butterball becomes a vegetarian only for the reason of improving his health, he is no doubt doing the right thing for his health, and the impact of his choice on animals and the environment will still be beneficial, but is he acting ethically?

No, he is acting selfishly rather than ethically, out of concern for other humans and animals; it just so happens that in this case selfishness brings tremendously beneficial effects to animals and the environment -- it is a good action but not the right action.

One of the most profound statements one can make is to be a vegetarian for ethical reasons -- out of compassion for the animals, compassion for the earth, and compassion for other people whose lives are effected by the destruction of the global meat complex.

I emphasize the word "compassion" here because ethics is not merely a set of rational principles that we adhere to in a dry and logical way; it is not just a matter of the mind, it must also be a matter of the heart, a sensitivity to life -- to all life -- a revulsion in the face of the pain and suffering of any life form and an unshakable will to do whatever is in one's power to bring it to an end.

Clearly, the choice to eat meat and dairy products is a full fledged ethical issue, rather than a mere matter of taste or preference because someone else's interests are at stake -- the interests of the billions of animals who are slaughtered each year to satisfy misinformed dietary choices.

Jeffrey Dahmer had a taste for human flesh -- what are we to say of this? Was it merely his quirky dietary choice or was this wrong?

As I will argue, it is not significantly different when one chooses to eat animal flesh; it each case: a life is stolen, one of God's creatures is murdered at the hands of another.

ARGUMENTS AGAINST VEGETARIANISM

Let's first dispense with some common objections to animal rights and vegetarianism.

1) The argument from the bible:

In our modern scientific world, people continue to invoke the bible as a justification for eating meat and domination over animals; two passages from genesis in particular are appealed to:.

-- to humans, God commands: "be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."

-- to Noah, God said: "the fear of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hands they are delivered; every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you"

Such passages were crucial in the formation of a church tradition of anthropocentrism; in the 13th century St. Thomas Aquinas laid down the official church line when he stated: "by divine providence, animals are intended for man's use in the natural order."

The Christian religion has used four different arguments to justify human domination over animals: (a) animals belong to us as our property; (b) those beings with souls are the highest beings made in the image of God and animals have no souls; (c) animals are violent and cruel to each other so there is nothing wrong with human beings being violent and cruel to them; (d) animals cant feel pain.

These claims have little biblical basis; as with other reactionary causes, the religious exploitation of animals involves a highly selective reading of the bible; some passages encourage us to be arrogant and violent, but others advocate a stewardship ethic and enjoin us to be peaceful and caring members of the earth's community.

The stewardship ethic involves a theocentric not anthropocentric ethic: God is at the center of the universe, not man, and both man and animals are the property of God.

Man does have a special role in the world, however; he is entrusted to take care of the earth and the animals; he job is to live in peace with nature to actualize the creative spirit of the world.

In genesis 2.15 it says: God placed man in the Garden of Eden "to cultivate it and care for it [creation]."

In 2.19: it says God brought the animals "to man to see what he would name them" -- and I don't think God had in mind names like pork, hamburger, veal, steak, and cold cuts.

In exodus and Deuteronomy there is emphasis on the obligations we owe animals.

There are various passages in the Old and New Testament urging vegetarianism; as Jesus says, "he who kills, kills himself, and whosoever eats the flesh of slain beasts eats the body of death."

Nor is there any biblical basis for denying soul to animals; rather, in various ways, a "common life" of humans and animals is upheld; in genesis and Ecclesiastes it is said humans and animals are created on the same day, both from dust, that each shares the same blessing of life and "man has no advantage over the beasts" since both will turn to dust again.

If you will pardon a literal reading of the story of Noah, it seems that we are all in the same boat.

In sum, when God grants man "dominion" over the animals, this term is best translated as guardianship not domination.

