25 March 2004

An Exchange

I received this letter from a reader:
Keith: Since I started reading your blog I have been thinking about what you write and tried to place it in context to my own ideas about the world etc. One of the most important things you have said is that human and non-human animals are essentially the same and therefore we ought to treat animals with the same reverence that we treat humans in a just society. One of the most important thinkers of the 20th century I believe is Ludwig Von Mises, a giant in economic thought who should have received a Nobel prize. He said this: "Reason's biological function is to preserve and promote life and to postpone its extinction as long as possible. Thinking and acting are not contrary to nature; they are, rather, the foremost features of man's nature. The most appropriate description of man as differentiated from nonhuman beings is: a being purposively struggling against the forces adverse to his life." This quote got me thinking about what you have said. We may have essentially the same features that other mammals have but the one distinguishing feature of humanity is the ability to reason and think about ways that use nature to better our lives. How does this make us the same as animals? Thanks. Joe
Here is my reply:
24 March 2004, 9:01 A.M. Joe: I never said that humans and animals are alike in all respects. Obviously, they're not. But then humans aren't alike in all respects. The principle of equality is not a factual claim; it's a normative claim. It says that in all morally relevant respects, humans are equal. What I'm saying is that humans and animals are alike in certain morally relevant respects, the main one being that they are sentient (understood as having the capacity to suffer). Suffering is suffering, whether it's in a human body or an animal body. If it's bad, as I'm sure you believe it is, then it's bad wherever it occurs, not just when it occurs in a human body. Just as it would be racist to discount or disregard the suffering of other races, it's speciesist to discount or disregard the suffering of other species. kbj

No comments: