The Human or the Mouse? Would You Flip a Coin?

On March 8th I debated Prof. Gary Francione at Rutgers.

It was an interesting, heated but civil debate, with a somewhat anticipated outcome.

In a few words, we have profound, irreconcilable differences.

There is a deep, fundamental gap between the views of the vast majority of the public and anyone whose moral theory declares permissible to flip a coin in order to decide who to save in a burning house, a human or a mouse.

And this is exactly what Prof. Francione and a handful of his followers (about 5 out of 120 members in the audience) were prepared to do .  Of course, they are right.  They are right in that this is precisely what Prof. Francione’s theory of animal rights demands them to do.  Why?  Because the theory considers the mouse and the human as both sentient beings that deserve exactly the same level of moral consideration.

The root of our differences can be traced down to his position that there are no morally relevant characteristics that would make the loss of life for the human any different than the loss of life for the mouse.  Prof. Francione view is that the same things are at stake.

Here, of course, he stands against the philosophical current:

For example, Peter Singer recognizes that

to take the life of a being who has been hoping, planning and working for some future goal is to deprive that being of the fulfillment of those efforts; to take the life of a being with a mental capacity below the level needed to grasp that one is a being with a future — much less make plans for the future — cannot involve this particular kind of loss.”

Ortega y Gasset explained that

Human life is the execution of an aspiration — a life’s plan.  Human life is a process that cannot be reduced to mere living by satisfying our immediate biological needs.  Humans are not content with living, they need to live well and realize their ambitions.”

and this, of course, is a relevant reason why animal and human interest in life are not similar.

Tom Regan agrees when he writes

“[…] the harm that death is, is a function if the opportunities for satisfaction it forecloses, and no reasonable person would deny that the death of any […] human would be a greater prima facie loss, and thus a greater prima facie harm, that would be true in the case [of] a dog”

In my opening remarks, I presented reasons for why we must reject the animal rights view, which equates the moral status of all sentient beings.  I did this by giving examples of how applying the theory to various scenarios would lead us to behave in ways that conflict with our moral intuitions.  I argued that once we reject this extreme view, all we are only left with theories based on the notion of unequal moral status between animals and normal humans (such as the two-tier or sliding scale model of moral status).  All of these theories allow animal experimentation to various degrees.

I explained how researchers view very concrete situations as being comparable to the burning house scenario, such as porcine heart-valve replacement surgery, the polio epidemic or the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

I explained also why I believe we have obligations to other living beings, but that these obligations do not imply that animals have rights, as they cannot behave as autonomous, rational moral agents in a community of equals.   This, of course, is a point made by Carl Cohen in various occasions.

Unfortunately, there was no effort on Prof. Francione’s part to pinpoint the flaws in my reasoning.  One of the virtues of his theory is that it is extremely simply to understand, extremely simple to apply, and the consequences are straightforward.   My main point was that the consequences of the theory are in direct conflict with the moral intuition of the vast majority of the public and we must reject it.

Instead, his attacks on animal research amounted to a potpourri of classic mischaracterizations by animal right activists of the actual science, our true intentions, and personal ethics, all of which are difficult to address in a few minutes in a debate.

For example, I pointed out to the use of primates in the development of the polio vaccine that has helped to nearly eradicated the disease from the face of the planet and will continue to save lives for generations to come.  The benefits are unmeasurable.  He responded that animals were not truly needed in the development of the vaccine, in direct contradiction to statements by Dr. Albert Sabin.

I noted that there is vast scientific consensus (92% agreement) from both scientists and physicians alike on the necessity of animal research to advance medical science and knowledge.  He countered that, on this matter, the jury is still out.

He criticized the scientific community for not including mice and rats in the animal welfare act (AWA), but his true position was exposed when he declared the AWA “not worth the paper on which it is written”.   Let us be clear: there are no amendments to the AWA whatsoever that would make the research ethical in the view of animal rights activists.

He criticized me for not being vegan, while it is evident that even if all scientists were to become vegan tomorrow the research would still be viewed as unethical in their eyes.  (Incidentally, I think the ethics of animal food can be defended, but this is an entirely different topic and debate).

I clarified that I am opposed to the use of animals for the development of yet another lipstick, but that there is an obvious need to ensure that any chemicals we bring to our homes are safe to humans and animals alike.  I also noted this is not the type of toxicology work done at our universities.

During our mutual questioning I asked him if his education campaign to break the cycle of “supply and demand” of animal food also extended to the benefits generated by animal research, such as vaccines.  In other words, was he willing to ask the population at large to stop vaccinating their children?

He responded that in fact he would not vaccinate his children (he has none, although he did not say if his dogs are vaccinated), and later he clarified his opposition to vaccination rests not only for ethical but other reasons, which he never explained.  I expressed my dismay at his anti-vaccination position.

Many of the questions directed at me by the audience dealt with the question of moral status of animals and humans.  I explained that I do not claim the moral status of all humans is above the moral status of all animals.  A number of questions regarding marginal cases ensued.   I think this can be a productive and interesting discussion to have in society, but it is only a discussion that is possible once we accept the unequal moral status of animals and normal humans.   Clearly, it is not a discussion that is even theoretically possible within the framework of animal rights theory that equates the moral status of all sentient beings.

I had a nice and frank conversation with Prof. Francione prior to the debate.  As he correctly judged, our positions are “miles apart”.  My perception is that he is a good man, with noble intentions, but philosophically he is as wrong as anyone can be.

Both Prof. Francione and I agreed on one thing: the debate was a good example of how passionate but respectful discourse is possible on controversial issues in our society.  I want to publicly thank him for his invitation to debate.

Prof. Francione and I will share a video of the entire event once it is ready.

Dario Ringach

41 responses to “The Human or the Mouse? Would You Flip a Coin?

  1. I agree with more of your positions than those of Francione, and reject the view that all sentient life should be viewed equally. In the burning house situation I would save the human (with some minor qualifications).

    However, I do not see the burning house situation as analogous to medical research. In research there is no way to guarantee that any one particular animal is dying will ensure the survival of any one particular person. Many animals are used needlessly, or inefficiently:

    ‘How come so much animal research is second-rate? The reason so much poor quality research has endured for so long is down to politics.

    The sad truth is that in the understandable scramble to present a unified front on animal research, the scientific establishment has been reluctant to be critical of its own troops in the face of vicious opposition. ‘

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/7582867/Animal-testing-must-be-of-the-highest-quality.html

    “I explained that I do not claim the moral status of all humans is above the moral status of all animals.”

    If that’s the case, then surely we (you?) should stop using any animals that are morally equal to those humans that are deemed immoral to do research on. Which sentient humans would you deem it moral to do research on?

  2. “For example, I pointed out to the use of primates in the development of the polio vaccine that has helped to nearly eradicated the disease from the face of the planet and will continue to save lives for generations to come. The benefits are unmeasurable. He responded that animals were not truly needed in the development of the vaccine, in direct contradiction to statements by Dr. Albert Sabin.”

    Of course, the same argument will justify the testing of the vaccine on mentally deficient children. This should be thought “necessary” on your view, and defensible on your perfectionist account.