This view was affirmed by various saints, such as St. Basil the Great, St. Isaac the Syrian, and others; but none so illustrious as St. Francis of Assisi who included animals and humans together in a single spiritual fellowship of God and referred to animals as his brothers and sisters; I am happy to report that since the mid 1950s, the Christian church has been moving increasingly toward a stewardship ethic (cf. appendix in Linzey)

This is a very progressive attitude, but from a secular point of view there is a problem here: animals not the property of anyone but themselves; unlike the rights view I will argue for, the stewardship view still assigns animals instrumental value rather than intrinsic value; it speaks of human duties to animals, rather the rights of animals, which are two very different things.

2) The argument from nature:

Ecology and evolutionary theory tells us that human beings are natural beings, that like animals they evolve through natural selection and are complex products of the natural world.

So: if life kills and eats life, and humans are a part of the great chain of life, why is it wrong for human beings to kill or eat animals?

To put it another way: animals would eat us if they were hungry, why shouldn't we eat them?

It is true that we are natural beings, but we are more than merely natural beings -- we are human beings with unique rational minds capable of raising the question of whether killing is right or wrong and governing our behavior accordingly; we are, in short, the ethical animal -- I have yet to read a book of ethics by Larry the Lion or Ernie the Eel; try as I might, my cats do not listen to my arguments against eating birds.

As ethical beings, we can and must raise the question: when is it right, if ever, to kill? And we can answer the question, as we will -- only when necessary, when there is strong rational justification; since we do not need to kill animals for food, and there is nothing in animal products that we need for human health, it is not necessary to kill them and it is wrong.

In the modern world, we kill animals out of profit and greed, not out of necessity.

When a lion kills a yuppie jogger, the lion is not to blame and it has done nothing wrong because its life is not governed by self-reflexive ethics; indeed, yuppies have no business jogging in lion territory; when a hunter kills a lion, however, the hunter has knowingly, unnecessarily, and wrongly taken a life, killing an animal for sport and pleasure, for purely trivial reasons.

Animals are bearers of moral status and rights, and often live in complex social systems of mutual aid, but they are not moral subjects with explicit ethics; we owe things to animals that they can never owe to us.

For better or worse, we are the shepherds of this planet and it is time that our responsibility to life becomes commensurate with our power to change it.

3) The argument from plant sentience:

You eat plants, don't you?!

How many vegetarians in this room have encountered this argument? How many have stared into a smug face that thinks this is a decisive refutation of alleged vegetarian hypocrisy!

Shame on all the plant murderers in this room! Every stomach here is a graveyard, right? Wrong!

Of course, the appeal to plant life is nothing but a transparent justification for murdering animals; suddenly, the carnivore becomes concerned for life!

It is based on a ludicrous equation of eating plants and animals as if there were no significant difference, as if eating a plant were "killing" a plant; since eating animals is no different from eating plants, it is claimed, we might as well eat animals.

Plants have some degree of sensitivity; they appear to respond to certain stimuli such as touch and music; I doubt that if I played all day the kind of music you just heard my plants would grow very well.

But let's be clear about the difference between plants and animals and eating one or the other!

First, plants do not experience pleasure and pain as do animals; they do not have a central nervous system or a brain; it is hardly the same thing to cut into an apple as it is to slice the throat of a lamb, to debeak a chicken, or to electrocute a pig.

Second, plants are not ambulatory beings with legs and a need for freedom; we do not deprive the plant of anything when we put it in a pot; this is not equal to putting an animal in a cage.

Third, plants are not social beings with complex social bonds; it does no injury to a plant to grow it in isolation as it does to raise an animal without its family.

Fourth, and most importantly, a plant-based diet is ecologically sound whereas a meat-based diet is ecologically destructive; it is the animal-based diet of the global meat culture that is devouring land, water, resources, and the rainforests.

The hypocrisy is really on the side of the carnivore because the carnivore not only directly consumes animals, but also indirectly consumes many times more plants than do vegetarians, since the animals are fed huge quantities of grass, grains, and seeds! With one acre of land, one can feed 20 times as many people on a vegan diet than on a meat-based diet.

Of course, human beings have a right to exist too and we must eat something to survive; if eating plants is an evil, it is certainly the lesser evil.

