Piper Hoffman

Rock the Boat
FEBRUARY 24, 2012 9:11AM

What Doesn't Separate Us From Animals 2

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If humans aren't fundamentally different than animals, isn't it wrong to treat them the way we do -- like killing billions of them each year to eat?

Yet scientists continue to disprove speculation about the differences between us and other animals. This week a group of scientists at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference discussed findings that whales and dolphins "are capable of advanced cognitive abilities (such as problem-solving, artificial 'language' comprehension, and complex social behavior), indicating that these cetaceans are far more intellectually and emotionally sophisticated than previously thought," according to www.care2.com.

Speakers on a panel at the conference "presented multiple examples of cetaceans acting with empathy, cooperation, and self awareness." On that basis they supported granting whales and dolphins "basic rights to life, liberty and well-being."

For more information on the movement to protect whales and dolphins, read the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans.

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science, animals

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I certainly agree with the thrust of your implied argument to treat animals decently, Piper...and with consideration. And I would not limit that treatment just to animals with higher cognitive abilities. Apparently we both love cats...but they have a brain the size of a walnut and their cognitive abilities are limited.

All that said, however, I do take issue with one comment:

…like killing billions of them each year to eat…”

Killing and eating other animals is the norm for the animal kingdom rather than a bit of aberrant behavior on the part of humans. Carnivores and insectivores abound…GREATLY outnumbering animals who confine their eating to non-animal meals.

Eating other animals is a natural, usual part of life…and in my opinion doesn’t truly play into the argument you were trying to make.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

The trend in science is towards disproving theories about important distinctions between human and non-human animals. I expect that trend to continue, and as it does it will become more difficult to argue that there are any distinctions with enough moral power to justify our current treatment of animals, including "euthanizing" cats and eating calves.

But I do agree with you that cognitive ability is not the only morally relevant characteristic we must consider in determining how we should treat animals.

Where I disagree is that we are justified in eating animals because other species do it. I can't rationalize killing a person by pointing to the many other people who do the same. Wrong is wrong regardless of what others do.