    “He criticized me for not being vegan, while it is evident that even if all scientists were to become vegan tomorrow the research would still be viewed as unethical in their eyes. (Incidentally, I think the ethics of animal food can be defended, but this is an entirely different topic and debate).”

    It would be so much easier for people to take your argument seriously if you adopted a consistent view here. The use of animals in biomedical research, if it is defensible, is only defensible on grounds that make non-necessary consumption of animals for food immoral. While you still kill have animals killed for your pleasure it is a bit difficult for anyone to take your moral compass on the issue of animals in science seriously–sort of like a serial rapist being a sexual harassment officer.

    The problem with appealing to Cohen’s view is that it the his way of dealing with “marginal cases” is twaddle (his “same-kind” account). Sure Cohen gives **a** reason to hold that non-human animals can’t have rights but not a very good one.

    And the burning house analogy is just silly. First, as you at least recognize, even on a strong rights based view there are good reasons to make distinctions between rights-holders in situations like this. Second, it just is not analogous to the sort of stuff that you and others do to animals.

    A better analogy would be–would you be willing to breed, cause to suffer, and kill a few tens of thousands of mice in order to perhaps discover something that might at some point help other people torture mice (repeat iteration of causal distance here) that might perhaps prevent a child (somewhere) not die in a fire, or perhaps just live a few hours longer in the fire.

    • Dario Ringach

      C,

      As I said, I don’t think animals have rights, but I don’t agree with Cohen’s kind-argument. A kind argument would not allow for some humans to have lower status than some animals. In my view, there are cases where this can happen.

      If you don’t think the burning house scenario is relevant walk into any hospital and visit the patients and their families.

    • Dario Ringach

      “And the burning house analogy is just silly.”

      I don’t think so. It provides a consistency test for Francione’s animal rights theory. The point is simple, if you cannot flip the coin you must reject the theory. Only after you accept this fact we can move on to discuss what other alternative theory would be acceptable to both of us.

      My argument is NOT that the theory is wrong and therefore I we do whatever I want with the animals. This is what Prof. Francione wants you to believe.

      My argument is simply the theory is wrong and must be rejected. After we discard it we can find an alternative theory that does not blatantly contradict our moral intuitions.

  3. Dario Ringach

    “However, I do not see the burning house situation as analogous to medical research.”

    Watch for the video when it comes out. I do try to make the point that some uses of animals are exactly like that. Would you save yourself by accepting an artificial heart valve made from the heart of a pig?

    “How come so much animal research is second-rate?”

    I am not sure what do you mean by second rate. But in science, where you cannot foretell the outcome of experiments, you need some set of studies that in retrospect may not look justified to you.

    If you do not approve of such activities then you must also argue that you oppose funding physics or mathematics as well. As the funds could probably be use to send potable water to Africa, for example.

    “I explained that I do not claim the moral status of all humans is above the moral status of all animals.”

    I said that I view some extreme cases permissible, such as a clinically dead patient with no special relations. If you are trying to study how the brain works such individuals are not very useful, but I imagine that they could be used for other purposes.

    Our job as a society is to get together and establish some reasonable compromise as to how we view the status of living beings, including these marginal cases. But, as I said, this can only be done once you abandon the position of equal moral status among all sentient beings.

    • Firstly, using a pig heart valve is not medical *research*. It would be doing something you already knew would benefit one particular individual. In this respect it would be similar to the argument that justifies indigenous population to kill animals for meat: it is a matter of definite survival. The death of any one particular animal in research may or may not actually lead to someone’s life being saved.

      Secondly, it’s still not analogous to the burning house example. In the burning house, if you do nothing, they both die. So you may as well save one. Neither is actually worse off if you choose to save one of them rather than doing nothing. But in the case of the heart valve, if you do nothing, the pig will survive. If you do something, the pig will be worse off.

      The ‘second-rate’ statement was a quote from the article linked above. Presumably the author meant in the sense that many animal studies were not gaining as much relevant data as they should have been, if anything at all. Hence the complaints about adequate methodology in the same article.

      • But the porcine heart valve doesn’t just contain animal tissue, it was developed through animal research.

        http://www.animalresearch.info/en/medical/timeline/artificialheartvalves#pigs

      • Paul, I realise that. But the development of it is not at all analogous to the burning house situation Dario presented.

      • Dario Ringach

        “Firstly, using a pig heart valve is not medical *research*. It would be doing something you already knew would benefit one particular individual.”

        Yes, I understand it is not medical research… but do you approve of this procedure or not?

        If you do, would you approve the use of 9,000 monkeys and 133 chimps to eradicate polio from Earth?

        If not, why not?!

      • “Secondly, it’s still not analogous to the burning house example. In the burning house, if you do nothing, they both die. So you may as well save one. Neither is actually worse off if you choose to save one of them rather than doing nothing. But in the case of the heart valve, if you do nothing, the pig will survive. If you do something, the pig will be worse off.”

        You are correct that in the burning house argument neither is worse off if you choose to save one of them over doing nothing. However, in the heart valve replacement simulation should you do nothing the pig will of course live, but the human will also be in peril. Should you do something, the pig will be worse off yes, but the human will be better off.

        Albeit unfortunate for the pig, could you easily turn a blind eye to the human that needs help? If so, how?

  4. I’m thinking further about the vegan question, and I wonder if you demand that your debate partners renounce violence etc., whether it wouldn’t be reasonable for your dialogue partners to demand that their debate partners renounce non-necessary killing of animals for food.

    • Dario Ringach

      C,

      I am not an utilitarian, but if animal right activists are going to attack the science then I am going to defend it.

      Prof. Francione said he would present an ethical argument to independent of the validity of the research, and yet he opted, like many before, to appeal to mis-chararcterizations of the research.

      I believe that the use of animals for food can be justified, but that’s a different debate. As I said, I doubt anyone will suddenly think my research is ethical if I became a vegan. Incidentally, many scientists are vegan/vegetarian. Should I send them to deliver the same message?

      I only demand that those that I engage in dialogue understand that there are societal rules as to how to resolve moral disputes. These do not include violence. Those that opt for violence cannot have a place at the table.

      • Yes, if you want to play the hypocrite/inconsistency card as freely as you do, I’d suggest starting by removing your own inconsistencies.

        Listening to someone who doesn’t have animals killed for pleasure pontificate about the morality of the use of animals in research would be a lot less insufferable. We might even have some serious and thoughtful discussions.

        You seem to expect a lot out of your dialogue partners while not expecting much of yourself–both logically and ethically.

  5. Dr. Ringach,
    I myself work in the area of animal research. I am concerned, however, that you state that you “don’t think animals have rights”. Do you not agree that they are entitled to the basic necessities such as food, water, and shelter? Perhaps I misunderstand your use of the term “rights”. Animals obviously don’t have the “right” to vote, or the “right” to buy land, “rights” that human primates have fought very hard to earn to become equal, but would you also argue that they do not have the “right” to be taken care of in the most basic of ways?

    As to C’s comment about second rate science: Unfortunately, there are investigators and institution that do not enforce animal welfare regulations and do let poor science occur. These “bad apples” ruin the hopes for the good apples left in the field. As scientist we must review one another’s work with strict scrutiny and not be afraid to call each other out on these poorly planned and executed studies.

