FAQ Animal Rights (Francione)

1. Question: Domestic animals, such as cows and pigs, and laboratory rats would not exist were it not for our bringing them into existence in the first place for our purposes. So is it not the case that we are free to treat them as our resources?

Answer: No. The fact that we are in some sense responsible for the existence of a being does not give us the right to treat that being as our resource. Were that so, then we could treat our children as our resources. After all, they would not exist were it not for our actions -from decisions to conceive to decisions not to abort. And although we are granted a certain amount of discretion as to how we treat our children, there are limits: we cannot treat them as we do with animals. We cannot enslave them, sell them to prostitution, or sell their organs. We cannot kill them. Indeed, it is a cultural norm that bringing a child into existence creates moral obligations on the part of the parents to care for the child and not exploit her. It should be noted that one of the purported justifications for human slavery in the United States was that many of those who were enslaved would not have existed in the first place had it not been for the institution of slavery.  The original slaves who were brought to the United States were forced to procreate and their children were considered property.  Although such an argument appears ludicrous to us no, it demonstrates that we cannot assume the legitimacy of the institution of property – of humans or animals- and then ask whether it is acceptable to treat property as property. The answer will be predetermined. Rather, we must first ask whether the institution of animal (or human) property can be morally justified.

2. Question: Rights were devised by humans. How can they even be applicable to animals?

Answer: Just as the moral status of a human and animal is not determined by who caused the human or animal to come into existence, the application of a moral concept is not determined by who devised it. If moral benefits went only to the devisers of moral concepts, then most of humankind would still be outside the moral community. Rights concepts as we currently understand them were actually devised as a way of protecting the interests of wealthy white male landowners; indeed, most moral concepts were historically devised by privileged males to benefit other privileged males. As time went on, we recognized that the principle of equal consideration required that we treat similar cases in a similar way and we subsequently extended rights (and other moral benefits) to other humans. In particular, the principle of equal consideration required that we regard as morally odious the ownership of some humans by other humans. If we are going to apply the principle of equal consideration to animals, then we must extend to animals the right not to be treated as a resource. It is irrelevant whether animals devised rights or can even understand the concepts of rights. We do not require that humans be potential devisers of rights or understand the concepts of rights in order to be beneficiaries of rights.

3. Question: Does the institution of pet ownership violate animals’ basic right not to be regarded as things?

Answer: Yes. Pets are our property. Dogs, cats, hamsters, rabbits, and other animals are mass produced like bolts in a factory or, in case of birds and exotic animals, are captured in the wild and transported long distances, during which journey many of them die. Pets are marketed in exactly the same way as other commodities. Although some of us may treat our companion animals well, more of us treat them poorly. (…) Some people who claim to love their companion animals mutilate them senselessly by having their ears cropped, their tails docked, or their claws ripped out so that they will not scratch the furniture.  You may treat your animal companion as a member of your family and effectively accord her or him inherent value or the basic right not to be treated as your resource. But your treatment of your animal really means that your regard your animal property as having higher than market value; should you change your mind and administer daily and severe beatings to your dog for disciplinary purposes, or not feed your cat so that she will be more motivated to catch the mice in the basement or your store, or kill your animal because you no longer want the financial expense, your decision will be protected by the law. You are free to value your property as you see fit. You may decide to polish your car often or you may let the finish erode. The choice is yours. As long as you provide the minimal maintenance for your car so that it can pass inspection, any other decision you make with respect to the vehicle, including your decision to give it to a scrap dealer, is your business. As long as you provide minimal food, water, and shelter to your pet, any other decision you make, apart from torturing the animal for no purpose whatsoever, is your business, including your decision to dump your pet at the local shelter (where many animals are either killed or sold into research) or have your pet killed by a willing veterinarian. Many years ago, I adopted a hamster from a law school classmate. The hamster became ill one night, and I called an emergency veterinary service. The veterinary said that the minimum amount for an emergency visit was $50 and asked me why I would want to spend that amount when I could get a “new” one from any pet store for about $3. I took the hamster to the veterinary anyway, but that event was one of the first times my consciousness was raised about the status of animals as economic commodities. As someone who lives with seven rescued canine companions whom I love dearly, I do not treat this matter lightly. Although I regard my companions as family members, they are still my property and I could decide tomorrow to have them all killed. As much as I enjoy living with dogs, were there only two dogs remaining in the world, I would not be in favour of breeding them so that we could have more “pets” and this perpetuate their property status. Indeed anyone who truly cares about dogs should visit a “puppy mill” – a place where dogs are bread in hundreds or thousands and are treated as nothing more than commodities. Female dogs are bread repeatedly until they are “spent” and are either killed or sold into research. We should, of course, care for all those domestic animals that are presently alive, but we should not continue to bring more animals into existence so that we may own them as pets.

