Letters to the Editor

Letter: Animals are people, too

Thursday, October 1, 2009

To the Editor:

I am writing in response to a recent editorial (“Animal wrongs,” Sept. 29). While I much appreciate the publicity and favorable review given to the Liberation Project, I found several of the article’s basic assumptions problematic. Specifically, this piece treats the notion that non-human animals are not in a lower moral class than humans as beyond the pale, even calling such claims “sloppy moralizing.” As best I can tell, the only reasons given for this description are that this idea is shocking, which poses a radical challenge to the vast majority of people’s worldview, and for these reasons is likely to incur a backlash.

While I respect the last justification from a public-relations standpoint, the first two are lacking. The boundary of the “human condition” has been gradually expanded throughout the history of Western moral thought, from “white men with property” all the way to “all humans,” where it now conventionally stands. I would ask of those who believe the line should remain where it is now for all eternity the same question I would ask of all previous line-drawers: “Why here?” I would also point out that the species is not nearly as fundamental as many believe, that it is in fact largely an illusion of time and that all living creatures are cousins.

Of course, the line must be drawn somewhere, but I would argue that any proposed “in-group” must be demonstrably categorically different from the out-group, and in a significant and relevant way. Debating what that difference could be is a matter of opinion and morals. Whether or not a given difference exists is a fundamentally scientific question. As best I can tell, the only categorical difference current science suggests between humans and non-human animals is language, and only certain facets of language. Is greater grammatical aptitude really a justification for a system of mass captivity, brutalization and slaughter? I contend that it is not, and I would also point out that I am not trying to lower humans but to raise non-human animals.

Personally, the only difference I would accept as justifying a particular group as the in-group and all other creatures as the out-group is consciousness or sentiency. Since it strikes me that current scientific evidence suggests that sentiency is entirely rooted in the nervous system, I draw the line around the set of all creatures with nervous systems, which approximates the animal kingdom. But that is not, fundamentally, the point I am trying to make. My point is that you cannot dismiss these questions out of hand, simply because they are “radical” or even because they are “offensive,” and that to do so is in fact a kind of sloppy moralizing or even closed-mindedness that I feel is contrary to the spirit of our University.

Robert Black ’13
Sept. 30