    I know that animal research is necessary, but I empathize and understand the compassion (but not the violence) exhibited by the “animal right’s activists” for the animals. I think the UK has far advanced the US in the area of animal welfare with the consistent Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of animals in research even though the AWA was passed over 40 years ago.

    Best

    • Dario Ringach

      The system can and should be improved continuously. This is where animal advocates can play an important role. No system is perfect. This does not mean the research is unethical.

      “I empathize and understand the compassion (but not the violence) exhibited by the “animal right’s activists” for the animals.”

      Believe me… I do too… and I am all for working to improve AWA and other mechanisms to ensure the welfare of the animals. But, as you know, this will not satisfy those that subscribe to animal rights theory.

    • R,

      No, I don’t think animals have rights. This does not mean that we don’t have any direct obligations to them. We certainly do!

      But you should not confuse obligations with rights. Rights entail obligations, but the reverse is not true.

      For example, if I promise my students I will provide them detailed comments on their essays then I have an obligation to do so. But this does not mean they have a right to my comments.

      If the squirrel at the park had a right to shelter, food and water then we should certainly respect that right and provide those necessities to the squirrel every day. No, the squirrel does not have such a right.

      These are issues discussed in some length by Carl Cohen and Tom Regan in their book.

      • That squirrel in the park has the ability to provide himself with food, water and shelter does he not? He has the right to forage for food and water, and the right to drink from the stream. However, if we take that same squirrel and put him in a cage where he can no longer be self-sufficient, we have taken his abilities, and I would therefore say his rights, to provide his own living. At which point we are obligated to fulfill those basic needs. I understand your point on the difference between obligation and rights. I will indeed look into the book by Cohen and Regan.

        I know that scientists and the extreme activists will probably never agree, but I think some profound strides can made with the folks who are in the middle of the road if welfare is made a priority.

        Imagine if all the money that is donated to organizations that fund violent activism (whether those who donate know this or not) could be funding experiments that put welfare in the highest of regards. If welfare was a priority, and those who made it a priority were funded more often and higher dollar amounts (so they could take the time to do things in the best way for the animals), perhaps it would create a, dare I say “revolution”: Investigators improving their own experiments and laboratory space; improving their animal housing, improving the education of their laboratory staff…Once those who sit in the middle of the road on the issue see the improvements made nationwide, I think they would be swayed in support of research.

  6. The non-scientist part of me knows: There is a cost to every life, no matter how small of a body that life may be housed in. It is our job to make sure that life is a life lived with some quality, if not the highest of quality.

    It is true that the pay off is not necessarily one to one. One non-human primate, or one rodent, will not necessarily save the life of one human primate, But both lives can be respected equally.

    The scientist part of me knows that not all scientists would agree, and this basic lack of respect for life is why the extremists will never agree with the use of animals in research.

    This being said, progress can, and I believe is, being made on finding a middle ground.

    • Dario Ringach

      “It is true that the pay off is not necessarily one to one. One non-human primate, or one rodent, will not necessarily save the life of one human primate”

      True, but in some cases millions and millions of humans lives are saved, such as in the polio vaccine. All future generations will benefit from such development. The benefits are unmeasurable.

      “But both lives can be respected equally.”

      I agree we have direct moral duties to animals, but our obligations to all living beings is not the same. I refuse to flip coins. I just can’t do it. Sorry.

  7. Dario Ringach

    “That squirrel in the park has the ability to provide himself with food, water and shelter does he not?”

    I honestly doubt this is so. Many animals in the wild lack such ability. This is more evident is some places where global warming is causing entire animal species to disappear as we speak.

    “If we take that same squirrel and put him in a cage where he can no longer be self-sufficient, we have taken his abilities, and I would therefore say his rights, to provide his own living”

    We can still provide for its well-being, providing food and shelter. But I must agree you would be taking away its interest in foraging and, perhaps, liberty. So yes, I agree caging an animal can be considered to interfere with its interests.

    “think some profound strides can made with the folks who are in the middle of the road if welfare is made a priority.”

    I fully agree.

    But that can happen once there is a mutual recognition and respect. Once scientists acknowledge that animal advocates have legitimate concerns about the welfare of animals in laboratories, and activists acknowledge that the work has produced very important benefits and scientists are not “monsters” that derive some sick pleasure from killing animals and have ulterior motives. And, of course, AR extremism must be stopped and condemned by all.

  8. Prof. Ringach, I appreciate that you came out to the East Coast to participate in this debate, and that you are continuing the discussion.

    I am no one’s “follower.” I don’t know how you determined that 5 of Prof. Francione’s “followers” were in the audience, but I can assure you there were quite a few animal rights advocates in the audience.

    To argue necessity sidesteps the moral argument. One can certainly argue the necessity of human experimentation, but no one believes it has any bearing on whether unconsenting humans should be experimented on. The argument should center on moral justifications for using animals in research. Why do you believe that it is morally acceptable to use nonhuman animals for research, but not morally acceptable to use unconsenting humans, especially considering that the data from unconsenting humans would be vastly more relevant?

    You claim, “My main point was that the consequences of the theory are in direct conflict with the moral intuition of the vast majority of the public and we must reject it.” And yet one of the studies that you cited showed that only 52% of the public supports animal research:

    http://people-press.org/reports/pdf/528.pdf

    Furthermore, should the opinion of the majority determine what is or isn’t moral? If so, does that mean that morality changes as public opinion changes? The law will certainly change, but if morality changes with public opinion does that mean that human slavery used to be moral? That sexism and racism used to be moral?

    I once saw Vernon Ingram debate vivisection, and an audience member asked whether he thought that future generations would look upon vivisection as we now look upon the Nazi research on humans. To his great credit, he admitted that he thought it was possible, but when you had the nearly identical question, you couldn’t even imagine that might happen.

    “He criticized me for not being vegan, while it is evident that even if all scientists were to become vegan tomorrow the research would still be viewed as unethical in their eyes.”

    If all vivisectors became vegan (an oxymoron since a vegan would reject vivisection, but for the sake of this argument, we’ll use the word “vegan” to describe anyone who follows a diet with no animal products but doesn’t necessarily follow the vegan philosophy of avoiding all harm to all beings), the research would not become ethical, but at least the position of the vivisectors would be consistent – that they kill and use animals only when “necessary” to save human lives and alleviate human suffering. Since the position is not consistent, it shows that the public has good cause to worry as to whether vivisectors are reliable judges of whether vivisection is “necessary” for biomedical advancements.

    “I did this by giving examples of how applying the theory to various scenarios would lead us to behave in ways that conflict with our moral intuitions.”

    I’m not sure who you’re referring to with the word “our,” but it doesn’t conflict with my moral intuitions.

    And just as I suspected, the study that shows that 92% of scientists support vivisection is skewed. The poll began with questions about animal rights activism and its effects on research. This line of questioning immediately puts researchers on the defensive, and also draws more vivisectors to answer the survey, both of which lead to a skewed, inaccurate result.

    • Dario Ringach

      Dear Ms. Lin,

      “I am no one’s “follower.” I don’t know how you determined that 5 of Prof. Francione’s “followers” were in the audience, but I can assure you there were quite a few animal rights advocates in the audience.”