4. Question: If you are in favour of abolishing the use of animals as human resources, don’t you care more about animals than you do about those humans with illness who might possibly be cured through animals research?

Answer: No, of course not. This question is logically and morally indistinguishable from that which asks whether those who advocated the abolition of human slavery cared less about the well-being of southerners who faced economic ruin if slavery were abolished than they did about the slaves. The issue is not whom we care about or value most; the question is whether it is morally justifiable to treat sentient beings – human or nonhuman- as commodities or exclusively as means to the ends of others. For example, we generally do not think that we should use any humans as unconsenting subjects in biomedical experiments, even though we would get much better data about human illness if we used humans rather than animals in experiments. After all, the application to the human context of data from animal experiments -assuming that the animal data are relevant at all- requires often difficult and always imprecise extrapolation. We could avoid these difficulties by using humans, which would eliminate the need for extrapolation. But we do not do so because even though we may disagree about many moral issues, most of us are in agreement that the use of humans as unwilling experimental subject is ruled out as an option from the beginning. No one suggests that we care more about those we are unwilling to use as experimental subjects than we do about the others who would benefit from that use.

5. Question: Isn’t human use of animals a “tradition” or “natural” and therefore morally justified?

Answer: Every form of discrimination in the history of humankind has been defended as “traditional.” Sexism is routinely justified on the ground that it is traditional for women to be subservient to men: “ A woman’s place is in the home.” Human slavery has been a tradition in most cultures at some times. The fact that some behaviour can be described as traditional has nothing to do with whether the behaviour is morally acceptable. In addition to relying on tradition, some characterize our use of animals as “natural” and then declare it to be acceptable. Again, to describe something as natural does not in itself say anything about the morality of the practice. In the first place, just about every form of discrimination ever practiced has been described as natural as well as traditional. The two notions are often used interchangeably. We have justified human slavery as representing natural hierarchy of slave owners and slaves. We have justified seism as representing that natural superiority of men over women. Moreover, it is a bit strange to describe our modern commodification of animals as natural in any sense of the world. We have created completely unnatural environments and agricultural procedures in order to maximize profits. We do bizarre experiments in which we transplant genes and organs from animals into humans and vice versa. We are now cloning animals. None of this can be described as natural. Labels such as “natural” and “traditional” are just that: labels. They are no reasons. If people defend the imposition of pain and suffering on an animal based on what is natural or traditional, it usually means that they cannot otherwise justify their conduct. A variant of this question focuses on the traditions of particular groups. For example, in May 1999 the Makah tribe from Washington State killed its first grey whale in over seventy years. The killing, which was done with steel harpoons, antitank guns, armor-piercing ammunition, motorized chase boats, and a $310 000 grant from the federal government, was defended on the grounds that whaling was a Makah tradition. But the same argument could be (and is) made to defend clitoris mutilations in Africa and bride-burning in India. The issue is not whether the conduct is part of a culture: all conduct is part of some culture. The issue is whether the conduct can be morally justified. Finally, some argue that since nonhuman animals eat other nonhumans in the wild, our use of animals is natural. There are four responses to this position. First, although some animals eat each other in the wild, many do not. Many animals are vegetarians. Moreover, there is far more cooperation in nature than our imagined “cruelty of nature” would have us to believe. Second, whether animals eat other animals is beside the point. How is it relevant whether animals eat other animals? Some animals are carnivorous and cannot exist without meat. We do not fall into that category; we can get along fine without eating meat, and more and more people are taking the position that our health and environment would both benefit from a shift away from a diet of animal products. Third, animals do all sort of things that humans do not regard as a morally appropriate. For example, dogs copulate and defecate in the street. Does that mean that we should follow their example?  Fourth, it is interesting that when it is convenient for us to do so, we attempt to justify our exploitation of animals by resting on our supposed “superiority”. And when our supposed “superiority” gets in the way of what we want to do, we suddenly portray ourselves as nothing more than another species of wild animal, as entitles as foxes eat chickens.