Unless we want to don Nikes and leave our vehicles for the next passing comet, we must live and move on this earth with as much gentleness, compassion, and awareness as we can -- and perhaps there is no better definition of the vegetarian lifestyle and philosophy.

4) The argument from reason and language:

Only those beings with language, reason, and self-awareness have rights; since animals lack these, they have no rights.

Descartes is an instructive case: he stated: "there is no prejudice to which we are all more accustomed from our earliest years than the belief that dumb animals think."

He sincerely believed that animals were "thoughtless brutes" to whom we owed no obligations whatsoever; in fact, he felt that animals were kinds of machines or automatons devoid of conscious sensation.

He did not deny that animals shrieked and cried, but he saw this as nothing more than the noises of a machine; his teachings inspired the practice of nailing dogs to boards and cutting them open without any anesthetic -- hence the title of the song we heard earlier.

The argument from reason and language is grotesquely wrong on two major counts:

First, it exaggerates the differences between humans and animals, at least the higher mammals, and there is strong evidence that advanced mammals such as whales, dolphins, gorillas, and chimpanzees have significant rational and linguistic abilities. We are still in the dark ages of our knowledge of animal intelligence and the more science advances the more we realize how complex animals are and how much the higher mammals are like us. We now know, for example, that the average difference in the amino acid sequences between human beings and chimpanzees is less than 1% (.8%); chimpanzees are genetically closer to human beings than they are to orangutans. In his recent book, Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors, Carl Sagan lists over 30 characteristics that are supposedly unique to human beings and shows that chimpanzees have all of them -- they make and use tools, they can use and learn language, they have a concept of self, etc. If I had more time, I would discuss evidence about the ability of dolphins, chimpanzees, and gorillas to use language; I would talk to you about Koko the gorilla and her expressive use of language and love of cats; I would speak about Flint the chimp who grieved over the loss of his mother and soon died of grief; I would tell you about elephants who grieve and weep. Those of you with pets know more about animal intelligence than most scientists can comfortably admit -- the fear of anthropomorphism leads to the reduction of animals to machines. Rather than enter into the complexities of the arguments for animal intelligence, let me show you a brief tape -- one of the saddest things I have ever seen -- and you decide for yourself if animals are intelligent and sensitive enough to deserve our respect and compassion. SHOW BEUY TAPE (Beuy the gorilla became very close to his trainer and learned a complex language of signs; when the trainer left him for captivity and returned after 17 years, Beuy instantly recognized him, awoke from his depression and began all the old signs and games; and then the trainer had to leave him once again...). This is an individual with needs, feelings, and interests -- all of which are grossly denied to him. Does anyone wonder why circus elephant rampage? Sorry, Descartes, but robots do not rebel!

The second point I want to make against the argument from reason and language is that it is irrelevant: even if animals were not as intelligent, social, and sensitive as they are, it would not matter for they fulfill the three key criteria that alone matter for something to have rights: they are sentient, able to experience pleasure and pain, they have complex feelings, and they have interests -- goals, aims, and wants, things that matter to them whether they are gained or not.

ARGUMENTS FOR ANIMAL RIGHTS AND VEGETARIANISM

Thus, the question arises: what are rights and on what grounds do any individuals, humans or nonhumans, possess them?

Rights are strong ethical claims to freedom; they protect individual liberties; provide appeal for harm done to one's body, property, or vital interests; they are claims to make to and sometimes against society and they require legal backing.

To have rights is to have inherent value: one's value as a living being is not reducible to one's use to another being; each being is an end in itself, not a means to someone else's end.

To have inherent value is to deserve the respect of other rights-bearing beings, specifically those conscious and ethical human beings who can give it; the rights of one being entails the duties of another being -- the duty to respect another's rights.

Some use this point to argue that because animals have no duties or responsibilities, either to each other or to us, they therefore have no rights.

But, rights do not always entail duties; as I said earlier, we have an asymmetrical relation to animals where we owe them, but they do not owe us.

Think of it this way: we would say a small infant has rights, but what duties does it have? The parent has duties to the infant, but the infant has no duties to the parent; the only duties an infant has is in its diapers.