      By “follower” I mean someone that follows the consequences of his theory. I asked who would agree to flip a coin to decide between a human or a mouse and five hands went up. Was yours one of them?

      “To argue necessity sidesteps the moral argument.”

      Necessity is, in my view, a necessary part of our argument, but certainly not sufficient. If animal rights activists believe they can make the moral argument independent of the uncountable human and animal lives saved by the research (and they say they can), then they would not be spending as much time mis-characterizing the research and attacking the science. But they do.

      “Why do you believe that it is morally acceptable to use nonhuman animals for research, but not morally acceptable to use unconsenting humans”

      Because the interest of animal and humans in life are not relevantly similar. Peter Singer and Tom Regan recognize this. DeGrazia recognizes this too. Read the literature — you will find that Prof. Francione stands alone here. All by himself.

      And it is because same things are not at stake that when human and animal life come in conflict we can justify selecting one over another. Prof. Francione believes there are no morally relevant differences at all between human and animal life. None at all.

      “You claim, “My main point was that the consequences of the theory are in direct conflict with the moral intuition of the vast majority of the public and we must reject it.” And yet one of the studies that you cited showed that only 52% of the public supports animal research.”

      These are two different issues. The vast majority of the public rejects the notion that is morally permissible to flip a coin between a human and a mouse. You saw the outcome among members of the audience by yourself. Do you deny this? Those that reject this conclusion from the theory must reject it. Period.

      The poll you mention shows that public support for animal research appears indeed to be declining. In my view, this is largely due to the mischaracterizations of the science, not ethical issues. However, as I pointed out, more than 92% of the scientists believe the work is necessary and justified. Thus, I think my colleagues and I will soon rectify this and the numbers will climb up again.

      “Furthermore, should the opinion of the majority determine what is or isn’t moral?” If so, does that mean that morality changes as public opinion changes?

      I don’t think that given all the physical laws of the universe you can deduce that killing a human for no reason is morally wrong. To me there will always a subjective component to any viable moral theory. This means in part that moral boundaries are indeed dynamic and societies should adjust accordingly. This is separate from the issue of how society should resolve moral disputes. In this country, you can do so by voting for representatives that align with your ideas and morals. You are free to exercise this option.

      “If all vivisectors became vegan […] the research would not become ethical, but at least the position of the vivisectors would be consistent”

      I do not subscribe to absolute moral principles.

      “You shall not kill”. Well, yes… unless it is in self-defense. Even the non-violent Jain scriptures Prof. Francione admires so much make it clear that self-defense in such a case is justified.

      “It is wrong to inflict unnecessary harm on animals”. Yes, in general this is true, but this has many exceptions. It may be justified if you do it to wipe polio from the face of the Earth, or to cure cancer, or autism, and so on.

      I do have a justification for eating animal meat, but this was not the topic of the debate. If he wanted to talk about animal food he could have told me in advance.

      And, finally, even if I am not being consistent (which I am not) it does not mean my criticism of his theory is wrong. He could have defended his theory by criticizing my reasoning. He did not such a thing.

      “I’m not sure who you’re referring to with the word “our,” but it doesn’t conflict with my moral intuitions.”

      “Our” means all the other people on the planet that refuses to flip a coin between a mouse and a human.

      “And just as I suspected, the study that shows that 92% of scientists support vivisection is skewed. The poll began with questions about animal rights activism and its effects on research.”

      Here you are simply wrong. Read the survey again. Further, the Pew Research poll gave exactly the same result and was not even dedicated to animal research.

      Here is something I find curious and worth of a scientific hypothesis. So far, all animal right activists that are willing to flip a coin to decide between a human and a mouse, share one attribute — they do not have children.

      Out of curiosity, do you have any children? Somehow children have a huge effect on moral theory… I wonder why.

      If you have children, have you vaccinated them? If not, would you vaccinate if you had any?

      • Dear Prof. Ringach,

        You wrote: “I asked who would agree to flip a coin to decide between a human or a mouse and five hands went up. Was yours one of them? ” and “The vast majority of the public rejects the notion that is morally permissible to flip a coin between a human and a mouse. You saw the outcome among members of the audience by yourself.”

        No, my hand was not one of them, because as I explained, I have an emotional attachment to my fellow humans, so I would have saved the human. The outcome among audience members was that a few people would flip the coin, not that a few people believe it is *permissible* to flip the coin. I believe if you review the video, you will find that the question was a “What would you do?” question, not a “What is morally permissible?” question. I would not flip a coin, but I believe it would be permissible.

        “Because the interest of animal and humans in life are not relevantly similar. ”

        Not relevantly similar? Who determines what is relevant? We’re in a situation where the beings with the most power are determining the rights of other beings based on arbitrary traits that favor our own species. Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts aboslutely.

        Even using your criteria, what if an alien species arrived on earth, and was vastly more intelligent than humans? What if they planned much more intricate lives, and had more complex emotions than humans? Would it morally acceptable for them to perform experiments on humans? Would it be morally acceptable for intelligent chimps or dolphins to perform experiments on mentally incapacitated humans?

        Perhaps intelligence should be measured in terms of which beings rape or murder each other, or which beings are causing global warming and mass extinctions but refuse to change their ways, or which beings put other animals in cages and force them to jump through flaming hoops and stand on their heads for amusement.

        “Peter Singer and Tom Regan recognize this. DeGrazia recognizes this too. Read the literature — you will find that Prof. Francione stands alone here. All by himself.”

        Again, does popularity determine morality?

        ” So far, all animal right activists that are willing to flip a coin to decide between a human and a mouse, share one attribute — they do not have children.”

        Have you investigated why the vast majority of animal rights activists do not have children? It is because of concerns about human overpopulation and its effects on animals, the environment and future generations of humans. Very few people are willing to do what it takes to combat human overpopulation despite overwhelming evidence that human overpopulation threatens our own species’ survival. Animal rights activists are willing to do it, because we recognize the connections between our actions and the consequences for other species, as well as humans. We cannot continue to increase or even maintain the human population and expect to combat climate change and mass extinctions.

        You wrote: “Out of curiosity, do you have any children?” and “If you have children, have you vaccinated them?”

        I have 2 adopted human children. My husband and I chose to adopt because of environmental and social concerns. Even if humans were not overpopulated, I cannot justify reproducing when there are babies and children in orphanages and foster care. Humans are animals, too, and I believe society has a responsibility to the children who are already here.

        My chidren are vaccinated becuase the orphanage vaccinated them, and we continued the vaccinations because our adoption contract requires us to do so. A social worker is doing follow-up visits, and is making sure the children continue to receive vaccinations.

        You can learn more about human overpopulation here:

        http://animalrights.about.com/od/wildlife/a/HumanOverpopulation.htm

        “Somehow children have a huge effect on moral theory… I wonder why.”

        It is not that children have a huge effect on moral theory. Moral theory has a huge effect on the decision to reproduce.

  9. “I have an emotional attachment to my fellow humans, so I would have saved the human.”

    But this is not a moral justification! I could use your justification for anything! What about someone saying that they feel an emotional attachment to white people? Is that Ok?