6. Question: If we did not exploit animals, we would not have society as we know it. Does this fact not prove that animal use by humans is morally justified?

Answer: No. In the first place, the question assumes that we would not have devised alternatives for animal use if that were necessary either because nonhuman animals were not available or because we made a moral decision not to exploit them as resources. Second, even if animal use were necessary for society as we presently know it, the same argument could be made with respects to any human activity. For example, without wars, patriarchy, and other forms of violence and exploitation, we would not have society as we now know it. The fact that a given activity was a necessary mean to what some of us regard as a desirable end does not prove that the means were morally justified. Present-day Americans would not enjoy the level of prosperity that they now enjoy were it not for human slavery; that does not mean that human slavery was a morally acceptable practice. Third, there is at least an argument that our present-day society, with it’s violence, pollution, inequitable distribution of resources, and various forms of injustice is less desirable an end than some think, and that we ought not be so eager to endorse the means that got us where we are today.

7. Question: By equating speciesism with racism and sexism, don’t you equate animals, people of colour and woman?

Answer: No. Racism, sexism, speciesism, and other forms of discrimination are all analogous in that all share the faulty notion that some morally irrelevant characteristic (race, sex, species) may be used to exclude beings with interest from the moral community or to undervalue interests in explicit violation of the principle of equal consideration. For example, speciesism and human slavery are similar in that all cases animals and enslaved humans have a basic interest in not being treated as things and yet are treated as things on the basis of morally irrelevant criteria. To deny animals this basic right simply because they are animals is like saying that we should not abolish race-based slavery because of the perceived inferiority of the slaves’ race. The argument used to support slavery and the argument to support animal exploitation are structurally similar we exclude beings with interest from the moral community because there is some supposed difference between “them” and “us” that has nothing to do with the inclusion of this beings in the moral community. The animal rights position maintains that if we believe that animals have moral significance, the principle of equal consideration requires that we stop treating them as things. A related question that often arises in this context is whether speciesism is “as bad” as racism or sexism or other forms of discrimination. As a general matter, it is not useful to rank evils. Was it “worse” that Hitler killed Jews than that he killed Catholics or Romanies? Is slavery “worse” than genocide? Is sexism “worse” than slavery and genocide, or is it “worse” than slavery but not worse than genocide? Frankly, I am not even sure what this questions mean, but I suspect that persons consider them assume implicitly that one group is “better” than another. In any event, these forms of discrimination are all terrible, and they are terrible in different ways. But they all share one thing in common: they all treat humans as things with protectable interests. In this sense, all of this forms of discrimination-as different as they are- are similar to speciesism, which result in our treating animals as things. Finally, there are some who argue that in saying that some animals have greater cognitive ability than some humans, such as the severely retarded or the extreme senile, we are equating those humans with animals and characterizing them in a disrespectful way. Again, this misses the point of the argument for animal rights. For centuries, we have justified our treatment of animals as resources because they supposedly lack some characteristic that we have. But some animals have such a “special” characteristic to a greater degree than do some of us and some humans do not have that characteristic at all. The point is that although a particular characteristic may be useful for some purposes, the only characteristic that is required for moral significance is sentience. We do not and should not treat those humans that are impaired as resources for other humans. And if we really believe that animals have moral significant interests, then we ought to apply the principle of equal consideration and not treat them as resources as well. The argument for animal rights does not decrease respect for human life; it increases respect for all life.

