Aug 22, 2011

thoughts about animal rights

The first post about the animal rights resolution has sparked a lot of great questions. Rather than try to answer them in the comments, I'll tackle them here, all at once, and see what other thoughts I can add.

First, a reader writes,
[If] we were to affirm, would major corporations such as McDonalds and Burger King be in violation of these rights, and if they were, would they be shut down by the government, costing thousands of people their jobs and adding to the country's unemployment rate?
This is one of the most critical points in this resolution: it doesn't define the nature or scope of animal rights. For all we know, animals could only have negative rights of a fairly limited extent, such as the right not to suffer cruel and unusual treatment. (It may seem morally strange to allow a person to kill and eat something, provided it doesn't suffer while alive, but that's just one of the morally strange things about trying to blend carnivorous and animal rights.)

So, unless animal rights include a "right not to be killed," we simply can't answer the question.

Next, reader nesh asks, "Didn't we as humans create this system of justice that the resolution speaks of?"

That's a great question that won't find an easy answer. In this view, rights are socially constructed. They're invented by humans, for humans--but this also makes rights a matter of human whim, changing with times and cultures. This gets tricky quickly, leading to cultural / moral relativism, and slippery grounds for disapproving of moral horrors like murder or rape.

Even if rights are human constructs, does it follow that animals are excluded from rights-talk? Not necessarily. There may be a good reason--a utilitarian or pragmatic reason--to extend rights to animals so that all humans benefit. More on this later.

A less constructivist approach is to argue that rights exist independent of human thought, but are discovered by rational actors, much as mathematical concepts exist on their own plane, waiting to be plucked out by mathematicians. Humans might disagree on the nature of rights, but they can't merely construct them. Animal rights could exist in a like manner, waiting for the first John Locke of the dolphins to squeak out a treatise. Even if such an event never occurs, however, a creature that can articulate animal rights--a human being--already exists, and can potentially assign those rights to animals.

An anonymous reader writes,
I do not like anything on the aff side... people will say that there are animals with "near human intelligence" and like arguments. This is not a good argument on several levels... First, that only occurs in certain cases. Not a true reason to affirm, and secondly if they were so smart they would protect their own rights
Giving animals rights for inherent reasons--they're intelligent, they can suffer, they're cute and fuzzy--is only one approach. Another is utilitarian, as I mentioned above: when we assign rights to animals, we protect their welfare, which not only improves their lives (and the environment), but may make us more moral as human beings. To wit, a person who treats animals with respect is more likely to treat humans with respect. (The opposite may be true as well; stereotypically, it's the psychopathic serial killer who's cruel to animals at a young age.)

Furthermore, an ethicist like Peter Singer will argue that the same reasons we defend the rights of defenseless, pre-rational human babies can be extended to the defense of non-rational animals.

As a different anonymous reader writes later on,
As for the justice approach, you're gonna have to be specific about the definition of justice, or what justice really is and what it applies to. Is justice a human-only concept? If we talk about justice and its benefits, is it utility for humans only? and if it is or isn't, why?
Amen and amen.

I'm running out of time at the moment, so I'll stop there for now. More questions, and concomitant answers, coming soon.


DJ said...

Hi. This has been bothering me for a while, and nobody on my team can quite figure it out. We've heard other trams mention the "practical reason" NC, but we have no idea how to make it, value/criterion, framework, or contentionally. Someone from another team told us to cut Frey cards, but we still don't know how to make the case.

Jim Anderson said...

Well, if justice is defined in consequentialist terms (for example, as distributive justice--making sure goods are equally apportioned throughout society), and if giving animals rights would somehow make society less just (by, for example, making the rich more powerful at the expense of the poor), then we negate.

There are other possible contention structures, but the key is to make consequentialism or utilitarianism (or some similar system) your criterion for justice.

Anonymous said...

Can you make a value and value criterion list?

Anonymous said...

Would it be too abusive to use the veil of ignorance? Since humans don't have a chance of actually being animals. Or too abusive to say veil of ignorance, but a step further?

Debater said...

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Anonymous said...

For the question of what would happen to Burger King, McDonald's, etc, is it really the aff's prerogative to assess damages that would come as a result of affirming the resolution? Just because said companies would no longer operate (obviously here assuming the widest possible definition of animal rights), that wouldn't make a violation of animal rights any less unjust, would it?

MTGAP said...

I wrote a blog on this subject where I make a few arguments about how to approach the subject from various schools of morality.

There is a semantic argument you could make here. The resolution is "Justice requires the recognition of animal rights." It is arguable that if animals don't have rights, this means it is necessary to recognize that they don't have any rights. If you can convince the judges of that, it should be pretty easy to argue for the affirmative.

Jim Anderson said...

First Anonymous, I can put one in the hopper. For starters, though, you'll probably make your value Justice. Why not?

Next Anonymous, given the thought experiment I blogged about over on the main page for this resolution, it's entirely possible for humans to conceive of themselves as the "animals" in the scenario with an impending alien attack. Should that factor into veil of ignorance arguments? Well... that's an entirely different question. But I think the veil isn't at all abusive.

Third Anonymous, if you have a nonconsequentialist or nonutilitarian or Kantian or virtue-based view of justice, then the ends are indeed irrelevant, and the Aff doesn't have to defend the "real world" outcomes of a radical societal shift. If it's just, it's just.

MTGAP, thanks for sharing.

Simon Welsh said...

I started some research on here for a brief I'm trying to put together when I ran across a very interesting twist on this resolution that might make for an interesting argument. You should check out for more!

Jdorsey said...

As with most topics, debaters should concentrate on reading the literature. A good place to begin is with Peter Singer's book "Animal Liberation." I found a copy on Amazon for $10 and plan on distributing chapter in my class. This should help clarify some ideas before writing an affirmative. Another suggestion is to look for what Jeremy Bentham wrote about the rights of animals in the 19th Century.

Hopeless Debater said...

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Anonymous said...

Hi Jim,

This topic is really confusing for me, and I don't have any teammates or anyone to turn to. I'm hearing all sorts of crazy anthro K/ great apes PIC, but that stuff is higher level circuit stuff that I can never use in front of parents as we both won't understand it.

What are some good Value/Value Criterion Pairs? I'm dying, no clue how to approach this topic. Not sure if it's worth going to the tournament in 3 weeks to have my case dismissed in 2 sentences for having some sort of fatal flaw.

Anonymous said...

what is the likelihood that someone will run a one-animal or a specific, narrow group of more 'rational' or sentient animals and how would you respond to that?

Dr. Kold_Kadavr_flatliner, M.D. said...

We know, don't we, we A-L-L must succumb to our demise someday at sometime (that da fak, Jak -Bill Murray) - even atheists will accept that premise; however, you can deny God all you wish even till death, friend, yet that still doesn't deny the Final Judgment God proclaims to U.S. on how well YOU have lived this meeesly, earthly, finite existence. Better turn around and join Christianity... or you're more-than-likely to take the LEFT path into Hell. I'm just Warning you, dude. Not trying to judge you or nthn. I love you and I would GREATLY like to see you Upstairs for eternity at my BIG-ol, kick-ass, party-hardy celebrating our resurrection for maaany eons. But, alas, your choice. Jesus does NOT interfere with your free-will (though, He'll send you a gobba choices). God bless you. See ya soon.