    ” I would not flip a coin, but I believe it would be permissible.”

    My point is that the majority will not find this action as being morally permissible. Your consistent preference for the human is certainly not what animal rights theory tells us to do. The theory says both beings deserve equal moral consideration. The right thing to do is flip the coin.

    “Not relevantly similar? Who determines what is relevant?”

    That is a very good question and, as you saw, there are different answers. The way I explained in the debate is that in my view moral status is based on the interests of living beings. Such interests, such as interest in life and well-being, must be assessed using our knowledge of animal cognition. This is what the mental state theory of well-being says. You can look it up in the moral literature. Instead, Prof. Francione (and you?) subscribe that sentience is the only thing that matters. Although vaguely defined, Francione argues that all vertebrates are likely sentient and have exactly the same moral status. I disagree.

    “Even using your criteria, what if an alien species arrived on earth, and was vastly more intelligent than humans? What if they planned much more intricate lives, and had more complex emotions than humans? Would it morally acceptable for them to perform experiments on humans? Would it be morally acceptable for intelligent chimps or dolphins to perform experiments on mentally incapacitated humans?”

    Ah…. Here come the Aliens with PeTA posters too.

    As I explained in the debate, in my view full moral agents have the same moral status. A full moral agent is an individual that can participate in the social contract that involves me respecting your interests and vice-versa. So it is not that just all men are born equal, but all full, moral agents are born equal.

    Now if by intelligent aliens you mean a civilization of full moral agents then I think they will recognize we are full moral agents too. Thus, for the same reasons we do not experiment on other humans without consent they will not experiment on us without our consent. I can, however, envision an alien life form which is not a full moral agent and that drifts across the universe that feeds on organic matter for its survival. If we were to encounter such a life form with the power to gobble us up we will be doomed. For this creature will be amoral, and will have no sense of what it is doing, right or wrong.

    “Perhaps intelligence should be measured in terms of which beings rape or murder each other”

    Goodness… I am not going to say these actions are any good… but then again, you must have some weird notions of animal life. I suggest you consult the experts. Here is a good video from famed primatologist Robert Sapolsky:

    “Have you investigated why the vast majority of animal rights activists do not have children? It is because of concerns about human overpopulation and its effects on animals, the environment and future generations of humans.”

    No, I haven’t but I agree it is an excellent question.

    From what you are saying you are basically anti-human. Correct?

    As for your adopted children, are you saying there is no difference between you adopting children and adopting a dog or a hamster? Amazing.

  10. Emotions can be used to make decisions only when the outcomes are morally equivalent. If I am choosing between the red car and the blue car, I can use emotions and choose the red car. If the two results are morally equivalent, that does not mean that I *must* flip a coin, but either a coin flip or a decision based on emotions is morally permissible.

    If a powerful, intelligent species of aliens arrived on earth, who would determine what a full moral agent is? We hope that they would consider us to be full moral agents, but in your view, the experimenter has the right to determine who is or isn’t a full moral agent. If we are unable to communicate with them, what basis would they have for determining whether we are capable of being full moral agents?

    “A full moral agent is an individual that can participate in the social contract that involves me respecting your interests and vice-versa.” For the most part, nonhuman animals respect our interests and leave us alone. We are the ones who seem to be incapable of honoring that social contract.

    I don’t believe that humans are unique when it comes to rape or murder. I’m just saying it’s a plausible criteria for judging intelligence.

    I am not anti-human, although throughout history, social justice activists are often accused to taking the side of the oppressed over the side of the oppressor. I believe in justice – a world where both humans and animals are free of oppression.

    Regarding adoption (wandering off topic here, but you raised the issue of children and it’s your blog), I’m saying that it seems that most people understand the importance of adopting cats and dogs from the shelter, but don’t understand the importance of adopting human children from orphanages. This is one of the few ways in which animals seem to get more consideration than humans. The most egregious example of this is euthanasia – we release our dogs and cats from their suffering at the end of life, but assisted suicide for humans is illegal in most (all?) states.

    I enjoyed the Sapolsky video, although I disagree with the use of animals in psychological experiments, but is the ability to sit through A Midsummer Night’s Dream really an appropriate criteria for determining rights holding?

    Interesting how he talks about the extent of our empathy for other species being unheard of. If we experiment on other animal species, is that proof that some individuals do not have that unheard-of empathy for other species? Perhaps animal rights activists are “unique-ier” (borrowing a word from the Sapolsky video) than other humans and should be entitled to more rights?

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  12. Dear Dr. Ringach,

    Please allow me to respectfully pinpoint the flaws in your reasoning. You said:

    “There is a deep, fundamental gap between the views of the vast majority of the public and anyone whose moral theory declares permissible to flip a coin in order to decide who to save in a burning house, a human or a mouse.

    In my opening remarks, I presented reasons for why we must reject the animal rights view, which equates the moral status of all sentient beings. I did this by giving examples of how applying the theory to various scenarios would lead us to behave in ways that conflict with our moral intuitions.

    I explained how researchers view very concrete situations as being comparable to the burning house scenario, such as porcine heart-valve replacement surgery, the polio epidemic or the AIDS epidemic in Africa.”

    Many people declare it morally *permissible* to flip a coin in order to decide who to save in a burning house, a human stranger or a human close relative and loved one. At the same time, many people *also* declare it morally permissible to always favor the loved relative in such a conflict. In short, many people would say both are permissible. They would say it is permissible to either flip a coin or to favor the relative. Many others (including feminist ethicists) would disagree, saying we have a moral obligation to always favor the relative. If it was our own child, we might be more likely to declare we have an obligation always to favor our child. Utilitarians, on the other hand, would say to flip a coin (assuming we have no details about the two humans involved, and all other things are equal).

    The above description would be very different if we were talking about the United States in the year 1800, and the two people involved in the burning house scenario were a human of African dissent and a human of European dissent. Recall that, under American slavery, the slaves were chattel property, as are non-human animals today. Now, consider a re-write of Dr. Ringach above-quoted remarks:

    “There is a deep, fundamental gap between the views of the vast majority of the U.S. public in 1800 and anyone whose moral theory declares permissible to flip a coin in order to decide who to save in a burning house, a white or a black.

    In my opening remarks, I presented reasons for why we must reject the black rights view, which equates the moral status of all human beings. I did this by giving examples of how applying the theory to various scenarios would lead us to behave in ways that conflict with our moral intuitions.”

    Their moral intuitions were built on top of racist assumptions. As such, their moral intuitions were false. Similarly, today, the vast majority of the public has deep seated speciesist assumptions. So, their moral intuitions are likewise false. … unless one can provide a sound and valid argument for why sentience as such is not morally relevant to having basic rights, whereas being human (or having some quality unique to humans) is morally relevant. Dr. Ringach continues:

    “I explained also why I believe we have obligations to other living beings, but that these obligations do not imply that animals have rights, as they cannot behave as autonomous, rational moral agents in a community of equals. This, of course, is a point made by Carl Cohen in various occasions.”

    If the above view is applied consistently, it requires that “we have obligations to humans who are severely mentally challenged, but that these obligations do not imply that humans who are severely mentally challenged have rights (such as the right to life, or the right not to have their organs removed while alive and healthy), as they cannot behave as autonomous, rational moral agents in a community of equals.”

    Perhaps Dr. Ringach or Carl Cohen have a well-argued response to the above objection, which shows that their views conflict with the vast majority of public opinion. Above, however, Dr. Ringach writes:

    “Many of the questions directed at me by the audience dealt with the question of moral status of animals and humans. I explained that I do not claim the moral status of all humans is above the moral status of all animals. A number of questions regarding marginal cases ensued. I think this can be a productive and interesting discussion to have in society, but it is only a discussion that is possible once we accept the unequal moral status of animals and normal humans.”

    So, Dr. Ringach says that the moral status of all humans is not above the moral status of all animals. In other words, in some cases, the moral status of some animals could be equal to or higher than the moral status of some humans. Which humans would have an equal or lower moral status to that of animals, according to Dr. Ringach? Human marginal cases: the severely mentally challenged, etc. Dr. Ringach says that this is an “interesting” question.

    Again, since Dr. Ringach’s argument is largely based on moral intuition, it is worth repeating that his view on human marginal cases conflicts with the intuitions of the vast majority of the public.

    I would enjoy reading an attempt by Dr. Ringach to pinpoint the flaws in Francione’s reasoning, as such an analysis is lacking in the post above.

    • Dear Jeff,

      “… why sentience as such is not morally relevant to having basic rights…”

      The ability to experience pain is morally relevant but certainly not the only thing that matters as some theorists would argue. Some humans, for example, have congenital insensitivity to pain, but we do not believe it is morally right to do invasive experiments on them simply because they cannot feel pain. Thus the ability to physically suffer alone cannot be used to ground our moral concern for all living beings equally. Francione is wrong.

      As for the care of mentally disabled humans. I do not believe intrinsic properties alone are the only ones that matter either. I think relational properties — the fact that a family member may suffer if you were to experiment on his mentally disabled child — matters too. Thus, I disagree with most moral individualists on this respect while accepting that relational properties can pose a theoretical slippery slope.

      Finally, I don’t think moral status is singled-valued. I accept in good faith when some animal activists state that they would not want an animal harmed even if it was necessary to save their own lives. I believe the reason is grounded on their human suffering should this occur — a relational property. This is also the same reason why a scientist would not experiment on someone’s pet rat.

      No, I do not believe that you can derive moral truths from the laws of nature on a piece of paper. Ethics lives within our (human) brains. There is no escape from some degree of moral subjectivity and moral intuitions.

      True, we may not share the same moral intuitions and these may change over time. The question is how we, as a society, decide what we would allow or not despite such state of affairs in a civilized way.

  13. Dear Dario,

    Thank you for taking the time to make a considered reply to my post.

    I would like to begin by addressing this statement of yours:
    “…some animal activists state that they would not want an animal harmed even if it was necessary to save their own lives. I believe the reason is grounded on their human suffering should this occur — a relational property.”

    Could you also consider the possibility that the reason is solely grounded in their belief that other animals have basic rights? In other words, the reason would be the same as that of the human in the proverbial lifeboat who refuses to kill and then eat her fellow human. Some people would so refuse for relational reasons whereas others would refuse on moral principle alone. Can you acknowledge that some animal advocates would have the same reasons with respect to non-human animals?

    I wrote:
    “… why sentience as such is not morally relevant to having basic rights…”

    You replied:
    “The ability to experience pain is morally relevant but certainly not the only thing that matters as some theorists would argue. Some humans, for example, have congenital insensitivity to pain, but we do not believe it is morally right to do invasive experiments on them simply because they cannot feel pain. Thus the ability to physically suffer alone cannot be used to ground our moral concern for all living beings equally. Francione is wrong.”

    Sentience is not merely the ability to experience pain. Rather, sentience is the capacity to experience with all of the senses that one has available. Within the sense of touch alone, there is pain, pleasure, pressure, texture, etc. etc. A crucial point is that the capacity to experience with the senses requires at least a core level of self-awareness. I give small insects the benefit of the doubt that they have this capacity (although *perhaps* the jury is out with respect to insects). All fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals are certainly self-aware. I will elaborate on this in a separate post below.

    Humans who have congenital insensitivity to pain may still experience the other aspects of the sense of touch, as well as experience via the other four senses. More importantly, these humans have self-awareness. This is why I believe it would be morally wrong to do invasive experiments on them. Francione makes clear in his books that he defines sentience as the capacity to experience, which requires self-awareness.

    You wrote:

    “…while accepting that relational properties can pose a theoretical slippery slope.”

    Yes, and as you also suggest, that slope can either slip downwards or upwards. It slipped downwards in my example of human slavery in the U.S., and the relational properties held between the architects and maintainers of that society (i.e., the majority, who were “white”) versus the other humans who were chattel property. On the other hand, the slope of relational properties could slip upwards, and for the better, if my colleagues and I are successful and, perhaps decades or more from now, we help bring about a vegan world.

    In my view, however, no one’s moral status depends upon how they relate to others. You wrote:

    “No, I do not believe that you can derive moral truths from the laws of nature on a piece of paper. Ethics lives within our (human) brains. There is no escape from some degree of moral subjectivity and moral intuitions.
    True, we may not share the same moral intuitions and these may change over time. The question is how we, as a society, decide what we would allow or not despite such state of affairs in a civilized way.”

    This, in the end, is why you differ from Francione and I. The above is our fundamental disagreement. Without arguing this point further (which would turn this discussion into a very long and complex one) I will simply point out the following.

    It seems to me that your use of the word “civilized” above begs the question. Both the definition of “civilized” and the question of whether society (or some or all of its members) value civility is — under your view — subject to moral subjectivity and moral intuitions, which change over time.

    Second, as discussed above, the subjectivity inherent to your moral theory applies to both non-human and human animals. As such — whether we choose examples from the past, look at present trends or do thought experiments about the future — your moral theory can sometimes (or often) require that it is morally acceptable to kill, exploit and oppress fully rational and autonomous humans. Reasons aside, I find this to be morally odious. How do you live with it?

    Third, as you say, our moral intuitions change over time. I would add to this that moral intuitions often change as a result of social justice movements. People choose to act to radically transform society. Think of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement or the Suffragists. Under your view, before these movements started, X was moral. Afterwards, Y was moral. During the movements, Z was moral to varying degrees.

    Dario, let us, you and I, find common ground in the “Z.” Follow your present intention, which is firmly in place, and continue working as a vivisectionist. At the same time, there is nothing stopping you from eating a healthy and delicious vegan diet, wearing vegan clothes and buying vegan household and personal products that have not been tested on animals. In other words, do the least anyone can do, and begin to involve yourself to a small extent in this present non-violent social justice movement. Be on the right side of history. Why wait for the animal rights movement to complete itself successfully? Aside from your occupation, you can be vegan in many ways now, thus sparing thousands of animals from unnecessary suffering, confinement, use and death.