8. Question (Q9 in book): Where do you draw the line on who can have rights? Do insects have rights?

Answer: I draw the line at sentience because, as I have argued, sentient beings have interests and the possession of interests is the necessary and sufficient condition for membership in the moral community. Are insects sentient? Are they conscious beings with minds that experience pain and pleasure? I do not know. But the fact that I do not know exactly where to draw the line, or perhaps find drawing the line difficult, does not relieve me of the obligation to draw the line somewhere or allow me to use animals as I please. Although I may not know whether insects are sentient, I do know that cows, pigs, chickens, chimpanzees, hoses, deer, dogs, cats, and mice are sentient. Indeed, it is now widely accepted that fish are sentient. So the fact that I do not know on what side of the line to place insects does not relieve me of my moral obligation to the animals whom I do know are sentient. As a general matter, this question is intended to demonstrate that is we do not know where to draw the line in a matter of morality, or if line drawing is difficult, then we ought not to draw the line anywhere. This form of reasoning is invalid. Consider the following example. There is a great deal of disagreement about the scope and extent of human rights. Some people argue that health care and education are fundamental rights that a civilized government should provide to everyone; some people argue that health care and education are commodities like any other, not the subject of rights, and that people ought to pay for them. But we would, I suspect, all agree that whatever our disagreements about human rights –however unsure we are where to draw the line- we must certainly agree, for instance, that genocide is morally wrong. We do not say that it is morally acceptable to kill of an entire population because we may disagree over whether humans are entitled to health care. Similarly, our uncertainty or disagreement regarding the sentient of ants is not licence to ignore the interest of chimpanzees, cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals whom we know are sentient.

9. Question ( Q11 in book): If we want to treat similar interests similarly, does our recognition that animals have a basic right not to be property mean that abortion should also be prohibited?

Answer: Abortion raises a number of difficult issues, particularly because of the religious dimension of the controversy. Many who oppose abortion believe that ensoulment occurs at the moment of conception. This belief leads some abortion opponents to oppose any measure that will interfere with the subsequent development of the fetus, including the use of intrauterine devices or drugs that prevent the implantation of the fertilized ovum on the uterus wall.  As far as these abortion opponents are concerned, the fact that a fetus or fertilized ovum is not sentient is irrelevant; the fetus has spiritual “interests” and is considered a full and complete moral being in the eyes of God as soon as it possesses a soul. Another complicating factor in the abortion debate is that as a cultural matter the status of a pregnant woman as a “mother” and of a fetus as a “baby” tends to kick in immediately after the woman learns that she is pregnant, particularly in cases in which the woman wants to have a child. That is, from the moment of conception, or learning of conception, we tend to think of the fetus as a human person – the baby- that it will become. But that characterization does not alter the biological fact that a fertilized ovum does not have interests in the way that the baby does. If we approach the abortion question outside the framework of religion and souls, and outside social conventions that characterize a pregnant woman as a “mother” and a fetus as a “baby” from the moment of conception, it becomes much more difficult to understand how fetuses –particularly early-term fetuses- may be said to have interests. Although it is not certain that any fetuses are sentient it is clear that early-term fetuses are not, and therefore they do not have interests in not suffering – they cannot suffer. Moreover, it is not clear how nonsentient fetuses can have an interest in continued existence. Although a normal fetus will continue to term and result in the birth of a human person, the nonsentient fetus cannot itself have an interest in continued existence. Sentient being are those who are conscious of pain and pleasure; those with some sort of mind and some sense of self. The harm of death to a sentient being is that she or he will no longer be able to have conscious experience. If you kill me painlessly whilst I am asleep, you have harmed me because you have deprived me from of having further experiences as a sentient being that I, by virtue of the fact that I have not chosen to commit suicide, wish to have. And our experience of sentient beings other than humans reasonably supports the position that all sentient being share in common an interest in continuing to live – sentience is merely a means to the continued existence of organisms who are able to have mental experiences of pleasure and pain. We cannot analogize a fetus and a sleeping person; the fetus has never been sentient and therefore has never possessed the interests that are characteristic of all sentient beings. If we claim that a nonsentient fertilized ovum has an interest in continued existence simply because there is a high degree of probability that in nice months it will become a child with interests, then we are committed to the view that a fertilized ovum has an interest in continued existence immediately upon conception. And if we can say that a fertilized ovum has an interest in continued existence immediately upon existence it becomes difficult to understand why we would not also say that a sperm and an egg have interests in conception before their union occurs. The primary difference between the fertilized ovum, and the sperm and the egg, concerns probability (it is more probable that a fertilized ovum will eventually become a human baby than it is that any particular sperm will fertilize an egg), and nothing more. To the extent that we might say, for instance, that it is in the “interest” of the fetus that the pregnant woman not smoke cigarettes during pregnancy, such an assertion is no different from saying that it is in the “interest” of an engine to be properly lubricated or of plants to be watered. Although it might be prudent for the pregnant woman not to smoke if she has an interest in having a healthy baby (just as it is prudent for us to put oil in our cars or water the plants), the nonsentient fetus does not yet have an experiential welfare and does not prefer or want or desire anything. In the absence of religious belief about the ensoulment of fetuses, it is difficult to understand why the abortion of an early-term fetus is morally objectionable or how abortion can be considered a harm to a nonsentient fetus. If the abortion of a nonsentient fetus is morally objectionable, then so would be the use of intrauterine devices or drugs, such as RU 486, that prevent the attachment to the uterine wall of fertilized ovum. And we may be committed to the view that a sperm and an egg have an interest in being united so that the use of contraceptive violates the interest of the sperm and the egg. Again, in the absence of religious framework, such views appear quite untenable. What if we determine that some fetuses are sentient? Certainly late-term fetuses react to certain stimuli. It may be the case that such fetuses are sentient and have experiential welfare. In this case, it would make sense to say that such fetuses have interests.  But even if we assume that sentient fetuses have a basic right that prevents their wholly instrumental treatment, abortion presents a most unusual conflicts of rights. One right holder exists within the body of another right holder and is dependent upon her for the very existence that serves as the predicate for the fetus having interests in the first place. Such a conflict is unique, and protection of fetal interests risks state intrusion on the woman’s body and privacy interests in a way that no other protection of the basic right of another requires. If a parent is abusing her three-year-old, the state may remove the child in order to protect the child’s interests. The state cannot protect fetal interests without intruding on the bodily autonomy of the woman and forcing her to continue an unwanted pregnancy.