Like animals, infants are rights-bearers, but they are not full-fledged, paradigm cases of moral subjects with developed reason, language, and self-awareness -- which are necessary and sufficient conditions for moral responsibility.

Argument #1: the utilitarian argument

If we look at the first argument for rights, the utilitarian argument, we see that it cuts through the fog of obtuse philosophical objections and gets right to the main point.

BENTHAM: the question is not can animals speak, or whether they can reason, but can they suffer?

However fancy human logical and linguistic skills, what we share in common with the animals is the ability to experience pain and to suffer.

Utilitarian philosophy is concerned only with utility or consequences; it says that the right act is the act that maximizes the greatest amount of happiness or pleasure for the greatest amount of people.

The great virtue of utilitarianism is its focus on sensation rather than reason, thereby directly bringing animals into the moral realm.

But the move needs more philosophical support, which did not come until 1975 when peter Singer wrote his groundbreaking book, Animal Liberation.

SINGER: greatly elaborated on the philosophical basis of utilitarianism:

There is a strong analogy between racism, sexism, and speciesism: in each case, one group sharply distinguishes itself from another and claims itself inherently superior; in each case, arbitrary reasons are given that have no basis in fact.

Singer does not deny that there are factual differences between human beings and animals, but he does not find them to be morally relevant. In this room, some people are taller, blonder, whiter, and faster than others -- all factual differences, but does that mean these people have more rights than others? Similarly, if human beings are more intelligent and self-aware than animals, is that a legitimate basis for denying them rights?

Singer points out that if we appeal only to language and reason to deny animals rights, then on the same grounds we must also deny rights to large categories of human beings. Fetuses, infants, comatose patients, some elderly people, and the severely retarded would have no claim to rights; there would be no morally significant difference between experimenting on any of these beings and animals; and if we reject the validity of experimenting on these classes of people and potential people, then we must also reject the validity of experimenting on animals (in fact, Singer allows for some kinds of animal experimentation, for reasons ill discuss below).

Let us use an imaginary situation to further clarify the problem with the argument from reason: if super-intelligent aliens came to earth, they might see our level of rationality as primitive and appropriate us for their own systems of medical experimentation and factory farming (of course, if they really were so evolved, they wouldn't be an exploitative species).

Singer is not arguing that all lives of are equal value and that the lives of humans and animals are to be given equal weight; it is worse to cut short the life of a human than a fish, there is less suffering and loss because the fish has less mental complexity.

But, he observes, it could go the other way: a chimpanzee, dog, or pig will have more self-awareness than a severely retarded infant or someone in an advanced state of senility.

I.e.: There is a moral premium on self-awareness and mental complexity that we can appeal to weigh different values is such is necessary: "it is not arbitrary to hold that the life of a self-aware being, capable of abstract thought, of planning for the future, of complex acts of communication, and so on, is more valuable than the life of a being without these capacities" (al, 20).

And on the same grounds, it would therefore not be arbitrary for super-intelligent aliens to use us.

Ordinarily, we are to give equal consideration to different sentient species: "what we must do is to bring nonhuman animals without our sphere of moral concern and cease to treat their lives as expendable for whatever trivial purposes we may have" (al, 20).

If there is a conflict of interests, however, Singer allows that humans may override the interests of nonhumans, but they must have strong reasons for doing so (he accepts some forms of experimentation).

Ultimately, Singer fails to provide an adequate foundation for his goal of animal liberation, largely because of the problems inherent in utilitarianism and because he has no substantive commitment to the concept of rights and inherent value -- he prefers to use the concept of equality or liberation.

A notorious problem with utilitarianism is that it justifies the sacrifice of individuals, whether one or a large group, for the sake of a greater pleasure or happiness.

Town sheriff example: innocent man hung to restore the greater good of the town peace.

Suppose there were a greater balance of pleasure on the human side than pain on the animal side? Then animal exploitation of any kind is legitimate.

A rights-based approach prevents these problems because it does not sanction the instrumentalization of any being for the sake of another, however good the consequences.

Argument #2: Schweitzer and the will to live

Albert Schweitzer developed an interesting alternative to early utilitarianism in the 1920s.

Perhaps his most well known work is his essay "the ethics of reverence for life"; this position can be briefly summarized as follows: I am a part of a larger community of life and I revere all living things; what unites me to all other life forms is the will to live: all life has a will to live, a desire to be, activities to follow, a purpose to realize, a potentiality to actualize.

Schweitzer relies on a moral principle that is basic to Buddhism: one should never cause harm except when it is absolutely unnecessary.

The proviso "except when it is absolutely necessary" is a frank recognition that sometimes life must harm life, and Schweitzer agonized over this (and said that if it is necessary to cause harm, one should be profoundly sorry and guilty (a mix of Buddhism and Christianity!).

But the question is begging: when is it absolutely necessary to cause harm? In our context -- when it is necessary to cause harm to an animal?

Perhaps if a wild bear attacks us, but this is hardly an everyday occurrence.

It is clearly not necessary to hunt animals for sport, to trap them for fur, to exploit them in circuses and rodeos, to test cosmetics on them, nor, arguably, to experiment on them for alleged medical benefits.

Most importantly, it is not necessary to eat animals for food! We live in the age of supermarkets, not in the Stone Age.

But there is a crucial problem with Schweitzer's approach; both the strengths and limitations of his standpoint are visible in the following passage (Philosophy Of Civilization: "a man is truly ethical only when he obeys the compulsion to help all life which he is able to assist, and shrinks from injuring anything that lives; he does not ask how far this or that life deserves ones sympathy as being valuable, nor, beyond that, whether and to what degree it is capable of feeling; he tears no leaf from a tree, plucks no flower, and takes care to crush no insect; in summer he is working by lamplight, he prefers to keep the window shut and breathe a stuffy atmosphere rather than let one insect after another fall with singed wings upon his table."

Powerful and inspiring reverence for life; but perhaps his definition of the moral community is too broad, extending even to the blade of grass and the ice crystal and inanimate matter; indeed, as he himself claims, he advances a mystical philosophy, a pantheism.

Argument #3: Regan and the subject of a life.

In his 1983 book, The Case For Animal Rights, Tom Regan gave the most rigorous defense yet for the notion of animal rights; his position avoids the problems of Singer and Schweitzer: it grants sentient forms of life not only moral value, but uncompromisable rights; and it offer a broad definition of the moral community that gives some premium to advanced forms of life, namely human beings.

For Regan, any being that is a "subject of a life" has rights; his definition has many levels, ranging from sentience to interests and needs to having a coherent identity over time and envisaging a future (cfar, 243).

But the minimum requirement to be a subject of a life is sentience, desires, and interests; if something is not the subject of a life, it has no rights or intrinsic value.

Similar to Schweitzer's notion of a will to live, but Regan doesn't extend it to inorganic matter: ice crystals, blades of grass, and perhaps worms are not subjects of a life and therefore have no rights or intrinsic value.

But fish are: probably don't have future plans, but are capable of enjoying their lives; so they too have rights.

One problem is how can we generate an environment ethic to protect mountains, trees, and rivers -- beyond a conservation ethic? Can inorganic nature too have rights and intrinsic value? As Regan points out, such an account is extremely difficult to develop.

BOUNDARY PROBLEMS

The broadening of moral boundaries raises many difficult problems, for rights are not absolute and different rights and interests can conflict or collide.

Do flies and fleas have rights? Does the aids virus have rights? If not, why? And where do we draw the line?

Schweitzer is in a difficult position, but I suggest his view is an ideal we should all aspire to.

But Singer draws the line at sentience and Regan at the limits of subjectivity.

Both Singer and Regan privilege human life in special cases on the grounds of psychological complexity; in the lifeboat case (4 people one dog, one thing has to go), each would throw the dog overboard; Regan, in fact, would throw a million dogs overboard to save one human (top p. 325)!