    Do you have a pet dog or cat? Your relations with and emotional attachment to him or her would preclude you from eating him or her. The same would be true if you visited a sanctuary for rescued “farm” animals — if you petted them, fed them, looked into their eyes and developed a relationship with them over time. If you knew any cow the way you know your dog or cat, there would be a shift in your focus and relational properties. Note that who you know, and how well, is a mere happenstance.

    As a scientist, I am sure you appreciate the goal of increasing our information and knowledge. Empathy — for those we have met and for those we have not yet met — is the only method we have of increasing our knowledge about other minds and their subjectivity. When we acquire this sort knowledge via empathy, the morality that you say lives within our human brains will tell you something very significant.

    • Dear Jeff,

      “Could you also consider the possibility that the reason is solely grounded in their belief that other animals have basic rights?”

      Yes, I can. I respect those that live their lives according to their beliefs.

      “Sentience is not merely the ability to experience pain.”

      True, but sentience (or being a subject-of-a-life) is defined as an all-or-none attribute by animal rights theorists. To them either you have such characteristics or you do not. There are no gradations. There is no middle ground.

      The conclusion is that there is a threshold after which all living beings are owed the same moral consideration and they should have the same basic rights as that of humans. I find this conclusion absurd. Thus I reject such theories in favor of ones that allow for degrees of moral consideration to different living beings.

      No, I do not believe we owe the same moral consideration to the life of a mouse or a human. Do you?

      If you accept any gradations in moral status then you must abandon animal rights to enter the realm of animal welfarism.

      I am happy to have a productive discussion within this theoretical framework, but I do not really have much to say with those that do not see a difference between Albert Sabin and Josef Mengele.

      Can you?

      “…your moral theory can sometimes (or often) require that it is morally acceptable to kill, exploit and oppress fully rational and autonomous humans.”

      How did you conclude that? I believe that all moral agents deserve the same moral consideration. That alone prevents racism, slavery and other forms of oppression.

      “Third, as you say, our moral intuitions change over time.”

      Yes, I accept moral boundaries are dynamic and that in the future people may not approve of humans having companion animals, or eating eggs, or curing cancer by using mice.

      As for how I live my life you obviously know very little.

      I find it interesting that so many animal activists think they can infer who I am as a person from the mere fact that I support the responsible and regulated use of animals to advance medical science and human/animal health.

      There is a sense of moral righteousness that permeates through such judgements that makes dialogue very difficult.

      Finally, you appear to think that opposition to animal research does not require a moral justification. Clearly, you have not thought out the of consequences of stopping animal research for the health of future generations.

  14. PS you should talk to my friend Rob. He has what seems to be the same moral theory as you do, but he is an abolitionist vegan.

  15. Regarding the self-awareness chickens, fishes, pigs, cows and many other animals, my Master’s thesis is entitled _Core Self-Awareness and Personhood_. This is my brief introductory paragraph on the definition:

    “Self-awareness is the capacity to experience oneself as existing. This capacity can take many forms, including the familiar form of having psychological continuity through time, self-oriented beliefs and a concept of self that (insofar as it is a concept) can only be understood and expressed through language. In the next two sections [of my thesis], however, it will be shown that the capacity to experience oneself as existing requires neither psychological continuity, the possession of beliefs about oneself, a concept of self, nor the capacity for language. Thus, the definition of core self-awareness that will be defended below [omitted in this post] is the bare capacity to experience oneself as existing. The constituent definitions of “experience,” “oneself” and “existing” will be implicated in the following discussion of José Luis Bermúdez.”

    I then go on to defend the above definition by appealing to the arguments in Bermúdez’s book _The Paradox of Self-Consciousness_. I highly recommend this book. Also, see Harvard biologist Donald Griffin’s book _Animal Minds_. In addition, in the subsequent section of my thesis, I appeal to some of Francione’s more common-sense reasons:

    “Pain [and smell, etc] cannot exist as some sort of ethereal experience. As a matter of logic, a conscious self must perceive pain [and smell, etc] as happening to her or him in order for the pain [or smell, etc] to be perceived at all.”

    Francione notes that recognizing oneself in a mirror is only one of many possible ways that self-awareness can express itself. Dogs, for example, don’t use mirrors. Instead, they sometimes pee on trees and recognize themselves that way, when they return to the same tree.

  16. So is self-awareness also all or none? Is it all that matters? Why is the perception of self sufficient to endow a living being with rights? Psychopaths have a sense of self, but cannot behave as expected in a community of moral equals. Do they have the right to live among us?

    I’ll be happy to read your dissertation if you can send it to me. PDF is fine. My email is all over the ALF web sites.

  17. Hi Dario,
    You asked:
    <>
    In general, no. Regarding my above quoted definition of “core self-awareness,” yes.
    <>
    Core self-awareness and sentience are the only things that matter for the purpose of knowing what kind of beings have basic interests, such as the interest in not being used as a thing. If a being has interests, then this is the only thing that matters for the purpose of recognizing personhood, or full moral standing.

    <>

    Because it is connected with the interest in that self continuing to exist, even in just the present moment. Of course, the animals whom we eat have senses of self that exist in much more than merely the present moment. A longer and more nuanced answer than the one above can be found in my MA dissertation.

    <>

    I assume you would not want to use psychopaths as the non-consenting victims of forced organ donation, correct? So they still have basic rights, correct? Lions are dangerous, so we should leave them and their land alone.

    <>
    Only one in fifty psychopaths are violent. The other 49 do live among us! Violent psychopaths do not have the right to live among us, but they do have the rights to life, bodily integrity and not to be used as property.

    When a hungry bear wonders into a human settlement, he should be sedated and taken a safe distance away in the forest. Bears still have the basic rights mentioned above. If I only had time to stop a bear from killing a loved one by using lethal force, I would. The same is true of a human psychopath. But my use of self-defense in both cases says nothing about whether the human psychopath or the bear have basic rights. Of course they both do.

    <>

    I will draw Rob’s attention to this discussion and leave it to him as to whether or not he contacts you.

    <>

    I’ll see if I can send it to you.

    I strongly oppose all violence used as a tactic in any social justice campaign, including advocating for animal rights. I support persuading others to go vegan and, at a later stage in history, Gandhian civil resistance.

    Would you like to read Francione’s _Introduction to Animal Rights_?

    Cheers, Jeff

    • ” If a being has interests, then this is the only thing that matters for the purpose of recognizing personhood, or full moral standing.”

      You will have to explain what do you mean by interests and how do you determine if a living being has interests or not.

      Does bacteria have interest? A worm? A mouse? A dolphin? A human?

      And are these interests a binary property to you? Either you have them or not? This seems to be the case, and much of my problems with so-called animal rights theories like Francione’s. I believe in graded moral status, which is obviously not what you subscribe to and thus the source of our differences.

      I have Francione’s books. I think his intentions are good, but philosophically he is as wrong as anyone can be.

  18. The quotes of Dario were removed from my post for some reason. I guess I used too many < symbols.

  19. “The conclusion is that there is a threshold after which all living beings are owed the same moral consideration and they should have the same basic rights as that of humans. I find this conclusion absurd. Thus I reject such theories in favor of ones that allow for degrees of moral consideration to different living beings.”