10. Question (Q.18 in the book): Isn’t the matter of whether animals ought to be accorded the basic right not to be treated as our resources a matter of opinion? What right does anyone have to say that another should not eat meat or other animal products, or how they should otherwise use or treat animals?

Answer: Animal rights are no more a matter of opinion than is any other moral matter. This question is logically and morally indistinguishable from asking whether the morality of human slavery is a matter of opinion. We have decided that slavery is morally reprehensible not as a matter of mere opinion, but because slavery treats humans exclusively as the resource of others and degrade humans to the status of things, thus depriving them of moral significance. The notion that animal rights are a matter of opinion is directly related to the status of animals as human property; this question, like most others examined here, assumes the legitimacy of regarding animals as things that exist solely as means to human ends. Because we regard animals as our property, we believe that we have the right to value animals in the way that we think appropriate. If, however, we are not morally justified in treating animals as our property, then whether we ought to eat meat or use animals in experiments or impose pain and suffering on them for sport or entertainment is no more a matter of opinion than is the moral status of human slavery. Moreover, as long as animals are treated as property, then we will continue to think that what constitutes “humane” treatment for your animal property really is a matter of opinion because you get to decide how much your property is worth. Just as we have opinions about the value of other things that we own, we can have opinions about the value of our animal property. Although our valuation of our property may be too high or too low relative to its market value, this is not generally considered a moral question. So when Jane criticizes Simon because he beats his dog regularly in order to make sure that his dog is a vicious and effective guard dog, Simon is perfectly justified in responding to Jane that her valuation of his property is not a moral matter up for grabs, but a matter of his property rights. On another level, this question relates to a subject discussed in the introduction, the position that all morality is relative, a matter of convention or convenience or tradition, with no valid claim to objective truth. If this were the case, then the morality of genocide or human slavery or child molestation would be no more than matters of opinion. Although it is certainly true that moral propositions cannot be proved in the way that mathematical propositions can, this does not mean “anything goes”.  Some moral views are supported by better reasons than others, and some moral views have a better “fit” with other views that we hold. The view that we can treat animals as things simply because we are human and they are not is speciesism pure and simple. The view that we ought not to treat animals as things is consistent with our general notion that animals have morally significant interests. We do not treat any humans exclusively as the resources of others; we have abolished the institution of human property. We have seen that there is no morally sound reason to treat animals differently for proposes of the one right not to be treated as a thing, and that the animal rights position does not mean that we cannot prefer the human over the animal in situations of true emergency or conflict where we have not manufactured that conflict in the first place by violating the principle of equal consideration.

Der ganze Text stammt aus: Gary L. Francione: „Introduction to animal rights. Your child or the dog?“ Philadelphia 2000: 167-188

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