This is absurd and shows that at some level utility is a legitimate criterion of appeal; at what point, its not clear, but I feel that there is more value in the lives of a million dogs than any one person; I personally feel I would sacrifice my life to save a million dogs, perhaps even one (i would at least risk my life for one dog).

I don't think vegetables are subjects of a life and have rights; therefore I think it is acceptable to eat them; the case is different, of course, with cows, pigs, and chickens.

I personally would not kill a fly or even cockroach, but I don't feel I have any strong obligations to these life forms, and its difficult to tell if they are subjects of a life .

But: if fleas are attacking me and my cat, they are going to die man! I will privilege the right of my cat and myself to privacy and comfort over any alleged rights a flea might have.

Similarly, if a bear attacked me, I would not say: "oh lucky bear, I am an animal rights activist, please eat me!" -- I would fight for my life.

Nor would I welcome an aids virus in my body so that it could do its thing!

These cases show one valid reason to take a life: self defense; another might be punishment, although this is far more problematic, and doesn't apply to animals because they cannot be guilty of anything.

Consider this: every time you take a walk, how many insects do you trample on? And how about the thousands you kill in you car on a long drive?

By living we kill; since no one in this room has yet committed suicide, we must all feel that our interests to live, to exercise, or drive our cars outweighs the value of forms of life such as insects, and perhaps we are not mistaken in such cases.

Of course we can minimize this killing and this is the ethical power of vegetarianism.

RIGHTS, DUTIES, AND EVOLUTION

Allow me a quick conclusion now.

Our relations to animals are not as thorny or hypothetical as those to plants or insects: animals have clear rights and we have clear duties.

I think we have duties not only not to interfere with animals and not to eat them, but also to come their aid and defend their interests; it is not simply enough not to harm, we have an active duty to assist.

Which epitaph would you prefer: "here lies Mr. Bland, he did no harm and minded his own business," or "here lies a citizen of the world who served others with passion and conviction"?

There is some truth in the stewardship ethic: our unique status as conscious, self-aware, ethical, rational beings gives us unique duties and responsibilities.

Among our duties is the negative duty to avoid flesh and to boycott the meat and dairy industries; when we buy their products we are saying: "yes, I approve of what you are doing to the animals and the earth; here is my money to support your venture"!

But the positive message of both Christianity and a secular rights standpoint is that ethics demands compassion, love, sacrifice, and service.

How corrupted do our sensibilities have to be to think that this message applies only to human beings? Do love and compassion have boundaries? Of gender, race, tribe, or nation? -- or species?

We are to serve all those beings who need our assistance; the least among us have the greatest claim to our service, and thus the animals have a mighty claim indeed; they do not have a voice and so they must rely on the voice of human reason and compassion.

Animal rights is an idea whose time has come; as John Stuart Mill observed, all great ideas move through three stages: ridicule, discussion, and adoption true for both science and ethics science: all major new paradigms ridiculed and heatedly rejected until eventually accepted; eg: quantum mechanics, relativity theory, and plate tectonics same for new ethical concepts: in the eighteenth century arguments for the emancipation of women were ridiculed, as were arguments for the emancipation of blacks in the nineteenth century; these ideas, because they were valid, were eventually discussed and have been largely adopted

However imperfectly the discourse of rights, once unleashed, proved too powerful to be limited to the white male property owners of the early capitalist period, and now its subversive logic is challenging not only racism, sexism, and colonialism, but also anthropocentrism and speciesism; it is now the turn of nature and animals to be liberated!

Only in the last three decades, with the feminist and civil rights movements, have we witnessed significant advances in human evolution what constitutes advances in moral evolution? stages in the development of the universalization of ethics: from self to clan to community to globe; from human to nonhuman animals. A person's ethical evolution can roughly be measured by the span of his or her "we"; ask yourself: how large is your "we" self? I would say that the broader the boundaries, the more morally and spiritually evolved the person. Why should this "we" stop with human beings? This is an arbitrary boundary which should be dissolved to include respect and reverence for all life.

 

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