    As Francione notes, having excellent mathematical ability is a good reason to have the non-basic right to a math scholarship at a university, and denying someone that non-basic right because they can’t do math is morally acceptable. So, in this sense only, I agree with you that different degrees of moral consideration should be given to different beings.

    An average adult human, an adult human who is severely mentally challenged and a mouse all have an equal interest in continuing to live. In other words, they all have the same interest in continuing to have experiences through their senses, and thoughts. Your view that the severely mentally challenged human somehow has less of a right to life is very disturbing to me. In everyday life, as Francione notes, we are not in a conflict of interests, or a burning house scenario. Rather, we drag the animal (or severely mentally challenged human) into the burning house and then argue about who should live. Also, if your view that mental complexity determines one’s level of moral standing, then I can see no reason to draw the line at normal adult humans vs. severely mentally challenged humans. It seems to me that your view logically commits you to the further view that humans with an IQ of 100 have less of a right to life than those humans with an IQ of 150.

    “I do not really have much to say with those that do not see a difference between Albert Sabin and Josef Mengele. Can you?”

    Yes, namely:
    (a) in my view, Mengele was incapable of having (i) deep empathy or (ii) moral emotions/sentiments with or towards anyone, including fellow Germans. In other words, I believe he was a psychopath. Sabin, on the other hand, was not a psychopath. In other words, Sabin could empathize with and have moral emotions about both human and non-human animals. Sabin probably depersonalized the animals he was using by thinking of them as “just animals.” This is similar to the depersonalization required of soldiers: in WWII, the German civilian targets of British bombs contained “just jerries.” So Sabin objectified and depersonalized the animals he used where as, not only did Mengele objectify and depersonalize, but — as a pshchopath — Mengele was incapable of moral thinking, aside from knowing and working within social norms and legal rules, for his personal benefit alone.
    (b) In Mengele’s culture and time, it was widely regarded by the German public and the world at large that the atrocities of the holocaust were fundamentally immoral, and that Jews have full moral standing, like every other human. Sabin, on the other hand, lived in a culture and time in which it is widely regarded by the public that experiments upon non-human animals are morally acceptable, and non-human animals are property, not persons. Mengele had to sneek around in concentration camps whereas Sabin won the Nobel Prize. In other words, Sabin’s work was widely regarded by his culture as not only socially acceptable, but as laudable, whereas Mengele’s work would have been condemned by the German public, had they known about it as it was happening.
    The commonality between Sabin and Mengele is that they both violated the basic rights of beings who have full moral standing.

    I wrote:
    “…your moral theory can sometimes (or often) require that it is morally acceptable to kill, exploit and oppress fully rational and autonomous humans.”

    You replied:
    “How did you conclude that? I believe that all moral agents deserve the same moral consideration. That alone prevents racism, slavery and other forms of oppression.”

    From a few of your statements and mine, taken together. The first part of my statement immediately below is a parody of yours. In it, I wrote:

    “There is a deep, fundamental gap between the views of the vast majority of the U.S. public in 1800 and anyone whose moral theory declares permissible to flip a coin in order to decide who to save in a burning house, a white or a black.

    Their moral intuitions were built on top of racist assumptions. As such, their moral intuitions were false.”

    You replied:

    “No, I do not believe that you can derive moral truths from the laws of nature on a piece of paper. Ethics lives within our (human) brains. There is no escape from some degree of moral subjectivity and moral intuitions.
    True, we may not share the same moral intuitions and these may change over time. The question is how we, as a society, decide what we would allow or not despite such state of affairs in a civilized way.”

    You also wrote:
    “…while accepting that relational properties can pose a theoretical slippery slope.”

    I replied:

    “Yes, and as you also suggest, that slope can either slip downwards or upwards. It slipped downwards in my example of human slavery in the U.S., and the relational properties held between the architects and maintainers of that society (i.e., the majority, who were “white”) versus the other humans who were chattel property.”
    “It seems to me that your use of the word “civilized” above begs the question. …”

    In short, Dario, your moral theory rests on moral subjectivity and moral intuitions, which you concede change, and which are decided upon by society at different times and places, including those times and places that had slavery. So the theory of moral relativism that you appeal to logically commits you to the position that oppressing normal adult humans can sometimes be right.

    As for how I live my life you obviously know very little.

    “I find it interesting that so many animal activists think they can infer who I am as a person…
    There is a sense of moral righteousness that permeates through such judgements that makes dialogue very difficult.”

    In my posts, the only time I referred to you as a person is when I suggested you adopt a vegan diet, which assumes you are not already on a vegan diet. I based this assumption, not on your occupation, but upon what you said in the description of your debate with Francione. You said Francione objected to your not being vegan, so I assume he asked you about that and you replied “no.” Was this assumption of mine incorrect — do you eat a vegan diet?

    “Finally, you appear to think that opposition to animal research does not require a moral justification.”

    Certainly it does. I recommend Francione’s book _Introduction to Animal Rights_ for a rationally compelling moral justification. As a scientist, though, you accept the Precautionary Principle, correct? Then the onus is on you to provide the moral justification, as you are carrying out the harm to animals.

    “Clearly, you have not thought out the of consequences of stopping animal research for the health of future generations.”

    If all the resources put into animal medical experiments were put into (a) prevention through diet and lifestyle and (b) non-animal models, then I believe that there would be very little to no consequences for future generations. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that I am totally wrong about this. Now consider, scientists at the University of Victoria in British Columbia successfully used data from the Nazi hypothermia experiments to create more effective treatments for hypothermia. This has undoubtedly saved human lives. Of course, the good consequences that resulted from the Nazi data does not make what the Nazis did right; what they did was fundamentally immoral. Similarly, if you are right that stopping animal research would have negative consequences for the health of future generations, then that is beside the point — as shown above.

  20. Jeff,

    Too much to respond here… Very briefly…

    First, higher cognitive abilities allow humans to suffer in ways other animals cannot. Our ability to do math is morally irrelevant. So is the falcon’s higher visual acuity or the dolphin’s ability to do echolocation.

    It is only our cognitive abilities that allow humans to suffer in ways that other animals cannot that are morally relevant.

    So, if you learn that a member of your family has terminal cancer, you will suffer in ways that a mouse cannot comprehend. If you are exposed to the sights of millions of children with AIDS in Africa, you will suffer in ways monkeys cannot understand. This is real suffering and it should matter to you.

    Second, I reject the notion that intrinsic properties is all that matters. Here we disagree deeply. I was intellectually honest when I said this position entails problems. However, this does not mean that I have to accept a simpler theory that is obviously wrong such as that offered by Francione.

    Third, we disagree on the notion of “basic rights” and “moral status”. I do not think animals have rights, but that we have obligations towards them. It is not the same thing at all.

    Fourth, I think Sabin was as much of a medical hero then as he is today by virtue that he continues saving millions of lives, which probably includes yours and that of your children if you have them. As I am sure you know, your position demands that you refrain to use any medications and therapies developed by means of animal research.

    http://speakingofresearch.com/2012/01/12/a-proposal-for-the-labeling-of-medicines/

    Francione is our debate said as much — saying even that he was against the medications that kept some of his friends with HIV/AIDS alive.

    Where is the compassion in that?

  21. could we not see the video of this talk ?